Since Michigan State received a gift from Santa in the form of more offense for the Great Lakes Invitational, the Spartans should resolve to keep that offense. They’ll need offense if they want to make a run for the national title.
All the Miami RedHawks need to resolve to do is to continue playing the best hockey they’re capable of playing. If they keep that resolution, sooner or later the rest of the country will notice how darned good this team is.
Northern Michigan should resolve to keep the youthful enthusiasm that makes this team such a delight to watch and a real threat in the CCHA.
Lake Superior should resolve to just keep playing the way the Lakers have played their last five games.
The Ferris State Bulldogs should resolve to play with more consistency. That will get the Bulldogs noticed and solidify their place in the CCHA standings.
Notre Dame: resolve to do what the Bulldogs should do.
Ohio State: see Ferris State and Notre Dame. And resolve to win those one-goal games.
Western Michigan should resolve to continue its search for offense — any offense.
Alaska-Fairbanks should continue to keep the resolution that it obviously made when it joined the CCHA — to play hard in a league where the deck is stacked against the Nanooks, geographically speaking.
After half a season of floundering, the Bowling Green Falcons need to resolve to change their game to a more defensive style. It seems to have worked for them lately.
And now on to this week’s games…
The more things change, the more they stay the same. With 19 points in a dozen games, No. 7 Michigan sits atop the CCHA standings. After losing the title game of the Great Lakes Invitational tournament to Michigan State 5-3 last week, the Wolverines host the Buckeyes for two games. The Buckeyes, who haven’t played since December 13, are in eighth place in the CCHA with 12 points.
No. 2 Michigan State, two points behind the Wolverines in the standings, are flying high after winning the GLI for the first time since 1985. The Spartans are also flying up to Alaska to kick off the New Year with the Nanooks. Alaska-Fairbanks, in tenth place in the CCHA with nine points, did not see tournament action during the break.
The No. 4 Miami RedHawks surprised a few people by taking the Denver Cup, but we knew they could do it all along, didn’t we? The ‘Hawks, in third place in the CCHA, travel up to South Bend to take on Notre Dame for two.
Notre Dame lost and won last week in the Mariucci Classic. The Irish are seventh in the CCHA with 12 points.
Northern Michigan also split in tournament play during the holidays. In fourth place with 16 points, the Wildcats host Bowling Green and Ferris State this weekend.
Ferris State split in tournament play as well, pounding Western Michigan 9-1 in the Pepsi College Hockey Tournament before losing 6-3 to North Dakota in the title game. Ferris is fighting for points; the Bulldogs are in sixth place with 13 points in CCHA play.
Lake Superior hosts Bowling Green for one game this weekend. The Lakers most recently won the Rensselaer Invitational, defeating nationally ranked Yale 5-0 in the first round and beating host RPI 3-1 in the title game. Lake is currently in fifth place in the CCHA and looking to move up.
Western Michigan takes a long losing streak to North Dakota for nonconference play this weekend, where it doesn’t look like things will get much better for the Broncos. With nine points, Western Michigan is clinging to ninth place in the standings.
What is it that they say about hockey after January 1? A brand-new season?
Picks for the week of December 10-14: 5-5 Overall record in picks: 56-47
Should auld acquaintance be forgot…
Bowling Green (4-14-2, 2-8-2 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (9-6-3, 7-4-2 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI Bowling Green at Lake Superior (9-7-3, 6-5-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI
The Bowling Green Falcons may be the most interesting cellar-dwellers in college hockey this season.
With rookie goaltender Shawn Timm between the pipes, the Falcons have gone 2-2 in their last four games, after a dismal start to the season. Timm is 2-3-1 overall, with a GAA of 2.64, and a respectable save percentage of .899.
According to Falcons’ head coach Buddy Powers, Timm had to become better conditioned before earning the chance to steal starting duties from senior Mike Savard. Timm got his chance in Alaska, when Savard faltered and after Timm had shaved off 20 pounds.
"He’s played very well in every game he’s played for us," says Powers. "He gives us a chance to be in the games he’s played."
But just when the Falcons gain a player who can help them make a run for the CCHA playoffs, they lose their leading scorer, Dan Price. The senior forward was suspended indefinitely last week after pleading no contest to felony vehicular manslaughter charges. In the offseason, Price was the driver during an auto accident which resulted in the death of his passenger. Price was allegedly under the influence of alcohol at the time of the fatal crash.
Powers says that he and the University delayed making a decision on suspension of Price until after Price appeared in court. "In our team rules, you’ve got to be responsible for your actions," says Powers, "and that’s the underlying thing. He basically pleaded no contest at his hearing, so we want him to take some time and reflect about what’s going on in his life."
Powers says the decision to suspend or reinstate Price isn’t his alone, and Powers isn’t in a position to reveal whether or not Price will play again this–his senior–season.
"He’ll be reviewed weekly," says Powers. "There’s no timetable."
The loss of Price compounds a problem with offense that has plagued Bowling Green all season. "We just have to have 100% commitment to goaltending and defense because we’re just not scoring the goals," says Powers.
This switch to a more defensive style of hockey is necessary for the Falcons, but difficult. Powers says that the Bowling Green forwards have not thought of themselves as defensive forwards before, but will have to for the rest of the season.
With no single Falcon scoring more than four goals so far this season, Powers says, "The facts are on paper.
"It’s a total different mindset than we’re used to having right here. Guys are just going to have to adjust to a more defensive style of play."
After a disappointing, injury-riddled season last year, all Powers says he can do is roll with whatever comes the Falcons’ way. "We’re kind of in a Murphy’s Law syndrome."
Bowling Green at Northern Michigan
The Falcons are coming off an uneven showing at the Sheraton/USAirways Classic, losing 6-2 to Dartmouth in the opening game, and beating host team Vermont 3-1 in the consolation game.
"We played really well overall," says Powers, "but the first night we played big mistakes, and each big mistake was a goal."
Against Northern Michigan, Powers says, "We’re going to have to be on our best if we are to have a chance. Somehow we’re going to have to figure out how to knock in a few goals."
The Falcons have the singular distinction of being the lowest-scoring team in the CCHA this season, having scored just 28 goals in a dozen league games. The Falcons spread the blame and misery around; the team is at minus 89 in league play.
They’re up against a team that likes to score, and the likes to spread the scoring around. The Wildcats are also 2-2 in their last four games; one of those wins was against Miami on the road, and the other was most recently a 3-2 win over Boston College in the Badger Showdown.
While it doesn’t look as though any Wildcat will have a 20-goal season, the Northern Michigan offense is considerably healthier than Bowling Green’s. The team stands at plus 69 in league play, and the ‘Cats are outscoring CCHA opponents 42-38.
Duane Hoey has played consistently and consistently well for the ‘Cats in net, with a league GAA of 2.75 and a save percentage of .882.
In addition to Hoey’s performance in net, the Wildcats have guns that know how to shoot, most notably Fred Mattersdorfer whose five goals and six assists lead the team.
Timm will have to be very hot in net for the Falcons, and those forwards will have to learn the new defensive game plan in a hurry to beat the Wildcats at home.
PICK: Northern 3-1
Bowling Green at Lake Superior
Lake Superior is the hottest team in the CCHA, finishing up the first half of the CCHA season with a win over Miami and a weekend home sweep of Ohio State.
In addition, the Lakers can now call themselves tournament champions, having won the Rensselaer Invitational, with a 5-0 win over Yale in the first round, and a 3-1 win over host RPI in the title game.
"I was very pleased with our team that they maintained their composure throughout," said Laker head coach Scott Borek after the title game.
"We’re playing better, but we still gave up some pretty good quality chances. We got good goaltending both nights, and that made a difference. We have to tighten up our defense a little bit, but we’re having some success and when we get back into the league it’ll help us.
"The only way we’re going to be successful is to move the puck. We’re still not good transitionally and we have to work on that. We can play with anyone, but if we want to play up and down we’re not going to succeed."
This season, the Lakers have much that the Falcons lack, including some solid CCHA wins to show for hard work over the first half of the season, and better momentum coming out of the first half of the season.
They also have something that the Falcons probably won’t have this season: offense.
Terry Marchant leads the CCHA in scoring with seven goals and 13 assists; he’s the first CCHA player to reach 20 points in league play this season. Also sitting comfortably among the top ten CCHA scorers is Jason Sessa, with 10 goals and seven assists.
The confidence Lake will have at home going into the second half of the season — combined with Lake Superior’s fanatical fans — will make Abel Arena a tough place for any team to play, especially a team that is desperate for points to make the playoffs.
Scott Borek’s quotes were provided by USCHO’s ECAC Correspondent Jayson Moy.
PICK: Lake Superior 5-2
Ferris State (6-10-3, 5-6-3 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (9-6-3, 7-4-2 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI
Ferris State is just one of many surprises of this CCHA season, outperforming most expectations and hanging tenaciously in the middle of the pack.
After beating Western Michigan 9-1 and losing 6-3 to North Dakota in the Pepsi College Hockey Tournament, assistant coach Drew Famulak says that the Bulldogs are "very upbeat."
"We played well. We were up 2-0 on North Dakota and just lost our momentum."
After not making the CCHA playoffs last season — the first time in Ferris’ association with the CCHA — the Bulldogs have every reason to be upbeat. With good leadership from seniors Jeff Blashill and Brett Colborne, the team with nine junior forwards and one junior defenseman is finally reaping the rewards of good recruiting and a few patient years.
"I think our junior class has done a good job of stepping forward," says Famulak. The junior class is responsible for 24 of the Bulldogs’ 46 league goals. Juniors Geoff Bennetts, Kenzie Homer, Joel Irwin, and Ed Kowalski have 21 goals between them. Bennetts is tied for the team lead in goals with rookie Kevin Swider, each with six goals.
As improved as Ferris is offensively, Famulak says that the Bulldogs know not to take anything for granted this season, especially against Northern Michigan. "There’s a good rivalry between us. I expect a packed house, and Northern’s a difficult place to play.
"They’re playing well right now, too. Hoey’s playing well in net, and defensively they’re strong.
"We’ll have to be at the top of our game to beat them."
The Bulldogs will not only have to get past the Northern defense, but will have to contain Northern Michigan players Fred Mattersdorfer (5-6, 11), Roger Trudeau (4-5, 9), Buddy Smith (2-7, 9) and J.P. Vigier (4-3, 7). This is a Northern Michigan offense with the potential for scoring bursts if left unchecked.
Still, the Bulldogs seem the more balanced of the teams, and they are more experienced than the Wildcats. It’s hard to win in Lakeview, but Ferris State may have the momentum edge.
PICK: Ferris State 3-2
No. 4 Miami (13-3-0, 8-3-0 CCHA) at Notre Dame (10-8-2, 5-5-2 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Joyce Arena, South Bend, IN
What makes this series interesting is the literally unpredictable play of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
"Everybody’s capable of winning on a given night," says Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. "That’s what’s great about college hockey."
You’re not alone is you don’t think that Notre Dame has not quite arrived yet … but don’t ever count the Irish out. After a season of many one-goal losses, this Irish team has learned how to win, even without the services of leading scorer Ben Simon and Joe Dusbabek, who are playing with the U.S. National Junior Hockey team.
The Irish most recently lost 4-2 to Northeastern in the first round of the Mariucci Classic, and beat Brown 5-1 in the consolation game.
Before heading into tournament play, however, Notre Dame ended the first half of the regular season on an upbeat note, splitting a home-home series with Wisconsin. The weekend before that, the Irish swept Western Michigan in another home-home series, taking four crucial conference points.
"We came off a pretty good series against Wisconsin before Christmas," says Poulin. "We played them really well."
Poulin says he is pleased with the way in which some of his players have stepped up their game, specifically Mark Eaton, Dan Carlson, and Brian Urick.
Poulin says that rookies Eaton and Carlson have learned to make the adjustment to CCHA-level play. Eaton has nine assists in 12 league games, and Carlson has four goals and four assists. Urick, a junior, has three goals and seven assists in 12 CCHA games.
Crucial to the Irish success this season has been the tandem of goaltenders Matt Eisler and Forrest Karr, who are combining to save nearly 90% of the shots they face.
Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni knows that Notre Dame has arrived enough to give the RedHawks some trouble.
"We’ve developed a pretty good rivalry with that team," says Mazzoleni. "They’re pretty well coached, and we know we’ll have to be at the top of our game to beat them."
The RedHawks skated past Denver 9-6 and beat then-third-ranked New Hampshire 4-2 to take the Denver Cup in tournament play. Their win over New Hampshire vaulted Miami into fourth place in this week’s USCHO Poll.
Mazzoleni says that his team developed a healthy respect for New Hampshire when the RedHawks watched the New Hampshire-Colorado College game. "They did exactly anything they wanted to against Colorado College.
"We felt we’d have to play very smart, make very good decisions with the puck and not turn it over if we were going to beat them. I thought that was one of the major components in our win."
Although Miami has received national recognition in the USCHO and other polls all season, the RedHawks are a team that few people outside the CCHA seem to take seriously. Closer to home, the Miami University student paper gives the team little coverage; occasionally a blurb appears in the Cincinnati Inquirer.
This lack of recognition can get to the team at times. "I hope a game like this gives us the confidence to reinforce that we have taken a step up and we’ve arrived a little now," says Mazzoleni.
Miami is as solid a team as any in the CCHA; the RedHawks are as deep a team as any in the country. There are three Miami players among the top ten scorers in CCHA league play; only Ohio State can boast as many players in the top ten in CCHA scoring. But if you go just a little deeper, you find a total of five Miami players among the top 20 CCHA scorers.
The RedHawks are solid defensively, and have a goaltending duo every bit as good as Notre Dame’s. Trevor Prior and his heir apparent Ian Olsen have a combined save percentage of .890 in league play. Prior alone is saving nearly 91% of shots on goal in league play.
The RedHawks will be without Ryan Brindley, who was tossed out of the New Hampshire game for fighting in the last minute of play. That leaves the ‘Hawks a little short on defense, which would be more of a factor if Ben Simon were playing for Notre Dame.
There are no easy games in the CCHA — as Dave Poulin himself is fond of saying — but if Notre Dame should take a point from this Miami team, it will, indeed, be an upset.
PICKS: Miami 3-2, 4-2
Ohio State (9-8-1, 6-7-0 CCHA) at No. 7 Michigan (15-4-1, 9-2-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
The league-leading Wolverines did something during the break that the seniors on this team have never, ever done: they lost the Great Lakes Invitational. The title match went to arch-rival Michigan State, 5-3.
"You know you’re going to be rusty when you’re off for eight or ten days," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson.
He’s not making excuses. Berenson is the first person to point out that this Michigan team is not the team it was in past seasons. Berenson says again and again that Bill Muckalt, Bobby Hayes and Marty Turco have carried the team so far this season–and he’s right.
"They were disappointed," says Berenson of his players, especially of his upperclassmen who have won this tournament for the past three years straight.
As a team, the Wolverine GLI win-streak was nine years running. Losing the GLI is a hard thing to take.
Berenson says that this, too, will be a learning experience for a team that is still very young. "Whether it was good for our whole team or not, I don’t know. It probably was not.
"We should be a better team. We’ll see. I think we took a step backward during the break. Whether or not that loss catapults us is something that remains to be seen."
Even with the return of senior captain Matt Herr, who missed the first half of the season with a groin injury, the Wolverines came up short against a Michigan State team that seemed better prepared.
"When we lost Mike Van Ryn on defense," says Berenson, "we lost more than we thought." Van Ryn will be with the Canadian National Junior Hockey team through next week.
Berenson added, "Michigan State played a good game, and the puck went in for them. And very few teams are going to score five goals on Chad Alban."
In spite of the GLI blues, a few Wolverines are wreaking havoc with opponents. As the goalie of record for the Wolverines in November and December (pre-GLI), Turco was 10-1-1 with a 1.81 GAA and a .928 save percentage.
Senior forward Bill Muckalt is having a career season as well. Muckalt has 10 goals and eight assists in 12 CCHA games for the Wolverines. Bobby Hayes has seven goals and seven assists in a dozen games.
In recent years, after the Wolverines have lost games they particularly wanted to win, the next opponent that faced the Wolverines has been the recipient of a pummeling. Just ask Alaska- Fairbanks.
The lucky team to face the Wolverines this week is the Ohio State Buckeyes, a team that hasn’t beaten Michigan in 30-or-so tries for the last some-odd-years (but who’s counting?), and we’re not talking football.
"I think Ohio State is a strong team," says Berenson. "Certainly I don’t think anyone’s going to beat up on them now."
Berenson says that the Buckeyes may actually be giving the Wolverines something to worry about this week. Berenson says, "Ohio State has a better offensive team than Michigan State."
He’s right. Hugo Boisvert has seven goals and 11 assists for the Buckeyes. He’s third in CCHA scoring. Junior Chris Richards has six goals and ten assists, and he’s seventh in CCHA scoring– and he does not play on Boisvert’s line. Boisvert’s linemate Eric Meloche has nine goals and five assists, and he’s ninth in CCHA scoring.
Only one other team — the No. 4 Miami RedHawks — also has three players among the top ten CCHA scorers.
Ohio State has two lines that can score. On line with Boisvert and Meloche is Jean-Francois Dufour, who has five goals and seven assists in league play. On line with Richards is senior co-captain Dan Cousineau, who has three goals and nine assists.
So the good news is that the Buckeyes finally have some offense. The bad news is that these five players are getting little help. These five have scored 30 of the Buckeyes’ 43 league goals.
The Buckeyes have also had a lot of time off, probably too much time off. The last time Ohio State played was December 12 and 13, two road losses to Lake Superior.
"It’s going to be a difficult weekend," says OSU head coach John Markell.
The last time these two teams played, in November in Columbus, Michigan won a 3-2 heart-breaker in the last minute of overtime.
Markell says his players "know that they played well against them last time, and they probably should’ve got a point for their efforts."
Ohio State has lost four games by just one goal; Michigan has won six one-goal games. "They’ve been doing what it takes to win those games," says Markell, "and we still have to learn what to do to win those games."
In spite of the history between these two schools, each coach insists that this hockey rivalry isn’t something that his team gets up for, especially. Still, Markell says that the Buckeyes are looking forward to these games as an opportunity to show the league that they can play well. "They know it’s on national television. They know it’s in Michigan," says Markell.
"They’re not overconfident. Week in and week out, it’s a difficult league."
Markell says the Buckeyes know that in order to win respect and make the playoffs, "They have to start getting points on the road."
Getting points against this Michigan team would have been a much easier thing to do earlier in the season. Says Markell, "Momentum is a big thing in hockey, and it’s an even bigger thing in Michigan."
And the Wolverines have the momentum in this series — GLI or no GLI.
(It won’t hurt Michigan that former Uber-Wolverine Brendan Morrison will be honored in a ceremony Saturday night, either.)
PICKS: Michigan 3-2, 4-2
No. 2 Michigan State (16-2-2, 8-2-1 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (5-12-2, 4-11-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. AT, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK
Ron Mason doesn’t sound like he’s looking forward to this trip to Alaska.
"The last time we went, it was a demanding trip," says the Spartan head coach. "It will be the same thing this time.
"Alsaka seems to play well at home, too."
Mason is philosophical about the Spartans’ 5-3 victory over the Wolverines in the championship game of the Great Lakes Invitational, the first Spartan GLI title since 1985, and only the second tournament of any kinds won by this Spartan senior class.
"It was a typical Michigan-Michigan State game — a lot of emotion."
Mason says he’s never seen the GLI as something that might give the Spartans an extra edge going into the second half of the season, as have the Wolverines for the past nine years. "I’ve never looked at it that way. I’ve looked at it as a mini-season. It’s over when it’s over."
Still, Mason and his Spartans have to be happy with five goals against one of the best goaltenders in college hockey. Mason says, "I’ve always thought we could win in a high-scoring game."
One thing the GLI victory did was give a few unsung Spartans a chance to shine. Without Bryan Adams (injury) and Mike York (U.S. National Junior Hockey team), the Spartans were a bit short offensively in the tournament.
Defenseman Mike Weaver had two goals in the game, earning tournament MVP honors and the title of CCHA Defensive Player of the Week. Curtis Gemmel and Andrew Bogle scored their first goals of the season for the Spartans in the GLI title game.
"It creates a better atmosphere for them in practice in the locker room," says Mason. "Some of them don’t play that often, so they get excited and the other players are happy for them. It’s just a happier place."
The Spartans take their happy place to Fairbanks for two games this weekend, and the folks in Fairbanks are so nice that they’re throwing a New Year’s Eve party for the Spartan players, staff, and fans. Really.
The Nanook hospitality will probably not be rewarded with on-ice success this weekend. While the Nanooks have an impressive league power play and players who can generate offense — most notably Sjon Wynia (8-9, 17), Jeff Trembecky (7-7, 14), and Jim Lawrence (6-8, 14) — the Nanooks are not known for their consistency or for cool heads against teams capable of shutting them down.
The Nanooks have scored more goals than any other team in league play (54), but they’ve also given up by far the most goals in league play (81). They’re at a collective minus 100 in league play, and the Nanook goaltenders are combining for a team save percentage that hovers around 85%.
In league play, the Nanooks are 3-3-1 at home, so they do play better when they’re not distracted by travel and fatigue. But even with their potential to score, the Nanooks will have a hard time even getting to Chad Alban; to do so, Alaska-Fairbanks will have to get past the best defensive core in the CCHA, led by
Tyler Harlton, a core that frequently limits opponents to five or fewer shots on goal in any given period.
So, as nice as they are, the Nanooks will probably not be able to use the Spartans to climb the CCHA ladder.
Let’s just hope that those nice folks from East Lansing remember to say "thank you" for all of that Alaskan hospitality.
PICKS: Michigan State 3-1, 3-0
Western Michigan (5-13-2, 4-11-1 CCHA) at No. 3 North Dakota (10-3-1, 8-3-1 WCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7:35 CT, Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND
Western Michigan got a chance to see No. 3 North Dakota play and win in Pepsi College Hockey Tournament last week. Bronco head coach Bill Wilkinson was seriously impressed with what he saw.
"They have great forwards. They’re a great finishing team.
"They’re an excellent team. We’re just going to go in there and do the best we can."
Wilkinson says he’ll be happy if the Broncos just play competitively against the reigning national champions. This will be no easy task for Western Michigan, a team that lost 9-1 to Ferris State in the first round of the Pepsi tournament, and 3-2 to Cornell in the consolation game.
The Broncos bring a nine-game losing streak to Grand Forks; the last time Western Michigan won a game was in November, against an ailing Lake Superior.
"We just haven’t scored goals," says Wilkinson. "We haven’t played badly, it’s just that we haven’t put it in the net."
Wilkinson says that frustration compounds the teams problems. "At critical times when you can’t take advantage of your offensive chances, it puts added pressure on the defense and in goal, and things just break down."
Frank Novock leads the Broncos offensively, with nine goals and four assists in 13 league games. He isn’t getting much help. Just behind Novock in scoring is Steve Duke, who has 11 assists — but no goals.
Only one other Bronco — Chuck Mindel — has as many as four goals.
In order to play competitively against North Dakota, the Broncos will have to draw on all of their defensive resources. Goaltender Matt Barnes has a GAA of 2.71 and a save percentage of .900 in overall play, and he’s made a whopping 452 saves.
Given that North Dakota is averaging over four goals per game in overall play, it isn’t likely that Western Michigan will have much success.
PICKS: North Dakota 6-2, 5-1
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.