November 4, 2004
New Power Generation?

By Mike Eidelbes

 CCHA Notebook

Don't be surprised if you see Western Michigan's Vince Bellissimo on the power play with four fellow forwards.

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Not only have college hockey fans seen more special teams play through the first month of this season, but early indications may point to an emerging trend in the CCHA. With more power play opportunities, it seems more teams are drifting away from the traditional two-defenseman, three-forward unit.

The evidence is anecdotal, but hard to argue. The reporter witnessed two conference games last weekend – Ohio State at Western Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha at Michigan State – that featured a combined 27 power plays. In all but a couple of instances, the power play units were comprised of four forwards and one defenseman. Michigan State ran out a second grouping with freshman rearguards Jeff Dunne and Daniel Vukovic at the points. On the other end of the spectrum, Western Michigan coach Jim Culhane rolled out five forwards against OSU.

“[The strategy] changes from team to team,” Michigan State assistant coach Tom Newton said. “There’s so much power play time now, it’s important to get your five best people with the appropriately-handed shots in the best positions to score.”

Certainly, coaches want to get their most explosive players on the ice as much as possible, but this occurrence also speaks to another reality – it’s a lot easier to find talented forwards than it is to find quality power play quarterbacks.

“Let’s use [former MSU defensemen John-Michael] Liles and [Brad] Fast as a great example,” Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp said. “If you have those two guys back there that can really be potent and run a power play, that’s a luxury. I don’t think too many people have that luxury right now.”

Not only is having offensive-minded defensemen a rarity, but experience on the blue line is the exception rather than the rule in the CCHA. Michigan State dressed one junior, three sophomores and two freshmen Saturday, while Nebraska-Omaha countered with a senior, a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen. At Lawson Arena the previous night, Ohio State had a junior, two sophomores and three freshmen and Western Michigan iced a senior, a junior, two sophomores and two freshmen.

“In our case, we’ve got some guys that move the puck pretty well back there,” said Kemp, specifically referring to rookie rearguard Joe Grimaldi, who played for the U.S. National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor last season. “But they’re still young.”

The strategy comes with some negative by-products – Western Michigan scored shorthanded Friday and Nebraska-Omaha had a handful of odd-man rushes during the penalty kill, converting one of them. It’s just another component of the new reality that is college hockey.

“They’re enforcing the rules, and that’s forcing us to emphasize special teams,” Newton explained. “It’s been hard to get flow in five-on-five situations, but the players are learning. We’re all learning. We’ve got to stick with it.”

BG Players Back

The seven suspended Bowling Green players have been reinstated to the team and will return to practice on Sunday, the school announced Thursday night. The group was suspended indefinitely when the school learned of a prank from April 2003 involving alcohol and racial slurs.

The players – Ryan Barnett, Steve Brudzewski, Bryan Dobek, Mike Falk, Don Morrison, Brett Pilkington and Alex Rogosheske – will have missed four games each. They also received additional penalties from the universitys student discipline program. The university, citing privacy laws, didnt disclose the exact penalties.


In Rod We Trust –
Rod Pelley’s junior year didn’t get off to a promising start.

Less than 40 minutes into Ohio State’s season-opening loss to New Hampshire at the Ice Breaker Tournament, Pelley – regarded as the Buckeyes’ hardest hitter – was ready to knock a Wildcat skater into next week.

“I had him lined up, and I missed him last second,” Pelley said. “I dislocated [my shoulder] pretty good.”

While his shoulder may have been dislocated, it seems Pelley’s goal scoring touch was relocated. In the six games since he was hurt – he sat out OSU’s third-place match against St. Cloud State at the Ice Breaker – the Kitimat, B.C., native has scored six goals and three assists. It’s no coincidence the Buckeyes have won five of six after started the season with two losses.

It’s the kind of production coach John Markell expected from Pelley, especially after losing nine letterwinners, five of them forwards, from last year’s squad that won the CCHA playoff championship. A bull of a player at 6-0 and 205 pounds, Pelley was one of the Buckeyes’ most effective scorers during the second half of last season, notching 14 of his 22 points after the first of the year and earning CCHA All-Tournament team honors after scoring three goals and two assists in three games at Joe Louis Arena.

“He wanted to have a whole season like he had the second half of last season,” Markell said. “He stayed all summer to make a difference.”

Staying in Columbus during the break instead of retreating to beautiful British Columbia not only meant focusing on weight training and conditioning, but also gave him the opportunity to skate with guys from the other team in town, the NHL’s Blue Jackets.

“It’s amazing how much they communicate. Even in shinny, they’re real loud,” Pelley said of the professionals. “They’re yelling for the puck all over the place. Their passes are crisp…and every time they shoot the puck, they’re shooting to bury it.”

As the second leading goal scorer in the CCHA thus far, Pelley has obviously honed that last skill to near perfection. And if he finds himself in a scoring drought at some point this season, well…he’s got a slump-buster in mind.

“I might go run into the boards again,” Pelley said. “Maybe it’s like that movie, Lethal Weapon. That guy had a magic shoulder.”

Cool 'Cats – With 19 letterwinners returning from a team that posted a 21-16-4 mark last year, Northern Michigan fans had good reason to feel confident about their team heading into the 2004-05 season. The only serious hole to fill was in goal.

The Wildcats’ go-to guy for most of his four seasons in Marquette, Craig Kowalski, had graduated, leaving senior Tuomas Tarkki – he of the 22 career appearances in his previous three years – and redshirt freshman Bill Zaniboni to assume the duties. Tarkki, a native of Rauma, Finland, filled in nicely after Kowalski was injured late last season, winning four of six starts in February and March, but he hadn’t been counted on to carry the load for NMU. Zaniboni, meanwhile, is a freshman, and you just never know with rookies.

What could have been the Wildcats’ Achilles heel has instead emerged as one of the team’s strengths so far. Tarkki and Zaniboni are among the country’s top 10 goaltenders in goals against average and save percentage, Northern Michigan ranks tied for second nationally in scoring defense and coach Walt Kyle’s squad, ranked ninth in this week’s INCH Power Rankings, are off to their best start since 1998-99. That’s the same season NMU made its last NCAA Tournament appearance.

"We've had good goaltending," Kyle told the Marquette Mining Journal prior to the his team's non-conference series with Michigan Tech, "but when I first took the job, we committed to playing young defensemen.
They had a lot of ice time to develop and grow. I hope we're seeing some of those benefits now."

The maturation of blueliners such as juniors Jamie Milam, Nathan Oystrick and Geoff Waugh and sophomores Bobby Selden and Matt Maunu certainly helps. But Tarkki, who's listed as 6-4, 204 pounds, and Zaniboni, who goes 6-1, 210 pounds, have earned their due as well.


Great Weekend Getaway
120x60 - Brand Red

Miami at Michigan (Fri.-Sat.)
Neither team is where it would like to be right now. The RedHawks are dinged up. The Wolverines are inconsistent. One would think a sweep for either team would be a giant boost, and it would. But given the way these two clubs are playing, it doesn’t seem likely. It should be an exciting weekend, though, what with five of the CCHA’s top 10 scorers on the ice – Matt Christie, Marty Guerin and Andy Greene for Miami and Milan Gajic and T.J. Hensick for Michigan.

While you’re there: The Wolverine gridders have the weekend off, but there’s still football at Michigan Stadium Saturday. The inaugural “Bash at the Big House” pits Division II powers Grand Valley State – the two-time defending national champions and the country’s 19th-ranked team – against undefeated and fourth-ranked Michigan Tech. More than 31,000 tickets have been sold for the 1 p.m. ET game, but you’ll have plenty of room to stretch out in a stadium in which expansion means painting the lines that mark individual bleacher seats closer together.

Stick Salute

Maybe their surprising start will wane as the season marches, but coach Mike Kemp’s young Nebraska-Omaha team is a treat to watch. The forwards, especially sophomore Scott Parse and freshmen Bryan Marshall and Bill Thomas, are dynamic, defenseman Joe Grimaldi appears to be a budding star and goaltender Chris Holt is playing with confidence. The Mavs are pretty good right now. It’s scary to think where they might be a year or two down the road.

Bench Minor

The playing conditions at Lawson Arena for Friday’s Ohio State-Western Michigan game were deplorable. Certainly, both teams were subject to the same elements and no one from either side blamed their performances on the dense fog that hovered over the ice, but they had every right to do so. When players say they can’t see the puck, that’s a problem. To make matters worse, the Buckeyes were told the heat in their locker room couldn’t be controlled, making a steamy night that much more uncomfortable.

• For the last half of Friday’s Ohio State-Western Michigan game, the Lawson Arena ice surface looked more like an elaborate pre-game show gone awry. With an outdoor temperature in the low 70’s at faceoff in Kalamazoo, a blanket of fog reminiscent of the 1988 Stanley Cup Finals game between Edmonton and Boston at Boston Garden hovered over the ice.

Play was halted early in the third period so both teams could empty their benches and skate around in circles in an effort to get the fog to dissipate. The solution worked temporarily, and the remainder of the game was played in a thick haze that was especially problematic in the Buckeyes’ defensive zone.

“I don’t want to say it was a problem,” said OSU goalie Dave Caruso, who gave up three third-period goals, “but when they would dump the puck, I had no clue where it was.

“It was hard to see the puck, even coming off the glass. I would be sitting back trying to figure out where it was and then, boom, it would pop out.”

Western Michigan netminder Daniel Bellissimo had much better visibility in his end. Still, when his team had the puck on the other side of the rink, the action became a rumor.

“I couldn’t see a thing in the far end,” said Bellissimo. “When we scored, I had no clue. I just reacted based on the fans.”

Neither goalie asked for sympathy, but Bellissimo conceded he had an easier time than his Buckeye counterpart.

“[Caruso] probably had it tougher because we were wearing white and they were wearing red,” he said.

• While we’re on the subject of goaltenders, Michigan State netminder Dominic Vicari had to leave late in the first period of Saturday’s game against Nebraska-Omaha with a head injury.

The Mavericks’ Scott Parse picked up a loose puck and raced into the Spartan zone on a breakaway, but MSU freshman defenseman Jeff Dunne caught up to him and hauled him down. Parse fell into Vicari, while Dunne was penalized for hooking.

Vicari, who had stopped six of the seven shots he faced on the evening, was taken to a Lansing hospital for observation. His status for the Spartans’ home-and-home series with Ferris State this weekend is uncertain. Matt Migliaccio subbed for Vicari, allowing three goals on 19 shots.

Injuries have turned Miami from red-hot to Red Cross in a matter of two weeks. After a blistering start during which they won their first four games and outscored its opponents, 20-5, the RedHawks have dropped four straight, the latest being last weekend’s pair of defeats at St. Lawrence.

Two of the team’s top six forwards – sophomores Marty Guerin and Geoff Smith – were sidelined with leg injuries and didn’t make the trip to the North Country. The RedHawks’ ranks were thinned even more when another sophomore forward, Andy Nelson, was knocked out of Friday’s game with a head injury and defenseman Matt Davis hurt his leg.

• Michigan State announced the hiring of a new volunteer assistant coach Tuesday. Former MSU defenseman and NHL veteran Jason Woolley is joining Rick Comley’s staff. He replaces another former Spartan, Damon Whitten, who accepted a full-time assistant coaching position at Wayne State.

The NHL lockout has put Woolley’s 13-year NHL career on hold for the time being. He’s played for five teams during that period, most recently Detroit. The North York, Ont., native still ranks second among Spartan defensemen in career scoring with 144 points.

"I know that I can help this team," Woolley said. "To be honest with you, it is an honor. I'm going to take full advantage of it. I want to make one thing clear; I'm not here to threaten anyone's jobs, I still have a lot of hockey left in me.”

Nebraska-Omaha forward Justin Chwedoruk left the team this week and returned to the Alberta Junior Hockey League. Chwedoruk, a sophomore, hadn’t played in any of the Mavericks’ six games this season. As a freshman, the St. Albert, Alberta, native had a goal and two assists in 29 contests.

• It’s probably not the first time something like this happened, but it still bears mentioning. Michigan sophomore forward Mike Brown scored a shorthanded goal against visiting Ferris State in Ann Arbor Friday night, getting the puck behind Bulldogs netminder Mike Brown. It was the first tally of the year for Brown the forward as the Wolverines blanked FSU, 3-0. Brown the goalie exacted revenge the following night in Big Rapids, stopping all 33 shots he faced in a 1-0 overtime victory.

• The factoid of the week returns – and if this keeps up, I’m going to owe Peter King royalties, or perhaps a year’s supply of Starbucks hazelnut lattes. Nebraska-Omaha freshman forward Bill Bagron was born May 18, 1982. Yes, he’s a 22-year-old freshman, roughly nine months older than Michigan senior captain Eric Nystrom and about eight months older than Michigan State senior captain Jim Slater.

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

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