Given Sunday (or Friday or Saturday or...)
what makes the National Football League great. At least that's
what the sport's honchos would like you to believe. On any given
Sunday, one of the NFL's lesser lights can take out a more talented
team. And the league's playoff races are wide-open, down-to-the-wire
less than a month into the hockey season, it may be premature
to claim that the CCHA is taking on some of the characteristics
of the NFL. Check the standings, however, and you can see evidence
of across-the-board balance. Prior to Thursday's UNO-Notre Dame
tilt, nine of the league's 12 teams were within a game either
side of .500. Further, none of the neck-and-neck nine have established
a pattern of success thus far. To wit:
Michigan State is 3-3-0. In their six games this season, the Spartans
have (in chronological order): lost, won, lost, lost, won, won.
is 3-4-1. In their eight contests, the RedHawks have: lost, lost,
won, lost, tied, lost, won, won.
State is 4-3-0. The Buckeyes have: lost, won, lost, won, won,
[Alaska-Fairbanks coach] Guy Gadowski used a great term at [CCHA]
media day last year when he said the league is compressing,"
Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin said.
effort to find reasons to explain this phenomenon, the aspect
of the game most often offered related to various facets of recruiting.
In recent years, Poulin has pointed to the spread in birth years
of freshman commitments as a huge factor in promoting parity.
the heels of Ferris State's CCHA title last season, is the
league in for more top-to-bottom balance in 2003-04?
it's a great, great equalizer," the eighth-year coach said.
"You look at some programs that have already committed [players
with] 1987 birthdates and a lot of programs are committing 1983
birthdates right now. That five-year spread is such a big area."
crafted an analogy to college basketball to hammer his point home.
[basketball] programs are going to pick off so many players from
the senior class in a given year," he explained. "With
fast tracking through high school and junior leagues providing
such a viable option for older kids to develop their games further,
I think that's creating parity."
Green coach Scott Paluch agrees that the pool is larger, but adds
that the talent base is deeper for a couple other reasons. For
example, whereas colleges used to draw players from small recruiting
pockets across the continent, there are more junior leagues in
North America – and even in Europe – turning out highly
skilled prospects, who in turn are getting more exposure.
are just so many places where quality players can come from,"
said Paluch, an top recruiter under Jerry York at Boston College
before taking the Bowling Green job. "There's certainly a
bigger pool in terms of the quality of the leagues than there
was 10 years ago. The North American Hockey League added the America
West Hockey League [this season], the Eastern Junior Hockey League,
the USHL, which has been strong for a number of years, and [leagues]
coaches note, not surprisingly, that players these days want to
play. Instead of spending a year or two battling to get into the
lineup at a bigger school, prospects now want to join programs
where they can make an immediate impact. It's a consideration
made eaiser by the continued growth of Division I hockey
or twelve years ago, there were about 40 teams playing Division
I hockey," Paluch said. "Now we're close to 60 again."
CCHA is not far removed from a time when Michigan and Michigan
State stood firm at the top of the heap, and 10 other teams chased
the two behemoths with limited success. Judging from recent results
– think last year's Ferris State CCHA regular-season championship
– those days may be long gone.
many scores are going to surprise you," Paluch said. "Top
to bottom, our league...kind of mirrors what's happening across
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
A.J. is A-OK – He isn't quite ready to claim a
permanent spot in the Spartans' Pantheon of Great Defensemen,
but Michigan State freshman A.J. Thelen showed
signs of becoming a capable offensive threat on the blue line
for the Green and White, a crying need for MSU given the graduations
of stalwarts Brad Fast and John-Michael Liles last spring.
Thelen, who enters the upcoming series against Ferris State ranked
tied for second among the nation's freshmen in scoring, has two
goals and five assists in six games. Five of those points came
in last weekend's sweep of Western Michigan. The Savage, Minn.,
native recorded a goal and three assists in a 4-2 win at Munn
Arena Friday and added a single assist in the finale at Lawson
Arena the following night.
Liles and Fast, that was a big concern about our team," Thelen
said. "But I think our whole team pretty much answered them
defensively. We all stayed together and we fought it out."
player in the NCAA ranks, the 17-year-old Thelen was naturally
buoyed by his performance against the Broncos. But he also showed
maturity beyond his years when asked to critique his effort Friday.
"The only thing I was disappointed about was getting a goal
and then getting a penalty on the next shift," Thelen said.
"I think that brought our team down a lot."
Odds are, the times Thelen drags the Spartans down will be far
surpassed by the positive impact he makes. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds,
Thelen likes a physical game, stresses communication with his
defensive partner and flashes an offensive flair to his game.
He displayed that knack with his power-play marker against Western
Michigan, when he lugged the puck from the point to the top of
the far faceoff circle and ripped a laser past goalie Scott Foster.
love playing in the neutral zone, but I love scoring and helping
out with the forwards," Thelen explained. "I do what
Brown Can Do For You – Good
news for Notre Dame hockey fans – and, yes, such an animal
exists: veteran goaltender Morgan Cey dressed for last Friday's
game at Boston College after missing the first few weeks of the
season after undergoing knee surgery in July. Even better news:
sophomore walk-on Rory Walsh and freshman David Brown
have been outstanding in Cey's absence, giving the Fighting Irish
impressive depth between the pipes.
a great problem to have," Poulin said. "We've talked
so much about team, and very often goalies are a little bit exempt
from that. But we've talked to them about it specifically and
I think they'll do a very job."
couldn't have gotten off to a better start to his college career.
The season is young, but the Stony Creek, Ont., product leads
CCHA goaltenders with a 1.51 goals against average, a 95.7 saves
percentage and two shutouts, which have come in back-to-back starts
(he blanked Bowling Green six days before denying BC). He's the
second Notre Dame backstop to record shutouts in two straight
games. The first? Cey, who accomplished the feat in the first
round of the 2003 CCHA playoffs.
think [Brown] looks bigger in the net, as a lot of them do,"
Poulin said. "But he has pretty good size – he's six
feet plus – and he is very quick, very strong side to side.
[He's got] very good leg strength so his side-to-side movement
is very aggressive.
Irish have allowed 10 goals in five games, and half of those markers
were scored in a loss to Bowling Green at the Joyce Center two
weeks ago. With Cey returning to the fold, Poulin's charges get
that much stronger in their own end.
take particular pride in two shutouts in a row," Poulin said.
"To be able to do that and really contain a team like Boston
College is very, very encouraging. I think it's got to start with
Tactics – There were a pair of frightening
incidents – one involving a coach, the other an
official – at CCHA rinks this weekend. Prior to Sunday’s
Northern Michigan-Michigan game in Ann Arbor, Wolverines’
assistant coach Billy Powers collapsed during pre-game warm-ups
and was rushed to the hospital.
incident apparently shook the team as the Wolverines managed just
two shots on goal in the first period. Michigan ended up earning
the series sweep by notching a 5-2 decision over the Wildcats.
think it upset our team tremendously at the start of the game,"
Michigan head coach Red Berenson told the Michigan Daily.
"We're trying to get our team prepared and focused and all
of a sudden something like that happens and everyone's (wondering),
'What happened? What's going on?' and we couldn't tell them anything
until the game was over."
problem, according to an athletic department spokesperson: a sudden
drop in blood pressure. Powers was held for observation for a
few hours and was released Sunday night. He's expected to be with
the team Michigan hosts Niagara Saturday.
nights earlier in East Lansing, assistant referee Butch Friedman
was helped from the ice midway through the first period of the
Western Michigan-Michigan State game after being hit above the
eye with an errant stick blade. Friedman fell to the ice and remained
down for a couple of minutes. He was quickly escorted to the Spartan
training room – leaving a large pool of blood on the rink
– and was treated immediately by the MSU team doctor.
Mark Wilkins and assistant referee John Philo carried on for the
remainder of the first period and the entire second period. Friedman
rejoined the crew prior to the third period, receiving a warm
round of applause from the
Munn Ice Arena crowd.
Great Weekend Getaway
at Cornell (Fri.-Sat.): The
Broncos had a great chance to win a “statement game”
Friday in an arena in which they hadn’t been successful
in a decade. But squandered a lead to Michigan State in
East Lansing, then were thoroughly dominated by the Spartans
in Kalamazoo the following night. Western has the talent
up front to compete with every team in the nation, but their
defensive effort and goaltending will dictate success or
failure during the course of the season. This weekend, the
Broncos get another stiff test when they travel to Ithaca
to face Cornell in the season opener for the Big Red.
• A long overdue tribute
in Ann Arbor last weekend as the University of Michigan
awarded rings to members of the Wolverines’
1953 NCAA championship team. The squad had received
rings for its 1951 title and earned watches for its national
crown in 1952, but didn’t get baubles for capturing
its third straight NCAA championship in ’53.
don’t know what happened,” legendary forward
John Matchefts told Antoine Pitts of the Ann Arbor News.
“Maybe they thought we were winning it too often.”
His team was swept by Michigan State last weekend, but Western
Michigan forward Dana Lattery capped a fantastic
individual effort with a pretty goal in East Lansing Friday.
The senior captain picked the Spartan puck carrier clean
on the back check at center ice, fought off a defender in
the neutral zone, lugged the puck up the near half boards,
waited out another MSU blueliner and fired a laser that
beat goaltender Matt Migliaccio cleanly through the five
One week after being named Inside College Hockey Player of
the Week and CCHA Defensive Player of the Week, Ohio
State goaltender Mike Betz allowed three goals on
22 shots in a disappointing home loss to Mercyhurst. His teammates
didn’t help matters by giving the Lakers eight power
Allow us to step outside the conference for a moment, because
this is clearly a much bigger issue that deserves our attention.
The Providence Friars last weekend scrapped
the classic “Skating Friar” logo on their sweaters
in favor of the school’s new athletic mark, which
looks like a hooded Joey Tribbiani. The new look was unveiled
Friday vs. Boston University and, in a nod to karma, the
Friars were on the short end of a 6-4 decision. The hockey
gods, apparently not sufficiently satisfied that Paul Pooley’s
team wore the skating Friar on its chest Saturday at Merrimack,
forced Providence to skate to a scoreless tie with the Warriors.
Memo to Providence: don’t spit into the wind, don’t
tug on Superman’s cape and –
for the love of Pete –
don’t mess with the Skating
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Looking for a way to get the troops fired up
for a big game? Just invite a Stanley Cup winner, perennial all-star,
future Hall-of-Famer and 20-year NHL veteran to address the boys.
That’s exactly what Dave Poulin did prior to the Fighting
Irish’s game at Boston College, summoning former
teammate Ray Bourque to speak to his club at their pre-game
No. 77 provided Notre Dame with the necessary spark to upset the
Eagles is questionable, but Poulin sounds like he might be a slave
I’m going to need Ray to come in every Friday morning and
speak with the team and have breakfast with them,” Poulin
said. “I don’t know what he’s doing for the
rest of the
year, but I know where he should be.”
future, Bourque may volunteer to give a pre-game speech to BC
foes every weekend. His son, Chris, has verbally committed to
attend Boston University.
current CCHA players and one ex-conference skater were among those
named to the squad that will represent the United States
at the 2004 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship
Sophomore Alvaro Montoya of Michigan joins Maine's Jim Howard
in goal for the U.S.
team. Also making the trip is Michigan State sophomore defenseman
Corey Potter. Forward Ryan Kesler, who left Ohio State during
the summer to join the Vancouver Canucks' organization, is also
on the list. He is currently playing for Vancouver's American
Hockey League affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.
Another Michigan skater, forward Jeff Tambellini, is one of two
college players under consideration for Canada's entry at the
World Junior Championship. Hockey Canada won't announce its final
roster until mid-December.
certainly something that bears watching as the season progresses.
As reported last weekend, the CCHA has struggled mightily
against non-conference opponents this season. The league’s
combined record outside of conference play now stands at 8-12-3
(.413) following Ohio State’s loss to visiting Mercyhurst
Friday and Bowling Green’s loss and tie against Union last
weekend. This weekend’s non-league games include two series
– St. Lawrence at Lake Superior State and Western Michigan
at Cornell – and a Saturday affair pitting visiting Niagara
of Niagara, maybe CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos can make
the Purple Eagles an honorary league member for the month.
In addition to Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor, Niagara plays
at Bowling Green Nov. 7, welcomes Western Michigan to its campus
for a two-game series Nov. 14-15 and closes November with a pair
of games at Ferris State Nov. 28-29.
the obvious allure of his last name – even though it’s
not spelled exactly the same as the fantastic Canadian lager –
Western Michigan freshman winger Kevin Labatte
is quickly moving up the list of INCH’s favorite players.
split time growing up between Dallas and Utah, thought the NHL’s
Stars needed a tradition a la the Detroit Red Wings, where fans
lob octopuses on the Joe Louis Arena ice following a goal. Following
a Stars goal a few years back, the young Labatte pitched a t-bone
steak onto the Reunion Arena ice. The practice, unfortunately,
never caught on.
• This week's obscure Bowling Green fact,
courtesy of Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune scribe Kevin
Gordon: as a player with Peoria in the defunct International Hockey
League, Falcons' head coach Scott Paluch roomed with John Ferguson,
Jr., who is in his first season as general manager of the Toronto
• Bonus obscure Bowling Green fact, this
one from the desk of the team's sports information director, Kris
Kamann: the Falcons enter this weekend's series against Miami
with 11 goals. The RedHawks, meanwhile, have scored 15 goals...on
the power play.