This Week in the CCHA: Jan. 10, 2008


Lake Superior has three points to show for 12 CCHA games, but the last-place Lakers have yet to beat a conference opponent.

On the road last weekend, the Lakers lost spectacularly to No. 10 Michigan State, 8-2, before earning — and I mean earning — a 3-3 tie the following night.

After the loss, in which half of MSU’s goals were scored in the first period, Laker head coach Jim Roque said, “I thought we looked like we hadn’t played in a month.”

Fair enough, since the Jan. 4 game was Lake State’s first since Dec. 8.

After the tie, though, Roque was effusive. “Obviously, it was a lot better.” The LSSU coach did say that he was happy with how his team came back.

The Lakers came from behind in the tie, and first-year goaltender Brian Mahoney-Wilson made 36 saves on 39 MSU shots, an effort that Roque called “outstanding.”

Although winless, the Lakers have three points in their last four league games, after tying Nebraska-Omaha twice in Omaha, Dec. 7-8.


Congratulations to the Bowling Green Falcons, who beat then-No. 1 Miami Friday night, 4-2, in BG. It was the first Falcon win over a No. 1 team since 1993.

Freshman forward Jacob Cepis, who netted two first-period goals in the contest and is this week’s CCHA Rookie of the Week, was understandably enthusiastic after the win.

“How great is that?” said Cepis. “We just beat the number-one team in the country. How many people can say that?”

I love this game.

Another first came Friday, Jan. 4, for the seniors on Alaska’s team when UA beat Ohio State, 4-2, in Columbus. In their last possible chance, it was the first time the senior Nanooks defeated the Buckeyes in Value City Arena.

“Being seniors, we were 0-4 coming in,” said forward Ryan Muspratt. “It’s been pretty tough in the past. It’s great to get the first game.”

It was, alas, the only win for those Alaska seniors, as the Buckeyes won the following night, 5-2. And that was the first CCHA home win of the season for OSU, which is now 1-5-0 in league play at the Schott.

Of course, that means it was the first home CCHA win for this year’s 80-member OSU rookie class. Okay, that’s an exaggeration. Seriously, I think it’s more like 20 freshmen.

“I thought we were the best team on the ice the whole game,” said Buckeye freshman Sergio Somma after Saturday’s win. Not a claim the Buckeyes have been able to make much this season, but 100 percent accurate this time.

It was the first league win for first-year goalie Dustin Carlson (who likes winning, by the way), who started in place of sophomore Joseph Palmer, who was off in Europe playing well but losing (see below).

Another Buckeye freshman, Shane Sims, registered his first collegiate goal. Sims was credited with a goal at the Ohio Hockey Classic, but later it was determined that the goal was scored by Tommy Goebel.

There were a few firsts in the MSU-LSSU series in East Lansing last weekend. Friday was the first time since Feb. 5, 2004, that the Spartans scored eight goals in a game. That, too, was a Friday-night home win against the Lakers, an 8-0 shutout. Saturday’s 3-3 tie in Munn Arena was MSU’s first conference tie of the season.

And in the 8-2 game, freshman Laker Zac MacVoy netted LSSU’s first shorthanded goal of the 2997-08 campaign.

And a belated congratulations to Notre Dame’s Brad Phillips. The freshman goaltender earned his first career shutout with ND’s 7-0 win over visiting Princeton Dec. 8. I forgot to mention it in last week’s column.

A Couple

As in, a couple of series this weekend not to be missed.

The first, of course, is the home-and-home series between No. 6 Michigan State (13-5-3, 9-2-1 CCHA) and No. 10 Notre Dame (18-6-0, 11-3-0 CCHA). The fourth-place Spartans are three points behind the Fighting Irish, who are tied for second place with Miami. MSU also has two games in hand on both the Irish and the RedHawks.

The defending national champions seem to be a target for negativity this season. I hear repeatedly from fans who think that the Spartans are underachieving, fans who don’t seem to remember that MSU finished fourth in the CCHA last season with 15 wins and most of the same Spartans as this season’s squad.

Fans of the Irish, however, are willing to give ND a bit of leeway this year based on the faulty logic that Hobey Baker finalist David Brown was the only reason for the team’s success. By the very nature of the season they’re having, however, the Fighting Irish are proving that Brown — while spectacular last season — wasn’t solely responsible for Notre Dame’s regular-season and CCHA tournament championships.

Two weeks ago, the Spartans showed so miserably at the Great Lakes Invitational that senior captain Bryan Lerg said that the team was very disappointed in themselves. Last weekend, MSU took out that disappointment on Lake Superior State. There can be no question that the Spartans’ 8-2 victory over the Lakers was fueled by two losses at the GLI.

“I think we all came out flying,” said sophomore defenseman Mike Ratchuk after the win. Ratchuk added that “everyone contributed” in a game that the Spartans felt as though they needed to win after the previous weekend in Detroit.

While the Spartans crushed the Lakers in that first game, they tied the second and allowed five goals in two home games versus an opponent averaging two markers per contest. Such lopsided victories, too, can mask real trouble, perhaps issues lingering from the GLI.

“I think when you score a lot, it hides the true quality of play,” said MSU head coach Rick Comley after the win. Comley, who said that his squad would have to play “an awful lot better,” is one smart one.

The Spartans will have to play much better than their last four outings if they are to earn points against Notre Dame. The Irish, .500 in their last four games after their split last weekend in Marquette against Northern Michigan, ended the first half of the season with a nine-game win streak.

The starting goaltender for most contests in that nine-game win streak was Jordan Pearce, who will start this weekend against Michigan State after Brad Phillips was in net for Saturday’s 2-1 win over NMU.

Phillips’ numbers are impressive, but Irish head coach Jeff Jackson told the South Bend Tribune this week that he is reluctant to throw the freshman into unfamiliar waters. “The next big test for him is playing against a high-end team that throws 25, 30 shots and some good scoring chances at him,” said the coach.

Here’s a look at how the Spartans and the Fighting Irish match up by the overall numbers:

• Goals per game: MSU 3.57 (3rd CCHA/4th nationally); ND 3.33 (4th CCHA/8th nationally)
• Goals allowed per game: MSU 2.76 (5th/31st); ND 1.92 (3rd/4th)
• Power play: MSU 23.0 percent (3rd/5th); ND 16.3 (7th/24th)
• Penalty kill: MSU 80.9 percent (9th/48th); ND 89.5 (2nd/5th)
• Top scorer: MSU Tim Kennedy (13-10–23); ND Erik Condra (10-16–26)
• Top ‘tender: MSU Jeff Lerg (.912 SV%, 2.59 GAA); ND Brad Phillips (.958 SV%, 0.75 GAA)

The second series that is particularly interesting this weekend is Bowling Green (9-9-0, 6-6-0 CCHA) at Lake Superior State (2-12-4, 0-9-3 CCHA). The Falcons are currently tied with two other teams, Ferris State and Northern Michigan, for sixth place in the CCHA standings. With 12 points, all three teams are three points behind fifth-place Nebraska-Omaha, and both BG and FSU have four games in hand on NMU and UNO.

If ever there was a weekend for the resurgent Falcons to distinguish themselves from the pack, this would be it. Northern Michigan is idle this week and Nebraska-Omaha hosts No. 2 Miami, so the Falcons (and the Bulldogs, incidentally) have a great chance at bettering their position.

BGSU split with then-No. 1 Miami last weekend, giving the Falcons a much-needed boost of confidence after a fourth-place showing at the Badger Showdown. And that win snapped a four-game losing streak, as BG finished the first half of the season with two close losses to current No. 1 Michigan.

The Lakers, on the other hand, really need a win.

Here are the numbers for this series:

• Goals per game: BGSU 3.11 (6th/; LSSU 2.06 (12th/)
• Goals allowed per game: BGSU 2.83 (6th/); LSSU 3.72 (12th/)
• Power play: BGSU 23.6 percent (2nd/); LSSU 13.8 (11th/)
• Penalty kill: BGSU 84.2 percent (7th/); LSSU 69.0 (12th/)
• Top scorer: BGSU Derek Whitmore (13-5–18), James Perkin (6-12–18); LSSU Nathan Perkovich (11-1–12)
• Top ‘tender: BGSU Nick Eno (.893 SV%, 2.64 GAA), Jimmy Spratt (.893 SV%, 2.92 GAA); LSSU Brian Mahoney-Wilson (.895 SV%, 3.03 GAA), Pat Inglis (.860 SV%, 4.34 GAA)

Six of Perkovich’s goals have come on the power play for Lake Superior State. Mahoney-Wilson and Inglis have identical records (1-6-2) in net for the Lakers, each having played 11 games.

Good Things Come In Threes

Nebraska-Omaha’s captain, senior forward Bryan Marshall, is en route to a career season. The Livonia, Mich., native leads the nation in overall assists (23) and is averaging 1.05 helpers per game to tie him with Boston College freshman Joe Whitney.

Marshall rides a nine-game point streak into this weekend’s home series against No. 2 Miami. Last weekend, Marshall had three assists in the Mavericks’ two-game road sweep of Western Michigan, UNO’s second weekend sweep of a CCHA rival this season after the Mavs beat OSU in Columbus twice in early November.

Marshall (8-23–31) leads all Mavericks in scoring this season. His 23 assists are just three shy of his career-high total of 26 in his sophomore season (2005-06), and his eight goals fall five short of his career-high total of 13 his freshman year.

Fourth Place Feels Like Dead Last

I know I’m not alone in the acute disappointment I feel this week in Team USA’s fourth-place showing in the IIHF World Junior Championship tournament. (See my buddy Jim Connelly’s blog for proof that misery loves company.)

What bothers me the most, though, was the impression I got — unscientific, not quantifiable — that because the kids from the U.S. weren’t playing for a gold medal, they didn’t care enough to attempt to medal at all. Their performance against bronze-winning Russia can at best be described as lackluster. Even their head coach said so. “We lacked the intensity we needed today,” said John Haynes.

Today? How about in four of the last six years.

For the past six years, Team USA has competed for either a bronze or a gold medal in the U-20 event. Last year, they came home with bronze medals. In 2004, they beat Canada for gold. In 2003, 2005, 2006 and this year, nothing.

And Team USA’s performance in the bronze-medal game against Russia leaves me feeling old and cynical. Maybe, through teaching, I’ve been exposed to too many college-aged people whose passions are completely narcissistic, among whom a common answer to questions is, “That happened before I was born, so how should I know?”

No passion when playing Team Russia? It’s not like 1980 is ancient history. These kids embrace ’80s nostalgia — everything from clothing to music — in an alarming fashion. They couldn’t embrace their own, sport-specific nostalgia for 60 little minutes?

Obligatory CCHA content: OSU goaltender Joe Palmer handled the last 40 minutes of that game, allowing just one of the four Russian goals.

.500, Sort Of

Part of what makes covering college hockey so much fun is observing the miniature passion plays that the game creates in its immediate communities. Because of circumstance — I live in Columbus, Ohio — I am also the arena reporter at Ohio State. When I’m very lucky, I get to see some terrific college hockey, as I did when OSU and Miami played for the title game of the Ohio Hockey Classic.

For much of this season, however, the struggling Buckeyes have provided hockey that was painful to watch. Not only was OSU a letdown after winning the Lefty McFadden Invitational to open the season, but the hockey played was hardly competitive in any real sense in October and November. The five first-half home Buckeye losses were boring hockey. Even the most lopsided opponent wins were dull eventualities rather than the rip-roaring spankings that would have at least been entertaining.

During the early going, it seemed that OSU’s primary talent lay in producing players of the week … for their opponents. No one, including the league offices apparently, knew the extent of the Buckeyes’ woes.

By midseason, though, almost everyone had figured out that Ohio State is a team that can be beaten. Perhaps an 11-game winless streak through most of the first half clued them in.

So through the Buckeyes’ last six home games, during which they’re playing .500 hockey, it has been amusing to see the post-game reactions of the coaches unlucky enough to lose to OSU now that the Bucks have remembered — sometimes — how to play the game.

In mid-December, OSU split with struggling St. Lawrence. In the OHC, Ohio State beat Harvard. Last week, the Buckeyes split with the Nanooks. After every one of OSU’s wins in that stretch, each visiting coach sat stunned in the post-game press conferences, kind of like the way the pundits looked this week after McCain and Clinton prevailed in New Hampshire.

Actually, SLU head coach Joe Marsh looked probably as he has most of the season, frustrated at his team’s inability to perform up to its potential. He wasn’t disbelieving so much as resigned; the Saints lost because that’s the kind of season they’re having, and Marsh knew it.

Harvard head coach Ted Donato looked positively insulted that the Buckeyes would even think of beating the Crimson. In fairness, he looked the same way after Harvard lost to St. Cloud the following day. That was amusing.

But last weekend, Alaska first-year head coach Doc DelCastillo revealed a grieving pain, looking for all the world as though the largest buck in the forest had just told him that he’d never see his mother again.

That was a pure college hockey moment, a true competitor feeling the pain of a league loss.

I do love this game.