Stalwarts Make Strong Statement Early On
James V. Dowd
Over the past few years, parity has been a
recurring theme amongst CCHA coaches in the preseason. The
leaders of each of the 12 teams talk about how anyone can
win on any given night, and how this nightly challenge would
help prepare the top teams for deep runs into the NCAA tournament.
Nate Davis? No problem. Miami is ranked atop all of
the national polls, and has been led by Jeff Zatkoff,
with five of Miami's six wins on the season.
Finally, this notion became a reality with
Michigan State's run to the national title last season.
And if the first few weeks of this season are any indication,
a few teams could be in the mix for a similar run this season.
In the latest edition of the INCH Power Rankings,
three of the top five teams come from the CCHA, including
bitter rivals Michigan State and Michigan at Nos. 4 and
5, respectively. And leading the way is a Miami team which
has found its stride — sitting at No. 1 in every relevant
poll — even with star forward Nathan Davis on the
Miami has jumped into the top spot with 6
consecutive wins and a 4-0-0 start in the league, including
a sweep of Nebraska-Omaha last weekend, in which the RedHawks
outscored the visitors 12-4.
The RedHawks have been without Davis since
the season opener, in which he injured his shoulder and
was tabbed to miss a month before returning next week against
Notre Dame or the following week against Michigan State.
In Davis' absence, spreading the wealth has
been the key to the RedHawks' success. Forward Ryan Jones,
one of Miami's top returners, has emerged as a Hobey Baker
award candidate, notching 5 points in the six game stretch.
Even better for Miami than the known quantity Jones, lesser
known attackers junior Justin Mercier and freshman Carter
Camper have amassed 8 points a piece, giving Miami the top
two spots in the CCHA scoring race. And that's not to mention
the three other RedHawks who have matched Jones with 5 points.
The last time the RedHawks reached the top
spot in national rankings was in January 2006, and that
lasted only one week before they split a series with Alaska
at home and fell out of the No. 1 spot. This time around,
the more experienced veteran core knows that team can't
change its mindset despite the top billing.
"It's a huge honor to know that the people
who are voting view our team as the best in college hockey
right now," Jones told the Hamilton Journal-News.
"But it's not going to change the way we operates.
Our focus has been to prepare the best we can on a daily
basis, and that's what we will continue to do."
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
Sauer Making the Grade: Everyone
knows that all goaltenders are a little crazy.
Not surprisingly, a hallmark of junior goaltender
Billy Sauer's first two seasons at Michigan were the recurring
demons — Olympic-sized ice, the pressure of big games,
Minnesota — which seemed to get inside the young net
minder's head every time they game up.
Finally, Sauer seems to have exorcised some
of these demons judging by his performance in a pair of
victories over Boston University this weekend.
One of Red Berenson's favorite sayings is
that all he, and the team for that matter, can ask of a
goalie is that he give them a chance to win. After beating
the Terriers on Friday night, the consensus was that Sauer
did that and more.
"Billy kept us in the game," Berenson
said in the post-game press conference. "If Billy hadn't
had a much better than average game, the we wouldn't be
talking about a victory. The whole game would have taken
a different direction. He was the difference."
Berenson isn't the only one who took note
of Sauer's performance. His saves at key junctures in the
game inspired his teammates to reach down for an extra ounce
"I think the difference was Billy Sauer,"
captain Kevin Porter said to reporters after the game. "I
think (the Terriers) had 15 or 16 shots in the first period
and Billy kept us in the game. So that gave us a little
bit of confidence. We knew that if we came down and got
a few shots on net and a quick goal, then we would be right
back in the game. I think the saves he made gave us confidence
going into the second period."
Before the season started, Berenson had discussed
using a two goaltender system, but second-string goaltender
Bryan Hogan missed the first few weeks of the season while
suffering from mononucleosis.
After Sauer's strong performances thus far,
it seems doubtful Hogan will compete for the starting job
any time soon.
Great Weekend Getaway
Michigan at Nebraska-Omaha
While the Mavericks' offense was underwhelming
while being outscored 12-4 in its two losses at Miami
last weekend, this could be the week they find their
stride. Michigan week to Nebraska-Omaha players and
fans is not unlike Ohio State week for Michigan football
players and fans — something they shoot for
all year long.
In the teams' five meetings in Omaha
immediately prior to a two-game set in February 2006,
Michigan had compiled a 7-1-2 record, but came away
winless in two tries in the most recent series. While
Saturday night's game ended in a tie, the Friday night
contest saw Michigan overcome a late two-goal deficit
to tie the game before Maverick Center Alex Nikiforuk
found some magic up his sleeve, won the ensuing face-off
after the tying goal and dancing through the likes
of Andrew Cogliano and Jack Johnson on his way to
an unforgettable unassisted game-winning goal.
While You're There: Surprisingly
enough, Omaha is one of America's great hockey hotbeds.
While the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights of the AHL have been
relocated to the Quad Cities this season, the Omaha
Lancers of the USHL are still around and at home Friday
night against the Chicago Steel. Check them out a
get a look at college hockey's future.
to Michigan State goaltender Jeff Lerg who tied a
school record last weekend when he played in his 60th
consecutive game. While this number doesn't strike
the awe which Cal Ripken's 2,131 or Karlis Skrastins
495 in a row, the fact that Lerg became the first
player since Joe Selinger, whose streak lasted from
the 1957 season to the 1959 season., to do so puts
things in persepective.
were multiple checking-from-behind penalties which
resulted in game misconducts, this week's cake goes
to Bowling Green sophomore Kai Kantola. Kantola received
a three-game suspension from the CCHA for his hit
from behind on Notre Dame's Luke Lucyk. Kantola, a
physical force, has played a key role in Bowling Green's
limited success and the Falcons will feel his absence
in upcoming series against Western Michigan and Ferris
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM
OF THE BAG
• After starting the season with a pair
of promising victories at the Lefty McFadden Invitational,
the Ohio State Buckeyes have dropped their last four games
to fall to 2-4 on the season. In interviews Wednesday, head
coach John Markell made it clear that focus points as the
season go on will be the veterans and newcomers buying into
the system and gelling as a unit.
• Having experienced problems on special
teams units in a loss to North Dakota and a pair of wins
of Clarkson, Michigan State coach Rick Comley was pleased
to have one half of that problem solved in last Saturday's
win over Northern Michigan, when the Spartans went 3-for-4
with a man advantage. Their 2-for-5 performance on the penalty
kill, however, shows there is work left to be done.
• Notre Dame suffered its first defeat
in its CCHA regular-season title defense last Saturday in
a 3-0 loss at Ferris State. The shutout was the first against
the Irish in almost an entire year. Bulldog goaltender Mitch
O'Keefe stopped all 37 shots that he faced in a game which
included 10 Notre Dame power plays and was named CCHA goaltender
of the week.
• Alaska senior goaltender Wylie Rogers
was among three Nanooks named as alternate captains to skipper
T.J. Campbell for this season. Rogers is the first goaltender
in 17 years to earn this honor, and hopes to return his
squad to its 2004-05 form, when he led them to a third-place
finish in the CCHA tournament. New coach Doc DelCastillo
also named forward Aaron Lee and defenseman Tyler Eckford
• Western Michigan goaltender Riley
Gill put on another solid performance in a Saturday night
loss at Niagara last weekend. He stopped 24 of the 26 shots
he faced in a 3-1 loss one night after freshman Jerry Kuhn
allowed four goals on 22 shots in a Friday night defeat.
While Gill will continue to put up solid numbers, the Broncos
offense must work on finishing the puck. In the two games,
Western Michigan took 70 shots and scored just 3 goals.
• For all the offensive firepower of
Michigan's freshman class — which has accounted 54-percent
of the team's goal and point totals thus far — it
was first-round draft pick Max Pacioretty who was the only
forward that couldn't find the back of the net until the
sixth game of the year. Pacioretty, who was selected with
the 22nd overall pick by Montreal in this year's draft,
and has been compared to Brendan Shanahan, found himself
in the right place at the right time and sent a one-timer
into the Boston University net.
• Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp is
holding his breath after two Maverick players — Nik
Van Bokern and Jeric Agosta — are awaiting a ruling
by the CCHA after being tossed from last Saturday's game
at Miami for checking from behind. Kemp told the Omaha
World-Herald that after reviewing tape of the hits,
there was no malice and they will likely not result in further
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. James V. Dowd can be reached