This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 24, 2005

A Video’s Worth A Thousand Bucks

We live in a world in which Mariah Carey is considered the best current American female soul/R&B artist, so very little should surprise and shock us.

But even the most jaded among us finds it hard to imagine that a Division I coach would compile a tape of what he considered to be bad or missed calls after the first game of a weekend series, and then deliver that tape to the officiating crew he claimed to be at fault before the second game of the series that said crew would be working.

Last weekend, Lake Superior State head coach Jim Roque not only admitted to the media that he had done this, but also implied that he and his team were being punished for it.

Roque was clearly upset with the officiating after the Lakers lost 3-0 to the Buckeyes Friday, Nov. 18, and downright hot about it after OSU beat LSSU 4-0 the following night.

“I thought there were a lot of missed calls out there,” said Roque after Friday’s contest. “I thought there was a lot of hooking, a lot of holding, both ways.

“We tried to change our style to a more aggressive skating, and I thought tonight we were getting hooked a lot and grabbed … sticks were on our shoulder pads. I could put a dozen clips of that together tonight, no problem.”

Of course, that’s exactly what Roque did. After Saturday’s game, Roque said that he gave a tape to referee Mark Wilkins and CCHA observer Neil Armstrong. That, according to Roque, was a big mistake.

“I don’t think we’re good enough to beat Ohio State and three officials,” said Roque.

The officials, Roque contended, decided “to stick it” to the Lakers. “So, a rookie coach got taken out to the woodshed tonight, and that’s the way it goes.”

In Friday’s contest, a total of five minor penalties were called, two against Ohio State and two against the Lakers. The first penalty of Friday’s game wasn’t assessed until after the 17-minute mark in the first.

In Saturday’s game, two Lakers were given penalties within the first five minutes, Derek A. Smith at 1:32 for tripping, and Nathan Ward at 4:32 for slashing; Mathieu Beaudoin scored on Ward’s penalty to give OSU a 1-0 lead at 4:40.

The Buckeyes were 2-for-10 on the power play Saturday; LSSU went 0-for-8.

“I screwed it up for my team,” said Roque. “It’s my fault. My guys played hard, played a lot of chances. I don’t need to see the video tonight; we were outstanding. And we were good last night. We were very good.

“We came here to pass the test and we passed with flying colors.”

Roque said that before Saturday’s game Wilkins had apologized to him for missed calls the night before, which presumably included a missed penalty that could have allegedly left a Laker player a “paraplegic” — Roque’s words, not mine.

He also said to the press, “And you guys on Tuesday night won the game because of a checking from behind in the third against State.”

The whole outburst was extraordinary. The implication that the officials somehow had it out for Roque and the Lakers is mind-boggling. Friday’s game was physical, but the Buckeyes dominated; on Saturday, the Buckeyes were less dominant but OSU goaltender Dave Caruso was flawless. The only real chippiness I saw came toward the end of Saturday’s contest, fueled by a clearly frustrated LSSU squad — but nothing in either game by either team seemed cheap or beyond ordinary.

For his comments, Roque was fined $1,000 by the CCHA this week. The league’s rules say, “No employee (e.g., coaches, athletic staff members, etc.) or student-athlete of a member institution shall make derogatory remarks to the press or public about opponents or officials.”

In all of this, there are several prevailing absurdities.

1. The idea that the Buckeyes had to play catch-up with the Lakers, prevent numerous Laker odd-man rushes with dozens of hooks because of LSSU’s superior skating skills, is ludicrous. There is no question that OSU tanked of its own collective accord early in the season, but there is also no question that Ohio State remains a more highly skilled team than Lake Superior State.

That’s no slam to the Lakers, by any means. LSSU is a hard-working team that plays to the best of its ability, and the Lakers have talent that will serve them well this season. The Buckeyes may have been chasing the Lakers in the standings before the weekend series, but OSU didn’t have to chase LSSU on the ice in Columbus.

Roque’s comments sounded like sour grapes from a man who was upset that his team didn’t catch OSU when the Buckeyes were down.

2. The idea that there would be any home cooking for the Buckeyes is laughable. Ohio State is averaging 31 penalty minutes per conference game, and remains a team that has to fight — if you’ll pardon the word — against being typecast.

3. The league fining coaches for any comment it considers derogatory is draconian; the language of the league’s rule is inclusive but also paranoid.

Why shouldn’t Roque or any other coach be able to say anything he wants about the game to the press? It’s true that Roque’s comments after Saturday’s games were harsh, but even as someone who observed his rant firsthand, I never got the sense that Roque was personally attacking Mark Wilkins, assistant referees Brian Hill and Bruce Vida, and Neil Armstrong. It was more “us vs. them,” which is clearly evident in Roque’s statements.

I know that the CCHA’s chief concern is the CCHA, and I appreciate the league’s efforts to polish its image. I also think that the league’s players, as college students, should be protected from personal attack.

I also think that Roque has the right to say whatever he wants to say, and — of course — the league has the right to respond, after the fact.

4. Roque’s post-game remarks are a sort of lateral move for Laker head coaches. Frank Anzalone was a sound bite factory, and his behavior — making players wear sandwich boards to advertise games while walking around campus, for instance — was eccentric. It was nice to see post-game negativity from a Laker coach directed at someone other than his own players.

Clearly, in today’s world of near-instant communication and greater media exposure, every Division I head coach in every major sport must be aware — or become aware — of how he or she is seen in a public light. I’m sure that many of them don’t care what people — and by “people,” I mean “the press” — think of them, but the fact remains that media coverage is a now necessary evil for collegiate sports. Exposure heightens awareness, helps to drive revenue, can help bring in recruits.

Roque, a self-proclaimed “rookie” coach, had to have known the consequences of his actions before he opened his mouth, and obviously his need to express his displeasure meant more to him than the inevitable fine. For Roque’s sake, I hope the necessity was worth the price.

The Once And Future Defenders

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Ferris State Bulldogs, one that is disconnected from any of the soft spots in my brain. Head coach Bob Daniels is an incredibly nice guy, and I have some odd, personal connections to FSU.

When my dearest friend, Elizabeth Nelson, taught at our beloved alma mater, Fredonia State, big Tim Blashill played for the D-III Blue Devils and was, along with several other players, Elizabeth’s student.

Tim is the younger brother of assistant Miami coach Jeff Blashill — who bears a striking resemblance to Brad Pitt, from a reasonable distance — and Jeff was a goaltender at FSU under Daniels. For Jeff’s final game, I drove from Columbus to Big Rapids, Elizabeth and Tim — who was by that point no longer a Blue Devil — trekked over from Fredonia, and we all went out with the delightful Blashill family, including their father Jim, who is on the faculty at Lake Superior State University.

It is, in fact, a very small world.

So I take great delight when the Bulldogs succeed, especially when they beat ranked, nonconference foes, as they did last weekend when they split with No. 17 Bemidji State, winning 6-1 Friday before losing 4-3 Saturday.

The Bulldogs are currently in third place in CCHA standings that change weekend by weekend. The rollercoaster movement of this year’s conference play mimics what FSU has seen for the past few seasons. In 2002-03, Ferris State went 31-10-1, capturing the league’s regular-season title and making its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.

One year later, FSU managed just 15 wins. Last year, the win total was 13, although the Bulldogs seemed to be improved from the previous season.

This season may be young, but the ‘Dogs already have five wins to their credit, and Saturday’s loss to the Beavers snapped a three-game win streak; the last time FSU put together three wins was in midseason last year.

Perhaps the reason why Daniels has endured and has continued to be such a nice guy is that he has an excellent perspective on his job as coach. “I always found this is important: don’t base everything on wins and losses. You have to base it on performance.”

After 2002-03, the Bulldogs returned nearly their entire championship squad, and Daniels said that it took him and the coaching staff nearly half the following season to figure out that they couldn’t just pick up where they’d left off the year before.

Last year, says Daniels, “I didn’t think we played poorly. Our goaltending at times wasn’t what it should be, and let’s face it, there were some pretty good goalies around the league last year. I don’t know that I look at last year and say, ‘Hey, we weren’t a very good team.'”

This season, the Bulldogs are getting solid netminding from rookie Mitch O’Keefe, who sports a .920 save percentage in league play.

“I think he’s played very well,” says Daniels. “He’s shown a few signs of being a freshman at times. He’s been real good, real good, real good, and then uh-oh.

“You start getting quality goaltending, and our job as coaches is to make sure we don’t become so dependent on goaltending.”

Another reason for FSU’s respectability in the early going this season is the play of the upperclassmen, especially the junior class, and especially Matt Verdone.

“He’s kind of been an unsung hero for us,” says Daniels, who also says that he’s thrilled to see Verdone getting well-deserved recognition. “He’s always killed penalties for us. If we’ve got a one-goal lead late in the game, he’s the kid we want on the ice.”

Verdone, a native of Summerstown, Ont., plays online with classmate Zac Pearson. Between them, Verdone and Pearson have netted 10 of FSU’s 41 goals this season.

“It’s just confidence, I guess,” says Verdone. “I don’t think I really changed anything from when I first got recruited. My linemate, Zac Pearson, we’ve been put together off and on since freshmen year, and we play the same style and the coaches finally realized.”

Those darned coaches. If only they’d seen it sooner.

“They tend to play well together,” says Daniels. “They tend to kill penalties well together, and they’re on the one power-play unit together. We kind of put them on the same line, and they clicked together there.”

“Zac and I have a handful of opportunities each game,” says Verdone. “If we don’t score, it’s our own fault. It’s fun. The game is becoming fun on and off the ice. We smile at each other when we’re out there. When you relax, you get your confidence.”

Verdone says that the Bulldogs are “pretty excited about this year,” that the chemistry is right at FSU. “The whole atmosphere is different in the room and the rink. We were never happy with our last two seasons. With the year they had prior to that [2002-2003] and then that slump … morale was always high, but we never seemed to get the right bounce. The mentality is all the same between the captains, the upperclassmen, and the freshmen.”

This weekend, the Bulldogs travel Erie, Penn., to play the Mercyhurst Lakers, coached by the other nicest guys in college hockey, Rick Gotkin.

“I’m looking forward to going there,” says Daniels. “Obviously, they’ve got a pretty good team.”

The Lakers top the Atlantic Hockey standings with a 7-4-0 record. Maybe the former and future Defenders of the Realm are poised to reclaim the title they originated.

Three Is Good

Notre Dame is another team on the upswing, under the guidance of first-year head coach Jeff Jackson. In 2004-2005, the Irish registered a total of five wins through 38 games played. So far this season, Notre Dame is 3-6-1. The Irish’s two-game sweep of Bowling Green Nov. 10-11 was their first of a league opponent since late February, 2004.

“I’m fairly happy with where we are right now,” says Jackson, who says that his players have improved “in a number of areas.”

“We’re not an easy team to play against, and that was a goal. We’ve had a really tough schedule, and that’s certainly not an excuse, but we have to learn how to play against these top teams.”

Already this season, the Irish have played four ranked opponents, single games against Colorado College and Denver, two-game series against Michigan and Miami. All but one of those games, a 2-2 tie with the RedHawks, resulted in a Notre Dame loss.

“I’m not sure I can say who our top three or four players are,” says Jackson, who said at this year’s preseason media day that he wouldn’t know his team until next year. “We have different guys every night. When the game’s on the line, like in Miami the other night, their top-line scores the goal that can take the game.”

Last Friday in Oxford, trailing 2-1 late in the third, Miami’s Marty Guerin scored the equalizer at 17:05. In their 3-0 shutout of the Irish Saturday, assistant Miami captain Ryan Jones scored two of the goals, and another well-known player, Matt Christie, netted the third.

“I think it’s always important for us to make sure we are playing our game,” says Jackson, who says his team’s tough schedule continues with Ohio State this weekend.

Aside from being competitive this year, another goal for the Irish according to Jackson was to avoid alienating the outgoing senior class. During the league’s media day press conference, Jackson said that he wasn’t going to point fingers for Notre Dame’s lackluster work ethic and performance last season, and he added that everyone on the team was going to start fresh this year. Those are particularly difficult things for new coaches to accomplish with outgoing senior classes, but Jackson is committed.

“When I came in, I thought it was important that [the seniors] become an important part of this team. We are trying to build a program for the future, but the seniors — we don’t want to ignore them. I think it’s important that we help them have a good experience their senior year. They all have done quite well, starting off this season, and I think that they’re fairly positive with their contributions being successful.”

The whole team, says Jackson has “made a pretty good effort in trying to buy into what we’ve been trying to sell. The work ethic has been much better on and off ice.”

Jackson’s back-to-basics approach is working to make the Irish competitive from the net out. Junior goaltender David Brown, who had a .925 save percentage his freshman year but a .870 save percentage last season, is 1-1-1 in his last three games, having stopped 92 of 99 shots in that stretch (.929 SV%).

Games of the Week

Maybe it’s not over the river and through the woods, but it’s a pretty cozy 175 miles through western Ohio. And they do cross the Auglaize River in the process.

Bowling Green (3-7-1, 3-5-1 CCHA) vs. No. 10 Miami (7-2-1, 6-1-1 CCHA)
Friday, 7:35 p.m., Goggin Arena, Oxford, Ohio
Saturday, 7:05 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, Ohio

The Bowling Green Falcons are still a team struggling to find an identity. The Falcons are tied for second place in conference goal production (with the surprising Notre Dame Fighting Irish), but seem to have caught Bronco Syndrome: score a lot of goals, but allow even more.

This season, the Falcons netted six goals against Boston College in one game … and gave up nine. They swept Nebraska-Omaha Nov. 4-5, outscoring the Mavericks 11-6 in the process, but were swept the following weekend by Notre Dame and outscored by the Irish 13-6 in two contests. In one loss to the Irish, they netted four goals … and gave up nine.

Last weekend, the Falcons split at home with ranked Northern Michigan, losing 6-3 the first night and winning 8-4 the second.

The concern, says head coach Scott Paluch, is defense in very specific situations.

“Our overall defense is so much stronger. Where we’ve gotten into trouble this year is in our transition defense. But our own zone defense and our overall defensive play has been good.

“We’re kind of in that feeling-out phase where we either have trouble scoring, or [make] too many transition mistakes that make easy goals against us. In a lot of the games and the majority of the games, we’ve played pretty doggone good.”

(That’s one of the reasons I like Scott Paluch. He actually says “doggone good,” and he’s not even as old as I am.)

“It’s all a big part of the maturation of a team, finding out what you have to do and really what the base of your team is. At this point, after the first six weekends, we’d like to have a lot more points that we do, but I also know that what we’ve done in the majority of the games is what we have to do to get those points back.”

This weekend, the Falcons take on the top team in the league, the Miami RedHawks. Two weeks ago, Miami’s road loss to Lake Superior State snapped a six-game win streak, but the RedHawks have only two losses for the year, the other coming at the hands of North Dakota at the Lefty McFadden Invitational.

“They’re playing well,” says Paluch. “They’re good. They’ve been that way for three and a half years. They’ve been extremely solid with that core group. I think [Andy] Greene is the best defenseman in the country. He’s an outstanding player and an outstanding young guy. He’s clearly a dominant figure out there.”

One reason for Miami’s success is the depth of its offense. Although the ‘Hawks are led in scoring by two defensemen, Greene and Mitch Ganzak, Miami’s depth at forward is as good as any team in the country, and includes household names like Marty Guerin (4-4–8), Nathan Davis (2-5–7), Matt Christie (2-5–7), and a sophomore off to a fast start this season, Ryan Jones (5-3–8).

Because of that depth, says Paluch, Miami creates “a feeling, wave after wave” of offense that can dominate a game.

As deep as Miami is, however, it’s two Falcons who currently pace the CCHA in points. Sophomores and linemates Alex Foster (5-13–18) and Jonathan Matsumoto (3-11–14) are first and second, respectively in league scoring, and the third of their trio, Mike Falk (9-1–10) leads the league in goal production.

“He’s been outstanding,” says Paluch of Foster. “He’s as solid both ways as any player I’ve been around. He’s an energy guy, and he never stops. He’s got the one gear and he goes hard all the time; he can do that going forward, making tremendous plays offensively, but he can also … kill penalties, he block shot.”

A key for the Falcons against the stacked RedHawks this weekend is in BGSU’s troublesome transition game.

“We need to make sure that we don’t give up too many transition chances,” says Paluch. “When you turn the puck over against them, not only do their forwards get into it, but they D get it very, very well.”

Here are the conference stats for each team.

• Goals per game: BGSU 3.67 (tie second); Miami 3.25 (fifth)
• Goals allowed per game: BGSU 4.44 (12th); Miami 1.50 (first)
• Power play: BGSU 13.8% (10th); Miami 18.2% (tie fifth)
• Penalty kill: BGSU 83.6% (sixth) ; Miami 91.3% (second)
• Top scorer: BGSU Alex Foster (5-13–18); Miami Andy Greene (3-6–9), Mitch Ganzak (1-8–9)
• Top ‘tender: BGSU Jon Horrell (.904 SV%, 2.97 GAA); Miami Charlie Effinger (.943 SV%, 1.47 GAA), Jeff Zatkoff (.941 SV%, 1.51 GAA)

Paluch knows his team and his team’s task better than anyone; the Falcons must protect the puck when transitioning. No one flies out better on odd-man rushes than the RedHawks.

Miami will undoubtedly rotate goaltenders as they have been all season — what an enviable circumstance! — with Effinger in net Friday, Zatkoff Saturday.

Picks: In their last eight meetings, the RedHawks are 4-2-2 against the Falcons, but last year BGSU was 1-0-1 vs. Miami. In this series, speed kills — and Miami has that, plus two netminders that are hard to beat. Miami 4-2, 4-2

Blueliners, Trivia

It pains me to say this to you, especially on Thanksgiving Day, but you are collectively a bunch of slackers.

Call it tough love, if you wish. I know the more fanatical among you — and that includes parental types — recognize good defensive play when you see it, but not one person wrote to nominate anyone for Blueliner of the Week after last weekend’s games.

I can honestly tell you that three OSU defensemen played very well in their own end in against LSSU. Nate Guenin, Sean Collins, and Johann Kroll each played excellent defensive defense.

But come on. There are other players out there, and with no barometer against which to measure these guys — no nominees from other teams — I won’t be giving out any prizes.

Email me after this week’s games, please, to nominate a worthy stay-at-home defenseman. I’ll be listening to several different series, stuck here in Columbus with a cracked windshield, so pity a poor sportswriter and send some mail.

Thanks to those of you who picked up the torch last week and sent hate mail. It was (mostly) in jest, after I complained that so few folks were writing in to tell me how awful I am. I appreciate the effort.

As for trivia, I never gave the answers to the trivia of several weeks ago, because not one person responded. This week, I’ve been goaded into trivia again, so here are a few questions appropriate to the holiday.

1. How fast can wild turkeys fly?
2. How many pounds of sweet potatoes do Americans eat annually?
3. Which state produces more cranberries, New Jersey or Oregon?
4. The Mayflower made an unscheduled stop in Plymouth because it was short of what commodity?
5. What percentage of the U.S. population will eat turkey on Thanksgiving?

Yes, it’s an easy quiz, but write in anyway. The first person to correctly answer all five questions wins dinner at Dave Hendrickson’s house.

Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe the prize is too overwhelming for CCHA fans. Dave Hendrickson is, after all, a star.

Overcome your Hendrickson apprehension and send me the answers.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!