This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 8, 2007

Another World

The CCHA and Buckeye football are conspiring to ruin my life. The two-week on-site playoff system forces weeknight games, while Ohio State avoids playing on Saturdays when the pigskin boys are home, giving us Thursday night contests and Sunday afternoon games when the Buffalo Bills are actually on local television because they’re playing the god-awful Cincinnati Bengals, whom they beat for their third win in a row that I could have watched had OSU football not been playing last weekend, but who’s complaining?

Anyway, all of this creates a shortened work week for both this column and my job at a large, Midwestern community college, a job that prior to this term I called “teaching.” Technically, I’m an adjunct instructor, but with over 100 beginning composition students this fall, I’m really a body attached to a right hand that grips a pen that provides comments that many (not all) students consider arbitrary.

With that, of course, said students have much in common with many readers of this column.

(Did you know that during the Great Regression, many banks reposed farms because of the dust bowel? Learn something knew every day.)

So, between the job that supports my writing habit, this weekly column, and the twice-weekly water aerobics class at the Columbus Parks and Recreation Aquatic Center — think brightly colored dumplings bobbling in a sea of broth — I’m going to shortchange you, dear reader.

And the cable’s out in my neighborhood, so I’m at the Clintonville Cup o’ Joe polishing this for deadline on Thursday morning.

Why don’t you grab a cup of joe yourself and come along for my CCHA ride?

Mail Bag

It may only be a month into the season, but it’s never too early to receive hate mail from Northern Michigan fans. July isn’t too early to receive hate mail from Northern Michigan fans.

After the Wildcats lost four consecutive close games to the ranked Wolverines and Spartans — three by one goal, one by two — a concerned NMU fan wrote to me about giving his Wildcats a little respect.

The truth is that the four close games to two of the toughest teams in the league had already gotten my attention, and as planned I wrote this up in last week’s column, as the Wildcats were preparing to host No. 1 Miami for two games at home.

See what happens when you taunt me, Yoopers? Ryan Jones scores four goals in a game and your ‘Cats lose 9-2.

Of course I’m kidding. About the taunting, not the goals. The first fan to write in with something nice this season was an NMU fan, whose identity must remain secret to protect his life. I tutor with a recent NMU grad, a Wildcat hockey fan who has been suspiciously pleasant, and my hairdresser is from Marquette and no one is pointing directly at my head and laughing. To my face.

After the Wildcats lost 3-2 to Miami Saturday, head coach Walt Kyle said, “The first thing is we don’t want to settle for competing. We want to beat them.”

You, Coach, and everyone else Miami has played so far this season.

Last week, I received email from an OSU fan unhappy with his team’s 2-6-0 start. This correspondent made a really good point when he said that the Buckeyes are good as underdogs, but “don’t put them in the light!” It’s true that this is a program that has struggled when it’s had — as Markell has said himself — a target on its collective back.

But this same reader suggested that Paul Pooley return to Columbus to “take his alma mater,” and that OSU should send Markell to Bowling Green to “replace Scott Paluch.”

Yikes. I’m not in favor of any of those coaching changes. Pooley is an integral part of the Notre Dame coaching staff. In fact, Jackson made bringing Pooley along a condition of his hiring. There is no way that I’d change anything at the top in South Bend right now.

As for Paluch at Bowling Green, I’m a big fan. He inherited something of a mess and is working to rebuild an entire program. He’s a Falcon alum who is an outstanding spokesman for the university, he’s very well liked and well respected in the world of college hockey, and he looks like a younger version of my uncle, Bill.

Seriously, give Paluch a little more time.

As for Ohio State, I think Markell and his staff are doing just fine. This year’s inexperienced Buckeyes are struggling, but I like what I’ve seen from them in several periods. If they can play like they did against Wisconsin, in their last period against Minnesota, and their first period against FSU Sunday, they’ll be okay. I’m reserving judgment for this season.

I also received email from several of the Maverick faithful, who would like to see Mark Wilkins fired after their home sweep at the hands of No. 2 Michigan last weekend. I saw the second half of the Friday game, and I didn’t see anything egregious. I did not see the whole series.

That having been said, teams usually don’t lose because of officiating. Teams lose because they are beaten — by their opponents, by themselves. Allowing four third-period goals (not including the empty-netter) is certainly one way to lose a game; allowing nine goals on 43 shots certainly doesn’t hurt the cause, either.

Perhaps the Maverick faithful should cut Wilkins — and their own team — some slack. UNO is 0-4-0 to begin the CCHA season because of losses to the top two teams in the country. I’ve seen Miami in person. I’ve seen Michigan on television twice. These are teams that are not overrated.

“We’re not likely to see two better teams than that all season long,” said UNO head coach Mike Kemp on the Mavericks’ four losses. “The big thing is that our young guys don’t get discouraged and keep making progress.”

And, finally, earlier in the season I suggested that the CCHA take Alabama-Huntsville and Robert Morris (Robert Morris!) into the league should the CHA fold with the departure of Wayne State. An astute reader suggested that all of Division I hockey should consider realignment to help the sport sustain itself and grow.

I have to agree. I like the idea of the CCHA expanding to include UAH and Robert Morris. One of the things I really like about CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos’s tenure is the way he has raised the profile of the league, expanding its television markets and reaching out to younger fans.

Should the league take in these two teams, the conference would have a presence in two markets that are important to the growth of the sport, but I have to say that I can’t see it as a long-term solution. The sport needs to expand further into other big sports markets, and the leagues need to be aligned in such a way that they support the growth of the sport, too.

That having been said, I love the charm of a league like the CCHA, with a mix of big schools and smaller programs, and I’d hate to see that lost.

Hey, I Still Have Room in One of My Comp Classes

I rarely visit fan message boards, including our very own, but every once in a while, someone sends me a link to something that is too good to ignore. Like this, for example:

“Another reason Poles don’t mean anything!!!”

Another poster wrote in response, summarizing exactly what I was thinking.

“First the Hapsburgs, then the Nazis, then the communists, now this. When will the Poles get the respect they deserve?”

Thank you, both of you. Thanks to the reader from southern Ohio who sent me the link.

And thank the hockey gods for WCHA fans.

And Speaking of Arbitrary

We all know that polls are opinions and not games played, but capturing the top two spots and three of the top five in this week’s poll is something to note.

Believe it or not, there are regular poll voters who reside outside of and are in no way affiliated with the CCHA.

And How!

Last week in these very pixels, Bowling Green head coach Scott Paluch said that all his team needed to do was to put together a few wins to gain some confidence. Now we get to see whether his theory is correct.

With two overtime wins home-and-home last weekend against Western Michigan, the BGSU Falcons put together their first consecutive wins over a Division I opponent since their six-game win streak in the middle of the 2005-06 campaign.

“We want to feel good about this,” said Paluch after BG’s 5-4 win at home Saturday night. “This was a big sweep for us.”

“Big” is an understatement. The last time the Falcons swept a CCHA opponent was Jan. 6-7, the end of that six-game win streak from two years ago, a home-and-home sweep of Ohio State. Last season, the Falcons split with the Broncos (Jan. 5) for one of their five league wins on the season.

Freshman Nick Eno earned the 3-2 win Friday, and junior Jimmy Spratt had the 5-4 win Saturday. Eno becomes the first freshman goaltender to start his career 2-0 since Bob Petrie did something similar in 1993-94. For Petrie, those were wins in consecutive games; Eno’s wins were interrupted by the BG loss to Notre Dame, for which Spratt earned the credit.

The Falcons doubled up their shots on the Broncos in those two games, outshooting WMU 30-16 Friday and 44-22 Saturday. Pity Western netminders Riley Gill and Jerry Kuhn. Gill made 47 saves on the weekend and was relieved by the freshman Kuhn in the second period Saturday night. Kuhn went on to make 19 saves and earn the loss because Gill allowed the first four goals before WMU tied it up in the first period — and Kuhn allowed the game-winning goal in OT.

Mike Nesdill had the equalizer late in the third period for the Falcons Friday, assisted by David Solway, who had the overtime game-winning goal … on which Nesdill earned the first assist. Kevin Schmidt had two goals in the 5-4 win, including the game-winner.

The season may be young, but there is no reason for the Falcons not to feel good about starting 2-1 in CCHA play for the first time since 2004-05.

Also Splitting the Wins

When the Ferris State Bulldogs recorded their second consecutive shutout by beating Ohio State 4-0 last Friday, they did so without the guy who earned the 3-0 win over Notre Dame the week before, the CCHA Goaltender of the Week for Week 3, Mitch O’Keefe.

Instead, FSU went with Pat Nagle for Friday’s game, in which the freshman earned his first career shutout. Head coach Bob Daniels had been rotating goaltenders and saw no reason to change that last weekend.

O’Keefe went on to beat the Buckeyes Sunday, 4-2.

They Pass … He Scores!

Not only did Nagle and O’Keefe split the winning ways in Columbus, but each earned a legitimate assist on his team’s game-winning goal.

Nagle was the sole helper on Justin Lewandowski’s marker at 3:21 in the second Friday, while O’Keefe started the play that led to Justin Menke’s power-play game-winner at 6:00 in the second Sunday.

Defending the Last Line of Defense

When Kuhn went in for Gill in WMU’s 5-4 overtime loss to BGSU, the Falcons were up on the Broncos 4-0. “It was definitely a tough position for Jerry to come in,” said Bronco senior defenseman Jonathan Lupa. “He stood on his head and kept some goals out and really gave us a chance to win that game.”

Michigan head coach Red Berenson wants you to know that Billy Sauer — who is improved this season after tough freshman and sophomore campaigns — kept the Wolverines in the early going of that 6-3 win over UNO last Friday. “[We] knew that he could make the save if we made a mistake — and we made too many mistakes. That’s what your goalie can do for you.

“This is the CCHA. It’s tough to win on the road. We’re lucky we’ve won four games on the road. You can’t do that without good goalkeeping.” Sauer’s save percentage was .914 in the sweep.

And after Friday’s 4-0 loss to Ferris State, in which sophomore goaltender Joseph Palmer was replaced by classmate Nick Filion, OSU senior captain Matt McIlvane defended Palmer, whose play this season has definitely surpassed his performance last year.

“He’s carried us through the season,” said McIlvane. “How many games are you going to win when you score zero goals? That’s our problem right now; it’s not Joe Palmer. He’s our best player right now.”

All Goalies, All the Time

Congratulations to Jeff Lerg, who made his program-record 61st and 62nd consecutive starts in two wins over Alaska in Fairbanks last weekend. Lerg made 47 saves for a .959 save percentage in those two contests.

“Alaska is pretty good at creating traffic, but Jeff Lerg controlled the puck very well,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley.

Back in the Lower 48, NMU freshman goaltender Reid Ellington made his first start in that 3-2 loss to Miami. Ellington is something of a rarity in our league, having come directly from high school (Cloquet High School, Minn.). Ellington made 29 saves as the RedHawks outshot the Wildcats 32-21.

More Kudos

Players who netted their first collegiate goals last weekend: Robin Bergman (ND), Alain Goulet (UNO), Blake Martin (UNO), Rich Purslow (UNO), Todd Rudasill (OSU), David Solway (BGSU), and Justin Vaive (Miami).

Rudasill, who had the only two goals in OSU’s 4-2 loss to FSU Sunday, grew up in the Columbus suburb of Powell. A local boy playing for the Buckeyes is a big deal, and after the game we asked Rudasill about notching his first two collegiate goals in his first game as a Buckeye, in front of his family.

None of the Rudasills were in attendance. The forward’s parents have moved to Pennsylvania, and his sister — a student at Miami University — couldn’t make the trip for his game.

Just Plain Scary

Miami’s Ryan Jones is second in the country in goals per game, with eight markers in eight contests. Teammate Justin Mercier has seven goals in eight games. Jones leads the country in game-winning goals (three).

Miami leads the nation in scoring offense, averaging five goals per game, and the RedHawk defense allows just 1.50 goals per contest (tie-third).

Miami’s power play is converting at 20.6 percent, and the RedHawk PK is effective 94.1 percent of the time.

Through eight games, Jeff Zatkoff’s save percentage is .944.

Also Wicked Good

Michigan State’s Tim Kennedy and Michigan’s Kevin Porter are tied (with St. Cloud State’s Garrett Roe) for the national lead in power-play goals (five).

Porter had his third career hat trick last Friday in Michigan’s 6-3 win over UNO. His first two that night were on the power play; the third came four-on-four.

More Congratulations in Order

Congratulations to Jim Culhane, whose contract has been extended at Western Michigan through May 31, 2011, which is two weeks after my 47th birthday and a year and change after the CCHA hosts the Frozen Four in Detroit.

Culhane has built an interesting and entertaining program in Kalamazoo, one that slays giants on a regular basis. During his tenure, the Broncos have defeated 33 nationally ranked opponents — all without the Big Ten resources down the road a stretch. His players, too, have a combined grade point average of 3.00 or higher for nine of their last 10 semesters at WMU.

Congratulations, too, to Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna, whose contract with Hockey East has been extended through the 2010-11 season. We at USCHO are big fans of Bertagna, who always manages to smile and hug me whenever we meet. My theory about that latter is that Bertagna’s just so relieved that I cover a league other than his that he’s overcome with emotion upon seeing me in person.

The job security couldn’t happen to two nicer or more deserving gents.

Best Wishes to the Pletsches

Fred Pletsch, the CCHA Director of Communications, and his wife, Kelly, were in a severe car accident in Michigan Oct. 30. Both are banged up pretty badly and they face recoveries that will take time, but both will recover, thankfully.

Fred — who answered my email today from the hospital, where he gets to eat yogurt and watch “zero hockey” — is at least in good spirits.

Please keep them in your thoughts.