This Week in the CCHA: Nov. 19, 2009

Brave New World

Until 350 BC, everyone in Western culture who thought about such things knew that Earth was flat.

Until 1543, everyone in Western culture who thought about such things knew that Earth was the center of the universe, and everything orbited around it.

Until 1932, everyone who was anyone knew that there could be nothing smaller than the atom.

Until 2002, everyone who was anyone knew that the universe began with a Big Bang about 13.7 billion years ago.

Until 2008, every elementary school child — and everyone else — knew there were nine planets in our solar system.

And until Nov. 14, 2009, I knew a whole lot more about CCHA hockey than I do right now. Here are just a few things I knew before last weekend’s slate of league play.

Alaska is a Top-10 Team

Well, Alaska may very well be a top-10 team, but I was absolutely certain of this before last weekend. Since Friday the 13th, however, I have my doubts.

Congratulations to the Bowling Green Falcons for their first win of the season, a 3-1 decision over the Alaska Nanooks last Friday. Nick Eno (.902 SV%, 3.34 GAA) turned aside 24 shots in the contest.

The Nanooks allowed six goals against the Falcons in their two-game split series in Ohio. That would be six goals scored by the 54th-best scoring offense in the country, allowed by the current second-best defense nationally.

BGSU junior David Solway had two assists in the Nov. 13 Falcon win and two of Bowling Green’s three goals the following night.

Miami is the Best Team in the Country

Well, Miami may very well be the best team in the country — with arguably the best class in the country, the RedHawk junior class — but after earning just two points at home against Ferris State last weekend, I’m not so sure.

Last weekend, the Bulldogs and RedHawks tied twice, with Ferris State “winning” each night’s shootout. In Friday’s 2-2 game, Bulldog Blair Riley netted the tying goal with the extra attacker at 19:37 in the third. In Saturday’s contest, FSU took the extra shootout point by prevailing through 11 rounds, netting two goals to Miami’s one.

My surprise at the results of this series has nothing to do with Ferris State, nor do I want my newly challenged belief system to be considered a lack of respect for FSU. It’s just that I had seen Miami dominate Michigan utterly and completely in the second game of the RedHawks’ sweep in Ann Arbor.

Of course, until last week, I believed that Ferris State was a mid-pack CCHA team. I’m now beginning to realize that junior Pat Nagle (.946 SV%, 1.47 GAA) is having a career season and that he and sophomore Taylor Nelson (.933 SV%, 1.81 GAA) are a formidable last line of defense for the Bulldogs.

And FSU senior Blair Riley (8-2–10) has now surpassed by one the number of goals he scored in 37 games last season. He scored one of Ferris State’s two shootout goals in that 11-rounder Saturday.

Michigan is a Team Loaded with Obvious Talent

Yes, the Wolverines are talented — very talented. Before last weekend, I would have said that Michigan will finish, without a doubt, no lower than third place in the CCHA this season.

Not anymore.

The Wolverines are now in sole possession of 10th place in the CCHA — 10th place! — after two losses to Michigan State last weekend. Those losses extended Michigan’s losing streak to four games, the longest such streak the Wolverines have endured since the first half of the 2005-06 season.

In their four losses, the Wolverines have mustered just four goals while allowing 13.

After Saturday’s loss, coach Red Berenson reminded the media that the losses are team losses, not the fault of any one player, and he was certainly correct about the general lack of sharpness UM displayed. He also correctly pointed out that in Saturday’s 2-0 loss, junior goaltender Bryan Hogan (.893 SV%, 2.51 GAA) did his best to keep the game close, giving Michigan a chance in the contest.

But what I saw of Hogan through the weekend had me concerned — not because there’s no effort or talent there, but because he leaves an enormous back door for anyone to walk through. The Spartans scored two of their three goals on him that way in Friday’s game, and Hogan was lucky a few times in both contests as MSU missed wide-open marks with the Wolverine netminder many feet in front of (or beside) the Michigan cage.

He’s not getting any help on defense. Obviously, no one is helping Michigan offensively.

In spite of their current predicament, I do know that the Wolverines are loaded with talent. I don’t know why Louie Caporusso, who had 24 goals last season, has just one this year. (Perhaps because Aaron Palushaj is no longer there to help set him up?) I don’t know why others on the Michigan offense haven’t emerged as scorers du jour, as has happened in years past for the Wolverines after early departures and other key player turnover.

I also know that Matt Rust and Carl Hagelin were absolutely the two best players on the ice for Michigan against MSU. Rust was noticeable every time he was on the ice, and for all the right reasons.

After Saturday’s game, Berenson did say that he can’t fault his team for not scoring; he said that the Wolverines simply don’t have the ability right now to do so.

Michigan State is Rebuilding This Year and Won’t Secure Home Ice

Well, the Spartans may indeed by rebuilding after last year’s disappointing season, but they’re doing so at a rate much more quickly than I expected. I think they’re doing so at a rate more quickly than coach Rick Comley expected, too.

There are many reasons for MSU’s success in the early going this season, reasons attributable to more than just someone forgetting to order the glass shoulders this year. While the Spartans are healthy this year, they’re also stupid-young, meaning they have newcomers who don’t have any memory of last season’s anomaly nor any idea that maybe they shouldn’t be in first place with their nation-leading nine wins.

The Spartans recruited to need this year, something embodied in their bigger-stronger-older mantra. Freshman Derek Grant (5-7–12) was born in 1990 and stands well over 6 feet tall. His classmate, Chris Forfar (4-1–5) is even older, with a 1988 birth year, and he’s 6 feet tall. These guys have proven themselves to be immediate-impact players and bring with them not only mental maturity, but physical sturdiness that the Spartans can definitely use.

With 18 freshmen and sophomores on this squad, the Spartans are young class-wise, but not experientially. That brings an enthusiasm to their game combined with good hockey sense — and the ability to adjust to new systems the MSU coaching staff is implementing.

The result is a very fun team to watch, one that is being rewarded with some key victories.

And with 18 sophomores and freshmen on the roster, last weekend’s sweep of Michigan marks the first time 18 players on the team beat the Wolverines, as UM took all five meetings between the archrivals last season.

Notre Dame Will be Crowned CCHA Regular-Season Champs

Man, I knew this one in my bones back in September. Now, not so much.

The Irish took two points away from last weekend’s series against Northern Michigan, losing Saturday night and picking up the extra shootout point after Sunday’s 2-2 tie. Notre Dame rides a three-game winless streak into this weekend’s series against the CCHA’s current top team, Michigan State.

After Saturday’s tie, ND coach Jeff Jackson said that there were “positive signs” for the Irish, who trailed 2-0 after Ray Kaunisto and Jared Brown netted goals 1:46 apart in the first three minutes of the second period.

The Irish are averaging 2.25 goals per game, for the nation’s 50th-best scoring offense. Notre Dame has scored five goals in the last three games and the Irish are 1-4-0 in games decided by a goal this season. Last season, ND went 11-2 in one-goal contests.

Ohio State Can’t Sustain a Weekend-Long Effort

Well, this wasn’t something I knew at the start of the season. I picked the Buckeyes to finish fourth this year — with internal, unpublished reservations — and by the third week or so, I was wishing I could swap my OSU preseason pick with the one I made about Michigan State, whom I picked eighth on the year.

In 2008-09, the Buckeyes were finally realizing some of the potential of their very talented team. They were rewarded for this by earning a trip to the NCAA tournament.

Then this season began, and OSU fell into the same old ways. The Bucks were unprepared for weekend series and began playing weakly Fridays and recovering Saturdays. It’s a pattern Ohio State fans grew tired of long ago, along with the excuses for why the team was performing the way it was. Early departures. Youth. Injuries. Blah, blah, blah.

Last weekend, however, saw a pair of solid 4-2 wins over the visiting Western Michigan Broncos, a team that Ohio State should beat. OSU coach John Markell seemed encouraged that the Buckeyes “stuck to the game plan” Friday night, a contest in which they scored all four goals in the third period, three of them within the span of 49 seconds: Paul Kirtland on the power play at 4:50, Hunter Bishop at 5:24 and Mathieu Picard at 5:39.

It was also nice to see junior Dustin Carlson (.925 SV%, 2.36 GAA) get his first win of the season; he’s been the Buckeye goalie in net on Friday nights.

So runs the list of things I knew last week that I no longer know at all. Next, you’ll probably try to convince me that there’s water on the moon.

Tune in next week to see the ever-growing list of other things I don’t know at all.

Another Reason to Love Red Berenson

In college hockey, you’re either on or off the Berenson bandwagon. I’m clearly on, without apology.

As Berenson was leaving the post-game press conference following Friday’s 3-2 loss to Michigan State last week — after all was said and done — he turned to the press to make a point. He wanted us to know why senior Brian Lebler was a healthy scratch against the Spartans in Yost.

Lebler didn’t play, said Berenson, because he stepped on a RedHawk during the Nov. 8 5-1 Miami win over Michigan in Ann Arbor. It was an extraordinary game in which the Wolverines were completely outplayed and became completely undone and undisciplined. The incident didn’t seem especially malicious at the time and Berenson said that Lebler hadn’t intended to hurt anyone, but as he was leaving the press room, he wanted everyone to know that Lebler’s action “was just not something you do.”

This is the same coach who called me at home in 1998 to tell me that senior goaltender Marty Turco wouldn’t be starting in the first game of his final series against Michigan State because Turco had skipped class and Berenson wanted to send a message.

That’s the reason I’m on.
 

You Suck.  No, Really.  You Do.

 
Everybody sucks.  I know this only because I attend college hockey games.  Tropp, you suck.  Michigan, when you return to full strength, you still suck. 
 
But the people who suck the most are the student fans who do little more than declare that everyone — at every rink — sucks. 
 
Here’s an idea: find a new verb.  I’m tired of all the sucky suckers in the world and the sucking that they do.  They do other things.  I’m sure that in addition to sucking, they also cry, carp, lie, writhe, hurl, smell, squeal, mutter, fail, procrastinate, defecate, shop at Wal-Mart and cheat on their taxes. 
 
Variety is the spice of life.  Student fans, you are by definition attending colleges at which you are allegedly improving your minds.
 
Do us all a favor and find a new verb. Or two.  And avoid the realm of the profane and pornographic, please.

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