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This Week in the CCHA

College Hockey:
This Week in the CCHA: February 21, 1997

CCHA PREVIEW: Feb. 21-23, 1997 CCHA Preview: Feb. 21-23, 1997 by Paula C. Weston

With just two weeks of regular-season hockey left in the CCHA, several teams are scrambling to make the playoffs. Others are working for NCAA recognition.

The No. 1 Michigan Wolverines held firm to first place last week, beating the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to sweep that season series. This weekend — the last weekend of regular-season play for Michigan’s core of amazing seniors — finds the Wolverines hosting Lake Superior, a team tied for second in the CCHA with Miami.

Last weekend, the Lakers beat Ferris State on Friday, but allowed Michigan State to gain some ground, losing to the Spartans on Saturday. Lake Superior and Miami each have 33 points, and it’s highly unlikely that either team will catch Michigan before the regular season ends.

Miami had a great weekend north of the border, beating both Ferris State and Michigan State. Miami will host its next four games, beginning with a Mid-American Conference rivalry game against Bowling Green on Friday night. Miami then hosts the rubber match of its series with the Spartans on Saturday.

The fourth-place Spartans finish their swing through Ohio with another series-deciding game. This one will be against the Buckeyes; last weekend, the Spartans lost to Miami, and beat Lake Superior.

Fifth-place Bowling Green is coming off a conference win and a non-conference loss. The Falcons beat Western Michigan at home, and lost on the road to the Buckeyes. The Falcons are on the road, but in their home state this weekend — playing Miami on Friday, and Ohio State on Saturday.

Western Michigan lost two conference games last weekend, to Ohio State and Bowling Green. The Broncos had been on quite a tear before the losses. They’ll try to recapture that momentum this weekend in a home-and-home series against Notre Dame.

Ohio State has moved into seventh place, at least for the moment. The Buckeyes surprised Western Michigan, then beat Bowling Green in a non-conference game, both at home. Ohio State will try to extend its four-game win streak when it hosts Bowling Green on Saturday, and Michigan State on Sunday.

Eighth-place Ferris State travels to ninth-place Alaska-Fairbanks to battle for the eighth and final CCHA playoff spot. These three games are the last for either team in the regular season. Ferris lost last weekend to two of the top teams in the conference, Lake Superior and Miami. Alaska-Fairbanks beat Division III leader St. Norbert in two games at home.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are in last place in the CCHA, after losing two games to Michigan last weekend. The Irish want to make the games against Western count this weekend, since they’ll have just one game remaining after this series.

Last week’s record in picks: 7-4 Overall record in picks: 87-62

Lake Superior (19-11-4, 15-7-3 CCHA) at No. 1 Michigan (28-2-3, 19-2-2 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI

These two games will be emotionally charged for both teams — they are the last games Lake Superior will play in the regular season, and the last games the Wolverine seniors will play during the regular season at Yost. Expect tears, and lots of them.

But no one should cry about the matchup itself. Lake Superior at Yost — what a way to end a season!

"When the Lakers go to Yost," says Laker head coach Scott Borek, "the crowd noise is not twice as bad, but it’s at least one and half times as bad as it usually is. What a great test for our team. We’re playing the team most people consider the odds-on favorite in the country to repeat for an NCAA title."

Although the Lakers would like the points, Borek says there’s little pressure on his players. They know they have home ice for the playoffs, they know they can’t catch Michigan, so all they have to do is go to Yost to play their best hockey.

"No matter what we do, Miami and Michigan State can pass us. The pressure’s off us. With only two games left, you can focus on these guys [Michigan] totally. You don’t have to worry about anyone else."

Michigan head coach Red Berenson expects tough games against the Lakers this weekend. The Lakers and the Wolverines have met twice before this season, and both decisions went to Michigan: once for the Great Lakes Invitational title, and then a three-goal victory in a conference game at Joe Louis earlier this month.

"We’ve had good games against them," says Berenson. "I can’t say that we’ve handled them easily. We’ve scored timely goals in close games. It’s important to them to look good at the end of the year."

Berenson says his team is not invulnerable, in spite of only two losses and two ties this season. "We expect this will be a good test for us. We’re like any other team. If we don’t work hard and play together, we don’t play well. We really need our role players to play well as well as our talented players."

Berenson says that most people think of only those graduating seniors and star players when they think of the Wolverines, but if the other players on the team don’t play well, Michigan can — dare we say it? — lose.

"You know the opposition is going to give you that second effort against Michigan," says Berenson, "so you’d better give the second effort [too]."

Michigan is more than a team of talented seniors. Don’t forget junior goaltender Marty Turco, who has logged 1,239 league minutes in the net for the Wolverines while maintaining an astonishing 2.42 goals-against average.

Only a couple of other CCHA goaltenders have matched the time Turco has spent in the net this season, and one of them plays for Lake Superior. Laker John Grahame has 1,478 league minutes, and his GAA is 3.33.

The emotion of Lake Superior’s last regular-season games and the last regular-season home games Michigan’s seniors will play, combined with some veteran CCHA goaltending, should make for great games this weekend in Yost.

PICKS: Michigan 3-2, 4-2

Ferris State (11-21-2, 7-16-1 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (12-20-0, 6-18-0 CCHA) Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 6 p.m., Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK

If you want drama on ice, forget the Ice Capades — this is the real thing. These are the final three regular-season games for both of these teams, and they’re potentially the final three games of the season for each of the these teams. As unlikely as it may be, both teams could miss the playoffs. Both really, really need these points.

The Nanooks are hot right now, having won six of their last seven games. Unfortunately, only one of those was a conference game. The momentum they’ve gained, however, could carry them through this weekend.

The Nanooks will be bolstered by the welcome homecoming of injured player Erik Drygas. As most hockey fans know, Drygas injured his spine during a practice before the beginning of the season, and has spent the last few months in therapy in Colorado. Drygas, a Fairbanks native, will be present at the Ferris series, and there will be a special presentation to him between the second and third periods of the first game against the Bulldogs.

Drygas’ presence alone will lift Nanook spirits.

The Nanooks are getting some nice goaltending from freshman Chris Marvel. Marvel played inconsistently at the start of the season, but has lowered his GAA to 3.87. His save percentage is .871.

The Bulldogs, for their part, don’t know yet which goaltender will get the start Friday. "They’re goaltending has been good lately," says Ferris State assistant coach Drew Famulak. "Our goaltending has been inconsistent. [Jeff] Blashill played well early. [Mike] Szkodzinski played well in the middle. We don’t know who we’ll go with."

Famulak acknowledges that the Bulldogs’ season comes down to this weekend. "Both teams will be battling for the playoffs. Right now we are in the playoffs. Fairbanks could change that for us this weekend."

The Nanooks have 12 points, the Bulldogs 15. Nothing is decided yet. A sweep by either team could mean more than just a playoff spot — it could mean a finish higher than eighth place, and a first round against someone other than Michigan.

"Right now Fairbanks is full of confidence," says Famulak. Ferris State is coming off a two-loss weekend. "We need to concentrate on playing good, solid hockey and creating more scoring opportunities."

Ferris State may be a little overwhelmed by UAF’s Olympic-size ice sheet.

PICKS: UAF 4-2 Friday, Ferris 4-2 Saturday, UAF 5-3 Sunday

Western Michigan (13-14-4, 9-10-4 CCHA) vs. Notre Dame (8-23-1, 5-18-1 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Joyce ACC, South Bend, IN Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Big Rapids, MI

These are two teams that need to rebound. After going 4-2-2 in their games previous to last weekend, the Broncos dropped two league games while traveling through Ohio. They will make the playoffs, but where they finish and who they play may be determined by the games this weekend.

The Irish, on the other hand, are trying to break an eight-game losing streak. With just 11 points and three games left, Notre Dame will have a hard time making the playoffs.

"We’re hanging in, just," says Irish head coach Dave Poulin. "We still have a hope, but we need some help."

The Irish own the series against their closest competitor in the standings, Alaska-Fairbanks. But both Ferris State and Ohio State have the edge in their respective series against the Irish, so it’s going to take more than Notre Dame victories to give the Irish a playoff berth.

Notre Dame had the chance to put some distance between themselves and the Buckeyes in a more positive way two weeks ago. Instead, as Poulin puts it, "We put them on a roll.

"It was very disappointing that weekend [against Ohio State]. We just didn’t respond — flat-out didn’t respond. It was the most pressure we’ve experienced since I’ve come here. You can get away with a couple of people not responding, but when the whole team lacks response, you lose."

The Irish lost two to Michigan last weekend, but Poulin says that his team rebounded from the losses against the Buckeyes to play the Wolverines well in Yost.

Michigan head coach Red Berenson agrees. "Those are games we were expected to win, but we had to work hard to score against [Irish goaltender] Eisler on Friday. He was outstanding. The Irish put themselves in a tough position. They’re a team that’s up-and-coming."

But maybe not this season. Poulin admits that he and his team have a lot to learn, and experience may be the key to this weekend’s games. Western is a team that is more used to winning than is Notre Dame, and they’ve done so more recently.

Just one point behind Bowling Green, Western Michigan has almost as much to gain as the Irish do in this series. Home ice is out of the question at this point, but playoff position can be key. Although who finishes where hasn’t yet been decided, you can bet that Western would rather play the fourth-place team than the third-place team.

PICKS: Western Michigan 4-3, 4-3

Bowling Green (15-14-3, 10-11-3 CCHA) at No. 6 Miami (22-9-1, 16-6-1 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Goggin Arena, Bowling Green, OH

This in-state rivalry pits two schools whose other teams compete in the Mid-American Conference. According to Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni, that revs up an already exciting matchup.

"With Bowling Green," says Mazzoleni, "because we’re MAC schools, our fans get into it. Also, since I’ve come here, they’ve been a very good team. They’ve been a team we’ve been chasing."

The roles are reversed this season for Miami and Bowling Green. BGSU, picked as high as eighth nationally in preseason polls, has been plagued with injuries and inconsistencies. Miami, picked to finish no higher than sixth in the CCHA in preseason polls, has been a team to chase this season.

Miami won two road games last weekend, one against Ferris State, and one against Michigan State. Miami broke a four-game losing streak with a road tie against Bowling Green; since that game, Miami has won three straight.

Since that tie with Miami, Bowling Green has been 2-3-1. The Falcons have been up and down and back and forth all season. If it hasn’t been the injuries, it’s been the goaltending. If it hasn’t been the goaltending, it’s been lack of leadership. At this point, Bowling Green is no longer playing for home ice, and the Falcons are likely no longer playing for NCAA recognition.

Miami has the distinct advantage of playing at home after two road wins. Bowling Green lost a non-conference game to Ohio State last weekend after soundly beating Western Michigan at home.

Also, Miami is playing like a team. For many reasons, especially injuries, the Falcons haven’t resembled one of those much this season. Throw in Miami’s ability to score "opportunistic" goals and its superior goaltending, and it’s tough to pick against them.

PICK: Miami 3-1

No. 9 Michigan State (18-10-3, 14-6-3 CCHA) at No. 6 Miami (22-9-1, 16-6-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Goggin Arena, Oxford, OH

The most recent meeting between these two teams was just last weekend in Munn, and Michigan State head coach Ron Mason was not too pleased with the outcome.

"Miami played well," says Mason. "They had some opportunistic goals." But, added the Spartan chief, "I didn’t feel too good about the game." The final score was 2-1, and Miami held the Spartans scoreless until 13:49 of the third period.

Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni says he’s certain that the Spartans will be motivated when they come to Oxford Saturday night. "The guy [Mason] hasn’t won 800 games for nothing."

Mason says he knows something of what to expect when his team plays the rubber game of this series. "Miami will continue with their same style — good checking, and their goaltender comes up with big saves.

"They’ll probably play a little better than they did here," says Mason, in his typically-understated way. "And they played O.K. here."

Both teams have secured home ice during the playoffs, but each team want to play well for NCAA recognition. "Right now we’re motivated to win as many games as we can," says Mason. "We’re right on the NCAA bubble."

Mazzoleni says, "We went into the stretch with six games, and we haven’t put any more emphasis on any one game. We’re a team that’s not good enough to look ahead at any games beyond the one we’re playing next."

Miami plays Friday night. This game is Michigan State’s first game of the weekend. Revenge is an ugly word to use in college hockey, but the thought has probably crossed a Spartan mind or two. Both teams will be motivated by nearly identical reasons. What a game.

PICK: Miami 3-2

Bowling Green (15-14-3, 10-11-3 CCHA) at Ohio State (11-22-0, 8-15-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., OSU Ice Rink, Columbus, OH

It’s been called "The Ice Dink." Ah, the much-maligned Ohio State Ice Rink. Small, no bathrooms or concessions, and if the puck hits the ceiling — which it frequently does — play is usually stopped to clean up the debris that’s fallen to the ice.

"The guys are excited to come back to the small rink," says Ohio State head coach John Markell. "They call it the War Memorial."

After many seasons that must have felt more like campaigns, it may seem absurd for the Buckeye players to want to play in the tiny Ice Rink. But if you attended last week’s Thursday night game between Western Michigan and Ohio State at the Ohio Expo Center, you might know how the "guys" feel. Only 560 people attended that game in an arena that holds over five thousand. At the Ice Rink, 560 can make some noise.

The Buckeyes get to bunker in their happy place when Bowling Green comes to town, and location may make the difference in this game.

These two teams met in a non-conference game last Sunday, and Ohio State won 4-2. That was at the Expo Center, with a small, non-noisy crowd, and little at stake for either team. Ohio State did manage to keep its win-streak alive; four games in a row is as many as OSU has won since the 1991-92 season.

Defense has been a big part of the recent Buckeye turn-around. "I think what’s really helped is that Ryan Skaleski has come in and solidified our defense," says Markell. "The defense is doing the little things right. They’re giving themselves the chance to get things right. It’s just little things."

Arguably, one of the best "little things" is freshman Buckeye goaltender Ray Aho. Much has been made of Aho’s height — he’s five feet, six inches tall — but this freshman has shown that he has absolutely everything he needs to play at this level. "He’s got confidence," Markell explains. "His reaction is quicker because he’s become more acclimated to the league."

Markell knows that Bowling Green will come in ready to play. "I think they’re going to come in with a better effort. We only played two periods of hockey [in last Sunday's win], and we have to have a better effort."

Lately, the Buckeye effort has not gone unnoticed. In the past five weeks, Buckeye players have won Player of the Week four times: Aho earned the honor two weeks in a row. Two weeks later, Dan Cousineau was named Defensive Player of the Week. Just this week, Jarret Whidden was named Offensive Player of the Week for his five points — including the game-winning goal against BGSU — last weekend.

A little momentum can go a long way.

PICK: Ohio State 4-2

No. 9 Michigan State (18-10-3, 14-6-3 CCHA) at Ohio State (11-22-0, 8-15-0 CCHA) Sunday, 1 p.m., Ohio Expo Center, Columbus, OH

A little momentum may travel far, but maybe not too far. This is, oddly enough, the rubber match of the series between these two teams. Michigan State won one in Munn Ice Arena; Ohio State also took one in Munn. It used to be that no one but the Spartans won there.

"Our building is not as intimidating as it used to be," claims Michigan State head coach Ron Mason. "Also, our kids put a lot pressure on themselves to win at home."

Sometimes that pressure backfires. Not only did the Buckeyes beat the Spartans in Munn, so did Miami, just last week. And so did the Nanooks, earlier in the season.

Ohio State head coach John Markell expects Michigan State to come to play for revenge. "They have four games left," he says. "They could move up the ladder."

Mason knows the key to beating Ohio State is getting to them early in the game. "Ohio State plays a more laid-back, defensive style of hockey. They have that good neutral-zone trap. If you can get to their goaltender and open the game up, you have a good chance with them."

The confidence that Ohio State feels is shared by the coaching staff. "Every team is aware of us now," says Markell. "Teams are going to have to come in here with their ‘A’ game. We’re starting to get attention. People know that we’re not an easy game.

"If we could win our next four, we could catch Western."

With Bowling Green, Michigan State, Western Michigan and Michigan remaining for the Buckeyes, that could be the biggest "if" in history. On the other hand, all four of those games are at home, and two are at the "War Memorial."

Nah.

Ohio State needs points to secure a playoff berth, but Michigan State really wants to go to the NCAA tournament. Ohio State won’t lay down, but Michigan State’s experience — at every level — will give the Spartans the definite edge.

PICK: Michigan State 5-3

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

Copyright 1997 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.

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