This Week in the CCHA: Oct. 26, 2006

Multiple Choices

“It’s something that stings, and we’ve got address the things that embarrassed us in front of our fans.”

Who said this? Is it:

A. Michigan head coach Red Berenson,

B. Ohio State head coach John Markell, or

C. Boston College head coach Jerry York?

In spite of the dressing-down OSU received at the hands of visiting Minnesota, and in spite of Miami’s 4-1 win over Michigan at Yost — a win that snapped a 20-game Wolverine home win streak against the RedHawks — the answer to the above question is actually “C,” Jerry York, whose Eagles lost to Notre Dame Friday night. For the third consecutive meeting. Each when BC was ranked No. 1.

And by the score of 7-1.

“We got off to a fast start on Friday night and that really let us control the momentum early in the game,” said ND head coach Jeff Jackson.

How fast was Notre Dame’s start? Try one minute and three seconds fast. That’s how long it took Mark Van Guilder to score his first of three, this one even strength. His second goal was scored unassisted, four-on-four in the second period, and his third was on the power play in the third.

“It wasn’t easy, I’ll tell you that,” said Van Guilder. “That’s the fastest team we’ve played this year, the fastest team I’ve seen in quite some time. But we’ve talked about putting together a complete game, and we finally did it. We could have played anybody tonight.”

So complete was the Notre Dame game that the Irish nearly swept the CCHA Player of the Week awards. Defenseman Wes O’Neill, goalie David Brown, and rookie Kevin Deeth were each honored. Van Guilder, however, was not.

The Irish rounded out their trip east with a 6-1 win over Providence. That’s Notre Dame 13, Hockey East 2.

And it isn’t even Christmas yet!

The Irish and Eagles did not meet last season, but two years ago on Oct. 22, 2004, ND beat BC in South Bend by a score of 3-2, with 15 seconds to spare in regulation on T.J. Jindra’s shorthanded game-winner. On Oct. 24, 2003, the Irish upset the Eagles 1-0, when Mike Walsh scored at 14:56 in the third.

Two seasons ago, Notre Dame’s 3-2 win over BC was just one of five victories overall for the Irish, a dismal season that led to Dave Poulin’s departure. In 2003, ND had 20 wins and made it to Joe Louis Arena.

In other words, it’s difficult to determine how this weekend will factor into ND’s big picture this year.

But I love it still. Notre Dame’s off to a 3-1-0 start, with two of those victories coming at the expense of a league against which the CCHA has not compared favorably in recent years, and Jackson is just two wins away from his 200th collegiate career victory.

The Fighting Irish: the early frontrunners for this year’s Defender of the Realm Award. Sure feels like Christmas to long-suffering Notre Dame fans.

Miami Nice

Some folks thought I looked pretty silly for picking Miami first in preseason speculation. I saw them at the Ice Breaker, where they looked solid but let their emotions get the better of them against Vermont, and I thought, “Maybe I was wrong.” I mean, it’s not like that hasn’t happened before. Often.

But after last weekend’s showing against Michigan, I’m experiencing something akin to confidence. Don’t worry; it’ll pass.

Miami split in Yost last weekend. Just that phrase — Miami split in Yost last weekend — would have been remarkable years ago, and not just because it’s been 4,353 days since the RedHawks last won there.

(No, I didn’t calculate that. That comes from the Miami press release, courtesy of Mr. Jess Bechard.)

The Wolverines are notoriously tough in Yost Ice Arena. In 2002-03, Michigan lost just twice at home, the following year, three times. In 2004-05, Wolverine fans were treated to a season with just one single Michigan home loss.

Last year, Michigan lost — gasp! — six times in Yost.

The six home losses weren’t the only signs of something different in the Michigan camp last season. The Wolverines suffered an uncharacteristic (and apparently painful) four-game losing streak in November, and the team never looked as good as the squad of a year before, which isn’t surprising given the number of freshmen on last year’s roster.

And while head coach Red Berenson can be disingenuous about his team’s performance — “Oh, I don’t know if we were as good as the 13-2 score indicates” — after Miami’s win Friday, Berenson told it like it really was.

“We were a different team tonight. We didn’t come out with the fire that we needed to, and they did. They won all of the little battles. Their penalty killing literally outshot and outscored our power play, and their power play was better than our penalty killing.

“We have to learn as a team to come back after an important victory. Beating a team twice in this league is very hard.”

In seasons past, that might have sounded like fluff from the Wolverine head coach, but he really means it. Last year, Michigan had 10 losses in league play, and found it difficult to put together back-to-back efforts … except, of course, when playing Michigan State, whom the Wolverines tied three times during the regular season.

On the flip side of Michigan’s seeming descent to Earth is Miami’s ascension. While head coach Enrico Blasi and the rest of the RedHawks may say — often and publicly — that they have nothing to prove, they actually do. Everyone wants to know whether Miami’s early clinching of last year’s regular-season title is an indication of the direction of the program, or a fluke.

I’m leaning toward the former, and Blasi’s first-ever win against Michigan in Yost, as a player or a coach, is something like a little bit of supporting evidence.

In that 4-1 win, Miami scored three goals in the second — one shorthanded, one five-on-five, one on the power play — and a third period, shorthanded, three-on-four tally that Michigan’s Jack Johnson answered about a minute later, four-on-three. Three of those goals belonged to Nathan Davis, who tallied his second career hat trick.

“Nathan’s one of our go-to guys,” said Blasi. “He had some chances tonight and he buried him.”

Said Davis, “It’s always fun to get a hat trick. It’s just an unbelievable feeling, especially in a building like this and against a team like Michigan.”

And just when I’d heard (and predicted) that Charlie Effinger would get the start both nights in net, Effinger made just 14 saves on 20 Michigan shots in the 6-3 Wolverine win Thursday, so Jeff Zatkoff earned the starting bid Friday and his second win of the season.

There’s a New Kid in Town, and He’s Hot

I first saw the object of my affection on Friday, October 10. It was a beautiful autumn day, warm and glowing, and I had taken a meandering drive through the back roads of southwestern Ohio to arrive for our date. The air was fragrant, sweet and ripe. The sun danced over fields just harvested, meadows just changing hue.

Of course, I’d seen the pictures — but you know how they can lie. A little nip here, a soft-focus there … and everything looks absolutely perfect, an impossible dream to behold fueling unreasonably high expectations of happily ever after.

But on a gorgeous fall afternoon, almost giddy with anticipation, nearly overcome by the coffee in my veins and the heady sensation of driving a car that was safe to take out of my own ZIP code, I was willing to allow myself the smallest, slightest bit of hope.

I arrived at my destination, eager to meet this stranger, and there stood the object of my affection: not too tall, graceful, handsome, and with a seating capacity of 3,200.

Steve Cady Arena.

All I remember about walking through the door is the rush of new love and the smell of a brand-new $34.8 million building.

This new building, my friends, absolutely lives up to its billing. It’s a stunning state-of-the-art facility that manages to retain the intimacy of the old Goggin while dripping in understated luxury.

By the end of the Ice Breaker, I was ready to move in.

Both sports information director Jess Bechard and Miami assistant athletic director (and former SID) Mike Harris bombarded me with trivia about The Cady that weekend, but Harris grinned like a new father for 48 hours running.

I remember Harris telling me about the gazillion-inch plasma television, and the specifications of the locker room air vents, and all I could do was look around and think, “It’s really, really pretty.”

And then there was Harris telling me about the design specs kept the student section at The Cady on top of the visiting goaltender two of three periods, and all I could do was look around and think, “It’s really, really pretty.”

And Bechard gave me the grand tour through the team locker room after all was said and done, pointed out luxuries and conveniences, told me about donors and plans for all the artwork that has yet to be hung, and one thought went through my mind: It’s really, really pretty.

Okay. So that’s the fundamental difference between the way in which men and women communicate and think. Sure, somewhere deep within me where the sportswriter resides, all of the design specs and implications for Miami hockey were registering, but all the rest of me could see was pure beauty.

At one point, I said to Harris, “It’s just gorgeous. If it were a man, I’d date it.”

But who am I kidding? The Cady is way out of my league.

I have two complaints about The Cady. First, there’s no coffee in the press box. That’s a complaint I also have about Ohio State and several other arenas around the league. I appreciate the free colas, but those soft drinks are for kids. Java, man, cups o’ joe, please.

The second speaks more to The Cady’s professional image. It’s a flawless building, as far as I can tell. All kidding aside, it’s beautifully designed and should be an amazing asset to the Miami program. But when the clock struck 12 each night — and we were covering a tournament, after all — the building management wanted us out, right then, right there.

The lights went off, and someone from building management was actually yelling across the ice at Bechard and me about leaving. I was working. So was Jess. It’s not inconceivable that people covering tournaments stay past midnight in a building to get something done.

That was the only thing about the weekend that made me feel unwelcome. I can tell you that if I’m working and you’re telling me to hurry up and get out of your building because you want to save a dime on the electric bill, not only am I going to be less efficient with my time and your money — not out of spite, but human frailty — but I am also going to think that you don’t want me to return to your building to cover your team.

At least I didn’t get locked in, alone. That happened in Sault Ste. Marie years ago, literally locked into the arena part of Abel Arena, yelling for a security guard to come and let me out.

Next week, look for a feature on the new Goggin Ice Center, Steve Cady Arena, and something about this jewel’s namesake, Steve Cady himself.

Breaking the Ice

It was a real pleasure to be able to cover the Ice Breaker Invitational this season, and not only because I got to do so in The Cady. It was nice to start the season watching four games, featuring four teams from four different conferences. It was nice to see all of the league’s commissioners, MSU athletic director Ron Mason, and a bunch of guys from the CCHA who wear stripes.

It was an honor to be present for the dedication ceremony of the building, and watching that dedication seemed like a fitting season’s beginning, given that the last time I’d seen the RedHawks play in Oxford was the game in which they clinched last year’s regular-season title.

Most of all, it was just great to see hockey after a long summer’s hiatus.

Here are some impressions from the weekend:

• Colgate looked a little unprepared as a team, but not as bad as the score of the 6-0 loss to Vermont would indicate. Goaltender Mark Dekanich had a rough early game — fluky, really — and the team could not recover. It was, after all, the first game of the season.

• It’s strange that Miami is not the first team to win a Division I contest in its new arena. That honor belongs to Vermont.

• Denver may have played a mediocre game against Miami that Friday, but no one was going to beat the RedHawks that first night.

• Denver is no Minnesota. (I came to that conclusion within the first three minutes of Minnesota’s 7-2 thumping of OSU last weekend.)

• Miami looked unbeatable against Denver, but it looked as though the RedHawks were gassed against the Catamounts. I suspect it was the emotion of the weekend.

• Miami must stay out of the penalty box.

• It’s hard to stay out of the penalty box with four officials on the ice.

• Although people complained about the officiating, I thought it was fine — except that there were four guys in stripes on the ice.

• Vermont looked superb: cool, composed, poised, talented.

• Catamount goaltender Joe Fallon looked positively unflappable in net.

• Catamount goaltender Joe Fallon doesn’t appear to be much of a post-game conversationalist.

• If Vermont was picked to be in the middle of the Hockey East pack this season, either the rest of the league is fantastic, or people were wrong about the Catamounts.

• Vermont has the best-looking coaching staff in Division I men’s college hockey.

It really was a good field, but no preview, I think, of this year’s Frozen Four.

A Lesson in Hockey, Minnesota Style

Last weekend, Ohio State played 40 minutes of hockey in Value City Arena. For the other 80 minutes, the Buckeyes watched the Minnesota Golden Gophers take it to them in their home barn.

Minnesota beat OSU 7-2 and 6-3. The 7-2 game wasn’t nearly that close. The 6-3 contest became a real hockey game in the second and third periods, when the Buckeyes finally woke up and realized that they were, in fact, allowed to use their legs and brains while suited up.

After the first night, OSU captain Sean Collins said, “There could have been a little bit of an intimidation factor.”

With as many as nine rookies on the roster, the Golden Gophers didn’t look like a young and inexperienced team … but those “rookies” are among Division I’s best newcomers, and included in that group is defenseman Erik Johnson, the No. 1 pick for this year’s NHL Entry Draft (St. Louis).

Johnson and the young ones didn’t disappoint. Five Gopher freshmen scored the first night, including Johnson and Jay Barriball, a late pick-up for Minnesota, replacing phenom Phil Kessel, who opted to sign with the Boston Bruins before the start of this season.

If there’s a better team in the WCHA, every other league in the country is in deep, deep doo-doo.

Of course, as OSU head coach John Markell said, the Buckeyes contributed to that loss by giving something less than their “A” game — like perhaps their “S” or “T” game.

“That’s why you play these nonconference games,” said Markell. “You kind of see what you’ve got and where you’re at.”

This week, the Buckeyes are at Northern Michigan, and if OSU doesn’t get its defensive game together, Wildcat fans will be rewarded with two easy-looking NMU wins. The trouble at that end for OSU is twofold: a pair of rookie goaltenders that look like rookies, and a defense that hasn’t adjusted to new systems and a pair of rookie goaltenders that look like rookies.

Nick Filion and Joe Palmer have talent, but neither knows at this point how to smother a rebound. Of the two, I think Filion looks better in net; he takes up more space, makes better initial saves, and is quicker to reposition. Palmer leaves enormous holes in the net. Both gave up rebounds as soft as the moon.

Palmer’s save percentage through three games is .867; Filion’s was .837 for his single outing in the 7-2 loss.

The OSU defense — and it’s a team effort, as the Buckeyes gave up eight power-play goals in two games against Minnesota — hasn’t yet figured out how to clear those fluffy rebounds.

Rookie goaltending, new defensive systems, lots of penalties, virtually no penalty killing, and this week an Olympic sheet against a team that just won the Maverick Stampede. That may be a long bus ride home from Marquette for the Buckeyes.

Good news for OSU is that the Buckeyes actually scored five goals against the Gophers last weekend, and all four good goals. This is a team that couldn’t beg, buy, borrow, or requisition a marker last season. Senior Mathieu Beaudoin may have the year Buckeye fans have been waiting for him to have.

Oh, but those Gophers. See you in St. Louis!

As Promised, Don Lucia’s Hair

In a word: Berensonian.

The evolution of Don Lucia has been a fascinating process to witness. I remember him from the Frozen Four — of course, we weren’t calling it that, then — in Milwaukee in 1997, when he coached Colorado College. He was an affable, down-to-earth, accessible coach with an easy demeanor and a bright future.

And now that future, realized, has taken Lucia to a Berensonian, Parkerian, Masonian kind of plane of existence. In our humble sport, there are few true superstars, but Lucia is there. I felt as though he should have an entourage when he entered the postgame press conference — and having beat writers from two papers local to the Twin Cities doesn’t count.

He’s like Sir Paul McCartney without the awe-shucks-aging-hipster factor (and pricey divorce). He’s not quite as powerful as Pope Benedict XVI … yet.

He seems to have become accustomed to having the press hang on his every word. Why not? He says great, quotable things postgame. He speaks mostly using complete, clear sentences. He still appears affable, but there’s a noticeable distance that is hard to define.

Lucia is no longer just a regular guy coaching a bunch of regular guys, as many of the coaches in Division I are — regardless of whether they or their players are, indeed, regular. He’s Don Lucia. Since that’s already a proper noun, I can’t capitalize it twice to give it the proper emphasis that it deserves.

And the three coaches I’ve seen who best exemplify this public persona are Berenson, Parker, and sometimes Mason (who earned the nickname “The Pope,” after all). Throw Mike Eaves in that mix — but Berenson, Parker, and Mason have or had time-tested longevity.

Perhaps Lucia knows he’s on the fast track. Because he probably is.

But that has nothing to do with his hair. It really does look like Berenson’s, but a little longer.

Last-Minute Musings

Lake Superior State Thanks for taking it to Clarkson, boys. It’s a hard place to play and a split is respectable. Next week, recounting Jim Roque’s hidden sense of humor.

Northern Michigan Congratulations on winning the Maverick Stampede, boys. Way to earn your first tournament title since taking the 2001 Everblades College Classic. Next week, Coach Kyle and I will stop playing phone tag and actually speak.

Alaska The Nanooks have quite a bit of work to do in December to defend their Governor’s Cup, after losing to and tying Alaska-Anchorage.

Ferris State and Western Michigan Splitting is one thing in a home-and-home series, but winning in each other’s buildings while losing at home is perverse. FSU head coach Bob Daniels needs two victories to reach the 100-win mark for road games. Including the win at FSU, WMU plays seven of 10 CCHA games on the road to finish out the first half of the season.

Kurt Brown I owe this man an apology. Two weeks ago, when Joseph Palmer made his debut in the OSU net with a 1-0 win, I wrote in the game recap that Palmer was the first OSU rookie goaltender to begin his career with a shutout. I was wrong. That honor belongs to Kurt Brown, former Buckeye goaltender and current Director of Hockey Operations for OSU.

Brown made his first start for the Buckeyes on Dec. 5, 1992, and earned a 4-0 blanking of Ferris State. He shared time in net during his career with Tom Askey, and that’s how I missed this. Shame on me. It was Brown himself who emailed to let me know.

Games of the Week Next week, as well as that report of some offseason doings and departures.

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