This Week in the CCHA: Feb. 26, 2009

Congratulations, Notre Dame … And Now You’ve Done It

Sure, the Fighting Irish have won their second regular-season title in three years, but does anyone else see the real evil lurking for Notre Dame because of this?

In 2007, the fourth-place Michigan State Spartans beat Boston College for a national championship.

In 2008, the Fighting Irish lost to Boston College in the title game.

It’s great to finish with the regular-season title, Notre Dame, but weren’t you a little shortsighted with the bigger picture? I mean, now the stage is set for an Alaska-Boston College championship match.

Yes, this presumes a lot, not the least of which is that the Eagles and Nanooks probably both need to win their conference tournament championships to earn bids to the NCAA tourney this year.

But it could happen. I’ll leave the Hockey East talk to my esteemed colleagues Dave Hendrickson and Jim Connelly, so all we can do is focus on the CCHA.

Who among you thinks that Ohio State will take three points from Miami this weekend? Show of hands?

That’s what I thought.

Notre Dame, what were you thinking?

Goal, No Goal?

I’ve received some email about the goals allowed and waved off in Ohio State’s 3-2 victory over Michigan Saturday. I did watch the game, and I’m baffled about the nature of the calls myself. I thought the OSU goal allowed shouldn’t have been, and the UM goal disallowed should have counted.

Now having said that, there are three more things I need to say.

First, I wasn’t there, didn’t have the angle that referees Matt Shegos and Kevin Langseth had, didn’t have access to their replay — and so I really don’t know how and why things really happened.

Second, scoring more goals would have helped Michigan’s cause. Period. The Wolverines had a full two minutes of five-on-three man advantage and did not capitalize — not even close. OSU goaltender Dustin Carlson played a fantastic game and couldn’t be bested by the top scoring offense in the CCHA. The rest of the Buckeye defense looked pretty good, too.

Third, I was under the impression that only guys wearing a “C” on their jerseys were allowed to approach the officials to discuss calls. I saw an awful lot of Wolverines making an awful lot of noise — and was awfully surprised that no one received a misconduct.

Kudos to the Buckeyes for their resilience this season. A comeback win like this — controversial though it may have been — to split a weekend with a top-ranked team is hard to do once for many young teams, but this is the second time in three weeks that OSU has done so, having recovered from a heartbreaking home loss to Notre Dame to take two points from that visitor Feb. 8.

Goodbye, Brandon Gordon

This week, the Michigan State Spartans had to say goodbye to a young man they’ve come to know well when 16-year-old Brandon Gordon succumbed to cancer Sunday, Feb. 22.

Gordon was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in 2007, and the Spartans met him through their Spartan Buddies Program at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing.

Gordon became close to many players on the team, especially senior goaltender Jeff Lerg, whom Gordon would call every game day. The two often met for lunch and ran errands together.

“We’re going to try to go out and take a couple for him this weekend,” said Lerg.

This weekend, Spartan fans will have a chance to honor Brandon Gordon’s memory by participating in two “Shoot for a Cure” events. During Saturday’s Michigan State against Notre Dame in Munn Arena, fans can “Chuck a Puck” to win a prize package from MSU hockey, and MSU hockey will hold a silent auction of hockey memorabilia with all proceeds from both events going to Cure Kids Cancer at Sparrow Hospital.

That game against the Irish begins at 5:05 p.m.

Red Carpet Time

As Turner Classic Movie’s “31 Days of Oscar” comes to a close — thankfully, because who can get any work done with all those fantastic, distracting movies beckoning? — I’m reminded that it’s time to give out awards of my own.

I think I’m a week behind in this. I think. See? Distracting! I mean, Paint Your Wagon features a singing Clint Eastwood!

Here’s the hardware.

Player of the Year

Several categories gave me real trouble this year, starting with this one. Try as I might, I just can’t think of one single dominating CCHA player.

That’s not a bad thing. Through the early going in the season, I thought that the league might be headed for more of a down year. It took me a while to realize that nearly every successful team was winning by committee. It’s the kind of blue-collar hockey that I like, but sometimes that sort of hockey makes it difficult to quantify outstanding play.

There are a number of forwards who immediately come to mind for this award, and goaltenders are so essential that it’s difficult to ignore them, but the player that commands my attention every single time he’s on the ice this season is Michigan sophomore defenseman Chad Langlais, and he’s my pick for Player of the Year.

(This is where I remind you, Dear Reader, that these Girl Reporter awards often differ significantly from those given out by the CCHA. I also have no desire to try to predict what awards the league will present at the end of the season.)

Langlais is as well-rounded and essential a player as any in the league. He’s solid, dependable, plays excellent defense while providing an offensive threat (4-16-20) and makes a difference nearly every time he’s on the ice.

Plus, he’s just really, really fun to watch.

Runners-up: Erik Condra (Notre Dame), who’s the big difference for the Irish this year, and Chad Johnson (Alaska), a miracle worker in net.

Coach of the Year

While Player of the Year was a tough one, this was a no brainer: Alaska-Fairbanks head coach Dallas Ferguson.

In his first year as the Nanook skipper, Ferguson took UAF from a ninth-place finish in 2007-08 to a probable bye for the first round of the CCHA playoffs.

Ferguson’s Nanooks are one of the most disciplined teams in college hockey, averaging just 11.3 penalty minutes per game, the third-lowest in all of NCAA D-I play.

And Ferguson seems to have been able to restore something wholesome to the Nanook program, something that seemed to have been lost last season.

Runner-up: Jeff Jackson.

Rookie of the Year

Again, this was a very tough category to decide, but for different reasons than Player of the Year. There were three excellent rookies who stood out more than all the others to me.

In the end, I couldn’t differentiate between two of them, so I’m awarding a tie. My Rookies of the Year are two forwards, Billy Maday (Notre Dame) and David Wohlberg (Michigan).

Each of these players had an immediate impact on his team’s play this season. Maday (13-13-26) has become a sniper on the power play, with six extra-man goals this season. Wohlberg (13-14-27) is a finisher, with three game-winners on the season.

Runner-up: Defenseman Matt Bartkowski (Ohio State), who plays better stay-at-home D than any rookie should.

Team of the Year

The Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks are my pick for Team of the Year. Not only have they lifted themselves up to top-tier status in the CCHA standings this season, they’ve done so while having to travel more than 33,000 miles as the crow flies for league matches alone.

The Nanooks have the toughest scoring defense in the country, allowing just 1.72 goals per game, and have managed to maintain their relatively high standing in the league in spite of having a miniscule scoring advantage over opponents; UAF averages just 2.06 goals per game, leaving a differential of just over one-third of a goal on average.

Alaska is also a third-period team, having scored 30 of 66 overall goals in the final stanza this season.

All of that adds up to a team that knows how to gut out a few wins, just the kind of team I like.

Runner-up: Notre Dame, with that second regular-season title in three years.

Surprise of the Year

Another no-brainer: Michigan State.

Sure, everyone expected the Spartans to be on the young side this year because they are, well, young. But few would have predicted that Michigan State would languish dead-last for some weeks in the CCHA standings and remain flirting with the bottom all year long.

I’m still trying to wrap my tiny brain around the fact that the Spartans will likely travel for the first round of the CCHA playoffs a mere two years after winning the national championship.

Of course, the Spartans also get my vote for team most likely to play their way back into the NCAA tournament from the bottom of the league with a post-season CCHA championship. They’re 3-1-2 in their last six, they’re focused as a team and they have Jeff Lerg in net.

Runner-up: Ohio State for flirting with top-tier status, Michigan for its first-half love affair with the bottom half of the standings.

Ferris State Memorial Defenders-of-the-Realm Award

This category breaks my heart this season; not one single CCHA team went undefeated in nonconference play. Three teams lost just one nonconference contest this season, but one of those — Alaska — has played just four nonleague games to date.

This year, both Ohio State and Notre Dame are co-Defenders of the Realm for their excellence in representing the CCHA against nonconference opponents.

The Buckeyes went 7-1-0 in nonconference play, splitting a weekend series against Denver in Denver. OSU also successfully squashed Bentley — well, in at least one game in a two-game sweep, beating the Falcons 10-1 and 3-2 — and swept Robert Morris (!) convincingly as well.

The Fighting Irish went 6-1-0 in nonconference play, having also lost to Denver once — but Notre Dame only played Denver one time. Where the Irish earn big props in this category is with their road wins over Boston College and Providence. The Buckeyes, alas, faced no Hockey East foes…but did at least take that split with Denver.

Good job, men.

Perseverance Award

Another no-brainer: Michigan senior Mark Mitera, who will be playing his first games of the season this weekend after suffering a knee injury his first weekend of play.

Mitera is a guy who came back to a program from which many players have been drawn away early by the lure of pro-hockey cash. I’ve always been a fan of Mitera as both a player and a kid who’s easy to like, but when he opted to return for his senior season he made an Anaheim Ducks fan out of me.

2009 Attaboy

This award goes to someone whom few would expect: senior Bowling Green goaltender Jimmy Spratt.

Spratt carried the Falcons the first half of the season after sophomore Nick Eno injured his ankle in preseason play Sept. 24. Eno returned to play Jan. 9 in relief of Spratt in an 8-5 loss to Ohio State.

Eno, drafted in 2007 by the Buffalo Sabres, was expected to be the starter this season. Spratt, who had a career save percentage of .875 and 14 total wins in 66 total games played entering the 2008-09 season, has an 11-16-3 record this season with a .893 save percentage.

Sure, those aren’t spectacular numbers — but it’s pretty good evidence of someone who’s done everything he could for his team when he had to do it.

And Spratt stopped all 29 shots he faced in Yost Ice Arena Jan. 16 when he shut out the Wolverines in their own barn. In fact, even though the Falcons lost the following night at home to Michigan, Spratt allowed just one goal in that 1-0 decision, turning aside 38 shots he faced in the game.

There aren’t many goalies who can boast that they allowed one goal from the Wolverines in a two-game series.

Runner-up: Goaltender Billy Sauer (Michigan), whose save percentage is identical to starter Bryan Hogan’s, but for whom — for some reason — the Wolverines refuse to score.

Chris Richards Most-Likely-to-Be-Overlooked Memorial Award

Patrick Galivan, the senior winger for the Western Michigan Broncos.

Galivan is second among CCHA scorers for league games (12-20-32), keeping company with household-name players like Louie Caporusso, Aaron Palushaj and Carter Camper.

With 15 overall goals, Galivan is one shy of equaling what he tallied in his first three seasons combined. The best player on a bottom-tier team — it’s important to note that Galivan is +7 overall, +6 in league play — he’s likely to be overlooked when it comes to year-end honors.

So I just wanted him to get a shout out somewhere. Congrats on your fantastic year, Patrick Galivan.

Runner-up: Corey Elkins (Ohio State), another senior having a career season, is one of the best defensive forwards in the country.

Mike Comrie Most-Likely-to-Leave-Early Memorial Award

Goaltender Joseph Palmer, the Ohio State junior who was supplanted by Dustin Carlson earlier this season.

Palmer, a fourth-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2006, played 68 games in his first two seasons with the Buckeyes. This year, he has three decisions for a 0-2-1 record.

Runner-up: Sophomore Louie Caporusso (Michigan).

Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award

I just didn’t see anyone picking up the trash consistently. Sure, there were guys who did score garbage goals, but can anyone make a case for the bulk of one single player’s offensive production from trash picking?

Seriously, I’m asking. I want to know if I’ve overlooked some deserving soul.

Mike York Poetry-in-Motion Award

Once again, I’m not sure that any truly eloquent player jumps out at me this season — and I’ve seen a lot of good hockey in person. I will say that Michigan’s sophomore forward Carl Hagelin can motor, and Miami sophomore Carter Camper is speedy and small and wicked fun to watch.

But I just can’t single out one guy whose overall play is so arresting that he’s visually above and beyond everyone else on the ice. Ohio State freshman Zac Dalpe is pretty darned close — but he just lacks that veteran edge.

Best Offensive Goalie Award

Only two CCHA goaltenders have ever scored an actual goal themselves: Western Michigan’s Mike Mantua (2002) and Michigan State’s Chad Alban (1998).

Last season, CCHA goaltenders put on an obscene display of offensive prowess; 13 netminders had a combined 20 assists.

Two goalies last season had four helpers each; OSU’s Joe Palmer had four points in 34 games, while Ferris State’s Mitch O’Keefe did so in just 18 games, earning O’Keefe the 2009 Best Offensive Goalie Award.

Alas, this year’s crop of goaltenders has disappointed nearly utterly. In all, just six CCHA goalies scored this season — only two of them with multi-point campaigns — for just eight little goalie points for 2008-09.

Both Jordan Pearce of Notre Dame and Nick Eno of Bowling Green had multi-point seasons, each with two assists. But while Pearce earned his two points over the span of 32 games, Eno did so in just five contests.

Two points in five games is more than many skaters can claim. To put this in perspective, Eno has as many points his teammate freshman forward Bryan Potacco (0-2-2), but Potacco has played 15 games this season.

Eno has more points than another Falcon freshman forward, James McIntosh, who has one assist for one point in 30 games.

This is even more impressive: Eno has half as many assists as the fourth-leading scorer on the Bowling Green squad, junior Kai Kantola (11-4-15). Sure, Kantola has 11 more goals than Eno does, but he’s also played in 32 games…and he’s a forward.

So congratulations to Nick Eno, the 2009 Best Offensive Goalie! Think of what this kid could have done had he not hurt his ankle back in September.

Next Week

More awards — including the All-Goon Squad — and playoff hockey!

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