Focusing at the CCHA as it is, not as it will (not) be

You know, I just never thought that it would come to this. I envisioned a day when I would no longer be covering CCHA hockey — a day that I know many of you have also envisioned, with much longing — but I never thought that the end of my CCHA coverage would come because of the end of the CCHA.

I confess to having mourned more than a little this summer, especially when it became apparent that the CCHA would be the odd conference out. I confess to having wondered why one team was so eager to desert the league, and I confess to being amused by what amounted to that team’s online personal ad. I confess to understanding the lack of panic by the league itself even though many fans angrily confused cooler heads — and respect for individual league members — with a lack of action.

As the season begins, I find myself fighting cynicism. A colleague of mine called the CCHA a lame-duck league, and I confess — forgive me, CCHA fans — that this phrase had crossed my mind as well, but I promise not to use it.

There is a temptation to look too much into the future, to speculate about what happens in 2013-14, but we have two whole seasons of CCHA hockey left to celebrate. So I’m putting aside my genuine feelings of sadness and looking only at this penultimate season of CCHA hockey.

Mostly. Of course, we may dish about the not-so-distant future and there may be occasional bitterness. There will be some snark, too, and soon. After all, I’m still me.

Let’s ride this league for as long as we can, live in the now of college hockey and not its near future and enjoy this season in the CCHA.

Shall we?

Lessons from seasons past

At the end of 2008-09, Notre Dame captured the CCHA regular-season title and the Mason Cup. Not surprisingly, the Irish were picked to finish second in 2009-10 by both the coaches and the media. They finished ninth.


After last year’s Frozen Four appearance — and not in small part due to the strength of their stellar sophomore class — the Irish topped the CCHA preseason coaches and media poll as well as the USCHO preseason national poll.

“It’s all about what you do after the fact,” says Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson. “Just like I tell kids, when you get drafted in the NHL, it’s the start of your career, not the culmination of it. It’s the same thing with polls. It’s one thing to be recognized and another thing to play the game.

“Last year we weren’t ranked in the top 15 and look where we ended up. Expectations do funny things to people.”

Now it’s time for the Irish to employ those lessons learned from that disappointing season two years ago and ND’s two co-captains — seniors Sean Lorenz and Billy Maday — have a pretty good idea of how the Irish need to do just that.

“Keeping the chemistry,” says Lorenz. “As long as we’re one team, I think that is the first step. As upperclassmen, we just have to make sure that the underclassmen know to listen to coach.”

“If you think about it, we’re right back to where we started [two years ago],” says Maday. “This year can go one of two ways: We can continue on from last season or we could take a step back. Now that we seniors have been through a tough sophomore season … we can relay that back to the sophomores. We can jump on that a little sooner than two years prior. Hopefully the experience factor will help us.”

Both Lorenz and Maday were part of a small sophomore class when the Irish failed to meet the expectations of two seasons ago; Notre Dame returns a dozen players who were rookies that fell a game away from a national championship.

“The year before last year,” says Maday, “I would say we didn’t respond well to the preseason hype and the success we has prior to that, which would have been my freshmen year. We kind of forgot what it took to win those games, the simple play that was required and the hard work and discipline that was required to win those games.”

“I think sophomore year is the hardest year out of college,” says Lorenz, “especially when you have a good freshman year. You have a good freshman year and you expect it to be easy and you get comfortable a little bit, and everyone’s gunning for you and you realize this is a lot harder.”

One of the factors keeping Notre Dame focused is how the 2010-11 season ended, with a 4-3 loss in the Frozen Four. “That loss to Minnesota-Duluth is still bitter,” says Maday. “We recognize how close we were. As long as we can keep that fire and keep motivated I think we can we’ll do OK.”

Another factor motivating the Irish is the knowledge of what undermined them in St. Paul. “Special teams killed us,” said Lorenz. “That’s why we lost the game in the Frozen Four. Straight up, that’s why we lost. Our offense carried us through [the season], but we definitely need to get better defensively.”

Lorenz says it’s the job of the upperclassmen to make sure that players stay focused on Notre Dame’s weaknesses. “To get better, you have to focus on what you’re not good at, and really harping on things to improve on.”

It may sound as though Lorenz and Maday are all business, but no one in South Bend wants to lose another key factor of last year’s success, one that was everyone attributes directly to last year’s young freshman class — the class without the baggage of underperforming from a season before.

“That’s the most fun year I’ve had playing hockey,” says Lorenz. “It was fun, and that’s what hockey’s supposed to be about.”

“It was awesome,” says Maday. “It was one of the most fun teams I’ve been on, I think. That’s part of the reason we had so much success on the ice. They helped the guys who were there the year before forget about that … and get back to what it’s like to have fun playing hockey.”

Even Jackson says, “I bought into the enthusiasm that those players brought,” but he adds, “Let’s face it: we’re still young.”

This season’s challenges aren’t limited to the pressures of high expectations and a team with 17 freshmen and sophomores on the roster. The Irish are also moving into a new arena after the season has begun, something akin to playing home games on the road for a while, says Jackson.

Of course, the players don’t see it that way. Before the season began, the team had the chance to skate — once — on the new ice in the Compton Family Ice Arena, which will become Notre Dame’s new home Oct. 21, when it hosts Rensselaer. When the Irish took the ice for the first time in the new building, they made sure they did so as a team; everyone skated at the same time.

“It was awesome,” says Maday. “It was as expected.”

The good kind of expectations. As for history, polls and preseason hype, Lorenz says there’s only one way to deal with it, in the end: “You can’t really have any expectations; you just have to play.”

Reading comprehension for hockey fans

Please read the following passage. A one-question quiz follows.

College hockey fragments and a team that we’ll call Team Quite the Catch, being courted by more than one conference, hints strongly that it will be announcing soon where it will play — and the hint reveals that it will align itself with a conference rather than play as an independent.

Before the announcement, Conference Fabulous — one of the leagues known to have courted Team Quite the Catch — announces that when the realignment dust settles it will proceed with the current list of teams that it’s already named … and Team Quite the Catch isn’t on that list.

Team Quite the Catch announces soon after that it will align itself with another conference we’ll call Hockey East, for the sake of simplicity.

Question: What would motivate Conference Fabulous to announce its conference roster before Team Quite the Catch has made its alignment announcement? Send your answer to [email protected].

Alas, there is no extra credit.

And I told you there would be snark.

Players of the week

Early in September, the CCHA announced a new partnership with Gongshow Gear, Inc. Because of that, the CCHA rookie of the week is the Gongshow rookie of the week.

These are the kinds of things that even a fertile imagination like mine cannot make up.

Rookie of the week

Bowling Green’s Ryan Carpenter scored his first collegiate goal and registered three assists in BG’s win and tie with Connecticut — a great weekend for the Falcons. Carpenter is the first ever Gongshow rookie of the week, and that is the last time that I will write “Gongshow rookie of the week.”

Good heavens.

Offensive player of the week

Ferris State’s Kyle Bonis had the game-winning goals each night as the Bulldogs swept St. Lawrence. I think his coach should call him out more often.

Defenseman of the week

Western Michigan’s Matt Tennyson had two goals and an assist and was plus-5 in the Broncos’ sweep of Alabama-Huntsville.

Goaltender of the week

Michigan’s Shawn Hunwick is 3-0-0 already with a .972 save percentage and 0.70 goals against average.

More kudos

Congratulations to WMU’s Andy Murray and MSU’s Tom Anastos for their first wins as head coaches of Division I programs. Murray’s came Friday night, a 7-1 win over visiting UAH. Anastos’ came Saturday, 3-2 in overtime against Air Force in the third-place game of the Ice Breaker.

Congratulations to MSU sophomore Lee Reimer, who tied that score on the power play in the third period and netted that game-winning goal 54 seconds into overtime. Reimer has two goals in this young season; he had two goals in 29 games last year.

Congrats, too, to all the guys who netted their first collegiate goals: BGSU’s Ryan Carpenter and Dan DeSalvo; FSU’s T.J. Schlueter; Miami’s Jimmy Mullin and Alex Wideman; Michigan’s Alex Guptill, Phil Di Giuseppe and Travis Lynch; Ohio State’s Ryan Dzingel and Matt Johnson; Western Michigan’s David Killip.

And finally, congrats to the goalies who earned their first D-I wins, FSU’s C.J. Motte and WMU’s Frank Slubowski.

My ballot

Here’s how I voted for the Division I Men’s Poll:

1. Boston College
2. Notre Dame
3. North Dakota
4. Miami
5. Michigan
6. Denver
7. Minnesota-Duluth
8. Boston University
9. Nebraska-Omaha
10. Western Michigan
11. New Hampshire
12. Colorado College
13. Yale
14. Union
15. Merrimack
16. Minnesota
17. Maine
18. Rensselaer
19. Alaska
20. Wisconsin