Last weekend the CCHA got under way with a number of interesting matches. Miami got off to a solid start, sweeping Alaska-Fairbanks three straight games on the road. Michigan overpowered perennial Hockey East foe Maine 3-0 at the Joe, only to watch as Maine trounced Lake Superior the following day 7-4. Maine forward Dan Shermerhorn scored a hat trick in the second period to put the Lakers to rest.
Clarkson’s offense proved too strong for Ohio State’s freshman goalies, and Notre Dame and Western tied 3-3 in a tough game, signaling the parity that pervades this strong league. Michigan State got the best of WMU 3-1 the following evening, and Bowling Green indicated that the CCHA may be the dominant conference early on, displaying its firepower to the dismay of Boston College fans.
This weekend will be a telling one, as Bowling Green and Lake Superior face off in the Soo for two. Ferris State and Notre Dame will make their I-70 swing through Ohio State and Miami, which will determine who will take the upper hand in the standings early on. Michigan will get their road trip to Alaska out of the way, and Michigan state will meet Hockey East rivals Boston College and Bruce Crowder’s Northeastern team on a trip out east.
I tried to pick conservatively last week, and as anyone with half a brain knows, to pick winners in a competitive league is not a lot of fun. The strength of the offenses surprised me, as goaltenders are usually dominant this time of year. But, with my record at 7-5, I will try to make amends this week.
Here is a look at the games:
Michigan (3-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (0-5-0, 0-3-0 CCHA) Thursday, Friday, 7:00 p.m., Carlson Center, Fairbanks, Alaska
The Nanooks did moderately well against Miami in their home opener, despite losing. The offense struggled to only four goals in three games, and the power play has scored only once in 18 attempts.
Michigan does well to get this trip out of the way early. With a defense as strong as its offense, and a penalty kill unit which has stopped all seven attempts against it, this team should not lose. They gave up only 20 shots to Maine, and Alaska-Fairbanks is no Maine.
Pick: Michigan sweeps, Friday 6-2 and Saturday 7-1
Bowling Green (4-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Lake Superior (3-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI
Bowling Green hopes this weekend will prove it belongs with the big boys in the league. The Falcons can put it in the net (as Mike Johnson showed last weekend), with Bowling Green scoring 12 against Boston College. But this weekend special teams will come into play for both sides, in their first true league games.
Lake State has something to prove, so Steve Battaglia has to keep putting up numbers. LSSU was only two for eight on the power play against Maine, blew a lead against Northern Michigan, and have struggled five-on-five thus far. Look for a more aggressive forecheck this weekend against rival BGSU; goaltender John Grahame needs to calm his defense down.
Pick: Friday, LSSU 4, BG 4; Saturday BG 5, LSSU 4
Ferris State (3-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Ohio State (0-3-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Ohio State Ice Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Ferris State began with two tune-ups against Western Ontario, and the offense was productive, outshooting and outscoring their rivals, 5-4 and 6-3. The playing is over, as Ferris must do the same thing to the Buckeyes’ young goalies to gain the victory. Ohio State learned something last week: shooting helps.
The Buckeyes must use their size and speed to their advantage, mainly to help protect the goal on the defensive. Freshmen Ray Aho and Tom Connerty need all the help they can get right now. Ohio State did look strong against Clarkson for four of the six periods they played, but they lost the last one in each game, and must not falter late this week. Special teams will be critical to the outcome of this game. OSU must stay out of the penalty box, as misconducts ruined a hopeful weekend against Clarkson.
Pick: OSU 5, FSU 4
Notre Dame (1-0-1, 0-0-1 CCHA) at Ohio State (0-3-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Ohio State Ice Arena, Columbus, Ohio
Notre Dame has all the firepower necessary in young forwards like Ben Simon (though he missed a number of breakaways last weekend), but they still lack a physical presence compared to some teams.
Ohio State has that presence, and must use it to contain the Irish. The Buckeyes led No. 8 Clarkson last week in both games, and must learn to sustain that pressure. Ohio State’s defense cannot continue to surrender as many shots as in their first three games, atotal of 122. Ohio State has an offense to match Notre Dame’s with Pierre Dufour and Brandon LaFrance leading the way.
Pick: OSU 5, Notre Dame 3
Notre Dame (1-0-1, 0-0-1 CCHA) at Miami (4-1-0, 3-0-0) Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, Ohio
Notre Dame again must prove it can play physically against a stingy Miami defense. Goaltending will be a key in this one. Miami has had strong special-teams play thus far, especially killing penalties. The Redskins have killed 17 of 18 attempts.
Juniors Adam Copeland and Tim Leahy and sophomore Randy Robitaille pose a potent offensive threat. Each had three points in Miami’s first game, against Alaska last week. Look for Adam Lord to shut Notre Dame down.
Pick: Miami 6, Notre Dame 2
Ferris State (3-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Miami (4-1-0, 3-0-0 CCHA) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, Ohio
Ferris State, with junior Andy Roach, can use this game as a measuring stick. Ferris lacks depth on offense, and their goaltending has not been tested yet. Special teams will probably be sloppy, and that will cost them against a Miami team that is rolling early.
Miami scored a total of 19 goals in their last four games, but their power play is only around 20 percent. Five-on-five, this may be one of the toughest teams in the league. Adam Lord and Trevor Prior are both experienced enough to last a game like this.
Pick: Miami 5, Ferris 3
Michigan State (2-0-0, 1-0-0 CCHA) at Boston College (0-2-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Conte Forum, Boston, Mass.
Michigan State is going to find out if Steve Ferranti is their leader this week, or Mike York, or Mike Watt — all of them can score. But the power play has not, having converted only one of seven attempts so far. Hint: use the back door! Defensively, they shut Western Michigan down, but after a long trip, allow for a mistake or two.
Boston College, I am afraid, is going to have nightmares early in the season. However, the experience will pay off for them in February. Depth is the problem; sophomore Mary Reasoner might be the best of his class, but he and junior Ken Hemenway will need their linemates to beat MSU. Senior Goalie Grag Taylor is solid, with a 15-16-3 record last season, and could steal this one for Coach York, but I doubt it if Chad Alban is playing on the other end.
Pick: MSU 5, BC 3
Michigan State (2-0-0, 1-0-0 CCHA) at Northeastern (0-0-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East) Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, Mass.
Michigan State will have all they can handle with a new Northeastern system in place, but if they get through the first period, the Spartans will prevail. Size, depth, speed: these things all permeate the MSU lines, whereas their opponents are lacking here and there.
Northeastern is going to be as good as everyone thinks, but not right away. It takes time to build your own team, as Crowder knows well. Four of the five top scorers from last season are gone, leaving Scott Campbell and his 32 points in 1995-96 looking for help.
Pick: MSU 6, NE 2
Copyright 1996 Kirk Koennecke . All Rights Reserved.
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USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.