Between watching the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry, and then deeply enjoying Ohio State’s misery in Indiana, the Old Dog and Mrs. Dog did what we always do on any weekend in the fall and winter: we watched college hockey, of course! With Tech taking a week off before heading out on a four series road stretch, we used our FloHockey TV subscription—plus a couple of cable channels available down in Texas—to view several other teams in action.
On both nights, we channel surfed (juggling two remotes and an air mouse to do so) between four different series, with two of them involving WCHA teams. I was also sneaking back and forth to the Purdue-Ohio State football game on Saturday, so it was often frantic. I’m sure I drove Mrs. Dog a bit mad with all of the switching involved. But I brought her a glass a wine (from Michigan, naturally) and she didn’t say anything.
The first series we caught was Ferris State hosting Mercyhurst. On Friday night, we saw a typical FSU team—taking advantage of their small rink, with solid goaltending and heavy forechecking. Mercyhurst seemed to be caught off-guard, both by the rink dimensions and the helter-skelter Bulldog counter attacks. Ferris poured on 36 shots, many coming from steals and corner scrums, and only some outstanding goal work by Mercyhurst’s Colin DeAugustine kept the game close, and FSU came away with a 5-2 win.
On Saturday, Mercyhurst seemed to have figured out the small rink and had control most of the game. After taking a 2-0 lead and chasing FSU’s top goalie from last season (Justin Kapelmaster) while netting two goals on just 11 shots, the Erie, PA Lakers added a third goal midway through the third period. The Bulldogs got one back a couple of minutes later, but Mercyhurst was never really threatened in the Saturday game.
These two games looked like a primer on how to play against Bob Daniel’s Bulldogs on the small ice in Big Rapids. Friday was a lesson in how not to play, and Saturday was an example of you should do against FSU in that rink. After the Huskies rung up perhaps their poorest series last season on Ferris’s ice, this is must-see-TV for Joe Shawhan and his staff.
In this series, I was also very interested in getting a good look at Cooper Zech, FSU’s highly regarded first year defenseman. He didn’t disappoint, particularly on Friday, notching a powerplay goal and firing five shots on goal. On Saturday, the score sheet totaled nine shots for Zech; five got to the goal, and four were blocked. None were wide. I have a feeling that Husky fans are going to see a lot of this young man—and they will probably wince when they do.
We also saw some of the Notre Dame-Omaha series from South Bend. The Irish never trailed in the series, and after a convincing 4-2 Friday victory, they just destroyed the Nebraska branch of the Maverick family on Saturday. Notre Dame ran off seven straight goals before Omaha got one and the Golden Dome boys finished with an 8-2 win. With returning Mike Richter Award winner Cale Morris back in net, and many of the players we saw in the NCAA tournament back as well, Notre Dame looks like they are ready to challenge for the national championship.
Next up was the Michigan-Western Michigan series, a home-and-home affair. The Old Dog, having gone to grad school at Michigan, has a bit of a soft spot in his heart for the Wolverines, but it was hard to root against the Broncos, particularly in their nifty new road sweaters that feature a map of the Mitten State, a map that includes the UP!
On Friday in Yost Arena in Ann Arbor, it was a typical crazy Michigan game. The Broncos were up 2-1 after the first period but Michigan, as they love to do, exploded for three straight in just under 3 minutes in the second period to take a 4-2 lead. In the final period, U-M and WMU continued to trade goals and Western threatened to tie it up in the final minute, but Michigan hung on for a 6-5 win.
We saw what Them Dogs just might see in the Great Lakes Invitational this year, a Wolverine squad with tons of speed and explosive offensive capability paired with spotty defense and seriously shaky goaltending. It was a really choppy game, with fifteen minor penalties and four power-play goals—three for Michigan.
Saturday, the teams were in Kalamazoo to pair off in front of the Lawson Lunatics. It was a lot of the same old same old, with WMU again up 2-1 at the end of the first period. In the second, WMU got the next goal, but the Wolverines roared back with another three straight, giving the Skunkheads (as some of the THG staff like to call Mel Pearson’s team) the lead.
This time, though, the Broncos got two early 3rd period goals and U-M never got the equalizer. In fact, they only managed six shots in the final period, and WMU got the split, winning 5-4. Again, there were 15 penalties, and Western scored twice during 5-on-3 opportunities.
Finally, the Old Dog was really interested in watching Arizona State and Alabama-Huntsville down in The Rocket City. At this point, Mrs. Dog wasn’t as tuned in. She might have been suffering from hockey overload. Or maybe it was the wine. But I was—I always hope that Huntsville will play well (unless they’re facing Tech of course) because I’d like to see college hockey develop a following in the Old South. And, after my comments about trying to attract the Sun Devils to the WCHA, I wanted to get a feel for how this match-up might play out.
What I saw, though, was just about what we saw from these two teams last year. ASU swept the series, winning 2-1 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday. The Chargers played well enough, but they just didn’t seem to be able to grab control of the offensive zone for any extended play in either game. They always seemed to be on the verge of getting good chances, but rarely managed to work things out. They also were strong in their own end, but sooner or later gave the puck away and then suddenly saw it end up in their net.
For the Sun Devils, two players who drove Tech crazy last year were big in both games. Forward Johnny Walker, who played for the Chicago Steel when Dallas Steward was Associate Head Coach for the 2017 USHL champions, assisted on both goals Friday night and added another assist Saturday. It seemed like he was everywhere all the time. Goalie Joey Daccord was a brick wall, stopping 26 of 27 Charger shots on Friday and 25 of 26 on Saturday. He also demonstrated what might be the best puck handling of any goalie in the country, something that really hurt the Huskies in Las Vegas last season.
All in all, the Old Dog got a kick out of jumping around between four series. But I’ll be much happier this coming weekend when I can watch the Huskies in Madison against Wisconsin. It’ll give me a better chance to open up a Two Hearted Ale. We’ll have to pay to see it on BTN To Go, but for Them Dogs, we’ll be tuned in.