do not," Yoda said to Luke Skywalker while training the young
Jedi in The Empire Strikes Back. "There is no try."
It's a profound
directive that, roughly translated, is the equivalent of the common
saying that instructs one to perform a certain bodily function or
else remove one's self from the porcelain device essential to said
function's successful completion.
The odds are unlikely, but the lime green Ross Perot lookalike could
have easily been talking about the CCHA when he made the statement.
For each of the league's 12 teams, the term 'moral victory' is a
simile for a loss, unless the NCAA Tournament selection committee
starts award bonus points for them. Yoda would be disappointed if
Michigan did not advance to the Frozen Four this season, or Northern
Michigan failed to earn an NCAA berth or Bowling Green didn't challenge
for home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs.
Moral victories? A Jedi craves not these things. If you crave the
low-down on the upcoming CCHA season, however, you've come to the
Outside of maybe
Lindsay Lohan, no outfit has generated more buzz than Bowling
Green. The Falcons finished ninth in the league last season
thanks to a second-half record of 7-6-3 against CCHA foes. Younger
players like defenseman Jonathan Sigalet and forward James Unger
showed flashes of developing into all-conference caliber players.
And goaltender Jordan Sigalet proved he deserved to be mentioned
among the nation’s best – the All-CCHA first team selection
made an NCAA-best 1,140 saves last season in addition to a 2.74
goals against average and a .919 save percentage.
Paluch brings another highly regarded recruiting class into the
fold this season, led by forward Jonathan Matsumoto and USHL Defenseman
of the Year Mike Hodgson. The confidence the Falcons carry over
from last season should continue to grow thanks to a favorable early-season
schedule which includes series with Union, Lake Superior State,
Notre Dame (more on the Irish below), Nebraska-Omaha and Wayne State.
If BGSU can find a way to turn the majority of their ties –
they were 1-1-9 in overtime games last season – into wins,
they’ll challenge for a home playoff series.
FOR A FALL
of tantalizing promise, coach Dave Poulin’s Notre
Dame squad finally broke through last season by earning
the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth. As long as
Poulin continues to lure top-notch recruits to South Bend, the Fighting
Irish should continue to contend for postseason appearances in the
This season may be a bumpy one for the Irish, however, especially
in the early going. Not only does Notre Dame have to make up for
the losses of forwards Rob Globke (40 points) and Aaron Gill (36
points), but they also need to replace Tom Galvin, Neil Komadoski
and Brett Lebda, workhorse defensemen who combined to play 440 career
games. The goaltending tandem of Morgan
Cey and David Brown is a huge plus, but a rugged early season schedule
– the Irish’s first seven games are two vs. Minnesota
Duluth, a pair at Miami, one against Boston College and a series
with Northern Michigan – makes the learning curve dangerously
steep. Notre Dame will challenge for a spot in the upper half of
the conference standings, but they’ll need time to find their
senior Eric Nystrom and the rest of his Michigan teammates,
the bar is set high this season...and rightfully so.
Rare are the
occasions in which one can say the odds-on favorites for conference
title honors are on the hot seat. But Michigan
returns all but two key contributors – forward Dwight Helminen,
who signed with the New York Rangers during the summer, and graduated
defenseman Andy Burnes – from last year’s team that
won the CCHA regular season crown and narrowly missed making its
fourth straight trip to the NCAA Frozen Four.
Considering players such as NHL first-round draft picks Jeff Tambellini
and Eric Nystrom turned in sub-par efforts last season, that’s
a pretty impressive feat. Winning league championships are nice.
Every team strives to attain that goal. Given the abundance of talent
at coach Red Berenson’s disposal, however, anything short
of an appearance in the NCAA Frozen Four championship game should
be considered a disappointment. If you ask the Wolverines, you’ll
probably find they feel the same way.
ACT TO FOLLOW
Edwardson, Greg Hogeboom and Mike Kompon combined to score
135 points for Miami last season. Think about that for a second.
This is an era in college hockey in which 30 points is considered
a pretty successful year. These three guys each scored more than
40 last year. In the goalie-dominated CCHA, that’s a remarkable
The RedHawks probably won’t need to fill in a 135-point blank
to repeat last season’s performance mainly because Brandon
Crawford-West, who was 21-8-3 as a freshman in 2003-04, has turned
what was a weakness prior to the start of last year into a strength.
The defensive corps, led by INCH Preseason All-American Andy Greene,
should be solid.
digress. As far as the forwards go, we know sophomores Matt Christie
and Marty Guerin can score – both eclipsed the 30-point mark
as freshmen. Now for the ifs – if senior Todd Grant, who set
career highs with 15 goals and 26 points last year, can meet or
exceed those numbers, if junior Chris Michael scores closer to the
26 points he netted as a freshman than the 15 points he got last
season, and if sophomore Geoff Smith can play to the level that
made him one of the nation’s most highly regarded recruits
in 2003, the RedHawks will be just fine.
Michigan State's Jim Slater is a freak. Not a freak in
the Courtney Love sense, but in the manner of Randy Moss.
Rare is the
player who boasts a combination of dynamic offensive skills and
brute force, but that's exactly what Slater brings to the table.
On one rush, he’ll sashay around a defender and leave him
in his wake. The next time down the ice, he’ll run the same
guy over. He constantly frustrates opponents with his Swiss Army
knife-like versatility that allows him to adapt to a variety of
And while he’s responsible in his own end, he’s got
the smarts and the vision to know when he can escape the defensive
zone, gather in an outlet pass from a teammate and create a scoring
opportunity going the other way.
a great year for impact freshmen in the CCHA. In fact, it’s
safe to say that there’s probably no one who deserves to wear
that label. But unlike a really tough question on an essay test,
this section can’t be left blank.
the best newcomer is up for discussion, but Bowling Green’s
Jonathan Matsumoto, one of the leading scorers in Ontario’s
Provincial Junior Hockey League last season, is a prime candidate
for most intriguing freshman. One assistant coach at a rival CCHA
school called the Orleans, Ont., native one of the country’s
top five rookie forwards. He’ll be charged with helping to
spark the Falcons’ offensive attack, which generated just
92 goals in 2003-04.
Michigan must be a lot like taking part in the “We Are The
World” recording session back in the mid ‘80s. For example,
Huey Lewis was one of the world’s top recording artists at
the time. He was at the top of his game. But you see him on the
video for “We Are The World” and you think to yourself,
‘Hey, great…Huey Lewis,” because he’s standing
next to Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
The Wolverines’ Andrew Ebbett and Brandon Kaleniecki
could empathize with Lewis. Both had tremendous sophomore seasons
– Ebbbett was fifth in the CCHA in assists (28) while Kaleniecki
was third in the league in goals (20) – but they’re
standing next to Tambellini, Nystrom, goaltender Al Montoya and
the like. Certainly, Michigan fans appreciate the duo’s efforts.
Caruso enters the season as the incumbent in goal for defending
CCHA playoff champion Ohio State.
Miami, Notre Dame and Ohio State return to the NCAA Tournament this
season? These three teams, along with Northern Michigan,
seem most likely to emerge from the mosh pit that spots three through
nine in the CCHA appears to be this season. Whereas the Wildcats
return nearly every key component from last year’s team other
than goalie Craig Kowalski, the RedHawks, Fighting Irish and Buckeyes
bid farewell to large, talented senior classes, but welcome back
tested veterans in goal. All three teams will expect freshmen to
contribute right away, but Notre Dame’s Poulin says getting
returnees to expand their roles is more important to the team’s
question becomes who in the group…steps up, and what impact
does that person make?” Poulin explained.
the case, we like Miami’s chances for a return to the postseason
behind Christie, Guerin, Greene and Crawford-West. And while Notre
Dame has an advantage over Ohio State in goal, it’ll likely
take some time for the Fighting Irish to find the right mix of newcomers
in the lineup, especially on the blue line. The Bucks have the edge
overall, but their postseason chances are still iffy.
2. Is Eric Nystrom really Michigan’s captain?
That’s what Berenson told those attending the league’s
Media Day this week. It seems crazy that a player most feel has
been an underachiever in each the last two seasons would be put
in such a position, but the ol’ coach’s track record
speaks for itself. Berenson feels Nystrom can be a captain of Jed
Ortmeyer’s ilk, which is pretty high praise. The hunch is
that this might be the spark Nystrom needs to revert back to the
form he displayed as a freshman, when he scored 18 goals and 31
the CCHA serious about cracking down on obstruction? Considering
that league commissioner Tom Anastos spent about 45 minutes discussing
an NCAA-wide emphasis on strict interpretation of obstruction rules,
that’s a resounding yes. Anastos said the goal is to get referees
to consistently enforce the rules as they’re currently written
for the entire season, as opposed to the regular season but not
the playoffs. All six Division I conferences are taking the same
steps in the hopes that an across-the-board standard for such infractions
can be created.
Five things you can take to the bank in the CCHA this season
Dame will play anyone, anywhere, anytime. The Fighting
Irish add some spice to the CCHA schedule with a trio of intriguing
neutral site games. Notre Dame faces Michigan Tech in Green Bay
Jan. 18, meets Wisconsin at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., Jan
22, and plays Michigan at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum Feb.
18. You’d think a team that was 14-2-2 at its home rink last
season would want to play there as many times as possible, but Poulin
says there’s a purpose behind the scheduling.
“It prepares you for [NCAA] Regional-type atmospheres,”
Poulin explains. “We’re going to have close to 11,000
people in Fort Wayne. Our Chicago crowd…we drew close to 7,000
against Yale two years ago. Allstate Arena thinks they’re
going to fill the place against Wisconsin.”
of home rinks, Miami’s new arena will send a wave
of ‘RedHawk envy’ through the league. Unlike
the WCHA, the CCHA hasn’t experienced a rash of new rink construction
outside of the cavernous, multi-purpose facilities at Ohio State
and Nebraska-Omaha. Work on a new arena at Miami, which started
in August and should be completed in time for the 2006-07 season,
should spur other schools to at least think about replacing their
it does is it shows recruits and it shows everyone in the league
that Miami is committed and Miami wants to be the best,” coach
Enrico Blasi says. "It raises expectations, and that’s
venue will house two NHL-size ice sheets, including a main arena
that will seat roughly 3,200 for hockey, a total that includes club
seating and private suites. In a nod to Goggin Ice Arena, the RedHawks’
current home, the new rink will have student standing areas behind
3. Nebraska-Omaha is on the way back up. That doesn’t
mean the Mavericks will challenge for an upper-division finish this
season. Heck, UNO might not escape the CCHA basement. But there
is a light at the end of a tunnel for hockey fans in the dusty old
of coach Mike Kemp’s roster consists of freshmen and sophomores.
In that group are sophomore goalie Chris Holt, who impressed scouts
at this summer’s USA Hockey World Junior Championship tryout
camp. Scott Parse scored 35 points during his rookie season and
classmate Kaleb Betts added 22. They’ll get help this season
from a solid crop of freshmen that includes forwards Mick Lawrence,
Bryan Marshall, Bill Thomas and Brandon Scero.
4. Someone asks Bowling Green’s Michael Hodgson why
he doesn’t wear No. 6. The freshman defenseman hails
from Surfside, Calif. “Surfside Six” was a detective
show starring Troy Donahue that ran on ABC in the early ‘60s.
That’s what the Internet said, anyway. For the record, senior
defenseman Taylor Christie wears No. 6 for the Falcons. Hodgson
will don No. 2.
5. The CCHA sends four teams to the NCAA Tournament this
season. Michigan State coach Rick Comley believes that,
like last season, five CCHA teams will advance to the national tournament.
It’s certainly possible, but not probable. Michigan and Comley’s
Spartans are virtual locks, while Northern Michigan and Miami are
pretty good bets. Ohio State and Notre Dame will be close, but fall
the Wolverines aren't playing in Columbus in April, consider
the season a letdown.
in his third year in East Lansing, Rick Comley has his players
in place. They'd better produce, because the natives are getting
build a new barn? RedHawks enter the season with a 15-game (13-0-2)
unbeaten streak at Goggin Ice Arena.
Kowalski is gone, but defensemen Jamie Milam, Nathan Oystrick
and Geoff Waugh will make life easier for goaltender Tuomas
Buckeyes don't visit Ann Arbor this season, denying Yost Ice
Arena fans to shower pint-sized pest Andrew Schembri with their
"Dirty Hobbit" cheer.
says senior goaltender Morgan Cey is the healthiest he's been
since arriving on campus. Throw in David Brown and the Irish
boast a formidable one-two punch in goal.
guessing the improved Falcons will let Jordan Sigalet catch
his breath and not need him to make 1,100 saves this season.
bunch of guys had career years in 2002-03 when they won the
CCHA title. Last season, a bunch of guys slumped. This time
around, they fall somewhere in the middle.
pals: Mavericks will play two games in raucous Civic Auditorium
beginnings: First-year head coach Tavis MacMillan welcomes 11
freshmen to the Last Frontier this season.
guys like Pat Dwyer, Vince Bellissimo and Brent Walton up front,
they'll score. Problem is, their opponents will score more.
roster features two players named Derek Smith. What they need
is two Jeff Jakaitis's (2.13 GAA, .913 sv%).