As Christmas approaches and everything in the northern part of the country looks so much like it used to this time of year when I was a kid, when white Christmases and icy weather from November through March were routine, I’m also reminded of the dangers of looking at the past through misleading rosy glasses.
Sure, the snow is really pretty this time of year, but I am grateful to be in Flint, Mich., which has a dusting on the ground — just enough to make it festive — and not in my hometown of Syracuse, N.Y., where it has been snowing nonstop for days.
On the other hand, as I listen to holiday music on the local all-Christmas radio station — I am, just as most people fear, terminally cheerful — I’ll find myself singing along to Mariah Carey’s version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” and wishing with all my heart for Darlene Love.
All of this begs the question: What should we hold on to from the past? More specifically, what are teams in the CCHA wishing they had from a year ago?
You knew there would be a hockey connection somehow. You just didn’t know it would be an abrupt, awkward, nearly nonsensical connection.
A year ago, the RedHawks were exactly where they are now, first place in the CCHA standings, but a year ago Miami was already on its way to running away with the regular-season title. Through a dozen games by the first week in December, the RedHawks had just one loss and a five-point lead over second-place Michigan State.
This year, the RedHawks have four losses in 14 games and their 27 points put them one ahead of second-place Notre Dame and two in front of third-place Michigan.
What’s the difference? Last year, Miami had the top defense in the country, finishing the season with an average of 1.95 goals allowed per game. This year, the RedHawks are 11th in the country, allowing 2.28 goals per game.
Connor Knapp (1.81 goals-against average, .918 save percentage) and Cody Reichard (2.60, .888) are still splitting time in net, but neither has the stats he had from a year ago. At the end of the 2009-10 season, each had a .921 save percentage and Reichard had the lowest goals-against average in the country (1.87).
Don’t be quick to blame them, though. The RedHawks are not playing as well defensively as they did a year ago. This year, the whole team — with the exception of the first line — looks mortal.
What do the Irish want from a year ago? Given that Notre Dame was tied with Northern Michigan for fifth at this point last season and that the Irish were hampered by several serious injuries, I’d say that second-place Notre Dame isn’t too nostalgic for the 2009-10 campaign.
That having been said, if the Irish were to make a Christmas wish — it’s safe to say that about a Catholic school, isn’t it? — it would be to shore up the defense, which is allowing 2.94 goals per game. Yes, the blue line is young. Yes, this needs to improve if Notre Dame is to maintain its top-tier CCHA status.
At the midway point of the 2009-10 season, the Wolverines were just two points out of last place. Of course, we all know where Michigan ended its season, just shy of a trip to the Frozen Four thanks to an incredible late-season run. That run was due, in large part, to the play of goaltender Shawn Hunwick, whose .903 save percentage is respectable … but not the .918 of a year ago. He’s also a known quantity now.
Even though the Wolverines are better off at mid-year, they still look pretty average, especially up front. They have a load of offensive capabilities, but seniors Louie Caporusso (6-10–16) and Carl Hagelin (6-9–15) are not on pace to score as many goals as they did a year ago.
For a third-place team just two points away from Miami, Michigan sure looks beatable, but one thing I’ve learned covering Wolverines hockey is that the time to think I’ve got them figured out is never.
A year ago, the fourth-place Nanooks had 21 points and were in … fourth place.
What would Alaska welcome from a year ago? A little scoring. At the midway point last season, UAF had the second-highest scoring defense in league play, averaging 2.92 goals per game with a league-leading 25 percent on the power play.
This year, the Nanooks are eighth in the CCHA in scoring (2.38) and fifth for power play (15.9). Alaska would love another Dion Knelsen, who netted 19 goals last year, seven of them with the man advantage. It doesn’t help that Andy Taranto has only four goals this season and none on the PP.
Tied with Alaska in fourth place, the Wildcats have two more points after 12 games than they did a year ago, when they were fifth the first week in December.
It’s no secret what Northern is nostalgic for this year: Mark Olver and Gregor Hanson and their combined 35 total goals on the season. Tyler Gron is on pace to equal his 20 goals from a year ago, but this is an NMU team that grits out every game. Last year at this point, Northern was outscoring league opponents 35-29; this year, the Wildcats are being outscored 31-28.
A year ago, the Bulldogs were in third place at this point in the season, just one behind second-place MSU and six behind league-leading Miami. This week, FSU is deadlocked with UAF and NMU for fourth place, and it’s no secret that the Bulldogs wish for the kind of offense they had a year ago.
In the first week of December last year, FSU had a league-leading 3.30 goals per game; this week, the Bulldogs are 10th (2.18).
At the start of the 2009-10 season, Ferris State coach Bob Daniels told the media he wondered where the goals would come from. He got them from Blair Riley, who had a career season his senior year. This year, it’s clear that senior Nate Hennig is having a career year, too — but with just five goals in 14 games, his pace is well off what Riley’s was.
And with five goals, Hennig leads the Bulldogs in goal production.
In seventh place, the Broncos are four points and several places in the standings ahead of where they were this time last year, and it’s not clear that WMU would or should be nostalgic for anything from the 2009-10 season.
Under new coach Jeff Blashill, the Broncos are ahead in every way so far this season.
The Lakers are tied with the Broncos for seventh place with 14 points; a year ago, LSSU was in eighth place with 16 points. What’s changed? Not much other than offense.
Last year at this point, LSSU was averaging 2.50 goals per game, tied for sixth (with Miami!) in the league; this year, the Lakers are averaging 2.33 goals, and the LSSU power play has dropped to second-to-last.
With 11 points, the Buckeyes are currently in ninth place. Last year at this time, OSU had 17 points and was in seventh place.
Again, it’s the offense — but it’s not as easy to explain. Last year at this point, the Buckeyes were averaging 2.83 goals per game. This year, they’re averaging 2.80.
Last year, though, OSU had then-sophomore Zac Dalpe was en route to a 21-goal season and then-junior Hunter Bishop headed for 15 goals. This year, the Buckeyes have several players who will end up in double-digits, but the transition to a new coach — and his systems — has complicated things for Ohio State. The Buckeyes have had an inconsistent season. It’s all about growing pains. It’s offense, but not merely the numbers. And it’s defense. And it’s everything.
Next December, the Buckeyes may be looking back at this year with relief.
There’s plenty that MSU is nostalgic for, in so many ways. A time when the Spartans didn’t bleed pro-caliber players may be the thing for which they long the most.
The 10th-place Spartans were in second place a year ago, but that was when they had Corey Tropp, Andrew Rowe and Jeff Petry — all key players who left between their junior and senior years.
It seems that MSU is now perennially building, victimized by its own success.
The last-place Falcons are where they were a year ago — last place — and with two fewer points than they had a year ago at this time.
BG is in the same position as is OSU: a new coach working to build a much-needed new culture at a school where hockey was neglected for a significant period of time.
I can’t imagine that the Falcons are looking back at the middle of 2009-10 and wanting for any of that. Their numbers are up slightly in every discernable category (except for points) and coach Chris Bergeron is applying all the lessons he learned alongside Enrico Blasi and Jeff Blashill at Miami, and there’s bound to be something good that comes out of that … eventually.
Of teddy bears and tosses
Last Saturday’s 1-0 overtime game between the Spartans and the Bulldogs should teach everyone a very valuable lesson: Beware the planned teddy bear toss.
This has become a holiday tradition at many rinks. People bring teddy bears or other plush toys and toss them onto the ice after the home team scores its first goal.
What happens when the home team doesn’t score? Well, according to the PA announcer at Munn Ice Arena, fans were to deposit their toys in receptacles near the arena exits.
Fans wanted none of that. They’d brought teddy bears and other plush things, and they were going to toss them, by gum. And toss them they did — when Chad Billins scored for the Bulldogs in OT. It was a strange sight, the handshake line being showered by toys.
At least there was no blow-up doll, a highlight of the 2009 toss.
Here’s a clip of that teddy bear toss. Forgive the random nature of the video. I got to my recorder as soon as I could when I realized what was happening, and the whole thing was surreal. Yes, the dolphin-like laugh at the end is mine.
The Big Chill at the Big House
I am so over hockey games being played in football stadiums. Last season’s Frozen Four in Ford Field cured me of that. I wasn’t keen on them even before that, as I’m really not fond of the gimmick.
Nevertheless, I’ll be at Michigan Stadium for Saturday’s game between the Spartans and the Wolverines. I’ll be live-blogging beginning at 2:30 p.m. EST and that’s always fun, so look for that.
You know that Christmas means cookies
It’s the last column before the holiday break. There will be blogging, of course, beginning with Friday’s picks blog and throughout the coming weeks.
But for now, there is a recipe. My 76-year-old mother, Dolly Weston, did all of her baking before heading on a Carribean cruise this week with my dad, 79-year-old Darrell. Yes, my parents are Darrell and Dolly. Yes, they’d probably be dismayed to see their ages in print, but this is revenge for my dad’s annual Christmas newsletter.
The last column before the break always ends with this cookie recipe. I’m baking this Sunday. Saturday’s out. You know why.
Dolly’s Cut-Out Cookies
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
half tsp. nutmeg
1 cup butter
4 tsp. milk (1 tbs. plus 1 tsp.)
1 tsp vanilla
- Combine dry ingredients and set aside.
- Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time. Add milk.
- Mix dry and moist ingredients together until smooth.
- Divide into workable amounts and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Roll a small amount of dough into one-eighth to one-quarter inch thick. Keep the remaining dough refrigerated.
- Cut into festive shapes. Mom always prefers bells and other rounded shapes, as they are less likely to get too crisp around the edges. Place on ungreased baking sheets.
- Brush with beaten egg whites and decorate with colored sugar before baking.
- Bake five to 10 minutes and watch carefully; these can burn quickly.
Make sure your rolling pin is cold and that the work surface is floured. I cut the flour with powdered sugar so that I’m not adding too much flour to the dough. Work quickly, because the dough warms quickly.
I love these with coffee. They’re easy to eat.