Several years of being a neutral observer in the college hockey world has largely blotted out the Northern Michigan tendencies learned in my youth, but sometimes old habits die hard. On the sidelines at a game (basketball, too), when the scoreboard reads "1:00," I often catch myself saying "Last minute of play in this period."
Tim McIntosh at the Berry Events Center and, before that, Lakeview Arena, is the public address announcer for NMU hockey, and that's where I learned the phrase.
As both a hockey fan and the student public address announcer at Gwinn High School, there was a fair amount of emulation going on.
Ask my co-workers - I'm something of a loudmouth, but other than an autumn working with Central Michigan University's volleyball team, the microphone has largely been put away. Until last Saturday.
The Calumet Wolverines had need of a guest PA for Saturday's game and I had need of a weekend activity. Last weekend was that one weekend a season in which it seemed like everyone was off or on the road, and I don't self-entertain well, so I took the job.
Player introductions went well - until one of the Fond du Lac players didn't skate out to the blue line when his name was called. I was later told that he was the correct starter and that he just didn't go out there. I also apparently had the wrong visiting goaltender, but everything sounded good and I didn't crack on the high note for the national anthem. Success!
Michigan Tech at Minnesota State
There has been much fearful discussion of this weekend's series at Minnesota State being, given Tech's success in Duluth last week and Winter Carnival next week, a trap. However, no one seems to be sleeping on the Mavericks, who may be in 11th in the WCHA Standings, but who have split each of their first four series of 2012. Still, for the first time in a long time, this is a road series the Huskies will be expected to sweep. Saturday will be a tough one, but I've got Tech heading home with four critical points and a prized sixth-place position in the WCHA standings on Sunday morning.
The Verdict: Tech 4-2, 3-2
Bemidji State at Nebraska-Omaha
The Beavers may have owned UNO last season, but it didn't appear to have carried over when UNO took three of four points from their first series of the season in Bemidji. Now, the teams meet in Omaha. Both sides have been inconsistent, making this a hard series to pick. UNO hasn't swept a series since October and Bemidji's only consecutive league wins of the season were against Tech on the same weekend (Oct. 21-22). Looks like a split.
The Verdict: BSU 3-2 Friday, UNO 6-3 Saturday
St. Cloud State at Wisconsin
This is essentially an elimination series in the race for home ice. Neither one has a good chance, but if either team gets swept, they could be as many as five points behind sixth place and have two fewer games to play. Wisconsin has been excellent (11-4-1) at home - it's the 1-8-1 road record that's been the problem. Since SCSU (3-9-1 outside of St. Cloud) isn't much better, this isn't a hard call.
The Verdict: UW sweeps 4-2, 4-1
Colorado College vs. Denver
Consider this: if Tech sweeps in Mankato and UNO takes three points or less from Bemidji, the Huskies could climb as high as a fourth-place tie in the WCHA after this weekend's games, depending upon the result of this home-and-home in Colorado. Both the Pioneers and Tigers are on the outskirts of the WCHA race. Denver's done its part, responding to its loss to Alabama-Huntsville with five straight wins, while CC is a tad, failing to win back-to-back games since a sweep of Minnesota St. in December (CC was idle last weekend). I'll take the hot hand.
The Verdict: DU sweeps, 6-4, 4-2
Minnesota-Duluth at Alaska-Anchorage
If Twitter is to be believed, the Bulldogs earned themselves a few "Herbies" after their performance against Michigan Tech. If they blow this series, well, then it's time to get a little nervous. UAA got swept last weekend by Denver and now stands firmly in last in the WCHA. UMD on the other hand, may trail Minnesota by five points in the league standings, but the Gophers are idle this weekend and have the harder schedule. There's still lots to play for, and after this weekend, UMD will be right back in it.
The Verdict: UMD sweeps, 5-2, 6-2
Last weekend: 7-2-1
For the season: 92-59-15
The Bears and Wolverines played a tight game with Fond du Lac leading 3-1 at the midway point when the moment I dreaded occurred at 12:10 of the second period.
Michael H. Babcock, former Daily Mining Gazette sportswriter, played for the Wolverines throughout his tenure here. In fact, it was he who got me the gig. However, he's often too busy 'making friends' on the ice to get his name called, and that was OK. We're supposed to report the news, not make it, but I'm willing to be flexible. Everyone needs exercise and a night off now and then, right?
We had a deal that if he did something noteworthy during his DMG tenure, I'd refer to him as "Mike" in the story. My goal was to convince one reader that Michael H. Babcock, DMG Sports Writer, and Mike Babcock of the Wolverines weren't the same guy.
Well, at 12:10, he scored. The quintessential garbage goal, but they all count.
"WOLVERINES GOAL! Scored by Number 20...Michael H. Babcock!"
They are one and the same, though I thought about crediting it to the wrong guy or pronouncing his name wrong on purpose.
This wasn't all about dulcet tones and showing off - there was real work to do. I had to keep the scoresheet and operate the penalty box door, too. They turned on the goal siren as well, but I can only keep so many plates spinning simultaneously - I forgot to use it for the first two Wolverines goals. When the staff got annoyed that I hadn't used it yet, I made sure to press the foot pedal when the team came out for the third period as a make-up. Then Calumet scored again, and I forgot again. Oops.
I didn't have to say Babcock's name again, because somehow he didn't get a penalty. He also didn't score the game-tying goal and Fond du Lac got the 4-3 victory.
Last minute of reading in this column.
I had a blast for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fun of a Saturday night at the rink that didn't include note-taking, interviews and box scores. Sometimes it gets lost in the shuffle for us sportswriters.
During post-game festivities at Luigi's in Calumet, Jeff Erkkila said something very profound and I want to give him credit for it:
"The best thing about hockey is that when hockey's over, winter's over."
There's a lot of winter to go, but there's a lot of hockey to go too. Many minutes of play remaining.
Brandon Veale can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/redveale. For this week's WCHA?picks, check out this column on mininggazette.com.