November 23, 2005
Wolverine Watch

By James Jahnke

 CCHA Notebook

Junior defenseman Matt Hunwick and Michigan enter this weekend's College Hockey Showcase with a five-game winning streak, but the Wolverines have been swept in the Showcase in back-to-back seasons.

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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 of year.”

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 half.”

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.

“We’ll 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
120x60 - Brand Red

Minnesota 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.

Stick Salute

Kudos 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).

Bench Minor

Finishing 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.


• 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 viewing.”

• 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 season.

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