This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 5, 2009

He Shoots! He Scores! He Shouldn’t Have!

There’s only one thing more exciting than a shootout, and that’s a shootout that helps to illustrate the idiocy of the shootout.

When the game between Bowling Green and Nebraska-Omaha remained tied at the end of a five-minute overtime Friday, Oct. 30, a shootout ensued — as is the current fashion in the CCHA. The only player to score was Bowling Green freshman Jordan Samuels-Thomas, in the second round of the shootout. As UNO’s Rich Purslow missed in the third round, Bowling Green appeared to have earned two points in the shootout win.

Samuels-Thomas, however, was in the penalty box at the end of the overtime, making him ineligible to shoot when OT ended.

Apparently, referees Derek Berkebile and Stephen McInchak and assistant refs Chris Davis and Chad Evers didn’t catch this. After the game, Mavericks coach Dean Blais went on the record to say that at least he had seen that Bowling Green had used a player that was “not legal.” Blais also had some suggestion for how to resolve what was clearly an unacceptable situation.

“The league’s got to decide what it’s going to do, whether that’s starting out tomorrow’s game with that shootout and finishing it off or to keep going and start a new game,” said Blais, “but a player can’t come out of the penalty box and take that shot.”

Except in Omaha. I guess. The following day, the CCHA released its decision regarding the shootout.

“This error in rules enforcement during the course of the game, while unfortunate, can only be corrected during the course of the game,” said CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos. “Once the game is concluded, there are no further actions that can take place to correct the situation.”

And that’s the kicker, isn’t it? When does a game conclude when followed by a shootout? What if UNO protested immediately? There’s no clock for a shootout; the game itself was over many minutes before the ineligible player was allowed to shoot.

Or does this mean that the CCHA considers the shootout — a display best reserved for a skills challenge — part of the actual game rather than an artificial means used to break ties and keep fans in seats?

The league’s own Rule V.8 says that “protests arising from decisions of game officials or from errors or misinterpretations of rules will not be considered.” How convenient. And last Saturday’s press release referred also to NCAA Rule 6, Section 39, which states that protests of such errors or misinterpretations of rules are not allowed.

The league’s rule about a player’s eligibility in the shootout differs from that of the NHL, which says that all players can participate in the shootout “unless they are serving a ten-minute misconduct or have been assessed a game misconduct or match penalty” (Rule 84.4). The end result is that Nebraska-Omaha is clearly penalized a point for officiating error. We’re not talking some rule open to interpretation, like a player in the crease or a puck being directed in by a skate. This is blatant, and I don’t see anything in the CCHA rules that clearly dictates why the league couldn’t have addressed this more satisfactorily Saturday.

Last Saturday’s CCHA press release ended with the league committing to a “review of all policies, protocol and circumstances surrounding this situation.”

If only “this situation” referred to the lunacy of the shootout, I’d take some reassurance from that.

Candy is Dandy, but …

… who cares about that kind of sweet stuff when there’s sweetness to be had in CCHA match-ups this weekend?

No. 1 Miami at No. 4 Michigan

Topping the charts (so to speak) is the Miami-Michigan series, set for Ann Arbor. The No. 1 RedHawks haven’t won in Yost Ice Arena since Oct. 10, 2006. The No. 4 Wolverines are intent on taking care of the little things — like faceoffs, the element of the game that UM head coach Red Berenson seems most intent in discussing this season.

In previewing this week’s series in The Michigan Daily, Berenson again highlighted the faceoffs, an aspect of the game that seems to illustrate Berenson’s own preferred style of hockey. “It’s a second effort thing, it’s being ready, it’s being focused and bearing down.”

The Wolverines have outdrawn opponents 200-187 this six games this season, with two usual suspects emerging as go-to men on the draw; last weekend, junior Louie Caporusso won 17-of- 28 drops in two wins over Lake Superior, while his classmate Matt Rust won 24-of-40. Freshman Kevin Lynch won 7-of-16 last weekend as well.

The RedHawks are 6-1-0 this year for their third-best start in program history. In their last four road games, the ‘Hawks have netted 14 second-period goals.

No. 10 Nebraska-Omaha at No. 17 Michigan State

This is the series that will tell me whether I’m right about either of these teams. I think the Mavericks deserve the respect they’re getting nationally; I think the Spartans deserve more.

The Mavericks have responded well to their new coach, and have yet to lose their first game of the season. In the Omaha World-Herald this week, Blais complimented MSU coach Rick Comley and gave UNO fans a clue as to how the Mavericks may win this weekend. “You know you’re not going to go in there and outcoach him [Comley],” said Blais, “so you have to hope your guys can go in there and outwork them.”

Playing 60 minutes has been a mantra in Munn Arena, where the Spartans are far more improved this season than most people around the league have yet to believe — but they are young, something that affects many aspects of the game.

“The negative or concern is third periods,” said Comley after beating Western Michigan 2-1 Friday, Oct. 30. “We’ve lost some leads now, but that’s a sign of youth. We knew coming in faceoffs were a critical part of the game, and we lost two key faceoffs that led to a goal and almost a tying goal.”

The Spartans are earnest and fun to watch. The Mavericks are experienced out front and backstopped by redshirt freshman John Faulkner, whose win percentage (.800) ties him for 10th in the country.

No. 9 Notre Dame at No. 13 Alaska

At 5-0-1, the Nanooks have recorded their best-ever October, having allowed no more than two goals in any contest, and outscoring opponents 18-7 overall. One of those wins was a 2-0 victory over Michigan, the first shutout of the Wolverines in Nanook history.

A big part of UAF’s success this season is sophomore Scott Greenham (.934 SV%, 1.14 GAA). Last season, Greenham played in five games while he backed up starter Chad Johnson, whose nation-leading .940 save percentage and 1.16 goals-against average weren’t good enough for serious Hobey consideration. (But I digress.)

This year, with Johnson gone and Greenham in, the Nanooks are continuing their stingy ways of a year ago, allowing just 1.17 goals per game so far this season for the second-best scoring defense in the nation. Last year, UAF finished second in the country as well, allowing on average 1.74 goals per game.

This weekend, the Nanooks face a team that is also traditionally stingy with the goals. Last year, the Fighting Irish finished first in the nation in scoring defense, averaging 1.73 goals per game. That was in front of goaltender Jordan Pearce. This season, the Irish have the sixth-best scoring defense (1.62) in front of a trio of Notre Dame goaltenders. Junior Brad Phillips (.923 SV%, 2.18 GAA) has seen five of ND’s eight games this season, and I don’t think the defense has figured out yet how to play effectively in front of him. It doesn’t help that junior defenseman Teddy Ruth has missed the start of the season and will be out against Alaska this weekend.

I think the Irish have yet to come into their own this year — but I think they will. They’re a better team than their 4-3-1 record indicates.

With no disrespect meant to the Nanooks, Alaska is benefitting from a very nice first-half schedule. The Nanooks haven’t had to leave their home state yet this season, and when they do travel to the Lower 48 in the first half of the season, they’ll face Bowling Green, Lake Superior and Western Michigan, three teams below them in the standings.

Last weekend, the Nanook senior class distinguished itself by beating Ferris State twice — giving that class a record of 13-0-2 all-time against the Bulldogs. My esteemed colleague at the Fairbanks Daily Miner captured the best quote from FSU head coach Bob Daniels about the streak, which Daniels called “an anomaly.”

“I think if you just look at the sheer number of games that are close, it’s an oddity,” said Daniels, who hastened to add that he wasn’t implying that the Nanooks hadn’t earned the wins. Daniels called the streak “a rare situation.”

Two sets of hardware, a 5-0-1 October and the cementing of a 15-0-2 domination over a specific opponent is a darned good way to start any team’s season.

He Shoots, He Finally Scores

Congratulations to Miami sophomore defenseman Chris Wideman, who netted his first career goal in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Northern Michigan. Wideman led all RedHawks last year in his rookie season with 26 assists.

Hate to Point Out the Obvious, but …

… Bowling Green is still winless, in spite of the shootout debacle in Omaha last weekend. The Falcons remain the only CCHA team still looking for a real victory.

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