This Week in the CCHA: Feb. 22, 2007

Congratulations, Notre Dame!

With their 1-0 win over Alaska in Fairbanks last Friday night, the Irish captured their first-ever CCHA regular-season title.

That it came in the form of a shutout was fitting; senior goaltender David Brown has had the season of his life.

“Winning a title is a huge, huge accomplishment and I’m fortunate to be a part of it with a great group of guys,” said Brown. “I feel honored to have participated in something so great and it will hang from the rafters for the Irish program for years to come.”

Did you see that verb phrase? “I feel honored to have participated…,” the correct use of the present tense with a perfect infinitive.

Oh, I love you, Notre Dame.

Red Carpet Time

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: How does anyone get anything done when Turner Classic Movies runs its “31 Days of Oscar”?

I don’t TiVo. I don’t even VCR. I’m a live-in-the-moment kind of gal, so I scour the TCM schedule and find myself watching movies at the oddest times.

Yesterday, I stayed up late to watch Ball of Fire, starring the underrated Barbara Stanwyck as a slang-swinging moll and Gary Cooper as an egghead working on an encyclopedia. It’s not even my favorite Stanwyck film; that would be The Lady Eve, with Henry Fonda. Thank goodness it’s not on this month.

I’m sad that I’ll miss American in Paris Friday night when the Wolverines play the Buckeyes, but I hope that contest ends in regulation so that I can get home in time to watch Annie Hall at midnight.

I’ll sandwich Casablanca in between paper-grading sessions Sunday, and on my fortuitous day off, Tuesday, I’m busy from 1 p.m. through 11 p.m., watching everything from Ninotchka to The Little Foxes.

Yes, I’ve seen most of these movies before. In fact, I’ve seen almost every movie that TCM is offering in these glorious 31 days leading up to the Oscars. But many of them are worth seeing repeatedly, and even the ones that I don’t particularly like — military-themed melodramas like Sayonara, schmaltzy musicals like Gold Diggers of 1935, the truly awful Legends of the Fall, the inexplicable Paint Your Wagon — are Oscar winners.

Not everyone can win for Best Picture or Best Actor. Some movies are honored for their more esoteric achievements, in categories that are just as important to the art of the film as the acting, writing, and directing: Best Film Editing, Best Costume Design, Best Live Action Short.

And so it is with hockey. There are the Big Categories, and there are the more subtle achievements. Every year, this appreciative reporter tries to honor them all.

Player of the Year

What a year for players in the CCHA! Two of the nation’s top goaltenders reside in our league, and a trio of forwards has hovered near the top of the country in points per game all season long.

That having been said, my Player of the Year is Notre Dame senior goaltender David Brown.

Brown’s save percentage (.929) is sixth in the nation, his win percentage (.823) is second, and his goals-against average (1.66) is first. He’s played nearly 1,900 minutes, and I cannot imagine Notre Dame’s success this season without him.

Lake Superior State’s Jeff Jakaitis was my very, very close second in this category. Jakaitis, who has led the nation most of the year in save percentage (.936), does what Brown does but without the benefit of the supporting cast of the No. 1 team in the league. And personally, I think Jakaitis is more fun to watch.

Congratulations to both Brown and Jakaitis for excellent seasons. If there were any justice in this world, they’d face off against each other for the Mason Cup in Detroit. Of course, there would be plenty of seats available for that title match.

Coach of the Year

Jeff Jackson. Duh.

The second-year Notre Dame head coach has to be the front runner for the Spencer Penrose award, too.

Overlooked for this award because of ND’s incredible year: Western Michigan’s Jim Culhane.

Rookie of the Year

Among an especially interesting and talented CCHA rookie class, Western Michigan’s Mark Letestu (18-21–39) is a standout in every way. He’s dangerous offensively, a great skater, fun to watch, a clean player (seven minors this season for 14 minutes), doesn’t make many mistakes (+11), and is a genuine indication of the direction in which WMU is heading.

A pair of Irish rookies, Ryan Thang (17-15–32) and Kevin Deeth (15-17–32), deserve mention for their play and their excellent names. Miami’s Jarod Palmer (10-19–29) has great promise.

Team of the Year

Notre Dame.

Surprise of the Year

Ditto.

The Ferris State Memorial Defenders of the Realm Award

This was as truly difficult decision, and I considered voiding this award for this year. Sure, the CCHA has an improved record this season against nonconference teams, but look at who we’ve played. We’re supposed to beat teams from newer conferences, like the Wayne States, the Alabama-Huntsvilles, the Robert Morrises.

Ah, Robert Morris! That’s the one that hurts the most. Thank you, Miami, for taking care of that business last weekend, in ways that this year’s FSMDOTR Award could not.

(Had you won the Ice Breaker in the fabulous Steve Cady Arena, RedHawks, this special honor would have been yours, all yours.)

Yes, this year’s winner is Notre Dame. It’s clearly the Irish’s year, in spite of the RMU blemish. Like several other CCHA teams, ND went 6-2 in nonconference play, and the split with the Colonials almost disqualified the Irish.

But then I remembered the 13-2 weekend against Hockey East early in the year, and the supreme dominance over the U.S. Armed Forces.

The reason I considered voiding the award this year is the weakness of the CCHA compared to the other “Big Four” conferences.

Special mention goes to both Michigan State and Ohio State for winning midseason tournaments, even if the odds of a CCHA team winning those tourneys were increased by the number of league participants in each.

Perseverance Award

With all my heart, I wish the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks a drama-free summer of 2007.

This is a program that has seen its share of sudden and untimely offseason departures, and last year the scandal surrounding finance problems in the UNO athletic department led to the resignation of athletic director David Herbster and the unfortunate — and misguided — termination of UNO hockey sports information director Mike Kros.

And Bill Thomas left. And in the first half of the season there was uncertainty in net.

So the Mavericks get a great big pat on the back for securing home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, a feat they accomplished by beating Ohio State, 2-1, in overtime last Saturday.

After that contest, junior Bryan Marshall — who hit the century point mark last weekend — told the Omaha World-Herald that the victory on “senior night” is something that could propel the sixth-place Mavericks on to bigger things.

“This could be a win that potentially rockets us to a championship. These are the kinds of games that can really define a club, and hopefully it can really get us going.”

And it’s that kind of attitude that helps a club persevere.

2007 Attaboy

Ohio State’s Tom Fritsche, who sat out the first half of the season with a severe intestinal disorder that threatened his very future as a hockey player.

The Chris Richards Most-Likely-to-Be-Overlooked Memorial Award

It’s a tie!

Usually, this award goes to a forward who is overlooked because he has the points but his team is underachieving. This year, however, there are two blueliners whose play has been so under the radar that you probably don’t realize they’re having the seasons of their careers, both as juniors.

Alaska’s Darcy Campbell and Ohio State’s Jason DeSantis (2-20–22) have identical numbers scoring, and similarities in other statistical categories. Each is third on his team in scoring, and each has played 32 games. Campbell has 24 minor penalties for 48 minutes; DeSantis has 22 for 44. Campbell’s plus-minus is -9, while DeSantis’ sits at zero.

Both have been workhorses for their squads, and it’s unlikely that either will be honored by the league at the end of the season.

The Mike Comrie Most-Likely-to-Leave-Early Memorial Award

My pick is UNO junior Bryan Marshall. The Mavs’ third-leading scorer (10-21–31) would be UNO’s leading returning scorer next season, as he’s behind seniors Scott Parse and Alex Nikiforuk.

I have, however, been wrong about this award in recent years. My apologies to Jack Johnson, who I thought for certain was gone.

And Johnson, don’t you dare leave after this season.

The Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award

This was difficult as there were, again, fewer “garbage” goals scored this year. Of course, there’s no official stat for picking up the trash, so it’s tough to gauge.

This year’s winner: Nanook Kyle Greentree. Greentree has 21 goals this season, 10 of them on the power play, and he can tip in a puck from nearly anywhere close to the net, in traffic.

Some past winners have been incapable, seemingly, of scoring elegant goals. Not so Greentree, who can put them in pretty as well.

The Mike York Poetry-in-Motion Award

OSU’s Tom Fritsche, because he scored a goal from behind the goal line that so reminded me of a similar play by York himself that I got goosebumps when I saw it.

That, and he elevates the level of play — of his teammates and his opponents — whenever he’s on the ice. The league is more fun with him in it than without.

Best Offensive Goalie Award

There are two netminders who have two assists each, but one gent earned his in 17 games, while the other did so in 32.

That makes Miami’s Charlie Effinger this year’s Best Offensive Goalie. Effinger’s two helpers in 17 contests give him .117 points per game, compared with Michigan State’s Jeff Lerg, who scored .062 points per contest.

Congratulations to all the goaltenders who chipped in one point the other way: WMU’s Riley Gill, LSSU’s Pat Inglis, UNO’s Jerad Kaufmann, BGSU’s Jimmy Spratt and Miami’s Jeff Zatkoff.

The Girl Reporter All-Goon Squad

Leave it to the CCHA. There’s no question that the league has spearheaded college hockey’s recent rules enforcement extravaganza, leading to much cleaner play and a better “product” on the ice throughout all of Division I hockey.

Party poopers.

There are so few gents left willing to take that incredibly stupid and untimely penalty, so few players who take the penalties of old at all, stupid or otherwise.

So last year, I had to change the criteria for the Goon Squad, taking into account aesthetics as well as minutes. Here are this year’s honorees.

Justin Abdelkader

A repeat honoree. Abdelkader, an MSU sophomore, has also ramped up his game this season. Last year, he had 83 minutes in 44 games — and he was just third among Spartans in PIMs. He’s taken the lead for his team this year, with 74 minutes in 28 games.

He’s a true agitator, and I respect that.

Chris Frank

Two goals, 11 assists … and 99 penalty minutes for the Western Michigan Broncos. It says a lot for Frank to be so honored, since the Broncos are the most-penalized team in the CCHA — having surged ahead of Ferris State in the second half — and the eighth-most in the country.

Frank, a sophomore defenseman, might have had something to do with that.

Ryan Jones

Another repeat honoree. I really thought that the attention paid this year to players in and around the crease would hamper this RedHawk’s ability to find his way to the penalty box, but not so. Last year, in 39 games, Jones had an honest 72 minutes from 36 minor calls; this year in his junior season, Jones has 82 minutes on 37 calls, in 36 games.

Again, this has as much to do with style as numbers. As I said last year, I like Jones’ brand of dirty. He truly is one of my favorite players in college hockey for his all-around game. It doesn’t hurt that he has 25 goals.

Jonathan Matsumoto

This Bowling Green Falcon combines grit with grace in ways that few others can. His fiercely competitive nature and raw talent on a team that cannot catch a break makes him a passionate target — and he gives as good as he gets.

Zack Pelletier

OSU’s Pelletier, a 6-2 junior, is not a true goon, but this list wouldn’t be complete without him. He’s neither chippy nor cheap, but he lays out players better than anyone I have ever seen play the college game. Period.

He’s the cleanest enforcer I’ve ever seen. The entire OSU bench is lifted when he flattens someone. His hits can actually change the momentum of a game.

Pat Bateman, Bobby Seldon, Matt Sidall

This trio of Wildcats accounts for well over one-third of Northern Michigan’s penalties. Meow.

Matt Verdone

Yeah, this one’s personal.

It’s Michigan Week Here in Columbus

And not a peep out of the local media. Who knew?

Next Week …

Part Two of the awards.

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