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A Happy Medium

Finally, after months-long confinement, the ankle bracelet came off and I was allowed to travel outside of the zip code to see hockey somewhere other than Value City Arena.

Okay, so it wasn’t a court-imposed hiatus from travel, but it felt just as stifling. And the release it provided was enough to give me a new perspective about Ohio State’s grand, multipurpose home ice.

It’s boring.

Perhaps it’s not fair to compare the Schott with Yost Arena, that most hallowed of CCHA halls. Perhaps it’s not fair to make any judgment, given how long it’s been since I’ve been able to slip away from Columbus.

And perhaps “boring” is harsh, and maybe even inaccurate. Maybe “corporate” is a better term.

Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

The 17,500-seat Schottenstein Center is a state-of-the-art facility, and The Ohio State University has done its best to imbue it with some sense of the school’s long and storied athletic tradition. From the gorgeous murals that ring the concourse to the banners that hang high — very high — in the arena itself, one is reminded ever that this building hosts collegiate sports.

Reminded.

And I’m no ingrate. I appreciate a press box with working electricity, access to a bathroom steps away from my seat rather than in another building altogether, and video replay. I appreciate a regulation ice surface, and a ceiling high enough to clear an errant puck.

But my visit to Yost Arena opened my eyes to this simple fact: I miss college hockey.

My beef isn’t with the product that OSU produces on the ice. Sure, the Buckeyes have struggled this season, but it’s good college hockey, night in and night out, no matter what. The players play, the coaches coach, and I get to write all about it.

What bothers me about the Schott is the game atmosphere, and I’m not talking about the number of fans. Whether there are 4,000 faithful or over 10,000, the place always feels empty — and it’s not because of the size of the building.

It’s because the band rarely plays.

At any given OSU game, I can count on one hand the number of times I hear the school’s fight song. Not so at Yost, where the band is allowed to play at nearly every break. At the Schott, most stoppages in play are filled with canned music, blaring.

There are other differences. OSU barely has a student section, while Michigan’s is infamous. OSU fans arrive late to the Schott; it’s not unusual to see up to one-quarter of the fans filter in midway through the first period. At Yost, the fans are there an hour before the game, ready to go.

Of course, Yost has its own problems. While I was especially amused by the final two insults tagged onto the end of the “C-Ya!” penalty box chant last weekend, and while the long list of insults in that chant seems to have more of a PG-13 flavor than an R- or even X-rated feel, the vulgarities chanted in unison are still not suitable for small children (or even polite company … and I liked them). But the students are present in force, engaged, and help create a rollicking atmosphere that is pure college.

And I have to say that when the Yost press box literally swayed from the jumping below, I was a bit nauseated, but like a kid at a carnival, I couldn’t wait for the ride to begin again.

There has to be a happy medium. I know that head coach John Markell and others at Ohio State have worked very hard through the years to bring fans into the building, and the fans are there, even if they’re not enrolled in the university. It’s obvious that it’s more than just bodies in the building.

Just once, though, I’d like to feel some college hockey atmosphere at the Schott, a deserving venue, home to a deserving team, and host of a deserving core of fans that dates back to the old Ice Rink.

And every one of those fans remembers Jan. 9, 1998, when then-eighth place OSU blanked Lake Superior State 7-0 at home, marking the start of a remarkable run to the Frozen Four.

That was also the first game of the season for the OSU pep band.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

Games of the Week

It’s a short week, a short column, so let’s move it right along.

Nebraska-Omaha (15-11-4, 9-9-4 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (16-12-2, 10-10-2 CCHA)
Friday and Saturday, 7:35 p.m., Berry Events Center, Marquette, Mich.

Again, if I could leave the jurisdiction, this is the series I’d see.

The Mavericks and the Wildcats share a tie with the Buckeyes for sixth place in the CCHA standings, each team with 22 points, each team having played 22 games.

“Every game we play now we’re really focused on the conference race,” said UNO head coach Mike Kemp, a trouper and a gentleman, via cell phone in the Green Bay airport.

“We’ve been talking since the beginning of January … about how each point becomes so important. Our emphasis has been on going through a weekend and grabbing as many points as we can, and we’ve been pretty good at that.”

Since being swept by the Wolverines in Michigan at the beginning of December, the Mavericks have picked up at least one point in each conference series: a tie against Notre Dame, two points from the Spartans, and three points each against Ohio State, Alaska-Fairbanks, and most recently Lake Superior State.

The series against LSSU was at home and the win was a doozy, an 8-0 blowout Feb. 3 that Kemp said could have been a different game had a couple of bounces gone the Lakers’ way early in the second.

“The score was not as indicative as the game was,” said Kemp. “We finished our opportunities in the first period to get that 3-0 lead. Early in the second period, they took it to us. They had great scoring opportunities but didn’t convert, and we turned around and scored right away. That really took the wind out of their sails.”

It’s no secret that the Mavericks are fueled by their forwards, including the dynamic duo of Scott Parse (17-34–51) and Bill Thomas (22-18–40).

“I think, first, these guys present a really unique set of problems with the forwards they have,” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle. “In my opinion, this is the best offensive team in our league. We’re going to have to be very aware of what’s going on when they have the puck.”

This series pits that wide-open offense with one the league’s better defenses. “I think we’ve been playing pretty well defensively,” said Kyle, “consistently through most of the year. Nathan Oystrick is really having a great year. His game is not a numbers game. He’s got decent numbers, but that’s not his game. He’s very aware defensively.”

Oystrick, a senior, is paired with classmate Geoff Waugh. “I don’t pay much attention to where we match offensively,” said Kyle, “but I always put them up against opponents’ top lines, every night.”

Last weekend, the Wildcats swept Wayne State at home in nonleague play. In its last CCHA action, NMU went 0-1-1 at Western Michigan. NMU’s last conference win was a 5-2 home win Jan. 20 over Notre Dame, capping a three-game CCHA win streak.

“We’ve been up and down and we’ve gone through stretches,” said Kyle. “We went through a stretch where we only won two of eight. We have really funny schedule this year, where we played a ton of games early on the road.”

This weekend, said Kyle, the Wildcats are “going to find out where we really sit here.”

Here’s the match by the conference numbers:

• Goals per game: UNO 3.32 (third); NMU 2.82 (tie sixth)
• Goals allowed per game: UNO 3.09 (tenth); NMU 2.82 (tie fifth)
• Power play: UNO 13.6% (eleventh); NMU 14.2% (ninth)
• Penalty kill: UNO 84.0% (seventh) ; NMU 85.0% (fifth)
• Top scorer: UNO Scott Parse (15-19–34); NMU Darin Olver (11-9–20)
• Top ‘tender: UNO Jerad Kaufmann (.909 SV%, 2.55 GAA); NMU Bill Zaniboni (.910 SV%, 2.46 GAA)

“Every time we play Northern, it’s very difficult games,” said Kemp. “They’ve got a great defensive corps, and they also have a very strong group of forwards that are very underrated.”

Southern registered his first career hat trick last weekend against the Warriors, and while Southern and Santorelli lead the ‘Cats in scoring, two NMU players — Andrew Contois and Darin Olver — have 11 goals each in conference play.

Of course, players are only good to a team when they’re on the ice. Olver has missed four games because of injury. Other injured Wildcats include Spencer Dillon and Tim Hartung, who have been out for the long term, and defenseman Dusty Collins.

Perhaps balancing the NMU injury bug is the Olympic sheet of ice. Or maybe not. “In years past it’s been a negative effect to our team,” said Kemp. “We’ve played three games this year on the big sheet and we don’t see the difference.”

Picks: The Mavericks are an easy team to decipher, and that’s not a slam. Their forwards are creative, fast, talented, fun to watch, and they can threaten to break open a game more than any other group of forwards in the CCHA. The Wildcats, on the other hand, are tough to figure. Injuries can certainly boggle a team, but NMU is not to let injuries dictate play. Defensively, Oystrick and Waugh are as good as any duo in the nation — as are Parse and Thomas, on the other side of the puck. UNO 4-2, NMU 3-2

Italy Would Be a Good Gig, Too

There may be more, but as far as I could see in my haste this week, there are five former CCHA players in Torino. Goaltender Marty Turco (Michigan) graces Canada’s roster, and defenseman Dan Boyle (Miami) is an alternate for Team Canada.

Goaltender Ryan Miller (MSU) is a backup for Team USA.

Two former Buckeyes are on Team Italy’s roster. Honestly. Defenseman Andre Signoretti and forward Carter Trevisani are playing for Italy. Signoretti, best known to Spartan fans for his overtime goal against MSU in 1998, left OSU midway through his senior season. Trevisani, who played nine games in 2000-01, left OSU for the OHL.

If I’ve overlooked anyone, let me know.

Short Week, Short Column

There are many things to mention, and not enough time. The game at Lambeau Field is covered in another story. I mentioned Southern’s hat trick and UNO’s eight goals. I mentioned the OSU-Michigan split. (That Saturday Michigan win was as good a hockey game as I’ve seen this season, real NCAA-playoff caliber hockey.)

Congrats to UAF, the giant slayers. In beating Miami last weekend, the Nanooks knocked off their third number-one opponent of the season.

Congrats to Scott Parse for becoming the first player in the country to hit 50 points.

Congrats to the Spartans for their four-game unbeaten streak (2-0-2).

Gosh, Mark Mitera was fun to watch at Michigan. So was Andrew Cogliano.

And it was really great to see so many old friends at Yost.

Next week is Valentine’s Day, and you know what that means.

Oh — and Nate Guenin — who agreed to be my Valentine’s Day date two years ago — is coming through, sort of. The Buckeyes travel to Miami Tuesday, Feb. 14, to play the RedHawks, and I’ll be able to attend.

Oh, and that pick: Miami 3-2.