In this season’s CCHA, a sweeps week is notable

It has been tough to sweep conference opponents this season in the CCHA, so the fact that three teams did just that last weekend is something to note.

Ferris State, Notre Dame and Ohio State each took six points in league play. For the Bulldogs and Fighting Irish, six points meant a tie for second place — and some distance between former place-mates Lake Superior State and Michigan State. With 15 points each, ND and FSU are two points ahead of fourth-place Alaska, and we all know how big two points can be at the end of the season.

For the Buckeyes, though, six points meant a leap from a ninth-place tie with Bowling Green to sole possession of fifth place, one point ahead of Western Michigan and two ahead of MSU.

OK, I admit it. I thought that if there was a sweep to be had in Columbus last weekend, it would be the visitors who were victorious rather than the home team. After all, the Wildcats were ranked going into the weekend and senior Matt Thurber is among the leading scorers in the CCHA.

Additionally, the Buckeyes are among the league’s lowest-scoring teams — well, one of the nation’s lowest-scoring teams — and OSU hadn’t swept an opponent since December 2011.

I guess that’s why they play the game.

OSU junior forward Chris Crane said after Saturday’s 4-2 win that the Buckeyes are focusing on playing that proverbial 60 minutes. Leading 1-0 heading into its 2-0 win Friday, OSU scored midway through the third. With the game tied 2-2 Saturday, Alex Szczechura scored the game-winning goal for OSU at 1:50 in the third period. Crane added a goal of his own seven minutes later.

“It is our hockey,” Crane said. “It is Buckeye hockey to win the third period.”

Statistically speaking, the Buckeyes have tied their opponents 7-7 in third-period goal production this season, but in outscoring the Wildcats 3-0 in third periods last weekend, the Buckeyes improved their CCHA record to 3-1-2-1.

Heading into the series against the Buckeyes, NMU coach Walt Kyle told the Marquette Mining Journal that the Wildcats haven’t “valued the puck on Fridays.”

The Buckeyes held the Wildcats to 14 shots on goal Saturday, when NMU was playing with a shortened bench. Thurber was issued a one-game suspension following a contact-to-the-head call in Friday’s contest, and junior Erik Higby received a game disqualification in Friday’s game.

The secret to Ferris State’s success against Bowling Green isn’t much of a secret. Sophomore C.J. Motte stopped 52 shots in the Bulldogs’ 4-3 and 3-1 wins; BGSU outshot FSU 76-42, keeping FSU to just 15 shots on goal Saturday.

After Friday’s game, FSU coach Bob Daniels told the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune that Motte was “outstanding” in the contest. “When we built the lead,” said Daniels, “it was based a lot on C.J. Motte.”

Saturday, BGSU coach Chris Bergeron told the Sentinel-Tribune that the Falcons weren’t putting enough pressure on Motte. “C.J. Motte’s a good goalie,” said Bergeron, “but we’re not bearing down. I don’t think we’re that offensively challenged. I just don’t think we have any idea what it means to be intense, at least not enough, and that comes back to me.”

(Sometimes, Coach, it comes back to the players who aren’t doing that bearing down. Just FYI.)

The Bulldogs aren’t the only team with a goaltender to credit in part for their success. Notre Dame junior Steven Summerhays was in net for ND’s road sweep of Michigan last Thursday and Friday. Summerhays has the fourth-best goals against average in the country (1.51) and is 10th in the nation for save percentage (.939). Summerhays made 52 saves against the Wolverines, who had the top offense in the nation heading into the weekend.

Summerhays didn’t do it alone for the Irish. In that sweep, ND did what many good teams do: The Irish elevated their game in the third period each night and put away a team that was struggling. After Thursday’s quirky 3-1 game, coach Jeff Jackson said, “They had a couple of breaks they could’ve taken advantage of early in the game, and we got a few in the end.”

The Irish got a few in the end both nights, with two goals in the third period of Thursday’s game and three Friday night.

And even though nobody from Notre Dame said so after Saturday’s contest, a strong third period is prototypical Fighting Irish hockey. So far this season, ND is outscoring opponents 13-3 in the third period.

Move over, Burt Reynolds

I really dig the Movember movement, the national drive to grow facial hair to raise awareness of men’s health issues. My own father, Darrell, had prostate cancer a few years back and is now cancer-free.

He also had a killer moustache in the 1970s, but nothing near as good as those sported by CCHA commissioner Fred Pletsch and league communications director Phil Colvin. Those two look like they walked right out of any police show circa 1973. Groovy.

Many CCHA players are growing moustaches that range from amateurish to certifiably throwback. Notre Dame junior forward Bryan Rust has a respectable ‘stache for this year’s Movember. After Thursday’s game, I was able to ask him important moustache questions, like who had the better moustache, Bryan or his older brother Matt, who played for Michigan for four years.

“He’s got a few more years on me,” the younger Rust said, “so I’d say him, but not for long.”

And who has the best moustache on the Fighting Irish squad? “I’d probably say, right now, it’s a toss-up,” Rust said. “One of our goalies, Joe Rogers, and then Sam Calabrese probably have the two thickest moustaches.”

And did Rust attribute Rogers’ and Calabrese’s moustache success to grooming? “I feel like it’s probably genetics,” Rust said.

These were not the kinds of post-game questions Rust was expecting.

According to Notre Dame’s website, junior defenseman Stephen Johns was the player who led the Movember charge. You can see Johns’ own impressive moustache here.

Players of the week

Summerhays is a repeat offender.

Rookie of the week: Miami goaltender Jay Williams, who made 13 saves in his first career shutout as the RedHawks beat the Spartans 2-0 Saturday. He was in net for Friday’s 2-2 tie, too.

Offensive player of the week: Ferris State senior Kyle Bonis, who had two goals — including Saturday’s game-winner — and two assists in FSU’s sweep of Bowling Green.

Defenseman of the week: Notre Dame sophomore Robbie Russo, who had two goals and an assist in ND’s Friday win and an assist Thursday.

Goaltender of the week: ND junior Summerhays, for his 52 saves in the road sweep of the Wolverines.

My ballot

Good to see Niagara break into the Division I Men’s Poll at No. 20 this week. Of course, my ballot is just one used to compile the poll.

1. Boston College
2. Denver
3. Minnesota
4. New Hampshire
5. Notre Dame
6. Miami
7. North Dakota
8. Western Michigan
9. Ferris State
10. Boston University
11. Dartmouth
12. Union
13. Michigan
14. Colorado College
15. Alaska
16. St. Cloud State
17. Harvard
18. Nebraska-Omaha
19. Niagara
20. Holy Cross


With the Thanksgiving holiday and no more College Hockey Showcase, it’s a quieter week than usual here in the CCHA. There’s no snow on the ground yet here in Michigan — not unusual for this time of year — and I’m moving households Friday, which means that I’m running on coffee and my hands hurt from gripping the tiny paintbrush that I used to edge and trim 900 square feet of mid-century American ranch house Saturday and Sunday.

What do moving and painting have to do with CCHA hockey? Nothing, outright. Perhaps because I have purchased my first home and am moving in the day after the U.S. celebrates Thanksgiving, I am more aware of how lucky I am, how much for which I have to be thankful. When I think about personal fortunes — good, bad, otherwise — I think of my long-time coverage of the CCHA, the constant presence in my life of this college hockey league in what has been, quite frankly, a chaotic approach to my personal middle age.

Just under a decade ago when I still lived in Columbus, Ohio, I wrote in this column about how I had then struggled with clinical depression, and about how there were some weeks when the only thing that motivated me to do more than sleep was the research and writing of this column and game coverage when Ohio State was home.

The response to that column surprised me. I had dozens of email messages thanking me for publicly acknowledging my depression, college hockey fans who had struggled or were still struggling with the disease or who were close to someone who was. I had total strangers come up to me at the 2003 CCHA tournament at The Joe, at the NCAA Midwest Regional in Ann Arbor and at the Frozen Four in Buffalo to thank me, shake my hand, hug me, offer support or just relate.

That spring was the beginning of the remission of my depression, a remission which is now complete and total. And here I am, nine years later, moving into a house on the outskirts of Flint, Mich., a city I moved to because I took a full-time teaching job at the wonderful Mott Community College, a job that I never would have considered had I not looked at a map during my job search and noted Flint’s proximity to East Lansing and Ann Arbor and — therefore — to college hockey.

And all because three Buckeyes hockey players — Steve Brent, Brian Keller and Adam Smith — enrolled in the Early American Literature class I taught as a graduate teaching assistant at The Ohio State University in the spring quarter of 1995, and got me thinking about what motivates a really bad hockey team to lace up every night and go out and play regardless of the near certainty of defeat.

That unlikely thread of my life, my friends, is so random that all I can do is feel profound gratitude.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.