March 10, 2004
The Drama Unfolds

By Mike Eidelbes


Miami's Derek Edwardson finished second in the CCHA in scoring with 43 points in 36 regular season games.

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Pedal to the floor
Thinkin' of the roar
Gotta get us to the show

That aforementioned line was lifted from the Phantom Planet song “California”, better known as the theme for Fox’s teen drama The O.C. The lyrics offer a perfect description of the intensity and energy that drive postseason hockey. But the soap opera aspects of the popular TV show are applicable to this season’s CCHA playoffs in that all of the characters are flawed.

Michigan is the league’s Big Man on Campus showing chinks in his armor. Miami is the kid trying to prove all the preconceived notions about him are untrue. Michigan State is the former homecoming queen attempting to rebound from a fall from grace. Alaska-Fairbanks is the mysterious outsider. Notre Dame is girl who finds trouble in every episode only to scratch and claw her way through such difficulties.

You get the picture. Maybe every episode of the CCHA playoffs won’t be as, uhh, visually appealing as the average installment of The O.C. But like any good drama, the storyline will be full of unexpected twists and turns.


While some claim Michigan did not back its way into the CCHA regular season title, others swear they heard a noise emanating from the Wolverines’ locker room at Joe Louis Arena last Saturday that sounded eerily similar to a dump truck in reverse after the team learned Ohio State knocked off Miami, keeping the RedHawks from taking the crown. There’s no truth to the rumor, however, that the Wolverines will face away from the camera when their postseason team photo is taken.

 First-Round Matchups

No. 12 Nebraska-Omaha at
No. 1 Michigan
7-24-5 (5-19-4)
23-11-2 (18-8-2)
Season series:
UM won, 1-0-1

Maverick Fact:
UNO is 2-12-2 since Jan. 1. A 7-4 win over visiting Alaska-Fairbanks Feb. 28 snapped an 11-game winless streak. The Mavs also have just one road win this season, a 4-1 decision over Ferris State in November.
Wolverine Fact:
Michigan, which has won 14 straight CCHA first-round playoff series, owns a 4-0-0 all-time record against Nebraska-Omaha at Yost Ice Arena.

How Nebraska-Omaha Wins:
By remembering that 12th-place Lake Superior State gave the Wolverines a scare at home two years ago by winning the first game of a best-of-three playoff series and, like the ’69 New York Mets, keeping in mind that “you gotta believe.” It still won’t matter.
How Michigan Wins:
Wipe the memories of the last two weekends away and start with a clean slate. Scoring an early goal – and whipping the Yost crowd into a frenzy right away – will also help rebuild confidence. Keeping Al Montoya healthy is a primary concern.

No. 11 Lake Superior State at
No. 2 Miami
LSSU: 9-18-7 (7-16-5)
MIA: 20-12-4 (17-8-3)
Season series: Miami won, 2-0

Laker Fact:
Lake Superior State is undefeated in four meetings with Miami in the CCHA playoffs. Of course, the last of those games occurred in 1995. The Lakers were a much different team then.
RedHawk Fact: Miami enters the weekend with an eight-game home unbeaten streak against Lake Superior State. The RedHawks are 7-0-1 since losing to the Lakers in Oxford on March 2, 1996.

How Lake Superior State Wins:
The Lakers need sparkling performances from freshman goalie Jeff Jakaitis, must neutralize the RedHawks’ potent power play and keep the pace of the game at a deliberate tempo that favors their style of play.
How Miami Wins:
The tempo is the most important factor in this series. Miami has the horses to win a wide-open affair with the Lakers. They’ve also got to establish dominance on the power play – the RedHawks’ attack works best when they get traffic in front of the opposing goalie and let their defensemen bomb from the point, then let the forwards crash the net.

No. 10 Ferris State at
No. 3 Michigan State
15-18-3 (10-17-1)
21-15-2 (17-9-2)
Season series:
Michigan State won, 2-0
Bulldog Fact:
Three players – Brett Smith, Jeff Legue and Derek Nesbitt – accounted for more than 32 percent of Ferris State’s points during the regular season and more than one-third of the team’s goals.
Spartan Fact:
The weekend series marks the sixth meeting between Michigan State and Ferris State in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. The Spartans swept the Bulldogs in each of the five previous occasions.
How Ferris State Wins:
It’s easy to forget that the Bulldogs boast more playoff experience than the Spartans thanks to last year’s magical season in Big Rapids. Goalie Mike Brown has to rediscover the game that made him the CCHA’s top netminder a year ago. Additional sources of offensive production would help, too – FSU has scored no more than two goals in each of its last seven games. No wonder the Bulldogs are 1-6-0 during that span.
How Michigan State Wins:
With last weekend’s sweep of Michigan fresh in their minds, it’s crucial the Spartans avoid the letdowns that have followed big wins early in the season. Michigan State has more talent than Ferris State, but mental lapses have doomed them in the past. Rick Comley has to get his team to focus on this weekend and not look back to the Michigan series or ahead to the Super Six.

No. 9 Bowling Green at
No. 4 Ohio State
11-16-9 (9-13-6)
21-16-0 (16-12-0)
Season series:
Ohio State won, 2-0

Falcon Fact:
The last time Bowling Green entered the CCHA playoffs as the ninth seed was 2001, when the Falcons upset No. 2 seed Miami and beat Northern Michigan in the play-in game to advance to the conference semifinals at Joe Louis Arena.
Buckeye Fact:
Ohio State has made back-to-back trips to the CCHA Super Six. Only once in school history have the Buckeyes advanced to Joe Louis Arena in three straight seasons (1983-85).

How Bowling Green Wins:
Help goalie Jordan Sigalet, who faced an average of 33 shots per game during the regular season. Holding the Buckeyes to fewer than 30 shots means fewer scoring opportunities and allows Sigalet to be an even greater factor.
How Ohio State Wins:
Senior Mike Betz, who’s apparently the guy in goal for the Buckeyes, is a solid netminder but isn’t likely to steal a game. So it’s important for Ohio State to keep the pressure on Sigalet. It would also behoove OSU to stay out of the penalty box – the Bucks averaged nearly 20 PIMs per game during the regular season.

No. 8 Western Michigan at
No. 5 Notre Dame
16-16-4 (12-13-3)
18-12-4 (14-11-3)
Season series:
Western Michigan won, 2-0

Bronco Fact:
As we noted last year, Western Michigan hasn’t advanced to Joe Louis Arena in a decade, the longest current drought in the CCHA. The last time the Broncos won a first-round playoff series was in 1994, when WMU bounced Notre Dame.
Irish Fact:
Notre Dame has made the March trip to Joe Louis Arena three times in the last four seasons, but the Irish have lost their first game in Detroit on each occasion. In fact, Notre Dame has won only one non-first round CCHA playoff game in its history. It occurred in 1982, when the Dave Poulin-led Irish bounced top-seeded Bowling Green in the league semifinals before bowing to Michigan State in the title game.

How Western Michigan Wins:
The Broncos thrive on chaos and are most successful when they’re able to get their opponents to forget their responsibilities – especially on defense – and chase them around the ice. Their defense and goaltending are both below average, so the more WMU has the puck, the better off they are.
How Notre Dame Wins:
Talk about a dichotomy in styles. The Irish are a no-frills team that wins with great goaltending, potent special teams play and offensive contributions from a variety of sources. They’re a smart, disciplined bunch that doesn’t get rattled easily. As long as they can maintain their composure and not be lured into Western Michigan’s brand of play, Poulin’s guys should be fine.

No. 7 Northern Michigan at
No. 6 Alaska-Fairbanks
18-14-4 (13-13-2)
16-17-1 (14-13-1)
Season series:
Alaska-Fairbanks won, 2-0

Wildcat Fact:
Northern Michigan’s two losses at Alaska-Fairbanks in January were the first losses to the Nanooks in school history. The Wildcats entered the season with a 13-0-3 all-time record against the Nanooks.
Nanook Fact:
Alaska-Fairbanks is hosting its second first-round playoff series in three years. The Nanooks advanced to the Super Six two years ago after bouncing Ferris State from postseason play with two wins at the Carlson Center.

How Northern Michigan Wins:
By scoring three or more goals. The Wildcats are 14-1-2 this year when they amass 3+ goals in a game. NMU is a young team, but goalie Craig Kowalski is a veteran who’s been through the paces before. It’ll be important to keep things even until the greenhorns settle in.
How Alaska-Fairbanks Wins:
The Nanooks have one of the greatest advantages in college hockey in that traveling from anywhere to Fairbanks is a long, exhausting trip, which makes the odds of the home team winning the first game of a series at the Carlson Center that much greater. UAF will score goals, but coach Guy Gadowsky has to decide which netminder – Preston McKay or Keith Bartusch – is best suited for the playoffs.

Aside from the last two weekends of the season, during which Michigan recorded three losses and a tie against two teams that were battling for their NCAA Tournament lives, the Wolverines owned the rest of the CCHA during the second half of the season. Particularly impressive were two convincing sweeps against Ohio State and Miami, teams that were poised to earn stamps of legitimacy with strong showings against Red Berenson’s squad.

Tabbing the league’s regular season champ is the safe pick. It’s also the smart pick for a few reasons. One is that the Wolverines boast unparalleled depth, especially up front. Second is that Michigan has played at a high level even though their two marquee forwards – junior Eric Nystrom and sophomore Jeff Tambellini – haven’t met preseason expectations. Third is that sophomore Al Montoya is the league’s only established big-game goaltender, as evidenced by his play at this winter’s World Junior Championships, and he hasn’t had to steal a game for the Wolverines this season.

Of course, if Montoya’s wonky hamstring gives way, all bets are off.


Just as there are a number of reasons to make Michigan the conference playoff favorite, there are as many to not get behind Michigan State, the Wolverines’ archrival and the third seed in the CCHA tournament. Scoring punch becomes scarce beyond the top line of Jim Slater, Mike Lalonde and Tom Goebel. The team’s top offensive defenseman, A.J. Thelen, can be shaky at times in his own end. Finally, the Spartans have a proclivity for taking ill-advised penalties at inopportune times.

Keeping all that in mind, Michigan State enters the postseason on a roll. The Spartans are 6-1-1 since February. Slater, Lalonde and Goebel have been as good as any line in the nation since Goebel returned from a mid-season bout with mononucleosis. What’s more, juniors Slater and Lalonde seem to have assumed the leadership voice that plagued the team early on. MSU’s penalty kill, one of the country’s poorest during the first part of the year, has improved dramatically – the Spartans rank a respectable sixth in the CCHA in that category. Freshman goalie Dominic Vicari is playing with a lot of confidence, as evidenced by three shutouts in his last four starts.

If the top two seeds qualify for the CCHA Super Six, the Spartans will have to win three games to capture the Mason Cup. That’s a tall order for any team, but expect Michigan State to advance far enough to secure an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.


G – David Brown, Notre Dame Expected to be a solid complement to junior Morgan Cey once the incumbent returned from an injury, Brown sparked the Fighting Irish’s early-season success with three shutouts in October including a 1-0 win over Boston College. He was also a key to his team’s recent sweep of Michigan – arguably the most important series win in Notre Dame hockey history. It was very difficult to choose Brown ahead of Bowling Green’s Jordan Sigalet.

D – Andy Greene, Miami
Followed up a 23-point rookie campaign with 21 points this season. The sophomore is a versatile, two-way rearguard who plays bigger than his listed 5-11, 182 pounds. He was also an assistant captain for the RedHawks this year, a testament to his impact off the ice.

D – Neil Komadoski, Notre Dame Other guys in the leauge had better offensive numbers. But every time I watched the Fighting Irish either in person or on television, Komadoski made something happen. A classic minute muncher, he’s a fantastic quarterback for the CCHA’s top-ranked power play and a steady penalty killer. A heady, well-rounded player.

F – Jim Slater, Michigan State
The CCHA’s leading scorer with 45 points in the regular season. The Spartans aren’t completely bereft of offensive talent, but Slater has to be a difference maker just about every night in order for them to have a chance to win. Supremely confident, he has the ability to jump-start his mates by scoring a big goal, setting up a linemate for a score or delivering a thundering hit.

F – T.J. Hensick, Michigan
No, I wasn’t sure putting two freshmen on the all-conference team was a good idea. That being said, Hensick is the best passer in the league and his 30 assists tied for second nationally in that category. Some of the feeds he makes are unreal – his teammates know it’s coming, the opponent knows it’s coming, everyone in the arena knows it’s coming, and the puck still reaches its intended target.

F – Derek Edwardson, Miami
The numbers he put up during the regular season – 17 goals and 26 assists for 43 points – aren’t far off of those recorded by fellow RedHawk seniors Mike Kompon (41 points) and Greg Hogeboom (39 points). The fact that he did it on a line with freshmen Matt Christie and Marty Guerin, both 30-point scorers, sets him apart from Kompon and Hogeboom. A breakdown of Edwardson’s goals illustrate his versatility – five power play markers, three shorthanded goals and three game-winners.


How do you gauge a coach’s job performance if everyone in the league peformed as expected? If you check our CCHA preseason preview, you’ll notice that – outside of picking Ferris State to finish second – the rest of the conference pretty much fell in to line true to form.

Miami has a fine collection of talent with a balanced mix of youth and experience and depth at both forward and defense. Consistency, however, has not been a hallmark of the RedHawks in recent years. In fact, in each of the last two seasons, up-and-down play short-circuited the team’s promising starts.

The RedHawks seemed to be headed in the same direction when they opened the season with a 3-5-2 mark that included an 8-3 win against Michigan and a 2-0 loss to Air Force. Instead of panicking, coach Enrico Blasi got his team back to the basics and gave the new faces time to mesh with the veterans.

Now, the RedHawks are a virtual lock for their first NCAA Tournament berth in seven years. Miami took over first place in the league standings in early December and, thanks to a 15-4-2 run, stayed there until mid-February. Michigan swept the RedHawks in convincing fashion in Ann Arbor to take over the top spot in the conference and while most assumed the team had finally run out of gas, Miami perservered and had a shot at winning the CCHA title on the last day of the regular season.


The problem with parity is that, while the game becomes much more fun for everyone, the lack of a dominant team and/or player makes weeding out candidates for year-end honors a mind-numbing experience. The end result is that I stare at the screen on my laptop agonizing over a decision until my retinas burn.

In my opinion, the Player of the Year should be the guy who means the most to his team, not necessarily the best player on the best team or the person with the best numbers. Still, there’s got to be a certain degree of team success as part of the equation, which is the reason Bowling Green’s amazing Jordan Sigalet won’t get the nod even though he deserves recognition.

Jim Slater of Michigan State led the CCHA with 17-28–45 in 38 regular season games, but the versatility that makes him one of the 10 best players in the college game is why he’s the choice here. Obviously, the junior centerman is a gifted scorer and has the ability to create his own offensive opportunities by either eluding defenders or using his strength to power to the net. He’s an above average skater and arguably the league’s strongest player.

Moreover, as one of the CCHA’s best defensive forwards, Slater logs plenty of time on the Spartans’ top penalty killing unit and is on the ice for every crucial situation. The Lapeer, Mich., native and Atlanta Thrashers prospect is also MSU’s top pivot and expected to win his share of important draws during the course of a game.


Take a close look at the CCHA’s rookie crop this season. No other conference boasts the quality and depth of young talent across the board. Every coach counted on at least one freshman to play a key role – if not the key role – in his team’s success. In fact, one could make a legitimate case for any of ten players for the label of the league’s top freshman. Notre Dame netminder David Brown is the choice here for two reasons.

First, Brown (13-6-3, 2.12 GAA, .930 sv%) raised his level of play when the Fighting Irish needed him most. With incumbent Morgan Cey sidelined early in the season with a knee problem, the Stoney Creek, Ont., native rebounded from a loss in his first career start to reel off an eight-game unbeaten streak. And when Cey struggled with consistency upon returning to the lineup, Brown proved his mettle by posting a 7-2-1 mark in his last 10 starts.

Second, even though the Irish ranked eighth in the CCHA in scoring offense at 2.71 goals per game, Brown gave his team a chance to win every night by allowing two or fewer goals in 15 of his 22 starts and nine of his last 10 appearances.

Michigan playmaker T.J. Hensick, who finished the regular season tied for second nationally with 30 assists, is a close second in this category. Watching him set up linemate Milan Gajic on the power play is a thing of beauty.


Michigan State’s Mike Lalonde entered the season fresh off a 31-point sophomore campaign, so it’s not as if he was an unknown quantity prior to the year. And he certainly benefits from riding shotgun with Jim Slater as evidenced by his CCHA-leading 21 goals.

Three things about Lalonde’s game stand out, however, and make him the choice for this honor. First, he never takes a shift off. Second, he’s as consistent as the sun rising in the East; only once this season did he go more than back-to-back games without recording a point. Perhaps most important – and a result of combining the first two factors, no doubt – is that he seems to have developed a Jed Ortmeyer-like aura where good things happen for the Spartans when he’s on the ice.

Even though Slater wears the “C”, there’s no question Lalonde is MSU’s emotional leader as well as its conscience. Not bad for a kid who was a little-known player in the BCHL and a late addition to then-coach Ron Mason’s last recruiting class.

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