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This Week in the CCHA

College Hockey:
This Week in the CCHA: January 3, 1997

CCHA PREVIEW: Dec. 4-7, 1996

CCHA Preview: Dec. 4-7, 1996 by Paula C. Weston

The CCHA begins the second half of the season quietly, with only two two-game conference series and three teams facing competition from conference-leading non-CCHA teams.

It’s no surprise that Michigan won its ninth straight Great Lakes Invitational Tournament. We know what this is for the rest of the CCHA: bad news. Michigan will undoubtedly use this matter of pride as a jumping-off point for the second half of the season. Since the Wolverines beat Ferris State 11-1 on New Year’s Eve, they start the second half of the CCHA season with the GLI title, an Around the Rinks/USCHO first-place ranking, and, with 19 points, second place in the CCHA.

Miami is still first in the CCHA at 20 points. They travel to Notre Dame for one tough game. Fifth in the ATR/USCHO poll, Miami has played close games with Notre Dame this season, in spite of the distance between them in the standings.

Lake Superior State is tied for second in the CCHA with the Michigan State Spartans. Both teams are ranked in the top ten:- Michigan State eighth, Lake Superior tenth. Lake Superior travels to Columbus for two games with the inconsistent Buckeyes, who remain tied for last in the CCHA with eight points.

Rounding out the schedule this week is non-conference play. Western Michigan hosts a two-game series against third-ranked North Dakota. Notre Dame has one game against Mankato State, which tops the independents. Michigan plays host to Cornell, tied for first place in the ECAC.

Hang on, CCHA fans. With just a few points separating the top four teams, several squads have a legitimate shot at the league title. With just two points separating the fourth-place team and the last-place team, anyone can make the playoffs.

Idle Alaska-Fairbanks and Michigan State resume CCHA play Jan. 10.

Last week’s record in picks: 10-11 Overall record in picks: 43-32

Bowling Green (8-10-2, 4-8-2 CCHA) at Ferris State (8-13-1, 5-9-0 CCHA) January 3 & 4, 7 p.m., Robert L. Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, MI

Here is an opportunity for either team to make that first critical step away from the middle of the CCHA pack. Of course, that’s what this writer said a few weeks ago, when Bowling Green and Western played. That game ended up tied, and no one gained any ground.

That’s probably what will happen here. Neither team won a game in holiday tournament play. In the RPI Marine Midland Holiday Hockey Tournament, Bowling Green lost a 5-4 overtime first-round game to Brown, and lost again by the same score to Mass-Amherst in the consolation game. Ferris State lost 8-4 to Ohio State in the Friday game of the Pepsi College Hockey Tournament, then lost to Western Michigan 3-1 in the consolation.

These teams are relatively evenly matched, with some very similar problems. Both teams need to score more goals, because neither has solid goaltending.

For the Falcons, Mike Savard has an .876 save percentage and a goals-against average of 3.31 per game in 10 games. That doesn’t sound bad, but Bowling Green has won only four conference games. Bob Petrie is allowing 4.06 goals per game for the Falcons, and has a save percentage of .854. Jason Piwko started in goal for the Falcons during the Western game; his GAA is 5.08, and his save percentage .782 for one game.

For the Bulldogs, not much is better. Mike Szkodzinski has the best GAA (3.55) and save percentage (.873) for Ferris State. Jeff Blashill started for Ferris State against the Buckeyes in the tournament, but was pulled after the first period in favor of Roger Wilsey. Blashill’s save percentage is .841, and he’s allowing 4.14 goals per game. Wilsey has played only two games — both non-conference– – with a save percentage of .783 and a GAA of 4.80.

Says Falcon head coach Buddy Powers, "One of our goalies just has to start playing like we know he can. When we allow 20 shots on goal, we have to start playing better defensive hockey."

Ferris State has a psychological edge for this series. Bowling Green isn’t used to losing this many games. Says Powers, "This series begins our final run for the league position. We’ve got to keep plugging away and plugging away."

Bowling Green will get some help soon when Brett Punchard comes back from an injury, but that won’t be this weekend.

PICKS: Friday, Ferris State 4-3; Saturday, Bowling Green 5-2

Lake Superior State (13-8-1, 8-4-0 CCHA) at Ohio State (5-14-0, 4-8-0 CCHA) January 4 & 5, 2 p.m., Ohio Exposition Center (formerly Fairgrounds Coliseum), Columbus, OH

This Lake Superior team blanked Michigan State 5-0 in the first round of the Great Lakes Invitational. This Ohio State team stood on its head during an 8-4 victory over Ferris State in the first round of the Pepsi tournament. Both teams lost their championship games. The similarities end there.

Lake Superior has outscored its opponents 54-46 in league play, while Ohio State has yet to hit the 46-goal mark. A large part of the Lakers’ success is the combination of a team offensive leader in Jason Sessa and smart goaltending by John Grahame.

With 24 points, Sessa is tied with UAF’s Cody Bowtell for points in CCHA play. Unlike Bowtell, Sessa has a plus-minus rating of 15. Other offensive leaders for the Lakers are among the mere mortals of the CCHA. Bates Battaglia and Bryan Fuss each have 15 points, which is just one more point than the Buckeye-leading pair of Pierre Dufour and Ryan Root.

Grahame made a total of 57 saves in the GLI to earn him CCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors. Grahame is allowing 3.45 goals per game in league play, in a league where every goalie but the top three is allowing at least three per game.

It’s no secret that the Buckeyes are hurting defensively, especially in the nets. First-year goalies Tom Connerty and Ray Aho are each giving up more than four goals per game. Connerty, the starter, has a save percentage of .823 in CCHA play.

Still, the Buckeyes have shown signs of life on the offensive side. Senior co-captain Chad Power (LW) had ten points for the Pepsi tournament, and was named tournament MVP in spite of the Buckeyes’ loss in the championship game. He was also named the CCHA Offensive Player of the Week; hence, this series pits the reigning league Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week.

Power had a hat trick in the first game, scoring short-handed, on the power play, and at full strength. He’s the only Buckeye on the roster to have a hat trick, and this was his second. His first was against Guelph last season; neither counted in CCHA play.

The outcome of this weekend depends a whole lot on which Buckeye team shows up. Says Buckeye head coach John Markell, "We have to keep ourselves in both games. We have to feel like we can win a game. A lot is going to hinge on how we play. Are we going to have a consistent effort from the forwards back to the goaltending?" That’s the big question.

Maybe the Buckeyes can exploit the Lakers’ weakness on special teams. Maybe.

PICKS: Saturday, Lake Superior 7-2; Sunday, Ohio State 6-5

Miami (15-5-0, 10-2-0 CCHA) at Notre Dame (5-12-1, 4-8-1 CCHA) January 3, 7 p.m., JACC, South Bend, IN

In the first two meetings between these teams this season, Miami won by just a goal in each. On Oct. 26, Notre Dame held Miami scoreless through the first two periods; Miami scored twice early in the third, and the final score was 2-1. On Nov. 23, the score was tied at three apiece until Miami’s Dustin Whitecotten scored with 40 seconds remaining in the game. Clearly, Notre Dame plays this league-leading Miami team hard.

In this final regular-season meeting between the two teams, Miami can expect much of the same. "We played them twice already, and both games came down to the wire," says Dave Lassonde, assistant coach at Miami. "Both were one-goal games, both games very even from start to finish. We can expect both teams will get good goaltending. This game will be hard work. Notre Dame is a very hard-working team."

Notre Dame is getting very good goaltending from Matt Eisler, whose respectable .889 save percentage and 3.45 GAA put him seventh in the league. But Miami has the whole package. Trevor Prior is Miami’s hot goalie now, with a .896 save percentage and a remarkable 2.25 GAA. But their "backup" isn’t bad; Adam Lord has a .904 save percentage and a 2.48 GAA.

Then there’s Randy Robitaille, whose 22 points put him near the top of the CCHA stats. And then there’s Miami’s special teams. Miami is third in the CCHA on the power play, and second on the penalty kill.

This one will be close, but Miami sweeps the season series.

PICK: Miami 3-2

North Dakota (12-4-2, 11-4-1 WCHA) at Western Michigan (8-8-2, 4-6-2 CCHA) January 3 & 4, 7 p.m., Lawson Ice Arena, Kalamazoo, MI

North Dakota comes to Kalamazoo after taking three points from Boston University, winning 6-4 on Dec. 27, and tying 2-2 the next day. North Dakota has climbed in the national rankings — and risen to the top of the WCHA — behind some exciting offense from Dave Hoogsteen and Jason Blake, who are tied for first in the WCHA with 23 points. Solid goaltending from Toby Kvalevog, whose save percentage of .872 and GAA of 3.09 make him fifth in the WCHA, has made this team hard to beat.

Western Michigan has struggled this season, but its overall record tells the story of a team that can win games. Western lost to St. Lawrence 5-3 in the opening round of the Pepsi Holiday Hockey Tournament, a game in which the Broncos outshot their opponents 32-26. In the consolation game, Ferris State outshot Western Michigan 32-16, but the Broncos won 3-1.

Western has been struggling with several issues this season. The sudden loss of star goaltender and CCHA Rookie of the Year Marc Magliarditi before the season began, and the lack of offensive firepower, has Western still languishing in the middle of the CCHA standings.

North Dakota has a chance to show the CCHA why it’s third in the country by sweeping Western Michigan in Western’s house in this non-conference series.

PICKS: North Dakota 5-3, 4-3

Cornell (8-3-1, 6-2-1 ECAC) at Michigan (12-6-0, 9-2-0 CCHA) January 7, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI

Michigan is certainly a beatable team. With a total of six losses, the Wolverines are not invulnerable.

But tell that to Ferris State. In an 11-1 romping over the Bulldogs on New Year’s Eve, the Wolverines scored six times on the power play, once short-handed, and once 4-on-4 (in addition to the full-strength goals). Starting Michigan goaltender Marty Turco was replaced after two periods, when the score was 6-0. Backups Greg Malicke and Greg Daddario both saw play in the third period.

Apparently, that ninth straight championship in the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament gave the Wolverines that extra-special boost going into the second half of the season.

Cornell has a boost of its own, winning the Syracuse Invitational Championship with a 4-3 overtime win over Providence in the first round and a 4-1 win over Merrimack in the championship game. The Big Red are tied with Princeton for first in the ECAC. Cornell has some impressive goaltending in Jason Elliot, whose .917 save percentage and 2.50 GAA lead the league.

PICK: Michigan 7-2

Notre Dame (5-12-1, 4-8-1 CCHA) at Mankato State (7-11-2 overall, 4-7-1 against D-I) January 7, 7 p.m., Mankato Civic Center, Mankato, MN

Mankato State can play good hockey. On the 30th, Mankato lost 4-2 to Miami, but the Mavericks didn’t go quietly. Down 3-0 in the second, sophomore Tyler Deis (RW) scored two unanswered goals – his 17th and 18th of the season- to pull the Mavericks within one.The Irish and the Mavericks may have something in common, something over which they may bond for this game; depending on the outcome of the Notre Dame-Miami game, both teams could have lost to Miami in their most recent contests.

PICK: Mankato State 3-2

Paula C. Weston is the CCHA Correspondent for US College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1996 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.

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