This Week in the CCHA: Oct. 25, 2007

It’s in the Stars, Again

An escaped prisoner is captured 28 years later.

A woman receives her wedding photos 27 years after her big day, when the photographer surprises her at her place of work after cleaning house and finding the pics.

An 80-year-old Japanese man receives a postcard sent 64 years earlier.

The Red Sox return to the World Series with a team that looks like it was assembled on the Island of Misfit Toys.

Miami and Michigan are tied for first place in the CCHA

My back is out again.

What compels such stunning events, recent items from the news and other happenings so close to home, a seeming return both from and to the past? I know you’re expecting me to talk about the power of Friday’s full moon — known as the Hunter’s Moon — or the effects of Mercury’s retrograde path which, astrologically speaking, forces us to revisit the past.

But no, my friends. While the genuine freakishness of the first four may be written in the stars, the standings and my back are linked directly to the beginning of hockey season. It’s early, and the RedHawks and Wolverines are two of four teams to have played CCHA series.

And I need a lighter laptop.

Still, the current celestial configuration does inspire a past-tense examination of current CCHA circumstances.

The last time the RedHawks and Wolverines were vying for No. 1 was at the end of 2003-04, when Miami fell short of its share of the regular-season title by one point and that championship came down literally to the last two minutes of the regular season, as Ohio State beat Miami — after Michigan had fallen earlier that day to the Spartans — with Lee Spector’s game-winner at 18:49 in the third.

The Buckeyes went on to win the Mason Cup that year, and partied with Rick James in the hotel bar, both unlikely events this year. Why? Well, Mr. James has left the building, and the Buckeyes started 2-0.

The last time OSU started 2-0 was in 1999-2000, when the Bucks began with a wins over Wayne State and Alaska, nee UAF. After that, OSU lost 11 in a row and finished the season 13-19-4.

When Miami and Michigan last vied for first place in 2003-04, the Wolverines lost in overtime to Boston College, 3-2, in NCAA tournament regional action. It was Ben Eaves who picked up his own rebound to win the game and Al Montoya who made 42 saves in the effort for Michigan.

That’s okay. The Eagles lost to Maine in the semifinals that year, and Michigan beat BC two weeks ago on a fluky overtime goal, giving Boston College the displeasure of having lost its final game of 2006-07 and opening game of 2007-08 to uber-rival CCHA teams from Michigan.

The last time Notre Dame won its CCHA opener on the road was last year, when the Irish ran away with the conference. ND beat Bowling Green in BG Tuesday night. In last year’s 4-2 win against the Buckeyes to open league play, and Mark Van Guilder and Erik Condra scored in each of those contests.

The last time Michigan State’s first home CCHA series was against Northern Michigan was in 2005-06. The Spartans swept the Wildcats, but that wasn’t the first CCHA action MSU saw that season. Michigan State tied Michigan 3-3 on Oct. 22, 2005, to kick off conference play in 2005-06, and the Spartans went on to win the Mason Cup the following spring.

The last time Western Michigan began a season with two wins was in 2002-03, when the Broncos opened play with a sweep of Bowling Green. Last weekend, WMU swept visiting Bentley. In 2002-03, the Broncs went 15-21-2 overall.

For two years in a row, Ferris State has opened its Division I season with a sweep at the hands of Union. This year as last, the Bulldogs were shut out, 2-0, in that first official D-I game. I have no idea what this means.

In 2003-04, Bowling Green also began the season 1-2-0, but the math isn’t quite the same here. In that year, the Falcons played two league series to start the season, and went 1-3-0 in those games.

This year, BGSU has played three games against three different opponents. In 2002-03, however, the Falcons were also 1-2-0 after three games against three teams, although they played a two-game set their second weekend out, to make it 1-3-0. BG had eight wins in 2002-03, and 11 in ’03-04. I know where I’d hang my hat.

The last time Nebraska-Omaha opened its season with eight goals over Manitoba was last season. Last year, the Mavericks beat Manitoba 8-0 in exhibition before heading to two ties in the Nye Frontier Classic; this year, UNO beat Manitoba 8-1 en route to the Maverick Stampede title.

In 2006, November was tough for the Mavs, who went 1-6-2, including two losses to Miami and Michigan, and a split with Notre Dame. Miami and Michigan are the first two CCHA opponents UNO faces this season.

The last time the Northern Michigan Wildcats lost a regular-season two-game series to Michigan prior to last weekend was in 2005-06, when the Wolverines swept the ‘Cats in Yost in mid-November. That was a week after NMU lost two at home to MSU. This week, the Wildcats travel to East Lansing after hosting the Wolverines, but do not despair, NMU fans; Northern was 22-16-2 in 2005-06.

Wait a minute. In 2005-06, the order of opponents and home venues was reversed from this year … so does that mean NMU is looking at a 16-win season? Of course, that would still be an improvement over last year.

The Alaska Nanooks last dropped the early-season Governor’s Cup series to Alaska-Anchorage in 2000-01, a tough year for the Nanooks which saw only nine wins overall. However, that series was the second of the season for Alaska, which had already tied and lost to Western. There is hope.

The last time Lake Superior State hosted Clarkson was in 1991, an NCAA regional two-game sweep by the Golden Knights that still had Laker fans calling for the head of then-referee Frank Cole as recently as Tuesday night on radio airwaves in Sault Ste. Marie. The Knights are in town this weekend and grateful Laker fans are happy that Cole has moved on to other things, namely coordinator of ice hockey officials for the NCAA.

The last time my back was out was last October. We all know how 2006-07 ended.

Big Star, Little Pond

In the fishbowl that is Sault Ste. Marie, Jim Roque is the perfect head coach. The third-year skipper and LSSU alum (1983-87) believes in his alma mater, believes in his hockey team, and knows more about Laker hockey than most people can learn. His demeanor completely lacks pretense.

In short, the guy is a walking advertisement for Lake Superior State University.

To open the season two weeks ago, the Lakers tied Duluth and lost to Michigan Tech in the inaugural Superior Showcase. In both games, said Roque, the Lakers “took some bad penalties” that cost them. The reason may be a youthful squad with 17 of 25 players freshmen or sophomores, but that’s no excuse, said Roque.

“We have a lot of freshmen and sophomores, but at the same time … too many people are using that as a crutch, that we’re young. I just don’t want guys to bail that way. I’ve been kind of grumpy with them the last 10 days because I think they’ve been using that an excuse.”

Roque said that the Lakers are “as good up front as last year, if not a little bit better,” with big guys who skate well. The trick with the forwards, he said, is playing all aspects of the game. “With the puck, they’re very good, but without it they have a lot to learn.”

Roque said that the Lakers’ “biggest challenge” is their genuine inexperience on defense. “We’re a little erratic back there now.”

Last weekend, the Lakers came from behind to beat Western Ontario in exhibition. This week, LSSU hosts Clarkson for two, games that matter in more ways than one, said Roque. “We need to play well this weekend for our league, too.”

The Lakers don’t begin CCHA play until the first two days of November, when LSSU travels to Notre Dame. With those games in South Bend, the Lakers will have played four games in eight days, a real barometer for his team, said Roque.

“Nathan Perkovich is off to a really good start,” said Roque. Including the game that didn’t count last weekend against Western Ontario, the sophomore has scored in each game this season, with an official goal count of two.

The Sun Still Rises

There’s still some sunlight in Fairbanks these days, and in spite of an 0-2 start, there’s still some light for the Nanooks, according to first-year head coach Doc DelCastillo.

“If we don’t win hockey games this year,” said DelCastillo, “it won’t be for a lack of discipline, or concentration coming into a game.”

DelCastillo credits departed head coach Tavis MacMillan and assistant Wade Klippenstein, as well as current assistant Dallas Ferguson, for the team he’s inherited.

“They’re a great group of young men,” said DelCastillo. “They are student-athletes. Our grade point average kind of reflects that. They work hard. It makes it fun to work with them.”

DelCastillo said that what he’s found in Fairbanks is what he expected coming in. “We’re a committed team. At times we might struggle as far depth up front and scoring goals.”

The coach, who prefers coaching for and recruiting to an Olympic sheet, said that his “vision” for UA is to “continue the tradition that’s been started here, with a few twists.”

Time will define the DelCastillo twists.

The Nanooks have had a strange schedule to start the season. Three weeks ago, UA opened with an exhibition game against Southern Alberta IT. Last weekend, the ‘Nooks dropped two games to Anchorage to open the D-I season and Governor’s Cup play.

UA is off this weekend, then hosts Michigan State before traveling to Michigan. Time off, the team’s arch-rival, the defending national champions, and a trip to the toughest barn in the league against a team that’s manhandled UA in the past.

In those games against the Seawolves, DelCastillo said that he felt a lot of pride for his new squad. “On Friday it was a real good hockey game, back and forth. We traded off goals.

“I think [the Seawolves] elevated their game a little bit on Saturday and we had a tough time adapting to it. Throughout the second period, they really took it to us.

“Honestly, going in, the staff and players as a team, we felt with guys that we lost last year…there’s a whole new identity with this team.”

New players, new coaches, and a team searching for a real identity without Curtis Fraser and Kyle Greentree.

“Outside of [Tyler] Eckford, up front we’re still looking around and saying, ‘We need that goal. Who’s going to get it for us?’

“If you look at our go-to guys right now, they’re freshmen, they’re sophomores. There will be some bumps in the road this season adjusting to that.”

As for the goaltending, Chad Johnson and Wylie Rogers each earned a loss last weekend. Said DelCastillo, “I thought they played okay. They can play a lot better than they did.”

The learning process works in many directions for everyone in Fairbanks in the early going. “Early in the season, you’re switching lines, finding lines, working on the penalty kill,” said DelCastillo.

And the UA fans, who fill the post-game press conferences by the dozens? “The fans are knowledgeable about hockey,” said DelCastillo. “On Saturday we didn’t play as well, and they seemed very knowledgeable about that.”

Looking for a Star

“The good news,” said Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels, “is that we scored eight goals from eight different players.

“The bad news is that we got eight goals from eight players.”

Last weekend, the Bulldogs beat Wayne State 6-2 before tying the Warriors 2-2. The story in the early going for FSU is the lack of starpower.

“We’ve got the makings of a nice team here,” said Daniels. “We don’t have a first line, a top line in the CCHA per se. We’ve got a lot of hard-working forwards.”

Rookies Justin Menke and Zach Redmond netted their first career goals last weekend; the rest were scored by sophomores Matt Case, Cody Chupp, Casey Haines, Aaron Lewicki and Blair Riley, and senior Jim Jorgensen — five forwards, and three defensemen.

“Our defensive corps is as deep as it’s been,” said Daniels. “We’ve got three goalies we’re looking at. It’s just that the guys who just graduated gobbled up all of the primetime roles, and we’re looking for others to step up.”

These Guys Are Stars

What do Alec Martinez, Justin Mercier, Tommy Wingels and Jeff Zatkoff have in common? Aside from all being Miami RedHawks, that is?

Every one of them is a player of the week this week.

I saw the RedHawks last week, and they are for real. They are solid in every aspect of their game, deep everywhere, fast, skilled, patient, and they play like a team. With no disrespect to the injured Nathan Davis, no one noticed his absence.

And that’s a good thing.

So Are These Guys

If you weren’t at the Qwest Center for UNO’s Maverick Stampede last weekend and haven’t yet checked out their requisite team photo with hardware — you know, the stereotypical picture with everyone crowded around a trophy, some guys sprawling on the ice, everyone in ball caps — then you must do so the moment you’re done with this column.

These guys look really good in this picture, and not just because they won their home tournament. The Mavericks are wearing awe-inspiring pink jerseys, as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Seriously, the jerseys look great. They were auctioned off — for breast cancer research, of course — at the end of Saturday’s game.

This weekend UNO faces Miami, and both teams will sporting pink laces and ribbon decals for breast cancer awareness.

Great visibility for a great cause.


Who was that idiot who said that this year’s Ohio State team was the fastest she’d ever seen? And are those young Buckeyes guilty of believing their own press?

The OSU team that won twice in Dayton was not the same team that played two games against arch-rival Miami, at least not on Friday. (Disclaimer: The RedHawks are phenomenal. See above.)

The Buckeye squad that faced Miami in Columbus last Friday looked inept, incapable, and — the big surprise — slow, painfully slow. As fast as the RedHawks are, they are not exponentially faster than the Buckeyes.

OSU captain Matt McIlvane said after the game that the Buckeyes beat themselves. While they certainly had help from their instate cousins, the Bucks did themselves no favors.

Two bright spots for the Buckeyes. First was the play of sophomore goaltender Joseph Palmer, who turned away more shots than were recorded in Friday’s first period, and let in no soft goals in that contest. Second was the spirited student section

The students showed up and sat, en masse, behind the cage on the east end of the building. They were loud and coordinated well with the band, that sat behind the opposite goal. The only issue there is that the east end is where the home goalie plays for two periods. The students would be more effective — or at least entertaining — behind the visitors for two.

One discouraging sign of the times is the profanity used by the RedHawk student fans. Miami University, like the University of Michigan, has a reputation for academic excellence, yet these students do little bit imitate the more profane chants and jeers they hear from other programs.

Maybe I am exceptionally old, but I have grown tired of profanity as a substitute for wit.

Shooting for the Moon

Are my local colleague, Jeff Svoboda, and I the only two people who think that the CCHA should absorb two teams from College Hockey America after the league potentially folds when Wayne State exits?

No, I have heard nothing officially about the CHA folding, but four teams does not a viable league make.

No, I have heard nothing from the CCHA about taking in more teams, nor have I yet officially posed the question.

Two CHA teams in particular seem a good fit for the CCHA. Huntsville, Ala., is only an hour further away from Bowling Green, Ohio, than is Marquette, Mich., and the league would do well to have a presence in the Pittsburgh area with — dare I say it — Robert Morris.

Every team would play each other twice, except for the current travel partners/rivals. And if there’s a deity in the hockey heavens, only the top eight or 10 teams would make the playoffs in the 14-team league.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I like the idea. Who’s aboard?