An anticlimactic finish to the chase for a nameless CCHA trophy

Congratulations to Ferris State, the 2011-12 regular season CCHA champions and recipients of the, um, the … ah … nameless regular-season trophy.

The playoff trophy is the Mason Cup. Teams know they’re playing for the Mason Cup when they head to The Joe. That’s a championship-sounding vernacular. But a nameless regular season trophy seems anticlimactic, doesn’t it?

Perhaps it’s fitting at the end of a very long, dramatic season that this nameless trophy belongs to a team with few household names and that the way in which it was secured — with one point earned out of six — is equally anticlimactic.

The Bulldogs needed one of two things to become CCHA champs outright last weekend, a single Michigan loss or a single earned point. FSU got both on Friday night — and just that for the weekend. On Friday, the Bulldogs tied Western Michigan 1-1 in Kalamazoo and the Broncos earned the extra shootout point. That same night, Bowling Green came from behind at home to defeat Michigan 4-3.

Sometimes, the stars are simply aligned. The following night, both Western Michigan and Michigan blanked opponents 3-0. That loss — in their own Ewigleben Arena, on a night honoring the senior class — wasn’t how the Bulldogs envisioned the season ending. It was the first loss of 2012 for FSU and broke a 15-game (11-0-4) unbeaten streak.

It’s not surprising, though, that the low-key Bob Daniels, in his 20th season behind the FSU bench, took it in stride. “I don’t think tonight’s a night to worry about,” Daniels said after the game. “We had enough opportunities to score, but their goaltender deserves a lot of credit. He played a great game.”

The Bulldogs were presented their trophy at home after Saturday’s loss, and there are many pictures of smiling players and happy fans on the FSU hockey website. No coach wants to begin the playoffs after a losing a game, but perhaps earning the title mitigates that a bit.

And perhaps the nature of this team — their under-the-radar play and players, their season-long approach to maintaining a steady course in pursuit of their second regular season title — mitigates some of the sting of last weekend’s single point as well. There’s still work to do.

After receiving the trophy, Daniels quoted senior Jordie Johnston, the team’s leading scorer and only Bulldogs player to score against WMU this past weekend. Johnston is having an inspired season with 17 goals and 15 assists, numbers that eclipse his combined total points (10-11–21) from his first three seasons combined. Johnston, an under-the-radar player, may best summarize the entire team’s mentality.

Said Daniels, “Jordie Johnston said it right. Let’s enjoy this for a little while before we put it on the shelf and go on to our next pursuit.”

The first round

As my worthy colleague Todd Milewski pointed out in this week’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback, the biggest surprise now that the dust has settled on this CCHA regular season has to be that either No. 8 Notre Dame or No. 9 Ohio State will end its season this coming weekend. The Buckeyes appeared dominant in the first half of the season — over-achieving, clearly — and Notre Dame was the national favorite as the season began. They’ll face off in the first round of CCHA playoffs in South Bend.

After finishing the first half on top of the standings, the Buckeyes registered one single win in the second half, a 4-3 victory over Western Michigan on Feb. 11, a win that snapped an 11-game (0-7-4) winless streak.

“For whatever reason, it hasn’t bounced our way,” OSU coach Mark Osiecki said. “We have to deal with the hand we’ve been dealt, and it’s going to make us stronger.

“The good thing is we’re into our third season — first half, second half, playoffs.”

The Buckeyes will face a Notre Dame team that faltered after the first two months of the season. Last weekend, the Fighting Irish halted a five-game losing skid with a 2-0 home win over Michigan State Friday but dropped Saturday’s game 4-2 to the Spartans. After Saturday’s loss, ND coach Jeff Jackson told the South Bend Tribune that his team is lucky to be playing in the Compton Center next weekend, where the Irish are 10-7. “There’s an advantage to playing at home and we need to take advantage of it,” said Jackson.

The other first-round series feature No. 11 Bowling Green at No. 6 Northern Michigan and No. 10 Alaska at No. 7 Lake Superior State.

The Falcons toppled Michigan Friday night 4-3 before losing 3-0 on Saturday. BGSU has put together a 4-8-2 second half, and three of those wins came against ranked opponents. It’s an improvement of two league wins over last season’s record — and coach Chris Bergeron said he hopes that such small steps are noticed. After losing Saturday in front of a record-breaking home crowd of 5,031, Bergeron told the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune: “I can’t thank everybody enough, on behalf of this program. I know the results weren’t what they wanted and they weren’t what we wanted, but we feel we’re making progress.”

When they travel to Marquette, Mich., the Falcons will face a Northern Michigan team that has lost just two games at home this season. After sweeping Lake Superior State in the Berry Events Center to recapture the Father Cappo Cup — an annual trophy contested between the Lakers and the Wildcats — NMU coach Walt Kyle said that home ice will be an advantage. “We’ve been really good in this building, and hopefully that’ll carry over into the next weekend,” said Kyle.

Last year, the Falcons eliminated the Wildcats in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, winning the third game of that first-round series in double overtime, in Marquette.

While every other team in the league was playing out conference drama last weekend, Alaska was playing for the Governor’s Cup, the trophy on the line annually between the Nanooks and their Anchorage counterparts, the Seawolves. Going into the weekend, the Nanooks knew they’d be traveling but they didn’t know where — and they were more focused on the business at hand. Outside of the state of Alaska, most people don’t know how highly coveted this trophy is, and the Nanooks earned it for the third consecutive year. The trophy was decided by shootout; the Seawolves won at home Friday 3-2 and the Nanooks took Saturday’s game 3-1.

For a team that struggled with consistency all season long, the Governor’s Cup was a boost at just the right time. “I think this is exactly what we needed, to go into the playoffs on a high like this,” senior goaltender Scott Greenham told the Fairbanks News-Miner after Saturday’s win.

They’ll play Lake Superior State, a team that held onto the top spot in the CCHA for a good part of the first half. The Lakers were swept by Northern Michigan last weekend, but coach Jim Roque remained optimistic about his team’s chances in the playoffs.

“New season and we’re all 0-0,” Roque told the Marquette Mining Journal after Saturday’s 5-3 loss. “All of us now in every locker room are saying, ‘New season.'”

The Lakers were outscored 11-5 in the series against the Wildcats, hardly an ideal way to end a season. Roque said that his team had “backed into” home ice with the last weekend of play, but he also kept his sense of humor.

“At least we didn’t use up all our good bounces,” Roque said after Saturday’s loss.

Hardware, Part II

Last week, I asked for nominees for the Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award as well as the Mike York Poetry-in-Motion Award. I received none but am willing to entertain nominees for next week’s column.

The Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award is given annually to a player who can pick up the trash around the net — the biggest pest offensive pest near the cage, the guy most likely to score on any improbable rebound, the guy who scores mostly from near the crease. This is a player who isn’t afraid to scrap or instigate, who has a bloodhound’s nose when it comes to garbage goals.

The Mike York Poetry-in-Motion Award is given annually to a player who skates beautifully. He’s often the fastest guy on the ice, but not always. He’s just the player whose skating is impossible not to watch.

A reader did write in to suggest a new award, and I like the spirit of the award very much, an award that is the opposite of the Mike Comrie Most-Likely-to-Leave-Early Award. This award would be given to a player who has had the opportunity to leave for professional hockey but who chooses to remain with his collegiate team.

The reader who wrote in suggested the award be named for Michigan defenseman Jon Merrill, and here is where my reader and I part ways. I’m not going to dump on Merrill, the sophomore who missed the first half of the season for unspecified violations of team rules, nor am I going to publicly speculate about those violations. Whatever this young player has done has been kept private, officially, and it remains between him and the Michigan hockey program.

The suggestion that an award for a player who didn’t leave be named for Merrill is based on the supposition that Merrill had someplace to go when he was suspended, and I haven’t heard that he did. I haven’t heard that he didn’t, either. Also, Merrill is just a sophomore. He may yet leave early.

Instead, let’s introduce an award named a for a guy who came back for his senior year when he clearly could have departed for more lucrative pastures. That’s a Girl Reporter Award that should be given.

Once again, I entertain suggestions. For whom should the award be named? This is something that could be named after someone from the past or after the award’s first recipient. That means I need nominees for a first recipient, who must be finishing his final year of eligibility in the coming weeks.

Again, email me at [email protected] rather than merely posting in response to the column. Only email nominations will be considered.

Players of the week

In the last weekend of the regular season, two very familiar names make an appearance, joined by two worthy newcomers — although one recipient has been around for a while.

Rookie of the week: Miami forward Jimmy Mullin, who had a goal and four assists in the RedHawks’ home-and-home sweep of Ohio State. This is the first time that Mullin has been named ROTW.

Offensive player of the week: Miami junior Reilly Smith, who had three goals and three assists against OSU, including Friday’s game winner. Smith is no stranger to this award.

Defenseman of the week: Northern Michigan junior Scott Macaulay, who picks up his first league POTW honors. Macaulay had an assist in Friday’s 6-2 win over Lake Superior and helped on four of NMU’s five goals Saturday as the Wildcats swept the Lakers.

Goaltender of the week: Miami senior Connor Knapp. Knapp allowed one goal against Ohio State for the weekend, stopping 28 shots in Friday’s 3-0 shutout and 22 in Saturday’s 5-1 win. His weekend save percentage was .980.

I don’t usually comment on the league’s choices for players of the week, as I don’t want to suggest that the players who earned the kudos didn’t deserve them. This week, though, if I had my own weekly awards, I’d certainly give a nod to Western Michigan’s Frank Slubowski. The freshman goaltender allowed one goal against the No. 1 team in the country for a 0.50 goals against average and .969 save percentage.

As I said, I’m not suggesting that Miami players Connor Knapp and Jimmy Mullin are undeserving. I just think that Slubowski deserves recognition this week, somehow. His performance was certainly, at the very least, notable.

My ballot

1. Boston College
2. Minnesota-Duluth
3. Minnesota
4. Ferris State
5. Boston University
6. Michigan
7. Maine
8. Massachusetts-Lowell
9. Merrimack
10. Denver
11. Union
12. Cornell
13. Michigan State
14. Miami
15. Colorado College
16. North Dakota
17. Northern Michigan
18. Lake Superior State
19. Western Michigan
20. Nebraska-Omaha