It’s the day after Valentine’s Day, and so this week’s column is appropriately timed. Valentine’s Day — as longtime readers already understand — is the favorite holiday of this bitter, middle-aged, divorced hockey writer. What other annual occasion delivers so much potential for colossal disappointment in such a short, retail-fueled window of time? Sure, if you’re a fan of a couple of CCHA teams — say, Michigan or Notre Dame or especially Miami — recent Frozen Four weekends may have packed powerful, short-term wallops, but those disappointments weren’t market driven.
Alas, I digress.
Today is the day after the day we allegedly celebrate love and all things love-like. In our culture, Valentine’s Day is supposed to be a gentle thing, a day of good or even groovy emotions and at least a superficial nod to positive affairs of the heart. But since the holiday is of the one-and-done variety, in addition to the inevitable bitterness and broken dreams, the day after Valentine’s Day brings giant discounts on overpriced flowers flown in from South America and plush toys made in countries that still have manufacturing bases.
In other words, the day after Valentine’s Day is a little tawdry. This is especially fitting for this year, this season of the CCHA unrequited, this sustained campaign of very-close-to.
Well, that’s how it reads for more than one team. Hey, you don’t have to take the word of a bitter, middle-aged, divorced hockey writer who spends every weekend night from October through April in a rink somewhere in the Midwest, dateless and looking forward to long rides home and Sunday afternoons with Lifetime movies and papers to grade.
Instead, you can hear the hard truth from the sources themselves.
A crisis of confidence
“Something has to happen for us to start turning the corner back in the right direction.” No, that’s not Melissa Joan Hart pining for an on-screen relationship turnaround with some B-level Canadian actor in a straight-to-video production. That was Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson after the Fighting Irish were shut out by Ferris State last Friday night. Jackson was talking to Jim Meenan of the South Bend Tribune and while nobody in South Bend sounds brokenhearted, it’s clear that the Irish are suffering a bit of an identity crisis. The Irish are 3-7 in CCHA play in the second half, a record that has dropped them from tied for second place to a three-way tie for seventh — and seventh in this close CCHA season is just six points ahead of 10th place.
Sophomore forward Anders Lee told Meenan that the Irish are “off page right now.” Said Lee: “Our class has come in and the last couple years, we are a team that wins. Six-and-10 is not who we are.”
What Notre Dame is right now is a team that has scored five goals in four games, losing three of those. The Bulldogs went on to complete the sweep Saturday night and outscore the Fighting Irish 8-1 for the weekend. On Friday, Jackson told Meenan that his team was losing confidence. After Saturday’s loss, Jackson told Jack Hefferon of the Notre Dame Observer that he just wants the team to get “back on track.” Facing Miami this weekend, Jackson said that he’s not worried about getting six points against the RedHawks. “I’m just worried about getting any points right now,” he said.
Then there are trust issues …
“And I thought, I don’t know if I can trust them.” No, that’s not Meredith Baxter talking about her fictional offspring in a heavily promoted new production featuring former child stars that no one remembers anyway.
And — in fairness — that quote isn’t complete.
After Kevin Lynch scored the goal that gave Michigan a 3-2 overtime win over Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena Saturday night, Wolverines coach Red Berenson began his very brief news conference with faint praise for the junior forward who almost didn’t get the chance to play the extra period.
“I thought he was really good and really bad for the weekend,” said Berenson. “I can tell you, there were times in the third period I thought about not putting him out in the overtime.”
Berenson said the problem wasn’t with Lynch alone, but with the line of Kevin Lynch, senior Travis Lynch and sophomore Derek DeBlois. “Then in overtime, that line got caught in their own zone and got into trouble, and I thought I don’t know if I can trust them in overtime.”
There’s the whole quote. Even Meredith Baxter can’t bring the reproof the way Red Berenson can.
Berenson said he relented because he knew Kevin Lynch’s history. Lynch had five goals this season heading into Saturday’s game; three of them had come at the expense of MSU.
“I know that Kevin has had a good record against Michigan State,” said Berenson. “I know that he has a good record at Joe Louis. They got one shift in overtime and bingo, so you never know.”
Berenson added that he trusted the line but, “Tonight they didn’t play as well as they did last night, for one reason or another.”
The Wolverines and Spartans split the weekend and were tied in the standings at the start of Saturday’s game. Kevin Lynch’s overtime goal — which was a fluky thing at the expense of MSU defenseman Matt Crandell — broke that deadlock and put Michigan in sole possession of third place. The Spartans dropped to a tie with Lake Superior for fifth.
And nothing comes easy
“It’s been one of those years where nothing has come easy.”
Shannen Doherty post-“Charmed?” Nope. Alaska assistant coach Lance West after the Nanooks secured a split with visiting Lake Superior State last Saturday night.
The 10th-place Nanooks are not having the season they expected to have. Picked to finish fifth by both the coaches and the media in the 2011-12 preseason polls, Alaska is likely to travel for the first round of the CCHA playoffs. The 3-2 Saturday win was the Nanooks’ fourth of the second half and their eighth conference win of the season.
The Nanooks watched their two-goal lead evaporate in the second period of that game, but junior Andy Taranto netted his ninth goal of the season late in the third to give Alaska the win.
“One of the things we talked about with our guys is to keep working, keep working,” West told Danny Martin in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Saturday. “It’s not going to come easy.”
Where is the love?
“You don’t have to worry about mistakes when you have good goaltending.”
OK, so that isn’t even remotely movie-of-the-week. That, of course, is Ferris State coach Bob Daniels, who talked to David Goricki of the Detroit News after the Bulldogs topped this week’s USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll for the first time in program history.
This week, the goaltending kudos go to FSU senior Taylor Nelson, who allowed one goal in the Bulldogs’ home-and-home sweep of Notre Dame. Nelson (2.18 goals against average, .923 save percentage) and freshman C.J. Motte (1.98, .926) may backstop the Bulldogs to FSU’s second-ever regular-season title. The last came in 2003 — and that was with a very different team, a team with Chris Kunitz and his 35 goals.
This team has zero NHL draftees. This team has the 27th-best offense in the country. This team has no top line. Senior Jordie Johnson (16-12–28) — a guy who scored a total of nine goals in three previous seasons — leads FSU in scoring. Junior Kyle Bonis (15-7–22) had nine career goals before this season. No one else on the FSU squad has reached the 10-goal mark.
When this week’s poll was released, there was apparently some virtual hating directed Ferris State’s way. Several FSU fans emailed me — or Tweeted, in one case — to tell me that the anti-Bulldog barking was loud. The comments after this week’s Poll story stink of those jilted and jealous.
It’s true that the vote for FSU was split; 27 voters had the Bulldogs No. 1, meaning that 23 voters thought other teams more worthy. (Michigan? Seriously?) Maybe the folks who went with Ferris State thought, like I did, that the nation’s best unbeaten streak (9-0-3) deserved some respect and that the way the Bulldogs are doing what they’re doing — with no draft picks, no household names and very little fanfare — deserved some recognition.
Maybe, too, there are more than just a few people around the country who think that the CCHA is for real this year, that all these splits, near-misses, disappointments and unrequited weekends are an indication that the league is putting on an amazing show in its penultimate season.
And wouldn’t it be great for a team like Ferris State to win out, one of the league’s “little” and unpretentious programs, while the CCHA can still call itself a league?
Now that would be a Valentine strong enough to melt even this reporter’s bitter, hardened heart.
Players of the week
Check out the case All-American case that Torey Krug is making for himself. He was last week’s Offensive POTW.
Rookie of the week: Ohio State’s Max McCormick, who had two goals and an assist as the Buckeyes split with Western Michigan. By the way, that means that the Buckeyes are more requited than usual: Saturday’s 4-3 come-from-behind win was OSU’s first since Dec. 10.
Offensive player of the week: Ferris State junior Kyle Bonis, who had two goals Friday — including the game winner — and assisted on Saturday’s game-winning goal, as the Bulldogs swept Notre Dame.
Defenseman of the week: Michigan State junior Torey Krug, who had the game-winning goal against Michigan on Friday plus another marker and an assist Saturday. He was a shot-blocking machine all weekend, too, a real defensive pest.
Goaltender of the week: FSU senior Taylor Nelson, who had his third shutout of the season Friday before posting a one-goal win Saturday. Nelson had a 0.50 goals against average and .983 save percentage for the series.
1. Ferris State
2. Boston College
5. Boston University
13. Notre Dame
14. Colorado College
16. Michigan State
17. North Dakota
18. Western Michigan
19. Northern Michigan
20. Lake Superior