This Week in the CCHA: Jan. 15, 2009

Even I Get It Right Sometimes

As I return to teaching at Mott Community College this week, I’m faced with how wrong I am about everything, and how often.

Don’t I know that no one gives homework in the first week of class? Why should I expect anyone to come to a writing class with a pen? How can I expect students to get to a morning class on time when the temperature is below zero? Who on earth counts students absent when they miss the first day?

How can I have overlooked the musical genius of Beyonce? I don’t watch American Idol? What was I thinking when I bought these black loafers? Why ain’t I married, anyway and where are my children?

And so as I exposed myself yet again as incredibly inept before the expert eyes of the younger, smarter, and far more hip, it was comforting to know that I was right about one little thing last weekend.

Gripping games between Alaska and Notre Dame. Friday night, 16 Nanook shots, 28 by the Fighting Irish. No scoring until the middle of the third. Empty-netter at 19:03. Notre Dame wins 2-0. Saturday, ND outshoots UAF 29-22. No scoring until early in the third. Empty-netter at 19:05. Notre Dame wins 3-0.

So…I didn’t exactly call back-to-back shutouts, the third and fourth of Jordan Pearce’s season and seventh and eighth of his career. But I do recall predicting a couple of 2-1 ND wins and talking about “some technically brilliant yet sometimes unentertaining hockey” played by both teams.

“These were playoff-type games,” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. “There was great goaltending, gritty, tough special teams. It was a tough week.”

It’s not that I want to gloat; it’s just that I’m so seldom right that sometimes I have to remind myself about it when I am. Repeatedly. Forgive the Bill O’Reilly moment. I’ll move on.

The back-to-back shutout losses marked the first time in UAF hockey history that the Nanooks (rhymes with “books”) were held scoreless by a CCHA opponent in a two-game series.

The back-to-back shutout wins marked the second time this season that the Irish blanked an opponent twice in one weekend. The first came Oct. 17-18, when ND beat Sacred Heart, 3-0 and 7-0, in South Bend.

This was also the first time that Notre Dame shut out a CCHA opponent twice in a weekend during the regular season.

Just So You Understand, Nanooks, We Really Don’t Like You

You have the third-best defense in the nation, allowing just 1.55 goals per game. Your starting netminder, Chad Johnson, has the third-best save percentage in the country at .941.

You’re tied for third in your league, ahead of two Big Ten teams that are ranked higher than you. And you just held the No. 1 team in the country — a team with the eighth-highest scoring offense in the nation, averaging 3.48 goals per game — to a five-goal weekend that included two empty-netters.

Yet you dropped out of the USCHO.com/CBS College Sports poll completely.

Your sin, Alaska? You were shut out twice by Notre Dame in South Bend. Sure, going into the series Notre Dame had a 16-game unbeaten streak and the third-best defense in the country — and one hot goaltender in Jordan Pearce (.940 SV%, 1.48 GAA) — but that shouldn’t have stopped you from doing something, right?

Or maybe that it’s just that you play so darned far away.

That’s okay, Nanooks. Keep flying under that radar. See you in Detroit in March.

Just a Tangent

It was 18 degrees below zero in Flint late Wednesday night. The low in Fairbanks Wednesday was 10 — down from 41 earlier in the day.

Yeah, I know that it was wicked cold in Fairbanks earlier in the month…but I think I am beginning to understand this bias.

For the record, I had the Nanooks at No. 17 on my ballot.

Talk about Cold

Things are decidedly not red-hot for the Miami RedHawks, who have lost four straight games to begin the second half. The ‘Hawks dropped a pair of games in Ann Arbor last weekend, netting one goal against the Wolverines while allowing nine.

The Wolverines were up 3-0 before Saturday’s game was five minutes old on goals by Chris Summers (0:28), Brandon Burlon (3:15) and Brandon Naurato (4:51). That start chased Cody Reichard out of the net; replacement Connor Knapp gave up the remaining two goals. Michigan had just 18 shots on net.

Miami ended the first half of the season with an eight-game win streak that included a two-game sweep of Michigan in Oxford and two home wins over Rensselaer in which the RedHawks outscored the Engineers 10-2.

Miami is averaging 3.09 goals per game for now the 19th-best offense in the nation. In their last four games, the RedHawks have scored five goals and given up two shorthanded.

This weekend, Miami hosts Michigan State, a team that is .500 in its last four games with wins over ranked North Dakota and Alaska. (Well, over formerly-ranked Alaska, but you know how that goes.)

Jeff Lerg said that the Spartans are a second-half team. This weekend, it will be interesting to see if the road to recovering this MSU team’s season goes smoothly through Oxford.

Speaking of Lerg…

Last week, I told you that one of the things that I’ve learned this season is that Jeff Lerg is superhuman. This week I can tell you that there are plenty of people around the league who think he’s okay, too.

The CCHA released its annual Captains’ Poll this week, which is an amusing way to generate more PR and to feed fans’ endless fascination with how hockey players think.

According to the league, the captains of each CCHA team receive ballots with various categories and fill them out “in consultation with their teammates and goalies,” because apparently otherwise the goaltenders are not part of the actual teams. (I’m not sure how that works, but after I ask for clarification from my students — who clearly know far more than I — I’ll get back to you.)

Lerg led all players by earning first place in four categories: Most Respected Player, Best Glove Hand for a Goalie, Best Difference Maker and Best Shootout Goalie.

Miami’s Kevin Roeder was voted Hardest Hitter, which shows me that Western Michigan’s Chris Frank — the first runner-up — has been slacking and Ohio State’s Zach Pelletier is (sadly) reformed.

It’s not surprising that Michigan’s Carl Hagelin was voted Fastest Skater. Duh. He is from Sweden.

I was happy to see several good picks for Most Underrated Player. Notre Dame junior forward Dan Kissel got the nod, but a pair of excellent and overlooked defensemen — freshman Kyle Haines (LSSU) and sophomore Bryant Molle (UAF) — were recognized by their peers.

Many of the Fighting Irish were singled out, including Kevin Deeth, who was named Most Vocal Player on the Ice. That’s a great category.

Another interesting category is Best Nickname, which went to Mike “Chunk” Levendusky of Western Michigan. I neither understand nor want to understand the origin of this nickname. The selections of Steve “Pugsly” Kampfer (UM) and Pasko “Donkey” Skarica (UNO) as runners-up just reinforces my hopelessly unhip and tragically old mindset.

When Things Really Don’t Go Your Way

The Bowling Green Falcons are a team that could use a little reward for hard work. After capping a six-game winless streak with a home sweep of Clarkson to end the first half of the season, the Falcons returned to CCHA action against fairly-hot Ohio State last weekend.

So far this year, BGSU has been averaging just over two goals per game. Last Friday night, the Falcons scored five…and the Buckeyes scored eight. Then on Saturday, BG registered three goals, including Dan Sexton’s marker at 18:51 in the third to send the game to overtime…in which OSU’s Kyle Reed scored, giving the Bucks a sweep.

“There were some pucks that looked like they were going to go our way, in our favor, but they ended up going their way,” said Falcon head coach Scott Paluch after the OT loss.

The line of Sexton, Brandon Svendsen and David Solway had nine points for the weekend. Nine. That’s a hard-working line.

Bowling Green hasn’t earned a league point since a 2-1 win over Northern Michigan Nov. 15.

This week for the Falcons? Home-and-home against Michigan, a team that has absolutely found its stride.

Worth Noting

• Last Friday’s Miami-Michigan game had to be moved to Sunday afternoon because of recent weather-related damage to the façade of Yost Arena. The building’s structure was sound, but some loose bricks needed to be secured on the outside of the building. The problem wasn’t noticed until last Wednesday — hence the very last-minute change of plans.

• Western Michigan and Ferris State split a home-and-home series, each winning in the other’s barn. The last time they did just that was Oct. 20 and 21, 2006.

• FSU sophomore Mike Embach earned his first hat trick in Saturday’s 4-2 win. He also had the lone goal in the Bulldogs’ 2-1 loss to the Broncos Friday. Embach had one goal in 25 games last season.

• FSU likes overtime. The Bulldogs haven’t lost a game in OT (3-0-9) since Feb. 9, 2007.

• WMU has given up three hat tricks this season.

• With their split in Omaha last weekend, the Northern Michigan Wildcats have three wins in their last four games. NMU had three D-I wins in 18 games in the first half of the season.

• UNO sophomore defenseman Mike Phillippi played his first game of the season against NMU after sitting out the first half of this campaign with an academic redshirt. Phillippi assisted on the Maverick game-winner Friday night.

• Michigan has outscored opponents 30-6 in its last six games.

• Six of Nebraska-Omaha’s seven losses this season have been by just one goal.

• Ohio State’s 10-game win streak is the longest in the nation and the longest for the Buckeyes since 1983 — six months before senior captain Zach Pelletier was born.

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