Sunday, January 31, 2010

Saturday Recap - January 30

#1 RedHawks sweep Western Michigan; Buckeyes drop
shootout to #10 Ferris State

Oxford, Ohio (Jan. 30) - The #1 Miami RedHawks finished off a weekend sweep of Western Michigan by defeating the Broncos 2-1 at Steve Cady Arena Saturday night. Bronco senior netminder Riley Gill nearly stole at least a point by stopping 47 Miami shots but a late powerplay goal from junior Andy Miele with just over four minutes remaining in the third period enabled Miami to emerge unscathed.

Sophomore Connor Knapp was relatively untested as the RedHawk defense corps once again bottled up the opposition. Knapp made just 15 saves in registering his fifth win of the season lowering his goals-against average to 1.86.

Miami improves to 18-4-6 overall and 15-4-4-2 CCHA opening a 10-point lead over second place Michigan State in the league standings. In addition, with Robert Morris' win over Bemidji State, Miami has regained the top spot in the Pairwise rankings to themselves but Denver is closing fast in the nice to look at, but essentially meaningless, KRACH computer rankings with their weekend sweep of North Dakota.

In attempting to predict when Miami could possibly seal the CCHA regular season title, the math is a bit "fuzzy," but here's what we know.

Miami cannot technically clinch until at least the Bowling Green series on February 12-13 unless Ferris State is swept this weekend and Michigan State loses one. Here are the games remaining and the maximum possible league points for the current top four.

Miami - 8 games remaining - 75 max points (currently at 51 points)
Ferris State - 8 games remaining - 63 max points
Michigan State - 6 games remaining - 59 max points
Alaska - 6 games remaining - 59 max points

To get to 63 points, and close out everyone else, Miami needs four wins (remember, CCHA regulation wins are worth three points). But, the number assumes that Ferris and MSU win every night. If Miami sweeps Lake Superior State this weekend, Ferris is swept by Northern Michigan and MSU splits, Miami would clinch the regular season title this weekend at Steve Cady Arena in Oxford, Ohio.

Miami is back in action this Friday and Saturday, February 5-6 vs. Lake Superior State in Oxford.

Columbus, Ohio (Jan. 30) - Coming off two consecutive victories over ranked opponents, Ohio State looked to sweep the #10 Ferris State Bulldogs at Value City Arena in a penalty filled affair on Saturday night.

Ohio State trailed 1-0 after one period and 3-2 after two, but got a powerplay goal at 3:55 of the third period from junior Kyle Reed to knot the score. The game would go to overtime and eventually a shootout that the Bulldogs would win earning two league points for their efforts. Ohio State received one point for the shootout loss and took four of a possible six points on the weekend.

Sophomore Zac Dalpe scored his 15th goal of the season. No other Buckeye has more than eight goals this season. Junior Dustin Carlson made 21 saves as the Buckeyes outshot Ferris State 33-24 a night after being outshot 49-30 in earning a 5-3 win. Ohio State's record is now 11-13-2 overall and 9-9-2-1 (T8th CCHA) while Ferris State moves to 17-8-3 and 11-6-3-3 (3rd CCHA)

Next weekend, the Buckeyes travel to Omaha to take on the Mavericks in an important CCHA series matching teams tied for the final first round home-ice playoff spot. Ohio State has two games in-hand over the Mavericks but a first-round bye is still not out of reach given just four points separates 4th from 10th in the tightly packed "middle tier" of the league.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Friday Night Lights - January 29

Both #1 Miami and Ohio State held serve at home Friday night with the RedHawks knocking off CCHA basement dweller, Western Michigan 4-1. Four different Hawks scored goals for Miami while Cody Reichard delivered another outstanding performance in net making 18 saves as Miami dominated the shots on goal category outshooting Western 43-19. Miami retains its 7 point lead in the CCHA standings as Michigan State defeated Michigan 3-2.

Miami and Western Michigan return to the ice at 5pm this evening. The game will be televised on FSN Detroit as part of it's doubleheader coverage of "Hockey Day in Michigan." Miami head coach Enrico Blasi and the RedHawk program were followed yesterday by an FSN camera crew and they will be featured on "CCHA All-Access" on FSN Detroit immediately following the game. The late game will feature Michigan State and Michigan from Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Mich.

In Columbus, Ohio State defeated it's second straight ranked opponent delivering a 5-3 knock-out to #10 Ferris State who has now lost four of five after tying Miami for first place in the CCHA. Another night, another goal for super sophomore Zac Dalpe who now has 14 on the season. Cal Heeter made 46 saves in net as the Bulldogs outshot the Buckeyes 49-30. The teams meet again this evening at Value City Arena at 7:05pm.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Heroes of Hockey

Ohio State and the CBJ to Honor "Heroes of Hockey"

Columbus, Ohio (Jan. 28, 2010) - Today the CCHA, Ohio State University and the Columbus Blue Jackets announced that as part of "Hockey Weekend Across America," the university will honor a "hero of hockey" who has gone above and beyond to promote the game in central Ohio. Hockey Weekend in America starts Friday, January 29 and runs through Sunday, January 31.

Miami announced a similar initiative on January 8 with the support of the Butler County Youth Hockey Association in southwest Ohio, and it's great to see the central Ohio area will be recognized as well.

The winners will be announced on Saturday, January 30 and recognized at

Afternoon Scrum 1/28/10

Hockey headlines for the CBJ and from around the league. Mmmmm... hockey

Hey kids, it's me, TopShelf. You remember me, right? I know, I know it's been a couple of weeks since I provided you with all the hockey news that's fit to cut and paste. Please forgive me and accept today's edition as my humble offering to you, our readers. Carry the Flag.

  • Just as Festivus begins with the Airing of Grievances, gameday here in the Scrum begins with the posting of previews for tonight's game: Columbus Dispatch, LA Times, ESPN, NHL. By the way, the league does a really good job on their game previews. Check it out.
  • Two Jackets out with the flu tonight. @aportzline says it's Stralman and Jurcina.
  • So Nash recorded a Gordie Howe hatrick the other night against Minnesota. Did you know the Jackets own a grand total of 1/3 of all the GHH's earned so far this season in the NHL? It's true.
  • John Grigg over at has his list of Top Ten Disappointing players of the year. I'll give you one guess where #1 Steve Mason falls on his list.
  • Speaking of the Kings, could Kovalchuk be wearing a crown soon? The same article talks about Sheldon Souray's potential to be traded. If he becomes a UFA in July, I'd love to have that dude on the Jacket's blueline. Just sayin'.
  • This weekend marks USA Hockey's third annual Hockey Weekend Across America campaign. Special events for Friday, Saturday & Sunday, including the Support You Local Hockey Heroes program which both the CBJ and Ohio State will be participating in. Tomorrow is Wear Your Favorite Jersey day. Would the boss mind if I wore my D -League jersey from when we won the championship? Ahh, the glory days.
  • And finally, the second installment of our newest feature, Get To Know Your Pepsi Party Patrol! Today's PPPer is Brandi. Brandi wanted to be a singer when she was growing up, would like to trade places with Paris Hilton for a day, has some level of obsession with Megan Fox, and says the Hanna Montana concert is her all time favorite. Keep livin' the dream, Brandi!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Miami Musings and the NCAA

Carter Camper was buzzing last weekend in frigid Alaska

Here are some mid-week thoughts on the #1 ranked Miami RedHawks.

Pairwise Rankings
It's hard to believe, but Miami has just five series remaining in the regular season meaning it's time to start paying real attention to the rankings. Right now, Miami is tied with Denver atop the Pairwise with the slight advantage in RPI to the RedHawks. Pairwise Rankings

There are four regions in the 2010 NCAA Tournament which culminates with the Frozen Four at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan on April 8 and 10. This year's four regional sites are St. Paul, Minn., Ft. Wayne, Ind., Wooster, Mass. and Albany, N.Y. Obviously, the Ft. Wayne regional would be the closest in terms of travel for Miami and that would probably be where the RedHawks are sent as long as the host school, Notre Dame, does not get into the tournament as a #4 seed. Because the host school must be sent to their regional regardless of seed, it could interfere with first-round matchups. That is, teams from the same conference cannot play each other in the first round. The problem could occur if Miami earns a #1 seed whereby the tournament selection committee sends the top seeds to the closest regional to help boost attendance. Accordingly, Miami could not go to Ft. Wayne as a #1 if Notre Dame squeaks in as a #4. Currently, Notre Dame is just 22nd in the Pairwise, but we don't know exactly where the cutoff line will be in selecting the 16 teams meaning we do not know how high Notre Dame would have to finish in the Pairwise to get in, assuming the Irish do not win the CCHA's auto-bid by winning the conference tournament. Something else to consider are potential upsets that effectively "steal" at-large bids. For instance, Bemidji State will get into the tournament as an at-large team should they not win the final CHA tourney, so the Irish will be rooting for the Beavers so as not to lose one of the 10 at-large bids. The same can be said for other likely tournament locks like Denver, Wisconsin and probables such as St. Cloud State and New Hampshire. The Irish want as few upsets by teams like Boston University or Minnesota - teams that are currently behind the Irish in the Pairwise to increase their chances of getting in.

While it doesn't seem likely as of now that the Irish get into the Tournament, things will change over the next several weeks. As of now, Miami is on pace to get a the #1 seed in Ft. Wayne as long as they are not matched with the Irish. So, while it would be good for the CCHA to get Notre Dame into the dance, I'd probably like the Irish to stay home to ensure that Miami would play in Ft. Wayne, and have a great shot at a big crowd.

The Polls
Miami regained their perch atop all three college hockey polls this week as voters for INCH, USCHO and USA Today all ranked Miami as the #1 team in the nation following their tie and win at Alaska coupled with Denver's tie and loss at Wisconsin. Speaking of Wisconsin, they are the new #2 team and are playing as well as anyone in the nation. The Badgers check in at #3 in the Pairwise rankings.

Teams Under Consideration (TUC)
As I wrote on Sunday, Miami has played 26 games this year with 18 coming against current TUC's. The RedHawks are 11-2-5 against current TUC's, but keep in mind this will ebb and flow as teams move in and out of the Top 25. Here's a look at the teams that Miami has faced, record against and current Pairwise rank.

Bemidji State - Rank: tied for 3rd - Result: (0-1)
St. Cloud State - Rank: tied for 5th - Result (2-0)
New Hampshire - Rank: 7 - Result (1-0-1)
Ferris State - Rank: tied for 8th - Result (2-0-2)
North Dakota - Rank: tied for 10th - Result (0-0-1)
Michigan State - Rank: 13 - Result (1-1)
Michigan - Rank: tied for 17th - Result (2-0)
Alaska - Rank: 20 - Result: (1-0-1)
Notre Dame - Rank: tied for 22nd - Result: (2-0)

At present, Miami has just one series remaining against current TUC's and that comes up in two weeks against Lake Superior State in Oxford. To demonstrate how these rankings can change, Norrthern Michigan fell out of the Top 25, a team that Miami is 2-0 against meaning it bodes well for the RedHawks if they can get back in by the end of the season. According to the KRACH rankings, a sophisticated computer model, Miami has played the 8th most difficult schedule in the nation.

Jeff Jackson
Am I the only one that's tired of Jackson's whining? The Notre Dame coach has complained incessantly about the injuries, specifically concussions, his team has sustained throughout the normal course of the season. Naturally, these injuries are to no fault of his squad, but rather, completely caused by the opposition. Clearly, a concussion is a serious injury and no one wants to see young men encounter brain injuries that might threaten the rest of their normal lives, but at some point, there is a common denominator.

Jackson first started on the "it's not fair" warpath following the early December series with Miami when he essentially suggested the RedHawks were head hunting. Jackson said he thought several hits from Miami players were "high, dirty hits" that delivered concussions to both Eric Ringel and Ian Cole. In fact, Jackson said the injuries were " results from high hits that weren't called." By the way, Jeff, if you're going to allow Kyle Palmieri and other Irish players to run Cody Reichard at least three times (Reichard even got so tired of it, he drew a retaliation penalty), then you have to expect some retribution for those actions. No one wants to see someone injured, but Notre Dame has to stand up and take some responsibility for the situation.

Of course suggesting there were illegal hits that "weren't called" immediately weakens his argument. Looking back at the Friday box score, I recall that Tommy Wingels was given a five-minute major penalty for checking from behind on a hit where the Notre Dame player looked over his shoulder, clearly saw Wingels coming, and turned his back to the Miami captain just before impact. That is, the Irish player could have prevented the hit, but instead chose to place himself in a vulnerable position. This is important to consider because I firmly believe we are teaching many of our young players to use their body to shield the puck from the opponent, but in doing so are, at times, placing the player in jeopardy. Further, there was a Notre Dame player who later checked a RedHawk from behind that was only assessed a two-minute minor, and frankly, that hit looked much more dangerous.

So, now we move in to the realm of judgment. And, that's really a big part of this. The player about to deliver the big hit, has just microseconds to decide how and where to strike the opponent. The player being hit has to decide whether to turn into, or away from, the attacking player. And, the ref, coaches and fans must debate whether the hit was clean or not. It's extremely subjective, but I fear Coach Jackson is looking at this issue through "Irish-colored glasses."

At least Jackson's rant against Miami was relatively short-lived because while he then complained about losing defensemen and having to play some sort of "torpedo" formation against Michigan, the Irish would lose additional players to injury in the coming weeks.

For instance, in the Ferris State series a couple weekends ago, the Irish lost Billy Maday (concussion, shoulder) and Teddy Ruth to injuries due to what Jackson termed "blatant head blows" and that the hit to Ruth "could have been life-threatening."

Step away from the ledge, Jeff.

And, in last weekend's series against Lake Superior State, all hell broke loose with the Lakers losing players to hits and the Irish losing more players to injury. This time Ian Cole was knocked out of the game with, apparently, another concussion leading Jackson to go off yet again.

“That’s the seventh concussion for our team this year, and I’m starting to get really tired of the high hits and checks from behind. It might come across as whining since we’re not having a great season, but it’s having a direct impact on my players’ futures and their lives.”

“We have someone like Eric Ringel, who is still dealing with post-concussion syndrome and I don’t know if he’ll ever play hockey again. If we don’t do something soon about these things in all levels of hockey, something bad is going to happen. But for one team to have seven concussions in a season, it’s outrageous.” USCHO

Again, Jeff, step off the ledge. Unless you're a doctor, you shouldn't make giant leaps about a player's future when you clearly don't have enough information for such a claim. Frankly, I'm sure that's the last thing Ringel wants to hear. Jackson has created such a stir that's CCHA beat writer, Paula Weston, took up the topic in her article prior to last weekend's games. Her argument doesn't make much sense, but that's a typical result of reading her column.

At the end of the day there is a common denominator here - Notre Dame - but this whole thing is so subjective. Is it something that Jackson is teaching or not teaching his guys about playing along the boards? Are they turning away from attacking players (as is my firm belief about the Wingels hit in December) and exposing themselves to injury? Is there something endemic in the make-up of the Irish roster the preconditions them to injury? If it were me, I'd be careful if I were coach Jackson. To make such far-reaching accusations, about roughly half the league now, just sounds like sour grapes. Make your point about the need to address head shots and concussions and move on. Is it about the health of your players or the fact that Notre Dame has, at times, struggled this season?

Defense Wins Championships
Miami leads the nation in team defense allowing just 1.69 goals per game (44 goals in 26 games) which includes two games in which they allowed five goals a piece to New Hampshire and North Dakota. Remove those and the number is just 1.41 goals allowed per game over the other 24 games.

In conference play, Miami has only surrendered 1.17 goals per game (21 goals in 18 games played) and has already set a team record for shutouts in a single season with seven in the first 26 games.

Cody Reichard has four of those shutouts which ties the single-season record held by David Burleigh and Connor Knapp has the other three including Saturday's 5-0 whitewashing of the Alaska Nanooks in Fairbanks.

While the goaltending has been superb, I would be remiss without mentioning the defense corps solid play. With the size that Miami has on the blueline, they make it tough on opposing forwards that, generally, are in the range of 5'8" to 6'0" in college, with exceptions of course. Consider:

- Miami allows just over 23 shots-against per game

- The RedHawks have blocked 327 shots this year or more than 12 per game

- Spinell (6'1"), Schilling (6'2"), Hartman (6'4") and Weber (6'4") make quite an intimidating lot back there and LoVerde isn't afraid to throw the body or block shots (in fact, he leads the team in blocked shots this season)

This unit has been fabulous all season, and if they can stay healthy, will really help keep the pressure off Reichard and Knapp throughout the rest of the year.

Four Lines Deep -- 1/26/10

Predators at Jackets; Nationwide Arena
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)

While understandably confident of another win in Nationwide this evening, Nashville fans are still big and gassy.

Stick on the Ice is back...extended business travel and illness have concluded. I was hoping to come back to a big winning streak, but I would have settled for not letting in a goal in the first FIVE minutes of the game. Sadly, I was let down on both aspirations.

In a season of "one step forward, two steps back," the Jackets keep marching. And Darth Vader is just about to march into the building. The Jackets have continued to struggle with Central Division teams this season, and Nashville is certainly no exception. See below for an excerpt from On The Forecheck, a Nashville Predators blog:

Fearless Prediction

While the losing streak was certainly discouraging, playing the Blue Jackets could be just what Nashville needs. If any team can't solve the Predators, its Columbus. Nationwide Arena has been a home away from home of sorts for the Preds, and with Coach Trotz not happy about the recent slide I look for the Predators to end the losing streak tonight. I've got Darth Vader* down for 4 markers, and the opposition 1 as Pekka Rinne begins to cement a hold on the number one job.

Nice to see that the Preds fans now refer to themselves as Darth Vader. So, unless Hitchcock learns how to use  a light saber or "Force lightning," before this evening, the finish seems fairly predictable. This will certainly be a challenging game in Nationwide -- the Predators have gone 22-2-2 since 2006 and won the previous four games this season. The Jackets have competed and played hard in the series this year -- but can no longer settle for just one point. Nashville sits in seventh place in the Western Conference with 61 points. Lately, they have cooled though, and gone 5-5 in their last 10 - recent losses from blown leads late in the game exacerbated some of the pain and has Barry Trotz more surly than usual. A loss in Nationwide would be their first four-game losing streak since October.

First Line:  Come out ready to play. Seriously. While it feels ridiculous to need to write this down for an NHL team, the Jackets have to be better in the first five minutes of the game. The CBJ have given up the first goal within the first four minutes of the previous seven games. It's no way to start and certainly does little to set the tone for a team heavy on young players looking for confidence. The fans of Nationwide will do their part to lend some energy to the team, but they simply have to be given a reason -- with a struggling Mason in net, this is absolutely crucial.

Second Line:  The first line has to play like the first line.  Somehow, Juice has squeezed his way back onto the first line. I do not agree with this in the slightest regard. Speaking of slight - Juice really struggles against teams like Nashville. Nashville's blueliners are big and physical and don't give him much room to operate. As it has all season, I think his inability to create space against physical defensemen increases his neutral zone turnovers, and ultimately nullifies the potential of the whole line. I thought he was much more effective on the third line, as he is much less likely to be facing a top pairing. Hopefully, I will be proven wrong this evening. The first line has to get more productive at even strength and set the tone for the balance of the team. It's equally important that they play better defensively -- often, they've been on the ice for the "first goal" to start the game. They have to mind the points more effectively and be smart with the transition passing. Nash has been playing pretty well lin the last seven games (5 g/ 3 a) and was given a clear sign from the hockey gods at the end of the Minnesota game with that carnival ricochet goal-- shoot and thou shalt be rewarded. Vermette has been playing very well and just needs to keep shooting the puck as opposed to looking for the extra pass.

Third Line: Take advantage of the breaks. The Minnesota game was painful to watch for a variety of reasons, but it did bring a systemic problem to light -- the insistence of making the "extra pass" on the break-out and odd-man rushes. Perhaps this is indicative of the youth on the team, but the Jackets seem to insist on making the highlight goal instead of throwing a good shot on net. How many odd-man advantages did they screw up with an extra pass on Saturday night? If you have a 4-on-1 in the NHL it should be a goal -- and absolutely should be a solid shot on net. The Jackets have great speed up front and need to focus on not neutralizing that with extra passing. Rinne - who gets the start tonight - hasn't been as solid last year and is fighting for the starting job. However, he is very sound positionally -- you need to get a goalie like that moving before he's set, and a quick transition and wrist shot is a great way to get him uncomfortable.

Fourth Line: Defense first.   Admittedly, I didn't get to see much of the previous games in Philly and Boston - but the CBJ have continued to give up the first goal early, and surrendered 11 goals in the last three games. The Jackets had really started to play solid defense, and I hope they can get back to that trend. I still have a lot of issues with the rationale on some of the pairings -- Tyutin and Stralman are at the top of that list - but that's for another post. Death and Taxes are reunited, and I think Russell and Jurcina have continued to play well. I would really like to see Roy in the lineup for Nashville, as I think his style really matches up well with their forwards, but Jurcina does a good job of keeping the big boys on the outside and clearing the crease. The Jackets' blueliners will be helped, as Nashville is missing a few key forwards -- center Goc is one of their top faceoff winners -- and Joel Ward is a solid winger who averages more than 18 minutes/game. Steve Sullivan always finds ways to score against the Jackets, and has continued to do so this year (averaging point/game)  -- he really brings to light one of the biggest defensive shortcomings of the Jackets, and that is losing a man assignment when the puck goes deep in the zone. The Jackets have to keep somebody in his pocket or he will likely tally again. The other challenge - which is ongoing - is being smart with clearing passes. To the points made above, the sloppy clearing passes really slow down the transition game and neutralize the Jackets team speed. I look for Kris Russell to continue leading by example for this key asset on the blueline.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Saturday Night Roundup - Jan 23

Knapp earns third shutout of the season as Miami blanks Alaska 5-0; Buckeyes split with Michigan State

January 23, 2010 - #2 Miami earned five points on their longest road trip of the year defeating the Alaska Nanooks 5-0 in Fairbanks, Alaska last night. Sophomore Connor Knapp stopped all 19 shots in registering his third shutout of the season. It was Knapp's first game action since a 2-1 loss to Robert Morris on January 10 where he made just 13 saves. His goals-against average is now a sparkling 1.95 with a 91.8 save percentage as he improved his record to 4-2-3 on the year.

This weekend saw the reunion of last year's top line of juniors Carter Camper and Tommy Wingels and sophomore Alden Hirschfeld that was so good throughout the NCAA tournament. And, they didn't disappoint managing five points between them for the weekend. It was also nice to see Hirschfeld pick up his game as he seemed much more involved and active than I can remember seeing over the past several weeks. In addition, Trent Vogelhuber seems to have picked up some of that energy as he was also much more visible, working much harder than I have seem him. It's good to have those two sophomores helping contribute to take some of the scoring pressure off senior Jarod Palmer and the juniors (e.g., Camper, Pat Cannone, Andy Miele, Wingels, etc.).

The RedHawks jumped to an early 1-0 lead at 6:42 of the opening period when freshman Reilly Smith redirected a Tommy Wingels shot past Nanook goaltender Scott Greenham. The goal was scored 6x5 during a delayed penalty as Miami was able to control the puck in the offensive zone and find a quality chance. Miami would tally just six minutes later when sophomore Matt Tomassoni found the net off a chance on the right side. Tomassoni took a pass from senior Brandon Smith and wristed a high, hard shot that appeared to hit Greenham's right shoulder and bounce up and over the sophomore. The RedHawks would complete their highest scoring first period of the season when Palmer scored off a feed from Andy Miele that chased Greenham from the net at 14:50 of the first period.

Steve Thompson would enter the game and keep the Nanooks in it, but Miami would finish off the evening on third-period goals from Wingels and Brandon Smith to secure a five-point weekend and an enjoyable flight back to Ohio for the Red and White.

Head coach Enrico Blasi succinctly summarized his thoughts on the 5-0 victory.

"It was a good effort by all of our guys tonight," Head Coach Enrico Blasi said. "Connor played well (in) net and we came in with a determined effort. It was nice to get the win."

  • Knapp's shutout was the third of the season and his fifth in just 33 career games. He has already surpassed last year's two shutouts which was his first season at Miami.
  • Wingels' goal was his team-leading 13th of the season. He is just two goals off his career high of 15 that came during his freshman campaign in Oxford.
  • Miami's fourth line of Brandon Smith, Justin Vaive and Matt Tomassoni includes a fifth-year senior (Smith), the 6'6" son of an NHL legend (Vaive) and a defenseman (Tomassoni). The line combined for 2-2-4 on the evening.
  • Miami (16-4-6, 13-1-4-2 1st CCHA) has opened a seven point lead over second place Michigan State with two games in-hand. The RedHawks ran their league unbeaten streak to 16 games.
  • Miami is once again atop the Pairwise and KRACH rankings and are positioning themselves for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament should their good play continue.
  • One of the key components of the Pairwise Rankings that effectively determine the 16-team NCAA Tournament, is record against Teams Under Consideration (TUC's). The top 25 teams in the Pairwise are ranked and defined as "under consideration." Miami has played 26 games this season with 18 of them coming against TUC's. They are 12-2-4 in those games having played the 7th most difficult schedule in the nation and have achieved the 2nd best winning percentage in the country. However, only Miami's series with Lake Superior State is against another TUC for the remainder of the regular season meaning it will help Miami's Pairwise if the top teams they have already played, and beaten, such as Ferris State, Michigan, Notre Dame, New Hampshire and St. Cloud State continue to win.
  • Miami returns home for the next two weekends starting with a two-game series against the CCHA's last place team, Western Michigan January 29-30 followed by what is shaping up to be a big series against fourth place Lake Superior State. The Lakers are having a surprisingly nice season and are in line for a first round bye in the CCHA playoffs.
  • After two weeks on the road, Miami will not leave the state of Ohio until at least the CCHA championship weekend in Detroit in late March.

OSU 4, #10 MSU 2
A night after the Buckeyes outshot the 10th-ranked Spartans 33-28 but lost 5-2, Ohio State worked the Spartans to the tune of a 47-19 shots on goal disparity earning a split in the weekend series from Munn Ice Arena in East Lansing, Mich. Junior Patrick Schafer scored from the side of the net to break a 2-2 tie at 18:53 of the third period to lift the Buckeyes to their 10th win on the season.

Junior Dustin Carlson was back in net for Ohio State, but he was rarely tested making just 17 saves.

With the win, Ohio State improves to 10-13-1 overall and 8-9-1-1 in the CCHA. The Buckeyes await a visit to Value City Arena this weekend from third place Ferris State who swept them during a series in Big Rapids earlier this year. And, with 26 points, Ohio State is just one point behind Nebraska-Omaha for the final home ice position for the first round of the CCHA playoffs but has two games in-hand over the Mavericks.

Ohio State has 10 league games remaining, which is plenty of time to make up ground and finish in the top 8 of the standings to earn home ice advantage for the first round of the conference playoffs. However, a difficult schedule awaits with series against Ferris State, at Nebraska-Omaha, fifth place Alaska and a home-and-home with their fiercest rival, Miami, to close the regular season.

  • Ohio State's victory coupled with Miami's win in Fairbanks enabled the RedHawks to open a seven-point spread over the second place Spartans in the CCHA. It's roughly a 2 1/2 game lead since CCHA league wins are worth 3 points each.

Other Games of Interest
#8 Ferris State 3, Michigan 2 - Ferris earns the split in the second half of the home-and-home from Ewigleben Ice Arena in Big Rapids, Mich.

#3 Wisconsin 4, #1 Denver 3 - The Badgers take 3 of 4 points from the Pioneers in Madison opening the door for #2 Miami to return to the top of the polls this week.

#14 Bemidji State 5, #4 Minnesota-Duluth 4 - The Beavers of the CHA sweep the first place team in the WCHA. The sweep effectively silences the noise-makers from that western conference whom as we know, can do no wrong...for a few minutes at least.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Friday Night Lights - January 22

RedHawks and Nanooks battle to 1-1 tie in frigid Fairbanks; Buckeyes flattened by Michigan State

In what was a bit of a sloppy game, #2 Miami overcame a one-goal first period deficit to secure a 1-1 tie with the Alaska Nanooks on Friday night in Fairbanks, Alaska. The RedHawks would earn an extra point in the CCHA standings by winning the shootout 1-0 as sophomore Cody Reichard stopped all three Alaska shooters and senior Jared Palmer's slick backhand beat Nanook netminder Scott Greenham on Miami's first attempt.

After roughly 20 hours of travel for the RedHawks, Alaska would find the net first with just 28 seconds remaining in the first period as defenseman Aaron Gens scored a powerplay goal. Gens received a blind, backhanded pass from Dion Knelsen through the slot to convert a diving redirection that just slipped under Reichard's glove as he moved from his right to his left in an attempt to make the save. Miami managed just four shots on goal in the first period as they struggled to regain their legs.

Miami would tie the score just 2:52 into the second period also via the powerplay as junior Pat Cannone scored his seventh goal of the season assisted by classmates Carter Camper and Tommy Wingels.

From a puck possession and territorial standpoint, Miami dominated the second and third periods but was unable to register many quality scoring chances, and when they did, Greenham was there for Alaska. On the night, Miami sent just 24 shots on net while holding the Nanooks to only 21. It was a typical defensive effort for two teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in team defense.

Tonight, Miami returns to the Carlson Center to face the Nanooks for the final time in the regular season and will benefit from Andy Miele's return to the lineup after a one-game absence. Faceoff is 11pm EST from Fairbanks.

  • With the shootout win, Miami extended its CCHA unbeaten streak to 15 games
  • Freshmen Steve Mason and Devin Mantha benefited by Miele's absence as both cracked the lineup and played well
  • Freshman Curtis McKenzie was stopped on a breakaway opportunity in the third period by Greenham who made several big saves to keep his team in it
  • Miami is now 15-4-6 overall, 12-1-4-2 CCHA. They are four points ahead of second place Michigan State with two games at hand on the Spartans
#10 MSU 5, OSU 2
In East Lansing, Mich., #10 Michigan State defeated Ohio State 5-2 in a penalty-filled affair. After falling behind 1-0, the Spartans rallied to take a 2-1 lead after one period. Taylor Stefishen earned his first career two-goal game for the Buckeyes and Cal Heeter made 23 saves while allowing all five Spartan goals.

The two teams complete the weekend series tonight in East Lansing. The game can be seen on the Big Ten Network starting at 5pm.

  • With the regulation victory, Michigan State picks up a point on first place Miami since the RedHawks won in a shootout. They are four points behind Miami but have played two more games.
  • Ohio State committed nine penalties and the Spartans went 2-8 on the powerplay
  • Sophomore Cal Heeter's save percentage was just 82.1 on the night
Other Games of Interest
  • #1 Denver at #3 Wisconsin - In the marquee matchup of the weekend, #1 Denver and #3 Wisconsin skated to a 3-3 tie in Madison. The Pioneers led 2-0 early in the third only to surrender three consecutive Badger goals to trail 3-2 late. Anthony Maini would tally with just 1:56 remaining to send the game to overtime where it ended 3-3.
  • #8 Ferris State at Michigan - After dropping a pair of games last weekend vs. #2 Miami, Ferris State headed to Ann Arbor for the first of a home-and-home. However, the suddenly surging Wolverines sent the Bulldogs back to Big Rapids with their second shutout loss in the past three games as Michigan won 2-0. The teams will complete the series tonight in Big Rapids, Mich. Ferris State is suddenly eight points behind Miami after entering last weekend's series tied with the RedHawks for first place in the CCHA.
  • #9 Cornell 1, #5 North Dakota 0 - The Big Red mustered just 15 shots but came away with the victory at Lynah Ice Arena in Ithaca, N.Y. This was a big win for Cornell who is continually dismissed by writers and fans of the WCHA for being unworthy of their top 10 ranking.
  • #12 St. Cloud State 4, Minnesota 3 - The Huskies get the win to continue their ascent up the Pairwise and WCHA standings.
  • #14 Bemidji State 4, #4 Minnesota-Duluth 1 - The Beavers got back on track defeating the Bulldogs in their final meeting in Bemidji's John Glas Fieldhouse before joining the WCHA as a full-time member in the new $44 million Bemidji Regional Events Center next year. The Beavers are fourth in the current Pairwise rankings which would earn them a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament if the season ended today.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Miami v. Alaska - January 22-23, 2010

Tommy Wingels and the #2 RedHawks travel to Alaska to take on the Nanooks

It's going to be a quick preview this week as I've been traveling with Stick on the Ice to Fabulous Las Vegas. Thankfully, I'm still on Pacific time as the #2 Miami RedHawks take on the Alaska Nanooks at 11PM EST from frigid Fairbanks where it's minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. It's going to be a late weekend of hockey.

Last week the RedHawks (15-4-5, 12-1-3-1 1st CCHA) rebounded from a pair of losses to Robert Morris by sweeping then #6 Ferris State in Big Rapids, Mich. where the Bulldogs were 11-0 this season. After Friday's 4-0 whitewash, Miami opened up a 5-2 lead early in the third period and held off a late Ferris State rally winning 5-4. However, in doing so, the RedHawks will be without fourth-leading scorer, junior Andy Miele (8-13-21, +11), who was assessed a game disqualification penalty for kicking during a scrum in front of the Ferris net on Saturday. The penalty carries an automatic one game suspension meaning Miele will make the trip to the Land of the Midnight Sun for just one game. Miele has played in 83 consecutive matches for the Red and White.

Alaska (10-7-5, 7-7-4-4 5th CCHA) enters the series coming off a two-point weekend against the Michigan Wolverines where they were blanked 6-0 on Friday, but managed a shootout win on Saturday at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich. Upfront, the Nanooks are led by freshman Andy Taranto (9-15-24) and senior Dion Knelsen (11-9-20) and backstopped by sophomore Scott Greenham (10-7-5, 2.43, .911). Last season, the Nanooks surprised many by finishing in fourth place during the regular season earning a first-round playoff bye. They then dispatched the Ohio State Buckeyes in the second round earning a trip to Joe Louis Arena where they were defeated by Notre Dame and Northern Michigan. Second year coach Dallas Ferguson has instilled a defense-first approach and the two teams split a series in Oxford last year.

  • Miami leads the all-time series 31-13-4 including 14-7-2 in Fairbanks
  • Miami leads 5-4-1 over the past 10 meetings
  • The series wraps up a four game road swing for the RedHawks
  • Saturday's game will be the last game outside the state of Ohio for the RedHawks until, likely, the CCHA Championship semifinal in Detroit, should they advance that far
  • Alaska is 4-0 in shootouts this season
Tomorrow, we'll have recaps of Miami/Alaska and Ohio State/Michigan State for your reading pleasure.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

College Weekend Roundup - 1/17/10

#2 Miami sweeps #6 Ferris State, regains command in CCHA

Big Rapids, Mich. - What a difference a week makes.

Stripped of their #1 national ranking and coming off two non-conference losses to lowly Robert Morris University where their offense generated just two goals, the #2 Miami RedHawks took to the road to take on #6 Ferris State in a battle of the top two teams in the CCHA. Both squads entered the weekend with 34 league points and the Bulldogs brought a 12-game league unbeaten streak and a perfect 11-0 record at Ewigleben Ice Arena to the table.

On Friday, Miami rode the excellent goaltending of sophomore Cody Reichard in posting a 4-0 victory. With the win, Reichard improved his record to 11-2-2 in registering his fourth shutout of the season stopping all 23 Bulldog shots. The shutout tied Reichard with David Burleigh for the most in a single season in Miami history in just 16 games.

Seniors Jarod Palmer and Brandon Smith and junior Andy Miele and sophomore Trent Vogelhuber (CBJ draft pick) scored for Miami as they received scoring from throughout the lineup and dominated the play from start to finish.

Saturday's game started slowly as the first period ended with a scoreless tie. However, in the second period, Miami would trail 2-1 before erupting for three-straight goals to take a 4-2 lead into the third. Miami would score first in the third period and lead 5-2 before allowing a late powerplay goal and extra-attacker goal to make the score much closer than the RedHawks would have preferred. It was the first time this season that Cody Reichard allowed more than three goals in a game as he made his first back-to-back starts in more than two months.

With the victory, Miami (15-4-5, 12-1-3-1 CCHA) leads now second place Michigan State (15-7-4, 10-4-4-1) by five points and Ferris State (16-6-2, 10-4-2-2) by six points (remember, CCHA regular season victories are worth 3 points) in taking the season series 2-0-2 against the Bulldogs. Miami has two games in-hand over the Spartans in the race for the CCHA regular season championship. Miami received two goals from junior captain Tommy Wingels (San Jose draft pick) and single goals from Jarod Palmer, sophomore defenseman Chris Wideman (Ottawa draft pick) and sophomore Alden Hirschfeld in scoring five goals for the first time in the past five games.
Still, you have to be concerned about Miami's inability to kill late game, extra-attacker situations. This really hasn't improved since last season's debacle in the national title game.

Though Cody Reichard allowed a season's-high four goals in Saturday's game, his stats remain spectacular. In 17 games, Reichard is 12-2-2 with four shutouts, a 1.54 goals-against average and a save percentage of 93.2. In conference games, Reichard is 10-0-1 with a 1.18 goals-against average with a save percentage of 95.0. He is a legitimate Hobey Baker Award candidate, and if he continues his pace, will easily shatter most of the Miami single-season records for goaltending excellence.

Next week, Miami makes its longest road trip of the year with a trek to the land of the Midnight Sun, from where you can purportedly see Russia from your house, Alaska. In fact, the RedHawks will be playing the University of Alaska in Fairbanks which is actually north of North Pole, Alaska and just 125 miles south of the Arctic Circle. The Nanooks will enter the weekend in fifth place in the CCHA with an overall record of 10-7-5 and a league mark of 7-7-4-4. Alaska picked up two points in Ann Arbor this weekend losing 6-0 on Friday before bouncing back with a shootout win on Saturday, which was technically a 3-3 tie with the Wolverines. Interestingly, the Nanooks have won all four league shootouts in which they have participated this season.

Here's a quick look at the rest of the Top 10 and how they fared this weekend.

#1 Denver - off
#3 Wisconsin - split at #8 Colorado College
#4 North Dakota - tied and lost at unranked Minnesota - The Gophers appear to be pulling it together with the help of Bowling Green transfer, and Ohio native, Jacob Cepis who has provided instant offense with four goals and five points in his first six games. The Gophers are now 7-1-1 in their past nine games.
#5 Yale - beat Brown 8-5
#7 Michigan State - lost and won shootout over unranked Notre Dame who is also beginning to show signs of life
#9 Cornell - tied St. Lawrence 1-1
#10 Minnesota-Duluth - Swept Minnesota State moving into first place in the WCHA with Denver's bye week.

Ohio State defeated the USNTDP-U18 squad 6-3 in an exhibition on Friday night at Value City Arena. The Buckeyes return to league action next weekend with a series at Michigan State. Both games will be televised with Friday's game available on FSN Plus and Saturday's on the Big Ten Network. Currently, the Buckeyes are tied for 8th place in the CCHA with records of 9-12-1 overall and 7-8-1-1 in league play.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Four Lines Deep 1/16/10

CHI (32-11-4) vs CBJ (18-22-9)

Nationwide Arena, 2:00 pm


Less than 48 hours ago these two teams played in Chicago. Final score 3-0 'Hawks. While the Blue Jackets did not wilt after giving up the first goal barely a minute into the game, they proved that playing with anything less that 100% effort will not allow them to hang with these Blackhawks. Chicago's puck moving/possession game was far too proficient, and the Jackets ability to create second and third scoring opportunities far too futile, for Columbus to take 2 points from the Central division leaders. Shots on goal from Thursday night? Chicago 36, C-Bus 24. If not for G Mathieu Garon, it could easily have been another 6 goal disaster.

FIRST LINE: Possess the Puck. The issue of the Jackets low scoring is well documented this season, and the game two nights ago was a perfect example. The Jackets are a dump and chase team, which works well enough against a slower moving defense. The "Hawks are anything but slow on D. Even when the Jackets do gain the offensive zone, far too often a shot is taken before anyone in the same color sweater has made their way to the net. Consequently, when that shot is stopped or blocked, there is no one there to get a rebound attempt or to corral the puck to keep possession. The puck simply goes the other way. If Columbus is looking to score some goals, they need to be willing to go to the difficult areas to first fight for the puck and then to score dirty goals. The new top line of 18-50-61 is big and skilled. We'll see if they have enough speed to get to the loose puck before the Blackhawks clear the zone.

SECOND LINE: A Change in Net. As mentioned above, if not for the performance of Garon Thursday night in Chicago the final score could have been even more lopsided. Despite keeping the Jackets in the game, Hitch has decided to sit Garon in favor of the slumping Steve Mason. Mason, the former number one goaltender, has sat in favor of Garon for the previous six games. Masons last start was against the Avalanche, a 3-2 loss on January 2nd.

In their first meeting between these two teams back on December 1st, Mason was in net for what turned out to be a 4-3 loss in an 11 round shootout. The Blackhawks scored a shortie and two PP goals in that one. It wasn't all Mason's fault as that game fell during a stretch of some of the worst defensive hockey the Jackets have ever played. But the change for today's game is curious in that Garon was the best player against this opponent two nights ago.

THIRD LINE: Nash on the Shnide. CBJ F Rick Nash, a born scorer, is currently mired in an eleven-game scoreless drought. That ties his career record for longest stretch without a goal. For the Jackets to be able to hang with the Chicago on the scoreboard, Nash will have to put this slump in the past. Number 61 currently leads the team in goals (19), assists (23) , and points (42) despite this drought. That speaks volumes about both the Captain and his charges. Patrick Kane leads his team in all categories (19g, 33a - 52p).

FOURTH LINE: Home Ice Advantage. The game in Thursday night was a sellout in Chicago. An announced crowd of 21,884. It was loud and the Hawks fed off the energy. Today's game will be a sellout (prediction) as well. Will the crowd spark the Jackets to leave it all on the ice as Chicago did the other night? Will the team give the crowd a reason to get on their feet? An energized crowd could go a long way to getting 2 points against the current Central division leaders. Carry the flag!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Quick Thoughts from Pepper

Chicago did a lot of celebrating last night at the Jackets expense.

Anyone with eyesight brave enough to sit through the entire Blackhawks - Blue Jackets reality check last night can see that the gap between the two teams is a lot greater than the 3-0 score. The hawks moved the puck and created quality scoring chances at will. At times it looked like a demonstration put on by an experienced gamer against the CBJ in rookie mode. You're welcome for such an eloquent analogy.

Anyways, the Hawks came out with the intention of taking two points in front of their home crowd and they did it, controlling action from start to finish. Mathieu Garon was outstanding in net of the Hawks would've put up at least a touchdown on the Jackets. With Steve Mason's season, Garon has proven to be a good off season pick up.

In my opinion, the difference between these two teams clearly lies with their defense. Aaron Portzline at The Dispatch asked if Chicago was the new Detroit, I'll admit that was exactly what I was thinking when I was watching the game. It pissed me off to think that the best team in the NHL always seems to be in the Central Division. It's tough to hit a team that skates that well, moves the puck that well, has tremendous skill and can finish. Last night's game showed the need for a high quality defensemen with the subtlety of a kick to the groin. Having John Moore in the pipeline is a really good thing, but the Jackets need someone with his skill set that has some NHL experience under his belt. I'm sure Scott Howson has figured this out, we'll see what he does about it between now and then. My bet is that the CBJ are more likely to have a number one defenseman at camp next year than Nikita Filatov.

A bright spot in last night's game was Derick Brassard. I thought he looked to have good energy and he was one of the few Jackets I noticed in a positive sense. Brass was one of the few Jackets who looked capable of being able to keep up with the Hawks. Hopefully he can finish some of his chances in the coming weeks and finish the season strong. Having he and Vorachek going into next year with some confidence and another season under their belt will make the outlook next year a lot better.

I hate to say it because he's my favorite player and I'm more fan than hockey writer, but the Captain doesn't look good. He draws a lot of attention from the opposing d and since the Chicago d is able to keep the puck away from him, he was invisible. I watched him specifically on a couple of shifts and he either looked frustrated or exhausted or both. I hope he's able to get some wind in his sails again as this is a pretty important time in his captaincy.

Bottom line, the Hawks out skated, out hit (hello, Andrew Ladd), out passed and just flat out played the Jackets. Let's hope the Jackets are able to dictate what type of game is played when these two teams get together again Saturday afternoon.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Game Preview

Blue Jackets @ Chicago Blackhawks
8:30 p.m. (EST); TV: Fox Sports Net

The CBJ need to take a page out of the Jersey Shore boys' books tonight against Chicago. And yes, they're Jackets fans.

Pepper here, stepping in for everyone's All-American, Stick on the Ice. He would normally pontificate (quite beautifully) throughout four well thought out and argued bullets about the crux of tonight's game. Judging by the picture above, I'm sure you can gather I'm not that capable so I'll give you my quick thoughts on what's going to go down in Chicago.

Prepare for the onslaught.
Looking at the Blackhawks forward lines is enough to make a fan grimace, imagine what it does to a confidence-challenged defensive core. The first line features Toews & Kane, the 'second' has a chump named Hossa, a dangerous Patrick Sharp and a heavy Andrew Ladd. Hell, the third line of Versteeg, Madden, and Big Buff could be the best in the league. Basically, the forward core is what the CBJ prays its' is in two years. Add to it a defensive core that can flat move the friggin' puck and you have a team that can come at you for 60 straight minutes.

The 'Hawks have lost their last two games and tonight is their last home game before an 8 game road trip so they see the CBJ as chum in the water and are going to look to partake in a feeding frenzy. To get two points out of this contest (and the CBJ have lost their way out of being happy with anything less than two points the rest of the way), the CBJ better have packed a supply of Hitch's 'comptetitive composure.' Weathering the storm a whole lot better than how they did in St. Louis is the only way a team with a road record of 8-14-4 has any chance to get some points from a team that's 20-5-1 at home.

Go all 'Jersey Shore' on 'em!
I was battling a little insomnia earlier this week and came across the much talked about MTV juggernaut, Jersey Shore. I had really no idea what it was about other than a lightning rod of canceled endorsements. I do now and I loved it. I'll be tuning in again, that's for sure. In the episode I caught, Ronnie (above, right) was making his way home from the bar when a fellow bar goer started an altercation. To his credit, Ronnie tried to take the high road and walk away, but when it became apparent that the other dude wasn't going to let him walk away, he tucked his 5lb gold painted cross and handled his bidness.

When thinking about the game tonight, I'm reminded of that episode. The Blackhawks are going to see the CBJ as an easy mark. After losing two in a row, the 'Hawks want to take the two points tonight and probably see the Jackets as an easy mark to take em....and not get much of a fight in return.

The CBJ has to recognize who they are, a big, strong team that can hit. The CBJ forwards have to absolutely put the wood to the Chicago defensemen at every opportunity. The forecheck needs to be established to the point where the Chicago d is looking over their shoulders and thinking more about getting out of the way of the hit than making the play with the puck. With such a fast D, easier said than done. Creating a cycle game to keep the pucks deep in the Chicago zone is a must, too.

The CBJ d needs to keep the incredibly talented Chicago forwards in front of them and to the outside. When the Chicago forwards venture into the corners, they need to be punished. If Toews, Kane, Sharp, Hossa and company get any room, they'll make you pay dearly.

Jackets, they're coming for you.....time to get the gel, comb up the faux hawk, tuck the chain and handle your bidness.

Afternoon Scrum 1/14/10

Hockey headlines for the CBJ and from around the league. Mmmmm... hockey

  • Jackets @ Blackhawks tonight from the United Center. Here are the game previews from the Dispatch, Chicago Tribune, ESPN, &

  • Bucci has a trade proposal for the Jackets to land Ilya Kovalchuk... as well as trade proposals for every other team in the league.

  • The NHL finally made a public statement regarding the Burrows/Auger incident. Read the press release here. Are you shittin' me? Colin Campbell quotes Burrows' accusations in full, offers absolutely zero information, quote or otherwise, as to what Auger's side of the story was and proceeds to state that Burrows was in the wrong. $2,500 fine, case closed. Memo to the NHL: That is an unacceptable outcome for this matter, and fan's will remember this the next time one of your omnipotent referees costs a team 2 points or someone is injured because the ref allowed his personal animus to get in the way of officiating a game. Colin Campbell strikes again.

  • Teemeu Selanne took a puck to the jaw in the Ducks 4-3 win over the Bruins last night. Selanne is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, putting is availability to represent Finland in the Olympics in serious jeopardy. Selanne was in his third game back after missing 17 games with a broken hand.

  • Aaron Portzline is reporting that both Derek Dorsett and Kris Russell will return to the lineup tonight for the Jackets. Look for Alex Picard and Mathieu Roy to be scratched.

Go Jackets!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Afternoon Scrum 1/13/10

Hockey headlines for the CBJ and from around the league. Mmmmm... hockey

  • The Alex Burrows/Stephane Auger fiasco is the story of the day regardless of how quickly the league tries to sweep it under the rug. PuckDaddy's first story about it this morning had me scratching my head as it seemed he was 1) happy that Burrows was fined, and 2) more perplexedly, was content with the league's assertion that the matter was "closed", without any statement of facts or possible repercussions for Auger. Wysh later clarified his view of the story noting that while Burrows did deserve the fine, the league owes its fans an explanation of Auger's role in the incident.
  • Bob McKenzie has an excellent piece on the Burrows/Auger issue. I admit that my first reaction was that a referee should always be above the fray when it comes to matters of retribution. McKenzie argues that the history of referees calling/not calling penalties for a team or player based on personal feelings is neither anything new nor unacceptable. Even as I write that sentence it sounds absurd to me, but reading his argument, I was convinced. Damn you Bob. McKenzie's 2nd treatise on the matter is also worth checking out. And until the League and/or Auger are willing to give the other side of the story, I'm stick with Door #1.
  • Oilers G Nikolai Khabibulin is having season-ending back surgery. Khabibulin is a free agent after this season.
  • Former Jacket G Pascal Leclaire's play, combined with that of the rest of the goalies in the Senator's system, has gotten his goaltending coach fired.
  • As you probably have heard, the ice rink in the hometown of CBJ F Derek Dorsett burned to the ground recently. In small towns like Kindersley, Saskatchewan the local rink is like a church and town hall rolled into one. Hockey fans and Central Ohioans are a giving sort by nature, so if you have the means please do consider helping out. A Facebook group has been started to assist in the rebuilding effort, and the R-Bar has started a fund raising effort as well.

Best Fights of December 2009

If you're a fan of the fisticuffs, enjoy the next 9 minutes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Four Lines Deep - 1/12/10

CBJ at St. Louis Blues; Scottrade Center
8 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)

Although he has no relevance whatsoever to tonight's game against the St. Louis Blues, Blues legend John Lee Hooker was one of the most awesome dudes to ever walk the Earth, and probably a Jackets fan.

St.  Louis is a cool town. It has a giant arch, plenty of beer and some of the best blue's bars in the U.S. Recently, it is also a tough place for the Jackets to earn two points.  The Jackets and the Blues play very similar styles, but the Jackets have had trouble in matching the physical intensity of the match-up and were dominated in the second half of the season last year. 

The Jackets have won three in a row and built some momentum after the "Sweep of Alberta," with a shutout win over Dallas on Sunday night. Mathieu Garon was unbelievable, and will be starting between the pipes again. 

St. Louis has been through a very similar season to the Jackets. After under performing for the first half of the season and watching their young players plateau in development, General Manager John Davidson sacked Andy Murray and promoted Davis Payne to interim coach on Jan. 2.  The Jackets obviously haven't made a coaching change, but have been struggled through adversity and plenty of losses.

The Jackets hold a slight edge in special teams, however,  St. Louis has a dominating PK unit, currently working at 86 percent (4th best in NHL). Their powerplay unit has not been very good, converting at 15 percent and thus earning the 27th ranking in the league.  The PK unit for the Jackets has been on a steady rise (currently 11th in NHL) -- I credit a lot of that to the active stick of Vermette up top and the blueliners moving bodies from the crease so that Mason and Garon can get a good look and angle on the shots. The powerplay has continued to generate good opportunities (8th in NHL) -- I really like having Jurcina fire his cannon from the point.

St. Louis has been brutal at home. They haven't won at Scottrade since the middle of December and have only one win in the last 10 home games. Prior to winning on the road in LA on Saturday, the Blues had dropped seven games in a row. Sound familiar? It's tough to see if this Blues team is starting a resurgence as it appears the Jackets are doing. A coaching change can alter the identity of a team -- for the better or for the worse. It seems like this St. Louis team is still trying to grasp theirs. Time will tell if the Jackets were best served by not making a change behind the bench.

The "TV Line" (Torres, Vermette,Voracek) is getting great ratings and attracting plenty of viewers. They have benefited from solid two-way play from Vermette, the aggressive scoring instincts of Torres and the raw speed and energy of Voracek. This line is a lot to handle right now.  It looks like Vermette is finally settling in at the center position and he has been brilliant. It has strengthened the entire line.

The first line (Nash, Juice, Umberger) has not been clicking very effectively.  They've been pushed on the perimeter too much and Nash has been lacking the extra gear that defines so many of his scoring opportunities. It's not uncommon for Nash to go through a scoring drought, but we always forget about them because when it rains for really pours. He'll get off the slide very soon - and perhaps even tonight.  Umberger had four points, including a hat trick, the last time the two squads met. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him factor into tonight's game on the score sheet.

Games between these two teams are always tight checking, but there could be some fireworks. Speaking of fireworks, how great would it be to get Dorsett back on the ice? Both teams allow more than 3 goals per game, although the Jackets have really tightened up the goals against in the last few weeks.

If the game comes down to a track meet - which hopefully it won't - I like the Jackets chances nonetheless. They have more firepower and are quickly regaining a scoring touch. Chris Mason is a pretty decent netminder (.908/ 2.65) , and he has the benefit of a dependable defensive corps in front of him - although I was surprised to see that Brewer is -15. Ouch. Kariya is due back tonight for the Blues and he will do nothing but help the team. However, Garon has been rock solid and the d-men are supporting him with smart checking and shot blocking. Speaking of the d-men, who would you replace when Russell comes back from injury? I really like the way Jurcina has been playing and with his heavy right-handed shot, he may open up some space on the bench for Stralman. We'll table that discussion for later.

The last three games have provided a great lesson in how the Jackets need to play to win -- we'll get a better idea tonight if they can sustain it.

Afternoon Scrum 1/12/10

Hockey headlines for the CBJ and from around the league. Mmmmm... hockey

  • Jackets @ St Louis tonight. Here are the pertinent previews: Columbus Dispatch, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, NHL & ESPN.
  • Vancouver F Alex Burrows has accused referee Stephane Auger of intentionally calling bad penalties against Burrows in a recent game. Accusing referees of purposefully making calls against you or your team is akin to accusing Col. Nathan R Jessup of ordering a Code Red. You can't handle the truth. If this story is true and the truth comes out, it is as big of an issue as that NBA ref who was gambling on games.
  • Cujo is hanging 'em up. Great career, and a HOF in waiting.
  • Not sure what to make of this one. Remember Mike Danton? He's the former Blues player who was convicted in a murder-for-hire plot to kill his agent. Dude has been granted parole, and is enrolling at St Mary's University where he will be a member of the school's ice hockey team.
  • Ryan Kennedy over at THN makes an interesting case for awarding penalty shots at the end of games in lieu of the man advantage.
  • CBJ G Mathieu Garon was named 3rd Star of the Week by the NHL following his recent string of games. Garon will make his 4th consecutive start for the Jackets tonight in St Louis.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Four Lines Deep - 1/10/10

Blue Jackets vs. Dallas Stars; Nationwide
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio

Dallas forward James Neal has been laughing his way to the net this year -- especially against the Jackets.

It's starting to feel like old times. Modin is hurt. There is an odd situation brewing with a highly paid defenseman (his name rhymes with Lommodore). And the Jackets are on the verge of missing the playoffs in the beginning of January. But those two big road wins in Alberta have the players, coaches and maybe even a few fans feeling like these aren't old times. Maybe this team can rally and make things interesting in spring hockey. We'll start to get a better picture tonight when the Jackets face the Dallas Stars (49 pts; 4th in Pacific) -- a team which has dominated Nationwide and earned a win in its last four visits.

And then of course, there is the matter of James Friggin' Neal. He has somehow dominated the Jackets - both mentally and physically - this season. He must be made of 185 pounds of kryptonite, because nobody dressed in red and blue wants to come within a mile of him. Seriously. There was never any response for his dirty hit on Dorsett from behind, and we can't forget that he derailed Brassard's brilliant rookie campaign last year. Or can we? It will be interesting to see if he is treated with such reverence in his first visit to Nationwide this season.

The Good:  Dallas has been wildly inconsistent this year, and especially fragile on the road--they have seven wins in 22 attempts. Previous to beating the Islanders 4-3 on Friday, the Stars had lost three in a row. They are missing Ribiero, who is an offensive weapon and absolutely deadly in shootouts. For those of you keeping score at home, the shootout hasn't been very kind to the Jackets this year. Regular defenseman, Nicklas Grossman, is also out tonight. Marty Turco hasn't played well on the road recently and is 1-5-2 with a 3.91 GAA in his last eight road starts.

The Bad:  Kris Russell is out with an injury, and the Jackets really benefit from his ability to skate the puck out of trouble and join the rush.  Further, Swedish Olympian Modin is out with (another) injury, and he would be a great asset against a physical (and sometimes dirty) Dallas team on the forecheck. When the Jackets last played in Dallas (Dec. 23rd), they didn't show much willingness to meet the physical and aggressive style of the Stars, which is often led by Steve Ott. Rick Nash, who typically plays very well against the Stars, hasn't scored a goal in eight games. The first line doesn't generate nearly as many opportunities if he can't find his extra gear to find some separation from top blueline pairings.

The Ugly: The Stars make themselves right at home in Nationwide -- they are 12-2-2 there all time. Marty Turco also plays exceptionally well at Nationwide -- he is 8-0-0 there with a 1.96 GAA.   Despite much more consistent defensive play in the last several weeks from the Jackets, they still own the worst goals differential in the Western Conference by a wide margin.  They haven't fared well against "hot" top lines, and they will be facing a Dallas top line that features red-hot Swedish Olympian Eriksson and Brad Richards as the set-up man. They have a combined 95 points.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Commodore to Play

The Dispatch's Tom Reed is reporting that CBJ Defenseman Mike Commodore will be playing tonight when the Jackets visit Calgary. Not long after the strange announcement that he was not going to play again until he was 100%, Commodore and the Blue Jackets have decided to get Big Red back into the lineup.

Let's hope he turns his season around.....and I know, the picture isn't fair.

Afternoon Scrum 1/8/10

Hockey headlines for the CBJ and from around the league. Mmmmm... hockey