January 20, 2005
Not How You Start, But How You Finnish

By Mike Eidelbes

CCHA Notebook
There's no doubting Tuomas Tarkki, who is among the NCAA's top 10 goalies in GAA and save percentage.

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Atlantic Hockey/CHA Notebook
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At first glance, the differences between Marquette, Mich., and Rauma, Finland, are relatively insignificant. They’re roughly the same size – Marquette boasts approximately 22,000 inhabitants, while Rauma’s population is around 37,000. Both are port cities that move about six million metric tons of cargo annually, and the main industry besides shipping is wood products.

Maybe that’s why Northern Michigan goaltender Tuomas Tarkki, a Rauma native, has become so comfortable in the Upper Peninsula. Of course, he’s likely won the admiration of more than a few Yoopers based on his strong play so far this season.

Coming into this weekend’s pivotal series with Bowling Green at Berry Events Center, Tarkki – his name is pronounced TOO-mas tahr-KEE – ranks sixth nationally with a 1.82 goals against average and is third with a .938 save percentage. That’s pretty heady stuff for a guy who entered his senior year having played a total of 22 games.

“He’s been outstanding every night,” NMU coach Walt Kyle said. “He never lets up.”

Tarkki’s rise to prominence is similar to that of another Finnish backstop, Miikka Kiprusoff, the ex- San Jose Sharks backup who was dealt to the Calgary Flames last season and established himself as one of the NHL’s top goalies. Tarkki languished behind the Wildcats’ workhorse, Craig Kowalski, for three seasons and didn’t get a shot at becoming a full-time starter until Kowalski was hurt late last year. Tarkki stepped in and led NMU to four straight wins and a berth in the CCHA Super Six semifinals.

“He’s one of those kids who understands the process,” Kyle explained. “He probably felt he should’ve got more [playing time] a little earlier, but he’s a kid who was not going to complain. He continued to work, press on and await his opportunity.”

Despite the promising end to the 2003-04 season, Kyle expected Tarkki and newcomer Bill Zaniboni to battle for playing time and, indeed, the two shared goaltending duties early on. The veteran quickly emerged as the go-to guy.

At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Tarkki doesn’t give opponents much of an opening to shoot. He’s also modified his game, moving away from the traditional European style of goaltending that kept him back in the net. Now, he’s challenging shooters and cutting down angles.

“I think the biggest thing with Tuomas is his demeanor,” Kyle said. “He’s a real level-headed guy. He competes, but he’s not too high and he’s not too low. Tuomas has a real calming and solidifying effect on the rest of the guys.”

That’s high praise considering Northern Michigan ranks 47th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 2.5 goals per game, but currently sits in fourth place in the CCHA standings. It’s also the reason Kyle feels Tarkki deserves to be a Hobey Baker Award candidate.

“He’s meant that much to our team and he’s that good,” Kyle said. “The guys know that when Tuomas is in the net, we’re going to be right in the game no matter what.”


Learning curve for UAF: Trailing by five goals with less than five minutes remaining in the third period in his team’s game at Michigan last Saturday, Alaska-Fairbanks coach Tavis McMillan called a timeout.

Unlike basketball, with its foul-miss free throws-get the ball back routine, or football, where you can attempt an on-side kick following a touchdown, there isn’t really a hockey strategy geared at erasing a sizable deficit late in the game. But the Nanooks were about to go on the power play and McMillan, in his first year as head coach, used the break to teach his young team – UAF dressed 10 freshmen Saturday – and build confidence.

”We weren’t getting pucks through,” McMillan said. “We talked about it. If we get a puck on net, we should have a two-on-one in front of the net.”

Seven seconds later, freshman defenseman Darcy Campbell fired the puck through a maze of bodies. It skipped to the left Michigan goalie Al Montoya, where senior forward Jared Sylvester corralled the puck and banged it in to narrow the gap.

“The next couple shifts were really good after that,” a hoarse-throated McMillan rasped. “Guys saw something that worked, and they can build off that.”

Indeed, the building started later in that period. With two Wolverines in the penalty box, the Nanooks executed a faceoff play to perfection – the sequence ended with a goal from senior forward Jason Grinevitch.

Even though the Nanooks have posted a 2-9-1 record after getting off to a 4-2-0 start, McMillan remains optimistic. And he should – UAF, which enters the weekend in a four-way tie for eighth place in the CCHA standings, plays eight of its next ten games at home.

Growing pains are inevitable, but if the kids – and the coach – keep learning, McMillan will have a formidable program in a year or two. Even now, one can see the foundation of a talented team beginning to form around freshman goaltender Wylie Rogers, rookie forwards Kyle Greentree and Ryan McLeod and second-year standouts Nathan Fornataro and Curtis Fraser.

”We’re going to make mistakes together, we’re going to grow together, we’re going to share some tears and we’re going to share some laughs,” McMillan said. “When these kids get older, we’re going to have a good team.”

NHL Central Scouting Service releases mid-term rankings: Seven current CCHA skaters and 17 players who have either formally or verbally committed to attend one of the league’s schools are among the 270 North American prospects listed by the National Hockey League’s Central Scouting Service on its mid-term rankings for the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

The top-rated college or college-bound player is U.S. Under-18 Team defenseman Jack Johnson, who will attend Michigan next season. He’s fifth overall. Michigan State-bound forward Justin Abdelkader, who currently plays for the United States Hockey League’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders, is the 29th-ranked North American skater.

Miami forward Nathan Davis is the top-ranked player currently in the CCHA at 73rd overall. He’s followed by Bowling Green defenseman Jonathan Sigalet (86th), Michigan center T.J. Hensick (94th), Ohio State forward Tom Fritsche (105th), Bowling Green forward Jonathan Matsumoto (153rd), Western Michigan forward Paul Szczechura (158th) and Michigan State pivot Chris Mueller (210th).

The NHL Draft is scheduled for June 25-26 in Ottawa, but will only take place if the league’s owners and players have a new collective bargaining agreement in place by that time.

Great Weekend Getaway
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Michigan at Ohio State
It’s hard to fathom that the CCHA regular-season championship could be – for all intents and purposes – decided this weekend should Michigan sweep Ohio State. Two wins would give the Wolverines a commanding nine-point lead over the second-place Buckeyes with 10 games remaining in league play. It’s also hard to believe Michigan is running away from its conference brethren though they have yet to play their best hockey. This weekend marks the last bench chance for someone to pour molasses into the Wolverines’ gas tank. If anyone can slow ‘em down, it could be the Bucks – they’re good at home and capacity crowds are expected at 17,500-seat Value City Arena both nights.

While you’re there: A reviewer described Columbus-based jam band Ekoostik Hookah as the Buckeye State’s version of Phish. While we’d argue that O.A.R. is a better choice as the jammin’-est damn Buckeye band in the land, we’re certainly intrigued. Ekoostic Hookah plays the Newport Music Hall – not far from Value City Arena – Saturday. Speaking of O.A.R., maybe if we all kick in a few bucks, we can get them to play a show in Columbus on Frozen Four Friday.

Stick Salute

A sincere thanks to the CCHA for allowing its statistics, standings and the like to appear on collegehockeystats.com, making it the one-stop numbers shop for Division I, II and III men’s and women’s college hockey. Operated by stats whiz and all-around good guy Tim Danehy, the Web site an indispensable resource for any hockey fan. You know, just like INCH.

Bench Minor

The 11 CCHA teams in action Saturday (Bowling Green was idle, and Lake Superior State hosted non-conference foe Alabama-Huntsville) combined to score 22 goals. Six of the 11 scored one or no goals that night. Makes you want to run out and buy Super Six tickets today, doesn’t it?


Nebraska-Omaha started a crucial stretch of six straight CCHA road games last weekend with a win and a tie against Ferris State in Big Rapids. It’s the first time the Mavericks have earned more than two points on the road since Dec. 6-7, 2002, at Lake Superior State, a span of 16 league road series. This weekend, UNO visits Miami, where the Mavs are winless in six tries (0-4-2) against the RedHawks.

•“You don’t feel much like riding, you just wish the trip was through,” sang Bob Seger in “Turn the Page”, his classic dirge of life on the road. After this week is over, Notre Dame might share Seger’s sentiments.

The Fighting Irish play three games in five days in three different rinks – after losing to Michigan Tech in Green Bay Tuesday, the team whisked back to the Joyce Center for the front end of a non-conference series against WCHA leader Wisconsin. The teams wrap the two-game set Saturday at Allstate Arena in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont.

• There’s a strong CCHA presence among the American Hockey League’s scoring leaders. Former Michigan standout Mike Cammalleri, who plays for the Los Angeles Kings’ top affiliate in Manchester, N.H. – entered the week as the circuit’s second-leading scorer with 57 points in 39 games. Another ex-Wolverine – Providence Bruins forward Andy Hilbert – is seventh in scoring with 44 points.

Among defenseman, former Michigan State All-American Andrew Hutchinson, who plays for Nashville’s affiliate in Milwaukee, ranks third in the AHL in scoring with 29 points. Three CCHA alums rank in the top 10 in rookie points – Ohio State’s R.J. Umberger, now with the Philadelphia Phantoms is seventh with 24 points, while Bowling Green’s Kevin Bieksa of Vancouver’s top farm club in Winnipeg and Alaska-Fairbanks’ Aaron Voros, who skates for New Jersey’s AHL affiliate in Albany, are tied for eighth with 20 points.

• Could it be that the future of the National Hockey League as we know it currently rests in the hands of a gritty two-way center from Medicine Hat and a former Michigan State hockey player with a degree in geology?

Trevor Linden, Vancouver Canucks’ pivot and president of the NHL Players’ Association, organized an informal meeting that took place at an airport lounge in Chicago Wednesday to discuss the current labor impasse. The point man for the three-person contingent representing the owners was Harley Hotchkiss, an MSU hockey letterwinner in 1950 and the current chair of the NHL Board of Governors. Hotchkiss is also one of the owners of the Calgary Flames.

The talks must not have gone too badly, because the two sides scheduled another session for Thursday in Toronto. Among those not invited to participate in the meetings were NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, a Cornell alum, and NHLPA executive director Bob Goodenow, who attended Harvard. Moral of the story – ECACHL guys just gum up the works.

• A sure sign that college hockey is entering the regular-season stretch run – we’ve seen the start of the first Hobey Baker Award campaign. Credit the first pitch of the Hobey huckstering to Bowling Green, which is touting senior goaltender Jordan Sigalet as a candidate by launching a promotional Web site.

• Following Michigan State’s 5-4 loss to Western Michigan in Kalamazoo Friday in a game in which his team fired 50 shots at the Broncos’ freshman goalie, Daniel Bellissimo, a reporter asked MSU head coach Rick Comley how frustrating the loss was.

“More than you can possibly imagine,” Comley said.

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

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