October 28, 2004

By Mike Eidelbes

 CCHA Notebook

Coach Mike Kemp has Nebraska-Omaha off to its best start in the program's seven-year history.

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Sure, we’re a little more than one-sixth of the way into the 2004-05 season and plenty can happen between now and early March, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for optimism and enthusiasm surrounding teams that are off to unexpected surprising starts.

Nebraska-Omaha, which is off to its best start in the young program’s seven-year history, fits that bill. Coach Mike Kemp’s squad has four wins in as many tries, beating Connecticut and Merrimack in the season-opening Maverick Stampede Oct. 9-10, and sweeping Western Michigan in Omaha last weekend.

“For our program, just to be in a situation and do some things that build confidence and help us get to a point where we learn we can play with other people and be competitive is very positive,” Kemp said.

The Mavericks endured growing pains last season – searing, stabbing pains. With a roster bereft of upperclassmen, UNO stumbled to an 8-29-5 overall record and a last-place finish in the CCHA. That the Mavs are halfway to their win total from last year is even more remarkable considering their lineup still isn’t bulging with grizzled veterans.

“We’re still playing with a lot of young kids,” Kemp explained. “We had one senior in the lineup this past weekend and on any given night we’ve only got two or three juniors dressed. We’re still a team that’s playing 17 or 18 freshmen and sophomores.”

The inexperience of youth has been tempered thus far by a reliance on balance. Six UNO skaters, paced by top returning scorer Scott Parse (2-7—9), have already scored four or more points. Two upperclassmen – senior Dan Hacker (2-4—6) and junior Mike Lefley (2-3—5) – have helped lead the charge and freshmen Bill Thomas (2-4—6), Bryan Marshall (2-3—5) and David Phillips (1-3—4) are the top point-getters from a heralded rookie class.

“It’s kind of like getting some insulation,” Kemp said. “If a line has an inevitable bad night, or a key player has a bad night, you’re going to have somebody pick up the slack for them and throw points on the board. That’s kind of what’s been happening for us and it’s been nice because you don’t really focus in on one player. Anyone on any given night can make a contribution.”

Sophomore goaltender Chris Holt has made a contribution every night. A 2003 pick of the New York Rangers, the 6-3, 218-pound Holt has played with confidence he gained from a strong showing at this summer’s U.S World Junior tryout camp in Grand Forks, N.D. In his four starts, he’s given up just 10 goals, seven of which have come with the Mavericks shorthanded.

“It’s too quick to judge where this team is going to go,” said Kemp, whose squad travels to East Lansing for a two-game set with Michigan State this weekend. “Having success is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once you’re out there and you do something well, you have confidence that you’ll do it again. Those are the kinds of things we’re trying to instill in this team.”


Scandal At Bowling Green – Any excitement surrounding Bowling Green’s first 2-0 start in eight years was quickly tempered after coach Scott Paluch suspended seven players indefinitely for their roles in a humiliating prank that occurred nearly 18 months ago.

According to the Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune, the players – seniors Steve Brudzewski and Alex Rogosheske and juniors Ryan Barnett, Bryan Dobek, Mike Falk, Don Morrison and Brett Pilkington – were removed from the team indefinitely after Paluch learned of the matter Monday. The Falcons’ third-year coach was alerted by a Sentinel-Tribune reporter who received a photograph of the incident in the mail from an anonymous sender.

“We’re continuing, at this point, to investigate,” Paluch said at a press conference earlier this week. “We’re looking into all the facts right now and gathering information.”

The Sentinel-Tribune article states that Paluch identified one player in the photo – Pilkington, who appeared to be unconscious – naked and lying face down with at least one profanity and two racial slurs written on his body in magic marker. Also pictured are seven other half-naked males, of which Paluch could name six– Barnett, Dobek, Falk, Morrison, Rogosheske and former Falcon player Nick Lang.

The incident is alleged to have taken place in a BGSU dormitory room in April 2003.

“From what we know today, it’s very disturbing and very uncharacteristic of our hockey program,” Bowling Green athletics director Paul Krebs told the Sentinel-Tribune. “What’s important is our values and what we stand for as an athletic department, as a hockey team and as a university. We’re trying to protect our program and our university.”

This week’s suspensions are the latest in a string of disciplinary measures that have taken place at Bowling Green since Paluch was named coach in the spring of 2002. In 2002-03, he dismissed two players – Kip Horner and Colen Pappas – for violating team rules and handed down one-game suspensions to five skaters, including Falk, for similar reasons. Earlier this month, Morrison and Pilkington were suspended for the Falcons’ exhibition match against Windsor for breaking team rules.

Bowling Green hosts Lake Superior State this weekend. The suspensions, coupled with an injury to freshman defenseman Mike Nesdill and sophomore forward Mark Voakes quitting the team Monday, leave the Falcons with 17 skaters and three goaltenders on their roster.

Go Wes, Young Man – The stinging disappointment of last summer’s National Hockey League Draft still lingers in the back of Wes O’Neill’s mind.

Once touted as a potential top-10 pick, the Notre Dame defenseman’s stock took a hit in the months leading up to the draft. Scouts questioned his toughness and decision-making skills. Forget about the first round – O’Neill wasn’t even selected on the draft’s first day. He was the 17th player taken on day two, going to the New York Islanders in the fourth round.

Against Boston College last Friday, O’Neill looked like a first-rounder, scoring the Fighting Irish’s first goal, setting up teammate T.J. Jindra’s shorthanded game-winner and logging Lidstrom-like minutes – coach Dave Poulin estimated O’Neill was on the ice for roughly 40 minutes – in the Fighting Irish’s 3-2 over the nation’s top-ranked team.

“He was dominant,” Poulin said. “It’s interesting to say he’s come into his own against the No. 1 team in the country. Oh, by the way, he just turned 18.”

O’Neill, who celebrated his 18th birthday March 3, has added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-4 frame, allowing him to use his size and massive wingspan to his advantage as evidenced by his frequent battles in front of the net with BC forward Brian Boyle. More importantly, the Essex, Ont., native got bigger without losing his most appealing asset, his skating ability.

“I’ve always had good skating skills”, said O’Neill, who leads Notre Dame with five points in five games. “Last year, I probably weighed 200 pounds. Now, I’m 220. It gives me a chance to use my body more and be more confident in using my body.”

While O’Neill is far from a finished product – he could stand to add a couple more pounds and get more physical – it looks like the Islanders may have gotten a steal.

“Every game, I go out there to prove that I should have been drafted in the first round,” O’Neill explained. “It was a heartbreaker at the time, but I use it as a motivator now. I just gotta go out there and keep working hard and play with a chip on my shoulder.”


Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Nebraska-Omaha at Michigan State (Fri.-Sat.)
We've already chronicled the Mavs and their surprising start. The Spartans' start may be just as surprising – they're 1-3-0 after getting swept at Northern Michigan last weekend. MSU owns an 11-4-0 series advantage over UNO, but the Mavs are 3-3-0 all-time against the Spartans in October.

While you're there: The vast majority of folks in the greater Lansing area will spend Saturday getting lubricated prior to, during, and after Michigan State's football game against rival Michigan in Ann Arbor (3:30 p.m., ABC). For a more refined look at events that shpaed the Great Lakes State, make a trip to the Michigan Historical Museum in downtown Lansing. Located just west of the state capitol building, the sparkling new facility is open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m.Saturday. Best of all, it's free.

Stick Salute

Alaska-Fairbanks goaltender Wylie Rogers turned aside all 21 shots he faced in a 6-0 win against rival Alaska Anchorage Saturday, salvaging a split for the Nanooks in the first of two Governor's Cup series. Rogers became the first UAF netminder to get a shutout in his collegiate debut.

Bench Minor

Twenty minor penalties, none of them coincidental, were called in Friday's Boston College-Notre Dame game. The new emphasis on calling penalties as they appear in the rulebook is to flow what Jimmy Fallon is to comedy. And if you're a Jimmy Fallon fan, my condolences.

• Bowling Green isn’t the only team dealing with a numbers crunch. Notre Dame dressed 11 forwards for its game against Boston College. Junior Mike Walsh missed the game because of a shoulder injury sustained against Miami Oct. 16, and sophomore Matthew Williams-Kovacs is out for up to weeks after breaking his ankle that same night. Senior forward Brad Wanchulak left the team last week but is still enrolled in school..

• Sophomore forward T.J. Jindra, who scored the game-winner for Notre Dame against Boston College last week with 15 seconds left in regulation and helped the Fighting Irish kill nine of 10 Eagle man advantages, played his guts out Friday. Literally.

“[During the third period], he was sick for probably five minutes on the bench throwing up,” Poulin said.

Northern Michigan continues to find interesting ways to beat Michigan State. The Wildcats have won six of seven and seven of 10 since Walt Kyle replaced current Spartan coach Rick Comley prior to the 2002-03 season. During that stretch, NMU has:

1) Thrashed State, 10-4, in Comley’s return to Marquette,

2) Earned a 4-2 win in East Lansing on a night when the Spartans outshot the Wildcats, 42-15,

3) Knocked MSU out of the 2003 CCHA Super Six by scoring four third-period goals in a 7-5 quarterfinal victory,

4) Beaten State in OT, 6-5, after sending the game into the extra session on a goal with three seconds left in regulation,

5) Bounced the Spartans from the 2004 CCHA Super Six by a 2-1 score despite being outshot, 36-17, and

6) Downed MSU, 3-2, last weekend thanks to the first two career goals from forward Clayton Lainsbury.

• With two victories against Lake Superior State last weekend, Michigan’s Red Berenson moved into sole possession of 10th place on the all-time coaching wins list. With 537 career wins, Berenson slipped past former MSU-Mankato bench boss Don Brose and into the top 10. Next up on the list – ex-Army mentor Jack Riley, who racked up 542 victories.

• Ferris State’s 7-2 non-conference win at Bemidji State last Saturday snapped the Bulldogs’ 10-game losing streak that started with 4-2 defeat against Lake Superior State in Big Rapids Feb. 28. Nine of the losses during that streak were decided by two or fewer goals.

• Here’s another factoid of the week, though this one obviously interests more than just me because it was forwarded by veteran Lansing State Journal hockey scribe Neil Koepke. In Saturday’s 4-1 win against Michigan State, Northern Michigan junior Jamie Milam netted a pair of power play goals. Some 1,800 miles away at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Jamie’s older brother, Troy – who captained Ferris State’s CCHA regular-season championship team in 2002-03 and now plays for the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs – scored two power play goals in his team’s 5-0 victory over Utah. The Monarchs are the top minor league affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings.

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

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