November 2, 2006
Young Stars at Alaska and Omaha Don't Kid Around

By James Jahnke

Here’s an idea. Instead of throwing a fish on the ice to commemorate Nebraska-Omaha’s first goal against Alaska this weekend, throw some lottery tickets. That’s the only way a couple of underage stars on the two teams could obtain them.

CCHA Notebook

CCHA impact freshmen Jeremie Dupont (left) of Nebraska-Omaha and Dion Knelson of Alaska (right) will face each other on the ice this weekend. Both players are 17 years old, and are two of the three youngest players in Division I hockey.

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Alaska forward Dion Knelson and UNO goalie Jeremie Dupont would get laughed out of 7-11 if they presented their IDs to buy cigars. (Not that they would, of course.) They are 17 years old — and represent two of the three youngest players in the NCAA — although neither is playing like it.

Knelson is second among Nanooks with nine points (4g, 5a) this season, and Dupont has played his way into an early rotation with incumbent starter Jerad Kaufmann, registering a shutout of Western Michigan last Saturday after winning Friday’s match in relief. The rookies will be on display again this weekend at the Qwest Center, this time, head-to-head.

Knelson, who becomes of age on Jan. 4, is the kind of high-end talent that doesn’t find its way to Fairbanks very often. His brother Brandon, 1½ years his senior, also is a freshman at UA, and the duo has been teamed with Alaska's best returning forward, Kyle Greentree, thus far. But Dion Knelson doesn’t sound all that impressed by his early accomplishments.

"You see a lot of people who have had success in college hockey, and I know I can't compare myself to them yet," Knelson said. "I'm fortunate to be getting points, but I know I need to get a lot better to take credit for the points I’m getting.

“Jonathan Toews got a lot of points as a 17-year-old last year, and people might look at me and say I’m doing the same thing. But am I as good as Toews? I’m not even close, right? So I just view potential as something to use to make me work harder.”

Knelson skipped first grade, so he’s been the young guy most of his life. Dupont, on the other hand, graduated high school in three years by taking summer school and night classes so he could have a season of college hockey under his belt before his NHL draft year came up. He said the only time he’s felt like a 17-year-old since he got to UNO was when, after a team meeting, he had to fax a consent form to his parents because he wasn’t old enough to sign it himself.

"I don't want age to be an excuse," said Dupont, who turns 18 on Dec. 18. "I want to play well. The guys here are great. Maybe they’re at different stages of their lives, but we’re all here to play hockey, so that’s kind of a bond we all share."

Knelson said he gets along with his teammates, too, even though Alaska’s age range is almost funny. Senior forward Jordan Emmerson turns 25 the day after Knelson turns 18.

"Emmerson razzes me a little bit, saying he's old enough to be my father," Knelson said. "And a couple of the older guys make jokes like, when they were in Grade 8, I was in diapers. But this team is pretty close, so you kind of forget how much older they are. The age gap gets shrunk because they treat me as an equal."

It’s coincidental that Knelson and Dupont — who hadn't heard of each other before INCH asked — are meeting on the weekend before Election Day. But don’t feel too bad for them not being old enough to vote Tuesday. They're both Canadian.


Lighting Up Lerg: Michigan State goalie Jeff Lerg's 3.01 goals-against average and .840 save percentage look grotesque, especially for a player named to this season's all-CCHA preseason team. But heading into a brutal stretch of the schedule, MSU coach Rick Comley said Lerg "is the last player on the team I'm worried about."

It seems the diminutive sophomore has been victimized by a string of bad bounces, re-directions, and fluky goals. MSU survived fairly well with a 3-1 record, but the road gets tougher as Michigan (three times), Notre Dame (twice), Minnesota and Wisconsin dot the November schedule.

"There have been some crazy bounces," Comley said. "I'm not sure that he's as sharp as he was at the end of last season, but he'll be OK."

Comley also mentioned that he's confident in freshman Bobby Jarosz, who has yet to play this season but probably will get some time as Sparty plays nine games in the next three weeks.

The tough slate starts with a home-and-home against the archrival Wolverines this weekend (although MSU can be confident knowing it is 3-0-5 in the last eight games of the series). Michigan defenseman Jack Johnson will miss the opener in East Lansing — UM's only visit to Munn Ice Arena this season — after picking up a game disqualification for fighting last Saturday. He'll come back Saturday for what is a "Maize Out" night at Yost Ice Arena.

Leaving the Falcons: This weekend's series against Lake Superior State will mark the end of Ron Fogarty's four-year run as an assistant coach at Bowling Green. Effective Monday, Fogarty is moving on to his new position, head coach of the start-up Division III program at Adrian College.

"It's always tough to leave a program that has great individuals involved with it," said Fogarty, who was hired by Adrian last week. "I appreciate what Coach (Scott) Paluch has done, allowing me to develop over the last few years here, and the players have been very supportive of my decision. But they're focused on the task at hand."

The task at hand this week is the Lakers, coached by Jim Roque, who worked with Fogarty as an assistant at Clarkson. "It's a nice way to go out," Fogarty admitted.

He said he's confident that BGSU is headed in the right direction after a last-place finish last year. But in a few days, he’ll have a different set of issues on his mind. Walking in to an expansion program makes for a lot of prep work.

"I have my daughters drawing up jerseys at night," Fogarty said.


Great Weekend Getaway
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Michigan at Michigan State (Fri.)
Michigan State at Michigan (Sat.)

It’s always fun when these two get together, although the games probably won’t be as crisp this time of year as they would be in the winter. The biggest question facing both squads concerns their goaltender, which would be expected at UM but is shocking at MSU. With a deep stable of forwards on both sides, these games probably will be won and lost in the neutral and defensive zones.

While you’re there: Both schools have home football games on Saturday, although Michigan’s noon tilt against Ball State is much more hockey-friendly than MSU’s 3:30 kick against Purdue. In hoops, both teams host exhibitions Sunday afternoon — and against schools you’ll recognize: UM vs. Michigan Tech and MSU vs. Tom Izzo's alma mater, Northern Michigan.

Stick Salute

By winning the Lightning College Hockey Classic last weekend, Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson earned his 200th career victory.

P.S. The tournament in Tampa, which the Irish host, will move to a Christmas time slot in the future.

Bench Minor

We laughed a little when we saw Army only posted seven shots in a loss to Notre Dame on Friday. (What is this, soccer?) But it was no laughing matter when Northern Michigan mustered just 14 shots on net in a loss to Ohio State on Saturday. Against the Buckeyes’ so-so defense? On the big ice? At home? C’mon, Wildcats.

• Yahoo, league! The CCHA went 7-1 in non-conference play last weekend, the lone blemish being Northeastern's upset of Michigan in the only game that mattered in the Commissioners’ Cup standings. Oh well. The only out-of-league action this week is Western Michigan’s single home game against Wayne State on Saturday.

• Buckeye bits: Notre Dame assistant coach Paul Pooley, Ohio State's all-time leading scorer with 270 points, will have his No. 22 retired by the Buckeyes on Saturday. It will be the first number retired by OSU’s hockey program. ... The Buckeye Hockey Alumni Association has launched a new Web site, ... Notre Dame was able to wrangle about 7,000 people into the St. Pete Times Forum for each day of the Lightning College Hockey Classic last weekend. Yes, that’s in Florida. So why could OSU only attract 4,700 and 3,600 to games against powerhouse Minnesota on campus last month?

• Notre Dame has won four straight games away from the Joyce Center for the first time since 1987-88 (over Army and Canisius). Yes, the Irish were credited with four wins away from home in November 1991, but while they did beat Lake Forest and Merrimack, their two "wins" over Maine came via forfeit because the Black Bears used an ineligible player.

• Michigan senior Tim Cook has been skating as a fourth-line winger the last five games after playing his previous 100 contests as a defenseman. He is expected to be back on D in Johnson’s absence Friday, then go up front again Saturday.

• Miami is wearing helmet decals bearing the number 18 in honor of Tom Neziol, who played at MU from 1987-90. Neizol died of a sudden heart attack on Oct. 1. He was 39.

• Western Michigan might have found a good one in freshman Mark Letestu, who registered a hat trick (and an assist) in Friday’s loss at Nebraska-Omaha. He leads the team in scoring with seven points through six games.

• Ferris State should enjoy its bye this weekend, because things get nuts after that. The Bulldogs next play back-to-back series against Michigan State and Michigan over a 12-day stretch.

• Michigan coach Red Berenson, former Ohio State and Minnesota coach Glen Sonmor and former Golden Gopher player Reed Larson are among five honorees who will be given the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States at a luncheon ceremony Monday at Joe Louis Arena. Steve Yzerman and Marcel Dionne will also receive the award.

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