It’s strange to think that many current CCHA series pair off teams that will in just two seasons be playing in different leagues. Hence Lake Superior’s delight two weeks ago to have beaten the future Big Ten’s Michigan State, or Northern Michigan’s glee at having swept the future National Collegiate Hockey Conference’s St. Cloud State that same weekend — or for that matter, NMU’s double pleasure in taking four points from visiting Michigan last week.
When Ohio State traveled to East Lansing last weekend, however, current CCHA and future Big Ten rivals faced off, providing a glimpse of both now and then in more ways than one.
Each program is in a state of flux, each attempting to rebuild, renew and — make no mistake about it — rebrand itself in preparation for the 2013-14 season. The teams split their Thursday-Friday series, with MSU taking the first game 3-0 and the Buckeyes winning the rematch 5-2.
Given the immediate uncertainties within each program — new season, coaches, players, strategies, identities — that split seemed nearly inevitable.
‘Success builds confidence’
Tom Anastos is synonymous with Michigan State hockey. That is the message emblazoned on every season press pass for Munn Ice Arena: a large photograph of Anastos, arms folded across his chest, staring sternly out beyond the boundaries of the plastic in which his image is encased. This is Michigan State. This is your coach. He is serious.
As a first-year head coach, Anastos is still in the processing stage of his job. He’s an iconic figure for MSU hockey, playing for the Spartans (1981-85), serving as assistant coach (1990-91) and being visible as the CCHA commissioner for 13 seasons, but he’s still learning a few things. After Saturday’s loss to Ohio State, for example, Anastos was asked what he learned from his first home weekend behind the bench. “I hate losing,” said Anastos. “More fun to win.”
He sounded serious.
Thursday’s win set up the Spartans to do something that they did just once last season, sweep a single opponent in back-to-back games in the same weekend. It took MSU all of 2010-11 to achieve that, too, with two low-scoring wins over visiting Bowling Green Feb. 25-26.
“We have to keep kicking at the can and hope to be in a position to do it again,” said Anastos. “We’re taking baby steps and I think we’ve got to continue to look at the positive gains that we make, and yet be responsible for the areas that we didn’t do so well.”
Anastos has repeatedly said that he’s looking to create a more up-tempo game, one in which every player is involved in creating offensive chances. While the MSU team is adjusting, though, the Spartans are giving up more goals than they’re allowing, having been outscored 20-16 so far this season, but it’s not for lack of trying.
“I know everybody here is going to give 110 percent, 100 percent of the time,” said junior and alternate captain Anthony Hayes. “That’s the model for our team. We’re not worried about that. We’ve just got to keep working on the mental lapses that keep ending up in the back of our net.
“He’s [Anastos] instilled that in us, regardless of if it’s a pat on the back or a, ‘Hey, you’ve got to do this,’ it is constant coaching and it’s always taking steps forward. That’s all he can ask, and that’s all we can do.”
Junior Kevin Walrod, who had both goals in the loss to OSU, echoed Hayes. “Last year, we saw things going bad and we’d give up. This year, we’re very motivated. I think that comes from the coaching staff.”
“We can win when we play good, when everybody’s dialed in,” said Hayes. “We’re a first-class team. We’re obviously very capable of being a top-tier team. We just need to keep taking steps forward.
“There’s a lot of fight in this team. Nobody’s worried about that.”
Through six games this season, the Spartans are 2-4-0; they were 3-0-3 through six last year, but they didn’t begin last season with Boston College and they played Alabama-Huntsville twice in that span. Currently, MSU is tied for 32nd nationally in scoring (2.67 goals per game) and 33rd in defense (3.33 goals allowed per game). No one on the team has more than two goals, but 10 Spartans players have found the back of the net. With a 3.02 goals against average and .902 save percentage, senior goaltender Drew Palmisano is nearly where he was a year ago statistically.
“I think the thing that I keep focusing on and our staff keeps focusing all of our attention on is [that] the players on our team, they’re working hard,” said Anastos. “I think learning how to win, to me, has a lot to do with confidence and having success builds confidence.”
Young group working
With a year in Columbus behind him and six years before that as a Wisconsin assistant, Ohio State’s Mark Osiecki is a bit more familiar with coaching at the collegiate level than is Anastos, but when it comes to his own team, Osiecki has nearly as much to learn as his Big Ten counterpart. There are 13 newcomers on the OSU roster this season — a dozen freshman and a transfer.
And the intense Osiecki is doing something that doesn’t seem to come naturally: He’s taking it all in stride.
“Yeah, you throw a cast net out there and see what happens,” said Osiecki. “Thirteen new guys. We need it. You saw where we were at [with] a lot of older guys.”
OSU’s 2011 freshman class was ranked No. 6 in preseason by Red Line Report, and so far some of those rookies are living up to their billing. Forward Ryan Dzingel (3-3–6) leads OSU in scoring and is in the mix for top-scoring freshmen nationally; two of his goals are game winners. Classmates Matt Johnson (3-1–4) and Max McCormick (1-3–4) are producing, and McCormick was named the league’s rookie of the week two weeks ago.
“The best thing that’s happened is that we’ve got a lot of guys with pretty good hockey smarts, good speed, and the compete level is very high,” said Osiecki, who wasn’t quiet about his frustration with what he saw as a lack of dedication among certain Buckeyes players last season. “That’s all we’re asking right now is that they work and compete; they can control that. I think the speed helps them do that.”
Twelve freshmen, a junior transfer — goaltender Brady Hjelle, who played for Minnesota-Duluth (2008-10) — and six sophomores make for a team that is as unpredictable as it is young. For two straight weekends in CCHA play, the Buckeyes have dropped the opening contest of a two-game set before rebounding with a win the second night, having split on the road against Notre Dame Oct. 14-15.
“Our response so far has been pretty good,” said Osiecki. “We’re looking for the consistency, and that may be hard with having so many young kids playing.”
Osiecki said that the Buckeyes didn’t have “a lot of jump” in Thursday’s loss to MSU. “I don’t know what to point to — travel, short week, I’m not sure. Monday, Tuesday were difficult for our players to come back, I think, a little bit high and mighty after Notre Dame, probably, with this young group.”
The one position where the Buckeyes have found consistency is in net. Senior Cal Heeter (2.89 goals against average, .907 save percentage) is 3-1-0. Heeter played 37 games for the Buckeyes last season with an impressive .923 save percentage his junior year.
In the second period Friday, Heeter was all alone when MSU’s second leading scorer, Lee Reimer, broke in for a prime opportunity. Heeter — a big goaltender who can occupy the whole net — never gave Reimer a chance. That was a clear momentum boost for the Buckeyes, who scored twice within six minutes to take the lead.
“Cal is such a steady factor back there,” said Osiecki. “That’s happened to us in a couple other games. Our guys see that and it’s such a huge lift for us.”
Before the season began, Osiecki joked that he’d be adding some gray to his head because of the youth of the OSU team, but he does admit to enjoying himself a little more this season — if only a little. “There’s a limit with how much we can say and how much we can push especially with a young club,” he said. “As far as response, it’s pretty good.”
As for the newcomers, Osiecki said their temperament has yet to emerge. “We’re still trying to see that. I think they just keep their mouths closed right now and go about their business. We’re not seeing the whole personality thing.
“It’s a good thing. Their mouths are closed, their ears are open, and they work.”
When is a fight not a fight?
Apparently, when blows are exchanged between the Wolverines and Wildcats in Marquette.
At 10:45 of the second period of Northern Michigan’s 5-3 win over Michigan Friday, when the score was tied at 0-0, disturbances erupted that led to game disqualifications for Northern Michigan’s Andrew Cherniwchan and Michigan’s Luke Moffatt, a game misconduct for Wolverines goaltender Shawn Hunwick and a double minor for NMU’s Reed Seckel.
Both Cherniwchan and Moffatt were called for fighting. They certainly were fighting.
The only problem I have is that Cherniwchan and Moffatt weren’t the only ones fighting. In the NCAA’s Ice Hockey 2010-12 Rules and Interpretations, Section 17.a. says that players may not fight and that punching is synonymous with fighting. The penalty, according to Section 17.b., is disqualification.
Furthermore, says Section 17.c., “When a fight occurs on the ice, all non-participating players, excluding goalkeepers, must proceed immediately and directly to their respective players’ bench at the signal of the referee.”
Now, I didn’t attend that game. I did see this video highlights montage posted by uppermichiganssource.com:
[youtube_sc url=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XbAbDwN9emc width=500]
In that clip, I see Cherniwchan, flying in with the puck on the left wing and ready to take a shot, upended by Michigan’s Lee Moffie. That action drives both Cherniwchan and Moffie into the Michigan net and Hunwick — and Cherniwchan never would have run into Hunwick were it not for Moffie’s uncalled cross-check.
Hunwick, on his back and clearly shaken up, kicks Cherniwchan in retaliation as he skates by after the collision. Simultaneously, a skirmish breaks out along the far side of the left circle, slightly out of camera range.
And then there are many blows thrown. Many. Punches captured for posterity include those thrown by NMU’s C.J. Ludwig and Jake Baker and Michigan’s David Wohlberg. Seckel — who earned a double minor — most definitely swings.
No one proceeded immediately and directly to their respective benches.
From the video, it appears that the referees were drawn to the boards for the altercation there before everyone rushes to the midpoint between both incidents to throw their punches and — you know — fight.
So why were Cherniwchan and Moffie the only ones disqualified?
This isn’t the first recording that’s surfaced that shows out-and-out brawling that you wouldn’t believe if you only read the box score. I do not understand why referees are reluctant to toss out everyone who deserves to be tossed. If the NCAA genuinely is concerned with concussions and other serious injuries that hockey players can sustain, sending everyone off who’s fighting would be a good way to show it.
From the recording, I can’t see Hunwick throw a punch but he is assessed a major penalty for contact to the head. Unless it was another non-punch form of contact, I can’t imagine why he wasn’t ejected for fighting as well. I am glad, however, that he was ejected, given his recorded actions alone.
That doesn’t mean that I’m slamming Hunwick, a good (and perhaps great) goaltender and a very likeable, stand-up guy. Nearly immediately after that game ended, Hunwick did something completely typical for him: He made a public apology via Twitter. Here are the two consecutive posts, word for word:
“I want to apologize to the michigan fans in attendance tonight. I play on a edge and my emotions got the best of me. It is unacceptable as a Student athlete who represents the university of michigan and college hockey as a whole.”
Now if only everything were as transparent, I might understand why a punch is not a punch and a fight is not a fight.
Players of the week
Now for this week’s kudos, once again with a couple of not-so-usual suspects.
Rookie of the week: WMU’s Garrett Haar, whose first collegiate goal opened the scoring for the Broncos in their 2-2 tie with Alaska Saturday. He also assisted on WMU’s second goal in that game.
Offensive player of the week: NMU’s Justin Florek, who had a goal and four assists in the Wildcats’ win and tie versus Michigan.
Defenseman of the week: FSU’s Chad Billins, who had three assists and helped the Bulldogs to a perfect penalty kill in a two-game sweep of Miami.
Goaltender of the week: FSU’s C.J. Motte, who blanked Miami 2-0 Saturday. It was the freshman’s second straight shutout.
Yes, I know that polls are meaningless. I got the memo. Here’s my ballot anyway.
1. Boston College
3. Colorado College
4. Ferris State
7. Western Michigan
8. Boston University
14. North Dakota
16. Northern Michigan
17. Lake Superior
18. Michigan Tech
20. Holy Cross
This week’s funny
Last week in a Thursday blog entry, I shared what a reader had observed in the stands at a Quinnipiac-Ohio State game, when adolescent girls got their first look at Ryan Dzingel’s golden locks.
Since then, another reader emailed to tell me about a different experience he had observing adolescent girls watching a hockey game out east — coincidentally, another game involving Quinnipiac.
“There were several teenage girls who, after two periods of play, had to move because they couldn’t stand the smell of sweaty hockey players coming from the players’ bench areas,” wrote the reader.
Those girls had sense.
This story reminded me of the first game I ever covered in 1995, an exhibition in the old OSU Ice Rink. The press box was just one level above the benches, with no glass (or heat, for that matter). About 10 minutes into the game, I turned to someone else in the box and asked, “What is that smell?” He pointed down to the bench just a few feet below and cringed.
Apparently, those girls watching out east had more sense than I did. I didn’t change my seat.
And finally …
Which one poll voter keeps voting Yale No. 1?