Happy New Year!
Welcome to 2006, dear CCHA fans, and the second half of the season, when things get more interesting on tangible levels and the first half of the season becomes infinitely more interesting in retrospect.
It is the time of year when many of us become reflective and some of us bravely take stock of our own lives and situations. This, of course, can lead to disappointment and even despair when you set impossible goals for yourself, so I have determined that the key to my personal happiness in 2006 is to be realistic. Very realistic.
Because I’ve embraced realism, this week I have met 12.5 goals and kept at least half a dozen resolutions. For example, I have arisen at a pre-appointed time every day this year. Every single day. I have also showered when scheduled, fed the cats regularly, not eaten more than a couple of ounces of chocolate — so far this year — and have not committed homicide for which I would have probable cause on the Ohio roadways.
I am confident, given my current pace, that 2006 will be a success. I feel better than James Brown.
To that end, I urge every team in the CCHA to set very specific, achievable goals. Why should I be alone in such bliss?
Keep rotating sophomore Charlie Effinger and freshman Jeff Zatkoff in net. Effinger (1.46 GAA) and Zatkoff (1.59 GAA) are the best goaltending tandem in the nation, with the third and fourth best goals-against averages in the nation, respectively. Effinger (.944 SV%) and Zatkoff (.940 SV%) are second and fourth in the nation for save percentage, too.
Oh, and Effinger has the best win percentage in the country.
No more games in months ending with the letter R for the rest of the season. This is very important. It was from the latter part of November through the early part of December that the Wolverines hit the skids, an historic four-game losing streak. Why historic? The last time Michigan had seen such a streak, some of the current Wolverines were still in diapers.
Lake Superior State
Play at least one more ranked team before the season ends. This season, the Lakers tied and defeated ranked Colgate, split with ranked Miami, swept ranked Alaska-Fairbanks, and defeated and tied ranked Bemidji State. That’s a 5-1-2 record against ranked schools. Thank goodness LSSU has a pair remaining against Michigan.
Retain your defensive corps. The Buckeyes have the fifth-best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 2.00 goals per game. Okay, so Miami’s is second (1.61) and LSSU’s is sixth (2.05), but these Buckeyes have had to work for this. The Bucks should probably keep senior Dave Caruso in net, as he’s giving up just 1.77 goals per game, sixth-best in the nation.
Keep Pat Bateman on the ice. The underrated junior forward is an offensive threat, a key to the power play, and an excellent penalty killer. When he’s on the ice, good things seem to happen.
Do not, under any circumstances, change what Greg Rallo’s eating for breakfast. With a dozen goals and 13 assists, the senior forward is on track to have the best season of his career.
Ride the wave that is Tyler Howells. The junior defenseman scored a pair of goals in MSU’s 6-3 loss to Colorado College at the GLI, just as he had in the Spartans’ 4-3 win over Cornell in Ithaca Oct. 29. Howells (7-13–20), who had just two goals in his previous two seasons, is second on the Spartan squad in scoring.
Keep Scott Parse and Bill Thomas on the ice, together, as much as possible. Parse is tied for first in the country in points per game (1.80) while Thomas is seventh (1.55). Thomas is fifth in the country in goals per game (.85), while Parse is third in the nation (1.25) in assists. Hmm. I wonder if there’s a connection.
Keep playing those guys with that nice western Canadian name, Kyle. Greentree will adjust to his new position as center in the wake of Ryan McLeod’s departure, and Jones had a lovely hat trick against the Spartans in UAF’s 4-4 tie with MSU Dec. 9, the third in that game tying it up with less than a minute to go in regulation.
Just keep feeding Brent Walton the puck.
Play two more games against Bowling Green. No, the Falcons aren’t pushovers, but they are the only team that the Irish swept in a two-game set this season (Nov. 10-11), and in those games Notre Dame outscored BGSU 13-6.
Alex Foster. Alex Foster. Alex Foster.
New Year’s Hardware
Congratulations to several CCHA teams that captured midseason honors in December.
Kudos first of all to the UAF Nanooks on their fifth consecutive Alaska Governor’s Cup. All y’all down here just don’t understand how big this is in Alaska.
UAF won this in style with a 3-0 shutout New Year’s Eve to capture the Nanooks’ eighth Cup in 13 years.
Said three-time captain Curtis Fraser, “Anytime you do something five times in a row, it’s pretty special.”
Now, out of context, that fits exactly with my plan for achievable goals for 2006. Congrats, Curtis!
The Bowling Green Falcons defeated Massachusetts 3-2 and host Connecticut 9-2 to grab the Toyota UConn Classic. Nine different Falcons scored the goals in the title-game win.
BGSU really needed this one, having struggled to find a collective consistency in the first half. “This is a real good way to get back into it,” said head coach Scott Paluch.
I’m guessing that since this was out East, Paluch had more than a few family members in attendance, which is also a real good way to take a trophy.
Miami took the second annual Ohio Hockey Classic, needing a very exciting shootout to do so after tying Ohio State 1-1 in overtime.
“For us, it’s a championship,” said Miami captain Andy Greene. “Whichever way you look at it, it’s a championship and whenever you win one it’s always a good feeling.”
The Ferris State Bulldogs deserve mention, as the Bulldogs tied Boston College 3-3 and beat Denver 3-2 in the Wells Fargo Denver Cup. Unfortunately for FSU, BC advanced to the title game after that opening-round tie by way of a shootout.
After taking two consecutive Badger Hockey Showdowns from host Wisconsin, this must be a letdown for the Bulldogs, but obviously the scores show what FSU can do.
Congrats to the 13 CCHA players who made all-tournament teams:
• Falcons Alex Foster, Jon Horrell, Jonathan Matsumoto, and Mike Nesdill at the Toyota UConn Classic. Foster was MVP.
• Bulldog Greg Rallo at the Wells Fargo Denver Cup.
• RedHawks Andy Greene, Nino Musitelli, and Geoff Smith at the Ohio Hockey Classic.
• Spartan Tyler Howells at the GLI.
• Wildcats Nathan Oystrick and Mike Santorelli at the Badger Showdown.
• Buckeyes Dave Caruso and Matt Waddell, Ohio Hockey Classic. Caruso was MVP.
And finally, congratulations also to Colorado College, this year’s GLI champion, a team which now plays CCHA teams as often as Wayne State used to. I’d make the Tigers an honorary member of the CCHA, but as they would undoubtedly consider that a step in the wrong direction and I don’t need hate mail from yet another conference, I’ll refrain.
Ohio Hockey Classic
This year’s Ohio Hockey Classic was so much better than last year’s for one very simple reason: I wasn’t hacking up a lung.
I was so ill with bronchitis last year during the tourney that I sat as far away from colleagues as possible, and just about all I can remember was how the title game between Colorado College and Ohio State felt like an NCAA playoff match.
This year, I remember much more, and I’m willing to share.
Paul Pearl is quite possibly one of the nicest coaches I’ve ever met, and even though he looks about 15 in his press photo, he looks about 19 in person.
Pearl and Holy Cross seemed to enjoy its OHC appearance in spite of losing 4-0 to OSU in the first round.
The Crusaders really surprised me. They were speedy, physical, and competitive. While they may have been outmatched by OSU’s team defense in the loss — something they freely admitted — they were absolutely in charge of their 4-2 win over Rensselaer.
Something that really surprised me about the Crusaders in their game against OSU was their penalty kill. It was motionless. I kept willing the players to move their feet, but apparently the distance between from the press box to ice level in Nationwide Arena was too much for me to overcome. This especially surprised me since Holy Cross has the second-best combined special teams in the country.
The single biggest disappointment about RPI’s appearance is that my friend and colleague Jayson Moy didn’t make the trip.
The Engineers are a good team, but there was little about their performance that stood out to me especially. What impressed me most about RPI was head coach Dan Fridgen, who was very interesting postgame.
After both losses, Fridgen insisted that the Engineers had controlled each of the losses for all but two of the six regulation periods they played in the tourney, and that those two “off” periods cost RPI the games.
I don’t think Coach Fridgen and I were watching the same contests. RPI scored its first goal against Miami midway through the third period in the 3-2 overtime loss, and the Engineers’ game-tying goal was really scored by Miami defenseman Mitch Ganzak, whose pass in his own zone hit a skate and ricocheted back into the Miami net.
But Fridgen won me completely after RPI’s loss to Holy Cross, when he vigorously defended Holy Cross and Sacred Heart to the Troy Record’s reporter. The reporter insisted that losses to such “inferior” schools should be a cause for concern for the Engineers — RPI lost twice to the Crusaders and once to the Pioneers this year — and Fridgen was passionate in his defense of the Atlantic Hockey schools, and not just because RPI had lost to them. Fridgen was indignant on behalf of the up-and-coming league, and I am now an RPI fan.
Miami and OSU
I see these teams so often that it’s a delight when something, anything, related to either surprises me.
The title game was excellent, which is not surprising. Familiarity breeds contempt — and some respect — between these two programs. The teams are very well matched, with similar styles in nearly everything, and they know each other so well that everyone in the press box could have called a tie game before it began.
I finally got to meet Linda Greene, mother of Miami captain Andy Greene, and that was as delightful surprise. I wasn’t at all surprised that she is as terrific as she is; what surprised me is that I finally got to meet her. As you may know, my mother’s Christmas cutout cookie recipe is what began an email exchange between Linda and me a couple of years ago, and the Miami team captain even attests to the unbaked dough’s tastiness.
Linda and I had a wonderful, embarrassing discussion about her son, right in front of him. She revealed to me the kinds of things that only a proud and friendly mother might tell about her NHL prospect of a son, very un-hockey-like things.
While what’s said in the hallway stays in the hallway, I will cherish the memory of Andy Greene’s horrified face for the rest of my life. It’s nice when a college kid is, indeed, a kid, even for a moment.
That brings me to Nate Guenin, Greene’s counterpart on the OSU squad. The senior defenseman and captain responded with great vigor to what was actually very innocent question asked by yours truly.
Given OSU’s early slump and preseason pick as the favorite, I asked Guenin if that game showed the Buckeyes where they were in the greater scheme of things.
Guenin told me in very pointed and nonvulgar terms that the Buckeyes didn’t care what anyone thought of them, and they knew exactly who they were. He also defended Dave Caruso, whom I think he perceived I attacked. (I did not. Dave was excellent in the tourney and as he was clearly beating himself up after the Miami game, few folks felt worse for him than I.)
It was Guenin’s heated response, delivered not just as team captain but as college kid, that reminded me of why I cover this specific sport.
I’m hoping Nate will forgive me in time for Valentine’s Day. He owes me a date from two years ago.
The attendance at the title game was disappointing, down from last year’s, but it was very spirited with nearly all Miami and OSU fans, who finally agreed on one thing by the end of the game: Michigan still sucks.
When the announcers at OSU games remind the crowd that there’s one minute to play in a given period, Buckeye fans respond with, “And Michigan still sucks!” By then end of overtime, the entire crowd was in on this, a truly heartwarming gesture.
Trivia, Cookies, Blueliners, Games, and Kyle Greentree
There was one clear winner to the last trivia I asked, and next week I’ll reveal the lucky guy who wins dinner with Dave Hendrickson, after I’ve thought up a new trivia contest.
All good things to those who wait.
A few folks wrote in about the promised Slovakian cookie recipe. My mom, Dolly, couldn’t find it the week before Christmas, I couldn’t find it when I was visiting my parents in Florida for Christmas, and I’ve worked so much in the days since Christmas that I haven’t had time to pester Dolly for it. I’ll do what I can for next week.
Among Greene, Guenin, and Waddell, it was hard to pick the best blueliner on the ice at the OHC — and there were other worthy nominations from both squads — so I can’t and won’t, and there were no reader nominations. Next week, you write in, eh?
I’ll pick a series of the week next week, and if the planets are aligned, I’ll get to talk to UAF’s Kyle Greentree, who is sojourning with the Nanooks in southern Michigan for the next two weeks.