It’s a familiar refrain. You can fill in the coach or player following in a press conference following a midseason tournament win. “Winning this year’s Fantastico Tournament will help us in the second half of the season. Our goal is the league championship, and this is a step in that direction.”
But is it?
After Michigan battled Colorado College to win the Great Lakes Invitational last week — having to come from behind late in the third for a 6-5 win — Wolverines forward Carl Hagelin said that the victory was indicative of Michigan’s “character.” I can’t disagree. That ability to come back and keep competing — what CC coach Scott Owens called his team’s “compete level” — is a characteristic of a winning team, or at least of a team that strives to win.
Hagelin followed that comment, though, with this: “We have a lot of great players and we have great depth, and from now on we’re just going to keep rolling here.”
Again, I can’t disagree with Hagelin about the players and depth of Michigan’s roster. Circulating among the media and fans is that Michigan is without a standout player this year, but I disagree; I think the Wolverines have several game-changers, Hagelin included. There’s no question about the Wolverines’ depth.
Will Michigan keep rolling? Most recently, the Wolverines won the GLI in 2007 and 2008. In 2007-08, Michigan tied Miami for first in the CCHA; 2008-09, Michigan and Miami tied for second. In each year, however, the Wolverines were already on their way to those positions. I guess they kept rolling.
Michigan State took the GLI title most recently in 2006 and 2009. The Spartans finished fourth in the CCHA at the end of the 2006-07 season, but won the national championship that year. That’s a pretty good roll. Last year, MSU was second in the league — far behind Miami, as was everybody else — and Michigan, the third-place team in last year’s GLI, ended MSU’s season in the second round of the CCHA playoffs, beating the Spartans in two games on the road.
The other CCHA team to win hardware this year was Ohio State. The Catamount Cup is the first midseason hardware that the Buckeyes have earned since 2008-09, when they captured the final Ohio Hockey Classic. That victory propelled the Buckeyes to a fifth-place finish in the CCHA.
Here’s how other CCHA teams have fared after earning their most recent holiday hardware:
- Alaska. The Nanooks most recently won the Governor’s Cup at midseason in 2005-06, sweeping Anchorage after splitting a series earlier in the season. UAF went on to finish the season tied for sixth place in points (with Notre Dame), won its first-round home playoff series against the Irish, and then lost a second-round road series in three games to Michigan State.
- Bowling Green. The Falcons won the Connecticut Hockey Classic in 2005-06, beating Massachusetts and Connecticut to do so. BGSU finished in last place in the CCHA that season, going 6-10-1 to end the regular season before being swept by Nebraska-Omaha in two games in the CCHA playoffs.
- Ferris State. The Bulldogs won the Connecticut Hockey Classic in 2007-08, beating Brown and Connecticut to do so. FSU went on to finish fifth in the CCHA with a .500 league record that year, beating Western Michigan at home in the first round of the CCHA playoffs before losing to Notre Dame on the road in three games in the second round to end the season.
- Lake Superior State. The Lakers’ last midseason success came in the Sheraton/Howard Bank Hockey Classic in December 2001. LSSU beat Vermont and Dartmouth in the tourney, which helped it to one more regular-season win that year; the Lakers went 1-13-2 for the second half of the season before losing to Michigan in three games in the CCHA playoffs.
- Miami. The RedHawks took the Ohio Hockey Classic in 2007-08, beating St. Cloud State and Ohio State to do so. Miami finished one point behind Michigan in the CCHA standings that season and went on to the NCAA tournament, losing 4-3 in overtime to Boston College in the Northeast Regional final. BC would go on to win the national championship that year.
- Northern Michigan. Last season, the Wildcats took the Mariucci Classic, beating Clarkson and Minnesota to do so. NMU finished the season fourth last year, finally played in the CCHA championship game (a 2-1 loss to Michigan), and ended the season with a 4-3 overtime loss to St. Cloud State in the NCAA West Regional.
- Notre Dame. Also last season, the Irish won their own tournament, the Shillelagh Tournament, by beating Colgate outright and winning a shootout following a tie with North Dakota. Notre Dame finished the 2009-10 season in ninth place in the CCHA and lost in two games to Ohio State on the road in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
- Western Michigan. The Broncos won the Silverado Shootout — remember that? — in 2000-01, beating Colgate and Merrimack in the process. WMU finished that season tied for fifth place, and the Broncos lost to the Wildcats in three games on the road in the CCHA playoffs.
Then there’s the case of Lake Superior State’s Badger Showdown near-miss. In 2008-09, the Lakers beat Harvard, 6-2, in the opening round of the Showdown before tying host Wisconsin, 1-1. In the deciding shootout, the LSSU bench argued that the Lakers’ Troy Schwab had actually scored a goal that was disallowed, but the replay officials had already turned off their equipment and couldn’t review the play.
Said Lakers coach Jim Roque after that game: “They never left [the equipment] on for the shootout. That just tells you how it’s going for us this season.”
LSSU went on to compile a 5-10-1 record in the second half of the regular season before losing to Western Michigan in three games in the CCHA playoffs.
Coincidence? Why, yes, I do believe it was.
A different kind of midseason experience
While many teams in the CCHA played in a variety of holiday tournaments, providing fans with great opportunities to see inter-conference play, Lake Superior State opted for a different road — quite literally. To fill a void in their schedule and continue playing, the Lakers scheduled four games with three Ontario collegiate teams.
The Lakers swept the Nipissing University Lakers Jan. 1-2, winning 7-3 and 6-1, and LSSU beat the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, 11-1, Jan. 3. LSSU is scheduled to play the Ryerson University Rams Jan. 5 and the York University Lions Jan. 6.
In previewing the series between LSSU and Nipissing, Ranjan Rupal had a look at Lake State from the Canadian point of view in the North Bay Nugget. In the article, Roque said, “These games give us a chance to look at our lines and it’s good for team-building.”
Hats off to the Nugget for excellent coverage. Kevin Pagan had a game story and photo gallery following the 7-3 game between the Lakers squads and some nice video highlights along with a game story from the second contest.
GLI quotes too good to forget
“Our team is a team that really thrives on good starts.” — Michigan coach Red Berenson, after the Wolverines won the title game. Ben Winnett scored 39 seconds into that contest.
“It’s an NHL building and even though there’s not a crowd — I don’t know if it’s the smell of the building or what it is — but it’s an NHL building. It’s what these kids aspire to do. They’re very excited every opportunity they get to play here.” — Michigan State coach Rick Comley, on why so many players achieve firsts at the GLI.
“This was a big-time tournament. The whole thing was wonderful. We enjoyed participating. We thought the attendance was very good. It was well run. For us, it was a very, very good growth opportunity and we appreciated being here, quite honestly.” — Colorado College coach Scott Owens, after losing a close one to Michigan in the title game.
For the record, it’s always a pleasure to cover a game that Scott Owens coaches.