This Week in the CCHA: Feb. 1, 2007

Down but Not Out

“It’s miserable not winning. There’s no other way to say that.”

With just four league wins and seven overall this season, Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels isn’t mincing words. But even with the Bulldogs hovering near the bottom of the CCHA standings, Daniels doesn’t want anyone to think that Ewigleben Arena is a place where the season feels lost.

“It’s been tough on the kids,” said Daniels, “but it’s been a pretty positive season. I love coming to the rink, and I love the way we practice.

“I still have high hopes that we can make something out of the season. Sometimes you have a different feeling when things aren’t going you’re way, but it’s a pretty good group of guys we’ve got here. If you’ve got to go through it, it’s a good group to be here. We continue to work hard.”

Daniels said that “there’s more than one answer” to why FSU isn’t having the season it expected. The Bulldogs suffered through injuries in the first half of the season and now have a shortened bench with the departure of sophomore Dan Riedel.

And they don’t exactly face creampuffs on a regular basis. “We’re in a pretty good cluster,” said Daniels, a master of understatement, considering the Bulldogs are clustered with Michigan, Michigan State, and revamped Western Michigan. FSU has gone 2-7-1, collectively, against those opponents this season.

And then there’s the matter of goalscoring. Ferris State, averaging 2.61 goals per game, has the 44th-best scoring offense in the nation. Mitch O’Keefe, the sophomore netminder who has seen the brunt of work between FSU’s pipes, is allowing 3.20 goals per game on average with a .879 save percentage.

“Early, I think even to this day at times, our ability to score goals hasn’t been that great,” said Daniels “We haven’t struggled to generate opportunities, and we haven’t struggled to get pucks on net … but scoring the goals hasn’t come easy for us.

“Defensively, for the most part, I think we’re pretty good. When our goaltending seems to go well, we can’t score; when we score, our goaltending doesn’t go well. At times, when we struggle to score it puts pressure on our goaltenders.”

This weekend, FSU hosts Ohio State, a team that has taken at least one point each weekend it’s faced a CCHA opponent.

A Service Just for You, and You Know Who You Are

Two weeks ago — Jan. 18, to be exact — I publicly called out Bulldog Matt Verdone for slumping. When I mentioned this to Daniels, he laughed and said, “Good!”

Verdone had, until the week I called him out, just four goals in 23 games, compared with the 14 he had last season in 38 contests. Since then? Three goals. Last Saturday, Verdone extended his current point streak to a career-best seven games.

While Daniels fell short of giving me credit for the increase in Verdone’s goal production, I think we can see here what’s going on.

And I think we — and by “we” I mean “I” — can make a handy profit on this. Coaches? Send me the names. I’ll call them out.

Yes, That Would Be the Worst Thing

Last weekend, the unthinkable happened, and the market — I mean, the pollsters — reacted: Minnesota dropped two whole college hockey games. In a row.

This, of course, led to widespread speculation (just short of panic) regarding this week’s poll. After his team earned three points from second-place, visiting Miami, Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson was asked Saturday about the possibility of being ranked first.

“That would be the worst thing that ever happened to us,” Jackson told the South Bend Tribune post-game last Saturday. “We’re a good team, and I don’t want to build us into something yet.”

I thought the official line of coaches was that polls don’t matter?

Well, thankfully for the Irish, only one voter cast his vote (it has to be his, by process of elimination) for Notre Dame to grace the top spot. Everyone else inclined to change the earth’s rotation remembered that New Hampshire also has a college hockey team.

I do understand where Jackson is coming from. There is a certain danger in teams believing their press or of becoming overexposed. While I haven’t seen the national news media flock to South Bend to cover hockey — and I certainly haven’t fallen off the ND bandwagon, considering I’d like to ride it or any other CCHA team’s bandwagon to St. Louis (come on, Western Michigan!) — I can see how a No. 1 spot can mess with a team’s psyche.

Such a ranking this week would perhaps have come at an especially bad time. Notre Dame faces Bowling Green twice this weekend while the RedHawks, trailing the Irish now by three points in the league, travel to Alaska.

That overconfidence can be a killer.

Games in Hand, but What a Schedule

The Spartans climbed the national poll a couple of spots but fell to fourth place in the CCHA last weekend as they remained idle while everyone else played. Michigan swept FSU, putting the Wolverines three points ahead of MSU with just one game remaining between the squads this season.

“I think there is still lots to be done,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley this week.

The Spartans, who are 9-1-0 in their last 10 games, face an interesting variety of opponents down the stretch, and have one game in hand on both Michigan and Notre Dame, and two on Miami. They are seven points out of first place.

This weekend, they travel to Omaha to face the hot-ish fifth-place Mavericks, who are a mere three points behind the Spartans in the standings. UNO is 5-1-0 in its last six CCHA contests.

One reason for UNO’s success during that stretch of games, which dates back to the second week of January, is freshman goaltender Jeremie Dupont, who is 4-1-1 in that span with a .929 save percentage and 1.95 GAA. Dupont made his first back-to-back starts last weekend, earning a sweep of visiting Northern Michigan.

That conference sweep was UNO’s fourth CCHA sweep of the season.

More Benjamins

UNO’s 6-1 win over NMU last Saturday night was the program’s 100th CCHA victory, and Maverick senior forward Alex Nikiforuk earned his 100th career point in Friday’s 5-2 win over the Wildcats.

What We Need Is More Ray Ahos and Matt Barneses

Recently, my esteemed colleague Scott Weighart asked a few guys you’ve heard of whether increasing the size of the goal to increase the number of goals scored is a good idea.

Boston University head coach Jack Parker told Weighart that he’s behind the idea. Parker said that the skilled players in Hockey East “have a hard time scoring goals because it’s a difficult job with the goalies being so good. So I don’t think I’m going to win this argument, but it’s a very logical thing to me. You want more goals scored? Make the nets bigger. Because that guy is the biggest problem. You can make pads smaller, but you can’t make a 6-foot-5 guy 6-foot-1.”

Now, perhaps I’m a little sensitive about size discrimination, but should we really single out the tall, Mr. Parker? Shouldn’t we be grateful, instead, that the tall now have more options available to them than basketball and apple picking?

In his weekly press conference, Michigan State head coach Rick Comley seemed dismissive of gimmicky fixes for lack of fan interest, which is blamed in part on lack of scoring. Said Comley, “Don’t change the game too much thinking you’re going to make it something.”

Comley was addressing the dismal television ratings for last week’s NHL All-Star game. Comley’s thinking suggests that those concerned with such things were looking at symptoms rather than causes.

“It’s a non-national sport that will never be a national TV sport. There’s been great growth, but you’re just not going to beat some sports that are out there.”

(Like poker, for example. We need more coverage, rather than less. With poker exposure on ESPN, Bravo, The Travel Channel and the Game Show Network, the ultimate couch potato “sport” — you can be a couch potato while participating, not just while viewing — is seriously in danger of fading away for lack of artificially-produced interest. But I digress.)

And here’s the list of superheroes known as the top 10 goaltenders in college hockey, by save percentage with height:

• Jeff Jakaitis, LSSU, .940, 5-10
• Peter Mannino, Denver, .937, 6-0
• Kevin Regan, UNH, .933, 6-1
• Dan Rosen, Brown, .931, 5-11
• David Leggio, Clarkson, .931, 5-11
• Joe Fallon, Vermont, .931, 6-3
• Bobby Goepfert, SCSU, .928, 5-10
• David Brown, ND, .928, 5-11
• John Quick, UMass, .927, 6-1
• Glenn Fisher, Denver, .927, 6-1

Maybe Parker has a point. After all, those goalies out east are pretty tall, and everyone on the list is taller than I am.

Then there’s BU’s record against UMass, UNH, and Vermont this season: 0-1-3. Oh, and then there’s that kid from Maine — what’s his name? — Ben Bishop. Not among the top 10, but he does stand six feet, five inches tall. And BU did tie Maine in November.

Yes, I definitely see Coach Parker’s point.

And Speaking of All-Star …

Hats off to the four CCHA alums who participated in the AHL All-Star game Jan. 29. Spartan Kip Miller (Grand Rapids) had a goal and RedHawk Andy Greene (Lowell) had an assist for PlanetUSA, and Wildcat Nathan Oystrick had a helper for Canadian.

Falcon Dan Bylsma, who is an assistant coach for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, was an assistant coach for PlanetUSA.

PlanetUSA beat Canadian 7-6.

Fan Mail

I got email last week — a rarity this season — from several folks who took exception to my “dream” Detroit foursome. What’s surprising is that none of it came from the league office.

I wrote that I’d love to see Notre Dame, Miami, Ohio State, and either Alaska or Nebraska-Omaha make it to Detroit. (Bowling Green is welcome to this party as well.) So many people took me to task for not thinking about how such a field would draw in Detroit.

Remember that story about eggs and baskets? That’s my point, my friends.

Keep Your Tuesday Afternoon Free

I’ll be featured on CSTV’s and USCHO’s Tuesday afternoon chat, at 2:00 p.m. While you won’t actually be in the room with me, it is live and you’ll have a chance to vent your spleen or shoot the breeze, as you wish.