November 25, 2004
Johnny's On The Spot

By Mike Eidelbes

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When the Inside College Hockey staff started putting together the list of this season’s top freshman forwards, we got a lot of comments from coaches and scouts on the usual suspects – North Dakota’s Travis Zajac, Chris Bourque of Boston University, Minnesota’s Kris Chucko, Dan Bertram of Boston College.

While compiling our data, however, a theme emerged. Keep an eye on a kid heading for Bowling Green named Jonathan Matsumoto, said many of our panelists, including one who labeled the Orleans, Ont., native one of the country’s top five recruits.

We hedged our bets, ranking Matsumoto 13th among incoming forwards. But if he’s able to build upon his impressive start, he’ll be a solid candidate for CCHA Rookie of the Year honors. Ten games into his college career, he leads the Falcons, who are off to their best start in nine years, with seven goals and 11 points.

“He has a great understanding of the game, especially in the offensive end,” BGSU Scott Paluch said after his team’s win against Wayne State last week. “What’s been impressive about him is his unbelievable knack to learn. He’s always watching things, reading things, trying to do things. He’s a hockey rat.”

Though he was named the 2004 Ontario CJHL Rookie of the Year after scoring 63 points in 51 games with the Cumberland Grads, Matsumoto considered returning to junior hockey for another year of seasoning. Hardly necessary – at 5-foot-10, 204 pounds, Matsumoto has deceptive size, similar to former Michigan forward Andy Hilbert, and possesses first-rate speed, agility and anticipation.

“Coaches in minor hockey told me that if you’re following the play, you’re already behind,” Matsumoto said, “so I try to get as far ahead of the play as I can.”

Paluch believes that hockey sense, along with his poise, is Matsumoto’s greatest attribute. Those traits were evident during a Bowling Green 5-on-3 power play opportunity in the third period of the win over Wayne State. Though the three Warrior skaters clustered around the crease, Matsumoto, stationed about 10 feet left of the net, threaded a pass through the slot which surprised linemate James Unger.

“There’s no panic point with him when he’s got the puck,” Paluch said. “When he has the puck, he usually makes a pretty good play with it.”

The leader of the Falcons’ youth movement – of the team’s top 10 scorers, eight are freshmen or sophomores – Matsumoto believes his job is to exploit opponents’ weaknesses and help stem the rash of losing seasons at Bowling Green that extends back to 1997-98.

“I played on winning teams in minor hockey and junior hockey,” Matsumoto said. “I expect to win game in and game out.”


Pure Frosting:
Thanksgiving is not only a time to pause and look back on things we have been blessed to experience, but it’s also an occasion to take pause and look forward to the coming holiday season, the new year and beyond. In the spirit of the best holiday of the year, here are some reflections and projections as we sit one-third of the way through the CCHA regular season. Thanks in advance for giving me my soapbox moment.

• Michigan has 14 NHL draft picks on its roster, including first rounders Eric Nystrom, Jeff Tambellini and Al Montoya. That said, the team’s best player – and the best player in the CCHA – is the Wolverines’ outstanding sophomore forward, T.J. Hensick. Depending on the pace of negotiations between NHL owners and the NHLPA, he might not be drafted until 2006.

• What’s happened to Michigan State defenseman A.J. Thelen? A second-team All American as a freshman, Thelen has seven points – all assists – in 12 games after scoring 11 goals and 29 points last season. Even more disconcerting is Thelen’s propensity for taking untimely penalties and coughing up the puck, the last of which has led to a number of prime scoring chances for the Spartans’ opponents.

• Sure, it’s a bold statement, but the CCHA has more impact freshmen than any league in the country. Need proof? As of Thanksgiving Day, 11 rookies in the nation are averaging a point per game or better. Six of them – Matsumoto, UNO’s Bill Thomas and Bryan Marshall, Tom Fritsche and Dominic Maiani of Ohio State, and Kyle Greentree of Alaska-Fairbanks – call the ‘C’ home. That list doesn’t include defensemen such as BGSU’s Mike Hodgson, UNO’s Joe Grimaldi or Miami’s Mitch Ganzak.

• Nebraska-Omaha isn’t going to go away, folks. The Mavs’ toughest remaining road series are at Northern Michigan next weekend and at Miami in late January. We know…they’ve got four with NMU and Michigan at home. But four games with Lake Superior State, two against Ferris State, two with goal-starved Notre Dame and two at home against Alaska-Fairbanks seems pretty appealing. A top-five finish for the Baby Bulls is quite realistic.

• Because Notre Dame is so callow up front and will struggle to win games the remainder of the season since they can’t consistently score goals, very few people outside of South Bend will notice that Wes O’Neill has become one of the league’s top three or four defensemen.

• Every year, I wait for the light bulb above the heads of the Northern Michigan Wildcats to flick on, and every year I’m disappointed. Okay, recent history shows they’ve done well in the CCHA playoffs, but this team is as talented as any in the league, save Michigan. More should be expected. If the ‘Cats can’t put together a nice run in their last three series prior to the holiday – like winning four of six against Lake Superior State, Nebraska-Omaha and Alaska-Fairbanks – they’ll earn a permanent spot in the good-but-not-great club. Until next season.

• Back off, Michigan State fans. Rick Comley ain’t going anywhere. This is mere speculation, but my theory is the team’s struggles stem from a rift between upperclassmen recruited by Ron Mason and Comley’s recruits. It’s not the coaching.

• Here’s an assignment – get a videotape copy of a game played in mid-October. File it away for five months. Then pull it out in March after you’ve watched a game played during the last week of the regular season. If officials are calling obstruction is being with the same vigilance as they were early in the year, I’ll pick up the first round at the Varsity Club in Columbus.

Great Weekend Getaway
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Miami at Bowling Green (Fri.-Sat.)
While it would make for a heck of a football game, these two Mid-American Conference rivals have plenty at stake in this two-game series at BGSU Ice Arena. The RedHawks pulled out of their month-long free fall by beating Western Michigan in Oxford to snap a seven-game losing streak. The Falcons are off to a 6-3-1 start, but are coming off a disappointing split against Wayne State. The pair against Miami marks the beginning of a telling six-game stretch for Scott Paluch’s troops – home-and-home series against Michigan and Michigan State await the Falcons.

While you’re there: It’s a sports weekend on the Bowling Green campus. The Falcons’ men’s basketball team hosts Bradley at Anderson Arena Saturday. Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET.

Stick Salute

Nebraska-Omaha play-by-play announcer Greg Harrington, one of the CCHA’s classiest people (and a fellow Twins fan), reached a milestone Friday when he called his 1,000th career hockey game, a 4-0 Mavericks win against visiting Ohio State. ‘Harry’ has been the voice of UNO hockey since the program’s inception in 1997.

Bench Minor

Did you happen to see the third jerseys Michigan State donned against Michigan at Munn Ice Arena last week? The silver dazzle cloth numbers featured ‘Spartans’ spelled out diagonally across the front; the requisite old-school, lace-up collar; and numbers that were virtually unreadable. Unless the goal is to look like an oversized bag of Jiffy Pop, MSU might want to toss those abominations into the Red Cedar River.


• Here’s a testament to how evenly matched Michigan and Michigan State have been over the years. The two wins by the Wolverines marked the first weekend series sweep in the rivalry since MSU accomplished the feat Feb. 20-21, 1998. Michigan hadn’t recorded a weekend sweep against the Spartans since Feb. 21-22, 1992.

• Something else that hadn’t happened in a long time occurred last weekend. Western Michigan’s 2-1 overtime victory over Miami was the Broncos’ first win at Goggin Arena in nearly nine years. WMU had last won in Oxford on Dec. 2, 1995. Between then and last Friday, the Broncos were 0-8-3 on the RedHawks’ home ice.

• Since we’re on a bit of a roll, let’s stick with the same theme for one more fry. Lake Superior State is 3-4-1 in conference play following last weekend’s win and tie against Ferris State in Sault Ste. Marie. At this rate, the Lakers are on track for 24 points in the CCHA standings. In the four seasons since finishing in a tie for third in the league race in 1999-2000, LSSU hasn’t gathered more than 19 points in a season.

• In response to the note last week regarding the NHL Central Scouting Service preliminary rankings of 2005 draft prospects, the league’s director of scouting told the Associated Press that the draft can’t be held unless a collective bargaining agreement is in place. In fact, the NHL could be forced to conduct two drafts just months apart depending on when – or if – labor and management can come to terms on a new deal.

According to CSS director Frank Bonello, should a new collective bargaining agreement were reached in January 2006, one draft consisting of players eligible for selection in 2005 would take place shortly thereafter. The ’06 draft would then be held in June. The 2005 NHL Entry Draft is currently scheduled for late June in Ottawa.

• If you happen to be kicking around Europe next month – and why wouldn’t you? – you’ll get a chance to catch a team of locked-out NHLers touring the continent for two weeks of exhibition games. The Primus Worldstars Tour starts in Riga, Latvia, on Dec. 9 and concludes in Poland on Dec. 22. Among the 25 players on the roster for the 10-game circuit are three former CCHA standouts – ex-Bowling Green star Rob Blake and erstwhile Michigan Staters Anson Carter and John-Michael Liles.

• Should the NHL resort to replacement players in an effort to render the NHLPA ineffective, former Lake Superior State standout Rob Valicevic won’t hesitate to cross the picket line.

”No qualms," Valicevic told the Toronto Star. "I'm going to do everything I can to take your job."

The Detroit native, who has played in 193 NHL games over parts of the last six seasons with Nashville, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas, has been relegated to the United Hockey League’s Flint Generals now that so many locked-out pros have drifted into the AHL.

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

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