February 3, 2005
Ohio Players

By Mike Eidelbes

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Miami junior defenseman Andy Greene

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Ohio was the red state in the 2004 presidential election. Last weekend, three CCHA hockey teams felt blue after being swept by schools from the home state of inventor Thomas Edison, astronaut Neil Armstrong and condiment magnate Paul Newman blue. In the spirit of Dayton-based funk band Lakeside, we'll embark on a fantastic voyage and explore the recent Buckeye State bonzanza.

Miami's Red-emption:
In a CCHA race that’s become tighter than the Kansas City Royals’ payroll, it’s interesting to note Miami has crept back into the middle of the pack.

The RedHawks climbed as high as seventh in the INCH Power Rankings after winning their first four games of the season in convincing fashion. Then the bottom dropped out – Miami lost its next seven games and won just three times over the next 11 weeks. The team, picked to finish third in the league’s preseason media poll, limped into the new year tied for last in the CCHA standings.

“Two weeks ago, we were out of it,” coach Enrico Blasi said. “Our guys have stayed positive. Over the last month and a half, we’ve played some pretty good hockey. Sometimes, that can eat away at your confidence.”

Indeed, the rejuvenated RedHawks enter this weekend’s series at Western Michigan with a three-game winning streak and a 4-3-1 record since Jan. 1. Not bad for a team that’s seen a number of its core players – including sophomore forwards Matt Christie and Marty Guerin, junior forward Chris Michael and sophomore goalie Brandon Crawford-West – miss significant time due to injury, illness or disciplinary matters.

“We’ve had to do a lot of things with our freshmen and our younger guys early,” Blasi said. “The last couple of weeks, [freshman forward] Nate Davis has scored two shorthanded goals. If we’re healthy all year, maybe Nate’s not killing penalties.”

Or maybe freshman goalie Charlie Effinger doesn’t post a .918 save percentage and win three of four starts in January. Maybe rookie forward Ryan Jones doesn’t pick up 11 points in the RedHawks’ last 17 games after scoring no points in his first 11 outings. Maybe senior wing Todd Grant, with 10 goals and 13 assists thus far, doesn’t close in on career highs in goals and points (he’s already surpassed his previous single-season best in assists).

With the mainstays – Greene, Guerin and defenseman Andy Greene, the team’s leading scorer with 24 points – performing at their usual levels, the RedHawks have renewed optimism with eight games left in the regular season. As they should, considering they have series remaining with Lake Superior State and Alaska-Fairbanks, teams with whom they’re currently tied.

“Our goal since the beginning of the year was to play our best hockey come March,” Blasi said. “That hasn’t changed. Home ice is right there for us. It’s exciting.”

Bowling for Goals:
Bowling Green goaltender Jordan Sigalet has single-handedly led the Falcons to victory who-knows-how-many times in his career. And while the senior was his usual terrific self last weekend – he stopped 61 of the 64 shots he faced in a sweep of Notre Dame – the Falcons’ offensive attack is ensuring Sigalet gets plenty of support

The Falcons, who ranked 10th in the CCHA in scoring last season at 2.42 goals per game, are fourth in the league in that category with an average of 3.29 goals per game. They’ve been even better during the last two months – despite a 4-6-1 record, coach Scott Paluch’s team averages more than 3.5 goals an outing.

“Coach Paluch has some great strategies, and when we do them right and keep our feet moving, that’s what gives us our best chance [to win],” said senior captain Ryan Minnabarriet, who scored a pair of goals against the Irish Friday.

Almost as important to moving their feet to the Falcons is jumping out to an early lead. In its four CCHA wins since Jan. 1, BGSU amassed leads of three, six, three and five goals before its opponent scored. In the two losses during that same span, the Falcons fell behind by 2-0 scores on both occasions.

“A lot of our freshmen have stepped in and we’ve got some sophomores that have really started to put up some numbers, too,” Minnabarriet explained. “It definitely does take the pressure off someone who’s expected to put up a lot of points”

As of late, Minnabarriet has put up a lot of points – he’s got four goals and four assists in the last six games. But junior forward Brett Pilkington has 2-8—10 during that stretch. Freshmen Jonathan Matsumoto (1-6—7) and Alex Foster (1-8—9) have been just as reliable since Jan. 1. So, too, has third-year forward Mike Falk (4-3—7) and rookie defenseman Michael Hodgson (1-4—5).

“This has been one of the high points for us,” Minnabarriet said of the team’s recent success. “It’s really a lot of fun. There’s a lot of excitement in the dressing room. There are a lot of happy faces around right now.”

State Your Case: OK, show of hands, please. Who among us had already given the CCHA regular-season title to Michigan a couple weeks ago?

I’m not embarrassed to be included in that group, especially considering the Wolverines had yet to fire on all cylinders but still had a commanding lead in the conference race. Glance at the standings on the morning of March 6, and you’ll likely see Red Berenson’s charges on top. That said, pesky Ohio State, refuses to go away. The Buckeyes, fresh off a sweep of Western Michigan in Columbus last weekend, are three points behind Michigan with eight games remaining.

”It’s not out of reach yet,” said OSU senior forward JB Bittner. “We knew coming down to the last few weeks how tough points are to get. We knew they weren’t going to win the rest of their games just because of the balance of our league.”

Bittner knows a little something about balance. The Buckeyes might be the only team in the league with the versatility to beat opponents by outscoring them (only Michigan has more goals than OSU’s 100) or shutting them down (the Bucks’ have allowed 64 goals, third-fewest in the conference).

“Some of the guys who’ve been here the past few years have stepped it up and played up to their potential,” Bittner said. “With them getting more ice time because we lost nine seniors [from last season], we have a more balanced attack.”

There’s that word again. Though Bittner believes Ohio State has to win out in order to have a legitimate shot at the CCHA regular-season title, he’s not ready to concede the title to Michigan and settle for second-place in the league – not a bad showing for a team expected to finish in the middle of the pack prior to the season’s start.

Said Bittner, “I don’t think you can be happy with what you’ve accomplished already.”

Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Michigan St. at Michigan (Fri.)
Michigan vs. Michigan St. at Detroit (Sat.)

The series against Michigan marks the start of a rugged four-week stretch for Michigan State, one of four teams tied for sixth place in the CCHA standings. After the pair against the Wolverines, the Spartans travel to Alaska-Fairbanks, host Ohio State and take on Bowling Green in a home-and-home series. MSU won the last meeting between the two teams, but that was at last month’s Great Lakes Invitational – Michigan was missing five key players who were playing with the U.S. team at the World Junior Championship.

While you’re there: While East Lansing has earned a reputation as a party town, Ann Arbor has been assailed as a less-than-spectacular spot for nightlife. Truth is, Ann Arbor caters to a more mature crowd and there are a variety of fine establishments located downtown, which is just north of Yost Ice Arena. Try the Red Hawk, for example, located on State Street is hailed by Lansing State Journal scribe and the CCHA reigning bon vivant, Neil Koepke, for its atmosphere and clam chowder.

Stick Salute

Among the highlights of the U.S. Under-18 Team win vs. Michigan State Friday was the second-period goal scored by the NTDP’s Peter Mueller. Mueller, who will attend Minnesota next season, completely bamboozled MSU defenseman Brandon Warner with a pretty deke just inside the blue line, skated in uncontested and got off a rocket that zipped into the top corner of the net above Spartan goalie Dominic Vicari’s stick.

Bench Minor

As convenient as it'd be to have the event played an hour’s drive from my current home, I’d rather attend a Frozen Four in Minsk then one in Detroit. Those who defend the Motor City tell detractors it’s too easy to pile on a city that’s been the butt of jokes for decades, and projects like Ford Field mark the start of a rebirth. To borrow a phrase from Tony Kornheiser, it stinks. And, yeah, I'll answer your scathing e-mails, D-towners.


• From time to time, players get thrown out of games. Coaches, too, on occasion. But a goal judge? It happened in Big Rapids last week.

Late in the second period of Friday’s Miami-Ferris State match at Ewigleben Ice Arena, the Bulldogs got goals from Greg Rallo and Mark Bomersback in a 2:20 span to erase a 3-1 deficit. According to eyewitnesses, the goal judge working behind the net in which FSU scored was unusually demonstrative in his reaction – in addition to flicking on the red light, he was observed clapping and pounding on the glass.

He didn’t dispute the goal, but Miami’s Blasi was displeased with the goal judge’s behavior. He relayed his concerns to referee Matt Shegos and expected Shegos to do no more than perhaps issue a verbal warning. Instead, Shegos asked to see a video replay of the goal, observed the goal judge’s actions and had him replaced.

For the record, the Redhawks’ Chris Michael would win the game with a goal a little more than a minute into overtime. With little fanfare, the substitute goal judge turned on the red light.

• According to published reports in the Detroit News earlier this week, the Detroit Lions have been approached by the CCHA about hosting the NCAA Frozen Four at Ford Field in 2010 or 2011. The first step is assessing the feasibility of converting the football stadium into a 70,000-seat hockey rink.

”College hockey is fantastic,” Lions executive vice president and chief executive officer Tom Lewand told Mike O’Hara of the News. “We think we could do something exciting. [But] there is a lot of due diligence to be done before we say we’re really interested.”

In an effort to make Jacksonville seem like Rome, Cabo San Lucas and Las Vegas rolled into one, the NFL will bring the Super Bowl to Ford Field next year. The NCAA men’s basketball Final Four is scheduled for Ford Field in 2009.

Did you really think we’d make it through the entire season without at least one Michigan player contracting mononucleosis? This year’s, ahem, infectees, are forwards Mike Brown and David Rohlfs. Neither is expected to play against Michigan State this weekend. Another forward – David Moss – missed the Wolverines’ series with Northern Michigan because of a groin injury and is questionable for the MSU games.

With the trio of forwards in the infirmary, coach Red Berenson has been forced to use senior defenseman Reilly Olson as a fourth-line wing along with two other seniors – center Michael Woodford and walk-on wing Charlie Henderson.

• By holding Northern Michigan scoreless in seven power play opportunities last weekend, Michigan brought to an end a horrible stretch of penalty killing. In six January games prior to the NMU series, the Wolverines successfully killed 28 of 43 man-advantage opportunities for an abysmal 65.1 percent success rate.

Rob Blake Bobblehead Night brought hockey fans out to Bowling Green Ice Arena in droves Friday. Nearly 5,000 patrons – 4,956, to be exact – packed the stands to watch the Falcons down Notre Dame, 4-1. It was the largest crowd at BGSU in nearly eight years.

Western Michigan players may want to fish the puck out of the net after they score for the next couple of weeks just in case it represents a milestone. Junior Vince Bellissimo joined the Broncos’ century club last weekend at Ohio State when he notched a goal and an assist in a loss to the Buckeyes Friday. Two WMU skaters are poised to join Bellissimo in the 100-point order – junior Brent Walton comes into this weekend’s series with Miami with 99 career points, while senior Pat Dwyer has 97 points in his career.

• Though Michigan’s student section is endlessly harangued for its vulgar language, the Yost rowdies can be counted on for at least one good laugh every season. The most recent gem, directed at Northern Michigan goalie and Finnish native Tuomas Tarkki, was a hand-lettered sign wielded by a fan sitting in the front row near the Wildcat bench. The message? The Finnish phrase ‘Tarkki on seula’, which, roughly translated, reads ‘Tarkki is a sieve’.

• Apparently, even National Hockey League executives get cabin fever. Among those in attendance at Friday’s U.S. Under-18 Team-Michigan State exhibition in East Lansing were Columbus president and general manager Doug MacLean, and Detroit general manager Ken Holland.
A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report

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