This Week in the CCHA: March 1, 2007

Awards, Part 2

Last week I had a little on-air chat with Jim Hunt, Michigan’s amiable radio color man, about this season’s year-end awards. As one would expect from Mr. Hunt, I was put on the spot — on the air — immediately.

Which three forwards, he asked, would I choose for the All-CCHA First Team?

I didn’t hesitate. T.J. Hensick, Kevin Porter, Scott Parse.

Jim made a good argument for Northern Michigan’s Mike Santorelli, who has been working fairly solo for the Wildcats, but I think those three gents are the three best offensive forwards in the league.

How will the league choose? I don’t know. I’m thinking Santorelli may make the first team and Porter the second. But these are my awards and not the league’s, so bear that in mind.

Here are my picks for all-league. As I did last year, I went with three forwards, two defensemen, and one goaltender. And like last year, the decisions were mind-numbingly difficult. There is a lot of talent in this league that deserves to be recognized.

The hardware here is as real as, say, my friend Dennis’ paternity claim in the Anna Nicole Smith litigation.

Girl Reporter All-CCHA Team

T.J. Hensick (F, Michigan)
Kevin Porter (F, Michigan)
Scott Parse (F, UNO)
Wes O’Neill (ND)
Kevin Roeder (D, Miami)
David Brown (G, ND)

Hensick is just so pretty to watch. He’s a playmaker who can read the ice like few others. Porter is clean, fast, and skilled — and essential to Michigan’s offense, which has been essential to Michigan’s success this season.

Parse is Parse, a fantastic two-way player and future NHL superstar.

I went with stay-at-home defenders this season, and I think that these two are the best.

And without Brown, Notre Dame would not have captured its first regular-season title.

The list of who could have been chosen this year was huge. Santorelli, Lake Superior’s Jeff Jakaitis, Michigan’s David Rohlfs — the best defensive forward in the league — RedHawks Nathan Davis and Ryan Jones, ND’s Erik Condra, Spartan Bryan Lerg.

Among the defensemen, I left off every offensive-minded blueliner and many good straight-out defenders.

Six positions, six guys.

Girl Reporter All-Rookie CCHA Team

Mark Letestu (F, WMU)
Kevin Deeth (F, ND)
Ryan Thang (F, ND)
Kyle Lawson (D, ND)
Tyler Ludwig (D, WMU)
Riley Gill (G, WMU)

If someone had told me a year ago that Notre Dame and Western Michigan would have the best rookie classes of 2006-07, I would have suggested professional help. Now we know why, in part, each team saw such improvement this season.

Congratulations, everyone, on an excellent season.

The Road to the Joe

It’s the second season, when every underdog thinks it can pull an upset this weekend and advance to Joe Louis Arena.

Scratch that. That’s a week away.

This CCHA playoff format is designed to protect the PairWise of the top four teams, each of which receives a bye for the first round. In its first year last season, the playoff format did that and more; all four teams that received a bye advanced to JLA for the CCHA championship tournament.

Of course, none of that helped anyone in the NCAA tournament, where only Michigan State showed up properly and everyone in the league let me go to Milwaukee all alone.

(And all these years, I thought these coaches were gentlemen. Hmph.)

Two weeks ago, I gave you a valuable primer on Mercury retrograde and unrequited love. Mercury retrograde tells us to re-examine the past, and reflect on past mistakes and lessons learned. Unrequited love … well, that just teaches us everything we need to know about life, doesn’t it?

The combination of these two scientifically proven forces more than adequately prepares us for this week’s first round of the CCHA, and in some surprising ways. One lesson to learn from the past is to look no further than this weekend, than these playoffs.

In other words, if history repeats and the CCHA is likely to be underrepresented in St. Louis (or, as some would say, adequately represented), we should enjoy what we have to enjoy, right here and now.

Here is a brief synopsis of each team playing this weekend, in seed order. All statistics are overall. In the case of team stats, the number that follows the slash indicates a team’s rank among CCHA opponents for the same category. The head-to-head matches are to your right.

No. 5 Nebraska-Omaha

• Record: 16-14-8
• Record home: 11-6-2
• Goals per game: 3.68/second
• Goals allowed per game: 2.97/sixth
• Power play: .197/first
• Penalty kill: .844/fifth
• Top scorer: Scott Parse (24-28–52)
• Top goal scorer: Parse
• Top goaltender: Jeremie Dupont (2.75 GAA, .891 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: 14th-best power play in the nation

The Mavericks ended their regular season by sloughing off the gigantic monkey they’ve been carrying on their collective backs, the one labeled, “Nanooks.”

Prior to last weekend’s sweep of Alaska in Fairbanks, the Mavs had been 0-10-4 in Fairbanks all-time, and had only swept the Nanooks once before.

The Mavericks came from behind in Friday’s 4-3 win, and took a commanding 5-0 lead Saturday before allowing three third-period goals — two shorthanded — Saturday.

UNO is riding a three-game win streak into the playoffs, and UNO seems to have settled nicely in the second half, going 8-5-3 down the stretch. Dupont’s goaltending is key to all of that.

The Mavericks host the Falcons this weekend … just as they did a year ago. Head coach Mike Kemp is taking nothing for granted.

“This time of year, you know all of the teams in our league can potentially be very dangerous,” Kemp told the Omaha World-Herald this week. “Bowling Green has looked very strong the last four weeks, even if things haven’t always worked out in their favor. They’ve made some strides, and from our perspective, you just hope you aren’t hitting them at the wrong time.”

No. 6 Western Michigan

• Record: 17-16-1
• Record home: 11-6-0
• Goals per game: 3.26/fifth
• Goals allowed per game: 3.47/11th
• Power play: .180/sixth
• Penalty kill: .805/11th
• Top scorer: Mark Letestu (21-21–42)
• Top goal scorer: Letestu
• Top goaltender: Riley Gill (2.87 GAA, .909 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: 81 of their 111 goals scored by five guys

The Broncos would have liked to end the regular season singing a sweeter song, but WMU is in no danger of losing sight of a tremendous run in the second half (11-6-0).

“We’re a confident team, a pretty focused group,” head coach Jim Culhane told the Kalamazoo Gazette earlier this week. “It’s a new season. We’re pleased we finished as high as sixth, but now you can throw the records in the trash.”

WMU’s 4-3 loss to Lake Superior State Saturday night snapped a five-game Bronco win streak, and it was a game in which Western was always playing from behind. Riley Gill gave up two shorthanded goals on three total shots within the first four minutes of the game, and was replaced by Daniel Bellissimo.

Goaltending is key to WMU’s success this weekend. There’s no question that the Broncos can score, with one of the fastest and most talented offenses in college hockey. And while WMU has improved in overall team defense, a steady presence in net is absolutely essential of the Broncos are to advance and remain the favorite CCHA darkhorse — no pun intended — for the second round.

No. 7 Ohio State

• Record: 14-15-5
• Record home: 6-7-3
• Goals per game: 3.24/sixth
• Goals allowed per game: 3.29/10th
• Power play: .175/eighth
• Penalty kill: .818/ninth
• Top scorer: Andrew Schembri (9-17–26)
• Top goal scorer: Mathieu Beaudoin (13-9–22)
• Top goaltender: Joseph Palmer (2.99 GAA, .888 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: 11 shorthanded goals

The Buckeyes ended their regular season on a high but bittersweet note. They split with Michigan at home, winning a wild one Saturday night, 6-5, on Mathieu Beaudoin’s game-winner at 18:30.

But the game ended in a mild scrum — lots of pushing and shoving, nothing overtly awful — which resulted in Zach Pelletier’s game disqualification, meaning that the OSU bench will be very short for this weekend.

Worse yet was the loss of one of their top scorers, Tommy Goebel, to a hit away from the play Friday night, delivered by Michigan’s Jack Johnson. I didn’t see it. It was away from the play, completely. Johnson is over six feet tall; Goebel is listed as a generous 5-7. Goebel has a concussion, and is questionable for this weekend. Hence, I think, Saturday’s game-ending display.

Proof positive of the effects of Mercury retrograde: OSU must host this series in the OSU Ice Arena, which earned the name “Arena” after remodeling following the men’s move to the Schottenstein Center. The Ice Arena is home to the OSU women’s team, which this weekend is in Minnesota for the WCHA’s Women’s Final Five.

There’s a state-wide high school wrestling tournament in the Schott this weekend. Nationwide Arena and the Fairgrounds are also booked.

“So we play in the old building,” said head coach John Markell. “We’re a victim of circumstances. This building [the Schott] has to be paid for, and if there’s assurances that they’re going to get a payday and we can’t assure them … it’s a difficult situation, and hopefully we can work around that.”

For the record, the series against Michigan drew over 12,000 fans each night. The Ice Arena holds 1,200.

The last time the Wildcats played the Buckeyes in the old rink, I took a puck to the head and missed two-thirds of the game. (I came back, a trip to University Hospital’s ER and two staples to the scalp and a tetanus shot later, thank you very much, before the end of the third period.)

I think I’ve learned this lesson, O Great and Powerful Mercury!

No. 8 Lake Superior State

• Record: 17-16-3
• Record home: 11-5-1
• Goals per game: 2.53/10th
• Goals allowed per game: 2.47/third
• Power play: .134/11th
• Penalty kill: .838/sixth
• Top scorer: Troy Schwab (6-20–26)
• Top goal scorer: Josh Sim (15-9–24)
• Top goaltender: Jeff Jakaitis (2.18 GAA, .934 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: second only to Notre Dame in least number of penalty minutes

The Lakers ended the regular-season with a home split against Western Michigan, with the win coming in the second game. If you’re going to split, that’s when you want that win.

“Last year, I think we peaked at Christmas and then were 1-6 going into the playoffs,” said goaltender Jeff Jakaitis. “This year, we’ve got some momentum and have some confidence going into the playoffs.

“We played well last weekend against Michigan and we played well this weekend. It helps us knowing that we can play with anyone in the league.”

For the Lakers’ sake, let’s hope that Jakaitis’ optimism is catching. Yes, LSSU ended the second half with two splits: one against Michigan, one against Western. But of the Lakers’ 17 wins, only five came in the second half of the season, which means 10 of their losses have come since Jan. 1.

What happened in the second half for LSSU that didn’t in the first? Actually, it’s what didn’t happen that matters. The Lakers scored just 34 goals in 16 games (2.21 per game) and were shut out twice.

No. 9 Ferris State

• Record: 13-20-3
• Record away: 4-12-1
• Goals per game: 2.72/eighth
• Goals allowed per game: 3.22/ninth
• Power play: .164/ninth
• Penalty kill: .813/10th
• Top scorer: Zac Pearson (9-20–29)
• Top goal scorer: Brendan Connolly (11-9–20)
• Top goaltender: Mitch O’Keefe (3.06 GAA, .885 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: Matt Verdone (10-14–24)

Okay, so Ferris State ended the regular season with a shutout loss to Notre Dame last Saturday night. In regard to the shutout, the Bulldogs had plenty of company, as the blanking was David Brown’s sixth of the season.

But it’s what the Bulldogs did Friday that can translate into playoff magic, if they can put Saturday behind them. After trailing 2-0, FSU scored five unanswered goals to stun the No. 1 team in the country and become the only CCHA squad to defeat Notre Dame in South Bend. (Shades of Robert Morris!)

“I don’t think we could have won a game like this two months ago,” said FSU head coach Bob Daniels after the 5-2 win. “I think we have developed enough confidence that we can finally put ourselves in a position to win a game like this.”

The Bulldogs are hot-ish coming into the playoffs, having won six of their last eight, including a home sweep of Ohio State and a split with Michigan State, both teams ahead of them in the standings. The February record (6-2-0) was their best month of the 2006-07 season. The Bulldogs outscored opponents 25-14 in that stretch, posting a third-period dominance of 10-4 in those eight games.

This is not the team that anyone wants to meet in the first round, let alone a team that’s been struggling to score goals.

No. 10 Northern Michigan

• Record: 13-21-2
• Record away: 4-13-0
• Goals per game: 2.33/11th
• Goals allowed per game: 2.81/fifth
• Power play: .160/10th
• Penalty kill: .860/fourth
• Top scorer: Mike Santorelli (28-16–44)
• Top goal scorer: Santorelli
• Top goaltender: Bill Zaniboni (2.50 GAA, .910 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: 10 of Santorelli’s goals are power-play tallies

Next to Notre Dame, Northern Michigan may be the league’s biggest surprise this year. The Wildcats had a first-round bye last season, and have made it to the CCHA championship tournament each of the last four years under fifth-year head coach Walt Kyle.

Like Lake Superior State, the Wildcats ended the season on a positive note, beating Miami at home last Saturday night to split with the RedHawks on the weekend. The win ended NMU’s four-game losing streak, and was just their second in nine games.

“We needed to create something positive and I’d thought the guys came out with some emotion tonight,” said Kyle after the 3-1 win. “Hopefully, some of that positive energy will stay with us.”

The Wildcats will visit Columbus for the second time in three weeks, having been swept by the Buckeyes in the Schott in two close games Feb. 9-10. But this weekend’s contests are in the little OSU Ice Arena, which has a regulation ice surface but feels much smaller. That could provide the ‘Cats with the positive energy that Kyle is seeking.

No. 11 Alaska

• Record: 9-19-6
• Record away: 2-11-3
• Goals per game: 2.65/ninth
• Goals allowed per game: 3.21/eighth
• Power play: .179/seventh
• Penalty kill: .823/seventh
• Top scorer: Kyle Greentree (21-17–38)
• Top goal scorer: Greentree
• Top goaltender: Wylie Rogers (2.95 GAA, .894 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: fewest road wins in the league

Not that Rogers splits time in net with Chad Johnson (3.01 GAA, .887 SV%)

There isn’t a coach alive more frustrated than UA’s Tavis MacMillan. When the Nanooks were swept by the Buckeyes in Columbus in January, MacMillan seemed frustrated by what he thought was a passionless performance by his squad.

Last weekend, UA ended its regular season with a sweep by visiting Nebraska-Omaha, a team that had never won in the Carlson Center. After Friday’s 4-3 loss, MacMillan had choice words for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

“I’m completely disappointed and I’m really disillusioned now because everything we’ve done so hard and worked so well at, we just threw out the window tonight because we wanted to play a pond hockey game against a team that excels at that.”


Inconsistency is the bug that’s been biting the Nanooks, a talented team that should be playing better. And with only two road wins to their credit, they have big obstacles to overcome.

No. 12 Bowling Green

• Record: 7-27-2
• Record away: 3-15-0
• Goals per game: 1.89/12th
• Goals allowed per game: 3.81/12th
• Power play: .088/12th
• Penalty kill: .804/12th
• Top scorer: Jonathan Matsumoto (11-20–31)
• Top goal scorer: Derek Whitmore (17-10–27)
• Top goaltender: Jimmy Spratt (3.55 GAA, .887 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: six of their last nine games decided by a goal or less

There is no better way to end the regular season for a last-place team than with a win over a ranked opponent. That is exactly what Bowling Green did last Saturday, with a 2-1 victory over Michigan State, on the road.

“Obviously, this was a real big win for us,” said head coach Scott Paluch. “This is the situation we have been in our last nine games. We just haven’t been able to make the key play. Tonight we did.”

That key play was Jonathan Matsumoto’s game-winning goal a 11:13 in the third period, a three-on-one breakaway.

Matsumoto is the kind of player who can change a game, and the Falcons need some kind of confidence that comes from playmaking heading into Omaha. BGSU has just three wins in the second half, but one each against Michigan and Michigan State.

Quote of the Year

This is what Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson had to say when the Fighting Irish received the regular-season championship trophy and raised their banner in the Joyce Center last weekend.

“I’m just so proud of these guys, for us to play for the championship in just our second year together. I want this program to be recognized as one of the elite programs in the country, and that’s not going to happen unless we hang a lot more banners.”

For what it’s worth, there are many of us who feel the same way about Notre Dame becoming a top program. It’s only good for college hockey as a whole when a program with the name recognition of Notre Dame becomes consistently excellent.

I’m guessing that soon would be a good time to discuss a new rink in South Bend.

Thank You, Daniel and Jess

I hate goodbyes, and these are two tough ones. Western Michigan’s director of sports information, Daniel Jankowski, and Miami University’s assistant athletic media relations director, Jess Bechard, have both left the CCHA. Both of them were sports information directors for men’s ice hockey.

Daniel was around forever, and is one of the most competent and kind people I’ve ever had the chance to work with.

Jess was around for just a few short years, but quickly became essential to the league and a good friend.

Thank you both, gentlemen, for all you’ve done. I don’t know how the NCAA regional will run in Grand Rapids without Daniel, and I don’t know how I’ll get through the CCHA tournament in Detroit with Jess.

And Remember This

Mercury remains retrograde until March 7, but its effects can be felt until March 17. And unrequited love remains, well, forever.