January 10, 2007
At Home ... On The Road

By James Jahnke

Jeff Jackson still has a place in Sault Ste. Marie, but he won’t be staying there this weekend.

For the first time in his life, the former Lake Superior State bench boss will be visiting Taffy Abel Arena as a Division I opponent of the Lakers, which means staying with his new team, Notre Dame, at a hotel while a perfectly good home sits just minutes away.

CCHA Notebook

Notre Dame and defenseman Kyle Lawson, back from a stint with the U.S. team at the World Junior Championship, visit Lake Superior State this weekend.

National TV Schedule

But the situation doesn’t seem to matter much to Jackson, who is treating this weekend’s CCHA series as a business trip more than a homecoming.

“Those 10 years I spent there were among the best years of my life,” said Jackson, who arrived at LSSU as an assistant coach in 1987 and later led the Lakers to national championships as a head coach in 1992 and 1994. “I’m excited to go up there to play. I’m sure it will stoke some memories and feelings, walking back into the building.”

Jackson, in his second year at Notre Dame after a lengthy stint in professional and junior hockey, faced the Lakers last season, but only in South Bend. This will be different. He said he has gotten a few calls this
week from people wanting to get together after the Fighting Irish arrive Thursday or after Friday’s series opener.

To be sure, Jackson won’t need a tour guide to get around town. When he was working in professional hockey and the OHL after his run with the Lakers, Jackson said he could spend the entire summer in the Soo. But now that he’s back in college, he only gets up there for a few weeks. The daughter of one of his friends lives in his place during the winter.

All in all, Jackson is glad to have a heavy social schedule on this trip, but he emphasizes that the No. 1 priority should be the series. Notre Dame is tied for first place in the CCHA, and LSSU is tied for fourth.

“I’m happy they’re doing well,” Jackson said of the Lakers. “There are a lot of quality people up there, and the team is similar to what it used to be: outworking the opponent. I’m looking forward to it.”


True to Blue: While Jack Johnson (another J.J., eh?) was playing in the
World Junior Championship in Sweden, we were inundated with rumors that
the sophomore Michigan defenseman would turn pro after the tournament.
Hogwash, he says.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Johnson said Wednesday. “I heard
about it over there. Some people know more than I do, I guess.

“I said hi to a couple of (Kings) scouts in Sweden, but we never talked about me leaving. I think they respect the fact that I want to finish the season and not walk out on my team.”

Johnson, the No. 3 pick in the 2005 NHL draft whose rights were traded by Carolina to Los Angeles last year, said he’s excited to be Kings property, but he would never leave U-M in the middle of a season. The next time he’ll evaluate his pro options will be in the spring.

Johnson and fellow WJC participant Andrew Cogliano weren’t slated to practice with U-M on Wednesday nor Thursday as the coaches gave them time to recuperate from the trip. They played on very little rest Tuesday against Bowling Green.

Northern exposure: Offense has been hard to come by for Michigan’s next opponent, Northern Michigan. Just last weekend, the Wildcats snapped a seven-game losing streak during which they scored two goals or fewer six times. (The other game featured a whopping three goals.)

Coach Walt Kyle is baffled by the lack of production, but he’s ready to move forward under the assumption that it’s simply the way things are going to be.

“If we’re not going to score, then we had better make sure we play really good defense,” Kyle said.

While optimistic about the 10th-place team’s chances for improvement, Kyle said NMU needs more offense from upperclassmen such as captain Pat Bateman (eight points this year vs. 29 last season) and others. It’s not that Bateman and company are playing poorly, they’re just not playing well enough to win.

“I’m happy with our leadership,” Kyle said. “It’s easy to turn negative when going through a stretch like this, but the only way out is through it. We have a lot of guys that are working very hard. When I evaluate our quality of play over the last 10 games or so, it has not been bad. We just need some guys to come to the forefront and do a little better job.”


Great Weekend Getaway
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Notre Dame at Lake Superior State (Fri.-Sat.)
Aside from the Jeff Jackson storyline, this series is worthwhile simply for the goaltending. ND’s David Brown and LSSU’s Jeff Jakaitis have been the top two netminders in the league this season, and among the best in the country. Laker coach Jim Roque promised Jakaitis that he will start
both games, as long as he plays OK. “He deserves to go against Brown head-to-head – and he wants to do it,” Roque said. “I don’t think Jeff has gotten enough credit from our league for what he has done. If he is going to be mentioned for the Hobey Baker, this is his chance.”

While you’re there: We’re not advocating skipping Saturday’s game, OK? We just want to make sure you know that Blue Oyster Cult and Starship are playing at the Kewadin Casino Dream Makers Theater that night.

Stick Salute

Now that college football is out of the way, college pucks are getting some better air time –- at least here in Michigan. Between FSN Detroit and Comcast Local, both of which do admirable jobs with their game coverage, dish-less fans in the Mitten State finally are getting their wintry due.

Bench Minor

Of course, it would be nice to see games not involving Michigan or
Michigan State
once in awhile. But beggars can’t be choosers, eh?

Michigan State had some trouble with the flu during last week’s split at Miami. “That’s as sick a group of kids as I’ve coached,” coach Rick Comley told the State News. “Honest to God, I looked down the bench and, at one point, there were three of them throwing up. We had one kid at the end of
the bench leaning over, and there’s glass between the benches, and the Miami (player is) watching him the whole time. I wanted to go bang the glass and say, ‘Give the kid some privacy.’”

• Before falling ill, Comley’s Spartans staged an academic contest during the first semester, with four pods of players competing to attain the highest combined grade-point average. The winners, with a GPA of 3.15, were Jeff Dunne, Dan Sturges, Brandon Warner, Justin Abdelkader, Steve
Mnich, and Chris Snavely. They won a dinner served by the rest of the team.

• Names in the news: Bowling Green freshman forward Kai Kantola thought he was going to play for Finland in the World Junior Championship, but found out the night before the games began that he was ineligible. He had been overseas and practicing with the Finns for a couple of weeks. ... Northern Michigan sophomore defenseman Spencer Dillon has left the Wildcats. He had one assist in 15 games this season. ... Notre Dame radio play-by-play announcer Mike Lockert is expected to miss another two weeks or so after having eye surgery during the holiday break. ... Western Michigan senior forward Brett John has received honorable mention for the Coach Wooden Citizenship Cup, a national award that recognizes community service among student-athletes.

• Bet Ferris State and Northern Michigan were happy to play each other last weekend. By splitting their series in Marquette, the Bulldogs ended a seven-game winless streak and the Wildcats nipped a seven-game losing skid.

• By now, you’ve heard that Robert Morris upset Notre Dame on Sunday. But did you notice the winning goaltender? It was former Wildcat Joe Tuset, who didn’t see any game action for NMU from 2002-04 before transferring to RMU.

• Milestones: Bowling Green junior Jonathan Matsumoto, Western Michigan senior Paul Szczechura and Michigan junior Chad Kolarik each earned career point No. 100 within the last week. ... Comley reached 700 career wins Saturday. ... Notre Dame freshman Kevin Deeth notched his first hat trick Friday at Robert Morris. ... Michigan coach Red Berenson has 599 career victories heading into this weekend’s home series against NMU.

• Freshman Joseph Palmer has fought off a mediocre start to the season and a challenge from classmate Nick Filion to become Ohio State’s No. 1 goalie, starting eight straight games. “He’s our guy,” coach John Markell verified.

• Penguins goaltending coach Gilles Meloche reportedly made a point to watch Notre Dame senior David Brown play Robert Morris on Friday at Pittsburgh’s Mellon Arena. Brown was an eighth-round pick by the Penguins in 2004.

• A rough series between Western Michigan and Bowling Green will leave the Broncos short-handed on Friday. Sophomore defenseman Chris Frank must sit out the series opener against visiting Miami after picking up a game disqualification for fighting on Saturday. BGSU senior defenseman Jeremy Bronson served his suspension for the scrap during Tuesday’s loss at Michigan. WMU senior forward Kevin Labatte earned a DQ for fighting against BGSU in Friday’s series opener and missed the Saturday rematch.

• Fun with numbers: Nebraska-Omaha has played four straight overtime games, going 0-2-2. ... Miami is 11-1-0 on Fridays and 5-5-1 on Saturdays.

• Did you know?: Only one CCHA head coach is not an alumnus of a CCHA school. Nebraska-Omaha’s Mike Kemp went to Gustavus Adolphus. Otherwise, Kyle, Berenson, Enrico Blasi (Miami), Jim Culhane (WMU), Jim Roque (LSSU), Tavis MacMillan (Alaska) and Scott Paluch (BGSU) are coaching at their alma maters, OSU’s Markell went to Bowling Green, Ferris State’s Bob Daniels and ND’s Jackson went to Michigan State, and MSU’s Comley attended Lake Superior.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. James Jahnke can be reached at jahnke@insidecollegehockey.com.