November 30, 2005
Double-Duty Howells

By James Jahnke

 CCHA Notebook

In 82 career games, Michigan State junior Tyler Howells has played 31 contests on defense and 51 at forward.

National TV Schedule

Atlantic Hockey Notebook
CHA Notebook
ECACHL Notebook
Hockey East Notebook
WCHA Notebook

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 cherish.

“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 have him.”


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 calls.

“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
120x60 - Brand Red

Michigan 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 and Zatkoff.

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.

Stick Salute

It 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).

Bench Minor

Michigan 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.”


• 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 Hockey.

• 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.