This Week in the CCHA: Oct.18, 2007

We Are the Champions

“It’s kind of the worst nightmare,” said Michigan State head coach Rick Comley after Saturday’s loss to North Dakota. “It’s what you fear after six months of people patting you on the back and then you come in here and play a team of that caliber.”

It was not the way any team would have liked to have started its season, but for the defending NCAA D-I champions, a 6-0 loss to open play is an embarrassing introduction.

Five of the Sioux’s six goals were even strength, and when was the last time Jeff Lerg posted a .727 save percentage in a game?

“You’re trying hard not to overreact to it,” said Comley a couple of days after the opener. “I would say that these two teams match up very, very well. We just didn’t play at a high enough caliber to score and take some pressure off our end.”

Comley said that the game was a “slap in the face” and a “reality check.”

“We just gave up way too many easy goals,” said Comley. “If you’re going to do that, you’re in trouble.”

It’s just one game, Spartan fans. Don’t call for the guy’s head yet. Wait until MSU raises the championship banner Friday night against Colgate, at least.

Comley did like Engelstad Arena and said that the experience of traveling to UND was a good one for his team. “They’re the kind of team we’d like to play a lot. It’s good for our fans, good for our fans to get out there.”

Is This the Real Life?

Is this just fantasy?

Hardware to start the season, for Ohio State, at the expense of a team from that conference west of here?

It’s true. I was there. I saw it with my own eyes.

When the Buckeyes beat the Wisconsin Badgers, 5-3, for the title of this year’s Lefty McFadden Invitational, they did more than take a trophy; they beat Wisconsin for the first time in program history. Sure, the teams have only met three times since the late 1960s, but everyone remembers OSU’s loss in the Frozen Tundra game at Lambeau Field Feb. 11, 2006, and Ohio State’s history against top WCHA teams hasn’t been exactly sterling in recent years.

Head coach John Markell called it a “good start with a young team,” as OSU dressed eight freshmen in the game. The Buckeye rookies, however, range in age from 18 to 21, as Markell and his staff opted to bring in older rookies to help balance a team with many newcomers.

However well the OSU freshmen may have played, it was the senior class that really paced the game. Senior John Dingle — nearly unrecognizable without a beard — had a beauty of a game-winner against UW.

The pace of that title game was much faster than I’ve ever seen any OSU team. It was certainly faster than what UW head coach Mike Eaves expected after OSU’s slower 2-1 win over Mercyhurst Friday.

“I think the large part is they played cranked up,” said Eaves, who also repeatedly stressed the youth of his own squad. The Badgers had seven freshmen in the lineup and only three seniors.

What bugged me about Eaves’ post-game comments about youth, however, was that they sounded like an excuse, not a reason — and I wasn’t buying it. Four of UW’s rookies are NHL draft picks, and three of those are first-rounders. Sure, OSU’s team was older, but doesn’t superior skill count for anything, and shouldn’t a middle-pack team from the WCHA be prepared for the pace of a middle-pack team from the CCHA?

Wisconsin got past Notre Dame Friday night to play OSU Saturday, and in the Friday contest, UW was the better prepared team. “I think our guys were deer in the headlights,” said ND head coach Jeff Jackson after the 4-1 loss.

It’s true the Irish looked sluggish in the first but they played the Badgers evenly in the second. In the third period, Wisconsin simply turned up the heat as better teams do. They were fast, their goals were pretty, and they took the game.

Kyle Turris, the freshman center for UW, is completely for real, but every bit was good was Notre Dame’s Mark Van Guilder, who had three goals in two games and looks to be poised for a career season.

Jordan Pearce’s performance in net for ND (.929 SV%) should allay any fears about that position for the Irish. OSU’s Joseph Palmer (.931 SV%) deserves props for a good weekend as well.

Another hard-to-ignore player was Mercyhurst freshman Scott Pitt, who spurned major junior hockey in Ontario for a go at college.

Another One Bites the Dust

Another RedHawk record, that is.

Senior captain Ryan Jones netted his program-best 14th game-winning goal, and he’s just one point shy of hitting the century mark for points at Miami.

As went Jones last weekend, so went the RedHawks, who recorded a season-opening sweep of Hockey East opponent Vermont in the fabulous Steve Cady Arena. Miami allowed just two goals in two games against the Vermont Catamounts, who had won six meetings prior to the contests.

“We’re a deep team,” said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi. “We’re going to stress ‘team’ all year, and that’s what you saw this weekend. If we’re going to go all the way, we’re going to go together.”

And that point of emphasis is different from previous years how, Coach?

Junior goalie Jeff Zatkoff had both the wins for Miami with a .959 save percentage in the pair.

You’re My Best Friend

In all of college hockey, there is no one better to talk to than Mercyhurst’s Rick Gotkin. He’s a good coach and a great man, gentle and smart with a quick wit and an easy manner.

Even if the Lakers didn’t win a game at the Lefty in Dayton last weekend, Gotkin was certainly on his game.

After losing Saturday, Gotkin said, “I don’t think a lot of people give Mercyhurst a chance. You’ve got potentially Frozen Four teams [here]. You’ve got three big-time programs. We like to think we’re a good program, but certainly no one confuses us with Notre Dame and Ohio State, but it’s a great privilege to be here.”

Three of the four lockers in the Nutter Center were on the arena level, while one was a level up. Guess which team had to take the stairs?

“We’ve got a little bit of a long commute here, but it’s no excuse,” said Gotkin, who added that the logistics were interesting between periods, though. “By the time you come up here, it’s time to go back down.”

Gotkin also wants you to know that Rick Comley is no enemy of Atlantic Hockey and College Hockey America. Gotkin made a point of bringing up the episode at the end of last season when Comley questioned the autobid logic of the NCAA tournament selection, to which fans of certain conferences took great exception.

The Laker head coach said that Comley was taken out of context. Said Gotkin, “Rick Comley’s always been a friend of the little guy.”

Gunpowder Gelatine

Peter Boyd (OSU), Jared Brown (NMU), Louie Caporusso (UM), Carl Hagelin (UM), Matt Rust (UM), Patrick Schafer (OSU), Sergio Somma (OSU) and Tommy Wingels (Miami).

Congratulations to the CCHA freshmen who registered their first collegiate goals last weekend. And Rust scored two.

Everybody Play the Game

CCHA play begins this weekend with two series, and everyone gets at least one game of some kind this weekend as the season still builds toward full-on conference play. Tonight, Notre Dame hosts Denver and Bowling Green travels to Niagara. Michigan and Northern, Ohio State and Miami kick off the conference play.

There are a bunch of nonleague games, and someone named Bentley plays Western Michigan for two. These are the quickest picks around.

Miami (2-0-0) vs. Ohio State (2-0-0)

This home-and-home rivalry is getting as interesting to Ohio college hockey fans as just about anything served up north of the border. Sure, it doesn’t have a history as long, and only one of these teams is named after the state in which it plays, but it’s always rockin’ good hockey when these teams meet and the fans appreciate it. (At least they do at Steve Cady Arena. Buckeye nation is a little distracted by another sport this week, as in most weeks.)

Both teams are coming off winning weekends, as the RedHawks handled Vermont twice and the Buckeyes took the Lefty McFadden. OSU leads this all-time series 56-51-10, but Miami has a 5-2-3 edge in the last 10 meetings — which doesn’t even span three full seasons. The teams met five times last year alone; Miami was 2-1-2 in those games. Home ice doesn’t seem to matter so very much; they tied in each building. OSU hosts Friday, Miami Sunday. OSU 3-2, Miami 3-2

Michigan (1-1-0) at Northern Michigan (1-1-0)

The Wolverines are 27-16-3 all-time against the Wildcats, Red Berenson is 23-9-3 against NMU and Berenson is 12-4-0 against Walt Kyle’s NMU. It may be a good thing for Michigan that these games are in Marquette; last year, the teams split their regular-season contests in Yost before UM swept NMU in the CCHA quarterfinals.

Last weekend, Michigan beat Boston College with a fluky goal in overtime at the Ice Breaker before losing 4-3 to Minnesota in the title match. Against those two top-10 teams, junior goaltender Billy Sauer’s save percentage was .841. Perhaps it’s unfair to single him out, but the Wolverines may not have the necessary firepower to overcome any weakness between the pipes this season. The Wildcats beat Michigan Tech before losing to Duluth in the title game of the inaugural Superior Showcase. This week, I go with the odds. UM 4-3, 4-3

Bentley (0-2-0) at Western Michigan (0-0-0)

These teams have never met. The Falcons, who hail from a land called Massachusetts and whose head coach is younger than my baby sister, finished seventh in AHA play last season and are expected to fare roughly the same or worse this year. The Falcons are also seeking their first goal of the season, having been shut out last weekend by both Rensselaer and Quinnipiac. Perhaps that marker can be had by junior Jeff Gumaer, Bentley’s leading scorer of a year ago. The Broncos, who are 5-2-0 against AHA teams in Lawson Arena, are playing their first D-I games of the season. Defend that realm! WMU 3-2, 3-2

Bowling Green (0-0-0) at Niagara (1-1-0), RIT (0-1-0)

Scott Paluch earned his first win as the BG head coach against Niagara, so maybe this trip won’t be completely painful. Last weekend, the Falcons creamed visiting Windsor 12-1 in exhibition play, so this weekend marks the first of hockey that counts for BG. The Purple Eagles split a pair of games last weekend, losing 4-2 to Merrimack before beating Holy Cross 6-2. Egor Mirinov and Vince Rocco each have two goals and a helper for Niagara. RIT, coached by former BG assistant and Falcon alum Wayne Wilson, lost to Colgate 6-5 last Saturday. In that game, Matt Smith led all Tigers with two goals, while Simon Lambert had three assists. BG 3-2, RIT 4-2

Colgate at MSU

They’re raising the banner in Munn Arena Friday night. That’s the national championship banner, the one that the Spartans earned in St. Louis in April, the thought of which will keep many a CCHA fan warm all winter. If that isn’t motivation enough, dropping a game 6-0 to North Dakota should do it for MSU.

Colgate and MSU have met just once before. MSU 3-2, 3-2

Denver (2-0-0) at Notre Dame (1-1-0)

These teams have met just three times since the Irish returned to the CCHA, and Notre Dame last beat Denver in 1978, well before these current players were born. The Pioneers are 33-9-3 all-time against the Irish, but with such little recent history, that can be a lesson in how statistics mislead. Denver beat ND, 6-3, in their last meeting in Colorado (Oct. 22, 2005), and the Irish are winless against the Pioneers in the last 10 meetings (0-9-1).

Last weekend, Denver beat Maine twice,with senior goaltender Peter Mannino limiting the Black Bears to just one goal in two games, earning himself a .982 save percentage. The Irish dropped a game to Wisconsin before beating Mercyhurst, but junior Jordan Pearce (.920) looked more than up to the task. So did Irish frontman Mark Van Guilder. Denver 3-2, ND 3-2

Ferris State (0-2-0) at Wayne State (0-2-0)

Just writing about this makes me sad, and not only because the Bulldogs dropped two to Union last weekend. Our honorary member of the CCHA, the Wayne State Warriors, are playing their last season of hockey. It’s a dirty shame. Just as Michigan gains a D-III program, a D-I squad is going to fold. This is bad for Wayne State, the Detroit metro area, the CHA, the CCHA, and college hockey.

That having been said, I hope the ‘Dogs remember how to play hockey this weekend. Against Union, both senior goaltender Derek MacIntyre and freshman Pat Nagle had losses, but Nagle’s save percentage (.929) may foreshadow a starting position. It doesn’t help any netminder when your team scores just one goal in two games — and way to go Justin Lewandowski. Total homer call. FSU 3-2, 3-2


These are the first D-I games for the Nanooks in the Doc DelCastillo era. The rivalry between Fairbanks and Anchorage — which for the locals also rivals that fabled twosome in Michigan — only adds to the ante.

The Seawolves netted two third-period goals to force a 4-4 tie against Boston University in the Nye Frontier Classic last weekend. Robert Morris — Robert Morris! — took the actual tournament after having beaten both BU and Wayne State. But I digress.

Anchorage leads this all-time series 75-48-10, and the Seawolves went 3-0-1 against the Nanooks to take last year’s cup. Josh Lunden had three goals and two assists in two games last weekend for the ‘Wolves, while his classmate Kevin Clark had two goals and three helpers. UAA 4-2, 4-2

Maverick Stampede

I know it has corporate sponsorship, but I can’t bring myself to say it. This is the least appealing of any of the this season’s exempt tournaments. Admit it. If you didn’t have a team with a stake in this one, you wouldn’t pay attention. UNO, Alabama-Huntsville, Canisius and Manitoba. Manitoba. I love Canadians — and I’m sure that these are very nice — but this playbill is as off-Broadway as you can get. UNO is 9-2-0 against Manitoba, 5-0-2 against UAH, and 1-0-0 against Canisius. Mind-boggling, that the Mavs have played the Bison more than their other two prospective D-I opponents together. Nebraska meets Manitoba in Friday’s second game, and I suspect they’ll play UAH Saturday for the title, but I wouldn’t bank on anything here. UNO 5-3, 3-2

Western Ontario at LSSU

Western Ontario is out for revenge! When these teams last met, the Lakers exploded in a three-goal third period to pull ahead of Western Ontario — whose mascot I didn’t even look up — by a 4-1 score (Oct. 2, 2002). It’s exhibition hockey, folks.

Fat Bottomed Girl

This one is glad to be back for another season.