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Tuesday @ The Rink With Paula Weston

Welcome to CollegeSports.com and USCHO's "Tuesday At The Rink" series of moderated chats.

This week's guests are USCHO CCHA columnist Paula Weston at 2:00 p.m. ET, CSTV's Steve Schlanger at 3:00 p.m. ET and CCHA Commissioner Tom Anastos at 4:00 pm ET. Come for one, stay for all!

At The Rink

Although not the original CCHA Correspondent for USCHO, Paula Weston kicked that guy to the curb in the publication's infancy, and has been covering the CCHA for USCHO since the second month that USCHO became a reality, in the fall of 1996.

Paula got her start covering the three Ohio CCHA teams for Michigan's Hockey Weekly prior to joining USCHO, and in her decade of college hockey coverage has contributed stories to the Montreal Gazette, ESPN.com, and to dailies and weeklies throughout the CCHA coverage area. She also wrote for the Blue Jackets Beat, published by the Columbus NHL franchise, and is currently hockey editor for The Ozone.

In her other life, Paula has taught college-level writing for 17 years, and currently teaches at Columbus State Community College.

CollegeSports.com Moderator: Hello everyone and welcome to another session of Tuesday @ The Rink. We have a tripleheader for you today and ready to go with our first guest, USCHO CCHA columnist Paula Weston.
Paula Weston: Hello college hockey fans! I hope the weather today where you are is every bit as gorgeous as it is here in central Ohio -- sunny and 64 degrees.

Peter (Rochester): MSU has had an up and down season but they seem to play the better teams tough. Do you think they could do some damage in the CCHA tournament and get into the NCAA's?
Paula Weston: I think that they can do some damage in the CCHA tournament and get into the NCAA tourney, yes. They are inconsistent, and certainly Vicari can win them games. I do not think, however, that they will advance far in the NCAA tourney if invited.

Bill Denning, Houston: Paula, you've written several times about the chants that some Michigan fans use at Yost. As a Michigan native, I'm ashamed of their behavior, and I don't think it's just students; some of them look like they're 30 years old. But it's not limited to UM hockey fans, there are other schools that have organized taunting of opponents. Here in Texas, for example, a lot of Texas and Texas A&M baseball fans engage in it. Why do you think that people put so much childish energy into taunting their opponents? Why can't they just root for their own team in a positive way?
Paula Weston: You're asking me to answer a question that I just can't. Why can't people be nice? *laugh* Niceness is underrated -- but cleverness is in very short supply, an even bigger "sin" in my opinion in the world of sports, college sports in particular. It take no brains to be vulgar, takes nothing to swear -- as someone with a potty mouth myself, I know this -- but takes more than what people seem to be capable of these days to taunt in a way that is interesting. Yes, you want the kind of environment that Yost has -- it's fantastic, without the vulgarity -- but you want it to reflect some sort of intelligence, too. Oh, if you really want my opinion, people don't read, people don't think for themselves, and, and, and...well, in my other life I'm an English teacher, so you've hit a sore spot.

Battle Creek Michigan: What do you think are NMU's (hardest working team in hockey) chances of getting into the tournament?
Paula Weston: I think NMU needs to keep winning to get into the tourney, and they do have a chance of taking the Super Six title and its autobid. I know I dubbed them "the hardest working team in college hockey" years ago, but I wasn't completely impressed with their effort when I saw them early in the season. They may have been having an off weekend, though. They have GREAT defense, and Tarkki can win them nearly any game they're in.

Jessi (St. Ignace, MI): What's the deal with my Lakers? One night, they look awesome beating Miami, and the next night they come out and give up five power-play goals in the first period. What gives?
Paula Weston: The Lakers -- one of my favorite teams in the CCHA. They are a complex creature. Frank Anzalone is an interesting, earnest man who has had success everywhere he's coached. He's also lost nearly every job he's had. His personality isn't one that everyone likes, but I do think it will work in the Soo -- again. There are a couple of issues. He's rebuilding, and reformatting hockey in Sault Ste. Marie. Give him a couple of years; he doesn't have the players yet that he wants. Also, playing in Sault Ste. Marie -- coaching there -- must be a nightmare. It's a great little town, but it's sort of like living in a fishbowl. The scrutiny must be incredible, the pressure. And third, Anzalone is coaching the same way he did in 1988, and what remains to be seen is whether that will work nearly 20 years later. A lot has changed in college hockey. If Anzalone can keep what works and adjust to the rest, he'll have success there. Don't forget how hard it is to recruit to the Soo, either, and the recruting battle with other Michigan teams.

Byron (Climax, Sask): Will OSU's Caruso get any rest or is he gonna be run the rest of the way?
Paula Weston: Caruso is much better than I expected. He has 20 wins -- and he has absolutely won games for OSU -- so I think he's got the stuff. He's steady and is seldom rattled. He also has a fantastic D-corps in front of him. Just don't ask him to sing. Ever. And, no, Caruso probably won't get any rest -- to really answer that question -- but Keserich is mighty good. I think he can win games, too. I think the philosophy at OSU is to ride the horse that started the race. He can do it.

Steve (Detroit): With only two ranked teams and two in the top of the Pairwise, is the CCHA as weak as in recent memory? Why is that?
Paula Weston: What a great question! I wish I had a great answer. I think the CCHA has returned to a two-team, three-tier, kind-of-year -- although it may be an anomoly. Comley and Kyle are in their third years at their respective institutions, so give them some time to accomplish what they need to do. Miami? I don't know what's going on there. Notre Dame, who also made it to the NCAA tourney last year? I have no clue. (See how useful I am?) One thing that strikes me is that the CCHA is at the forefront of the changes in officiating, and even though I can't quite put my finger on why, this may be changing the way league teams are playing -- certainly not the same style as other leagues -- and that may have something to do with it. And given how the CCHA performed in the NCAA tournament last year, maybe last year was the fluke, not this one. It's clear that two big-name, big-money schools have an edge this season, but how is that different from seasons past. Switch out OSU for the dominant MSU of years past, and it seems like old times.

Greg, Marquette, MI: Hey Paula, love the column. What do you thing Toumas Tarrki's chances are of making it into final three for Hobey Baker consideration, let alone taking home the trophy?
Paula Weston: You love the column? Really? I'm having a Sally Field moment....Thanks! I think it's extraordinarily difficult for a goaltender to win the Hobey Baker Award, although I don't know why, given how good college goaltending is right now and how visible college goaltenders are. I think for a goalie to take the Hobey Baker, he'd have to be the best goaltender in college hockey -- Ryan Miller, for example, who was, in my opinion, the best player whenever he was on the ice -- and as good as Tarkki is, he is among the best, but probably not the best. Given that the Hobey Baker has become sort-of the Heisman Trophy of college hockey -- not taking into account many of the original criteria -- it will be interesting to see how the committee selects its top candidates, and who wins. Tarkki is certainly a top-10 in my book, but if the committee sticks to original criteria -- actually revises its own intent -- I think BGSU's Jordan Sigalet has a better chance.

Mike (Columbus, OH): What do you think of the fan voting results for the Hobey Baker? Would Jordan Sigalet be at the top of the list if he hadn't announced he has MS earlier this season?
Paula Weston: I have mixed feelings Jordan Sigalet as a candidate. No, if he hadn't announced his MS this season -- a very, very brave thing to do, given where he is and what he wants to do with his life -- I do not think he would be considered a candidate. Here's where my feelings are mixed. Sigalet is a very good goaltender -- one of the best in the conference -- and a terrific young man. If the Hobey committee decides to go with the original intent of the award -- leadership, all-around character, things of that nature -- I can't imagine a better candidate. But -- and I'm going to get myself into trouble here, but I don't care -- I have difficulty with an athletic department promoting someone *because of* an illness, and that's some of what it feels like with this. Scott Paluch is a wonderful coach and really class act, and Paul Krebs -- the BGSU atheletic director -- has more integrity than most people I know. It still feels a little "off" to me, for lack of a better word. Then there's the Hobey Committee. They could choose -- legitimately -- to give Sigalet the award based on real criteria, or they could give him the award to make themselves feel good (they will look good by doing so), or they could award it to the best player in college hockey, as they have been for years, and that wouldn't be Sigalet, as good as he is. Sticky situation that gives me a headache.
Paula Weston: Maybe, though, my difficulty with it has more to do with me than the situation. Or, maybe it reflects both how far we've come -- acceptance of disclosure of illness, etc. -- and how far we still have to go, as a society.

John (Evansville): What do you think happened to Notre Dame? Is there any hope here? It seems like every year is a disappointment.
Paula Weston: Is there any hope with Notre Dame? Not this season. I really like Dave Poulin both personally and professionally. He's an articulate guy, and I admire the way he's talked about his struggles with college coaching in the past. This year really was the litmus test, though, wasn't it? Their first NCAA tourney appearance -- and they played respectably well in Grand Rapids -- and losing that important senior class...they really needed to follow up, and they didn't. I don't know why Poulin is struggling the way he is. He's got some great players, he has a very good coaching staff -- I just don't know. If he doesn't lose his job after this season, I think he never will. And let me hasten to add that I don't ever want to see someone lose a job.

Larry (Lansing): Did you ever imagine that the Lakers and Spartans would be tied on Feb. 15?
Paula Weston: No, I never imagined that the Lakers and Spartans would be tied on Feb. 15.

Fred (Detroit): What is the best rink to see a game in the CCHA? Worst?
Paula Weston: There are only two rinks that I haven't seen yet -- the Carlson Center in Fairbanks and the new Qwest Center in Omaha. I am partial to the little barns. I like Yost -- in spite of the profanity -- I like BGSU's arena, I like Ewigleben in Big Rapids, Lawson in Kalamazoo. These are great little barns, where fans and the band can raise the rafters. I think Yost is my favorite because of its architecture -- old field house -- the amazing fans, the program that Coach Berenson has built, and the rockin' band. The worst place, in my opinion, is the Joyce Center, where Notre Dame plays. The fans are great, but the building -- the rink is one-half of a field house, curtained off -- is a real liability for the Irish. The old OSU rink was something in its last season -- an ice surface way too short for regulation -- but it was loud. Personally, I like the Schott because it's five minutes from my apartment and I no longer have climb a ladder into the press box, as I did in the old OSU rink. Also, I don't have to actually leave the building to use the restroom. Oh -- I love Goggin Arena, and am looking forward to the new facility in Oxford; it should be small, intimate, and updated.

Greg in Kalamazoo: What are your thoughts on why WMU is so surprisingly bad this season? Do you think Culhane's job is at stake?
Paula Weston: Ironically, I don't think that WMU is "surprisingly bad" this season. Next to Michigan and Ohio State, the Broncos have the best forwards in the league -- perhaps some of the most skilled and creative forwards in the country. What's missing there is an update on defense. I don't think the Broncos are playing a style that helps them much, given how nearly every other team in the league -- LSSU excepted, of course -- has entered the 21st Century. A better defensive system and stronger goaltending, and WMU is right up there -- and I mean up there. I'd hate to see Culhane lose his job. I don't necessarily see that happening, but I don't know that university particularly well.

Henry (Simsbury, CT): Some friends and I are trekking to Columbus for the Frozen Four. Give us some scoop on the scene - what can we expect?
Paula Weston: Well, you're not coming to my place! I don't have time to clean for guests during playoff hockey! Columbus is a great town in which to have a very good time. The Schott is close to campus but not much else; the real action in Columbus is either in the Arena District or in one of its many great neighborhoods. If you're driving, you can expect to get around fairly easily, although I think traffic going into the Schott is going to be a nightmare, based on personal experience -- they'll get you out of there fast though. For entertainment purposes, you can have nearly anything you want in Columbus, from family entertainment -- great zoo, museum, science center (COSI) downtown -- to more grown-up fare, including sports bars, goth bars, pool halls. Columbus has everything. The MetroParks system is beautiful and convenient. It's a very pretty city, and the weather should be better here than it is in most FF cities (it's further south than you think). Don't expect good mass transport; the bus system runs. Every conceivable type of food is available in Columbus. If the NHL is playing, then you'll get a taste of the big-league town that Columbus is at least 40 nights per year when people making more money than either you or I can dream of aren't arguing about more money than either you or I will ever see.

Sean (South Lyon,MI): With the season getting ready to wrap up soon, who do you believe should receive All-CCHA honors?
Paula Weston: Great question! Forwards: Brent Walton (WMU), Jeff Legue (FSU), Rod Pelley (OSU). Defensemen: Jamie Milam (NMU), Sean Collins (OSU); Goaltender: Tuomas Tarkki (NMU). Of course that will never happen -- there's no one from UM or MSU on my list.
CollegeSports.com Moderator: That is all we have time for with Paula.
Paula Weston: Everyone, thanks very much for chatting today. I really enjoyed it. Please, if you make it to Columbus for the Frozen Four, make sure you say hello to the USCHO staff. Better yet, buy us beer. And thanks, CSTV, for this. It was fun.
CollegeSports.com Moderator: There are lots of questions we did not get to, but we still have two more chats this afternoon. So if you want, please re-submit your questions.
CollegeSports.com Moderator: We'll be back in just a few minutes with CSTV's Steve Schlanger. See you at the top of the hour.

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