1 , 2003
2003-04 CCHA Preview
A Chicago Bulls'
player during the team's salad days in the 1990s, when asked about
life on the road with Michael Jordan, remarked, "It's like
touring with the Jacksons. He's Michael and we're the Jacksons."
At first glance,
this season's Central Collegiate Hockey Association race appears
remarkably similar. Michigan – which returns 18 letterwinners
from a team that won the league's postseason title and made a third
straight trip to the Frozen Four last season – seemingly towers
above the conference, a maize-and-blue sequined glove thrust forcefully
in the air. Of course, the scenario in the CCHA seemed remarkably
similar at this time last year, but high-scoring Ferris State surprised
the nation by moon-walking away with its first league championship
of any kind along with a visit to the NCAA Tournament.
With the talent coach
Red Berenson has in tow, winning conference championships ought
to be a stepping stone to a much bigger goal. But as Bob Daniels'
Bulldogs proved last season, the CCHA regular season can turn into
just about anyone's Victory Tour.
Where were you
last Thanksgiving? Fans of the Miami RedHawks remember
their team being among the nation's best with a 12-3-1 record. By
St. Patrick's Day, however, Miami was toast, bounced in the first
round of the CCHA tournament by Notre Dame and ending the season
with a 9-14-2 mark after Dec. 1.
be a problem this season, at least not with the experienced lineup
coach Enrico Blasi should ice. He has at his disposal three top-flight
scorers in senior forwards Mike Kompon (48 points), Greg Hogeboom
(17 power-play goals) and Derek Edwardson (24 points in 21 games
before suffering a season-ending injury in January) in addition
to highly regarded freshman Geoff Smith. On defense, eight letterwinners,
keyed by 2003 CCHA all-rookie selection Andy Greene, return from
a unit that set a school record by allowing just 101 goals last
season. Goaltending may be the RedHawks' soft underbelly, however.
Rookies Steve Hartley and Brandon Crawford-West are promising, but
it's no coincidence an anagram for freshman goalie is "ahem,
FOR A FALL
No one familiar
with the Ohio State hockey program expected mercurial
forward R.J. Umberger to return to Columbus for his senior season.
Even though the Pittsburgh native, a first-round selection by the
Vancouver Canucks in the 2001 National Hockey League Entry Draft,
ranked tied for third in the CCHA with 53 points last year, he always
seemed to have one eye on the professional ranks.
Imagine coach John Markell's
surprise, then, when forward Ryan Kesler, who was taken by the Canucks
in the first round of this year's draft, announced this summer he
was leaving the Buckeyes after just one season. Umberger left, too,
although he has yet to sign with Vancouver and is biding his time
by working out with the U.S. Under-18 Team in Ann Arbor.
and Kesler, Ohio State had the makings of a team that could easily
finish among the top two in the conference. Without them, the Buckeyes
need people like unappreciated forwards Scott May and Paul Caponigri,
underachieving forward Dave Steckel and underrated goaltender Mike
Betz – more on him later – to pick up the slack. This
team still has NCAA Tournament aspriations, however, and it's not
a stretch to suggest Umberger's departure might be a case of addition
Look at the
Michigan State defensive corps this season and you can't
help but notice the Gilbert Brown-sized void created by the graduations
of rearguards John-Michael Liles, the 2003 CCHA Best Offensive Defenseman
with a team-best 50 points, and Brad Fast, the league's Best Defenseman
Defenseman and a 46-point scorer last season. Then again, few teams
could sustain the loss of one defenseman that logged 30-plus minutes
of ice time each night and keyed the penalty kill and power play,
let alone two.
Figuring out which Spartan
defenseman may emerge as an offensive threat isn't an easy task.
Senior Joe Markusen and sophomore Jared Nightingale are stay-at-home
types, which leaves promising sophomore Corey Potter and a quintet
of freshmen to rise to the occasion. Rookie Ethan Graham has the
size (6-2, 180) to survive in the rugged CCHA and, as a member of
USHL champion Lincoln, he knows how to win. Blueliners Tyler Howells
and Chris Snavely were both proven scorers for Cedar Rapids of the
USHL, but the duo are an identical 5-8, 170 pounds.
ACT TO FOLLOW
State's 2003 CCHA regular-season championship and inaugural
trip to the NCAA Tournament was arguably the biggest thing to hit
Big Rapids since Woodbridge N. Ferris founded the university in
1884. And while the party on campus probably won't stop until the
championship banner is raised to the Ewigleben Ice Arena rafters
– those of you who've been to the barn can laugh at that mental
image – the Bulldogs know full well they can't sneak up on
opponents any longer.
Gone are Hobey
Baker Award finalist and CCHA Player of the Year Chris Kunitz (79
points) and all-conference defenseman Troy Milam. The cupboard is
hardly bare, though, with junior forwards Jeff Legue (59 points)
and Derek Nesbitt (53 points), senior defenseman Simon Mangos (22
points) and All-American goalie Mike Brown (2.35 goals-against average,
92.5 save pecentage) back in the fold. Helping to pick up the slack
on offense is freshman Mark Bombersback, who was named 2003 Canadian
Junior A Player of the Year – an award previously captured
by guys named Tambellini and Heatley, to name two – after
scoring 46 goals and 68 assists for Canmore of the Alberta Junior
He didn't get
as much noteriety last season as Minnesota's Thomas Vanek or Zach
Parise of North Dakota, but Michigan's Jeff Tambellini
deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as his more heralded
counterparts. The 5-11, 186 pound forward led a balanced Wolverine
scoring attack with 26 goals and 45 points and, more importantly,
ratcheded his play up a notch when then-seniors John Shouneyia and
Jed Ortmeyer were sidelined with injuries. He was expected to be
a quick, playmaking forward with a lethal wrist shot, but he also
proved to be much more physical and tougher than originally thought.
The Maize and Blue return a solid crop of seven junior forwards,
but this is Tambellini's team now.
could put the names of about 10 players in a hat, pull one out at
random and feel pretty good about the candidate for this honor.
Ferris State's Bomersback, Miami's Smith, goaltender Dominic Vicari
of Michigan State, Michigan's T.J. Hensick and Matt Hunwick, Darin
Olver of Northern Michigan and Western Michigan's Paul Szczechura
all bring impressive credentials to the table. We'll go out on a
limb, though, and tab Bowling Green's Jonathan Sigalet
as the cream of the cropin 2003-04. A wispy 6-1, 170 pounds, the
brother of Falcons' junior goaltender Jordan Sigalet was the British
Columbia Hockey League's Defenseman of the Year after scoring 13
goals and 52 points for Salmon Arm last season. The third-best freshman
defenseman in college hockey according to INCH's ratings of incoming
recruits, Sigalet is the crown jewel in a solid recruiting class
lured to Bowling Green by second-year head coach Scott Paluch, a
group that also includes high-scoring forwards Rich Meloche and
outside of the home locker room at Value City Arena know that Ohio
State goaltender Mike Betz was the 2003 CCHA Goaltender
of the Year? Or that his 2.24 goals against average ranked fifth
nationally? Or that he was one of 11 netminders in the nation to
win 20 or more games last year? Neither did we. With guys like Kesler
and Umberger at the fore, Betz was relegated to second billing.
Not the case this season. Goals won't necessarily come at a premium
for the Buckeyes this season, but Betz will most certainly be looked
at to help his team's cause on a regular basis.
Will a Lake Superior player score more than 20 points this season?
The team's top returning point-getters from last season, Jon Booras
and Chris Petersen, each notched an underwhelming 14 points last
year. Junior goaltender Matt Violin – he of the 90.4 percent
save percentage, 91.1 percent in league games – deserves better.
Unfortunately, he won't get it.
When will Notre Dame put it all together? Since coach Dave Poulin
took over as head coach nine years ago, he's amassed an impressive
array of talent, but the Fighting Irish have been inconsistent at
best. With six returning defenseman in front of veteran goaltender
Morgan Cey, this could be the year.
How long will it take for the NCAA Ice Hockey Committee to name
Omaha as a site for a future regional tournament? Nebraska-Omaha
christens the 14,700-seat Qwest Center Omaha next weekend, when
coach Mike Kemp's charges entertain Maine, Minnesota and Wisconsin
for the Maverick Stampede Oct. 10-11.
Five things you can take to the bank in the CCHA this season
1. A Ferris State forward
has won the league scoring title in each of the last two seasons
(Kunitz last season and Rob Collins in 2001-02). Jeff Legue will
make it three in a row for the Bulldogs this year.
won't run away with the CCHA regular-season title – at least
not with a cluster schedule that includes four games against Miami,
Michigan State and Ohio State – but the Wolverines will lock
up the top spot before the season's final two games. Expect a lot
of jockeying for the third through eighth place, however, right
through the March 6 season finale.
3. The teams we think
you'll see at the Super Six in Detroit: Michigan, Ferris State,
Miami, Michigan State, Ohio State and Notre Dame. The Wolverines
take their third Mason Cup with a win over the RedHawks in the championship
4. Of the 10
finalists for the 2004 Hobey Baker Award, only two – Tambellini
and Legue – will hail from the CCHA.
fans will love the new arena and the amenities and creature comforts
it offers, but the Mavericks will lose a measure of the home-ice
advantage they enjoyed at the old Civic Auditorium, where the fans
sat right on top of the action.
have made three straight trips to the Frozen Four. Unfortunately,
they've also made three straight trips back to Ann Arbor after
losing in the national semifinals.
Baker Award finalist Chris Kunitz has taken his act to Anaheim,
but 17 letterwinners including All-American goalie Mike Brown
(30 wins, 2.35 GAA, 92.5 save percentage) return.
forwards Mike Kompon (48 points), Greg Hogeboom (42 points)
and Derek Edwardson (24 points in 21 games) are back, as are
eight letterwinners on defense.
goaltending prospect Dominic Vicari arrives and will play a
key role. Defensive corps in front of him, however, are untested.
losses of forwards Ryan Kesler and R.J. Umberger to the professional
ranks, Mike Betz may have to carry team.
in goal (senior Craig Kowalski) bolstered by young talent on
defense (sophomores Jamie Milam and Nathan Oystrick and rookies
Bobby Selden and Zach Tarkir).
across North America: Dave Poulin's team boasts players from
10 states and four provinces. Power forward Rob Globke –
a monster at 6-4, 203 pounds – leads the way.
Nanooks backpedaled last year after a breakthrough season in
2001-02, but experience abounds with 19 returning letter-winners.
the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano each spring, count
on coach Jim Culhane luring a high-scoring forward to Kalamazoo
each season. Freshman forward Paul Szczechura is the latest
in a line that includes Jeff Campbell, Pat Dwyer and Vince Bellissimo.
celebrating 20th anniversary of 1984 NCAA championship this
season. With recruits like Jonathan Sigalet, coach Scott Paluch
has the team moving back up the ladder.
move from the Omaha Civic Auditorium, affectionately known as
the "Bull Pen", into the Qwest Omaha Center, which
should be dubbed the "Play Pen." The team's roster
includes 19 freshmen and sophomores.
music: goaltender Matt Violin stopped more than 90 percent of
the shots he faced last season. On a team that scored 60 goals
in 38 games last season, he'll have to stop 100 percent for
the Lakers to have a chance to win.
this to a friend
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