So, I didn’t see that coming. I’m guessing that Northern Michigan didn’t, either. And, frankly, neither did Jim Roque, who expected to be playing on Sunday.
The first round of the CCHA playoffs proved to us that anybody can beat anybody else on any given night — as long as the first anybody is Bowling Green and the second is Northern Michigan.
Your second-round CCHA matches, after re-seeding:
No. 8 Bowling Green vs. No. 1 Ferris State
No. 7 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Michigan
No. 6 Lake Superior State vs. No. 3 Western Michigan
No. 5 Michigan State vs. No. 4 Miami
I’ll have predictions in the blog on Friday.
The Falcons do it again — but this time, it’s different
For Bowling Green, this Marquette-specific giant-slaying is getting to be a habit. Just as they did at the end of the 2010-11 season, the Falcons bested the Wildcats in three games in NMU’s home barn. That, though, is where the comparison ends.
“We played a good game Friday,” BG coach Chris Bergeron said. “Last year we played a horrible game Friday. Then going into the third period Sunday was an odd spot for us. We haven’t had a two-goal lead going into a period, really, all year.
“I’m going to say, karma-wise, there were some good thoughts … but there were some feelings that this is a team we can compete with when we’re on, but there wasn’t really a sense of, ‘Hey, we did this last year so we can do it again this year.’ We didn’t really talk about it.”
Last year, the Wildcats led 5-3 after two periods in the Friday contest and Bowling Green needed double overtime to win the Sunday contest. This year, NMU’s 4-2 Friday win was tied 2-2 at the end of the second, BGSU overcame a 3-1 deficit in the second contest with three unanswered second-period goals, and the Falcons absolutely owned the deciding game, leading 3-1 heading into the third and smothering the Wildcats’ offense all the way through the contest.
“I thought we played three pretty good games,” said Bergeron. “I don’t think Northern was bad. They made some turnovers on Saturday in the second period there. When they scored to make it 3-1 [Saturday] I thought it was over. Our kids, though — it’s been a long year but I guess they’re too dumb to quit.
“Sunday wasn’t a crazy building because it was break time. Both teams are tired. Nobody had the advantage.”
Throughout the series, said Bergeron, the Falcons played steady hockey. He also thought that the Olympic sheet in the Berry Events Center worked to BGSU’s advantage.
“I thought we checked pretty well,” he said. “Games in their rink are less physical than games in our rink because it takes a while to get there. I thought we used our sticks in defending. I thought we did a decent job of making Northern earn things. There are still some things we gave them that we’ve been giving away all year. Then there are still some things that [Wildcats players] Justin Florek and [Matt] Thurber are going to take, because they’re just that good.
“This past weekend, our resiliency was pretty good. Nothing really swayed from the focus. We didn’t let one shift or one play or one game throw us sideways.”
One play that could have turned the tide was the NMU penalty shot at the end of the second period on Saturday. The Falcons had rebounded from a two-goal deficit with three goals of their own — in fact, Dan DeSalvo had just made it a 4-3 game seconds before — when BGSU goaltender Andrew Hammond saved the Falcons’ momentum when he stopped Stephan Vigier.
“We made a horrible play at the end of the second period,” said Bergeron. “We had just come off the faceoff and Vigier ends up in a breakaway. We trip him, penalty shot, five seconds to go in the second, and we sustained the momentum.”
The Falcons prevailed with a roster full of freshmen and sophomores — 17 of them have played this year, 16 of them skaters. In fact, it was the underclassmen who carried the team in scoring for the weekend. DeSalvo, a freshman, had five goals in the series — including both game winners — after scoring four total in his first 27 contests. Ten of BGSU’s 11 goals were scored by freshman, making this a decidedly different series from a year ago. In fact, the first 10 goals of the weekend for BG were scored by rookies; the 11th goal came from sophomore Ryan Viselli.
“I’m happy for these kids because there has been a lot of negativity this season,” said Bergeron. “I’m proud of the way they hung in there because Northern’s focus — from what I saw — was not letting that happen again.”
Bergeron said that this reward for a long season’s work — temporary though it may be — shows the character of the players in the program he and his assistants are trying to rebuild.
“If you’re willing to take the teaching or take the criticism or take the work, you’ve got a chance to do something good,” he said. “If you have kids that are willing — and I think ours are — they get to see what the potential of this program could be and should be.”
Two and done
“We were fortunate,” said Lake Superior coach Jim Roque. “Alaska played well. The games were close.”
The Lakers needed just two games to get past visiting Alaska, but each game was won by a goal, essentially, 4-3 Friday and 2-0 Saturday with an empty-net tally.
“I thought both goalies played really good,” said Roque. “Obviously, we played one more play than they did. I expected it to go to three.”
Early in the season, the Lakers were the top team in the league and they finished the first half of the season in fourth place. Traveling for the second round of the CCHA playoffs is not the result that Roque and his team wanted.
“We had a good start, obviously,” said Roque. “We caught two teams early — [Michigan] State and Miami struggled right out of the gate. Based on our start, we obviously would have liked to have finished better, but a lot of other teams had something to say about that, too.
“Most times we were in every game. Obviously, we would have liked to finish higher.”
Roque said that in the first half, his players were perhaps paying too much attention to things that didn’t matter in the short term.
“We’re immature in some areas and that’s been our biggest challenge throughout the year,” said Roque. “Our guys who are young got caught up in the PairWise and standings and all that. But we caught ourselves. I thought [captains] Kyle Haines and Fred Cassiani did a good job with it.
“In the second half of the season we played a lot of good hockey and didn’t get a lot for it. You seemed to be fighting all the time. We’re going to need some breaks, obviously, on the road, next weekend.”
Two and done, again
I tried to get Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson on the phone early this week, but the stars were not aligned. I even promised to avoid questions about officiating.
The Fighting Irish swept Ohio State 2-0 and 4-2. Senior Billy Maday — who had nine goals in 36 games heading into the series — had both markers in the shutout and another in Saturday’s game.
After Saturday’s game, Jackson told the South Bend Tribune that his team’s struggles this season have been self-perpetuating. “I feel good for the kids,” said Jackson, “because they’ve had a rough couple of months. So much, in my opinion, has been about their confidence.”
Hardware, part III
For two weeks now, I’ve been asking for help with several Girl Reporter awards, including the Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award and the Mike York Poetry-in-Motion Award, plus an award for the kid who stays for his senior year who could leave if he wanted to.
I received quite a bit of email in response to this, and the email about the two awards — the Dhadphale and the unnamed award — confirmed what I had thought about those categories myself. This week, alas, I have just one virtual trophy to deliver.
Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award
This award is given annually to the player who can best pick up the trash around the net, the guy who’s always in the right spot to score garbage goals. That’s not to suggest that he’s incapable of scoring goals from other spots. He just knows how to pick up the trash.
The 2011-12 Dhadphale goes to Northern Michigan senior Justin Florek. Several readers — including, notably, one whom I know is not an NMU fan — wrote in to nominate Florek. I was leaning toward Florek anyway; I just needed independent confirmation.
And, yes, a lone Ferris State fan counts as independent confirmation.
Nine of Florek’s 19 goals this season came on the power play, and he had a knack for scoring near the crease, in the scramble, picking up that trash. That’s because he has a nose for the puck. I can’t imagine that Florek, a fifth-round pick of the Boston Bruins in the 2010 NHL entry draft, doesn’t have a long and very successful professional career ahead.
The Brendan Morrison Senior Loyalty Award
Yes, that’s a new one. This is an award named for a player who came back for his senior year when lucrative professional opportunities beckoned. As a junior in 1996, Morrison won a national championship with the Wolverines. He was a second-round pick of the New Jersey Devils in the 1993 NHL entry draft, had 71 goals to his credit as a collegian — and he returned for his senior year, the 1996-97 season.
Several readers suggested Morrison, but I was pretty sure I was going to go with him anyway.
Now I need nominations. Who’s the guy in the league who could have gained the most by leaving at the start of the 2011-12 season but who chose to return for his senior year?
Still looking for nominees for the most elegant, interesting skater in the league for the York award. One more week and I’ll call time on this one.
Players of the week
Those of you who have been following for any length of time know that I’m no fan of the league’s corporate sponsorship of players of the week awards. I understand why it’s done, of course, and I have nothing against it on any real level, but I’m not paid to advertise those brands and so they won’t appear here in this column.
That having been said, I have a question: Why is the goaltender of the week award the only one left unsponsored? The other three awards are sponsorship-worthy, but there’s no one out there who loves goalies enough to sponsor the CCHA’s weekly award for goaltending? I’m baffled.
With the end of the regular season came the end of the weekly awards, so there’s nothing to recap there. Here’s how each team fared, in terms of number of weekly awards, in the 2011-12 season:
Bowling Green: 3
Ferris State: 9
Lake Superior State: 4
Michigan State: 9
Northern Michigan: 4
Notre Dame: 2
Ohio State: 8
Western Michigan: 6
Make of it what you will.
Official league hardware
Well, I’m pretty sure they give plaques, at least.
2012 CCHA All-Rookie Team
Congratulations to all of these worthy players, who hail from four different U.S. states and two Canadian provinces.
Forwards: Austin Czarnik (Miami), Alex Guptill (Michigan), Max McCormick (Ohio State)
Defensemen: Garrett Haar (Western Michigan), Robbie Russo (Notre Dame)
Goaltender: Frank Slubowski (Western Michigan)
There are some interesting quirks about this year’s team. For example, the only player from Michigan (Czarnik) plays for an Ohio team, and the only Wolverines player named to the squad is one of two Canadians. The oldest and youngest players honored play for the same team, Western Michigan. Haar is 18; Slubowski — the other Canadian — is 21.
2012 CCHA Scholar-Athletes
And a big congratulations to these gentlemen for their achievements in the classroom.
Adam Henderson, Alaska junior forward
Cam Wojtala, Bowling Green sophomore forward
Chad Billins, Ferris State senior defenseman
Kyle Pobur, Lake Superior senior forward
Alden Hirschfeld, Miami senior forward
Jeff Rohrkemper, Michigan junior forward
Brock Shelgren, Michigan State senior defenseman
Jared Coreau, Northern Michigan sophomore goaltender
Mike Johnson, Notre Dame junior goaltender
Sean Duddy, Ohio State senior defenseman
Chase Balisy, Western Michigan sophomore forward
1. Boston College
4. Ferris State
5. Boston University
13. Michigan State
15. Colorado College
16. North Dakota
17. Lake Superior State
18. Western Michigan
19. Notre Dame