This week’s edition is a little of this, a little of that. It’s chattiness may recall columns of old. I’d advise you to grab a cup of coffee. It is February, after all.
You know how much I like reversals of fortune
As a life-long Red Sox fan and an ardent follower of the Buffalo Bills since 1989, you know I’m no stranger to suffering. Knowing that I attended St. Margaret’s School in Mattydayle, N.Y., until the eighth grade also may shed some light on my perspective as a sportswriter and my world view in general.
I love reversals of fortune. I’m a sucker for redemption.
One of the sweetest reversals I’ve witnessed in my life time — aside from the Bills’ 41-38 win over the Houston Oilers Jan. 3, 1993 — was Ohio State’s 4-2 CCHA semifinal win over Michigan on March 20, 1998. That game snapped the Buckeyes’ 34-game winless streak (0-29-5) against the Wolverines, a span of games that dated to Jan. 26, 1990. That it happened in the CCHA tournament with an unknown goaltender named Jeff Maund in net made it all the better for Buckeyes fans.
Or all the more painful for Michigan fans. From their perspective, the streak of dominance was 29-0-5. They had a team full of NHL draftees and a superb goaltender named Marty Turco in net.
Of course, the Wolverines had the last laugh a few weeks later in Boston.
Relatively speaking, some of this year’s CCHA reversals of fortune are nowhere near as dramatic. Take Notre Dame’s 2-1 win over Miami last Sunday in Soldier Field. The Irish had been winless against the RedHawks (0-4-2) since Dec. 3, 2010, and lost to Miami in Oxford 3-1 Friday night.
Said Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson after the game, “This was a big win for us.” In his often understated fashion, Jackson added, “It keeps the playoff race interesting.”
Indeed. That game ensured that the Irish were still in the mix for a regular-season title. When the weekend ended, Miami remained in first place with 50 points, Western Michigan in second with 48 and the Irish in third with 47. Notre Dame and Western Michigan face off this weekend in Kalamazoo.
Jackson said that the Irish have struggled since the beginning of January after dominating in the first half of the season “… because we’ve had problems sometimes with too much emotion or not enough emotion in shifts after goals and situations like that.”
Jackson also said that the key to Notre Dame’s success Sunday was playing a simpler game. “We need to play like we’re outdoors all the time,” he said.
Notre Dame’s win Sunday isn’t the only turnaround tale of this last CCHA season. Another success story came in part at the expense of the Fighting Irish when Alaska completed back-to-back road sweeps against Michigan (Jan. 11-12) and Notre Dame (Jan. 18-19), the first time that the Nanooks took all four games in its annual, early January two-weekend trip to the Lower 48. It also marked the first time in program history that the Nanooks took two games in a weekend from the Wolverines.
Alaska extended that streak to six games with a home sweep of Northern Michigan Jan. 25-26. That was the stretch that solidified the starting position for freshman goaltender John Keeney (2.55 goals against average, .905 save percentage), who started every game until last Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Lake Superior State.
Bowling Green is a team that has worked hard to reverse its recent fortunes. The Falcons are in eighth place with 31 points, a full nine points ahead of last-place Michigan State. Early in the season, BGSU snapped a streak of its own against MSU, an eight-game winless skid halted with a 1-0 win in East Lansing on Nov. 2. That winless streak extended to Feb. 21, 2009, and the Falcons got their first win in Munn Ice Arena since Feb. 24, 2007.
Then with their 5-1 win over Michigan in Yost Ice Arena on Jan. 8, the Falcons snapped a six-game road losing streak against the Wolverines that dated to Nov. 20, 2009.
One fortune that the Falcons were not able to reverse this season is their winless streak against Miami, which numbers 16 games (0-15-1), dating to Jan. 4, 2008.
Lake Superior State is another team that snapped a notable streak. With their 3-2 home win over Michigan on Jan. 19, the Lakers earned their first win over the Wolverines in 17 games, a streak that extended to Feb. 16, 2007.
That several CCHA teams have benefited from the singularly bad season Michigan has posted says a lot about the nature of the CCHA itself.
You know I like the quotes
“One thing about streaks, whether it’s a winning streak or a losing streak, is they come to an end.” Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson, quoted in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, before heading to Sault Ste. Marie last weekend. The Nanooks dropped two games to Lake Superior State; the Lakers’ 5-1 win Friday snapped a four-game skid for LSSU.
“Special teams has been our Achilles’ heel all year long.” Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron after the Falcons lost to Ferris State 4-2 last Saturday night. Kyle Bonis scored a short-handed goal for FSU, and Garrett Thompson’s game-winning goal came on the power play. The Falcons are 57th nationally in combined special teams.
“Sometimes you get kicked down a bit, and the next night is a lot more telling when it comes to the team’s character.” Bonis after Ferris State’s win. The Bulldogs lost 2-1 in overtime to the Falcons the night before.
“You get a five-minute power play and then you take an undisciplined penalty, it takes you right out of your power play. Looking back, that probably hurt us.” Miami coach Enrico Blasi after losing 2-1 to Notre Dame Sunday. The RedHawks are averaging 13.5 penalty minutes per game, 20th in the nation. They also have the fourth-best penalty kill in the country.
“Our message was, ‘Shoot.'” Ohio State coach Mark Osiecki after the Buckeyes beat Western Michigan 6-3 Saturday night. OSU outshot WMU 39-25 in the contest.
“We scored three goals as a team, we should win is our team philosophy. When you don’t stay humble, you get humbled. We got humbled.” Western Michigan coach Andy Murray after that 6-3 loss.
You know I’m not trying to rush things
While the season isn’t quite over yet, it’s difficult to ignore how the final standings are shaping up.
With two weeks left in the regular season, Michigan and Michigan State occupy the bottom two positions in the standings and Miami, Western Michigan and Notre Dame are the top three teams, in that order.
I’ve received quite a bit of email from fans — some of it overflowing with schadenfreude — about the prospect of the Wolverines and Spartans anchoring the final standings of the final season of the CCHA. While I do not share in the delight, I do continue to marvel at this turn of events.
Since joining the CCHA in the 1981-82 season, Michigan and Michigan State have never finished last and next-to-last together in the regular season standings. That the CCHA’s bread-and-butter teams may do so in the league’s last season is nearly unthinkable.
As interesting as this is, I can’t escape the irony at the other end of the CCHA standings. Again, the season isn’t over and we’re likely coming down to a photo finish given the remaining schedule, but there is a strong possibility that either Miami or Western Michigan will be crowned the last CCHA regular season champions.
Preamble: The following is neither RedHawks nor Broncos bashing. I respect each program and each program’s right to make a home in whichever conference each program deems the best fit.
Observation: When the Big Ten announced the formation of its conference, Miami was quick to exit the CCHA. Western Michigan — not wanting to be left behind — put out a video to market the Broncos to prospective conferences, a video that fell just short of telling viewers that the Broncos like sushi and long walks on the beach.
Observation Part 2: When the Big Ten announced the formation of its conference, Notre Dame waited. And waited. And waited. The Fighting Irish were waiting to see how the realignment would affect the rest of the CCHA to determine whether a viable conference would remain. Notre Dame was reluctant to leave the conference, but also wanted to find the best fit for its program. Hockey East? Good thing that university has money.
Observation Part 3: Throughout this last season of CCHA hockey, Michigan coach Red Berenson has stated — sincerely and emphatically — his downright disappointment at the breakup of the league. For what it’s worth, so has Western Michigan coach Andy Murray. Both will be good citizens of their respective new leagues; they’re good citizens of the league with which they’re aligned now.
You know I’m not afraid of ruffling some feathers
I’ve said through the years that I’d be delighted to see a combination of four unusual suspects in the CCHA championship tournament in Joe Louis Arena. Every time I’ve written about this — suggesting a field of Alaska, Bowling Green, Ferris State and Lake Superior State, for example — fans have admonished me for advocating a boring tournament or one that wouldn’t fill the seats at Joe Louis Arena.
Boring? No way. Gate? Who cares?
Preamble: I have nothing against any team in the league and will be thrilled for that lucky program that claims the last CCHA playoff championship title.
Observation: After this season, the league is dead. Both Michigan and Michigan State may be absent from Joe Louis Arena this season.
In a perfect world, Alaska and Ferris State would face off for the Mason Cup. It would be a 1-0 game in triple overtime with a goal that beats a valiant netminder clean, scored by someone completely unexpected. I would rejoice for the winner and shed a tear for the loser.
Of course, I’ll probably be shedding a tear after that game regardless of who wins or loses.
It would be equally wonderful to see all four states of the CCHA represented in Joe Louis Arena. That would by default include the Nanooks and the Fighting Irish, but I’d take any team from Ohio and Michigan to round out that foursome.
Gate be damned — and it probably will be this season. While I want to see the league solvent enough to pay its officials, I’ve always cared more about the story than the gate.
Players of the week
As Lake Superior State swept Alaska, the Lakers very nearly swept these awards.
Rookie of the week: Notre Dame forward Steven Fogarty, who scored the only goal in ND’s 3-1 loss to Miami Friday and added an assist in the Fighting Irish’s 2-1 win Sunday. Fogarty has five goals and four assists this season, and two of those goals were game winners.
Offensive player of the week: Lake Superior State senior Domenic Monardo, who had three goals against Alaska last weekend, two in Friday’s 5-1 win and one in Saturday’s 4-2 victory. It’s the second time in his career that he’s been honored with a POTW award; Monardo was named rookie of the week in 2009-10. With 16 goals and 11 assists, Monardo leads the Lakers in scoring and is two points short of equaling his point totals from last season and 2010-11.
Defenseman of the week: LSSU junior Matt Bruneteau, who had the game-winning goal in Saturday’s game plus two assists on the weekend, one each night. Bruneteau also blocked four shots in the series. This is the first time that Bruneteau has received POTW honors. He has two goals and three assists this season; his game winner Saturday was his second career goal.
Goaltender of the week: LSSU junior Kevin Murdock, who stopped 46 shots in Friday’s 5-1 win, his ninth of the season. This is the third time this season that Murdock (2.32 goals against average, .934 save percentage) has earned goaltender of the week. It’s also the third time this season that Murdock stopped at least 46 shots in a game. On Dec. 8, Murdock stopped 46 in a 1-0 shutout of Miami; on Nov. 3, he stopped 48 in a 4-2 win over Alaska. Yes, those were the weeks in which Murdock garnered justifiable recognition.
2. Boston College
3. St. Cloud State
4. New Hampshire
6. North Dakota
8. Western Michigan
10. Minnesota State
13. Notre Dame
14. Boston University
18. Ferris State
You know I like to ask for help
Next week, I’ll be rolling out the annual Girl Reporter awards for the last time in the CCHA. I am seeking nominees in the following categories:
• Player of the Year
• Coach of the Year
• Rookie of the Year
• Team of the Year
• Chris Richards Most-Likely-to-Be-Overlooked Memorial Award
• Mike York Poetry-in-Motion Award
• Mike Comrie Most-Likely-to-Leave-Early Memorial Award
• Aniket Dhadphale Garbage Man Memorial Award
Some of these need no explanation. To clarify, though, the award named for former Buckeyes player Chris Richards goes to a player that has had an exceptionally good season but that is likely to be overlooked by the CCHA for season-end honors.
The award named for former Spartans player Mike York goes to the player that is mesmerizing to watch on the ice, a graceful player. The award named for former Fighting Irish forward Aniket Dhadphale goes to a player who picks up the trash around the net better than anyone else in the league.
Please send your nominations to [email protected]. Please provide a brief explanation for your nominees. Homerism is expected but do try to be fair.