This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 6, 2008

Two for One

When you think of a one-two punch in college hockey, you’re usually thinking of linemates who deliver. But what about goalmates who knock them out — or aside, away or back?

In the CCHA, six teams are currently rotating goalies on a weekly basis and none with more success than Nebraska-Omaha. Yes, the Mavericks. Really.

The duo of junior Jeremie Dupont (1.68 GAA, .940 SV%) and senior Jerad Kaufmann (1.95, .929) has the best combined overall stats in the CCHA, each having played three games. Kaufmann is undefeated so far this season.

Good goaltending is one reason why the Mavs have had one of the best penalty kills in the early going this season, having turned away 30-of-32 opponent chances. UNO hasn’t exactly played a hearty schedule so far this season, but a 5-1-0-0 start is something that can give a young team confidence; there are 16 freshmen and sophomores combined on the Maverick roster.

Last weekend, the Mavs split with the Falcons in Bowling Green for UNO’s first CCHA action of the season. Dupont made 41 saves in Friday’s 3-2 loss, while Kaufmann stopped 36-of-39 in Saturday’s 4-3 win.

“We want to keep the game simple,” said UNO head coach Mike Kemp after the Saturday contest. “We’re not a team that’s going to be able to run-and-gun. We don’t have the offense and punch that we had a year ago.”

Five other teams are currently rotating goaltenders in the CCHA with no immediate plans to stop. Western Michigan is rotating junior Riley Gill (2.70, .913) and sophomore Jerry Kuhn (2.43, .914), and each is giving another youthful team a chance to be competitive.

The Lake Superior State Lakers are seeing good play from sophomore Brian Mahoney Wilson (2.56, .932) and junior Pat Inglis (2.78, .918). The two have been switching off, although Mahoney-Wilson replaced Inglis in last Saturday’s 4-3 loss to Ferris State, a game in which each goalie surrendered two.

Somewhat surprisingly, Michigan has developed a rotation between junior Bryan Hogan (2.78, .885) and senior Billy Sauer 3.01, .901). Neither is putting up great numbers yet, although Hogan is undefeated and they both looked solid in a two-game home sweep of Ohio State last weekend.

“We don’t have a long-term plan, but we were going to go these first 10 games and then we’ll keep reviewing it,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson. “If we can win on Friday with Billy and win on Saturday with Hogie then it’s not a bad plan.

“You never know, if you get injuries or slumps — but right now I think we have two goalies who can help us win.”

One CCHA team has tried all three of the goalies on its roster but has yet to find anyone who can put up competitive numbers. Ohio State has played freshman Cal Heeter (4.43, .879), sophomore Dustin Carlson (3.80, .863) and junior Joseph Palmer (5.40, 8.36), who was the starter for his first two seasons.

It was OSU’s 7-3 home loss to Lake Superior State Oct. 17 that cost Palmer the starting position. In that game, Palmer was replaced by Carlson after allowing four goals, and Carlson was taken out in favor of Heeter after Carlson let in two.

Since that game, the Buckeyes have been rotating Carlson and Heeter, and Palmer didn’t make the trip to Ann Arbor for the Buckeyes’ series against the Wolverines last weekend. But … Heeter was replaced by Carlson in OSU’s 6-1 loss Saturday, a game through which the freshman goaltender had absolutely no support from his team.

Although Buckeye head coach John Markell said that the goals Heeter allowed were “not the kid’s fault,” he said that Saturday’s game may be “the opening that Joe’s looking for.”

Another Ohio team is having better luck with its current goalie rotation. Miami plays two freshmen, Connor Knapp (1.97, .916) and Cody Reichard (2.23, .918). The RedHawks, who split at home with Alaska last weekend, are 4-2-2 overall (4-1-1-0 CCHA) with the system. Reichard has been handling the Friday duties.

Miami head coach Enrico Blasi said that the competition between the two rookies is “a good thing.” After the Miami sweep of Notre Dame Oct. 24-25, Blasi said, “When they’re young like this, you have to make them earn it, and they have to play, and they have to experience college hockey.”

That’s the philosophy behind Michigan State head coach Rick Comley’s decision to play freshman Drew Palmisano for eight or nine games this season, but Comley has no reason to split the Spartan netminding duties. Senior starter Jeff Lerg’s save percentage is .950, and his goals-against average is 1.48.

No One Yet

After just a few weekends of CCHA play, no one is emerging yet as the clear-cut conference leader, that team to beat down the stretch.

Miami looks fine with nine points in six league games, and the RedHawks seem to have the whole package, but with two fewer games played, the scrappy Spartans are one point behind the ‘Hawks on the strength of their 2-0-2-2 record.

In the early going, it’s been quirky for some teams. Miami’s been steady and Jeff Lerg seems unbeatable at MSU, but look at Michigan’s goaltending situation, where a netminder with a .885 save percentage is 4-0-0.

Several teams seem just this close to making real noise this season. LSSU has offense and goaltending; WMU has lost a couple of close games and tied Michigan State last weekend; the Bulldogs are averaging more than three goals per game; Alaska split with Miami in Oxford last weekend; the Mavericks are getting amazing goaltending.

Even teams that seem down have surprising things going for them. The Falcons and Buckeyes can score goals.

And the Northern Michigan Wildcats have weathered a tough opening CCHA schedule, going 1-4-1 against Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame. Last year, the Wildcats opened league play with sets against Michigan, Michigan State and Miami, going 0-6-0 in that stretch.

But they were playing in Joe Louis Arena in March, getting there by defeating the Spartans in East Lansing.

It’s just too soon to tell.


This season, I’m able to tour the league more than I have in years past, largely because of a move to Michigan — although I joked with WMU head coach Jim Culhane that the travel was in honor of the 10-year anniversary of my divorce.

Last weekend, I went to Ann Arbor to see the OSU-UM series. I was hoping to see a great, gripping, two-game set since these teams have split each weekend they’ve played for the last three seasons, resulting in some passionate, interesting hockey.

I got ripped off. Friday night’s game was terrific, an energetic 4-3 Michigan win. Saturday’s game was awful. Not only was it a penalty-filled contest with zero interest or flow, but neither team played particularly well. You’d think that since the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes 6-1 that Michigan played a heck of a game — but you’d be thinking wrong.

“We worked harder, we forechecked, we put pressure on their defense and eventually got an important first goal. As a team, I thought we were more into the game,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson after Saturday’s win. “We started better tonight and then we built on that. It was probably our best team effort of the season thus far.”

Berenson would know better than I about Michigan’s team effort, but the game was painful to watch. The Wolverines did take advantage of three enormous Buckeye mistakes in the second period to run up the score, but there was nothing in that game that could give a college hockey fan the satisfaction of having watched a good, old-fashioned whoopin’.

Of course, that may have been because of the penalties, 72 minutes in all. If you were looking at the box score and saw the penalty stats, you might think that the game was chippy, dirty, or that OSU was playing retaliatory hockey for having been behind, or even that these were two teams engaged in a passionate rivalry.

Again, you’d be wrong. While there were some tempers flaring, most of the penalties seemed very minor in nature — on many, I just flat-out missed what the officials obviously saw — and the timing of the calls left me feeling as though I didn’t get a read on the game at all.

Apparently, I wasn’t alone.

“I don’t think we got a flow,” said Berenson. “We were outshot in the second period dramatically and yet we scored three goals. It wasn’t like the game was taking any shape. The score was, but the game wasn’t.”

Early in the season, spending so much time on special teams can be a real detriment to any team trying to form an identity. “We get a lot of practice penalty killing and our power play and even four-on-four,” said Berenson, “but we’re trying to find roles for players and ice time for players because they get out of the game if they don’t get out there.

“But anyway, we just have to get through this. We’re not trying to take penalties; I’d like to be the least penalized team in the league.”

After Saturday’s game, OSU head coach John Markell said of the Wolverines, “I think they came with a different work ethic and we didn’t match that.”

The best play of the whole weekend: Wolverine Tim Miller’s clean, bone-crushing, open-ice hit of John Albert in the first period Friday night. That took Buckeye captain Peter Boyd out of the game, as he retaliated and was given a game misconduct. Louie Caporusso scored moments later on the ensuing power play to give Michigan a 1-0 lead after one.

And still the Buckeyes fought back, with two goals from Todd Rudasill and a game tied 3-3 after two. Miller had the third-period game-winner.

It was great to spend the weekend at Yost, where I’ve come to know a few people over the years. And it was great to see some folks from Columbus for the first time this season.

But I am still dismayed that over 1,000 student fans can chant the F-word in unison repeatedly during a game (among other completely unacceptable things) and no one seems to care. Unimaginative and — at this point — irrelevant.

I know most people think I’m beating a dead horse. I guess that if the administration at the University of Michigan thinks that this kind of public face is okay, I shouldn’t gripe about it.

Still, I can’t help but wonder how UM would feel if half a football stadium were doing this, televised live.

Zero to Five

Or, rather, 0-for-16 to 5-for-15.

After scoring no power-play goals in 16 advantages against Miami in South Bend two weeks ago, Notre Dame was 5-for-15 in a two-game sweep of Northern Michigan in Marquette last weekend.

“I think we found some chemistry this week,” said the understated Irish head coach, Jeff Jackson, “and that’s what a power play is — the chemistry of people willing to accept roles.”

The Irish are spreading that chemistry around. Five different ND players scored on the power play against NMU: senior Christian Hanson, juniors Dan Kissell, Kyle Lawson and Ryan Thang, and freshman Billy Maday, who earned CCHA Rookie of the Week honors for his goal and two assists in the series.

The unsung hero of that power play on the weekend, however, is junior defenseman Brent Blatchford, who assisted on two power-play markers each night for the Irish.

After Friday’s 3-2 win, Notre Dame captain Erik Condra revealed just how much the sweep at the hands of Miami a weekend before had motivated the Irish. “Tonight’s win feels really good,” said Condra. “We’re back to playing Irish hockey, which is hard-nose, gritty hockey.

“Everyone’s been joking that our power play has been struggling lately, but tonight we got back to the basics and it was good to get some power-play goals.”

Well, “lately” is a relative term given that the season’s a month old and I haven’t heard anyone joking about the Notre Dame power play, but Captain Condra can rest assured that even Boston College won’t be taking the Fighting Irish and their power play lightly this weekend after Notre Dame’s performance in Marquette.

When Zero’s Not for Nothing

This is my favorite anomaly of the season. Michigan State senior Kurt Kivisto has no goals in five games this campaign and one career goal for the Spartans in 48 total games played.

Unless you count shootouts. The Spartans have been involved in two shootouts this season and have won them both — and they couldn’t have done so without Kivisto, who scored in both, as did senior Matt Schepke, who has two goals in game play this season.

So Kivisto is a senior with one goal to his name but two other goals that count much more.

And the Spartans were the first road team to win an OT shootout in CCHA play this season, when they did so last weekend after their 2-2 tie against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.

This Really Means Something

Warning: This has nothing to do with college hockey and may offend people of small minds.

The best thing about this week was the look on Erica’s face this morning.

Who’s Erica? She’s a student in one of my developmental writing classes at Mott Community College in Flint, Mich. She’s also 19 years old, African-American and she just voted in her first presidential election.

For the past five years, I’ve taught at community colleges with substantial African-American enrollment. From September of 2003 until August of this year, I was an adjunct instructor at Columbus State Community College in Ohio. Since August of this year, I’ve been a full-time instructor at Mott.

I choose to teach developmental writing — the kinds of skills-based instruction designed to help students catch up for college-level work — because I believe in helping people find the tools they need to access our society’s power structure.

You know that phrase about walking the walk? Well, in our culture, you can’t really walk anywhere without being able to talk the talk of the decision makers, a concept that many people who read (and write) weekly columns about college hockey don’t consider often.

As of Jan. 20, 2009, we’ll have a new Decider-in-Chief, and he’s not exactly lily-white. And the look on Erica’s face made me want to cry. Many of my students were crying in Columbus after the 2004 election — so many first-time African-American voters literally shedding tears over the loss of their Irish-American candidate — and this week I am awed by the power of this moment in history.

My older African-American students look relieved. Most people in Flint — one of the most liberal cities in the U.S. — are happy this week regardless of their ethnicity, age or gender.

As a white woman with such diversity in my classrooms, I am becoming increasingly aware of how much this election cycle meant to African-Americans in the U.S. and what its outcome may mean for all of us sooner rather than later.

I mean, if a man whose last name is Obama, whose mother was white and whose father was Kenyan can be elected president, is it possible that a descendant of slaves can also be elected? Is it possible that someone Asian or Latino or American Indian, or openly gay, or … female can be elected president?

I don’t know. Erica has incredible leadership skills. Maybe we’ll see her on the ballot in 2024.