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
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.
Asked how he feels, Fritsche had one word:
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
“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
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
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’
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
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
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.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
Great Weekend Getaway
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
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.
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
“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
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.