It’s time for the annual tussle
between Bucky, Goldy, Sparty and ... wait a sec ...
oh, yeah ... never mind.
Folks in Ann Arbor aren't blessed with
an oversized mascot to call their own, but at least
they can boast of the nation’s No. 1-ranked
hockey team heading into the loaded College Hockey
Showcase this weekend. Few thought Michigan would
be sitting on top right now – of the CCHA, let
alone the country. This was shaping up to be a down
year for the Wolverines with so many freshmen occupying
crucial roles and so few upperclassman stars.
But 11 games into the season, U-M has
just one loss and one tie. Longtime coach Red Berenson,
though proud of his team, knows that such results
can be deceiving.
“Do I think we’re the No.
1 team? No,” Berenson said. “But we have
a pretty good record, and that’s what people
look at. Being No. 1 is the kiss of death this time
Indeed, since the 1996-97 season, Michigan
is 0-4-1 in its games immediately following being
voted No. 1. That includes a loss at Alaska Fairbanks
after taking over the No. 1 mantle earlier this season.
Following a bye last weekend, Friday’s Showcase
game against Minnesota will be the Wolverines’
first since assuming the top spot this time around.
And that’s not the only thing
that concerns Berenson. He also knows that U-M has
lost its last four Showcase games and is in danger
of being passed by Minnesota or Michigan State this
weekend for the event’s best overall record.
U-M is 14-9-1 in the CHS’s previous 12 years,
MSU and Minnesota are 13-9-2, and Wisconsin is 5-18-1.
Then there’s the fact that the
WCHA teams visit the Great Lakes State this year,
which isn’t the advantage it might seem to be
for the CCHA representatives. Berenson said the visiting
squads often are more focused for the Showcase because
they are on the road for Thanksgiving instead of gorging
on food and hanging out with family and friends back
home. Distractions can creep in for the homebound.
Last on Berenson's list of concerns,
is that U-M is coming off the aforementioned bye week,
which could result in some rustiness.
What's a Wolverine to do?
“We have to ramp it up again in
practice and get up to the speed of a Minnesota before
we find ourselves down by too much Friday,”
Berenson said. “I can’t say that we’ve
shown that we’re better than anyone yet. We’ve
been able to skate with everyone, but we haven’t
played a Minnesota or a Wisconsin yet. When you look
at our schedule, this is the big test of our first
After the Showcase, second-place Michigan
travels for a pair of games at surprise CCHA leader
Miami. It'll be a league measuring stick the week
after a national measuring stick.
know a little more about ourselves next week, and
a little more next month, and that will give us an
idea of where we are,” Berenson said. “There
are a lot of areas where I think we can get better
and we will get better.”
Great Weekend Getaway
at Michigan (Fri.)
Wisconsin at Michigan (Sat.)
Half of the top six teams in the nation
will skate at Yost Ice Arena in the annual College
Hockey Showcase this weekend. No. 1 Michigan
easily leads the CCHA in power-play efficiency
(29.5 percent) and is a close second in penalty
killing (90.7 percent), the marks of a talented
and disciplined team. No. 6 Minnesota’s
freshman wunderkind, Phil Kessel, has moved
into a share of the team lead with 16 points.
This will be a homecoming of sorts for the product
of the Ann Arbor-based U.S. National Team Development
Program. No. 2 Wisconsin continues to get superb
goaltending from Brian Elliott - and just enough
offense to win. The Wolverines ended the Badgers’
season in the NCAA tournament last year, while
the Gophers ousted Michigan from the Frozen
Four in 2002 and 2003.
While you’re there:
There’s nothing like watching hockey with
a couple of enchiladas in your stomach, and
your best bet to achieve this paradisiacal state
is at Tios in downtown Ann Arbor. You can tell
them that INCH sent you, but they’ll have
no idea what you’re talking about.
to Ohio State goalie David Caruso, who became
just the second Buckeye in history to post shutouts
in consecutive games. Last weekend’s 3-0
and 4-0 wins over Lake Superior State marked
OSU’s first back-to-back whitewashes since
Bill McKenzie beat Ohio on Feb. 25-26, 1972.
We bet it won’t be 34 years before it
happens again. And speaking of Caruso, maligned
for inconsistency earlier this season, he now
sports a sub-2.00 goals against average (1.87).
off the Big Ten feel of this box: Yeah, Michigan
State had a tough schedule of eight games in
16 days. But is that any excuse for going 2-4-2?
The Spartans weren’t really playing the
cream of the CCHA crop, either, and five of
the contests were at home. Hopefully the MSU
players who have designs on playing pro hockey
later in their careers learn how to deal with
tired legs better by then.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• This weekend’s league
matchups are fine (especially Northern Michigan at
Alaska Fairbanks), but one of the real treats of the
holiday season is the intriguing non-conference slate.
Ferris State got things going with a home split against
Bemidji State last weekend, then Nebraska-Omaha dropped
a home game to Minnesota State, Mankato on Tuesday.
The College Hockey Showcase obviously dominates this
week’s agenda, but also keep an eye on Ferris
State’s two-game visit to Atlantic Hockey power
Mercyhurst, Western Michigan’s set at Colgate,
Lake Superior State’s home series against Robert
Morris and UNO’s venture to the Rensselaer/Bank
of America Holiday Tournament in New York. The Mavericks
face Hockey East-leading Providence in the first round,
then get either Rensselaer or Holy Cross on day two.
• Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp
is sporting a mustache for the second straight season,
saying he feels the need to be superstitious. “I
had a mustache from the time I was about 20 up until
about five years ago,” Kemp said. “My
wife and kids had never seen me without one until
that time. But then I got rid of it. Last season,
I decided that I needed to change our mojo, so I grew
it back. I took it off afterward, but I had to bring
it back when this season started.”
• Western Michigan’s most
capable defenseman, Ryan Mahrle, must sit out Friday’s
game at Colgate after picking up a game disqualification
against Michigan State.
• The good news for the Broncos
is that the Raiders are No. 12 in this week’s
INCH Power Rankings. WMU is 3-0-1 against top-20 teams
this season and 0-6-0 against unranked minions.
• The CCHA had eight players on
the NHL Central Scouting Service’s list of college
players eligible for this year’s draft. Michigan
defenseman Mark Mitera was the top skater at No. 3,
followed by Bowling Green forward Jonathan Matsumoto
(No. 8), Michigan State defenseman Brandon Gentile
(No. 12) and Michigan forwards Tim Miller (No. 17),
Travis Turnbull (No. 21) and Tyler Swystun (No. 25).
Among the three goalies listed, Michigan’s Billy
Sauer and Miami’s Jeff Zatkoff were Nos. 1 and
2, respectively. Michigan State forward Nick Sucharski,
who missed most of the first two months because of
mononucleosis, was unranked because of “limited
• Three key players returned to
their respective lineups last week after bouts with
injuries. Alaska Fairbanks captain Nathan Fornataro
(shoulder sprain) missed two games and the team’s
bye week before coming back for UAF’s series
at Omaha. Michigan State senior forward David Booth,
who had kicked around the idea of redshirting because
of a rib injury, had an assist in his return against
Western Michigan. And Ferris State defenseman Jeremy
Scherlinck played in the series finale against Bemidji
State after missing 10 games with a shoulder injury.
• Michigan State, Northern Michigan
and Ferris State went a combined 2-0-1 with their
backup goalies in net last Friday, then went 0-3-0
when the starters returned Saturday. MSU’s Dominic
Vicari and NMU’s Bill Zaniboni even had to be
pulled in their respective series finales.
• Northern Michigan’s
four straight losses earlier this month represented
the team’s longest losing skid since the 1996-97
A variety of sources were utilized
in the compilation of this report.