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On Longevity

“If you stick around long enough, you have to come to a milestone sooner or later.”

That’s Michigan head coach Red Berenson giving his perspective on his latest milestone — “I guess it’s a milestone,” said Berenson — his 300th CCHA win, earned Sunday with a 4-3 victory over Bowling Green. Berenson is just the second coach in league history to reach 300 conference wins.

Northern Michigan’s 4-3 decision over Ferris State last Friday became head coach Rick Comley’s 555th career win, moving him into a tie with former Michigan Tech coach John MacInnes for seventh place on college hockey’s all-time win list. The’ Cats and ‘Dogs tied Saturday, which means that Comley’s imminent sole possession of seventh place has been delayed, briefly.

When Rick Comley Speaks…

Apparently, when Comley articulated the unspeakable — that the CCHA is in a “down cycle” — he hit a nerve around the league. The Omaha World-Herald followed up on Comley’s comment with reaction from Berenson and Tom Anastos, the CCHA Commissioner.

Comley’s assertion itself is hardly news. Anyone who’s paid any attention to the CCHA in the past two years has seen the strength of the league diminish to some extent. What is newsworthy is that his comment warranted any follow-up at all. Although Comley himself said that he was contradicting the accepted “battle cry,” who can argue that the league is dominant, especially given its 12-11-7 nonconference record so far this season?

For his part, Anastos did the smart thing when he told the World-Herald that the CCHA’s record against non-league opponents is “not as well as we’d like to do, obviously.”

Obviously.

Both Hockey East (18-6-4) and the WCHA (10-4-5) have fared better than the CCHA in nonconference play.

But of course, as Berenson was quick to point out to the Omaha paper, the season is young. And we should remember that the league is young as well, with one-third of its players rookies. Talented rookies, but newcomers nonetheless.

Hats off to Comley, Berenson, and Anastos. Comley spoke his mind — and the arguable truth — and no one overreacted.

A Note to CCHA Teams

Pssst!! Don’t schedule games against Alabama-Huntsville.

Just in case you’re keeping score, it’s UAH 3, CCHA 1.

Games of the Week

After tuning up on the Bowling Green Falcons with 6-1 and 4-3 wins, the Michigan Wolverines host the Miami RedHawks, a team eager to prove it’s got the goods.

Miami (1-2-1, 0-0-0 CCHA) at No. 3 Michigan (4-0-2, 2-0-0 CCHA)
Friday 7:35 p.m. and Saturday 7:05 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mich.

Although most CCHA fans concede that the Wolverines are shoo-ins for this season’s Most Likely To Succeed, Berenson himself is a bit more cautious.

“Like all teams, we have issues. Our power play and penalty kill are not spectacular and we need to improve. It’s the same old thing. I like our defense overall, and I think we can score some goals.”

Michigan is sixth in the conference in both overall power-play percentage (.200) and penalty killing (.810). The Wolverines are averaging 4.17 goals per game over the course of the six games they’ve played, good enough for second in the league behind Western Michigan (5.25).

The Wolverines, the most experienced team in the league this season, are led by a senior class that includes a foursome of league household names: Josh Langfeld (6-5–11), Mark Kosick (2-4–6), Scott Matzka (2-3–5), and Geoff Koch (1-0-1). Berenson is happy to see Langfeld, this week’s CCHA Offensive Player of the Week, return to the form of his freshman and sophomore years.

“I like the fact that Langfeld has stepped up and gotten off to a good start. He’s a great kid, great to be around.”

Berenson says that he’s waiting for another senior, Matzka — the King of the Shorthanded Goals — to step up as well. “He needs to have a big year for us if we’re going to be successful. He’ll be a key component for us to meet our expectations.”

Berenson is not falsely modest; he knows the potential of his Wolverine squad. But he knows that the season is young and there are still a few things not quite in place, yet.

“I like what’s on paper, but a lot of things have to come together for us to meet those expectations. Four key senior forwards have to perform. Our sophomore class, they are performing right out of the chute. They’re in line with expectations. Our senior class hasn’t gotten there yet.”

Those sophomores include Andy Hilbert (2-8–10), Mike Cammalleri (2-8–10), John Shouneyia (3-3–6) and Mark Mink (2-4–6), who are right behind Langfeld in scoring.

This week the Michigan scoring machine hosts the RedHawks, a team eager to prove that it can play good, solid hockey.

Miami returns from a trip East without a win, having lost to Providence 5-0 and New Hampshire 7-2.

Miami head coach Enrico Blasi calls the Providence game “weird.” “We had a lot of power-play chances and they were very opportunistic in their scoring. [Goalie Boyd] Ballard played pretty well.”

As for the loss to New Hampshire, Blasi says simply, “They handed us our lunch.”

The RedHawks are led in scoring so far this season by Ken Marsch (0-6–6), followed by Gregor Krajnc (2-2–4), and Pat Leahy (1-3–4). Several other ‘Hawks have a goal each, including Jason Deskins, who along with Krajnc returns this season after sitting out last year with a knee injury.

In net, rookie David Bowen has posted a .928 save percentage and 2.48 goals against average in 148 minutes played. In 96 minutes, David Burleigh’s numbers are less impressive (.796 SV%, 6.84 GAA).

For Blasi, this season is about much more than wins and losses. “We have to maintain, focus, and play. As we found out last year, it’s a journey, not a race.

“We never talk about winning or losing. At least the coaches don’t. For us right now it’s the process. Obviously, winning and losing are what you’re judged by. But the process gets us to the outcome.

“It’s like a math problem. You have to get through those steps, you get to the answer. It’s about how we’re doing things, how we’re doing things, believing in each other.

“It’s not just about winning and losing — don’t get me wrong, I want to win — but it’s about the experience, for the development of the players.”

Blasi says he and his team are looking forward to opening their CCHA season against the Wolverines in Yost. “It’s a great place to play, and it can’t be any more hostile than where we were last weekend.”

He says that what he expects this weekend is for the RedHawks to play their game. “If we play our game, we’ll be in the game. I don’t know if we’ll win or not.”

For his part, Berenson expects two hard games. “I think they’ll be tough, I really do. With their top scorers healthy this year, and their whole defense returns, and if they get the goaltending they need…I expect they’ll be a top-half team.”

The Wolverines own this series 52-14-2, and have won 17 of the last 20 meetings.

Picks: Not everyone is healthy on either side. Both Koch and Jeff Jillson are playing, but have recently recovered from injuries. Miami will play without its only senior defender, Clarke Walford. Miami may be competitive, but I doubt that the Wolverines will suffer their first losses of the season this weekend. Michigan 4-2, 5-2

Grudge of the Week

While it’s not my usual policy to name a nonconference matchup the Grudge of the Week, given Hockey East’s dominance in nonconference play and the recent history between these two teams, it’s not surprising that these CCHA boys have a score to settle.

Ohio State (2-1-0, 1-1-0 CCHA) at No. 7 Maine
Friday 8:05 p.m. and Saturday 7:05 p.m., Alfond Arena, Orono, Maine

The Black Bears will welcome back head coach Shawn Walsh to the bench for these games against Ohio State. Walsh, who has been battling cancer, is a longtime friend of Ohio State head coach John Markell; the two played together at Bowling Green for Ron Mason.

Hockey really is a small world, and the entire college hockey community is very happy to see Coach Walsh return home and return to something he does so well.

Maine owns this series against Ohio State, as the Buckeyes have never beaten the Black Bears in the eight-game history of the series. The two teams first met in Orono in 1988-89. Since then, every Black Bear win over the Buckeyes has been in Columbus or on neutral ice.

Last season, Maine won a pair of close games at the Schottenstein Center, 3-2 and 3-1. In 1998-99, the Black Bears ended the Buckeyes’ season in Worcester at the NCAA Eastern Regionals by a score of 4-2.

The Buckeyes beat Niagara 4-1 last weekend in an impressive come-from-behind win. After being outshot by the Purple Eagles 6-3 in the first period, Ohio State went on to 34 shots on net while holding Niagara to just 13, the first time Ohio State has held an opponent to 20 or fewer shots in more than a season.

Ohio State’s special teams look good so far in this short season. The power play is second in the conference in overall play (.250) and the PK looks really good, effective just over 93% of the time.

Andre Signoretti (1-4–5) leads the team in scoring, followed by Nick Ganga (3-0–3), Jean-Francois Dufour (3-0–0), R.J. Umberger (1-2–3) and Doug Andress (1-2–3). Maine fans should also watch for Dave Steckel and the Steckel-Ryan Smith combo on the penalty kill.

"I guess it’s a milestone."

— An understated Red Berenson, on his 300th CCHA win

In net for Ohio State is rookie Mike Betz (.900 SV%, 2.68 GAA).

Five different Black Bears are tied for the team lead in scoring with three points each. Lucas Lawson, Martin Kariya, (how many more of them are there?) and Tom Reimann each have two goals for Maine.

Matt Yeats (.903 SV%, 2.41 GAA) paces the Black Bears between the pipes.

Maine’s power play zips along at 17.4%, while their penalty kill is effective 80% of the time.

So far this season, the Black Bears have 11 goals and 18 assists for 29 points. So do the Buckeyes.

Last week the Black Bears pounded St. Lawrence 8-2 and beat the US Developmental squad 3-1.

These teams are much more evenly matched than most people think. The Buckeyes are big, fast, with excellent puck movement and an even temperament. That said, the Black Bears are ranked for a reason, and welcoming Walsh back will give Maine an added boost — as will Alfond, which is one of the hardest places to play in all of college hockey.

Two Buckeye injuries of note: Umberger fractured his jaw in practice on Thursday, Oct. 19. He had surgery (which included the insertion of two plates and the removal of an impacted wisdom tooth) on Friday, Oct. 21. He missed the game against Niagara, but may play against Maine. Sophomore goaltender Pete Wishloff is out for several weeks with broken bones in his hand, an injury sustained in that same Oct. 19 practice.

Picks: Don’t be surprised if Ohio State takes points this weekend. Then again, don’t be surprised if they are, to paraphrase Enrico Blasi, handed their lunch. Maine 4-2, 4-2

Ganga Watch

Ohio State’s Nick Ganga, in his quest to prove that he’s a changed man, compiled some impressive evidence in the Buckeyes’ 4-1 win over Niagara on Oct. 21. Not only did the junior record his first collegiate multi-goal game, but Ganga had a natural hat trick, scoring on the power play, even-strength, and shorthanded.

And perhaps for the first time in his collegiate career, Ganga’s goal production exceeded the number of penalties he earned. Three goals, zero minutes in lockdown.

For those of you keeping track, Ganga has three goals total in three Division I games, and two penalties for four minutes. The forward has vowed to keep his penalty minutes to 50 this season, less than half of what he earned in 1999-2000. That leaves 31 games, and 46 minutes.

Who Are These Guys?

It isn’t just Ganga who seems to have mastered his temper; the entire Buckeye squad is a more disciplined bunch. Ohio State is averaging the fewest average penalty minutes in the league in both conference (14.00) and nonconference (13.33) play.

This is a team that averaged nearly 30 minutes per game last year.

Travels With Paula

In my world, there’s only one thing better than covering D-I men’s ice hockey on any given Friday night: sitting in the stands, watching the D-III action of my beloved Fredonia Blue Devils.

The very first college hockey game I attended was a Blue Devils club game in the mid-’80s, in the frigid Steele Hall on the SUNY College at Fredonia campus. I was a graduate student in English at Fredonia State, and my experience there was so idyllic that I’m pulled home whenever I can spare a minute.

On Oct. 20, I was lucky enough to catch most of the first half of the Blue Devil Invitational, where RIT played Oswego State, and Fredonia took on Neumann College.

There are several striking differences between D-III and D-I hockey, starting with the facilities. Folks around D-III tell me that Steele Hall isn’t a bad facility, and it is a serviceable place that includes a PA announcer (not every D-III game has them), and the added luxury of four walls and a roof — another option, apparently, at some D-III rinks.

There was no press box, which didn’t matter to me one bit. The bleachers were hard, and for the first time in a long time I was cold at a hockey game.

Another difference between D-III and D-I is the number of fans. Of course, you’ll find rinks in the D-I ranks peopled solely by parents, friends, and puck bunnies, and you’ll find D-III rinks full of maniacs, but mostly attendance is low. The puck bunnies were just as glossy in Steele Hall as they are in the Schott. They’ll live to regret some of those trips to the tanning booths, I’ll wager.

The striking difference between D-I and D-III hockey is the level of play, of course, or perhaps the consistency of play. Not only can one team be outrageously more skilled than its opponent, but within the same team the level of skill varies far more than it does at the D-I level.

Then there’s the size. You think some CCHA players appear a bit shorter than their 5-foot-8-inch listings? There were a couple of guys on the Neumann squad who couldn’t possibly be as tall as I am (5-6), and there wasn’t anyone as short as I listed on their roster.

In addition to bringing me home to the autumnal beauty of Western New York — with its showy colors and intoxicating perfume of falling leaves, pine, fresh water, and grapes — this trip provided me with a chance to catch up with God of All Things D-III, Chris Lerch, fellow D-III USCHO.com staffer Ed Trefzger, and a trio of refugees from Lake Superior State that included Jason Furness, David Mugavero, and Jamie Kosecki, all Blue Devils.

For the record, RIT beat Oswego State and Fredonia State beat Neumann. And I drove back in time to watch Nick Ganga — Nick Ganga, for heaven’s sake! — score three goals in one game.

Life is good, eh?