January 6, 2005
Saving Ferris

By Mike Eidelbes

CCHA Notebook
Ferris State senior forward Jeff Legue has 11 goals and four assists in the Bulldogs' last 10 games.

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With several inches of new snow dominating the landscape, cities across Michigan have a crisp, clean look this morning as blankets of fluff obscure dormant grass and fallen leaves. For hockey fans in Big Rapids, the view out the front window appears especially refreshing.

The dose of winter weather probably doesn’t have as much to do with that scenario as much as the recent play of the Ferris State icers. By winning the Badger Hockey Showdown in Madison for the second straight season, the Bulldogs have frozen memories of a dismal start to the season and the promise of fresh, unspoiled powder over the next three months lies ahead.

For Ferris State, the wins against Clarkson and Wisconsin at the Kohl Center are the latest in a five-game unbeaten streak and mark the end of an impressive 10-game stretch during which the Bulldogs are 7-2-1. It’s a 180-degree turnaround for a team that opened the year with two wins in its first 10 outings against a slate that included nationally ranked foes Colgate, Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State.

“I think it took us a while to jell and get all the pieces in place,” said Ferris State coach Bob Daniels, “but we do have a pretty good nucleus of players in [seniors] Jeff Legue, Derek Nesbitt, Matt York and Mike Brown. When they go well, the team goes well, and the four of them seem to be playing their best hockey right now.”

It’s no coincidence, then, that forwards Legue and Nesbitt, defenseman York and goaltender Brown were all named to the Badger Hockey Showdown all-tournament team. Legue has been especially torrid during the Bulldogs’ recent hot streak – he’s scored 11 goals and added four assists in the team’s last 10 games. Nesbitt’s no slouch, either, with five goals and eight assists during that span. Perhaps the quartet’s most important attribute is they know how to win – all were integral pieces of the FSU team that won the CCHA regular-season championship in 2003.

“Even when we were going through the rough stretch at the beginning, [those four] continued to work hard every day at practice,” Daniels said. “More than anything, that’s helped to pull the rest of the team along with them. It’s the leadership they provide Monday through Thursday in practice, and the end result is how we play on the weekend.”

With Legue, Nesbitt and York scoring in bunches – the trio enter this weekend’s series at Nebraska-Omaha with 20, 18, and 11 points, respectively – the pressure on some of the Bulldogs’ younger forwards to contribute offensively has subsided. Sophomores Mark Bomersback (4-11—15) and Zac Pearson (5-6—11) and newcomer Matt Stefanishion (5-6—11) are able to follow the lead of the veterans and give FSU a more balanced attack.

“We’re definitely on the upswing right now,” Daniels said. “There’s a quiet confidence with the team and we do feel we’re capable of having a strong second half and turning our year into something very positive.”


GLI-ding Light?: At Michigan State, the positives from the school’s first Great Lakes Invitational championship since 2000 are just as numerous as those gained by Ferris State at the Badger Hockey Showdown.

The Spartans were victorious in tough, overtime games against New Hampshire and Michigan – both were rated among the country’s top six teams – and got outstanding performances from a couple of guys in the midst of off years. Senior forwards Jim Slater was named tournament MVP, scoring two goals and an assist at the GLI, and fellow senior Mike Lalonde, who had been sidelined since Thanksgiving with a knee injury and scored a goal and an assist against UNH in his first game back.

“It’s huge for us because we didn’t have the start to the first half like we wanted to,” said junior forward Colton Fretter, who scored three goals for the Spartans during the tournament, including the game-winner in MSU’s extra-session win against Michigan in the title match. “Everyone worked hard, and that’s what we need. We need all four lines working hard and creating opportunities and not just one line one night and another line the next.”

Whether the GLI title foretells yet another strong second-half run for Michigan State remains to be seen, but it wouldn’t come as a shock since it’s been the Spartans’ modus operandi during Rick Comley’s rein as head coach.

“If I knew, then maybe we’d be able to start the way we’ve been finishing,” said Fretter, searching for an explanation for MSU’s Jekyll-and-Hyde act. “Maybe it’s more desperation. I remember my freshman year, we were at the bottom of the league, but in the second half we really stepped it up. Last year, the same thing…we picked it up after Christmas.

“Maybe we realize it’s desperation, time is running out, and we gotta do something.”

Ruden Awakening: Maybe it’s because Michigan coach Red Berenson is to goalies what long-time big league manager Billy Martin was to pitchers – work your starters and when it seems like they’re out of gas, work ‘em some more – that most observers considered the Wolverines’ Achilles heel to be the lack of a proven backup netminder.

Given the performance of Noah Ruden at the Great Lakes Invitational last week, questions regarded that topic have, for all intents and purposes, been rendered moot. The Bloomfield Hills, Mich., native filled in admirably while regular starter Al Montoya was with the U.S. team at the World Junior Championship, making 29 saves in a 4-2 opening-round win against Michigan Tech and stopping 35 shots in the 2-1 championship-game loss to Michigan State.

“It’s a good situation because you do know in advance that you’re playing, so mentally I can start preparing well beforehand” said Ruden, who has seen just under 156 minutes of action in five games this season. “People think it’s probably a high pressure situation because it’s a big tournament in a big building, but in all honesty, there isn’t all that much pressure out there.”

Given that the Wolverines haven’t won the GLI since 1996 – go ahead and spit your beverage all over your desk…now – there’s a little pressure. Ruden handled it with aplomb. In fact, one might argue he had a better week than Montoya, who struggled in Grand Forks. That’s a pretty impressive occurrence for someone who gets less work than the Maytag repairman.

“Al is a big-time goaltender, and for everyone to be comfortable with me is my goal,” Ruden said. “I want my team and my coaches to know that they don’t have to change their play…and they don’t have to worry if Al goes down or something happens.”

With Montoya returning to the fold for Michigan’s home-and-home series with Western Michigan, Ruden will assume his familiar understudy role behind the guy the New York Rangers picked with the fifth overall selection in last year’s NHL Draft. But just like a veteran backup quarterback, he’ll always be ready to step in when needed.

“Even though I don’t play much, I am part of this team,” Ruden explained. “I’m with them day in and day out. I want to win for this team as much as anyone else does.”

Great Weekend Getaway
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Ferris State at Ohio State
Just about every series on the docket is intriguing in its own unique way, including the Notre Dame-Lake State battle in which the over-under for combined goals scored during the weekend is 1.5. The FSU-OSU series pits the conference’s hottest team (if you didn’t read the above piece on the Bulldogs, may God have mercy on your soul) against the Buckeyes, who haven’t lost in Columbus this season – they’re 8-0-1 in the capital city. No disrespect to the defensemen and goalies, but talented forwards on both sides will make this a fun one to watch.

While you’re there: Friday’s game doesn’t start until 8:05 p.m. EST, so mosey over to the hoary OSU Ice Rink an hour the puck drops at Value City Arena and watch the Bucks’ women’s hockey team for a period or so as they entertain Minnesota Duluth, the country’s third-ranked team.

Stick Salute

Was it just me, or did it seem like every time I tuned in to televised action of the U.S. team at the World Junior Championship that Michigan freshman forward Kevin Porter was making something good happen? He was certainly a bright spot for the Americans, a team that struggled with injuries, illness and inconsistency.

Bench Minor

The last few minutes of the Dodge Holiday Classic championship game between Northern Michigan and Minnesota were particularly disturbing. It wasn’t the Pistons-Pacers fracas of a couple months ago, but the game degenerated into a chippy affair after the Gophers took a 4-1 lead in the third period. The worst moment occurred when an NMU player took a run at Minnesota goalie Kellen Briggs and extended an elbow in an attempt to wing him. Not a classy move.


• The aforementioned Montoya was tabbed as one of the top NHL prospects in the college ranks by The Hockey News. The publication highlighted the 10 best talents from the American Hockey League, European leagues, Canadian major junior leagues and the NCAA in its Dec. 28 issue.

CCHA players joining Montoya on the list were teammate Eric Nystrom and Michigan State’s Slater. Two players with ties to the conference were mentioned among the AHL’s best – ex-MSU goaltender Ryan Miller and former Ohio State forward Ryan Kesler.

• The days following Christmas are an extremely popular time for returns, so why should college hockey be any different? In addition to MSU’s Lalonde coming back after missing five games with a knee injury, Lake Superior State coach Frank Anzalone reinstated defensemen Mark Adamek and Barnabas Birkeland, both of whom were suspended in November for violating team rules.

Notre Dame brought three players back into the fold for its non-conference series with Rensselaer. Forwards Matt Williams-Kovaks (out 14 games with a broken ankle), Dan VeNard (out six games with a separated shoulder) and Brock Sheahan (out two games with a concussion) all returned to the lineup against the visiting Engineers.

Then there’s the Miami RedHawks, who resembled a triage unit for the better part of the first half of the season. The team’s loss to second-ranked Colorado College in the Ohio Hockey Classic Dec. 29 marked the first time in more than two months everyone on the roster was healthy. The last time Miami had its full complement of players was for a game against Ohio State Oct. 21.

• Not everyone was bringing players back to the lineup. Nebraska-Omaha announced that goaltender Kris Tebbs was leaving school to pursue a professional career. A sophomore from Calgary, Tebbs had played in just one game this season. In 15 career appearances with the Mavericks, he had a 2-6-2 record with a 3.61 goals against average and a .882 save percentage. With Tebbs’ departure, freshman Eric Aarnio becomes the primary backup to Chris Holt.

• More goalie news, as the amazing Jordan Sigalet keeps getting more, uh, amazinger. The Bowling Green senior made 50 saves in the Falcons’ 1-1 draw against Dartmouth in the first round of the Ledyard Bank Classic in Hanover, N.H. In 85 career appearances, Sigalet has made 40 or more saves on 18 occasions. That’s a little more than once in every five games he’s played.

Lake Superior State issued its 30th annual list of banished words on New Year’s Day. This year’s list was culled from more than 2,000 submissions sent to the school by people around the world. Among the 22 words and phrases sent packing were such gems as “red state/blue state”, “wardrobe malfunction”, and “zero percent APR financing”.

Unfortunately, the phrase “crackdown on obstruction” gets to stick around for another 12 months.

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

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