us for a moment while we make a point using a bit stolen
from the "Five Questions" segment of "Late
Late Show with Craig Kilborn."
Think of a CCHA goaltender. Now think of another one. Now
think of a third.
Any of 'em Ohio State's David Caruso?
It wouldn't be a surprise if the junior netminder from Roswell,
Ga., slipped your mind. After all, this is the CCHA, a league
that boasts impenetrable Northern Michigan backstop Tuomas
Tarkki, Bowling Green's acrobatic Jordan Sigalet and goaltending's
golden boy, Al Montoya of Michigan.
Caruso measures up favorably with that trio – or any
goalie in the nation, for that matter. His 24 wins are the
second-most in the country behind Montoya's 27, he's second
in the CCHA to Tarkki with a 2.12 goals-against average,
and only Tarkki and Michigan State's Dominic Vicari have
better save percentages than Caruso's .918 mark.
Caruso has one thing the rest of the league goalies don't
– the opportunity to help his team defend its CCHA
playoff title. It was a year ago when the little-used backup
to then-senior Mike Betz got the starting nod from coach
John Markell in each of the Buckeyes' games at Joe Louis
Arena. Caruso rewarded Markell and the rest of the team
by helping OSU to three victories and its first conference
postseason crown since 1971. This time around, Caruso is
hoping to extend his personal win streak at the Joe to five
straight and keep the Mason Cup in Columbus for another
touched base with Caruso prior to the Buckeyes' departure
to Detroit for the CCHA Super Six.
Inside College Hockey: 11th seed Ferris State
took you guys to three games in last weekend's first round
playoff series. Did the series serve as a wake-up call?
Caruso: I don’t think so. We knew they
were a good team coming in and we knew they definitely had
a chance. We had to bring our A game…because we had
to go three games and into overtime to beat those guys.
Right now, everybody’s looking to extend the season
a little bit longer and nobody wants it to end. We were
fortunate enough to get a break or two…we got a little
bit of luck and some timely goal scoring.
Most people thought OSU would have a tough time matching
last year's success because so many seniors graduated, but
here you are again. What's been the key for the team's solid
play this season?
Sticking to our systems. Coach Markell, [assistant
coach] Casey Jones, [assistant coach] Steve Brent and [volunteer
assistant] Kurt Brown…the system that they coach is
great. If we follow it and execute our game plan, things
work out in our favor.
1 Michigan Record: 25-12-2 (18-8-2 CCHA)
Wolverine note: Michigan is in the midst of
an eight-game winning streak during which they’ve
scored 45 goals, an average of 5.6 per game. Until they
eked out a 1-0 OT win against Notre Dame in the first
round of the playoffs last weekend, the Wolverines hadn’t
scored fewer than four goals in their seven previous
Michigan wins: The onus is on junior goaltender
Al Montoya to be merely adequate. He leads
the country with 27 wins despite a sub-standard .894
save percentage and during the recent winning streak,
his save percentage is .884. Rare are the occasions
Montoya faces a lot of shots – he’s seen
25 or fewer opponent attempts 22 times in 36 starts.
As long as he keeps the softies to a minimum, the
Wolverines will be in good shape.
2 Ohio State
Record: 26-9-4 (21-5-2 CCHA)
note: Ohio State got off the schneid last
season by winning its first CCHA playoff championship
since 1972, but if they want to repeat they’ll
have to buck history once again – the Bucks
have never advanced to the league playoff title game
in consecutive seasons.
OSU wins: The Buckeyes may have developed
the blueprint for beating Michigan during their 4-1
win at Value City Arena in January. The Buckeyes outshot
the Wolverines by one (something that’s only
happened to U-M on seven occasions this season), won
the special teams battle with four power-play goals
in seven tries (the visitors were 1-for-9) and eliminated
unnecessary penalties (OSU is the leads the league
with an average of nearly 25 PIMs, but logged 22 to
Michigan’s 18 that night).
note: The good news – since returning
to the CCHA seven seasons ago, NMU has made the March
trip to Joe Louis Arena five times. The bad news –
they’ve failed to move past the semifinals in
all but one instance.
NMU wins: Taking the lead and forcing the
opponent to solve goaltender Tuomas Tarkki is critical
to the Wildcats’ success as evidenced by NMU’s
14-1-3 mark when scoring the game’s first goal,
including a 12-0-2 record against CCHA foes. It also
pays to revisit this statistic that appeared in the
INCH Power Rankings earlier this month – when
the Wildcats score two or more goals, they're 22-0-4.
When they don't, they're 0-10-3.
note: UNO is the first team to go from last
place in the CCHA standings one season to a berth
in the playoffs at Joe Louis Arena since Miami turned
the trick behind then-coach George Gwozdecky in 1992.
The Redskins won the league regular season crown the
UNO wins: Only two CCHA teams (Michigan and
Ohio State) scored more goals than the Mavericks’
133 this season, but UNO allowed more goals than all
but three league clubs. They can get past Michigan
State by playing firewagon hockey, but the Mavs will
have to tighten up defensively and kill penalties
at better than the 79.8 percent rate they own so far
this season to survive a likely semifinal matchup
with Michigan. The Wolverines converted on 6-of-10
power play opportunities in a sweep against UNO in
Omaha last month.
6 Michigan State
Record: 19-15-4 (12-13-3 CCHA)
note: After finishing first or second in
the conference playoffs six times in eight years from
1995-2002, MSU has failed to advance to the league
semifinals twice in a row.
MSU wins: The Spartans have won a season-high
five in a row after enduring a dismal 1-4-3 stretch.
Scoring depth has been an issue. The quartet of Jim
Slater, Colton Fretter, Drew Miller and Jim McKenzie
has scored 24 of the team’s 33 goals since the
beginning of February. During the win streak, however,
MSU has thrived on the power play with 11 goals in
their last 36 chances (a 30.6 percent success rate).
If they can play their opponents even five-on-five
and win the special teams battle, centralized production
becomes less of an issue.
note: Some postseason debut – freshman
Ryan McLeod scored twice in the first 13 seconds of
UAF’s first-round match at Bowling Green last
Friday, setting CCHA playoff marks for fastest two
goals, fastest goal to start a game and fastest two
goals to start a game.
UAF wins: Scoring goals in bunches has been
the Nanooks’ forte this season. In last weekend’s
first round playoff sweep at Bowling Green, for example,
UAF scored thrice in the game’s first 3:19 Friday
and took a 2-0 lead after one period Saturday. Conversely,
the Nanooks struggle when the team they’re facing
strings goals together. Keeping that in mind, UAF
has to take a basketball approach and put together
a run before its opponents do.
You've got an interesting mix of defensemen playing in front
of you – an offensive guy like Sean Collins, a bruiser
such as Nate Guenin, a couple of defensive defensemen. It's
quite an eclectic group.
It’s an honor to play behind those guys
because they each bring something great to the table. They
all give their bodies up to block shots and go in the corners
hard. They give 100 percent every single shift. When the
time does come for me to have to make a save, I try to make
it and if there’s a rebound, those guys are there
to clear it out. They’re definitely there for me through
Despite your record, the computer rankings peg the Buckeyes
on the bubble for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Do you and you're teammates pay attention to that stuff?
You’d rather do it yourself than hope
it falls into place. We know that Friday night if we stick
to our system and play our game, then hopefully it will
turn out well for us and we go from there…and then
Saturday, maybe we can have the same type of result. Winning
the Super Six – that’s the surest way to get
into the NCAA Tournament. Hopefully, we can play our best
because there are definitely some good teams there.
INCH: It almost smacks as a lack of respect.
Here you are at 26-9-4 and your NCAA status is tenuous at
best. Do you think OSU gets the respect it deserves?
I think when a team plays us, they do. We
respect every team we play because we know there’s
a lot of parity. On any day, any team can beat anybody.
Take Ferris State – they came up here and played a
heck of a weekend. Really, we’re not concerned about
what other teams are thinking about us. We’re more
concerned about sticking to our game plan.
on the topic of respect, do you think you get overlooked
when the discussion turns to the country's top goalies?
Your numbers are as good as anyone in the nation.
I don’t really consider any of that.
I’d rather just win games. Winning games is the most
important thing to me. I couldn’t care less about
any of the other stuff. If we win 10-9 and I have 10 shots
on me and I save one, I’ll be happy. That’s
the most important thing – winning.
You're the defending CCHA playoff champs. Can the team draw
confidence from that?
Definitely. You’ve definitely been there
before…but every single team that’s there is
looking at you – if they play you – thinking
this is the defending Mason Cup champions. They want to
give us a little bit extra, and they want to knock us off.
Every game is going to be a tough game. Five of the last
seven playoff games we’ve had have gone into overtime.
It’s tight in the playoffs.
Prior to last year's Super Six, you were a little-used backup
before being thrust in the spotlight. What did that experience
Playing my game and sticking to what I do
best, which is my skating ability and using my athletic
ability to make the save. Also, I try not to get all out
of control, but stay in control while being aggressive.
INCH: One of the most notable improvements in
your game is your lateral quickness and ability to quickly
get back into postion.
I play an aggressive style that has to do
with a lot of skating and really challenging the shooters.
That’s a big part of it. Plus, the coaches have really
worked with me on doing goalie-specific things during the
past four years. I’m trying to be quick…and
use my great skating ability as my biggest asset.
You guys earned second place in the regular season standings
easily, but you chased Michigan for the title right to the
last weekend. Did the race for first help keep the team
in a playoff mindset?
Maybe a little bit. With everything going
on and the season being so short, you’ve got to come
to play every weekend. The most important thing is playing
consistently and playing well going into the playoffs. You
don’t really concern yourself with the other teams,
but try to go out there and play your best and give your
all every game.
INCH: After winning the playoff championship
last year, the team ran into Rick James at the hotel. Rick's
no longer with us, but if you could choose someone to replace
him should the Mason Cup stay in Columbus another year,
who would it be?
Hopefully, it would be a country music singer
like Tim McGraw or Kenny Chesney. But I wouldn’t mind
Martina McBride or Faith Hill being there at all.