With the exception of rink manager Tom
Campbell, Michigan State junior Tyler Howells probably
knows Munn Arena’s ice sheet better than anyone.
After all, he’s been responsible for covering
each square-inch at some point or another.
Howells is a utility player, bouncing
between forward and defenseman on a game-by-game,
period-by-period basis when needed. Short a blueliner?
He’ll jump in and add some offensive flair to
MSU’s back end. All set in the defensive corps?
He’ll assume his natural spot on the left wing.
His versatility is a luxury coaches
“I feel good going into a game
knowing he’s there for us if something happens,”
coach Rick Comley said.
As a freshman, Howells played seven
games on defense and 25 at forward. The ratio switched
as a sophomore, with him playing 21 on defense and
14 at forward. This season, he’s played up 12
times and back thrice – and the results have
been solid. The Eden Prairie, Minn., native opened
the year with an eight-game point streak, then scored
the game-tying goal in Saturday’s draw against
his home-state Golden Gophers. His 14 points rank
second on the team, and his five goals are more than
double his previous career total of two.
“I feel comfortable and capable
at both (positions), so there’s not really a
preference for me,” Howells said. “The
toughest is going from forward back to defense, because
you have a different mind-set and have to watch the
play develop in front of you.”
Some wonder whether Howells’ constant
shifting hurts his development. Would he be a better
forward if he could concentrate solely on playing
up front? Howells, for one, doesn’t buy it.
In fact, he thinks his two-way repertoire will make
him more attractive to professional teams, just as
it did when he was recruited by Michigan State.
“For the coach, it’s probably
good to have somebody like that on your team, because
if somebody gets hurt, you don’t have to call
somebody up,” Howells said. “It doesn’t
faze me at all. If you know how to play hockey and
you can skate backwards, you’re all right.”
What makes Howells’ dabbling in
defense even more impressive is his lack of size.
At 5-feet-8, 167 pounds, he’s a small blueliner
by anybody’s standards. He had to learn how
to make quick contact with attacking forwards, then
break away and get back into position, thereby avoiding
getting tangled in a contest of strength that he’s
likely to lose. He also tries to take advantage of
his quickness when digging for pucks in the corner
or cutting down angles on an opposing rush.
Howells’ varied abilities are
most helpful on special teams. He is MSU’s best
power-play quarterback -- combining a forward’s
playmaking with a rearguard’s sense of responsibility
– and he can serve as something of a third defenseman
on the penalty kill.
“Every day, we kind of joke about
it – he wonders what color jersey he’s
going to have in his stall, a white one for defense
or a green one for forward,” MSU assistant coach
Brian Renfrew said. “When he was back there
on defense with Jared Nightingale earlier this season,
they might have been our best pairing. And now that
he’s up with (Jim) McKenzie and (Bryan) Lerg,
they might be our best line. We’re lucky to
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
Sorry, kinda: Lake
Superior State coach Jim Roque found himself in the
news and short a grand last week after making critical,
conspiratorial comments to the media about the officiating
in a sweep by Ohio State. Monday, he said he had apologized
to the CCHA office but still was unhappy about some
“I’ll be the first to admit
that I handled it poorly,” Roque said. “I
called the league on Monday morning (after the series)
to apologize. It was the improper place to (complain).
I was just very upset about the circumstances surrounding
that weekend – and I’m still not happy.
“My biggest concern was that the
same kid (Alex Dunn) got checked twice from behind
in the same game and it wasn’t called. We could
have had a kid get killed or become a paraplegic or
something. That scared me. I don’t want to have
to make that call to his parents and tell them that
their kid has freaking bolts coming out of his neck.”
Roque also mentioned that he exchanged
words with referee Mark Wilkins before and during
Saturday’s series finale – the day after
the two hits on Dunn – but declined to go into
specifics about those encounters. The CCHA reprimanded
Roque and fined him $1,000 for his conduct.
It’s big, kinda:
The first question wasn’t even out of our mouth
before Miami coach Enrico Blasi declared that this
weekend’s series is no bigger than any other
on the schedule. So Michigan is coming to town. So
it appears to be an early battle for CCHA supremacy.
So the first-place RedHawks could put 10 points between
them and the ever-dangerous Wolverines in the league
standings (albeit with U-M having three games in hand).
Just another weekend.
“I don’t remember the last
time somebody won a championship in December,”
said Blasi, who didn’t write the one-game-at-a-time
manual but has it memorized from cover to cover. “This
is just one more day that we have to play our best.
Our goal is to play our best hockey every time we
step on the ice and continue to improve. In that way,
it is a big weekend. Friday is our biggest game of
the year. And then Saturday will be. And then Monday’s
practice will be our biggest day of the year. That’s
been our mentality.”
Blasi did concede that there will be
an interesting subplot this weekend. Michigan freshman
Billy Sauer and Miami freshman Jeff Zatkoff are the
top two draft-eligible goalies in the NCAA, according
to the NHL’s Central Scouting Service. Zatkoff
will play Saturday as he continues to share time with
sophomore Charlie Effinger. Sauer is expected to play,
too, although senior Noah Ruden started against Wisconsin
last week after the freshman struggled against Minnesota.
But regardless of whether they go head-to-head, Blasi
doesn’t think Zatkoff will get caught up in
comparing himself with Sauer.
“He’s not that type
of person,” Blasi said. “He’s very
grounded. If there was going to be any pressure on
him, it would have been last week when he played against
(Bowling Green’s) Jimmy Spratt, who is his friend
and former roommate. Jimmy was the No. 1 in Sioux
City (of the USHL) last year and Jeff was his backup,
so that could have been a distraction. But Jeff just
wants to do well for his team.”
Great Weekend Getaway
at Miami (Fri.-Sat.)
No CCHA teams have started hotter than
the Wolverines and RedHawks, setting up as big
of a league series as there has been this season.
Miami continues to stymie opponents with surprisingly
sound defense and goaltending, but the best
news for the RedHawks is that star forward Matt
Christie is heating up. He has four goals in
his last four games after failing to find the
net in the year’s first eight contests.
Michigan crumbled under the weight of the No.
1 national ranking again last week, but with
that burden having been lifted, expect the Wolverines
to provide the stiffest test yet for Effinger
While you’re there:
I’ll make it worth your while to pick
me up a case of Skyline Chili. If that would
be too awkward, just think of INCH while enjoying
a jumbo 3-way and a couple of cheese coneys.
was a close call, but Nebraska-Omaha junior
Scott Parse extended his school-record point
streak to 13 consecutive games with an assist
with three seconds left in Saturday’s
win over Holy Cross. Parse has a point in every
game this season and leads the team with 22
(7 goals, 15 assists).
State’s winless skid has reached eight
(0-5-3), the school’s longest stretch
without a victory since the 1980-81 season.
No current Spartan was alive then, and from
the sound of things, the players are disgusted
that this is happening on their watch. Forward
Chris Lawrence reportedly had some things to
say in a somber locker room after Friday’s
loss to Wisconsin. “Everybody’s
had enough, I think,” an emotional Chris
Mueller said minutes later. “This is getting
ridiculous. This isn’t Michigan State
hockey. Enough is enough.”
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Don’t look now, but underachieving
Ohio State is alone in second place in the CCHA standings.
Yeah, they’ve played more league games than
everyone except Bowling Green, but it was just a little
more than two weeks ago when the Buckeyes were alone
in the conference cellar. One reason for the resurgence
has been the power play, which has popped in seven
goals during their five-game winning streak after
netting just five during a 2-5-1 start to the season.
• We’re not sure what it
means, but we’re pretty sure this is an excellent
quote from Alaska Fairbanks coach Tavis MacMillan:
“It’s not the opportunities we’re
lacking in. Right now, we’re a team that’s
lacking the finish. We’re a lot more Swedish
than we are Finnish.”
• Injury updates: Michigan senior
forward Brandon Kaleniecki missed Saturday’s
loss to Wisconsin with hand, rib, knee and back injuries.
No, he wasn’t hit by a bus. But the scratch
did end his consecutive games streak at 108. Kaleniecki
was expected to return to practice Wednesday (on a
line with T.J. Hensick, no less), and he should play
at Miami this weekend. ... Western Michigan freshman
forward Matt Clackson will return for this weekend’s
home-and-home series against Notre Dame after missing
six games with an injury.
• A couple of notes from the box
scores: Ferris State was one shot shy of posting 100
in its sweep of Mercyhurst (50 Fri., 49 Sat.). The
Lakers must have made a defensive adjustment before
Game 2, eh? ... For the second time this season, Miami
was involved in an incident during which all 10 skaters
on the ice were sent to the penalty box en masse.
First, it was at home against Ohio State. This time,
it was Saturday at Bowling Green. Additional minor
penalties to both the RedHawks and the Falcons within
the next minute brought the grand total of sin bin
tenants to 12 at one point.
• The CCHA had a so-so showing
in non-conference action last week. The 0-3-1 mark
in the College Hockey Showcase hurt, but Nebraska-Omaha
won the Rensselaer tournament with victories over
Providence and Holy Cross, Ferris State and Lake Superior
State swept Mercyhurst and Robert Morris, respectively,
and Western Michigan played two overtime games at
Colgate (one tie, one loss). This week, Ohio State
hosts CHA contender Alabama-Huntsville for a pair,
and Notre Dame travels to Minnesota State, Mankato
for a single game Tuesday. The CCHA is tied with the
WCHA for third place in the Commissioners’ Cup
standings, two points behind the ECACHL and Atlantic
• A pair of freshman goalies,
UAF’s Chad Johnson and UNO’s Jerad Kaufmann,
started two games in a weekend for the first time
in their careers last week. They combined to go 3-1-0.
• Lake Superior State’s
sweep of Robert Morris last week was its first home
sweep since 2002.
• Michigan State is 0-4-1 in televised
games this season. Friday’s home game against
Bowling Green will be shown by Comcast Local. Saturday’s
tilt at BGSU won’t be on the air.
• Ohio State is 6-0-1 when
scoring a power-play goal, and 1-5-0 when it doesn’t.
A variety of sources were utilized
in the compilation of this report.