2004-05 CCHA Mid-Season Report
glass at Lake Superior State is half-full this
season, which is significant considering that two seasons ago, the
Lakers didn’t have a glass – it was in pieces after
getting knocked off the table.
Frank Anzalone and Co.
have glued the shards together and, while it may not be the prettiest
vessel, it’s holding water thus far. After starting the season
on the wrong end of sweeps against nationally ranked Colgate and
Michigan, the Lakers are 6-5-1 in their last 12 games with wins
against four teams that have appeared in INCH’s Power Rankings
this season – Alaska-Fairbanks, Bowling Green, Nebraska-Omaha
and Northern Michigan.
and solid goaltending are the primary reasons for LSSU’s success
thus far. Despite ranking 11th in the CCHA in goals per game, the
Lakers continue to hover around .500 because they’ve given
up the third-fewest goals in the league and netminders Jeff Jakaitis
and Matt Violin have combined for a 2.79 goals against average and
a .923 save percentage.
considered Drew Miller an afterthought in a Michigan
State recruiting class that included more heralded prospects such
as forward Tom Goebel and goalie Dominic Vicari. His main claim
to fame was being über-goalie Ryan’s little brother.
In fact, after Ron Mason moved to the athletic director’s
chair at MSU, there was considerable doubt as to whether new coach
Rick Comley would bring the spindly forward from East Lansing on
his sophomore year, Miller has become one of the CCHA’s best
two-way players. A solid defensive forward last season, he’s
picked up his offense this year. He ranks second on the team with
eight goals (including a team-leading five power play goals) and
is third among MSU skaters in scoring with 13 points. Miller, who
plays bigger than his 6-foot-2, 165-pound frame, is a preeminent
penalty killer and a disciplined player, with just three minor penalties
in 18 games.
HAPPENED TO …
learning curve? Not so long ago, talented players would
show flashes of brilliance during their freshman campaign –
Junior Lessard, last year’s Hobey Baker Award winner, is a
CCHA this season, freshmen hit the ground running…and contributing.
For example, without the emergence of rookies such as Fritsche,
Domenic Maiani, John Dingle and Kyle Hood, Ohio State wouldn’t
have spent the better part of the last 10 weeks in the conference
penthouse. Coach Mike Kemp has taken a giant step forward rebuilding
Nebraska-Omaha by adding guys like forwards Bill Thomas (24 points)
and Bryan Marshall (14 in 15 games), and defenseman Joe Grimaldi
(a +11 plus-minus rating). Even Michigan, a team loaded with veterans,
is better because of newcomers Chad Kolarik (13 points) and Kevin
Porter (12 points).
of talented freshmen could be an anomaly, or it could mark the start
of a golden age of impact newcomers. Either way, forget that I said
in October that this was a bad year for top-flight rookies in the
CCHA. Hey, it’s not like I was calling the outcome of the
Presidential race at 1 p.m. on Election Day.
Show: Jon Booras and the Lakers are 6-5-1 in their last 12 games.
person for this slot is like picking your favorite episode of ‘The
Simpsons’ – just when you think you’ve got it
narrowed down to one selection, another candidate pops into mind.
Since I’m playing with house money, I’ll take Ohio
State forward Tom Fritsche.
Thomas has more points, Jonathan Matsumoto of Bowling Green is electric
when he has the puck and Western Michigan goalie Daniel Bellissimo
has brought sorely needed stability to that position for the Broncos.
Fritsche, however, has all the trappings of a dynamic playmaker
– something the Buckeyes haven’t had in years. He skates
and is strong on his skates, has a quick release on his shot and
has tremendous vision.
goes to Western Michigan’s Mike Erickson. In his first year
with the Broncos after spending two seasons at Minnesota, Erickson
is a big, rugged forward who’s shown a knack for scoring goals
and brings a winning attitude to the WMU locker room.
Boston College was without a couple regulars due to injury, Notre
Dame’s 3-2 win against the then-top ranked Eagles
was one they’ll be talking about for a long time in South
game was scoreless after the first period in spite of BC outshooting
the Fighting Irish by a 20-4 margin. The shots were nearly even
– 10-9 in favor of the Eagles – in the second period,
but Notre Dame managed to sneak a couple past Matti Kaltiainen to
take a 2-0 lead heading into the final period.
struck with two goals 15 seconds apart to tie the game with 7:30
left in regulation, and it appeared the Eagles would get a huge
break when the Irish’s Tim Wallace was whistled for a questionable
charging call with 49 second remaining in the third period, but
a terrific play on the penalty kill by defenseman Wes O’Neill
sprung T.J. Jindra, who raced up the left wing and fired a shot
past Kaltiainen with 15 seconds to go. Morgan Cey made a career-high
50 saves for Notre Dame, which hasn’t lost to BC since 2001.
That honor belongs
to the aforementioned Fighting Irish, whose first-half
schedule reads like an NCAA Tournament bracket.
at home against 2004 Frozen Four participants Minnesota Duluth,
Dave Poulin’s squad traveled to Oxford to face Miami –
this was before the RedHawks were riddled with injuries. The single
game with BC was followed by a home series against Northern Michigan,
a home-and-home pair against Bowling Green and two at Western Michigan.
Notre Dame went to Alaska-Fairbanks for two games during Thanksgiving
weekend, and closed out the first half of the season with home-and-home
affairs with Michigan and Michigan State. Combined record of the
Fighting Irish’s opponents thus far? 74-56-15, for a .562
Michigan State gets the nod for a second-half
slate that includes trips to Miami and Alaska-Fairbanks, home-and-home
affairs with Bowling Green, Notre Dame and Western Michigan and
home series with Lake Superior State and Ohio State. Oh,
and don’t forget the two remaining games with Michigan –
one’s at Yost, the other is at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
That happens to be the site of the 40th annual Great Lakes Invitational,
where the Spartans face New Hampshire in the opening round.
Berenson or John Markell have any use for marbles is doubtful, but
it’s a good bet that all of the round playthings with regard
to the CCHA regular season title will be on the line when Michigan
visits Columbus Jan. 21-22 for two games against Ohio State
at Value City Arena. As of right now, the two Big Ten combatants
are the cream of the conference, with only Northern Michigan realistically
harboring any chance of challenging for the top spot.
Even if the
Buckeyes manage a sweep that weekend, the Wolverines have the horses
and a favorable schedule (only two true road series in the second
half of the season) to win the league title for the second year
in a row. On the other hand, a Michigan sweep would not only put
them in the driver’s seat for the CCHA championship, but it’d
also give them right to pile fast food and CDs on the seat next
would the crackdown on obstruction affect the quality of play? It’s
not a CCHA-specific question, but so far, it appears to be a step
in the right direction. Of course, the early season ‘feeling
out’ period was frustrating for players, coaches, officials
and fans, but over the course of the last month or so, two things
appear to be taking shape. One is that the players have, for the
most part, figured out what will and won’t be called. The
second – and this is strictly an observation – is that
officials seem to have found a balance between carrying out the
NCAA’s directive and keeping games from evolving into tedious
here was that the crackdown on obstruction would artificially swing
the pendulum to the other side of the issue, resulting in a different
set of problems that would be just as severe. But a middle ground
has developed, and games in recent weeks have been fairly entertaining.
The true litmus test of this movement will come during the league
and national playoffs, however, so a final verdict on this issue
won’t be in until April.
Michigan State make a second-half run? To say that the
Spartans – a team that lost four letterwinners from last year’s
squad – are underachieving is an understatement. Only
Lake Superior State and Notre Dame average fewer goals per game
than the Spartans. Special teams, once a hallmark of MSU under Ron
Mason, are average at best. Players are prone to taking thoughtless
penalties and making high-risk plays that lead to turnovers.
Jim Slater is averaging a point a game, but hasn’t looked
like the Hobey Baker Award finalist of a year ago. David Booth,
who scored 36 points as a freshman, has eight points through 18
games this season. Mike Lalonde had 22 goals as a junior; he has
three points this year. A.J. Thelen was the 12th overall pick in
the 2004 NHL Draft. After scoring 11 goals and 29 points last season,
he’s got seven assists thus far, a number that would probably
double if you counted his turnovers that led to goals for the opposition.
history says MSU can make a charge – the team’s post-Christmas
record under Comley is 30-16-2. But even if they win 10 of their
last 16 CCHA games, MSU will finish with 30 points and it'll be
tough for them to climb much higher than fourth in the league standings.
The Spartans will make a push after the break – Slater and
Thelen will rebound and Lalonde will come back strong from his injury
– but it won’t be enough to get them into the NCAA Tournament.
First Half All-CCHA Team
Sigalet, Bowling Green
does a team that’s scored four fewer goals than it allows
stay above .500? With a goalie who averages 30 saves a night
and rarely gets beaten at even strength – 16 of the 39
goals he’s given up are PP variety.
one constant during a volatile first half of the season for
the RedHawks. We’ll continue to put his name in this spot
until he’s done in Oxford.
CCHA’s most improved player has NHL general managers kicking
themselves for not taking him in the 2004 draft. He slid the
fourth round, where the Islanders snapped him up and got first-round
the conference’s best team in goals (11), assists (13)
and points (24). He’s an absolute magician.
a shade over teammate Tom Fritsche, UNO’s Bill Thomas
and WMU’s Brent Walton. Pelley’s leadership has
been as important to the young Buckeyes as his scoring..
looks like the player he was two years ago when he scored 45
points. The plus-minus rating of +14 is a nice bonus, too.
this to a friend
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