This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 30, 2006

Defending the Realm?

It’s really a good news-bad news kind of week for the CCHA. The good news is that … well … wait a minute … I know it’s here somewhere.

Perhaps it’s my inherently perky nature that forced that lie from my fingertips. There is no good news.

Last weekend had to be a wake-up call for those who consider the CCHA an “elite” conference. And I’m here to say that they’re out there and not just in here, those who are oblivious to the league’s 12-20-6 collective record against the ECACHL, Hockey East, and the WCHA.

Take Rensselaer head coach Seth Appert, for example, whose Engineers tied the Buckeyes in the third-place game of the Rensselaer/Bank of America Holiday Tournament last week.

“It will go down officially as a tie, but it feels like a win,” said Appert. “Even though it was a shootout, it’s still an opportunity to beat a Big Ten school. There are very few huge power schools in college hockey and Ohio State is one of them.”

That would be the 4-7-3 Ohio State Buckeyes of power school fame. And technically, it was OSU which had to come from behind and tie, scoring four unanswered goals in the third period to come back from a 4-1 deficit to take the lead — briefly — before allowing the game-tying goal at 18:52 in the third.

Two other sobering moments from the Thanksgiving weekend:

WCHA 3, CCHA 1. Michigan did pull off the win over Wisconsin that I thought would belong to the Spartans, but the Wolverines were seemingly defenseless against the Golden Gophers, who scored four unanswered in the third — two 23 seconds apart — to spank Michigan by an 8-2 score.

And the Badgers blanked the Spartans, who lost both their contests in the College Hockey Showcase.

Canton, N.Y. 3, CCHA 1. Two Ohio teams traveled to upstate New York and the Empire State bested the Buckeye State handily. Yes, Miami beat St. Lawrence by a goal Friday night, but the RedHawks lost to Clarkson Saturday, taking eight penalties for 24 minutes in the process.

And Bowling Green, the other CCHA representative on this goodwill mission to the ECACHL? No goals in two games. Blanked twice. Allowed nine.

Sure, there were bright spots. Michigan’s defeat of the defending national champions is not to be diminished, especially since it became the 1,400th win in program history.

Okay. So there was a bright spot.

And at least the CCHA is still 19-0-1 against the AHA and CHA. For now.

Through the Looking Glass

Alaska forward Kyle Greentree notched his second career hat trick last Saturday as the Nanooks beat the Lakers 3-1. Greentree is currently tied for second nationally in goals per game (0.92) and eighth in points per game ( 1.67).

To hit that hat trick and account for all of his team’s scoring in that game, Greentree had to beat Lake Superior State goaltender Jeff Jakaitis three times. In one game.

Jakaitis has the second-highest save percentage (.944) in the nation, and the seventh-best goals-against average (1.89). Greentree’s feat, therefore, is all the more remarkable, worthy of honors, you might think.

So this week’s CCHA Offensive Player of the Week is … OSU defenseman Sean Collins. Yes, Collins had three goals and two assists for the weekend, and was named to all-tournament team, but wouldn’t a key hat trick against one of the top goaltenders in the nation, in league play, trump an accomplishment by a player whose team went 0-1-1 nonconference?

This is not to take anything away from Collins. I like him. He’s an excellent player. He can beat me up. And, though a blueliner, he’s part of the ongoing experiment that is the OSU offense this season.

But a hat trick. Against Jakaitis. In a key series that further separated Alaska from LSSU in the standings.

I must not have my priorities straight.

Further Weirdness, Soon Resolved

Although MSU is currently No. 12 in the nation and OSU is nowhere on that radar at this point, both have .500 records in league play and the Bucks are one point ahead of the Spartans in league standings, although MSU has a game in hand on OSU.

They face off this weekend in East Lansing, where MSU is undefeated this season.

Speaking of Spartans

Did you see Tim Kennedy’s coast-to-coast goal in last week’s 2-1 MSU loss to Michigan?

Unassisted, from behind his own net, Kennedy took the down the ice left of center, threaded two Michigan defenders, crossed toward the center and put the puck through another Wolverine’s legs (Jason Dest?) before deking Billy Sauer for the prettiest goal I’ve seen in years.

But, as fate would have it, his Spartans were playing on Tuesday night, and we all know that rule by now.

Not Weird, but Interesting

Even though the Wolverines got spanked 8-2 by the Gophers, Michigan has the third-best scoring offense in the country, averaging 4.33 goals per game. Minnesota is second, with 4.53 goals per game … no small thanks to that 8-2 win.

Stranger than Fiction

According to my esteemed colleague, Danny Martin, at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the Nanook player or coach who scores last during the practice-ending shooting session is known as the “Juicy Boy,” because he has to fill the team’s water and juice bottles.

Juicy Boy. Insert your own punchline here.

At Least Amusing

You should never take the business of sport too seriously. Root for your team with all your might, live and die by your club, but do keep in mind the smoke and mirrors that accompany the actual games.

Headline on “Irish Fighting Their Way Up College Polls.”

Pun aside, the Irish slipped a notch this week. But it is nice to see the pub for one of our own, and it does provide credence for the theory that a strong Notre Dame program can and will be good for college hockey.

Games of the Week

There are six conference series this week, but this is the one I want to see.

No. 14 Alaska (6-2-4, 4-1-3 CCHA) at No. 5 Notre Dame (10-3-1, 5-2-1 CCHA)
7:05 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Joyce Center, South Bend, Ind.

The Irish and the Nanooks are tied for third in the CCHA standings, and each has as fair a chance as the other to pull ahead.

That having been said, Notre Dame has several advantages of note, including the fact that the Irish have played just four games at home this season, and are 4-0-0. The atmosphere at the Joyce is rocking, as long-suffering fans finally have something to cheer about.

The Irish are arguably the best defensive team in the country, but they’re no slouches offensively. They score by committee rather than with one solid line or two. The Nanooks, by contrast, rely on several key scorers but are more than capable defensively.

The Nanooks took three points at home from the Lakers last weekend, while the Irish split at home with Nebraska-Omaha.

It’s a brief series of the week summary, but here’s the match by the overall numbers:

• Goals per game: UA 3.42 (fifth); ND 3.57 (third)
• Goals allowed per game: UA 2.50 (fifth); ND 1.36 (first)
• Power play: UA 22.0 percent (first); ND 19.2 percent (fourth)
• Penalty kill: UA 82.7 percent (seventh); ND 92.0 percent (first)
• Top scorer: UA Kyle Greentree (11-9–20); ND Erik Condra (5-11–16)
• Top ‘tender: UA Chad Johnson (.923 SV%); ND David Brown (.941 SV%)

Both Johnson and Brown are Penguins draftees. Johnson was taken in the fifth round this year, Brown in the eighth in 2004. In his weekly press release, ND’s Tim Connor entitled this note, “March of the Penguins.” Not only is Tim one of the best in the business, but he’s also weirdly wonderful in ways that deserve to be mentioned occasionally. Not every SID is an excellent writer, but Tim is.

Other tidbits of interest:

ND has given up just two first-period goals this season, and did so against UNO last Friday night.

Through 14 games this season, ND has either led or been tied with its opponent 94.4 percent of the time.

ND has trailed just twice in the third period this season.

Ryan Muspratt has returned to the ice of the Nanooks after a nine-month hiatus due to injury (had a point in each game last weekend, too).

Greentree’s Saturday hat trick snapped a three-game point drought.

UA’s Saturday win over LSSU broke a five-game home winless streak against the Lakers.

Picks I can’t believe I’m calling a split in this series — and it can clearly come back to bite me. I’m so firmly on the Irish bandwagon that I don’t see them losing much this season, and I do see the Nanooks’ 1-1-2 away record … and yet, I still think that the ‘Nooks have it in them. They are middle of the CCHA pack in both offense and defense, but the Irish are nothing fancy offensively (although they’re very steady in that department), and I have to think that they can steal points because they have players with a flair for scoring. ND 4-2, UA 4-2

Another Belated Message

A belated happy birthday to Daniel Jankowski, who doesn’t look a day over 38.