This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 12, 2009

Old Business

Last week, I registered my discontent with the issues surrounding the Oct. 30 shootout in Omaha, when Bowling Green was awarded the extra shootout point despite an ineligible player scoring the deciding shootout goal. To refresh the memories of those unfamiliar with the case, BGSU freshman Jordan Samuels-Thomas was the only one to score in the shootout, and Samuels-Thomas should have been ineligible because he was in the penalty box at the end of overtime.

In my attempt to illustrate what I see as a greater problem — the shootout being a distinctly different beast from the game itself — I unintentionally created the impression that the CCHA could have acted in a way different from how it did to resolve the situation.

I never said in last week’s column that the league should have allowed a shootout the following day, as UNO coach Dean Blais suggested in his statements post-game, statements that I quoted, nor was it my intention to imply that such action should be taken.

One of my contentions was then and remains theoretical. I was questioning when a game ends. I did not mean it in the literal sense — that a game ends when a buzzer sounds, or when all parties have made their collective ways into their respective locker rooms.

Instead, I was using the situation in Omaha to illustrate the difference between what occurs on the clock and what occurs off, to reiterate my position that the shootout is extracurricular, not part of the actual game.

What I wrote did, however, create confusion that I did not intend.

To wrap up this particular subject, I’ve received quite a bit of e-mail informing me that the officiating crew involved in that game was let go by the CCHA. That is simply not true. The league has disciplined those officials, but has not released the nature of the discipline.

And that’s the end of that.

Old Business, Part 2

Maybe I was born skeptical. Maybe I’m just not a nice person.

After reading my esteemed colleague Danny Martin’s interview with former Alaska head coach Doc DelCastillo in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner this week, I remain unconvinced that DelCastillo was the victim of a vast player-led conspiracy to get him fired from his position as Nanooks coach.

This is an article that I know Danny Martin and the News-Miner worked hard to produce. The News-Miner filed a public records request in April of last year to obtain documents related to this case, and for Martin’s article, University of Alaska-Fairbanks officials seem tight-lipped.

In the article, DelCastillo claims he was released by the University of Alaska-Fairbanks based on unsubstantiated accusations of sexual harassment and that the University “deliberately” put him “in a situation to make it look like something happened that didn’t happen.”

In the article, DelCastillo also admitted to having contacted by cell phone the two women who brought the accusations of sexual harassment, one of whom was a student.

I have several problems with DelCastillo’s whole story. I do not understand what these women would stand to gain personally by accusing DelCastillo of sexual harassment. Many victims of sexual harassment — men and women alike — do not report what they’ve experienced for fear of backlash, of not being taken seriously, or because of the shame associated with reporting. Given the potential negative effects on the lives of his accusers, I don’t see them fabricating their reports.

Another problem I have is the way DelCastillo describes his cell phone contact with the women who accused him. In fact, I have a problem with DelCastillo calling these women at all — not because it’s de facto proof that he sexually harassed either of them, but because it reveals an incredible level of either poor judgment or arrogance. In other words, DelCastillo didn’t realize the potential repercussions for a married man in a public position to carry on private cell phone conversations with these women, or he thought himself to be untouchable if there were repercussions. Yes, it’s a he-said, she-said. It just raises a flag for me.

The third issue I have is with DelCastillo’s notion that the entire team was conspiring to get him fired. This is a red flag for me for many reasons. I have a hard time believing that the University of Alaska-Fairbanks was duped by its own men’s ice hockey team into firing an upstanding local citizen. I also have a hard time believing that a team could or would plot such an operation. I have met several of the Nanooks players who were allegedly involved in this plot — players recruited by current coach Dallas Ferguson — and I simply do not believe them capable of such wholesale, capricious malice.

Well, I don’t believe them capable of such wholesale, capricious malice without evidence, and that’s the biggest problem I have with DelCastillo’s entire story.

That having been said, I am not accusing DelCastillo of sexual harassment; I’m just reacting to what he’s elected to tell the media.

Old Business, Part 3

OK. Back to the hockey at hand. Sort of.

This week, the Michigan State Spartans and the Michigan Wolverines meet for the first time since a Jan. 24 game that saw defenseman Steve Kampfer leave Yost Ice Arena strapped to a gurney, Kampfer’s father storm into the Spartan locker room and confront Tropp, and Spartans Andrew Conboy and Corey Tropp suspended from the MSU team for the rest of the season.

We all know that Tropp has returned to the Spartan squad; he’s leading the Spartans in scoring (3- 3–6), is tied with six other CCHA players for second place in conference scoring and is tied for second in the nation in power-play production with five goals.

For his part, Tropp told my esteemed colleague at the Lansing State Journal, Neil Koepke, that he’s a different player today. “I made it a mistake,” Tropp said. “That’s not the player I am.”

Michigan coach Red Berenson told the Michigan Daily that what happened in that game “was unfortunate” and “uncalled for,” but that “it was dealt with well on the other end,” meaning by Michigan State hockey.

The Jan. 24 game was the fifth win of the season for Michigan over Michigan State; it was the most competitive and interesting game in the 2008-09 series between the teams until Conboy’s clothesline of Kampfer and Tropp’s subsequent slash of the defenseman as he lay on the ice.

The lopsided results of what is usually an entertaining and fairly even series involving the Wolverines and Spartans was a direct result of the awfulness of MSU’s 2008-09 series. Last season, Michigan State finished tied for 10th place in the CCHA, while Michigan tied for second.

Heading into this weekend’s series, MSU is all alone in second place, two points behind league-leading Miami. UM is tied for sixth place and a full seven points behind the Spartans.

New Business?

“Everybody’s contributing right now and our defense is playing pretty good and our goaltending’s pretty good.” So said Miami head coach Enrico Blasi after his RedHawks swept Michigan last weekend. The understatement was completely appropriate; Miami beat the Wolverines twice in Yost … which is home to the indisputable Master of Understatement, Berenson.

For his part, after being swept by Miami at home, Berenson said that his team played like “spoiled brats.” Yes, that’s a direct quote.

It’s Miami that’s the story of the week — or maybe the dopes associated with the CCHA should be the story of the week. The RedHawks were picked third in both the CCHA media and coaches 2009-10 preseason polls, behind Michigan and Notre Dame. I think before the season began there was some speculation about how the end of their 2008-09 season would affect them and questions about the legitimacy of their appearance in last year’s title game, fair or no. Miami didn’t play in the CCHA tournament, and I think some of us may have wondered if their run to the national championship was a fluke.

I picked them third this season, but for reasons wholly unconnected to Miami hockey; I thought that Notre Dame and Michigan would have stronger starts (and perhaps stronger teams) this year. I picked them to lose twice last weekend in Yost because they’d only won three games there before.

After having seen the RedHawks beat the Wolverines 5-1 Saturday night, I have no doubts about their legitimacy this season. They are absolutely for real, top to bottom. They played a hard, even game Friday and an intense contest Saturday. The result was a two-goal weekend for the Wolverines and their first sweep at home at the hands of an opponent since Northern Michigan beat them Oct. 26-27, 2001.

“Part of our team, part of our trademark is to play good team defense,” said Blasi. “You have to do that against Michigan. Otherwise, their going to bury you. I thought our guys did a good job of keeping sticks in lanes and deflecting a lot of things to the outside and not giving them much room.”

As Saturday’s game progressed, the Wolverines took dumb penalty after dumb penalty — 65 minutes in all for UM to Miami’s 30, leaving the Wolverines completely unable to break Miami’s dominance as the game progressed.

Even though the penalties were lopsided, Blasi said that he didn’t know “if anyone kept it together real well” during Saturday’s contest. “It’s an emotional game, it’s a rivalry right now, and we’re in their building,” said Blasi. “You know they’re not going to die. They fought hard and I thought we matched their intensity right off the bat.”

The Miami sweep was a complete team effort, which is how Miami is establishing itself as one of the best programs in college hockey. Every class contributed to the weekend in tangible, measurable ways. In Friday’s game, two seniors — Jarod Palmer and Brandon Smith — scored all three Miami goals. (Smith’s was the third of his career.) In Saturday’s contest, the juniors and freshmen scored. Sophomore goaltender Cody Reichard registered both wins, stopping 47-of-49 in the two-game set.

In Saturday’s win, Reichard looked amazing. He stopped things that came through heavy traffic. He made point-blank saves. He gave up few playable rebounds.

“Do I look surprised?” asked Blasi. “He’s been playing like that for the better part of a year, so it doesn’t shock us at all.”

Reichard said that Saturday’s game was much more intense after Michigan lost Friday, and that through the first period Saturday that ended tied 1-1, the RedHawks “were just hanging on there for a while.”

“They got on the board early,” said Reichard. “You never know. The crowd was in it and they were going.”

This week, the RedHawks will be tested again, but by another team that may have been overlooked at the start of this season. Ferris State is 7-3-0 to start the season with a 6-0-0 record at home.

Junior Bulldog goaltender Pat Nagle has quietly begun what could be a career season. In five games this season, Nagle has a .938 save percentage and 1.58 goals-against average, making him eighth and sixth nationally among goaltenders in those categories.

Nagle, however, is not alone in the FSU net. The Bulldogs have been rotating Nagle with sophomore Taylor Nelson, whose 1.80 GAA is 11th in the nation.

Monkey Business

According to this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, six of the top 13 teams in the country call the CCHA their home. That’s half the league.

Complete disclosure here: I vote in this poll. My CCHA picks? No. 1, Miami. No. 6, Notre Dame. No. 9, Alaska. No. 10, Michigan. No. 12, Michigan State. No. 14, Nebraska-Omaha.

After seeing the polls in print, so to speak, I got to wondering. Can the CCHA be that good this season? I mean, is this league good enough to merit having half its teams counted among the 15 best programs in college hockey this week?

As I’ve said, I’m a born skeptic. However, there’s evidence that the CCHA is re-emerging as one of the premier leagues in college hockey. I’d argue that the league was down for a while in the early part of this decade, but three different CCHA teams — from three different CCHA states — ascending to the last three national title games is something that’s hard to ignore. That the first two of those teams finished fourth in league standings and last year’s team didn’t play in its own league championship tournament may actually provide better evidence that the league is not only good, but deep.

But I’ll defer to Blasi when it comes to the polls. This is what he said after sweeping Michigan last weekend.

“Rankings … we don’t really talk about. We don’t really care. We’re trying to get better every day and we’re trying to focus on the games we’re playing right now. Rankings don’t mean anything to us until the end of the year, and hopefully we can be one of those teams playing, but we’ve got a long way to go and there’s a long process involved to do that.”

Bits of Business

Here are a few scattered impressions from the last week of CCHA hockey.

• Michigan State is a fun hockey team to watch, and their place in the CCHA standings is no fluke. They’re relaxed and playing good team hockey — and enjoying it, after last year’s endless misery.

• The Spartan power play is a blast. They scored 20 power-play goals in all of 2008-09, and they’re already at 15 this season.

• Nebraska-Omaha doesn’t strike me as a top-ten team — yet. Even in UNO’s shootout “win,” I thought that MSU was the better team last Friday night.

• UNO head coach Dean Blais is a unique character. He bolted for a recruiting trip the moment last Friday’s contest was over. It was nice to catch up with Nick Fohr, however.

• Mike Johnson and Scott Greenham — does a goaltending battle get any better than that this season? Johnson (.957 SV%, 1.25 GAA) made 35 saves in Notre Dame’s 3-2 win over Alaska last Friday. Greenham (.939 SV%, 1.35 GAA) stopped 26 in UAF’s 3-1 win over ND Saturday.

• Ohio State should consider changing its mind on rotating its goaltenders. Dustin Carlson (.927 SV%, 2.43 GAA) is 0-5-0, all Friday games. Cal Heeter (.923 SV%, 2.17 GAA) is 3-1-1 with a shootout “win,” all in games on Saturday nights.

• Lake Superior State junior Chad Nehring leads the CCHA in conference scoring with five goals and two assists. In 10 games this season, Nehring has netted seven total goals, surpassing his previous two season totals. In 37 games last year, Nehring had six goals; in 37 games in 2008-09, he scored four.

• Bowling Green remains one of four teams nationally yet to record a win this season. Two of those teams — Dartmouth and Brown — have played just three games. BGSU and Niagara each have overall records of 0-7-1.

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