WMU to build new hockey arena on campus

Western Michigan University has plans to build a new hockey arena, multiple sources have confirmed.

Details are still emerging, but it’s estimated the price tag will be well north of the $16 million that was rumored two weeks ago. It’s also believed construction could begin as early as 2014.

The new building will connect to Lawson Arena and be constructed along its southeast side in what is currently a parking lot the school’s marching band uses for practice. Lawson Arena will remain in use for community hockey and skating events.

It’s unclear when WMU plans to officially announce the project – a school official denied the recent report of a new $16 million arena – but it’s believed head coach Andy Murray is already using the arena plans as a selling point to potential players during recruiting visits.

Rumors also suggest the building will be similar in style to Notre Dame’s Compton Family Ice Arena, though the project’s architect remains unknown.

We also don’t know:

  • Who is paying for the project
  • If all the funds have been raised
  • The seating capacity
  • What the building will be named
  • If this project replaces plans for a new downtown arena
  • If other WMU teams and the Kalamazoo Wings will play in the arena

But we do know:

This would be another major step forward for a program that has risen to prominence since 2010. It would reinforce – majorly – the school’s commitment to hockey and position WMU among the nation’s elite, particularly in terms of facilities.

Also, the NCAA recently (and smartly) lowered its seating capacity requirement for regional tournament sites. One would imagine the new arena could give WMU a legitimate shot at hosting an NCAA regional.

More as it’s available…

Would London really be best fit for McCarron? Plus, new arena talk (again)

Michael McCarron

With the 25th pick of Sunday’s NHL Entry Draft, the Montreal Canadiens made Michael McCarron the highest pick ever to play at Western Michigan.

That is, if he actually reports to Kalamazoo.

The would-be freshman is apparently deciding this week between WMU and the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League.

Which, when you think about it, maybe isn’t that tough a decision after all.

The argument for the OHL is that players play more games (80 instead of 40 in college), which better prepares them for the pros. It’s a valid point. But what players don’t get by going the junior route is extensive practice, video and white board time, and workouts led by full-time strength and conditioning coaches. When you’re 6-5, 227, 18 years-old and not a dead-lock for an NHL roster right away, these things matter. Especially when the coach leading the chalk talk and on-ice drills is Andy Murray.

If he goes to London, he plays a lot… and that’s about it. The Knights are a successful franchise — he’d learn how to win, which is valuable — but what would he accomplish in London that he didn’t with the U.S. National Development team?  Usually, 18 year-old first-round picks have used the OHL to get drafted. McCarron used the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor. Now, it’s about skill and strength development.

It also wouldn’t be in McCarron’s best interest (other than financially) to sign with the Habs and report to their AHL club in Hamilton (experts don’t expect he’ll actually make the Canadiens this season). He’d collect a signing bonus, make $80,000 a season and play 80-plus games… but wouldn’t receive the type or amount of individual development that he would at Western. And word on the street is he could use a little of it, particularly in the weight room.

Sure, McCarron might play in Kalamazoo for only a year or two.

If he’s unsure about that, perhaps he can ask Danny DeKeyser how it worked for him.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • Ineligible: Defenseman Garrett Haar will miss at least the first half of the 2013-14 season because he’s academically ineligible. This is a big blow for a team that lived and died by its defense last season, and that was counting on Haar to pick up whatever slack he could after the departures of Danny DeKeyser and Luke Witkowski.
  • From the We’ll Believe It When We See Shovels In The Ground Department: A source, citing a “heavy hitter” in the community, said there could be an announcement coming from WMU in the next month about a new $16 million arena that will — get this — connect to Lawson Arena. This rumor is on the heels of last season’s report that Andy Murray engineered an idea to build a new arena where the school’s track currently sits, not to mention the never-ending downtown arena drama. But let’s imagine this $16 million idea is true for a minute… where do they build it? Behind the existing arena? In the band’s practice parking lot to the southeast? Add a second story, ala Madison Square Garden? Pull off an imminent domain permit to build it partially on Stadium Drive?
  • Confirmed: Lawson will feature a new scoreboard and video boards this season. Here’s hoping the scoreboard is nothing like the semi-trailer hanging at Wings Stadium.

KO’d: Broncos go bust in CCHA quarterfinals

Welcome to this blog’s first ever video post.

So many story lines came to mind following the Wolverines’ weekend waylay that a regular post would’ve taken forever to write (and read).

Thus… this.

(Yes, I’m wearing sweat shorts with the dress shirt. It’s Sunday.)

Tip your cap: These RedHawks are good

We in sports love to overanalyze.

It’s fun.

It makes us feel like we’re part of the action.

Sometimes, though, sports are as simple as the air we breathe and the water we drink.

Miami was better than Western Michigan on Saturday night.

And the sun will come up tomorrow.

Plain and simple.

There’s no reason to speak of panic or concern.  The No. 3 team in the country beat the No. 6 team in the country.  The night before, the reverse was true.  And given the shot total in Friday’s game (32-23 Miami), one could argue the RedHawks should have won that game, too, had it not been for the other-worldly play by WMU goalie Frank Slubowski in the 2-0 win.

Could the Bronco power play, which went 0-for-5 Saturday, have been better?  Absolutely. (By the way, the stat about Western winning when it scores a power play goal and losing when it doesn’t bore itself out again this weekend). But an accurate postmortem of Saturday’s game shouldn’t include exaggerated observations of what Western did wrong. To pin Saturday’s defeat on the power play would be shortsighted and, frankly, unfair to the RedHawks.

Miami was just better. Better out of the gate in the first period. Better in its own end. Better along the boards.  Better in puck battles.  Remember, this is a program that’s made the NCAA tournament the last seven years in a row, has the nation’s top-ranked defense (allowing just 45 goals in 30 games) and has won five of its last six contests.

The RedHawks — who looked more like a red wave — didn’t budge Saturday.  Their freshman goaltender, Ryan McKay, was stellar in his third shutout of the season.  Their defense prevented Western from doing anything of significance around the net.  And their forwards buzzed and pestered Bronco defensemen who’ve grown used to otherwise timid opponents giving them room to operate in their own zone.

Miami wasn’t scared.

And Western shouldn’t be ashamed.

Fans who have gotten used to basking in the glow of WMU’s 13-2-1 record at home this season just aren’t used to seeing the Broncos “take it on the chin,” as defenseman Danny DeKeyser described it Saturday night.

Alas, this is what happens sometimes when two heavyweights collide.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • Speaking of heavy, Kenney Morrison has a monstrous slap shot.  When the Broncos are on the power play, everyone in the building knows where the puck is going: to number 7 at the left point so he can wind up and crank it.  Morrison is quite capable of torching goalies from 60 feet away, but the next step in the freshman’s evolution will be the ability to judge when to let it rip and when to pump fake the oncoming defender and pass or pedal, find a clear lane, then shoot.  Right now, it appears his only setting is SHOOT. He tried multiple times Saturday to blast the puck through the approaching defender’s shin pads (hey, if anybody could do it…) and it resulted in the puck skittering onto a Miami stick or ricocheting out of the zone.
  • Coach Andy Murray said after the game that the insertion of backup goaltender Lukas Hafner to begin the third period was the result of Slubowski not feeling well.  “Frank just wasn’t well,” Murray said. “It had nothing to do with his play or special motivational tactics. He was getting worse so it was just time to take him out.”  Mind you, that was only the fourth appearance for Hafner this season. Slubowski has started all 30 games.
  • Which begs the question: does Slubowski and his career .918 save percentage have a shot at the NHL? Your comments welcome below.

It’s the power play, stupid

The post-game quotes from Andy Murray and his players lately revolve around being happy with their effort, but needing to score more goals.

They point to increased traffic in front of the net as a must.

They lament the need to skate more pucks to the doorstep.

Yes and yes.

But we’re more than halfway through the season and Murray has, for the most part, gotten max performance out of this team.  The Broncos are what they are: a talented, hard-working, defensive-minded bunch that, like it or not, lives and dies by its power play.

James Carville, hockey buff or not, would see it in the numbers:

  • The Broncos have won 15 games
  • They’ve scored at least one power-play goal in 13 of those contests
  • Their six losses?
  • No power-play goals in five of those games

Stats are boring, but hey.

The Broncos machine-gunned 86 shots on Lake Superior State’s net this weekend.  They scored just four times.  And two of those goals were on the power play.  And neither was the result of bulldozing the puck to the front of the net.

Kenney Morrison’s rocket from the point ricocheted off the end boards and onto Dane Walters’ stick at the left post in the second period Saturday.  Morrison also engineered the other power-play goal, wiring a back-door feed to an uncovered Dennis Brown that, in sweetness, ranked only behind the fake slap shot play that the Broncos tried twice earlier in the 3-1 victory.

But what’s the answer to this even-strength mystery?

How can a team with such speed and ability to possess the puck not light up the scoreboard more often?

Perhaps it’s the quality of shots, not quantity.

Perhaps it’s more patient, Chase Balisy-like plays with the puck in tight spaces around the net instead of furious rushes up the wing punctuated by nebulous slappers and wristers that count in the shot total but not for much else.

Perhaps it’s playing in the cross-currents, the nooks and crannies, and going to extreme physical lengths to not concede possession in the opponent’s end — and that includes low-percentage shots that sometimes ring around the glass and out of the zone.

We’re splitting hairs here to a certain extent.  This team is challenging for the top spot in the CCHA.  It’s a good team.  But its PairWise ranking heading into Saturday’s game was 14.  It’s now 11, thanks to the power-play-powered Saturday win.

The NCAA tournament takes the top 16.

That’s the ultimate statistic.

So the Broncos can work on getting more action to the other team’s net, but they’ll likely stay in that top 16 if they can use their work ethic to draw penalties — and then capitalize on them with the power play.

Patience pays off again for surging Broncos

Courtesy WMU

Ferris State’s strategy was simple Saturday night.

Hit anything in white that moves.

When it gets up, hit it again.

(Then back up and smash again.)

The strategy worked for 55 minutes.

The Bulldogs had a 1-0 lead.  Their goalie, CJ Motte, was holding the fort.  Their big, punishing forwards were making Western earn every square inch of ice.  As the bodies kept flying, some WMU supporters in attendance questioned the Broncos toughness.  Said they weren’t nasty enough.  A word that begins with a “P” was even suggested.

In the end, however, another “P” word prevailed.

Patience.

Instead of retaliation, instead of ignoring hockey to match Ferris pound-for-pound and punch-for-punch, the Broncos stuck to the smart game.  They defended themselves, but didn’t sacrifice puck possession and didn’t take penalties to do it.  And just like last weekend’s battle with Northern Michigan, their persistence and unwillingness to flinch in the face of a physical opponent paid off when Ferris took two undisciplined penalties in the last five minutes and WMU turned them into two power-play goals.

Game over.

Western’s 2-1 victory — its fifth in a row and seventh in the last eight games – further revealed a trait that will help this team when it faces even tougher opponents in the second half of the season: the ability to remain patient and mostly unflappable. During this five-game surge, the Broncos have come from behind to win three times. Three of the victories have been by a goal.

So it appears they know how to dig deep and protect leads late in games.  Mostly, though, they appear to trust themselves (and their coaches) enough to stick to the game plan and not get rattled.  It’s about patience and confidence.  Good teams hope to win.  Great teams expect to win despite what their opponent does, and that mindset reinforces itself with every hair-raising win.

ALONG THE RAIL…

  • Karma: Late in the second period, Ferris State’s Garrett Thompson exited the penalty box and snuck behind the Broncos’ defense for a breakaway goal to give the Bulldogs their 1-0 lead.  After he scored, Thompson peeled off into the southwestern corner of the rink, patted helmets with his teammates, and then skated across the ice toward the WMU student section with his hand to his ear, as if to say, “I can’t hear you.”  Makes you wonder what sorts of things Thompson heard – aside from the roar – when Mike Leone’s game-winner sailed into the net as Thompson sat in the penalty box with 2:14 left in the game.
  • Trevor Elias easily had the best shift of Saturday’s game late in the third period, when he killed at least 20 seconds off the clock by ragging and pinning the puck along the boards by himself despite three Ferris State monsters draped on his back. It was a tremendous effort that demonstrated the small, speedy forward’s ability to execute some of the “uglier” but just as necessary parts of the game.
  • The more you watch Chase Balisy, the more you realize why the Nashville Predators drafted him.  Aside from his foot speed and strength on the puck, both of which are better than ever, Balisy’s biggest asset is his vision and hockey sense.  He sees the east-west motion of a pro game despite playing in the north-south chaos that is college hockey.  College hockey is linear, hard, jamming, jarring.  Pro hockey is a bigger room with more doors.  It’s a kaleidoscope of geometric potential — and Balisy sees it.  Micro-movements.  Little chips of the puck here, little slips to the inside there.  It’s patient and swirling.  College hockey says, “I’m here!” and then blasts you into the end boards. Pro hockey says, “Come and get me,” and then wires a centering pass to an open teammate in a two-foot area of the ice.
  • Speaking of Balisy, his lightning bolt of a wrist shot to tie the game with 4:08 remaining was also of pro stock.  Of course, it doesn’t happen if Dane Walters doesn’t make a tremendous play to chip the puck to himself over the blue line and around a Ferris defenseman, then zing a perfect feed through traffic right to Balisy’s tape.
  • Mike Leone was playing Division III hockey his freshman year — even transferred schools — yet there he was Saturday night, on the power play for the seventh-ranked team in college hockey with three minutes left in a tie game. He has a nose for the net and it’s uncanny how things happen when he’s around it.
  • Remember the days when one section of seats would have six spectators in it?  Fans were standing three rows deep around the concourse Saturday night.  Amazing what winning does. Largest crowd of the season (4,116).
  • Longtime New Jersey Devils scout Bob Hoffmeyer watched Saturday’s game.  The former Kalamazoo Wings head coach noticed a little ploy by coach Andy Murray late in the second period. After Broncos’ defenseman Kenny Morrison was rocked by a hit that was questionable but not called, Murray waited for the next whistle and then went to work on referees Brian Pochmara and John Philo (as the student section chanted “ANDY MURRAY!  ANDY MURRAY!”).  Murray forced the referees into an argument at the bench that killed 30-45 seconds before the upcoming faceoff in WMU’s zone.  “He got his timeout,” Hoffmeyer said, smiling, as the red faced Murray ended his tirade.  “He was also able to get two of his players who were tired off the ice.”
  • Bronco sophomore Bobby Francis had an excellent game.  His drop pass to Josh Pitt during a three-on-two was the patient, east/west pro play in that situation and led to one of the best scoring chances of the game for the Broncos.  Francis also made the smart, safe play pretty much anytime the puck was on his stick. Seamless effort for it only being his third game of the season.

Pair of comebacks, one for a loss, should help Broncos’ mental game in long-run

Defenseman Garrett Haar has two goals in two games this season. He scored once in 2011-12.

On October 12, 2009, the Chicago Blackhawks trailed by five goals eleven minutes into a game against the Calgary Flames.

Then the Hawks rallied for six unanswered goals, capped by Brent Seabrook’s winner in overtime to tie an NHL record for the biggest comeback.  It was a game that said a lot.  It told opponents no lead was safe against Chicago.  It also told the young, hotshot Blackhawks they were so good that they could turn it on and off whenever they wanted — a pattern that annoyingly existed throughout the team’s run to the Stanley Cup (think Game 5 against Nashville).

A team’s ability to come back from a deficit can be its blessing — and its curse.

For Western Michigan, this weekend’s split with St. Lawrence University in which the Broncos came from behind in the third period both nights offers many psychological benefits.

Losing Friday’s game on a bad bounce in overtime was the best thing that could have happened.  WMU didn’t deserve to win that game, even though defenseman Garrett Haar’s slapper from the point with the goalie pulled might’ve suggested otherwise.  By losing that game, the Broncos realized they were mortal.  It was a mental gift, a sober reminder that they can take with them through the rest of the schedule if they so choose.

Winning Saturday’s game was equally beneficial.  It was redemption, proof that a quality effort deserves a quality result.  Proof that this team has the talent and focus to erase a deficit, take a lead and, most of all, play with a lead late in games.  Like infant children, this is the life stage of a season when mental and emotional patterns — good and bad — develop.  This early part of the season creates the narrative, the self-talk for the rest of the season.

We can’t come back from anything.

We can play with a lead.

We have to score first to win.

Any number of messages are created.  Which ones this team chooses to believe will help set the course for the rest of the season.

ALONG THE RAIL …

  • Haar also scored Saturday’s game-winner on a slapper late in the third period and was one of the more consistent WMU defensemen in both games.  The Washington Capitals draft pick attended Team USA’s World Junior Championship tryout camp this summer and, if he keeps up his strong start, should receive consideration for a final Team USA roster spot.  The WJC will be held at the end of the year in Russia.
  • Is freshman defenseman Kenny Morrison a spitting image of Matt Tennyson, or what?  Like Tennyson when he was a freshman, Morrison — who’s even wearing Tennyson’s old number — still has a ways to go.  He looked weak on his skates in the physical areas of play (corners, behind the net) and hasn’t been real sharp with the puck.  Like Tennyson, however, he has a bomb of a slap shot and huge upside.  The fact head coach Andy Murray stuck Morrison on the power play in the first two games clearly demonstrates confidence in his ability, although the team’s 2-for-13 performance with the man-advantage might force Murray to switch Morrison for Haar.
  • That was the Dan DeKeyser we know and love.  After a couple of work-out-the-kinks performances, the star defenseman was back to himself Saturday.  His presence of mind and confidence to sneak down to the back door during power play chaos in front of the net allowed for his rebound goal to tie the game.  And his celebration — a huge leap into the glass in front of the student section — looked like quite the cathartic release.
  • Freshman Nolan LaPorte now has two goals in three games if you include his slick exhibition tally.  He’s adding to an already deep crop of forwards, none of whom will run away with a scoring title, but who together can steadily wear down opponents with their speed, skill and physicality.  Murray said he felt Chase Balisy played two of his best games ever this weekend. Balisy committed to getting stronger and faster over the summer and it’s already showing.
  • There was less north and more patient east-west play Saturday, but, as Murray pointed out afterwards, the team needs to learn how to overpower teams physically without taking too many penalties.  Think puppy growing into its paws.

The goalies: Who does Murray start Friday at Ferris?

(L to R) Frank Slubowski, Nick Pisellini, Kris Moore. Courtesy: Jonathan Gruenke/Kalamazoo Gazette

Before we break down who should be in goal Friday night when the Broncos head to Ferris State (cough cough Frank Slubowski), first I’d like to have a word about this win/tie/shootout business in the CCHA.

Last week, Western Michigan (and cough, cough Slubowski) beat Notre Dame in a shootout, 3-2. However, according to the CCHA, the final score was a tie: Broncos 2, Irish 2, with WMU gaining an extra point in the standings for winning the shootout.

Question.

Yes!  You in the front row in the Jimmy John’s stain.   

Yeah, uh, Western put more pucks in Notre Dame’s net in the shootout than Notre Dame put in Western’s, right?

Correct.

And by virtue of this, Western received an extra point in the standings.

Right.

Would you agree that two standings points is greater than one standings point?

Well, of course.

OK, so if both teams “tied” — which, by definition, means they accomplished identical tasks — why did Western receive two standings points and Notre Dame only one?

Well, because Western won the shootout.

Excuse me?

Because they won the shootout.

Say that word again.

Because…?

No…

They…?

Closer.

… Won?

Hey, you said it.

THE GOALIES

On second thought, it’s kind of a waste of time to predict whether Andy Murray will start Slubowski or Nick Pisellini this weekend.  For starters (heh), they have almost identical numbers.  And the team hasn’t played in 10 days, so we’re kind of back to square one in terms of any momentum Slubowski might have derived from the Notre Dame win.  Then again, Murray doesn’t believe in momentum:

“There’s two words that are the most over-used in sports. There’s momentum and there’s confidence,” Murray told the Kalamazoo Gazette. “You’re only as good as your next shift so there’s no such thing as momentum. Confidence isn’t something you pull off a tree. You either play good and feel good, or you play lousy and feel lousy.”

Alrighty, then.

(Prediction: Slubowski eventually wins the permanent job this year because he’s more consistent in his technique and, it appears at least, more confident in his mind.)

RIGHT THIS WAY, GENTLEMEN…

Another game at Lawson Arena on Saturday, another round of NHL scouts and executives who will be in attendance to see thoroughbred defenseman Danny DeKeyser for their own eyes.  Dave Poulin, the former Notre Dame head coach who is now the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Vice President of Hockey Operations, will saddle up alongside co-worker Claude Loiselle, Toronto’s Assistant General Manager.  Apparently, Leafs President and GM Brian Burke liked what he saw last week.

The recently-retired Craig Conroy, now a scout for the Calgary Flames, will also be there.  But forget scouting — Conroy should do radio.  Maybe he can fly in early and do The Rocker Morning Show.

Broncos bounce No. 2 Notre Dame in front of, like, the entire NHL

Detroit's Ken Holland and Jim Nill were among the dozens of hockey executives in attendance at Lawson Arena on Tuesday.

Western Michigan 3, Notre Dame 2 F/SO*
  • With 8:37 remaining in the first period and his team down 1-0, WMU coach Andy Murray called his only timeout.  Notre Dame, second-ranked and unbeaten in nine games, had already kicked the Broncos over the cliff with Austin Wuthric’s early goal.  Now, things were about to get ugly.  Like maniacal, giggling villains, the Irish were prying WMU’s cold, almost-dead fingers off the rocky ledge … until Murray pressed pause.
  • We don’t know what he said during the timeout, but his face turned a shade of red only seen on a former NHL coach whose team is about to get boat raced in front of Toronto’s Brian Burke and Detroit’s Ken Holland, the NHL’s two most powerful general managers, and a raft full of their scouting peers.
  • Whatever Murray said, though, it worked: Western escaped the first period with no further damage, then tied the game early in the second on defenseman Dennis Brown’s ripper from the point.  1-1.  Game on.
  • Brown also converted in the shootout on a Marty St. Louis-style skate/spray/stop/tap-in move that borders on illegal, at least in the NHL. Out of habit, the GMs still in attendance (Burke had already headed for the airport) phoned Toronto to complain … until they remembered it was Dennis Brown.
  • This was a game of waves: Notre Dame controlled the first period with insane speed and a strength on the puck rarely seen so deep throughout a lineup.  Western counter-punched in the second period and, although the shots were even (6-6), battled in all areas of the rink to hold off the bigger, faster Irish.
  • Then the true momentum shift: WMU’s J.J. Crew stuffed home a rebound to make it 2-1 midway through the period.  A Notre Dame defender shoved Crew as the puck went in and the senior forward flew through the air parallel to the ice in a scene reminiscent of the famous Bobby Orr goal/flying photo after his 1970 Stanley Cup-clinching tally.  (We couldn’t tell if Crew got up and yelled “WHO DOES NUMBER TWO WORK FOR?” in the Irish players’ faces.)

    Boston's Bobby Orr sails through the air after clinching the 1970 Stanley Cup

  • The third period was straight up wild.  ND’s defense left the barn door banging in the breeze all period, which triggered multiple WMU odd-man rushes … that the Broncos failed to convert.  They easily could have won the game in regulation had they a) shot the puck instead of over-passing it; and b) actually hit the net when they pulled the trigger.
  • WMU’s freshman goaltender, Frank Slubowski, should undoubtedly be the team’s number-one.  He made a series of stops in the third period that kept momentum on WMU’s side, including an insane pad-stacking robbery of a sure ND goal with about seven minutes left.  The Irish eventually tied the game on that possession, but the save showed Slubowski clearly is not intimidated.  He was aggressive and challenged shooters all night, yet played with an underlying, steadying calm that no doubt won this game.  He was named first-star.
  • Another seminal moment: WMU’s kill of a 4-on-3 power play in the third period, during which Slubowski looked like he had eight legs. With just a few seconds left on ND’s advantage, all three WMU penalty killers threw themselves into traffic in the crease to keep the puck out of the net. When they finally fired the puck down the ice to safety as penalty time expired, the crowd rose to its feet and let out a roar usually reserved for goals (or, if you’re the Lunatics, Puck Boy pizza pucks).
  • Standing on the concourse an hour before game time was like standing on a sidewalk outside of a Toronto hotel during an NHL Board of Governors meeting.  There was Burke, complete with his red face, tie undone and draped around his neck like a scarf, briefcase on his shoulder, “Movember” ‘stache that he said in a radio interview makes him look like Wilfred Brimley or Captain Kangaroo (he’s right); Flames GM Jay Feaster kept to himself over in section 8; then there were the Red Wings. As in, all of them: Holland, assistant general manager Jim Nill, Kris Draper, Chris Chelios and Director of Player Development Jiri Fischer.

    Brian Burke

  • Everyone was there to scout WMU defenseman Danny DeKeyser (and a few Notre Dame players), although at this point it’s not so much about scouting as it is wooing.  Word is DeKeyser wants to be a Wing, which probably explains why Holland brought everybody and his brother to Kalamazoo.  It’s all about closing the sale. (Hey, where was Blash?)
  • And if you’re DeKeyser, why NOT Detroit?  The history.  The success.  It’s your hometown.  Nick Lidstrom will be around to mentor you, perhaps while still cranking power play slappers from the point at 55 years-old.  Yeah, Tampa is attractive and Steve Yzerman has personally visited, too, but – hey – Stevie Y’s going to end up in Detroit, anyway, once Holland moves to his golf cart, right?
  • Holland and Nill stood along the concourse railing while, eight rows below them, Draper watched Chelios feed his addictions to sunflower seeds and electronic handheld devices.  Seriously, Chelios had his face buried in his iPad the entire game, looking up only to spit shells into an empty water bottle. Draper watched parts of the game, but the former Red Wing greats looked more like two band kids whose parents dragged them to the game.  You half expected Holland to march down there, grab them by their collars and growl, “Boys, I’m NOT going to tell you again…”
  • Finally, get used to series splits in the the CCHA. “It’s so competitive top to bottom this year,” Nill said during the second intermission, shaking his head. “It’s really unbelievable.”  The standings prove it: Ohio State (Ohio State?) is in first-place by virtue of a nine-game unbeaten streak, yet the Buckeyes have lost to Michigan State and Notre Dame this year.  Michigan is Michigan — always tough — yet struggling Miami swept the Wolverines last weekend.  Seven points separate Western and Ohio State.
  • So, yeah, buckle up.  This isn’t going to be as easy as everyone thought when the Broncos were ranked fourth.

* My friend Jamie Weir Baldwin at Michigan State reminded me that the CCHA technically counts last night’s game as a tie.  Which is dumb.

Spartan sweep a lesson in pest control

Brett Beier/Kalamazoo Gazette

Have you ever watched an ant buzz along the baseboard of your bathroom? Down the stretch it goes, its little legs scrambling freely until the
bathtub closes in on the left to form a sudden dead end.  The ant
pauses, backs up, circles, and tries again.  Nothing.  Trapped.
It could go left — back out into the open –
but that’s dangerous and clogged with
foot traffic.
 So it tries the perimeter
again.  And the bathtub steers
it right again 
until there’s
no more room
 to run.

(DUMP IN)

Anyone looking for an answer for why Michigan State swept the soon-to-be-lower-than-fifth-ranked Broncos this weekend need look no further than the neutral zone,
which the Spartans remodeled to their specifications again during a 4-2 victory
Saturday that brought BroncoLand back
to reality.

(BODYCHECK, TURNOVER)

State drywalled a diagonal line of defense from blue line to blue line that forced the Broncos along the perimeter 
and pinched
them off at the far blue-line point of attack. Like the
mighty ants that could, WMU’s forwards 
scrambled
up the boards with the puck over and over, trying
to out-skate the green tidal wave.  But on the
rare occasion a Bronco beat it, he was left
stranded as the Spartans flooded
the zone around him, swallowed
possession of the puck and spit
it back out.
 And when the
Broncos managed decent
scoring chances, 
that big
lug of a Spartan goalie
Will Yanakeff 
guarded
the net like a
drain plug.

(NEXT!)

Now, I don’t know enough about coaching to say Tom Anastos out-coached Andy Murray, but damn Anastos had a pretty rockin’ system.  And his players executed it to perfection.

“We are a team that has to be at 100 percent to have a chance, especially in this league, and this weekend – tonight, especially – we weren’t,” Murray said on WKZO afterwards.

Certainly, Murray probably saw things about his team few others could.  But from an armchair perspective, the Broncos didn’t lack effort (always an easy-to-spot excuse for a loss).  If anything, they might have been too aggressive.  Perhaps they could have been more patient instead of repeatedly trying to ram the puck through the drywall like they were attached to Bubble Hockey skewers?  Then again, when they tried to play a cross-ice game, the Chinese handcuffs just got tighter.

Which begs a question: how the hell was Michigan State 4-4 heading into this weekend?

Parting shots

  • Murray inserted forward Kyle O’Kane into the lineup and he had a brilliant game, capped off by a third-period rebound goal to cut the Spartans’ lead to 3-2 with ten minutes left.
  • Credit freshman forward Justin Kovacs on the play — his ability to rag the puck behind the net with two Spartans draped all over him set up O’Kane’s finish.
  • Broncos goaltender Nick Pisellini made a pair of dazzling stops with the game close, but was wildly out of position on two goals that killed third-period momentum the Broncos built
  • Jake Chelios, the son of you-know-who, has his father’s swagger but not much else.  He was lucky that a holding penalty he committed as O’Kane scored didn’t cost his team, and while he fit into MSU’s system, he certainly didn’t stand out aside from his post-whistle antics.
  • Murray hosts a team dinner at his house today and the team has just a day of practice before traveling to South Bend for a rare Tuesday game against Notre Dame.
  • Former Bronco and current Chicago Blackhawks grinder Jamal Mayers was in attendance — and he’s a big fan of Andy Murray’s.  When WMU was in search of Jeff Blashill’s replacement, Mayers called athletic director Kathy Beauregard and told her if Murray belongs anywhere, it’s in the college game because of motivational tactics like leaving notes for players in their lockers — stuff that might not stick with an NHL ego but can really lift a college kid.