October 21, 2004
Big Red Rampage

By Mike Eidelbes

 CCHA Notebook

Miami's Matt Christie entered the weekend as the nation's second-leading scorer, trailing only linemate Marty Guerin.

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How good has Miami been through its first four games this season? Just check the numbers.

The RedHawks, rated seventh in the INCH Power Rankings entering this week's series with Ohio State, have outscored their opponents by a 20-5 margin and have yet to trail thus far. Much of the offensive success can be credited to sterling special teams play – Miami is 12-for-33 (36.4 percent) with the man advantage and has killed 37 of 38 opponent power plays (97.4 percent) while scoring a pair of shorthanded goals.

“A couple years ago, we were undefeated through a few early games,” coach Enrico Blasi said. “But we didn’t have the depth we have right now and we didn’t have the team speed we have.

It’s not like the RedHawks have been dominant, as evidenced by the slight disparity in power play opportunities and a 129-126 advantage in shots on goal. It’s more of a case of quantity and quality. Of the 19 skaters who’ve played for Miami this season, 14 have scored a point. The share-the-wealth approach has made filling the void left by departures of the team’s top three scorers from last year – forwards Derek Edwardson, Greg Hogeboom and Mike Kompon – seamless thus far.

“We knew we lost three really great offensive players,” said sophomore forward Marty Guerin, the nation’s leading scorer with five goals and five assists and the reigning INCH National Player of the Week. “We also knew we had some great guys coming back and some great guys coming in. When we’re getting chances, we’re burying them. We’re shooting hard and hitting corners.”

Although the RedHawks are a young team with only four seniors on the roster, there’s no dearth of experience. Guerin and classmate Matt Christie, who has nine points this year, spent much of last season on the team’s top line. Junior forward Chris Michael has been a first- or second-liner throughout much of his career. Another junior, defenseman Andy Greene, is an All-American caliber blueliner who’s been employed in every situation since his rookie year. And goaltender Brandon Crawford-West was Miami’s workhorse as a freshman, has been brilliant thus far with a 1.25 goals against average and a .960 save percentage.

“In my years at Miami,” Blasi said, “this is the team that’s been most exciting to coach because we’re so young and so energetic.

This year's start is quite a reversal from last year’s team that rebounded from a dismal 1-4-1 stretch to open the season.

“It’s good to get into a groove where you feel what it feels like to win,” Guerin explained. “Getting off to a strong start where you’re winning big games and winning decisively is not only important in the standings, but it’s also important for your confidence.”


Eric's Not Idle – For a guy who’s generally regarded as one of the CCHA’s more tenacious players, Michigan forward Eric Nystrom was as bubbly as Kelly Ripa at the press conference following his team’s 4-4 tie against New Hampshire at Yost Arena Friday.

The senior captain, who missed the team’s first two games at the Lefty McFadden Invitational with a rib injury, exhibited his trademark grit, filled key roles on special teams and scored a crucial goal early in the third period to give the Wolverines momentum after the Wildcats thoroughly outplayed them in second period.

“We have the type of line that can set the tempo for the game early in the period,” said Nystrom, who started the game grouped with senior forwards Jason Ryznar and Michael Woodford until coach Red Berenson flipped sophomore David Rohlfs on his unit midway through the game. “We’re a good forechecking line. That’s something that can get the team going if you get the other team on their heels.”

Not only is the Syosset, N.Y., native dealing with the residue of the injury, which he shrugs off – “During the game, the intensity is so high you don’t feel it” – but he’s also playing center instead of his natural position on the wing.

It’s tough,” Nystrom said. “It’s a learning experience.”

His goal against UNH came on a play initiated by Ryznar, who picked up the puck behind the cage with his back to Nystrom. Ryznar wheeled and fired what amounted to a no-look pass to Nystrom all alone on the opposite goal mouth.

“We’ve been working on that,” Nystrom said. “We’ve been working on a play where he gets a guy on his back and turns right at the net. For some reason, I knew he was going to do it. I was standing there and he put it right on my tape. It was a slam dunk.”

Whistle While You Work – It’s going to take some time getting used to the ‘call ‘em as they’re written’ edict put forth by the NCAA.

During the first two weekends of the season, CCHA teams played a total of 26 games, the majority of which were non-conference matches. The average number of combined power plays per game works out to just over 16. In theory, that means that special teams play comprises about half of an average contest.

Taking the data one step further, all but two of the 26 games featuring more than two power play goals. In fact, nearly half – twelve, to be exact – had three or more PPGs. Specials teams have always been important, but the emphasis on the letter of the law only magnifies it.

In a lot of cases, a team’s best penalty killers are also the top personnel on the power play. The benches shorten and coaches really have to juggle to get the third- and fourth-liners on the ice so the top two units can rest.

And though CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos told those in attendance at the league’s media day last month that penalties would be called regardless of the situation, it certainly wasn’t the case in Friday’s New Hampshire-Michigan tilt. The Wolverines’ T.J. Hensick was whistled for a slashing minor with less than four minutes remaining in the third period of a 4-4 tie, but on more than one occasion in overtime, a play that would have been blown dead earlier in the game was not called.

“They say they’re gonna call it no matter what the time of the game, no matter what the score,” Michigan forward Eric Nystrom said. “In overtime, it doesn’t matter about the rule changes. You put the whistle away and let the players play. That’s when it’s the best hockey…when it’s opened up and you don’t have to worry about the referee making a call that’s going to change the game.”

Granted, this point of emphasis is a work in progress. Its effects on the remainder of the season will likely be wide-ranging and varied, and certain to generate further debate among players, coaches and fans. Of course, there are those who have already tired of the subject.

“I have no comment about the officiating for the entire year," Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle told St. Cloud Times reporter Kevin Allenspach Friday following the Wildcats’ 2-1 loss to the host Huskies. "That’s my quote about that."


Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Boston College at Notre Dame (Fri.)
The Fighting Irish have limped to an 0-3-1 start, but the annual contest with the Eagles has produced back-to-back thrillers. Two years ago, the teams skated to a 3-3 draw at the Joyce Center. Last season, goalie David Brown stopped all 27 shots he faced in a 1-0 shutout victory in Chestnut Hill. Besides, when Patrick Eaves and Co. pays a visit to your neighborhood, you do everything in your power to check it out.

Stick Salute

The playoff beards? The shaggy hair? Guys hailing from Anchorage, Boston, and Dearborn, Mich.? These guys are a hockey team in double knits. Nicely done, Red Sox.

Bench Minor

Ohio State rallied from a two-goal deficit to beat Ferris State Saturday in a game in which they scored one power play goal in 16 chances. One-for-freaking sixteen? Who’s quarterbacking the power play unit, Justin Zwick?

• More Miami: sophomore goalie Brandon Crawford-West was in goal for both of the RedHawks’ wins against Notre Dame last weekend. His career record at Goggin Ice Arena improved to 15-0-2.

• With a pair of wins at Ferris State last weekend, Ohio State opened its conference schedule with a road series sweep for the first time since 1976. Buckeye coach John Markell was a sophomore forward at Bowling Green the season OSU started the league slate with two wins at Lake Superior State.

Nenad Gajic, the younger of Michigan forward Milan Gajic, has resurfaced at Nebraska-Omaha. Nenad Gajic, who enrolled at Michigan State in 2002 but left the Spartan program midway through last season, will sit out this year due to transfer rules. He’ll return to the ice in 2005-06 with two years of eligibility remaining.

• Michigan State’s streak of 323 straight regular season sellouts at Munn Ice Arena ended Friday – 18 years, 10 months and 26 days from when it began.

Attendance for the Spartans’ season opener against St. Lawrence was 5,773, nearly 700 less than capacity. Surprisingly, only 5,487 paid to see MSU face New Hampshire two days later. The regular season sellout streak started Dec. 19, 1985, roughly seven months before Spartan freshman forward Peder Skinner was born.

• With a nod to Sports Illustrated’s senior NFL writer, the brilliant Peter King, here’s a factoid of the week that may interest only me. In addition to announcing your arrival in the city, the signs welcoming motorists to Ann Arbor also list the community’s sister cities. Mixed in with such exotic locales as Dakar, Senegal, and Belize City, Belize is Peterborough, Ontario. In the name of fellowship, might I propose an exhibition match between the OHL’s Peterborough Petes and the University of Michigan? Hey, Pete alum Steve Yzerman lives nearby. Maybe he could swing by...he's not busy, I hear.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report.

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