This Week in the CCHA: Jan. 14, 2010

Sweeps Week

Robert Morris. Robert Morris! Robert Morris!!

Then there’s Ferris State and Ohio State. We’ll get to them later.

Last weekend, the then-No. 1 Miami RedHawks played a home-and-home series with the unranked Robert Morris Colonials and lost both games. In their first action in nearly a month, the RedHawks dropped the opening game on the road last Friday, 3-1. After that contest, Miami coach Enrico Blasi credited the Colonials with their preparation.

“The name of the game is execution,” said Blasi. “They did, and we didn’t.”

Two days later, back in the sumptuous Steve Cady Arena where the RedHawks were 47-16-6 all-time before the series with RMU, the Colonials beat the ‘Hawks 2-1 last Sunday. Miami outshot RMU 39-15 in that loss and 79-39 total on the weekend.

Obviously, RMU goalie Brooks Ostergard was a factor in the weekend — the same Brooks Ostergard who has the 43rd-best save percentage (.907) and goals-against average (3.43) in the country. Big kudos to Ostergard.

The fact that the RedHawks hadn’t played in a month may have had something to do with it, too, but it shouldn’t have. This is a team that played for a national championship less than a year ago and has dominated league play this season, a team that had two total losses at the end of the first half of the season, a team that has been ranked No. 1 for the whole year.

After Sunday’s loss, Blasi told The Oxford Press that the only rankings that matter are “the ones that leads into a national tournament and the one at the end of the year.” Blasi went so far as to say, “This might be a good thing.”

Really? I guess from a Miami point of view, the weekend could have exposed weaknesses that the RedHawks had not yet ascertained in the first half, a half in which they swept St. Cloud State, Northern Michigan, Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State.

And I guess allowing a team with the 53rd-best combined special teams in the country to score a shorthanded goal and two power-play tallies could be revealing early in the second half of the season

But, really, from the CCHA point of view, it’s not a good thing. It’s not a good thing for the RedHawks and it’s not a good thing for the league.

It is, however, excellent for Robert Morris, and my homer hat is off to the Colonials this week.

Sweeps Week, Part 2

I should be happier about the success of Ferris State this season than I am. Don’t get me wrong; I’m delighted that the Bulldogs — currently tied with Miami atop the CCHA standings, tied with Miami for second place in the PWR and the first team to reach 16 wins this season — are doing so well.

I’m just apprehensive about what this says about the league.

I am not slamming FSU. Long-time readers know that I have a real soft spot for the ‘Dogs and whenever a team that’s not one of the usual suspects establishes itself in the CCHA’s top tier, hockey becomes far more interesting.

Last weekend, the Bulldogs dismantled Notre Dame, sweeping the Fighting Irish in South Bend last Saturday and Sunday by a collective score of 9-2. The line of Justin Menke (5-3–8), Mike Embach (5-5–10) and Aaron Lewicki (6-6–12) was responsible for three goals in the 5-2 game Saturday and one Sunday. That line is the FSU second line; remember that first-liner Blair Riley is the guy with 16 goals this season.

Pat Nagle (1.61 goals-against average, .938 save percentage) had both wins on the weekend. By all accounts, the Bulldogs played a very solid, dominating weekend of hockey against the Irish.

Now, before I get to ranting, let me send kudos to the Bulldogs, who clearly deserve to be where they are in the league.

It’s “in the league,” however, that concerns me. I expected FSU to do better than a 6-1 loss to Yale in the Badger Showdown, just as I fully expected Miami to sweep Robert Morris (!) last weekend. Early in the season, voters in the Division I Men’s Poll crowded the top 10 with CCHA teams. I knew then that the league probably didn’t deserve that early benefit of the doubt.

Now the CCHA has three teams in the top 10 — Miami, FSU, Michigan State — all three seemingly playing solid hockey. My apprehension is that the league isn’t as strong, top to bottom, as it has been in the last three seasons, seasons during which the CCHA got very little respect but also three consecutive seasons that ended with three different CCHA teams playing for the national championship.

I guess we’ll just have to see how it plays out nationally in a few months. For now, though, I’ll try to do what I admonish all of the coaches and players and fans who ask me about the PWR to do: enjoy the ride.

Sweeps Week, Part 3

Congratulations to the struggling Ohio State Buckeyes on their second sweep of the season. Last weekend, OSU beat Bowling Green by a collective score of 11-5 in Columbus. Nothing would make me happier than a consistently successful program in Columbus, and not for reasons that some readers would imagine.

Trust me when I say that the CCHA would be delighted. So would the Big Ten Network. So would college hockey. Do you know how many OSU grads there are wandering loose in this world? Do you appreciate the kind of name recognition that the Ohio State brand has?

When I went to Hacienda Weston in Florida to visit my family for Christmas, I accompanied my sister on a trip to a big-box store a few nights before Christmas Day. It was an interesting outing. Hacienda Weston is located between Tampa and Gainesville, inland. It’s a mundane area of the state and feels plenty Southern in ways that other places in Florida do not.

In this big-box store, we couldn’t walk more than 10 yards without encountering someone wearing an OSU logo. Yes, some of them were snowbirds or visiting snowbirds. Many, however, were Ohio transplants living year-round in Florida; some were Floridians that for reasons of their own love the Buckeyes.

(True story: Several Christmases ago, I told my family that I could walk up to any middle-aged man wearing a Block-O hat, take him gently by the shoulders and yell, “O-H,” without risking my own life. I told my family that said middle-aged man would respond with a hearty, “I-O!” So, while visiting Hacienda Weston, I did just that, not only in the local big-box store but in a local mall. The gentlemen in question were not only accommodating but beaming about it. Neither lived in Ohio. Neither minded after I explained that it was a joke. Neither minded that he had won me money.)

It’s not just Florida. They’re everywhere. I see them everywhere. Airports in cities distant from Ohio, boarding planes not bound for Ohio. Walking down the streets of non-Ohio cities all over North America, and they’re not just visiting. That place is a factory that pumps out proud Buckeyes and distributes them all over the world. Whether OSU football is winning or losing, people know of OSU football — and by extension, all things Ohio State.

The Buckeyes were viral before we knew non-viruses could be viral.

Hate them if you want to, but it’s important for the CCHA and college hockey that OSU build its program into something consistently competitive. And as pretty as the Schottenstein Center is, Buckeye hockey needs its own small dedicated arena.

They’re Legit

That would be Lake Superior State. The Lakers lost a good, close game to Michigan State last Friday before tying and taking the shootout point on Saturday.

Don’t believe me? Take it from MSU coach Rick Comley.

“They’re legit, for sure,” Comley said after Saturday’s game. See? I’m not making it up.

Comley said as much after Friday night, too, and anyone in attendance — even those not exported from the U.P. for the occasion — would have to agree.

I enjoyed the series in East Lansing far more than I could have predicted. The Lakers and Spartans play similar styles of hockey; neither team gives an opponent much space, forcing the opposition to take advantage of mistakes to get onto the scoreboard.

The difference between the teams is experience. On paper, the Spartans have 18 freshmen and sophomores; on paper, the Lakers have 15 juniors and seniors, including the 25-year-old Brad Cooper.

There is another difference, of course. MSU can recruit players that LSSU just cannot. More on that next week.

While both MSU’s Drew Palmisano and LSSU’s Brian Mahoney-Wilson were very good for the weekend, Mahoney-Wilson (2.61 GAA, .915 SV%) was fun to watch because his style is so unconventional. He’s all over the place, with enough athleticism to get him back to where he needs to go — usually.

Mahoney-Wilson prevailed in the shootout Saturday, capping a crazy game. After Torey Krug tied it for Michigan State at 17:02 in the third, I found myself rooting for no goals in overtime. I’m not a fan of the shootout, but it seemed the only fitting ending for that contest.

Speaking of the Shootout

Yes, I know you know how I feel. What I found interesting last weekend in East Lansing was each coach’s take on the shootout.

“People stay in the building and they are on their feet,” said Comley. “It’s very exciting.”

The entertainment value aside, there is something about the shootout that coaches are now beginning to be able to articulate, having spent some time with it.

For the Spartans were the “losers” in Saturday’s shootout, earning them one point for the game. The “winners,” the Lakers, earned two points.

Even though MSU did not lose the game and the tie itself is figured into national rankings, that’s not how those involved experience it. “Totally negative,” said Comley. “It feels like a loss, but it’s a tie. They get the extra point in the league standings, so it’s not like you lost the game.

“You lost the opportunity for a second league point. It’s a hard-fought tie.”

“I don’t think fans buy tickets to come to a shootout,” said LSSU head coach Jim Roque. “I don’t get excited about it, that’s for sure. For the point it’s good, but there have been too many games where you play really, really well on the road and you lose a shootout and your guys leave the rink depressed like you’ve lost the game. They didn’t lose the game; they tied the game.

“If we used it to end a season, then let’s do it, but when it really matters, we [should] get rid of it. I like what they did in the World Juniors, cut the ice and play four-on-four.”

I’m with Roque about that. He said he was surprised that he liked that in the IIHF tourney, and I was surprised, too, that I enjoyed the four-on-four OT hockey so much. Roque said, “You know you’re going to get a goal.”

And in real play, too.

More Kudos

It’s a little belated, but congratulations to both Fred Pletsch and Dave Starman for their on-camera work covering the IIHF tournament for the NHL Network. Fred was great with the side interviews, but Dave Starman was absolutely outstanding providing color while J.P. Dellacamera did the play-by-play.

Dave provided excellent analysis, good inside information, just the right mix of knowledge and banter. Great work, and I’m hoping that someone far more important than I noticed.

Touching a Nerve

My column last week about the OHL’s “Best of Both Worlds” education package — and I want so much to wrap quotes around another part of that phrase — touched nerves on both sides of the border. Well, I’m guessing that the negative e-mail about it came from Canadians, as most of it was anonymous.

(The fact that it was mildly rebuking and not openly angry or hostile also indicates that it came from Canadian readers, but I digress.)

Readers in favor of keeping NCAA-eligible kids on the college track wrote in support, naturally. Readers who favor the OHL as the alleged fast track to the NHL wrote to say that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Naturally.

As for picking on the OHL, as some implied, I have to invoke the Larry Mullen rule. The U2 drummer made a stink to the media last summer because he felt that some people in Ireland were unnecessarily picking on the rich — or the “better-off,” as he called them. The rich are so deserving of our pity. I also weep for AIG, Bank of America and Tiger Woods. Again with the digressing.

The OHL is in business for the OHL. Period. The end. What’s particularly egregious about the OHL attempting to claim that it can offer the best of both worlds — hockey and education — is that is exploiting very young men for its own financial gain. I’m referring to the collective financial gain here of people who make a lot of money in a private enterprise, a lot more money than many of these hockey players will ever make in a lifetime.

There is a lot of blame to go around here, in my mind. Unless there is a real financial hardship, the families of these players should be held accountable as well, as they are exploiting their own children for financial reasons.

Yes, I know that the college sports scene is a racket as well, especially when it comes to football. No one is sainted here. That having been said, however, the ease with which the OHL can reach into the pool of young talent — especially young American talent, and especially young talent that lives in a state with the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. — and persuade said talent to forgo a college education is disturbing on so many levels. You can guess how I feel about the ethics of it, too.

Something Goofy This Way Comes

I don’t often comment on the head shots of players that teams provide to the CCHA for promotional purposes, but I giggled when I saw the CCHA’s release this week and the photos that accompany the players who earned weekly honors.

Disclaimer: Each of these gentlemen is handsome, dressed appropriately and possesses youth that I envy. I say that not in some creepy lecherous way, but as a woman who has been teaching college longer than some of the current CCHA players have been alive. In other words, I’m not mocking them in any way.

I just found the array interesting this week.

Carl Hagelin. Boy-next-door good looks … if American boys still looked like they did in the 1950s. He’s got an aw-shucks quality to his smile in this photo that makes me want to give him his allowance so that he can take his girl to the corner shop for a malted. Of course, he’s from Sweden, so this bit of observation is completely ethnocentric on my part.

Zach Redmond. I understand that many young men today strive to achieve the kind of just-woke-up-on-the-sofa hair that Redmond has perfected in this photo. I think if hockey doesn’t work out for him, he could find a career playing the surprise bad guy — you know, the guy that the leading lady doesn’t know is the villain — on Lifetime Movie Network. Props for the hockey jersey rather than the suit and tie, even if it wasn’t a choice.

Scott Greenham. He looks like someone’s dad. Or an eighth-grade science teacher. Or both. And a face you can trust. This photo leaves me wondering if he isn’t the surprise bad guy. “Oh, he seemed so normal … .”

Devon Krogh. He’s a boy next door, too … if we were reliving the ’70s. Seriously, I think I have a few photos of classmates from St. Margaret’s School in Mattydale, N.Y., circa 1977, that look eerily similar to Krogh’s.

This particular group made me think of hockey players past and their interesting — and, hopefully, developing — senses of fashion. Where is the Dirty Hobbit when you need him, at least for reference?

Ask Jeff Petry about his green tie.


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