It In at Midseason
know what's great about the halfway point of the college
hockey season? It's wonderful for idiots like me who a)
can't come up with an original story idea and b) come up
with an original story idea every so often, like the INCH
Dream Team, but the message sails over everyone's head like
a Brett Favre deep ball.
that spirit, it's time to hand out the first-ever Mike Check
Mid-Season Awards. Winners, when you hear your name called,
proceed to the front of the room to receive your $5 Hardee's
gift certificate and a signed copy of "How to Win Friends
and Influence Officials" by Jim Roque. Please hold
your applause until the last name has been announced. North
Dakota fans, you may begin sending angry e-mails now.
(Seriously, NoDak-ers, is it a requirement
for you to lambaste anyone who doesn't agree with your view
of the college hockey landscape? Are you members of a genetically
engineered sect whose primary physiological advancement
is an extra bile duct? If I were asked to pick a celebrity
to represent every team's fan base, I'd choose Dennis Hopper
to be your proxy. Or maybe post-motorcycle accident Gary
Whoa. That sounds like a future story idea.
I'd better move on before I forget what it was I set out
to accomplish in the first place.)
Hobey: The Hobey Baker Award is presented annually
to the most outstanding player in college hockey. You can
read that any way you'd like. I prefer to determine the
top candidate by asking, "Which team would be totally
screwed without Player X in the lineup?"
That list, in my opinion, boils down to one
player: Wisconsin goaltender Brian Elliott.
OK, OK, so the Badgers subscribe to Mike Eaves' defense-first
philosophy. Big whoop. Besides, one slight misplay in that
vigorous forecheck of theirs and it's an odd-man rush the
Despite Elliott's impressive spot-duty play
in previous years, was there a bigger question mark for
the Badgers than the goaltending situation? No. And now
that weakness has become the team's unquestioned strength,
the primary constant during Wisconsin's 13-1-2 start.
in line: Matt Carle, Denver
Partial Penrose: Being recognized
as the coach who’s done the best job thus far is a
double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s nice to
be seen as someone who has molded a group of players into
a unit that exceeds expectations. The flip side is that
it usually means before the season started, everyone thought
your team would stink.
There are a number of worthy candidates for
this honor – Eaves, Miami’s Enrico Blasi, Vermont’s
Kevin Sneddon, half the ECACHL bench bosses – but
first-year coaches Tim Army of Providence and Lake Superior
State’s Jim Roque stand out. The Lakers (9-5-4) have
already equaled their total number of wins from a year ago,
while the Friars needed just 11 Hockey East matches to surpass
the 16 points they amassed in 24 league contests in 2004-05.
The edge goes to LSSU’s Roque, who not only had to
get a stagnant program moving forward, but also had to put
the messy divorce with former coach Frank Anzalone in the
Second in line:
Tim Army, Providence
First-Half Freshman: Minnesota’s
Phil Kessel has 22 points in 18 games. Still, some feel
he’s underachieved. Sure, he’s had a few lapses,
but he’s also been subject to ridiculously high expectations
and scrutiny more intense than any freshman
in the history of the game.
at the Break
first half all-Mike Check Team
(This reminds me of an e-mail a friend sent
shortly after watching Kessel play in person for the first
time, a long missive chronicling his many perceived shortcomings
– trying to make a jillion one-on-one moves, failure
to create scoring opportunities, lack of defensive awareness.
My first reaction was, cutting on Kessel for not playing
defense is like panning Peyton Manning because he can’t
run the option.)
Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson looks ready
for the NHL with his physical presence and contributions
offensively. Johnson’s teammate and fellow first-round
draft pick Andrew Cogliano is as good as advertised. North
Dakota’s T.J. Oshie deserves mention – the move
he made this weekend, slipping the puck between the legs
of a Minnesota defender and picking it up on the other side
as he drove to the net, was filthy. Forward Shea
Guthrie (Clarkson) and goaltenders Jeff Zatkoff (Miami)
and Ben Bishop (Maine) also belong in the discussion.
That said, Kessel, Alex Goligoski and Ryan
Potulny (another player who merits Hobey consideration)
have been the three constants in an otherwise uneven first
half for the Golden Gophers. Phil Kessel
gets the nod here with former U.S. Under-18 Team compatriot
a close second.
Second in line:
Jack Johnson, Michigan
Semi-Season Surprises: In
no particular order:
1) Wisconsin has allowed 20 goals in 14 WCHA games thus
far. In those seven league series, which team has scored
the most goals against Bucky? Not Colorado College, Minnesota
or North Dakota. Why, it’s Michigan Tech –
the Huskies scored four at the Kohl Center in a split
2) Miami leads second-place Michigan by six points in
the CCHA standings. The Wolverines, meanwhile, are six
points ahead of Bowling Green and Western Michigan, who
share 10th place in the conference.
3) Boston College is killing penalties at a rate slightly
worse than Manny Ramirez’s fielding percentage.
Midway Mysteries: Which doesn't
examine how the Chicago Bears have nine freaking wins
with Kyle Orton at quarterback.
1) What’s happened to Cornell
goalie David McKee? Though the 2005 Hobey Baker Award
finalist says he’s the same guy – “I
feel really good about myself,” he told INCH’s
Joe Gladziszewski recently – his numbers (namely,
an .883 save percentage) say he feels more like former
Wisconsin goalie Jim Carey the year after he won the Vezina
2) On the topic of the ECACHL, when
did the top half of the league get pretty darn formidable?
Teams one through five in the conference standings –
Harvard, Colgate, Clarkson, St. Lawrence and Cornell –
each harbor legitimate NCAA Tournament hopes. It wouldn’t
be a shock to see four on that list get bids.
3) Did Michigan State really have
a 323-game home sellout streak that stretched for nearly
two decades? It sure did, but you wouldn’t know
it based on recent turnstile counts. There were roughly
1,500 empty seats at Munn Ice Arena (capacity 6,470) for
both of the Spartans’ College Hockey Showcase games
against Wisconsin and Minnesota, and the announced attendance
for the team’s most recent home match was 4,438,
but closer to 3,500 fans were in the building that night.
Prognostications at the Part-way Point
1) Don’t write off Ohio State just yet. The Buckeyes
have had a disappointing first half of the season (swept
by Western Michigan, home loss and tie against Alabama-Huntsville).
OSU has a favorable second-half schedule, however –
its toughest matches are two with Miami, a series at Michigan
and the Frozen Tundra Classic at Lambeau Field against
Wisconsin. John Markell’s team could win 15 of its
2) Wisconsin could wrap up the WCHA by Valentine’s
Day. Seriously. If the Badgers, who currently lead second-place
Minnesota by six points in the league standings, can go
4-2-0 or better in their first three conference series
of the new year – at Colorado College, vs. Denver
and vs. Minnesota – they should coast to the MacNaughton
Cup and hold the inside track on becoming the top overall
seed for the NCAA Tournament.
3) Vermont might just have the right set-up to win the
Hockey East crown in its first try. The Catamounts have
been better away from Gutterson Fieldhouse thus far, and
their two toughest remaining series are at New Hampshire
and at Boston College.
4) Want a Frozen Four prediction? OK, but first, here’s
a stab at the top seeds for each of the four regions.
Wisconsin goes to the Midwest Regional in Green Bay, Vermont
heads to the East Regional in Albany, Miami gets shuttled
to the Northeast Regional in Worcester and Minnesota is
sent to the West Regional in Grand Forks. As the No. 1
seed, Don Lucia will not exercise his option to evict
the Fighting Sioux from their locker room, but stakes
exclusive rights to the giant hot tub.
Meeting in Milwaukee the first weekend
in April: Boston College, Colgate, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
(Use these predictions at your own risk. Like Sweet Jimmy
Apollo on "The Simpsons", I'm right about 52
percent of the time.)
GOTTA GO SOMEWHERE…
If this piece was tiered
like bowl games, you’d be in Motor City Bowl country
fantastic newspaper pieces from the past couple weeks were
brought to my attention. They don’t stand out because
of the writing or a particularly compelling story, however.
The first item was a Dec. 1 Los Angeles Times
piece about former Michigan standouts Mike Cammalleri and
Jeff Tambellini reuniting with the Kings. Sort of.
Lerg's job: give
oomph to Michigan
"When I was trying to recruit him to
come to Michigan, I kept telling him we'd play together,"
Cammalleri told the Times’ Chris Foster.
"I told him we'd be on the same line and how great
that would be."
"Then he took off," recalled Tambellini.
Indeed, Cammalleri bolted before Tambellini
enrolled at Michigan, but he says he doesn’t harbor
any ill will about the circumstances.
“I did the same thing to Andrew Cogliano,"
Red Berenson must be so proud.
A couple days later, Cornell Daily Sun
columnist Christopher Mascaro took the Lynah Faithful to
task for the vitriol commonly directed at opposing teams
and its fans, berating the use of vulgarity and the group’s
“I just don’t understand,”
Mascaro wrote, “why do these dorks that don’t
know the difference between a two-line pass and a line change
think they have the right to be obnoxious a**holes?”
The two asterisks were supplied by me. The
profanity appeared in the Daily Sun uncensored.
Here’s what I don’t understand?
How does an Ivy League-educated young adult call out other
students for their lack of discretion by dropping swear
words, calling them dorks and “have-no-life morons”
and comparing saying the Faithful “scream like orangutans
in a jungle?" Doesn’t your editorial do the exact
same thing? Isn’t this like Barry Bonds saying Terrell
Owens would be a bad teammate?
There are people who think
the shtick at Lynah and Yost is tired. But for the love
of Pete, if you’re going to rail against the behavior
of a particular group, don’t admonish them by using
the same tactics. Glass houses, dude.
Religious viewers of the Fox teen drama “The O.C.”
know that sweethearts Seth and Summer have chosen Brown
and Providence, respectively (the latter opting for the
Home of the Skating Friar over Arizona to be closer to her
boyfriend) as their top college choices. We can only hope
for some sort of Mayor’s Cup-themed episode next year.
Maybe it’s due to the influence the WCHA and, to a
lesser extent, the CCHA has on my college hockey experiences,
but does anyone else have trouble keeping track of those
midweek games teams in the ECACHL and Hockey East routinely
play? It’s like trying to figure out when the new
“Chappelle’s Show” episodes are going
It was right after Halloween while perusing the NHL standings
over a bowl of Lucky Charms when I thought to myself, "You
know who could keep Edmonton from sliding into oblivion
this season? That goalie from Maine playing in the ECHL,
bloodly likely that thought crossed anyone's mind. Morrison's,
maybe, but I'd like the under on that action. Since being
summoned from the Greenville Grrrowl, the Medford, Mass.,
product who won an NCAA title with the Black Bears in 1999
is 5-1-0 with a 1.79 goals against average and a .927 save
Minnesota Duluth, which closes out the first half of the
season this weekend with a pair of games against visiting
Denver, has eight losses. Seven of them have come at the
hands of teams whose predominant color is green (two to
Bemidji State, two to Vermont, two to North Dakota, one
to Alaska Anchorage).