March 19, 2005
CCHA Finals
Saving the Best for Last

By Mike Eidelbes

Michigan 4, Ohio State 2
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-UM Milan Gajic (19) PP
2:54 M. Hunwick, B. Rogers

Second Period

1-OS Tom Fritsche (10) EV
5:32 D. Maiani, M. Waddell
2-UM Milan Gajic (20) PP
6:46 B. Kaleniecki , B. Rogers
2-OS JB Bittner (10) EV
6:57 R. Pelley, D. Knapp
Third Period
3-UM Jeff Tambellini (21) EV
5:27 unassisted
3-UM Jason Ryznar (6) EN
19:59 M. Woodford
No Scoring
OS: Dave Caruso, 60:00, 31 saves, 3 GA (1 ENG)
UM: Al Montoya, 60:00, 27 saves, 2 GA
Penalties: OS 16/40; UM 12/24
Power Plays: OS 0-7; UM 2-10
Attendance: 16,891

DETROIT – Saturday was dreary day in Detroit, dominated by low, gray clouds, an intermittent mix of precipitation that included rain, snow and sleet and a chilling late winter wind.

In many ways, the conditions outside reflected what had taken place inside Joe Louis Arena over the course of the first two days of the CCHA Super Six. Thursday’s quarterfinals and Friday’s semifinals weren’t poorly played, but lacked the sizzle and drama of conference tournaments in Albany, Boston and St. Paul.

Thankfully, Saturday’s finale between top-seed Michigan and second-seeded Ohio State, a 4-2 Wolverine win, let the 16,891 fans in attendance leave the rink feeling like they got their money’s worth. The league championship match, while not a game for the ages in terms of quality of play, was entertaining nonetheless with flurries of end-to-end action, a combined 67 shots on goal, solid efforts from both goalies a couple of goal reviews and the feistiness befitting this rivalry.

“I think it was hard-fought both ways,” OSU captain JB Bittner said, side-stepping a query from a reporter who asked if he thought the game was well played.

Special teams, which had been the Buckeyes’ strength throughout the season, proved to be their undoing tonight. Four Wolverine power plays kept Ohio State from rolling out four lines nearly for nearly half of the first period and playing its relentless style that focuses on wearing down opponents. It also shortened the benches for both sides, allowing dangerous Michigan scorers like Jeff Tambellini, Milan Gajic and T.J. Hensick to gobble up ice time while OSU’s offensive forces like forward Rod Pelley idled on the bench.

”We knew going in that their power play was one of their strong points,” Bittner said. “It’s so hard when you’re trying to win something in one game. It’s not a seven-game series. You have to get your game established right away.”

It came as somewhat of surprise, then, that Michigan coach Red Berenson said he didn’t want to get into a special teams battle with the Buckeyes. Clearly, the man advantage was a boon to the Wolverines, who got a pair of power-play tallies from Gajic – one in the first period and one in the second.

”The depth of our program is the amount of scorers that we have,” said Tambellini, the Super Six MVP. “Any time we can get on the board early, it’s great. The power-play guys…we’d be out when they’d get a couple penalties. Then we’d be sitting back down [when we were penalized]”

”I probably played only five or six five-on-five shifts the whole game,” Gajic said. “[Referee Steve Piotrowski] decided to call it tight tonight. He could’ve easily turned a blind eye.”

Like the game itself, Tambellini’s game-winning goal 5:27 into the third period wasn’t pretty. In fact, saying it was a fluke is like saying Gary Busey is a little quirky. Seconds earlier, the junior forward muffed a prime scoring chance when whiffed on a shot as he broke into the zone on the near wing. An Ohio State defender gathered the loose puck but misfired on a clearing attempt. Tambellini trapped it against the wall and fired a centering pass intended for teammate Brandon Kaleniecki, but the puck hit Buckeye defenseman Jason DeSantis and caromed past goalie David Caruso.

The winner was a near carbon copy of the goal Bittner scored in the second period to tie the game a mere 11 seconds after Gajic notched his second PPG to give Michigan a 2-1 lead. His centering attempted bounced off the leg of the Wolverines’ Eric Werner and skipped by netminder Al Montoya.

”We saw a couple strange goals,” said Michigan coach Red Berenson. “It was certainly a game that could’ve gone either way.”

Alaska-Fairbanks 3,
Michigan State 2
Team Goal Str
Time Assists
First Period
1-AF Jared Sylvestre (13) SH
14:19 J. Grinevitch

Second Period

2-AF Adam Powell (4) PP
2:15 N. Fornataro, C. Schmidt
1-MS Tom Goebel (6) EV
2:15 J. Slater, B. Lerg
3-AF Aaron Lee (10) EV
15:10 L. Burnett

Third Period

3-MS Adam Nightingale (3) EV
11:54 C. Hontvet, P. Skinner
AF: Wylie Rogers, 60:00, 36 saves, 2 GA
MS: Dominic Vicari, 60:00, 23 saves, 3 GA
Penalties: AF 9/18; MS 7/14
Power Plays: AF 1-6; MS 0-8


Alaska-Fairbanks can count itself among the two or three teams in the country that can say it ended the season with a win.

The national champion will be able to make that claim. There’s also the possibility that the winner of Saturday’s ECACHL third-place game can include itself on that list pending Sunday’s announcement of this year’s NCAA Tournament field.

With that in mind, it’s no wonder the Nanooks felt an added measure of accomplishment after beating Michigan State, 3-2, in the CCHA Super Six third-place game. In fact, UAF rookie coach Tavis MacMillan sounded like he’s ready to get back to work when he returns to the office next week.

“I don’t want to take time off,” MacMillan said moments after putting a bow on the best season in school history. “My wife is going to shoot me when she hears that…but I want to see kids continue to get better, I want to see them continue to get bigger [and] I want to see them continue to shoot for 4.0’s in the classroom and become better citizens.”

It’s hard to fault MacMillan for his zeal. With 11 freshmen among the 19 returnees from this year’s squad, UAF will have the talent and experience to advance to the Super Six – and possibly beyond – next season. He’s also fortunate to have players who can fill a variety of roles, an advantage a friend of MacMillan’s who is also an NHL scout has advised him of for years.

“He always says to me, ‘Tavis, you can’t build a puzzle with all the same pieces.’ The Aaron Lees, the Ryan Muspratts, the Brandon Gawryletzes, they’re all pieces to the puzzle and as important to what we’re doing here as the Ryan Greentrees and Ryan McLeods and Wylie Rogers.

“The challenge to these guys is, what are they going to do over the summer to make themselves better? Are they going to rest on their laurels or are they going to challenge themselves to become better hockey players? That’s a big challenge.”

The challenge is one that will no doubt be stressed by MacMillan and the UAF coaching staff, but also the Nanooks’ departing seniors who’ve helped the program advance to the Super Six twice and host first-round playoff series on two occasions.

Captain Jared Sylvestre, when asked to reflect on the class’s role in laying the foundation for the UAF program and the prospects for the future of college hockey in the Golden Heart City, paused for a few seconds before answering.

“I would definitely say it’s a sign of things to come for the program,” Sylvestre said. “I’m glad to be one of those guys to be here at this time.”

INCH's Three Stars of the Tournament

3. Wylie Rogers, Alaska-Fairbanks
One of the major reasons the Nanooks’ future looks so promising, the freshman goaltender made 36 saves in Saturday’s 3-2 win against Michigan State. In three games at the Joe, Rogers stopped 104 of the 112 shots he faced for a .929 save percentage

2. Tom Fritsche, Ohio State
UNO's Bill Thomas may have been named the CCHA's best freshman, and he's a worthy recipient, but Fritsche should develop into one of the league's most dynamic players. He's the complete package of strength, speed, skill and smarts.

1. Jeff Tambellini, Michigan
The junior forward has been overshadowed by teammate T.J. Hensick for most of the season, but Tambellini revived his reputation as one of the nation's most potent offensive players. As for his game-winning goal in the title game, it was a fluke...but, hey, it counts.


• Named to CCHA Super Six all-tournament team were forwards Tom Fritsche (Ohio State), Ryan McLeod (Alaska-Fairbanks) and Jeff Tambellini (Michigan); defensemen Sean Collins (Ohio State) and Brandon Rogers (Michigan); and goaltender Wylie Rogers (Alaska-Fairbanks). Tambellini was the tournament MVP.

• Ohio State thought it had tied the game at one late in the first period when Kenny Bernard poked a loose puck past Montoya, but referee Steve Piotrowski blew his whistle before the puck crossed the line.

He told both teams' captains he lost sight of the puck.

"The puck was held for a millisecond before the whistle was blown," OSU coach John Markell said. "That was a legitimate goal."

"It seemed like a quick whistle," Bernard said. "On instinct, I went and put it in.

"That's just the bounces. We can't control the referees."

• Sylvestre provided the biggest laugh of the tournament – at the expense of fellow senior forward Jason Grinevitch – with his account of the shorthanded goal he scored to give the Nanooks a 1-0 lead.

“That little bugger…he never passes on a two-on-one,” Sylvestre told reporters following the game. “He came through with that big toe drag. The only reason [the puck] came to me is because he tripped.”

After an extended laugh, Sylvestre tossed a bouquet to his linemate.

”Jason played well,” Sylvestre added. “I’ve got to give him a hard time.”

• Michigan State’s loss to Alaska-Fairbanks Saturday brought to an end the careers of seniors who were the last vestiges of the Ron Mason era. As freshmen, this year’s graduating class placed second in the CCHA regular-season standings and was runners-up to Michigan in the 2002 CCHA playoffs.

It’s been a tumultuous three years for MSU since Rick Comley unpacked his bags on the banks of the Red Cedar, but captain Jim Slater says the Spartan program is as strong as it was when he arrived on campus as a freshman in the fall of 2001.

“There’s not really much difference. I think it’s just as strong as it was when Coach Mason was here. It’s just a matter of getting it done on the ice, and we haven’t been able to do that. To say the program is out of control, it’s not right at all.”

• Every CCHA team has advancing to Detroit for the Super Six on its to-do list prior to the start of the season. And while earning a trip to the Motor City may be a difficult task, some teams have found that getting out is even tougher.

Not surprisingly, Alaska-Fairbanks’ return trip is a complex one. The Nanooks are scheduled leave Detroit via bus at 4 a.m. Sunday for Chicago. From there, they’ll board a plane for the eight-hour trip to Anchorage. Once they arrive in Anchorage, the team will have to spend the night there before catching a flight to Fairbanks.

Nebraska-Omaha, eliminated by Michigan State in Thursday’s quarterfinal round, was told it would have to wait until Monday before the entire team could get on a flight home. Rather than keep his players idling in Detroit for three days, coach Mike Kemp arranged for a bus to take the team on the 12-hour trip to Omaha.

• Maybe the CCHA tournament is jinxed.

The Joe Louis Arena ice crew was ready to resurface the playing sheet during the second intermission when one of the two Zambonis stalled shortly after pulling onto the ice. Attempts to revive the offending machine were unsuccessful, and a forklift was brought in to tow it from the ice.

No official explanation was given regarding the malfunction, but speculation centered around an arena staffer who allegedly forgot to turn off the Zamboni's dome light.

• A message on a sign mounted atop a two-story building housing that houses Mac’s Bar, an establishment you can see from the entrance to Joe Louis Arena – “Hey NHL and NHLPA – get back to playing hockey!”


Chippiness and a steady parade of players to the penalty box notwithstanding, Michigan and Ohio State provided a thrilling end to what was otherwise a very ordinary three days at Joe Louis Arena. Given the Wolverines' status as a perennial national championship contender and the Buckeyes taking another step toward solidifying their place as an elite team in the CCHA, Michigan-Ohio State has surpassed Michigan-Michigan State as the league's top rivalry.

Hats off to the Michigan State pep band for its stirring second-period rendition of the Super Mario Bros. theme song. Whether the tune was directed toward anyone in particular is unknown, since the Spartans’ smallest players (Bryan Lerg and Tommy Goebel) are skilled forwards. Mario, as we all know, is a pint-size plumber.

The boorish behavior of Michigan's Chad Kolarik during the championship match was embarrassing. The freshman forward was constantly in officials' faces and precipitated a dust-up at the end of the second period by slashing an OSU player after the whistle. You're a fine player, Chad, but your actions cast a long shadow over your talents.

Here’s an idea for the next season of ‘The Amazing Race’. Set the teams loose in one of Detroit’s outer suburbs with a target destination of Joe Louis Arena. All but one of the major arteries heading into the city’s downtown area was affected by a closure due to construction. Most people, had they mapped their route to the rink, would’ve come up with a diagram resembling one of those “Family Circus” cartoons in which Jeffy goes from point A to point B via points C through Z.


Twelve months removed from sending five teams to the NCAA Tournament, the CCHA will have to be content to see two teams – Michigan and Ohio State – vie for a national title.

Both teams are solid, but flawed. Despite a solid performance Saturday, Michigan goaltender Al Montoya has been average at best this season. Ohio State's Achilles heel is penalties. Even though the Buckeyes have the league's best penalty kill, they'll be hard pressed to have any kind of postseason success because they put their opponents on the power play far too many times.

Focused your eyes beyond April, however, and the CCHA's future looks especially bright. Alaska-Fairbanks showcased its young talent at the Super Six this weekend, quartefinalists Nebraska-Omaha and Northern Michigan boast plenty of youth and Bowling Green is a program on the rise. To steal the words of UAF captain Jared Sylvestre, it's definitely a sign of things to come.

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