The team that everyone expected to waltz to a CCHA championship?
The team that everyone said could make hotel reservations for
Boston in April before the season started? The team that couldn’t
put together consecutive quality games in the first half of the
Well, maybe not all the way back. But in last weekend’s
convincing sweep of Ohio State in front of a rabid home crowd,
the Wolverines gave notice to the rest of the conference that
they are the team to beat – how long have we waited
for someone to assume that role? – for the CCHA regular
”We have to feel good about the weekend,” coach Red
Berenson said following his team’s 7-1 dismantling of the
Buckeyes. “We had a lot of good individual efforts. I keep
saying that we had a lot of guys who can play better. Well, we
had a lot of guys playing better.”
Need further evidence? Just close your eyes and point at anyone
on Michigan’s line chart Saturday. The team’s defensemen
were a combined +11 that night while doing a marvelous job of
limiting the Buckeyes to 16 shots on goal. Freshman blueliner
Matt Hunwick had three assists in the game (for a total of five
on the weekend).
Milan Gajic had "his best weekend as a Wolverine"
according to coach Red Berenson.
forwards were just as impressive. Leading scorer T.J. Hensick
recorded a pair of highlight-reel helpers, one each to linemates
Brandon Kaleniecki and Milan Gajic, who now has at least one goal
in four of his last five outings. Jason Ryznar, still getting
up to speed after missing the first seven games with an injury,
had an assist to go along with his team-high six shots. And Dwight
Helminen, who had three goals coming into the game, scored four
”Gajic had maybe his best weekend as a Wolverine,”
Berenson said. “This was [Ryznar’s] best weekend [of
the season]. Guys like Ryznar and Gajic and [Helminen]…if
they start scoring as well as playing better, it improves the
chances of our team being the better team. We don’t know
what the potential of this team could be.”
In order for Michigan to reach its potential, they’ve got
to maintain the urgency they displayed during the Ohio State series.
The schedule also works in the Wolverines’ favor. After
an exhibition contest with the U.S. Under-18 Team Saturday, they
play seven of their next 10 games at Yost Ice Arena. That stretch
includes two-game home sets against Lake Superior, Bowling Green
and Miami – the RedHawks currently share the top spot in
the CCHA standings with Michigan, but haven’t won in Ann
Arbor since 1994.
“These are big games,” said sophomore forward Jeff
Tambellini, who had two assists Saturday. “I think we can
take advantage of the next couple weekends and really put ourselves
toward the top and in good position for the playoffs.”
Helminen expressed similar sentiments when asked if the Ohio State
series could serve as the team’s launching pad for the second
half of the year.
“This weekend has that potential,” he said. “This
could be that weekend…a tough series at home and we come
out on top with a lot of confidence. Our priority right now is
to take this weekend and build on it.”
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
AL'S GOAL RYTHYM – He and his teammates are on
the cover of this week’s edition of The Hockey News.
Less than two weeks ago, he was honored in Finland as the world’s
top goaltender in his age group after outdueling the National
Hockey League’s goaltender of the future in the finale.
The league’s Central Scouting Service has pegged him as
the top North American goalie eligible for the 2004 NHL Draft.
But last weekend in Ann Arbor, it was business as usual for the
The sophomore, who helped the U.S. team to its first gold medal
at the recently completed World Junior Championships, did his
part in the sweep of Ohio State by stopping 42 of the 45 shots
he faced on the weekend. No evidence of a post-tournament hangover.
“You really can’t think about your own accomplishments
too much,” Montoya said Saturday as he completed a gauntlet
of interviews with media members. “You’ve got to take
it with a grain of salt and realize that you’ve got to step
back on the ice, like I did this weekend.”
An unlikely hero for the gold-medal winning U.S. team at the World
Junior Championship – Maine’s Jim Howard would’ve
been the No. 1 goaltender had he not sustained a freak injury
just prior to the tournament – Montoya’s play in Finland
makes him a lock to be chosen in the first round of this summer’s
draft. And while he made the most of the opportunity, Montoya
said the loss of Howard had no effect on his preparation for the
“It didn’t change my mindset at all,” Montoya
explained. “I went in with the mindset that whatever I had
to do to support the team on the ice or off the ice, I was going
to do it.”
It seemed like everyone wanted a piece of Montoya since he returned
from Helsinki last week. In fact, he left his mother waiting in
the Yost Ice Arena for about a half-hour after Saturday’s
win as he finished up a bunch of interviews.
“After a full day of travel and getting back on the ice,”
he said, “I’m ready for a little break.”
FAIRBANKS FORTUNE – Obscured by the dust
that had yet to settle following Alaska-Fairbanks’ third-period
collapse against Western Michigan last Friday (more on that later)
was the brilliant play of freshman defenseman Nathan Fornataro,
who proved that he warrants mention with Hunwick, A.J. Thelen
of Michigan State and Notre Dame's Wes O' Neill on the list of
the CCHA’s top young blueliners.
“We tried to bring him along slowly,” said Nanooks
coach Guy Gadowsky, ”but he played so well and complemented
[sophomore rearguard] Jordan Hendry so well, he continues to give
him reasons to put him out there. He’s earned everything
Fornataro, who logs significant time on special teams, showcased
his talents at Lawson Ice Arena against WMU. Most impressive was
a power play goal the Calgary native scored to give UAF a 1-0
lead late in the second period Friday. Noticing that the Bronco
penalty killers were leaving the back door open when the puck
swung over to the opposite side of the ice, Fornataro snuck from
the point down to the goal mouth. Hendry, who manned the other
point, couldn’t make the pass to him initially, but found
him all alone for an easy tip-in when the puck swung back to the
With two goals and six assists in 20 games, Fornataro isn’t
exactly Brian Leetch but he is a capable offensive threat. He’s
solid on both ends of the ice, skates extremely well, is good
with the puck and, at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, can play with a
“I think his biggest strength is that he’s just so
intelligent,” Nanooks coach Guy Gadowsky. “He’s
tough to compete against. He’s been excellent for us.”
Great Weekend Getaway
Dame at Wisconsin (Sat.-Sun.): Rare are the occasions
when a CCHA club ventures to the great city of Madison for
a two-game series with the Badgers. Of course, this two-game
set could be played in Minot and the intrigue would still
remain. Both teams rate among the top nine nationally in
scoring defense, which is not only a tribute to the blueliners
at Wisconsin and Notre Dame, but also a group of solid goalies
in the Badgers’ Bernd Bruckler and Morgan Cey and
David Brown of the Fighting Irish. These contests will be
tight affairs – if the game is tied late in regulation
or in overtime, keep an eye on Rob Globke, who has a knack
for scoring big goals.
While you’re there: There are many entertainment
options in the Madison area, like Prime Quarter and the
Nitty Gritty. Since it’s a long weekend for most people,
pack up the kids and head about 50 miles northwest of the
capitol city on I-90/94 to the tourist trap better known
as Wisconsin Dells which features no fewer than a dozen
hotels with indoor water parks. Among the best are the Kalahari
Resort (125,000 square feet), Treasure Island (more than
1,500 feet of indoor slides) and Wilderness Resort (the
nation’s largest indoor water park at 200,000 square
feet). There’s a casino there, too. But you probably
already knew that.
Michigan’s student section is much
maligned – and, due to their collective use of profanity,
it’s warranted – but they deserve credit for
the nickname they slapped on 5-foot-6 Ohio State wing and
Theo Fleury clone (without all the messy off-ice issues)
Andrew Schembri: The Dirty Hobbit.
Ever had a contest with your buddies at a sporting event
where you try to find the fan wearing the most obscure jersey,
like a couple years ago when Jess Myers and I spotted a
Bears fan who had donned a wash-worn Tom Waddle jersey for
his trip to Soldier Field? Credit goes to the Buckeye
fan sitting in the front row of Yost Ice Arena
clad in the white sweater of All-Name Team Hall of Famer
is it that some guys feel the need to shuffle their
skates back and forth during the national anthem?
Do they need to use the restroom? Are their feet cold? Whatever
the reason, it doesn’t seem necessary. Just stand still
and, like the Hanson brothers, listen to the song. For crying
out loud, it’s not ”In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”
AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• With the amount of talent that has recently left the CCHA
for other playing opportunities – or lack thereof, in the
case of R.J. Umberger – it was somewhat of a relief when
Jeff Tambellini shunned overtures from the Western Hockey
League’s Kelowna Rockets and remained in Ann Arbor.
Maybe some opposing coaches, players and fans weren’t relieved.
But for a league that desperately lacks star power, it was nice
to see a marquee name stick around.
“You listen to whatever they’ve got to say, but when
it comes down to it you look at the best situation,” Tambellini
said. “And I felt that leaving school…doesn’t
do anything for me at all.”
Despite his remarks above, Tambellini’s decision to stay
wasn’t as easy as he made it sound. A source close to INCH
reported that the sophomore forward was strongly considering making
the jump to Kelowna – which had success in luring college
players to the major junior ranks in the past – after the
team acquired his rights from the Spokane Chiefs in a trade deadline
deal a week ago.
Shortly after the trade was consummated, Kelowna general manager
Bruce Hamilton said he was rolling the dice on Tambellini and
hoped that the allure of playing for the host Rockets in the Memorial
Cup, the Canadian Hockey League’s championship event, in
May would attract his latest acquisition.
”I wasn’t surprised at all,” Tambellini said
of the trade. “I knew it was coming. It was kind of neat.
I’ve never been traded
• Rick Comley’s frustrations with his maddeningly
inconsistent Michigan State team came to a head following
the Spartans’ 3-2 non-conference loss to UMass Lowell Saturday.
we can come out flat with the season we're having and not have
emotion and be into the game, I don't understand,” Comley
told Neil Koepke of the Lansing State Journal after the
defeat. "I think we have enough players to contend (in the
CCHA) because the league is so balanced. But there's not enough
urgency, not enough emotion.''
One of the surprising voices calling into question the team’s
attitude – 17-year-old freshman defenseman A.J. Thelen,
who’s proven to be a polished spokesperson for the Spartans
despite being a rookie.
”We have 25 cheerleaders on this team but nobody in each
others’ faces,” Thelen said Saturday. “That’s
what we need the most.”
Comley, meanwhile, is hoping MSU’s upcoming road schedule
– the Spartans play eight of their next 10 games away from
Munn Ice Arena – will help his troops find the intensity
and focus they’re missing.
”I’m glad we’re going on the road,” Comley
said. “I think that will be good for us.”
• Numbers never lie. With that in mind, here’s a big
reason why Alaska-Fairbanks is stuck in the middle
of the pack in the CCHA and not near the top. Not only are the
Nanooks a woeful 2-10-0 on the road, but UAF has squandered third-period
leads – including three two-goal advantages – in four
of their last five losses away from home.
On the flip side, there’s Western Michigan. The Broncos
are 9-2-2 at Lawson Ice Arena and in each of their last three
home victories they’ve come from behind to post wins.
• Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery for
Rem Murray, the former MSU star and current Nashville
Predator who’s been placed on the injured reserve list while
he undergoes treatment for dystonia. It’s a neurological
disorder causes involuntary muscle contractions. In Murray’s
case, the malady is affecting his neck.
Dystonia can be passed on genetically, but there is evidence that
suggests that it can be influenced by external factors such as
a blow to the head. Doctors who’ve examined Murray recently
– one in Toronto, one in Nashville – believe his case
has nothing to do with a hockey-related injury.
The disorder cannot be cured, but treatments are available to
keep dystonia under control. Murray, who has 17 points this season,
has begun taking medication and could be back in the lineup in
as little as two weeks.
• Once a RedHawk, always a RedHawk. Tampa
Bay defenseman Dan Boyle, as most of you know, was an All-American
at Miami, a school noted for – how do we put this? –
its female student population that is easy on the eyes. So when
The Hockey News, as part of its weekly question-and-answer
segment, asked Boyle what move he’d first make if he were
commissioner of the NHL, his reply came as no surprise.
lower ticket prices,” said Boyle, “for good-looking
• This week’s Obscure Bowling Green Note of
the Week comes
to us courtesy of the CCHA’s weekly press release, which
recounts an unusual game between the Falcons and Northern Michigan
in Marquette nearly 21 years ago. In that game, BGSU thought it
had earned a 7-6 overtime win over the Wildcats when future NHL
stalwart Garry Galley scored, but the goal was disallowed because
the defenseman used an illegal stick – when a guy puts just
one strip of tape across his blade, it kind of makes you wonder
in the first place. Undaunted, Galley came back later in OT with
a legal branch and scored a legit goal. Crime, it should be noted,
does not pay.
• A bonus BG note: Mike Emrick, a Bowling
Green graduate who serves as the play-by-play voice on New Jersey
Devils’ television broadcasts, was named one of three recipients
of the NHL’s Lester Patrick Award. The award signifies outstanding
service to hockey in the United States. Emrick, fellow broadcaster
John Davidson and long-time executive Ray Miron will be feted
March 16 in New York City.
A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this
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