The End of the Regular Season?
It’s hard for me to contemplate the end of the regular 2009-10 season, mostly because so much of what’s transpired in the CCHA since October.
If last year’s Michigan State Spartans had shoulders made of glass, then this year’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish have heads of glass — or perhaps Waterford would be more appropriate. The Irish have suffered many concussions this season, and 11 Notre Dame players have been injured for a total of 83 man-games missed.
Picked to finish first in both the media and coaches preseason CCHA polls, Michigan enters the final weekend in seventh place and needs to win the CCHA playoff tournament to be invited to the NCAA tourney. Missing the national tournament would end Michigan’s 19-year consecutive appearance streak.
Then there was February, a short month that packed potent punches. It was a month in which we mourned the loss of a young man taken far too soon, saw tempers flare in unsavory ways in several rinks and saw a coach dismissed before the end of the season.
February’s weather brought a revolution of snow to Washington D.C. (as American poet Billy Collins might say) and many parts of the U.S. were reminded of what winter used to be before the arrival of the Millennials, who can remake everything except Mother Nature in their collective image.
With February also came the Winter Olympics and so many former and current collegians, on both men’s and women’s teams. (Every player on the U.S. women’s team has NCAA experience.) Throw in TCM’s 31 Days of Oscar, and productivity all over North America must have dipped among two sometimes overlapping populations.
February also solidified Miami’s dominance of CCHA hockey … and put into question the number of CCHA teams that may appear in this year’s NCAA tournament.
What a season, and what a way to end it.
This week, there are three teams on the PairWise bubble from the CCHA: Alaska, Ferris State and Michigan State. In this week’s “Bracketology,” my good friend and esteemed colleague, Jayson Moy, discusses the various ways in which Alaska, Ferris State and Michigan State can remain viable candidates for NCAA tournament berths. He also discusses how tenuous their chances are, as each team faces opponents who are not under consideration this week. Alaska’s league play is over, and the Nanooks play Alaska-Anchorage. Ferris State and Michigan State take on the bottom two teams in the league, Western Michigan and Bowling Green, respectively.
When I caught up with FSU coach Bob Daniels following the Bulldogs’ 3-2 loss to Michigan State last Saturday (great game), I asked him if his team was thinking about its NCAA chances at all. His response was quick and short: “No.”
“You know,” he said, “we’ve talked about this before, and we really focus on the CCHA. That’s the prize for us.”
A man after my own heart.
Renovations in the Soo
February also brought some exciting news that I am finally able to share. Lake Superior State is about to renovate the Norris Center, home to Taffy Abel Arena. The $5 million project is privately funded and will be completed in two phases. The Hockey Center, Laker Club and Academic Center are to be completed in 2012; the SAC addition — for new Lakers softball, tennis and track locker rooms — the atrium and the athletic department offices will completed the following year.
Everything I’ve seen looks state of the art, including the requisite upgrades of a hockey players’ lounge, a new strength and conditioning room and coaches offices.
The Web site I’ve been allowed access to shows artist’s renditions of a graceful, modern facility that should — in theory — help the Lakers in the ever-escalating college hockey recruiting wars.
The Web site says that the Norris Center “will again be a jewel on the LSSU campus,” while assuring that the rink itself (which is a great barn) will retain its integrity.
“We are on a path to again become a force in college hockey,” says the promotional materials. What I’ve seen of the projected renovations certainly sends the message that Lake Superior State is committing itself to its hockey program, although I have to admit that $5 million seems like a tiny sum of money for such ambitious renovations. The promotional material did say that LSSU is launching a brick campaign, and perhaps there is other planned fundraising in the works.
Larry Westby, the chair of the Norris Center Project, said that the official announcement will be made Monday at the Laker hockey show.
The end of the season also brings with it the annual Girl Reporter awards, for which the hardware is merely virtual. I’m a committee of one with these, and they arrive just in time. I’m in need of a little levity. February was brutal. I didn’t even get to pay my proper respects to Valentine’s Day, a favorite holiday of this middle-aged, divorced girl reporter.
Awards? A most welcome distraction.
Players of the Year
Just as there were many players who had great seasons in 2008-09, many CCHA players distinguished themselves this year, making it difficult to point to a single, dominant player in the league.
Among the skaters who made life interesting for their opponents are two of my favorite defensemen, Jeff Petry (Michigan State junior) and Matt Case (Ferris State senior). These two gentlemen absolutely should be first-team All-CCHA picks for their mastery of their positions this season.
This year, however, there are two CCHA goaltenders who have been workhorses for their teams. When thinking about this award, my thoughts immediately turned to Michigan State’s Drew Palmisano (2.28 goals-against average, .923 save percentage), who has logged 1,604 minutes in net for the Spartans.
Then my thoughts immediately turned to Alaska’s Scott Greenham (2.17, .921), who’s spent 1,879 minutes between the Nanooks pipes.
Each goaltender’s situation was slightly different this season. Palmisano played behind a team that was rebuilding, while Greenham backstopped a more veteran squad; each, however, needed to provide bedrock netminding. Palmisano gave the Spartans a chance to mature and gel. Greenham gave the Nanooks a chance to win when they struggled offensively.
Going into this weekend, each has 14 wins and nine losses.
It’s a rare thing that I declare a tie for this or any other category, but leaving either gentleman out would be a disservice. Palmisano and Greenham are this year’s Girl Reporter co-POTY.
Coach of the Year
There are several worthy candidates for this award, but Ferris State’s Daniels gets my nod — and not just because he keeps the Bulldogs focused on what they can do in the CCHA.
Heading into this weekend’s series against Western Michigan, FSU is 19-11-4, one win short of its seventh 20-win season and flirting with an NCAA appearance. Last year, the Bulldogs ended the season with seven straight losses and were 12-19-7 overall.
Rookie of the Year
There’s no doubt in my mind that Alaska’s Andy Taranto was this year’s most influential CCHA rookie. Impossible to ignore on the ice, Taranto is fourth among all rookies nationally in points per game (1.06), with 13 goals and 21 assists through 32 games this season.
He will turn 22 this year, though. That sours it for me. There are no true freshmen this season that stand out the way that veterans like Taranto,
I like Notre Dame forward Kyle Palmieri. I like Michigan State defenseman Torey Krug. Both are true freshmen, but neither has had a distinguished enough season to earn this award.
So … while I dislike giving this award to a guy who came into college old enough to buy booze, this year’s Girl Reporter ROTY is Andy Taranto.
Team of the Year
Miami. The RedHawks have followed a crushing defeat in the 2009 national championship game with a season that is far more than a statement. They’ve also recently lost someone very dear to them and continued to perform at a high level, avoiding the second-half slump with which they sometimes struggle.
If they keep their tempers in check postseason, they may be playing in Detroit in April.
Surprise of the Year
Must I limit myself to one?
It has to be Michigan. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but — seriously — did anyone see UM having to fight for home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs going into the last month of the season.
In the first half of 2009-10, Bryan Hogan struggled in the UM net; in the second half of the season, the Wolverines skating in front of Hogan struggled with consistency, even as the goaltender solidified his game.
I don’t know what happened in Ann Arbor this season. It certainly wasn’t a lack of talent. Chemistry? Leadership? I just don’t know. Whatever it was that happened tweaked my world view, that’s for sure — much like MSU’s season did last year.
Any guesses as to how the gate will be affected at Joe Louis Arena should UM not make it?
Ferris State Memorial Defenders-of-the-Realm Award
While teams in the CCHA did a respectable job of defending the realm this season, no one was perfect and even the team with the most nonconference wins disappointed me in ways that I cannot even begin to articulate.
Only Alaska was undefeated in nonconference play (2-0-1), with all three of those games starting the season. The wins were over Mercyhurst and Robert Morris — no slouches, but nothing to merit this hardware.
The team for which this award was named had a 6-2-0 nonconference record with wins over Canisius, Connecticut, Mercyhurst and Merrimack. The Bulldogs broke my heart by failing to capture the last-ever Badger Showdown at midseason. Feh.
This year, this award is decided by one weekend’s play alone. Congratulations to Michigan for sweeping this year’s College Hockey Showcase and backing into this year’s Defenders-of-the-Realm Award.
Chris Richards Most-Likely-to-Be-Overlooked Memorial Award
Dion Knelsen, Alaska. With 14 goals and 14 assists and a plus-9 in league play, Knelsen is finally realizing his potential in Fairbanks in his senior year. He’s seventh among scorers in conference play and likely to be overlooked for all-league honors.
Runner-up: FSU senior defenseman Matt Case.
Mike Comrie Most-Likely-to-Leave-Early Memorial Award
Zac Dalpe, Ohio State. This sophomore leads CCHA scorers (17-16–33) going into the final weekend of play. Before his career began last year, he made it clear to the OSU athletic department that he would not come to Columbus if Buckeyes coach John Markell were dismissed.
Dalpe, the Buckeyes, and Markell had an excellent 2008-09 campaign. This year, not so much — well, Dalpe had a great year.
Next year, perhaps this award will also include a nod to those current college hockey players most likely to marry Hollywood stars, too.
Runner-up: MSU junior defenseman Jeff Petry.
Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award
Corey Tropp, Michigan State. He hasn’t put up the numbers in the second half that he did in the first, but Tropp has a touch with the puck around the net that is a thing of beauty. This man picks up the trash.
Runner-up: Bowling Green freshman Jordan Samuels-Thomas.
Mike York Poetry-in-Motion Memorial Award
Carl Hagelin, Michigan. He’s just so much fun to watch. Graceful, fast, and better every year, Hagelin is an excellent mix of finesse and hard work.
Best Offensive Goalie Award
This one is tricky.
Eleven CCHA goaltenders recorded at least one point this season, with Nebraska-Omaha’s John Faulkner leading the way. Faulkner registered an astonishing three assists this year in 27 games, giving him a .111 points-per-game percentage. Admirable.
But not nearly as admirable as what Jerry Kuhn accomplished. Jerry who, you say? Kuhn, a junior, played six games for Western Michigan this season (1-3-1, 2.78 GAA, .904 SV%) for a total of 324 minutes. During his brief time in net this season, Kuhn registered one assist, giving him .167 points per game and making him this year’s CCHA Best Offensive Goalie.
Props to the Faulkner-Jeremie Dupont tandem in Omaha, to Miami’s duo of Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard and to Ohio State’s pair of Dustin Carlson and Cal Heeter. Faulkner and Dupont combined for five points this season; both the Miami and Ohio State goaltending combos had three between them.