In this week's WCHA RinkRap, we'll learn of Northern Michigan's big gamble up in the Sault, how Bowling Green's bench became standing room only when visiting USA Hockey Arena, and what's up with the metamorphosis of Lake State's Steve Ruggiero.
Plus, some poignant pearls from our favorite quote machine — lead Beaver Tom Serratore.
Thirteen games into his second season as head coach of Northern Michigan, Grant Potulny smelled trouble. His Wildcats had just dropped their Friday-night opener to Lake Superior State, the Cats’ fifth loss in eight games. Potulny took radical action. The next night, two of his premier players — Philip Beaulieu and Darien Craighead — found themselves watching Saturday’s game from the press box.
“Sometimes, the ultimate currency is ice time,” said Potulny, who would not specify what earned these upperclassmen the ultimate timeout, other than that it was a “coach’s decision.”
Insiders have speculated, logically, that is was for disciplinary reasons. Whatever the cause, it was a brassy move, and one that paid off for Potulny, as the Wildcats clawed their way to a 2-1 road win over the Lakers Saturday.
Northern alum Dallas Drake applauded Potulny’s action.
“I thought it was a ballsy move,” said Drake, now a youth hockey coach in Traverse City. “The inmates don’t run the asylum.”
Drake went on to recall how his former coach Rick Comley sat leading scorer Scott Beattie and top-three defenseman Lou Melone to send a message to the Wildcats back in 1991. That squad went on to win a national championship.
One reason Potulny could risk scotching his roster Saturday was his last line of defense — senior netminder Atte Tolvanen.
“We go into every game knowing he will give our team a chance to win,” Potulny said. The fabulous Finn has given up one goal or less in five games, stealing conference wins at Bowling Green and Lake Superior. “Our most consistent performer.”
Falcon Family Night In Plymouth
The visitors bench was a tad crowded at USA Hockey Arena on Thanksgiving eve. Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron wasn’t sure who to dress in their high-end exhibition against the U-18 national team, so he said screw it, and dressed everyone.
If this isn’t team bonding, I don’t know what is. pic.twitter.com/6umqQuASzi— BGSUHockey.com (@BGSUHockeySite) November 22, 2018
“We thought, ‘Let’s have some fun before Thanksgiving as a family, and see how we do,’” Bergeron said. “Why would you not want everybody involved? We looked at it as our 26 players, our family.”
So the extended family of Falcon hockey went out and did something Notre Dame, Michigan and Harvard couldn’t do this year: beat the teenage Wunderkinds 5-4.
“They’re the best 2001-born kids out there,” Bergeron said. “I thought we had a great effort.”
The No. 12-ranked Falcons get to rest and digest for nine days before taking on the Chargers down in Huntsville, Alabama.
Tolvanen was again brilliant Tuesday night in South Bend, as Northern battled national No. 8 Notre Dame into overtime before finally falling 2-1. The Wildcats tying goal was scored by none other than Darien Craighead, primary assist to Beaulieu.
“They both had good bounce-back efforts,” Potulny said. “I thought our team competed hard all game.”
The scoresheet showed a 7-2 differential in penalties against NMU, including a decisive call in OT.
“It’s hard to get in an offensive groove when you have to kill seven penalties,” said Potulny, boarding the bus for the long haul back to the U.P.
Next up for the ‘Cats? A week of practice in preparation for a rematch of last year’s WCHA championship game, a home-and-home showdown with first place Michigan Tech.
The affable Tom Serratore was beaming in his post-game interview with Brian “Schultzy” Schultz after knocking off then-No. 3 Minnesota State on Saturday.
“I’m so proud of our guys, we played our hearts out,” gushed Serratore, whose Beavers just got through a hellish stretch that included then-No. 2 St. Cloud and the Mavericks. “We were 4-1-1 in our first six, and we’re 2-4 in our last six, and we’ve played a lot better in our last six games when we’re 2-4.”
The Beavers are now two places outside the USCHO top 20 rankings, and head to Houghton this weekend for a showdown with first-place Michigan Tech. Success in Copper Country could vault the Beavers into the national spotlight.
Lake State’s Steve Ruggiero is a classic defensive defenseman: “Take the man, not the puck” has been his career mantra. In his first 39 Division I games he never scored a single goal. Earlier this month he finally broke the schneid with a clutch tally against Michigan, kicking off an eight-game stretch in which he lit the lamp three times. What gives?
“It sounds cliché, but I just think when I take care of the D zone, the offense will come,” Ruggiero said. “It’s a bonus for a guy like me. Hopefully a couple more to come.”
Tim Rappleye is the author of "Jack Parker's Wiseguys" and the forthcoming book: "Hobey Baker, Upon Further Review," set for release in November. He can be reached @TeeRaps.