This Week in the CCHA: Dec. 15, 2005

Let It Snow

It’s raining here in Columbus. Apparently, the local weather — like the local college hockey team — cannot decide what it is supposed to be.

I was going to put together a midseason report card for each team in the league, but after grading 60 final exams and 60 essays, I didn’t have the heart for it.

So instead I’ve compiled a list of 10 of the most interesting things to have happened in the first half of the 2005-06 season.

10. BGSU Scores Six, Loses

Four times this season, the Bowling Green Falcons have scored six or more goals, most recently in a 6-4 win over visiting — and ranked — St. Lawrence.

Six goals ought to be good enough to win any hockey game, unless you’re running a marathon with Boston College.

On Oct. 15 in BGSU Ice Arena, the visiting Eagles beat the Falcons 9-6 in a game that BC led 6-2 at the midway point. In the span of four minutes — from 11:25 to 15:25 in the second period — the Falcons netted three goals to cut BC’s lead to one. Early in the third, Mike Falk actually tied the game for the Falcons … before the Eagles came back with three unanswered to bring the final score to 9-6.

Said BGSU head coach Scott Paluch, “I was extremely proud of our group to get it back to 6-6. We showed a lot of who we are in that regard. We played a pretty good hockey game against a pretty good team.”

What makes this interesting is that the Falcons showed early on that they can score, and they’ve shown that through the season. You just get the feeling that Paluch is this close with this team.

9. Alex Foster

Speaking of Falcons, this one led the country in scoring for much of the first half of the season, playing on a line with fellow sophomore Jonathan Matsumoto and senior Mike Falk. Nearly everyone in the league knew about Matsumoto already, so Foster’s emergence this season was a pleasant surprise.

“He’s as solid both ways as any player I’ve been around,” said Paluch. “He’s an energy guy, and he never stops. He’s got one gear and he goes hard all the time.”

8. Here’s Your Hat

Ten different CCHA players from nine different teams have registered hat tricks this season. Given the goaltender turnover in the league this season, perhaps this isn’t much of a surprise.

And that two Michigan players have scored three in a game is no surprise at all.

Nathan Davis (Miami), Matt Hunwick (Michigan), Kyle Jones (UAF), Bryan Lerg (MSU), Jonathan Matsumoto (BGSU), Alex Nikiforuk (UNO), Kevin Porter (Michigan), Josh Sciba (Notre Dame), Matt Verdone (FSU), and Brent Walton (WMU) are the gents.

Jones is the only freshman.

7. A Decent Opening Night

It seems so long ago that it may have been a dream, a beautiful dream, but the opening two weekends of D-I play were good to the CCHA, and put other leagues on notice that maybe these Midwestern boys were going to make some noise this season. Maybe.

Two league teams beat two very good teams from other leagues to win season-opening tournament titles. On Oct. 9, MSU blanked North Dakota, 3-0, to capture the Lefty McFadden Invitational, and on Oct. 15, UNO beat New Hampshire, 5-3, to take the Maverick Stampede.

But the joy didn’t end there. On the weekend of Oct. 14-15, Alaska-Fairbanks defeated and tied Minnesota in Minneapolis, Lake Superior State did the same thing to Colgate at home, Michigan beat visiting Boston College (Oct. 14), and Ohio State split with Colorado College on the road, winning the first game.

It was a glorious weekend and there have been some lovely nonconference moments since, but at midseason there isn’t much hope for a repeat of the opening weekend. So far this season, the CCHA is 32-21-7 against non-league opponents.

6. Michigan Loses Four Straight

The Wolverines lost four games in a row for the first time since 1988, prompting captain Andrew Ebbett to say, “This is not Michigan hockey.”

Poor Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks had the misfortune of meeting Michigan at home after those four games. The Wolverines snapped the historic streak with a two-game sweep of the Mavs in Yost last weekend.

5. Jim Roque

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any stranger than Frank Anzalone in Sault Ste. Marie, Jim Roque blamed an officiating crew for his team’s second consecutive shutout loss to Ohio State on Nov. 19.

After losing 4-0, Roque let loose about the officiating, saying, “I don’t think we’re good enough to beat Ohio State and three officials.”

Roque contended that his team was punished by the officiating crew because Roque gave the officials a tape of what he deemed their most egregious errors of the previous night’s 3-0 OSU win over LSSU.

4. Michigan State Goes the Distance

If the Spartans feel as though they’ve been sprinting through the first half, they have a right.

Three Tuesday night games between weekends of play, nonconference play against Cornell, Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin, single games against Michigan and OSU, and a trip to Fairbanks to end the first half.

Eleven Spartans have been out of the lineup with injury or illness — or both — at various times this season, and through it all MSU showed itself to be a team to reckon with, tying Minnesota at home in the College Hockey Showcase and sweeping the Nanooks on the road last weekend.

After losing to OSU Nov. 15 — a Tuesday night game — head coach Rick Comley said, “This stretch is difficult. This midweek — the Tuesday game sounds great in Florida, but it doesn’t always sound great up here, especially when one team has a weekend off and you don’t.”

I’m guessing that next April in Naples, Tuesday will be a dirty word.

3. Western Michigan Sweeps Ohio State

Oct. 28-29, in Kalamazoo, the Broncos beat the Buckeyes for WMU’s only back-to-back wins of the season. On the surface, this one weekend series seems immaterial, but it led to the Buckeyes’ five-game slide back to earth.

OSU lost confidence against WMU and the preseason favorite wound up in the CCHA basement. Since that losing streak, the Buckeyes have gone 7-1-1, but the loss and tie were against visiting Alabama-Huntsville, and the two most recent wins were against visiting Union.

That’s a long way from Colorado Springs.

2. Lake Superior State

The play of the Lakers this season has to be the league’s most pleasant surprise — well, for those of us who desire more than a two-horse show, that is.

LSSU’s weekend in Columbus notwithstanding, the Lakers had that tie and win against Colgate, swept ranked Alaska-Fairbanks at home, and most recently defeated and tied ranked Bemidji State on the road.

The Lakers also split with visiting Miami, rebounding from a 3-0 Friday night loss to take a 3-2 game from the league-leading RedHawks, the only conference loss of the season so far for No. 2 Miami. And there was the 10-0 whomping of WMU.

Heading into games against Notre Dame this weekend, the Lakers are riding a six-game unbeaten streak, something LSSU hasn’t done since many current Laker players were in grade school.

The Lakers have the sixth-best defense in the country, allowing only 2.06 goals per game. Starting goaltender Jeff Jakaitis has the tenth-best goals-against average in the nation (2.01).

1. Miami: The Whole Package

The Miami RedHawks are a lesson in karma. Last season’s perseverance is paying off with this season’s success.

Last year, the RedHawks endured what MSU is going through this year. There were times when head coach Enrico Blasi didn’t have enough healthy players to run a full practice, and he joked at one point that he should avoid practice altogether and go straight to games, since most of his guys incurred injuries in practice, not play.

Miami’s offense is creative, fast, and potentially explosive on any given night, even though the RedHawks are tied for 24th in the nation (with Maine, averaging 3.25 goals per game).

But we all know that defense wins games, and Miami’s is the second-best in the country behind Wisconsin, allowing 1.62 goals per game. The RedHawks are outscoring opponents by a margin of 1.62 goals per game as well, for the third-best scoring margin in the nation. Sure, Andy Greene is in the lineup, but the RedHawks play three freshmen defensemen each and every night.

Then there are the goaltenders, who split time in net. Charlie Effinger has the second-best goals-against average (1.40) and save percentage (.947) in D-I hockey. Newcomer Jeff Zatkoff is fourth in goals-against (1.68) and fifth in save percentage (.936).

Take heart, Michigan State.

Blueliner of the Week

There were, once again, no nominees from the general public for Blueliner of the Week. However, I did see one outstanding performance, and since it’s my column, I’m handing out the hardware.

This week’s recipient is Ohio State junior Sean Collins. True, Collins earned CCHA Defensive Player of the Week for his goal, assist, and +4 in two games against visiting Union, but defensively he was ubiquitous. The entire OSU defense played more true to form Sunday than it has all season — which is to say that it played very well — but even in that crowd he stood out with excellence in his own end in front of Ian Keserich, who was filling in for the slightly damaged Dave Caruso.

Congratulations, Sean.

Traditions? Neuroses? You Be the Judge

Every year, the women at my mother’s church get together to throw a birthday party for Baby Jesus. While I have deep respect for religious faith, I had to laugh when I first heard about this until I learned the reason behind the tradition. Apparently, the ladies donate the baby gifts to a local pregnancy crisis center for underprivileged expectant mothers.

Last year, I published my mother’s cutout cookie recipe, as I did several years ago. I promised you another of Dolly’s recipes this week, but she can’t find the only other recipe that is unique to her repertoire. Everything else she makes — snickerdoodles, peanut butter cookies, spritz cookies — can be found in many cookbooks.

Dolly has promised to send me the recipe of a Slovakian bar cookie this weekend. It is worth the wait. Email me if you want it.

My sister, Vicki, takes complete and total charge of Christmas Eve and Christmas morning in the Weston household. Presents must be arranged under the tree in a specific order whose rules only Vicki understands, and if you’re in the room, you’d do well to either get out of the way or play elf, handing her whichever gift she demands for positioning.

At some point in our childhood — I appear to have blocked out the exact date — Vic decided that gifts in stockings need to be wrapped. When I was a small child, everything in the stocking was unwrapped, and you could just dump it on the floor and count the booty.

In case you’re wondering, Vicki is 33.

Here is some Christmas trivia for you to enjoy and, probably, not answer. Well, you’ll probably not send me your answers, if this year’s tradition holds.

What were the first and last states to recognize Christmas as an official holiday? Where is America’s official national Christmas tree located? Who decided that Christmas should be celebrated on Dec. 25? In what year were electric lights first used on Christmas trees? How many Christmas cards are mailed annually in the U.S.?

And finally, name that tune:

But it don’t snow here
It stays pretty green
I’m going to make a lot of money
Then I’m going to quit this crazy scene

The first person to email me the correct answers wins dinner at Dave Hendrickson’s house. I’m springing for the tater tots.

I couldn’t connect with UAF’s Kyle Greentree, but it wasn’t for lack of trying on his or my part.

This is the last regular column before the new year, so let me take this opportunity to wish each and every one you a very happy and safe holiday season!