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March 23, 2005 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 2005-03-23

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Wednesday
March 23, 2005
sports. michigandaily. com
sports@michigandaily.com

Oe RTSigan jailg

11

. . ..................

Pankratz resigns;
Cox is new coach

Weak CCHA

:0

Why

Blue isn't a No.

1

By James V. Dowd
Daily Sports Writer

Just three years removed from Mich-
igan's first women's national champion-
ship in any sport and six months out of an
appearance in the NCAA regional finals,
field hockey coach Marcia Pankratz has
resigned her position, Michigan Athletic
Director Bill Martin announced yester-
day. Pankratz's assistant, Nancy Cox, will
take over permanently.
Despite the program's recent success,
Pankratz said she felt that she was ready
to leave Ann Arbor.
"It is the right time for me to take on the
next exciting challenge in my life," Pan-
kratz said in a statement released by the
Michigan Athletic Department yesterday.
"I am so appreciative and will be forever
grateful for the wonderful opportunity
that I was given here at the University of
Michigan."
Senior Jessica Blake said that the deci-
sion was the right way to go for Pankratz.
"When I heard, I was thinking that,
if Marcia is happy, then it is what's best
for the program," Blake said. "We lost an
amazing coach, but, if she is happy, then
I'm happy."
Despite the disappointment surround-
ing Pankratz's departure, senior Adrienne
Hortillosa said that the standard of success
Pankratz created will help the Wolverines
remain a top program.
"I think (Pankratz) brought the pro-
gram to a new elite level," Hortillosa said.
"She got us to national status and won

a national championship. Her positive
impact is that she created a new high stan-
dard for the program to live up to."
While Pankratz's departure is a big
loss, neither Hortillosa nor Blake said they
believed there will be any decline in the
program's success.
"I definitely think that Nancy has the
tools to take care of the girls and incom-
ing freshmen," Hortillosa said. "She has
coached some of the best players and
developed a good rapport with them. I
would say that the girls will be well off
next year."
Though the standards for success
will be the same, Michigan's style of
play may change.
"I think (the program and game-
play) will change because Marica has
a unique personality," Hortillosa said.
"She has a unique ability to connect to
players to make them be the best that
they can be. Her style is specializing in
attacking because she was a forward as
a player, so the style will change. But the
girls will have (assistant coach Pat Cota)
and (Cox), so they won't be in totally
foreign territory."
Blake said she feels that Cox's
approach is more team-oriented and
less attack-based.
"(Cox) is one of the smartest people and
a smart coach," Blake said. "She sees the
whole field and every player. She coached
at (Ann Arbor Pioneer High School) for
a long time, so she has experience. I have
100-percent faith that (Cox) will lead the
program well. She will lead it differently,

Recently resigned field hockey coach Marcia Pankratz, left, compiled a 147-55 record.

but, hopefully, the change will be benefi-
cial for the program."
Cox said Pankratz's departure was
disappointing for her, as she has worked
under Pankratz for six years - first as a
volunteer coach and then as an assistant
coach after leading Ann Arbor Pioneer
from 1981-99.
"Personally, this is truly a day of mixed
emotions," Cox said. "On one hand, I'm
going to miss the opportunity to continue
my coaching relationship with Marcia,
but to get the chance to become the head
coach at Michigan is a tremendous oppor-

tunity that I've worked incredibly hard to
achieve. I look forward to the challenge."
Like Hortillosa and Blake, Cox is con-
fident that the program is in good hands
and that she will maintain the standard of
success Pankratz established.
"I feel comfortable in taking over the
team that we have in place," Cox said.
"Marcia has built a great program, and
I've been able to be a part of that program.
I feel confident that the program will con-
tinue to grow and progress under the new
coaching staff, and I can't wait for the
2005 season to start."

BRIAN
SCHICK
Schick Happens
Believe it or not, there is
another NCAA Tournament
taking place this weekend.
And no, it's not the women's bas-
ketball tournament, because those
games are on TV.
I'm talking about a tournament that
is even more obscure to Americans
- the hockey tournament. Outside of
New England, college hockey enjoys
success in a few markets, like Ann
Arbor and Minneapolis.
But it turns out that the best hockey
in the country might be out west, and
I'm not talking about the Midwest either
- although Michigan could be con-
sidered to be in the western half of col-
lege hockey teams. As it turns out, I've
always thought that the Western College
Hockey Association (WCHA) was the
best conference in the country. Yes
folks, better than the beloved CCHA.
This season has been no differ-
ent. I don't think it's any secret that
the CCHA is having a down season.
I've thought that the CCHA should
change its acronym to the Crappy
Collegiate Hockey Association
(Zing!). Michigan has remained the
class of the league once again, but it
seems as if there hasn't been a con-
sistent challenger to the Wolverines
over the past few years.
Michigan State used to be the
primary competition for Michigan
but hasn't finished in second place
since 2001-02. This year, the Spar-
tans finished sixth - not exactly a
great finish for the "other" premier
team in the conference. In addi-
tion, a different team has finished
in the top-two positions in the final
conference standings over the last
three years: Ferris State, Miami
and Ohio State. Both Ferris and
Miami saw significant falls from
the top in, the following season as
well. This might be attributed to
parity, but I think it's something
deeper.
Heading out west, the WCHA
always seems to have a number of
teams consistently in the USCHO
poll. This year was no exception.
In the final regular season poll
released last week, five WCHA
teams finished in the poll of the top
15 teams in the county, while just
two from the CCHA were included.
This wasn't a result of play from
conference tournaments; the same
five teams from the WCHA - Den-

ver, Colorado College, Minnesota,
North Dakota and Wisconsin -
have been the cream of the crop all
season long.
Just look at the NCAA Tourna-
ment field. Not surprisingly, all five
of those WCHA teams also made
the tournament. But what is really
impressive is that three of the teams
- Minnesota, Colorado College and
Denver - secured No. 1 seeds in
the tournament as well. And in the
fourth region, North Dakota is a No.
2 seed. So we could potentially see
an all-WCHA Frozen Four in two
weeks.
Michigan has been a lock to
make the tourney for some time, but
Ohio State only made the cut when
it reached the CCHA finals last
weekend. Northern Michigan, which
finished the regular season in third
place, missed its chance to make the
field by losing to Alaska-Fairbanks
in the opening round of the Super
6. Fourth-place Nebraska-Omaha
was never under consideration, as its
overall record was just three games
above .500.
So what does all this have to do
with Michigan in the NCAA Tour-
nament? A lot, actually. Out of all
the 15 teams in the USCHO poll,
Michigan had the 10th best strength
of schedule and the 18th best nation-
ally. Playing in a weak CCHA this
year was the reason Michigan wasn't
a No. 1 seed in the tournament,
despite having fewer losses than any
of the current No. 1 seeds.
While Michigan was beating up
on Notre Dame and Bowling Green
multiple times this season, teams in
the WCHA were constantly facing
off against some of the best teams
in the country week in and week
out. It should be no surprise then
that WCHA teams have reached the
NCAA championship game seven
times over the past 10 years com-
pared to the CCHA's three - two
of which were Michigan's national
titles. In fact, WCHA teams have
won four of the last five NCAA
titles as well.
I know there isn't anything that
Michigan can do about how tough
each of its conference foes can be,
but I will bring up one interesting
point: Michigan was a member of
the WCHA until 1981. So maybe
if the Wolverines wanted some
tougher regular season competition
to help their NCAA seeding, they
could consider pulling a Miami/
Virginia Tech and move to a better
conference.
Until then, we'll just have to
settle for conference titles every
year. Those are nice, but they're not
national titles.
Brian Schick can be reached at
bschick@umich.edu.

'Little t higs' cement Woodford in lineup

By Gabe Edelson
Daily Sports Writer

With 10 seconds left on the clock in last Saturday's
CCHA championship game at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit,
senior Mike Woodford skated to center ice for a faceoff
against Ohio State's Rod Pelley. Michigan was leading
3-2, and the Buckeyes had pulled goalie Dave Caruso
for an extra attacker in an attempt to tie the game and
send it to overtime. A faceoff loss to Pelley would mean
a possible scoring chance for Ohio State, something the
Wolverines could not afford to give up.

But Michigan's center sprung to action.
"The ref dropped it, and I took a whack at it," Woodford
said. "At first, I thought it was going to be icing because I
got a lot on it, but then they waved it off."
Woodford's blast down the ice found senior Jason
Ryznar, who controlled the puck behind the gaping Ohio
State net before bringing his stick around and jamming
home the nail in the coffin - Michigan's fourth goal -
with just half a second left in the game.
"(Woodford) executed it perfectly," Ryznar said of his
linemate's pass. "He hit it past both (defensemen) and per-
fectly down the zone. It was a great play."
The ensuing celebration was unforgettable for Woodford,
who exhibits a healthy dislike for all things Ohio State.
"I've never been very fond of that team or that school
and the way they play and the way they act out on the
ice," Woodford said. "It was a good feeling for me and my
teammates, and there's nothing like seeing your team cel-
ebrate like that after a championship. It was a good end to
a good night."
But part of Woodford's happiness might have come
from the fact that he was on the ice to begin with. Despite
playing in most of the Wolverines' games over his first
three years in Ann Arbor, the senior played in just eight
of Michigan's first 22 tilts this season due to the team's
overwhelming depth at forward. With the addition of high-
scoring freshmen Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter, as well
as the consistent play of other skaters up front, there simply
wasn't room for Woodford on the line chart.
So when junior forward Andrew Ebbett was benched
for a series against Alaska-Fairbanks in mid-January, fol-
lowed by sophomore forwards Mike Brown and David
Rohlfs being sidelined with mononucleosis soon after-
ward, Woodford saw it as an opportunity to re-establish
himself as an everyday player. Since Jan. 14, Woodford
has missed a mere two of the Wolverines' past 18 contests.
Even more impressive, Michigan has just one loss when
Woodford has played during the span.
"The coaches gave me a chance to get into the lineup,"
Woodford said. "I've been trying to take advantage of it.
You look back at the end of the season and probably say, 'I
wish I played more games.' But right now, you just take it
game by game. I'm a senior, and I'm glad I have the oppor-

tunity to be playing. With each game going by, I'm getting
more and more confidence. I'm feeling strong, I'm feeling
healthy and I'm playing with a pretty good guy, (Ryznar).
So it's been going well."
Since the playoffs began, the Westford, Mass. native has
taken his play to new heights. Woodford scored a season-
high two points with a goal and an assist in Michigan's
first postseason game, a 10-1 win over Notre Dame. After
which Michigan coach Red Berenson called him one of
the Wolverines' best players on the ice.
"I thought Woodford was doing all the little things,"
Berenson said. "He was winning faceoffs in our zone, he
was down low helping us defensively and (he was) getting
some offensive chances as well. He was making (his) line
make a difference in that game. That's the kind of hockey
we want to see all our centermen play."
Woodford's productivity doesn't usually come through
scoring, but that's fine by his coaches and teammates.
What's important to them is that Woodford contributes in
the ways he's most effective.
"He chips in a little.bit offensively, but his game can't be
measured by statistics," senior captain Eric Nystrom said.
"He's a heart-and-soul guy. He plays physical, he penalty-
kills, he pays the price and he's playing some of the best
hockey he's played since he's been here. He's just putting it
all on the line, and he's been a huge reason why we've been
successful in the second half of the season."
Woodford has also refrained from pressing too much
when things haven't gone his way.
"He's not trying to play out of his element or out of his
game," senior forward Milan Gajic said. "He's doing what
he has to do to be successful. He's not getting frustrated."
Berenson said he has been pleased with Woodford's
play since he was moved into the regular lineup two
months ago. The coach, for his part, knows that his center
is capable of doing great things for the team.
"(Woodford) is smart with the puck, and he's a smart
two-way player," Berenson said. "He's an intense player.
Whoever his line is, he's the glue on that line."
No surprise, then, that the Wolverines have come
together since Woodford stepped into the lineup. The
once-benched senior seems to have stuck himself on the
ice for good.

JASON COOPER/Daily
Michigan senior Mike Woodford won a critical faceoff
against Ohio State on Saturday.

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