February 22, 2007
Keeping Up With Miami's Jones

By James Jahnke

You could make a case that Miami is the most overlooked team in the CCHA, and you could make a case that the league’s most overlooked star is RedHawks junior forward Ryan Jones.

Jones, of course, wouldn’t say those things. He’s too busy scoring goals to ponder such perceived slights. The reigning CCHA offensive player of the week scored five times and assisted twice more in last week’s sweep of Robert Morris, which went a long way toward solidifying an invitation to the NCAA tournament for the second straight season. The RedHawks travel to Northern Michigan to close out the regular season this weekend, then have a bye through the first round of the conference playoffs

CCHA Notebook

Miami junior forward Ryan Jones is second in the CCHA with 25 goals and tied for fifth in scoring with 42 points.

National TV Schedule

“We’ve never been a program that’s been talked about a lot nationally, but that’s one of our goals, to make that happen,” Jones said this week. “I still believe our best hockey is ahead of us.”

For that, RedHawk fans pray. Last season, Miami wrapped up the regular-season CCHA title on Valentine’s Day, then hit a lull over the next five weeks as they lacked tangible late-season goals. They never returned to dominance, losing the CCHA tournament final to Michigan State and getting unceremoniously bounced from the Big Dance, 5-0 by Boston College.

Jones admits that nerves played a part in the loss to BC, but he doesn’t expect a recurrence of those jitters this time around. Assuming the RedHawks don’t implode, they will make their third NCAA appearance in four seasons, and experience has to count for something, right?

“If there was ever a hockey game we were not meant to win, that was it,” Jones said. “One of these years, Miami is going to make some noise in the NCAA tournament, and hopefully it’s this year. Since I’ve been here, we’ve beaten some of the top teams in the country, BU, Denver, we tied Notre Dame this year. It just seems like those teams are a little bit more consistent than us. But a lot of our players have been to the tournament now, and I think that’s really going to help.”

Individually, Jones is second in the CCHA in goals (he has 25 to Mike Santorelli’s 26), and he’s tied for fifth in points, but he is largely overshadowed by linemate Nathan Davis, the Hobey Baker Award front-runner for most of the first half of the season. Davis’ production has fallen off since early December, but that has allowed Jones to step to the fore.

“He’s seeing a lot more attention now, he’s got somebody beside him all the time” said Jones, a native of Chatham, Ontario. “I give him all the credit in the world for not getting overly frustrated. He’s the best player I’ve ever played with.”

As for this weekend in Marquette, Jones insists that the RedHawks have a lot on the line. They are one point behind second-place Michigan and would like to avoid a certain rival in the second round of the league tournament (although that’s hard to predict the best way to do such).

“I think our style suits some teams better than others,” he said. “Anything we can do to avoid playing Ohio State a seventh and eighth time this year would be great.”


Confident at ND: Notre Dame is in a situation similar to Miami was last season, having clinched the CCHA regular-season title (the first in school history) with several games to go. The Fighting Irish sealed the deal with their 1-0 win at Alaska on Friday.

Assistant coach Andy Slaggert was recruiting last weekend, so he wasn’t in the Land of the Midnight Sun to witness to the clinching of the title. But he doesn’t think the same post-title mental lapse that befell Miami will strike in South Bend.

“I think our kids have earned a certain level of trust based on what they’ve accomplished this year,” said Slaggert, an Irish assistant since 1993. “This is all new to us, but it’s hard to doubt this group of kids.”

Slaggert is “really looking forward” to this weekend’s home series against Ferris State to see whether the Irish loosen up after being fairly tight as they chased the league title for the last month. The ND coaches hadn’t yet made a decision as to whether to rest Hobey Baker candidate David Brown this weekend, although after backup goalie Jordan Pearce got a rare start and beat Alaska last Saturday, split duties seem to be in order again versus FSU.

As for motivation: “We don’t talk much about NCAA seeds here, but that’s a real factor,” Slaggert said. “The kids know what’s out there. There’s a sense that we’re not done yet.”

Regardless of whether Notre Dame secures a No. 1 national seed, Slaggert knows this has been a special season. “We knew we would be better this year, but no one thought we would be CCHA champions. We hoped to be a top-four team, and we really thought we could be in the preseason. It turns out we were a little better than that.”

Away from home ... at home: Ohio State has pre-sold between 12,000 and 13,000 tickets for each night of this weekend’s home series against Michigan. The OSU band will perform Script Ohio on the ice at Friday’s game. The first 10,000 fans Saturday night will get free rally towels.

But the scene for the first round of the CCHA playoffs in Columbus the following week will be quite different. Because the state high school wrestling tournament is booked at Value City Arena, the Buckeyes will host their playoff series at the 1,200-seat OSU Ice Rink, home to the women’s team and where the men hold many of their practices.

“It’s unfortunate,” coach John Markell said. “But those are the issues you face with a multi-purpose facility like ours. The ice is good at the Ice Rink, they put $1 million into it for the women, it’s clean. It won’t be our home-ice facility, but it will be our home-practice facility.”

This issue will arise every year (provided the Buckeyes don’t earn a first-round bye) because the university signed a long-term contract with the wrestling tournament before the CCHA changed its playoff structure to make it start a week earlier. Markell intimated that he was in favor of keeping the Super Six format for this very reason.

“We got caught,” he said, “and we’re going to get caught more in the future.”


Great Weekend Getaway
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Western Michigan at Lake Superior State (Fri.-Sat.)
Of the six CCHA series this weekend, it’s tough to find one in which both teams have something real on the line. This is as close as you’re going to get. WMU can get a first-round playoff bye if it sweeps the Lakers and Michigan State gets swept by Bowling Green. LSSU has some work to do to keep the final home-ice slot away from Ferris State and Northern Michigan.

While you’re there: Try to score one of those Team Sweden-ish yellow jerseys the Lakers wear at home on Saturday nights, and send it to your buddies at INCH. The good karma will come back around to you in no time.

Stick Salute

Big ups to Nebraska-Omaha senior defenseman Mike Eickman and his roommate Matt Pinkerton for organizing last week’s Caps for Cancer event at the Bullpen. They collected 575 hats from fans — beating last year’s total of 500 — and the lids will be delivered to patients at Omaha’s Eppley Cancer Institute in the near future.

Bench Minor

Not sure whether there was a linguistic and numerical oversight or just a lack of faith in Marquette, but Northern Michigan’s note in this week’s CCHA media release reads: “With his team owning a 12-20-2 record, (coach Walt) Kyle’s streak of winning 20 or more games each season at NMU will come to an end.” By our count, if NMU sweeps Miami this weekend and wins the CCHA tournament, it would have 20 victories with the NCAA tournament still to come.

• Playoff scenarios: Notre Dame, Michigan and Miami have clinched first-round byes for the CCHA tournament. Michigan State has a magic number of one point over Western Michigan to secure the fourth bye.

WMU, Nebraska-Omaha, and OSU will be home for the first round of the playoffs (assuming the Broncos don’t pass MSU), and eighth-place Lake Superior State holds a three-point lead over ninth-place Ferris for the final home-ice slot. Alaska and Bowling Green are guaranteed to travel in the first round, while Ferris and Northern Michigan have outside chances of passing LSSU for home ice.

• Michigan State goalie Jeff Lerg came in second place, behind Tigers manager Jim Leyland, in voting for the Michigan’s Best honor, bestowed by the Detroit Free Press to the state’s top sports performer of the year. Lerg, who was misidentified as his cousin Bryan in the newspaper’s initial ballot, finished ahead of luminaries such as Roger Penske, Nicklas Lidstrom, Carlos Guillen, Chauncey Billups and Michael Phelps for 2006.

“My sister is a school teacher in Plymouth, and I think she had her kids voting every day,” Lerg said. “That probably had something to do with it. But it’s cool. My mom framed it.”

• Speaking of Lerg, he had two assists Friday, making him the first Spartan goalie to have a multiple-point game since Chad Alban notched a goal and an assist on Feb. 28, 1998.

• Miami seniors Marty Guerin, Matt Christie, Joe Cooper and Geoff Smith became the winningest class in program history with No. 86 last weekend. Last year’s seniors had 85 wins.

• MSU coach Rick Comley, in the Lansing State Journal, about WMU mucking it up Friday: “We came out and played really well, and then they turned it into a Gong Show.”

• Michigan State has moved its Saturday game against Bowling Green (and, subsequently, its Senior Night) ahead 35 minutes to alleviate a conflict with the 9 p.m. men’s basketball game against Indiana next door. The puck will now drop at 6:30 p.m.

• Fun with numbers: With Brian Lebler injured, Michigan had just one Canadian (Andrew Cogliano) in its lineup last weekend. ... The Wolverines, the highest-scoring team in the nation (4.18), have tallied three goals or fewer in five straight games. ... Ferris State’s 5-1 February was its best month since its 2002-03 CCHA championship season. ... WMU’s win in East Lansing on Saturday was its first victory at Munn Ice Arena since 1993, a span of 18 games (0-14-4). Coincidentally, current MSU assistant Brian Renfrew was the winning goalie for the Broncos that night. ... Nebraska-Omaha managed just two total shots on nine power-play chances in Saturday’s win over Ohio State.

• Hobey happenings: Lake Superior State was to have an online vote-a-thon for Jeff Jakaitis on campus Thursday. As of Thursday afternoon, the Laker goalie led voting at hobeybaker.com with more than 45,000 votes. ... These Hobey Baker Web sites are more trouble than they’re worth for us at INCH. Last week’s link to Notre Dame’s David Brown site didn’t work. Here it is again: http://und.cstv.com/sports/m-hockey/spec-rel/06-awards-brown.html

• UNO visits Alaska this weekend, and there’s a decent chance that Alaska will play at UNO in the first round of the playoffs next week.

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