January 18, 2007
Buckeyes Buzz With Fritsche

By James Jahnke

It wasn’t long ago that Tom Fritsche was curled up in a ball on the floor of his parents’ house in Parma, Ohio. Just about five months, really.

Since that moment of searing pain, he has lost 40 pounds, spent a month in the hospital, wondered whether his hockey career was over, missed nearly a full quarter of classes, regained most of his weight, come back to the team, scored three points in four games, and helped the wildly inconsistent Ohio State Buckeyes earn four straight wins.

CCHA Notebook

Ohio State junior forward Tom Fritsche has three points in four games with the Buckeyes this season. He missed OSU's first 18 games recovering from ulcerative colitis.

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Asked how he feels, Fritsche had one word: “Slow.”

But that’s OK for now. A few months ago, people were wondering whether the junior forward would ever play again.

In August, Fritsche was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis, a condition involving ulcers and inflammation of the inner lining of the colon. Fritsche says he was born with the affliction, although he didn’t know it. Making matters worse, his case this summer was more severe than most, rendering basic medication useless.

While his teammates were in training camp, he spent almost all of September – including his 20th birthday on Sept. 30 – in the hospital, unable to eat because it made the condition worse. After a month of intravenous feeding, a new medicine started taking care of Fritsche’s symptoms, and he was discharged from the hospital at 150 pounds, 40 pounds shy of the usual 190 he carries on his 5-foot-11 frame.

During the first few days back at his parents’ house, Fritsche remembers his weak legs collapsing as he tried to go up a flight of stairs. Simply walking was tough. But by the end of October, Fritsche was able to do most things physically – just not as well as he could do them as a finely conditioned Division I athlete.

Even now, four games into Fritsche’s return to the Buckeyes, linemate and former roommate Domenic Maiani thinks his buddy is only skating at 70 percent of his capacity.

“But Buzz’s 70 percent is most other guys’ 100 percent,” Maiani says.

Fritsche got the nickname of Buzz because he has a Buzz Lightyear doll (of “Toy Story” fame) in his bedroom, but it just as easily could have come from his propensity to buzz around opponents’ nets. He led Ohio State in scoring during each of his first two seasons on campus – with 45 points in 2004-05 and 30 points last season – and while that streak almost certainly will be stopped this year, Fritsche is still productive.

The Colorado Avalanche draft pick notched an assist in his first game back from the illness, against Minnesota Duluth in the Ohio Hockey Classic on Dec. 29. He got another assist the next night, then picked up his first goal on Jan. 5, against Alaska. Even more impressive is that the Buckeyes have won all four games in which Fritsche has played, no small feat for a team that has underachieved as much as any in the league for the past season and a half.

The good fortune has OSU in a tie for fifth place heading into this weekend’s home-and-home series against rival Miami, a series that Maiani referred to as “huge ... huge.” For Fritsche, it will be another step in a comeback that he doesn’t expect will be complete until next season.

“I lost a lot of muscle and strength in my legs,” Fritsche said. “The first time I lifted weights after being sick, it was kind of depressing realizing how weak I was. But I didn’t want to be a bum on the ice when I came back, just floating around, so I definitely am trying to think more when I’m out there and just pick my moments.

“And now we’ve put two good weekends together, which is about the longest streak we’ve had in the last year and a half. Hopefully, we can keep it going.”


Not Backing Down: Alaska coach Tavis MacMillan, a central figure in Friday’s postgame brawl at Michigan State, said this week that he has moved on from his center-ice confrontation with MSU coach Rick Comley after a 3-2 overtime loss.

“I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about it,” MacMillan said Monday. “I don’t hold grudges, I don’t dwell on things. It was an intense game, and that’s the way hockey is. Maybe other people are different. To me, this has been way, way overblown.”

MacMillan felt that the Spartans were running goaltender Wylie Rogers during the game, and he raised the point with Comley in an animated, finger-wagging fashion as the coaches met near center ice to shake hands. As Comley argued his case with MacMillan, players started to rumble (the coaches’ quarrel was strictly verbal). Alaska’s Justin Binab and T.J. Campbell and MSU’s Brandon Gentile and Chris Lawrence were given fighting penalties, suspending them from Saturday’s rematch. Here’s a YouTube link to the fight.

Afterward, Comley told the Lansing State Journal, “We’re college coaches. This is not the East Coast League, and we have to have some class. You take a tough win or a tough loss and shake hands, but you don’t incite players, because nothing good happens.”

On Monday, MacMillan repeatedly referred to the incident as “isolated” and partly blamed the logistics at Munn Ice Arena, where benches on opposite sides of the ice force coaches to meet near the players’ handshake line.

Asked if he would do anything different in hindsight, MacMillan said, “I would deliver the same message, but in a different fashion and a different venue. No, not a different venue, but a different fashion. Doing it face-to-face is better than doing it behind somebody’s back or in the media. Right, wrong, or different, that’s how I feel.”

Extra Time, Extra Worries: What’s weird is that Nebraska-Omaha has played five overtime games since Christmas. What’s bad is that the Mavericks have lost three of them and tied the other two.

Coach Mike Kemp can’t pinpoint why the Mavs have struggled in the extra frame, but he knows that it’s a major reason the team has a “disappointing” 10-10-6 record overall and 7-7-2 mark in the CCHA. They are in seventh place heading into this weekend’s series at Ferris State.

“We’ve always been very reliable defensively when we get into those OT situations, but the last couple of weeks, something has gone wrong,” Kemp said. “If I had the answer, I wouldn’t be feeling this way. We’re going through a stretch where we haven’t had consistent play for 60 minutes at a time.

“We have every bit of potential to be better, and the good news is there’s still a lot of time left.”

That’s true. In the league race, the Mavericks are actually two points better than they were after 16 games last season. And you’ll remember that they made it all the way to the 2006 NCAA tournament.


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Miami at Ohio State (Fri.)
Ohio State at Miami (Sun.)

These teams are well-acquainted, having played three previous times in the last five weeks (the series is 1-1-1). The RedHawks need a good weekend to keep within range of Notre Dame for first place, while the Buckeyes are in the mix for a first-round playoff bye if they continue their improved play. Junior forward Domenic Maiani thinks the holiday break helped OSU refocus on playing hard and smart, two qualities it will need to exhibit against the fleet RedHawks.

While you’re there: There are few better places to spend a Saturday night than Oxford, so head Uptown and let your senses direct you.

Stick Salute

For the second straight week, a CCHA coach hit a major milestone. Michigan's Red Berenson reached 600 career wins with Friday’s 5-2 victory over Northern Michigan, moving his record to 600-287-63 in 23 seasons. He is eighth on the all-time wins list. A second salute goes to U-M players Matt Hunwick and T.J. Hensick for presenting Berenson with the game puck afterward.

Bench Minor

It’s fine that Alaska coach Tavis MacMillan wants Friday night’s fiasco to blow over – and it will – but he should realize that his actions triggered the melee that left four players suspended Saturday. Both he and MSU coach Rick Comley must know that standing up for their team is great, but do it with decorum.

The BGSU Ice Arena has new glass, which is two feet higher than before, and new dasher boards this season. And those modifications brought about another change: The home Falcons switched benches. BGSU switched to the south bench and now shoots at the north goal for two periods, instead of vice versa.

The reasoning is that the student section is behind the north goal, so the kids now have twice as long to harass the opposing goalie. The Falcons used to shoot the other way twice because the south end had funny seams in the glass around the Zamboni door, and they didn’t want to subject their goalie to that twice per game. With the new glass, the problem is solved and the students can insult freely.

• It might seem hard to believe, but MacMillan said he is more confident in his team now, seven-game losing streak and all, than he was when it started the season 5-1-3.

“I love the way we’re playing right now,” MacMillan said. “The morale is better on this team than on teams I’ve been part of that have had seven-game winning streaks. The guys know that we’re going to be a very good team at the right time of year.” Michigan makes the long trip to Fairbanks this weekend.

• Western Michigan sophomore forward Jeff LoVecchio, the CCHA offensive player of the week after scoring six points in last weekend’s series against Miami, appeared in GMC truck commercials with Brendan Shanahan when he was in second grade.

• Wayne State has but five wins this season, and two of them have come at the expense of the CCHA (7-5 over Western Michigan on Dec. 16 and 2-1 over Ferris State on Friday). The Bulldogs came back to earn a split on Saturday, but the CCHA hasn’t done much in terms of non-conference play the last few weeks. On Tuesday, UNO lost at home to Minnesota State (in overtime, of course). And everyone remembers Robert Morris’ stunner of Notre Dame a couple of weeks ago, right?

The league gets its next chance to make amends next week, when Northern Michigan travels to Minnesota Duluth for a Wednesday tilt.

• The Commissioners’ Cup has one game left this weekend, but the CCHA is already done with its portion of the interconference contest. It will finish in third place, behind the champion ECACHL and second-place Hockey East. If Niagara beats Quinnipiac on Saturday, College Hockey America will share third place with the CCHA.

• Fun with numbers: With Saturday’s 7-0 loss at Nebraska-Omaha, Bowling Green has been shut out a school-record seven times this season. ... Michigan State is 23-2-4 against this weekend’s opponent, Lake Superior State, in the last decade, and no current Spartan has lost to the Lakers.

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