January 27, 2005
Bill of Goods

By Mike Eidelbes

CCHA Notebook
UNO's Bill Thomas leads all NCAA freshmen in scoring with 32 points.

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Maybe it’s because he plays at Nebraska-Omaha, a CCHA outpost more than 500 miles from its closest competitor. Maybe it’s because the Mavs’ schedule kept them away from spotlight destinations Ann Arbor and Columbus and sent them to East Lansing the same weekend the Michigan State football team played at Michigan, relegating the Spartan icers to the back pages. Maybe it’s because his name makes him sound like a CPA instead of the nation’s highest scoring freshman.

Why haven’t we heard about Bill Thomas until now?

Thomas is a big reason UNO is vying for one of the six home-ice berths in the first round of the league playoffs. With 32 points (12 goals and 20 assists) in 24 games, the Pittsburgh native is tied for third in the CCHA in scoring. More importantly, his play – and that of the Mavs’ other young guns – has renewed optimism around a still-young program that saw its fortunes sag during the last two seasons.

“Like any team, we wanted home ice in the playoffs and to play for the CCHA championship,” Thomas said. “Those were the biggest goals.

"We’re in fourth place now – we’d have home ice advantage if the season ended today – and we’re making strides.”

That the Mavericks, who won a total of eight games and five in the league last season, are serious contenders for an upper division finish speaks volumes to the quality and character of the young team coach Mike Kemp has assembled. The talented freshman class has contributed greatly to the turnaround, but Thomas says the group’s maturity has been just as important.

“Even though we are freshmen, there are a few of us who are 21,” said Thomas, who spent two seasons with the USHL’s Tri-City Storm prior to enrolling at Nebraska-Omaha. “A lot of younger players might be more emotional about wins and losses, or worried about how they’re playing individually instead of how well the team’s doing. Our young guys are team players.”

For the most part, Thomas has avoided the streaks and slumps that most freshmen endure. In fact, his longest scoring drought came earlier this month when he went three straight games without recording a point. In an effort to jump start the offense, Kemp reunited Thomas with his former Tri-City linemate and UNO’s leading scorer from a year ago, sophomore Scott Parse.

“Scott’s one of the best players I’ve played with in my career,” said Thomas, who rooms with Parse on the road. “He sees the ice really well and creates opportunities for me when I’m out there.”

Thomas has gotten so many opportunities that he’s poised to break UNO’s freshman scoring record his linemate set last season when he tallied 35 points. He doesn’t expect Parse to withhold the puck as the season winds down.

“He mentioned [the record] to me when we were in Miami,” Thomas said. “He asked me how many points I had, and he told me last year when he was getting close [the fans] had a countdown for it. I don’t think he’s going to get upset if I beat it.”


MSU finds its lines: Highlighting Michigan State’s three-point weekend against Lake Superior State was the performance of a new line combination for the Spartans. Coach Rick Comley put junior forward David Booth between sophomore Tom Goebel and freshman Bryan Lerg, and the unit paid dividends almost immediately.

The trio – led by Lerg’s first career hat trick – combined for five goals and four assists in Friday’s 8-0 romp over the Lakers. In Saturday’s 2-2 draw, they were clearly the Spartans’ best line, playing with confidence and generating a number of prime scoring opportunities. Booth was particularly effective, scoring a beautiful second-period goal and nearly ending the game in overtime only to see his shot from the slot hit the crossbar.

“I think our skills complement each other,” Booth said. “We’ve got very good speed and we just clicked.”

At 5-8, the pesky Goebel is deceptively strong on his skates and a terrific playmaker. Lerg, meanwhile, is showning signs of the offensive ability that made him a heralded recruit. Booth is the most dangerous of the three – he can use his speed to beat a defender wide and deke the goalie on one shift, then scrap in front of the net for a rebound the next.

“At the end, the play he made when he hit the crossbar…that’s a man’s play,” raved Lake Superior State coach Frank Anzalone. “The [second-period] goal…that’s a man’s play. He did a great job in this series.”

The emergence of the Lerg-Booth-Goebel line couldn’t come at a better time for the MSU, whose hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth are iffy at best. With three capable forward units, defending the Spartans becomes even tougher.

“We’ll be very effective on the score sheet the more we play together,” Booth said.”

You gotta have heart: Outside the visiting locker room at Munn Ice Arena Saturday, Anzalone was effusive in his praise not only of Booth, but also his team. One night after getting demolished by the Spartans, the Lakers thoroughly frustrated the hosts with a patient, physical brand of hockey that has them on the way to their best record since 1999-2000.

“One point, at this point, is very valuable to us,” said Anzalone. “You have to be happy with that, but I’m happier about the way our kids played.”

When the Lakers are in position to play their style of game – something they couldn’t do after falling behind early to MSU Friday – opponents can be assured of a miserable night due to a combination of neutral zone trapping and a physical, grinding approach.

“They’re big and strong,” Comley said. “They trap, and they wear on you. You could tell right away it was going to be a different hockey game."

Indeed, the Spartans appeared to give in to lethargy as Saturday’s contest progressed. The Lakers shook off a slow start – they took three quick penalties and gave up a goal in the first four minutes of the first period – and methodically and systematically battered MSU.

Momentum, which began to sway in the second period as LSSU got goals by Matt Restoule and Trent Campbell, peaked during the first shift of the final period. The Lakers’ forward line of Restoule, Steve McJannett and Nathan Ward held the puck in the MSU end for 90 seconds, winning every key battle along the boards and generating a handful of scoring opportunities.

“That was signs of great things for the future,” Anzalone said of Saturday’s performance. “Big heart players can compete with anybody. They might not always win, but they’ll always be there.”

Great Weekend Getaway
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Northern Michigan at Michigan (Fri.-Sat.)
This two-game set pits the CCHA’s leader in scoring offense (Michigan averages 4.31 goals per game) against the league’s stingiest scoring defense (Northern Michigan allows 2.17 goals per game). Yost Ice Arena offers the best home-ice advantage in the conference, but the Wildcats have been impervious to its effects – they own a respectable 8-9-0 all-time against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Michigan has won five in a row against NMU, but the ‘Cats had won the five before that.

While you’re there: Two games not enough for you? If so, make the drive across metro Detroit to the northeastern suburb of Fraser, home of the United Hockey League’s Motor City Mechanics. The team, coached by erstwhile NHL veteran Garry Unger, entertains the Kalamazoo Wings Sunday afternoon. Both rosters feature a sprinkling of ex-CCHA standouts, most notably Wings’ goaltender Chad Alban, who was an All-American and Hobey Baker Award finalist at Michigan State.

Stick Salute

In this writer’s opinion, seven bucks is a lot to pay for parking at a college hockey game. But on a frigid January evening at Michigan State, you’ll fork over the dough without batting an eye when a bus picks you up at the lot and drops you at the Munn Ice Arena doors. It’s still expensive, but it beats losing a fingertip to frostbite.

Bench Minor

The honor goes to Michigan State captain Jim Slater and his skewed sense of geography, based on an exchange that took place with LSSU coach Frank Anzalone as the Spartans and Lakers lined up for handshakes following Saturday’s game.

“[Slater] said, ‘Have a great flight back,” said Anzalone, whose team buses to every road game other than Alaska-Fairbanks. “We’ve got them fooled. He didn’t mean anything facetious. He thought we flew [to East Lansing].”


What do you get when you bring together two top-15 hockey teams that just happen to have the utmost disdain for one another? If it’s Michigan-Ohio State, you get record-setting attendance figures. 14,777 fans spun the Value City Arena turnstiles Friday to witness the host Buckeyes beat the visiting Wolverines, 4-1, which was the fourth-best turnout for a hockey game in OSU history. Incidentally, the top four largest hockey crowds at Value City Arena have occurred when the Bucks hosted the Wolverines.

Notre Dame also broke an attendance record this weekend…sort of. In spite of a winter storm that ravaged the Chicagoland area, 8,173 hearty souls trekked to Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., to watch the Fighting Irish drop a 2-0 decision to non-conference opponent Wisconsin. Attendance for the game, which was technically a Notre Dame home game, could’ve been nearly 50 percent larger had weather not been a factor, as there were more than 3,000 no-shows.

The Irish suffered identical 2-0 shutouts in the series against Wisconsin last weekend, the first time the team had been blanked on consecutive nights since Feb. 12-13, 1999, when Notre Dame dropped a pair of 1-0 contests to Michigan State and Ferris State, respectively.

• Does anyone else find it ironic that Nebraska-Omaha will shuffle over to the Omaha Civic Auditorium – better known as ‘The Bullpen’ – for a non-conference series against Wayne State this weekend because the Qwest Center hosts a rodeo? ‘The Bullpen’ served as the home of the Mavericks from 1997-2003. No word whether UNO will wear throwback uniforms from their inaugural season.

• The American Hockey League announced the rosters for the 2005 AHL All-Star Game, scheduled for Valentine’s Day in Manchester, N.H. Former CCHA players selected to appear include Andy Hilbert (Michigan/Providence Bruins), Ryan Kesler (Ohio State/Manitoba Moose), Andrew Hutchinson (Michigan State/Milwaukee Admirals) and Ryan Miller (Michigan State/Rochester Americans). The quartet will suit up for the PlanetUSA squad comprised of American- and foreign-born players. Only one ex-CCHAer – Mike Cammalleri (Michigan/Manchester Monarchs) – was named to the Canadian AHL team.

• Without looking, name the three CCHA teams that have winning records both at home and on the road. Two are fairly easy – Michigan (10-1-1 home, 6-2-0 road) and Ohio State (9-2-0 home, 6-3-2 road). How about the third? If you guessed Bowling Green State University (5-4-1 home, 5-4-1 road), give yourself a hearty pat on the back.

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

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