in the entry to the Michigan hockey offices in Yost Ice Arena
were debating where to put a holiday poinsettia. A member of the
Wolverines' support staff approved of the festive addition, saying,
"We could use a little fa-la-la-la-la around here."
In both Ann Arbor and East Lansing, the mood surrounding the local
college hockey programs the past couple of weeks hasn't been fa-la-la
as much as it's been L-L-L's. As in losses.
teams such as Northeastern or Vermont would gladly switch places
with Michigan or Michigan State. But in the days leading up to
the season's first two games in the CCHA's highest-profile rivalry,
neither the Wolverines nor the Spartans are particularly worried
about the opponent's game plan – both are focused on getting
Wolverines are losers of three straight, and a loss Friday would
give U-M its first four-game losing skid since 1988, when the
team dropped six in a row between Nov. 26-Dec. 16. At 9-5-0, Michigan
boasts a better record than MSU, but their problems are more cryptic
than those facing the Spartans. It's not that the Wolverines are
playing badly, they're just not playing like Michigan.
Tambellini and the Wolverines are in the midst of a three-game
losing streak, the school's first since 1999.
well against Minnesota, probably our best game," said Michigan
coach Red Berenson. "I think we have a lot of players that
we've expected to do better and be more productive. I can't tell
you they're playing poorly, but they don't have the numbers they
had last year so they need to take a step up. Right now, a lot
of the ingredients that should be clicking are not clicking."
Wolverines are scoring – they're 1/100th of a goal behind
Miami and Ohio State in team offense. They're giving up 3.0 goals
per game, more than past seasons, but still a manageable number.
U-M is converting at a 21.3 percent clip on the power play but
in the last four games, they're a combined 0-for-16 with the man
advantage. The penalty kill has been respectable at around 84
goaltender Al Montoya has a .900 saves percentage and nine wins,
but has allowed more goals than all but one CCHA netminder. The
conference's list of players with more than 10 points boasts 42
names. Three Michigan skaters – freshman T.J. Hensick and
sophomores Jeff Tambellini and Andrew Ebbett – are on that
list. Most years, there are three Wolverines in the top six.
not clicking. There are a lot of guys in the dressing room who
are fighting the puck," said Tambellini, who's mired in a
four-game scoring drought. "We're not getting it done and
it's coming from every aspect of the game...offensively, defensively,
power play, penalty kill."
coach Rick Comley may be in a better position than Berenson despite
his team's 8-7-1 record. He knows his team suffers from inexperience,
a hallmark of which is the wildly inconsistent play the Spartans
have exhibited this season. How else does one explain home losses
to Findlay and Wayne State and convincing victories against Ferris
State and Western Michigan, two teams that historically give MSU
"We're searching for kids to step up and be productive. [Michigan
is] waiting for kids to be productive," Comley said. "If
you watch us play, you know what we don't have."
What the Spartans don't have are two NHL-caliber defensemen to
replace the departed Brad Fast and John-Michael Liles, players
Comley says the team doesn't miss in five-on-five situations but
on special teams. MSU is also bereft of seniors – defenseman
Joe Markusen is the only skater whose eligibility will expire
at the end of the season – and despite a large junior class,
the leadership isn't there.
That being said, Comley is comfortable with his team's shortcomings.
Unfortunately, the folks that fill Munn Ice Arena every weekend
aren't as patient.
"The hardest thing to deal with is people and their want
of you to be really, really good and their expectations,"
Comley explained. "Internally, we know what's going on and
what it's going to get there. Michigan State doesn't like to use
the term 'rebuilding' but that's what's going on. It doesn't mean
we're devoid of talent, but we certainly are rebuilding in some
Scoring depth is obviously an issue. While the Spartans have a
number of talented forwards, opponents have been able to focus
their defensive efforts on the team's top line of juniors Jim
Slater and Mike Lalonde and freshman Tom Goebel. State has received
respectable efforts up front from juniors Ash Goldie and Brock
Radunske. Sophomore David Booth, who scored 36 points last season,
returns to the lineup this weekend after missing half of the team's
games due to injury.
"We need some wins and we need them now," said Slater,
the nation's leading scorer with 24 points. "Especially going
into the break here to build confidence as we head into the GLI."
Perhaps Tambellini best captured the atmosphere surrounding the
"It's a fight to stay alive in the [CCHA] race and not fall
into a rut," the Michigan forward said. "It's desparation
on both sides and we feel a sense of urgency that we have to start
getting it done."
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
Sticking with Steckel: David Steckel apologized
for missing a scheduled phone interview with a reporter. Returning
the call 45 minutes after the appointed time, the senior forward
explained that Ohio State's practice ran late, and he had to take
his dog for a walk prior to embarking on a long night of studying,
what with final exams approaching next week.
The bout of phone tag is a microcosm of Steckel's Buckeye career
– he showed up, just a little bit late. After a promising
freshman campaign during which he scored 35 points, the West Bend,
Wis., native managed 22 points as a sophomore and just 18 points
last season. He was often invisible for large stretches of games.
Not the kind of performance one expects from a first-round selection
of the Los Angeles Kings in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
"I haven't really changed much in the three years I've been
here," said Steckel. "Last year, I played with more
defensive role guys as opposed to the offensive scoring linemates
that I have right now."
On a line with senior Paul Caponigri and junior JB Bittner this
year, Steckel is on a pace to approach the point total he amassed
as a rookie. Through 16 games, the 6-foot-5, 215 pound winger
shares the Buckeyes lead with 10 goals and ranked second among
OSU skaters with 14 points. Of his 10 markers, three have been
of the game-winning variety, putting him tied for second in the
nation in that category.
Ohio State, along with Miami, boasts the top offense in the CCHA
with an average of 3.44 goals per game thanks to a balanced approach.
It's a change from previous seasons, when Steckel says he and
his teammates were guilty of deferring to former Buckeye R.J.
Umberger in the offensive end.
"When you've got a guy who scores 40 points consistently
each year, you're going to look to him when bounces and pucks
aren't going your way," Steckel explained. "Now that
the responsibility is shared between us seniors with R.J.'s departure,
more guys are getting opportunities."
On numerous occasions, Steckel credited his fast start and OSU's
strong showing out of the gate to a commitment to team unity and
togetherness, the likes of which haven't been seen in Columbus
since the current seniors arrived on campus.
"You could probably define us as one of the hardest-working
teams in college hockey," Steckel said. "We get the
things that we need to do done, and hopefully after this weekend
we can go into Christmas break and say that we did a great job
and these are the things we need to keep doing to be successful
the rest of the year."
If you must know, the interview with Steckel went smoothly. His
senior season at Ohio State appears to be progressing in a similar
The Globke Shuffle: Apparently, some of the best
celebrations don't occur on the ice following goals.
If you poke your head into the Notre Dame locker room after a
Fighting Irish win and you might catch a glimpse of senior forward
Rob Globke celebrating with what South Bend Tribune writer
Steve Lowe describes as a "wild, flailing victory dance"
set to the tune of the infectious OutKast hit, "Hey Ya."
If you've heard this song – and hopefully you have, because
it's a fantastic track –- you're laughing hysterically at
the image of Globke shaking it like a Polaroid picture.
the win over Boston College, or maybe a little before that, we
put that song on and I just started going, and it kind of became
a tradition," Globke told Lowe. "Everybody likes it."
Great Weekend Getaway
vs. Ohio State (home and home, Fri.-Sat.): No
question, the highlight of the weekend is the home-and-home,
intra-state rivalry between two teams playing their best
hockey of the season. You know we're talking about the Miami-Ohio
State series, right?
RedHawks posted a 5-1-1mark in November and enter the weekend
with 13 points, good for a tie for third place in the CCHA
standings. The Buckeyes, meanwhile, have won four straight
and with 16 points, share first place in the league with
Notre Dame. With two teams this evenly matched –-
both average 3.44 goals a game, tops in the conference and
have split their last 10 meetings at five wins apiece –-
special teams are the likely deciding factor. More specifically,
can Miami's red-hot power play, clicking at a 26.4 percent
success rate, be the difference maker in this two-game set?
you're there: Since the series shifts from Columbus to Oxford
Saturday, stop to stretch your legs in Dayton by visiting
the U.S. Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force
Base. With more than 300 aircraft on display, it's a fitting
way to commemorate the upcoming 100th anniversary of powered
flight. It was on Dec. 17, 1903, Dayton natives Orville
and Wilbur Wright succeeded in getting their aircraft off
the ground at Kitty Hawk, N.C. The museum, which boasts
aircraft ranging from the World War I-era Sopwith Camel
to the standard F-15 fighter jet, is open daily from 9-5
and, best of all, admission is free.
flexed its muscle against nationally-ranked Massachusetts
last weekend, taking three points from the visiting Minutemen
on the strength of a 7-2 win Friday and 1-1 draw Saturday.
Freshman goaltender Chris Holt, who earned CCHA Defensive
Player of the Week honors for his efforts in the UMass series,
is 3-1-1 with a 1.58 goals against average and a .948 save
percentage in his last five starts. The Mavericks, meanwhile,
posted a 4-3-1 mark in November after starting the season
with six losses and a tie.
guys skating in front of Bowling Green goaltender Jordan Sigalet
may want to ratchet up their efforts in the defensive zone
before he drops to the ice from exhaustion. Sigalet, a junior,
had an off night against Ohio State Saturday by allowing seven
goals on 26 shots. In 15 games this season, Sigalet has made
30 or more saves six times - that's 40 percent of his starts.
He's made more saves (412) than any goalie in the league and
leads the nation in minutes played (924:56).
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• Tambellini was the lone college player
selected to take part in the tryout camp for the Canadian entry
into the IIHF World Junior Championships. The selection camp begins
Dec. 12 in Kitchener, Ontario, the same day the Wolverines open
a two-game series at Nebraska-Omaha, the team's final contests
prior to the holiday break.
a kid watching [the tournament] every winter after Christmas,
it's something I always wanted to be a part of," Tambellini
will announce its final roster Dec. 16. This year's World Junior
Championship runs from Dec. 26-Jan. 4 in Helsinki and Hameenlinna,
Tambellini might not be the only Wolverine representing Canada
in international competition later this month. Relax, Michigan
fans. It's no one from the team's current roster.
centerman Mike Comrie was invited by Hockey Canada to
play in the Spengler Cup – not named after Harold Ramis'
character in Ghostbusters –- Dec. 26-31 in Davos, Switzerland.
The team, whose roster consists mainly of Canadians playing professionally
in Europe, is the tournament's defending champion.
agent, however, told reporters Wednesday that he doesn't expect
his client to be available to play in the tournament. Ritch Winter
believes the 23-year-old will be dealt by the Edmonton Oilers
by the end of the month. Comrie, a restricted free agent, refuses
to re-sign with the Oilers and has demanded a trade for months.
"We think we're getting close [to a trade] but we don't have
complete control over that," Winter said. "What we think
isn't necessarily relevant."
with apologies to the great Peter King, here's the factoid of
the week that may interest only me. The last time both teams in
the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry carried multiple-game
losing streaks into the game was Nov. 7, 1980. The Wolverines
were fresh off a pair of losses at Minnesota, while the Spartans
had dropped a series to North Dakota in East Lansing.
We doubt school pride was on the line last Friday in St. Petersburg
when former Lake Superior State star Doug Weight, now
with St. Louis, squared off against erstwhile Miami standout and
current Tampa Bay blueliner Dan Boyle during the overtime
period of the teams' 2-2 draw.
had a reason to fight. Weight earned an assist on the Blues' first
goal, while Boyle scored his first goal of the season during a
Lightning power play opportunity in the second period. And they
aren't known as brawlers – Weight entered the game with
six penalty minutes and Boyle, who came into the game with 10
PIMs, doubled his season total by earning a pair of fighting majors.
was a lot of cheap stuff behind the play, guys getting high-sticked
and stuff," Boyle told a St. Petersburg Times writer after
the game. "You don't want many of these but it does bring
a team closer together."
Speaking of fights, we're now to the point where we usually discuss
the Obscure Bowling Green Note of the Week. This
time around, however, it's more of an anecdote from Tuesday's
Rangers-Maple Leafs game in Toronto when former Falcon Greg de
Vries instantly became the NHL's most popular player when he tangled
with super pest Darcy Tucker during the second period of the Blue
Shirts' loss. The fight, actually on the undercard of the Tie
Domi-Matthew Barnaby heavyweight tussle, was entertaining nonetheless,
with de Vries landing a number of blows to Tucker's head, which
many opponents believe is empty.
A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this