15 things on my mind

Forget resolutions. Chronicling what a team should resolve to do or not to do is a popular thing for writers to present at this time of year, but I just don’t care. We’ve watched the CCHA and college hockey for half a season, and by now every fan’s an expert in what needs to be done or not done, right?
In this first week of 2011, I’d rather vent a little. Venting seems more useful than resolving, at least at this moment. I’m also going to proclaim and note. In doing so, I’ll clear up some much-needed space in my brain. Here are 15 things on my mind.
Every year at this time, dictionary.com releases its words of the year for the previous 365 days. These are words voted on by readers who either love or loathe said words. Well, there are three specific words that I hear used increasingly by coaches and media types, to the point where the word themselves caricaturize the users. The first in this list is the worst.

  • Adversity. This is a noun that is synonymous with misfortune, but beyond that, it means a sustained or continued state of misfortune. So, Mr. Head Coach, when your team takes a couple of stupid penalties in the second period, your team does not have to battle through adversity. Real adversity? Poverty. Loss of benefits. Serious illness. A contact-to-the-head penalty that your veteran player knew better about and the ensuing five minutes? Not adversity.
  • Jam. Last August, I went to the Flint Farmers Market and bought several quarts of locally grown blueberries. I cooked them up with honey, cinnamon, and the kind of pectin one finds to use with sugar-free jam and jelly recipes. Now, in my freezer, I have several half-pint jars of blueberry jam to last me through the winter. The jam is a gorgeous purply color and has just the right mixture of sweet and tart – and I wouldn’t want any team in the CCHA playing with it.
  • Saucer. I have these in my cupboards, too. Occasionally, I see them on the ice, beautiful passes that actually levitate from one player to another. More often, however, I hear announcers label ordinary, puck-on-the-ice passes as “saucer.” When it happens every other shift, I begin to question an announcer’s grasp of the English language.
  • Controlling one’s own destiny. Okay, so this is a whole phrase and not a single word, and my mentioning it is more or less preemptive, as we usually hear this closer to the playoffs. I’ve been guilty of using this myself in the past, but I hear it earlier and earlier in the season and in the oddest ways. You didn’t control your own destiny in that game, Mr. Goal Scorer. I realize that you’re probably too young to know that no one controls his or her own destiny; I also realize that you’ve picked up this phrase from your coaches and the media. Makes me wish someone would take you aside a la Bull Durham.

Turning from vocabulary to CCHA hockey, here are a few recent annoyances.

  • The outcome of the Shillelagh Tournament. Notre Dame and Boston University fighting for third place? I don’t think that Notre Dame’s loss to Minnesota State has anything to do with parity; after watching Colorado College and Michigan Tech at the Great Lakes Invitational, I think ND’s first-round loss has everything to do with the WCHA. I can’t speak for BU’s 6-1 loss to Brown. Ouch.
  • Hardware in a two midseason tournaments, one of which that is very difficult to lose. Given the odds, it’s not surprising that a CCHA team emerged the winner of the Great Lakes Invitational, but I was disappointed in Ferris State’s lackluster performance against Bemidji State in the opening round of the Mariucci Classic. Again, I can’t speak to Minnesota’s loss to Union. I am glad for the Buckeyes, though, for their Catamount Cup win – gladder still for the CCHA that at least one other team came through.
  • Speaking of the Wolverines (and I was), every time I see Jack Campbell play for Team USA, I get irked that he’s not taking a leave of absence from UM to do so. There’s no reason for this Port Huron, Mich., native to play in the OHL rather than the CCHA. His .887 save percentage with the Windsor Spitfires is certainly something.
  • Speaking of goaltending in the CCHA (and I was), it’s an interesting and down year between the pipes for a league that is usually littered with fine netminders. FSU’s Pat Nagle is the only goalie who has played the majority of his team’s games who is among the top 10 goaltenders nationally for save percentage (.929), and he’s 10th. Last season, five CCHA goalies ended the year among the top 10 nationally (including Nagle) and Alaska’s Scott Greenham was No. 11.

And it’s not just CCHA-related hockey issues that make me want to vent.

  • Speaking of the World Juniors (and I was a couple of notes ago), I’m disappointed that Dean Blais chose not to repeat as head coach this year. I understand why, of course – it’s difficult to be away from family during the holidays – but I do think that Team USA would have been better prepared for its semifinal game against Team Canada Monday night had Blais been in the coaching mix this year.
  • Outdoor games. I don’t know what annoys me more: the gimmick or the fact that such games are billed as unique. They’re played relatively often now and hyped as though they’re going to save the game of hockey. To recap, they’re not unique (please, people, stop calling them once-in-a-lifetime experiences, especially as many Wolverines have played on outdoor surfaces twice in their collegiate careers) and they will not save hockey. In the college ranks, at least, they also illustrate the differences between the haves and have nots. Without an NHL team to piggyback, only big programs can host them.

On to proclamations

  • I have learned to love the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament. For the longest time, I dreaded covering it for purely selfish reasons; I travel for the holiday the moment my semester is done and arrive home in time to cover the GLI – feeling like I’ve received no real break in the process. While I still find the schedule tiring, I enjoy the GLI more and more every year. This midseason tournament doesn’t bring out the hockey media hangers-on who often simply take up space in the cramped Joe Louis Arena press box for the CCHA tournament. During the GLI, it’s usually just the diehard local college hockey press corps that covers, and I like the fellas (and few gals) in that fraternity. It’s a tournament for Michiganders. I get that now.
  • Speaking of the GLI (and I was), attendance this year was great. The announced attendance for the first day was 13,418, and for the second day was 14,718. Last year, the attendance for the first day was 11,211 and was 13,814 for the second day. You may not think that such a slight increase would be noticeable, but it was – and the atmosphere was terrific the whole time. Even attendance for the afternoon games was up.
  • Speaking of the World Juniors (oh, you know what I mean), I was heartened to see the one goal Team USA scored Monday night was scored by Wolverine Chris Brown. He and teammate Jon Merrill have had a great tournament.

And on to notes

  • The Spartans finally scored. MSU ended a scoring dry spell of 151 minutes, 42 seconds, spanning four hockey games that included two shutouts – one shutout in OT. It was Lee Reimer who broke the drought at 15:04 in a GLI game against Colorado College Dec. 29. It was Reimer’s first collegiate goal.
  • This year, the GLI continued its tradition of firsts. Reimer wasn’t the only one to net his first career goal. Others include Spartan Kevin Walrod and Tigers Dakota Eveland and Jeff Collett. Wolverines Lindsay Sparaks and Jeff Rohrkemper scored their first goals of the season in the tourney and MSU freshman goalie Will Yanakeff recorded his first career win. MTU’s Aaron Pietila had his first two-goal career game, and brothers Dean and Jake Chelios connected for their first collegiate goal when Jake set up Dean in MSU’s win over MTU.