It should be mentioned that this list is not an official endorsement by USCHO; nor was the all-rookie team of last week. It’s just the official Girl Reporter’s All-CCHA Team. If I were picking sides, these are the guys I’d want on my team.
As I’ve been saying all season long, hands-down, without a shadow of a doubt, the best all-around goaltender in the CCHA is Michigan State’s Chad Alban.
Much has been said about Alban playing behind one of the country’s best defenses, that perhaps he hasn’t had to work as hard as other goaltenders, that perhaps his teammates deserve as much credit for his incredible 1.65 league goals-against average as he does himself.
That’s just a lot of noise. The outstanding Spartan defense cannot take credit for a .920 league save percentage. Chad Alban is saving 92 percent of the shots that incredible defense lets through in league play. In over 1561 minutes.
There may be other goalies with comparable in-net skills — super-fast reflexes, great eyes for the puck — but no one handles the puck better than Alban does outside of the net. He is, quite literally, Michigan State’s third defenseman whenever he’s in the game. And he’s always in the game.
He’s the best in the league. Period.
Deserving of mention: Marty Turco (UM), Trevor Prior (MIA), Jeff Maund (OSU)
The two defensemen chosen here couldn’t play two more different styles of hockey, but each has proven invaluable to his team.
It is the consensus in the CCHA that Tyler Harlton is the best defensive defenseman in the league. It is the consensus, because it’s true.
Harlton has hockey sense like nobody’s business. He can play his man, play a zone, play the trap — play it all — and he can, occasionally, make a difference on an offensive play, which is pure gravy where this guy is concerned.
Harlton has one goal and 11 assists in league play, and he leads the CCHA in league plus/minus at plus 26.
There will be much squawking about the selection of the second defenseman, but I don’t care. If I were picking sides, I’d take Ferris State’s Brett Colborne in a heartbeat.
This is a rare blueliner who can score without sacrificing defensive play. His 26 league points (7-19) lead the Bulldogs in scoring. He’s tied for third among defensemen for power-play points (2-13–15).
Colborne has just 20 penalties for 40 minutes, scored one shorthanded goal, and he’s plus three. He plays with intelligence and heart.
Deserving of mention: Mike Weaver (MSU), Dan Boyle (MIA), Mark Eaton (ND), Benoit Cotnoir (ND), Ryan Skaleski (OSU)
For those of you who follow the entire league from week to week, the names of these three players will come as no surprise, and it just makes sense that these three have led the league in scoring all season long. Here they are, presented in the order of league scoring as of this writing.
Ohio State’s Hugo Boisvert has been flirting with the league scoring title for more than half the season. This sophomore is one of the best players on both sides of the puck in this or any league. As adept at scoring goals as he is at feeding a linemate, Boisvert is not afraid to get into the corners to work the puck. He’s been important on both the OSU power play and penalty-killing units.
Through 28 league games, Boisvert has 18 goals and 23 assists for 41 points. He has two shorthanded goals, one hat trick, three game-winners and two empty-netters. He’s plus 13 in CCHA games. Boisvert has 16 points on the power play: nine goals (eight of them in league games) and seven assists.
Bill Muckalt has emerged from the shadow of The Michigan Nine in ways that few expected. No one ever doubted that Muckalt was a good player, but few knew just how good.
In 28 league games, Muckalt has 19 goals and 21 assists for 40 points. Six of those goals came on the power play; in fact, he leads all CCHA forwards in power-play points with 27 (11-16).
Two hat tricks. Five game-winners. Three empty-netters. Plus 13. What a player.
Mike York has remained near the top of CCHA scoring in spite of playing two fewer games than Boisvert and Muckalt (thanks to time spent at the World Juniors).
In 26 games, York has 18 goals and 21 assists for 39 points. He is, perhaps, the most graceful forward in the CCHA this season. If hockey players were given style points, York would blow away the competition.
He has one hat trick, two game-winners and two empty-netters, and he’s plus 14. With 11 goals and seven assists, York is integral to the outstanding Michigan State power play, currently first in the league and performing at an incredible 24.8 percent.
Deserving of mention: Sean Berens (MSU), Bobby Hayes (UM), Chris Richards (OSU), Terry Marchant (LSSU), Eric Meloche (OSU), Adam Copeland (MIA)
So there you have it, the Girl Reporter’s 1997-98 All-CCHA team: Chad Alban, Tyler Harlton, Brett Colborne, Hugo Boisvert, Bill Muckalt and Mike York.
So who’s the player of the year? Michigan’s Marty Turco. Confused? Don’t be.
Turco was, quite simply, the most valuable player to his team this year. He is the reason why Michigan was able to win so many one-goal games early on, why the Wolverines were able — are still able — to threaten to take the regular-season title, even though they’re working with a lot less on the ice than they have for the last four years.
This was the year for Turco to prove himself behind a defense that wasn’t nearly as good as what he was used to playing with for three years. And the senior netminder rose to the challenge, proving many disbelievers — including this girl reporter — wrong in the process.
In 27 league games, Turco is 19-6-1, with a GAA of 2.07 and a save percentage of .908. In 1565:40 minutes of CCHA play, Turco has saved 530 shots on goal.
Is he the best player in the league? No, but "best" is not the thing that matters.
Next week: The Girl Reporter’s unofficial list of the best and worst in the CCHA, and we ain’t just talking about what happens on the ice, either.
And Now for Your Regularly Scheduled Preview…
Perhaps before we even begin, we should consider subtitling this preview "The Big Ten." After all, it’s the first time in over a decade that the three teams who will finish one-two-three in the league are Big Ten schools.
Just had to get that out of the way.
It’s three in the morning, and you can’t sleep. You toss and turn, because you’re thinking about the CCHA league standings. Who’s going to come in first?
More importantly — and far more interesting — who will be in sixth when all is said and done? Who in eighth?
With just one weekend of hockey left in the regular season, only one of the top eight spots has been decided. No. 10 Ohio State (that bears repeating — number ten Ohio State) has sewn up third place.
Here’s what teams in the league did last weekend. No. 1 Michigan State beat Lake Superior 4-2, and Ferris State 6-3.
No. 4 Michigan lost to Ferris State 2-1, and beat Lake Superior 5- 2.
No. 10 Ohio State beat Miami 3-1, and Bowling Green 5-2.
Miami lost to OSU 3-1, and beat Bowling Green.
Northern Michigan lost two games to Notre Dame, 3-1 and 5-2.
Lake Superior lost 4-2 to Michigan State, and 5-2 to Michigan.
Ferris State beat Michigan 2-1, and lost to Michigan State 6-3.
Western Michigan and Alaska-Fairbanks tied 4-4, Western won 8-1, and Fairbanks won 4-1.
Here’s the playoff situation:
No. 1 Michigan State is in first place with 44 points. The Spartans travel to Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie this weekend. With just one point on the weekend, Michigan State will take the regular-season title.
No. 4 Michigan is in second place with 41 points. The Wolverines travel to Bowling Green and host Notre Dame. Michigan can take the regular-season title, but only if the Wolverines win both games and the Spartans lose both games. Michigan State has the tiebreaker on Michigan with the season-series sweep.
No. 10 Ohio State is in third place with 35 points, and that’s where the Buckeyes will stay. With a game in hand and three points on fourth-place Miami, even if Ohio State loses both games, the Bucks still stay in third. They can’t catch either Michigan or Michigan State. OSU travels to Big Rapids for two this weekend.
With 32 points, Miami is clinging to that precious fourth spot in the league standings. With a win over Bowling Green this weekend, the ‘Hawks are guaranteed home ice. If they lose, however, they leave open the door for…
…Northern Michigan. In fifth place with 31 points, the Wildcats can finish in fourth place if Miami loses to BG and if Northern beats Michigan State and if Ohio State beats Ferris State twice.
Now here is where the sticky part begins: positions six through eight.
Lake Superior and Notre Dame have identical league records of 12-13-4; each has 28 points.
With a record of 12-13-3, Ferris State has 27 points, in eighth place, but has a game in hand on both Lake and ND.
Lake Superior has the tiebreaker over Notre Dame (2-0-1). Ferris State has the tiebreaker over Lake Superior (2-1-0). Notre Dame has the tiebreaker over Ferris State (1-1-1, 15 GF, 10 GA). Ferris State has the tiebreaker over Northern Michigan (2-1-0).
In the case of a three-way tie in points between Ferris State, Lake Superior and Notre Dame, Ferris State earns sixth place, Lake Superior takes seventh, and Notre Dame takes eighth. Ferris and Lake both went 3-2-1 head to head with Notre Dame and each other, and Ferris State has the tiebreaker on Lake Superior.
The Lakers host one game against Michigan State; Notre Dame hosts one game against Michigan. Ferris State hosts Ohio State for two.
Lake Superior takes sixth place if:
The Lakers win and Ferris State takes two or fewer points from Ohio State. The Lakers tie and Notre Dame takes one or no points from Michigan, and Ferris State takes two or fewer points from Ohio State. The Lakers lose, and Notre Dame loses to Michigan and Ohio State takes four points from Ferris State
Lake Superior takes seventh place if the Lakers lose to Michigan State, and Notre Dame beats or ties Michigan and Ferris State takes no points from Ohio State.
Lake Superior takes eighth place if the Lakers lose to Michigan State, and Notre Dame beats or ties Michigan and Ferris State takes a point or more from Ohio State.
Notre Dame takes sixth if the Irish tie or beat Michigan, and Lake Superior loses to Michigan State and Ferris State takes one or no points from Ohio State.
Notre Dame takes seventh if the Irish lose to Michigan, and Lake Superior ties or beats Michigan State and Ferris State takes one or no points from Ohio State.
Notre Dame takes eighth if the Irish lose to Michigan and if Ferris State takes two or more points from Ohio State, regardless of whether or not Lake Superior wins.
Ferris State takes fifth if the Bulldogs take four points from Ohio State and if Northern loses to Michigan State.
Ferris State takes sixth if:
The ‘Dogs take four points from Ohio State and Northern beats Michigan State. The ‘Dogs take two or more points from Ohio State and Lake Superior and Notre Dame both lose. The ‘Dogs take three points from Ohio State, whether or not Lake Superior beats Michigan State, as long as Notre Dame loses to Michigan.
Ferris State takes seventh if the Bulldogs take two points from Ohio State while Lake Superior takes a point from Michigan State — that is, if Notre Dame loses to Michigan.
Ferris State takes eighth if the Bulldogs take no points from Ohio State, or if they take one point from Ohio State and Lake Superior takes a point from Michigan State, and Notre Dame loses to Michigan.
Dammit, Jim, I’m a writer, not a statistician!
Last week’s record in picks: 7-2 Overall record in picks: 118-73
No. 1 Michigan State (28-4-5, 20-4-4 CCHA) at Lake Superior (15-15-4, 12-13-4 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI No. 1 Michigan State (28-4-5, 20-4-4 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (16-14-4, 14-12-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI
Michigan State head coach Ron Mason says that the key to his team’s late-season success is no mystery. "I think we played these games with the philosophy that we’d have to win the rest of our games."
After losing to Ohio State and tying Miami the first weekend in February, the Spartans have won six straight.
Now the first-place, top-ranked Spartans are heading to the Upper Peninsula for a game against the Lakers and the Wildcats, two teams who gave the Spartans good games earlier this season.
"We knew going into the year that we’d be playing up there this last weekend," says Mason. "I think it’s important to play tough opponents late in the season. It prepares you better for the playoffs."
Mason’s Spartans are a little banged up, as they have been all season.
The injured Spartans include freshmen center Andrew Bogle and defenseman Brody Brandstatter, both questionable for the weekend with a right shoulder strains; sophomore center Shawn Horcoff, who — finally — may be possible this weekend with a fractured right thumb; and senior winger Jon Gaskins, whose sprained knee may keep him out through the playoffs.
Those are just the listed injuries.
So it’s understandable when the coach who just recently recorded his 800th career win sounds as unsettled as the California coast when he says of this week’s opponents, "Both of them have played us really tough in our own building."
And there’s more on line in these games than just the conference title; the Spartans are thinking about the NCAA tournament as well.
Michigan State at Lake Superior
Michigan State has beaten Lake Superior twice in East Lansing this season, 4-3 on Jan. 24, and 4-2 just last week.
In last week’s game, the Spartans outshot the Lakers 29-17, as Tyler Harlton and Mike York assisted together on two of the Spartan goals.
The score was tied after two, and the Lakers scored first in the third period, but Michigan State did what it’s done for much of the season, turning up the heat in the last stanza to take the game. The Spartans scored three unanswered goals in the third to win. On the season, Michigan State has outscored opponents 46-23 in the third period.
As in most Spartan games (arguably, in most CCHA games) defense will be the key. If Michigan State plays its brand of defense — controlling the neutral zone, allowing few shots on goal — then Spartan offensive opportunities will follow.
State will have to contain Terry Marchant, who is having a great season and receiving zero publicity for it (at least not south of the Yoop). With 14 goals and 19 assists in league play, Marchant is among the top ten in CCHA scoring, and among a handful of Lakers on the plus side of things (+9).
Jason Sessa is more the goalscorer than the playmaker that Marchant is, with 16 goals and 13 assists in league play for the Lakers. Like Marchant, he’s on the plus side — barely, at plus one.
Unfortunately for Lake Superior, the Lakers like to spread the misery. As a team in league play, the Lakers are minus 136, indicating a defense that can be on the weakish side overall; however, the Lakers aren’t being outscored by much in league play: just 81-96.
Obviously, Michigan State has the advantage in depth of offense, and in net. Between the pipes for the Lakers, Jayme Platt and Rob Galatiuk are each saving between 89-90 percent of the shots they see in league play; Chad Alban is saving 92 percent of shots in CCHA action.
It should go as planned for the Spartans, who can take the regular-season title with two points in this game.
PICK: Michigan State 4-2
Michigan State at Northern Michigan
Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley says the Wildcats are not exactly where they thought they’d be in the CCHA standings at the start of 1998. "A month ago, no, we wouldn’t think we’d be chasing fourth. Two months ago? No.
"It’s been a discouraging last couple of weeks."
When 1998 began, it looked as though Northern definitely would finish in the top four, surprising many CCHA fans who expected the young team to stumble its first year back in its home conference.
But in January and February, the Wildcats went 6-6-1. The ‘Cats missed the opportunity to surge ahead of Miami when the RedHawks faltered, and then Northern couldn’t capitalize on Ohio State’s weekend off two weeks ago.
The only wins Northern had in its 2-4-0 month of February were over Bowling Green and Alaska-Fairbanks, two teams that won’t be making playoff appearances. Last weekend, the Wildcats dropped two to Notre Dame.
"We seem to have survived the month," quips Comley, "but those six games hurt us."
Comley says that Northern’s struggle stems in part from a lack of scoring from the team’s first line. "Everybody establishes their great players. For us, Vigier, Smith and Trudeau didn’t have a good month."
Buddy Smith leads the Wildcats in league scoring (7-19–26), followed by Roger Trudeau (13-11–24), J.P. Vigier (10-13–23) and rookie Fred Mattersdorfer (11-11–22).
Further adding to Northern’s woes is the injury to defenseman Curtis Sheptak, who is playing with a dislocated shoulder. "He’ll need surgery in the offseason," said Comley. "He’s a courageous kid."
One plus for the ‘Cats late in the season is the improved performance of goaltender Duane Hoey, whose league save percentage climbed some in January and February, to .879.
The ‘Cats and the Spartans tied 1-1 on Jan. 9, and Michigan State won the following night, 6-1.
One key to this pairing may be how fast the Spartans are able to jump out on Northern. Michigan State is outscoring opponents 46-13 in the first period; Northern Michigan has let itself be outscored 37-26 in the first.
Another key will be the matching of the league’s best power play against one of the league’s least efficient penalty-killing units. Michigan State is capitalizing on nearly one in four power-play chances; Northern Michigan is killing off 82 percent of its penalties.
Not helping Northern’s special-teams cause is its power play, which is operating at just over 10 percent in league play.
Of course, there’s Michigan State’s offensive firepower and depth. Mike York is third in the league in scoring (18-21–39). Sean Berens is keeping close company with 38 points of his own (25-13). Then there’s Rookie of the Year candidate Rustyn Dolyny (15-17–32).
And Michigan State’s defense. And Chad Alban.
And in case you haven’t heard — if you’ve been trekking in Tibet, for example — Chad Alban scored a goal last weekend in Michigan State’s 6-3 win over Ferris State. According to the MSU press release, "Alban raced from his net and got the puck along the back boards and, with time and room, fired a wrist shot in the air towards the Ferris goal. The puck bounced just short of the Ferris blue line and slid into the left side of the empty Bulldog net with 13 seconds remaining."
PICK: Michigan State 5-2
No. 4 Michigan (26-9-1, 20-7-1 CCHA) at Bowling Green (7-26-3, 5-20-3 CCHA) Friday, 7:08 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH No. 4 Michigan (26-9-1, 20-7-1 CCHA) at Notre Dame (17-16-4, 12-13-4 CCHA) Saturday, 8 p.m., Joyce Center, South Bend, IN
Michigan experienced a rare Yost Arena loss last week to Ferris State, 2-1, then beat Lake Superior 5-2.
There are several things at stake for Michigan in this pair of games. Michigan still has the chance to catch Michigan State for the regular-season CCHA title, and these games will also factor into Michigan’s NCAA tournament bid.
And don’t forget that Bill Muckalt wants that league scoring title. Muckalt has 40 points (19-21), just one point behind Hugo Boisvert.
This is a motivated Michigan team, and don’t think they won’t smell victory when they roll into Bowling Green.
Michigan at Bowling Green
Michigan leads Bowling Green all-time, 46-27-1, and has beaten the Falcons twice this season by the score of 4-2 — Nov. 21 in Bowling Green, and Jan. 9 in Ann Arbor.
In the last meeting between the Falcons and the Wolverines, Marty Turco set the NCAA record for career goaltending victories with his 112th career win, and Bill Muckalt had a hat trick. Michigan outshot Bowling Green 40-16, and Shawn Timm made 36 saves in the Falcon losing effort.
Not much has changed for either team between then and now. Michigan can still dominate a game, especially in the first and third periods. The Wolverines are outscoring opponents 40-25 in the opening period, while Bowling Green is being outscored in the first 39-27. If the Wolverines open a lead, this could be a long night indeed for the Falcons.
On the other hand, if Bowling Green takes a lead into the third period, the Wolverines are one of the few teams in the CCHA that can turn up the heat enough to simply take the game back. Michigan is outscoring opponents in the final period of the game nearly two to one, 50-27.
Bowling Green, meanwhile, tends to find trouble in the third, being outscored by opponents 51-35. Last weekend, the Falcons allowed Ohio State four unanswered goals — three power-play tallies and an empty-netter — in the final period after leading OSU 2-1 through two.
For Bowling Green, Dan Price has picked up the thread of his offensive game from where he left off during his suspension. Price leads the Falcons in league scoring with 12 goals and 11 assists; unfortunately, like every other Falcon but four, Price is in the minus (-10).
Rookie Shawn Timm has played both very well and inconsistently between the pipes for Bowling Green, but he hasn’t had a whole lot of defense to rely on, either. Timm’s league save percentage is a solid .888, but his GAA is a less-impressive 3.68.
Bowling Green is living to be the spoiler, and the Falcons are capable of pulling out some big games. They are not an untalented team, but rather a team without on-ice leadership.
Michigan is just the kind of team that can exploit lack of focus; the Wolverines may tear Bowling Green to shreds.
PICK: Michigan 6-2
Michigan at Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish are very happy after two wins over Northern Michigan last weekend, and wins in three of their last four games.
And head coach Dave Poulin couldn’t be happier about the way the end of the season is shaping up. "It’s all coming down to the last two games of the season. It’s very exciting, and it’s good for college hockey."
Michigan defeated Notre Dame twice earlier this season, a 7-2 win in South Bend, and a 5-4 overtime win in Yost.
While Michigan needs points to pass Michigan State for the title, Notre Dame just plain needs points. If the Irish come in eighth, they play Michigan State. If they come in seventh — a distinct possibility — they’ll be playing two games against Michigan in Yost next weekend.
Poulin says it doesn’t matter who his team faces in the first round of the playoffs. "You just want to prepare your team to play its best. At this point in the season, you’re not really playing other teams, you’re just focusing on yourself."
The last game these two teams played — the one in Yost on Jan. 31 — took some unexpected turns.
After two periods, Michigan was leading 4-1, and when the third period began, Marty Turco had been replaced in net by Gregg Malicke. Notre Dame scored three unanswered goals in the third period — four, if you count Steve Noble’s disallowed goal that nearly everyone agrees was in the net — and the Irish sent the game into overtime.
Guess who returned to the net for that?
In the end, Michigan prevailed, outscoring and outshooting the Irish. Don’t you believe for a second that Notre Dame has forgotten that game, and how close they came to beating the Wolverines.
This will be Senior Night for the Irish, when Notre Dame says goodbye to Steve Noble, Lyle Andrusiak and goaltender Matt Eisler. According to Poulin, Eisler has "been through so many different stages this season," and the impression here is that Eisler has played inconsistently.
But Eisler’s numbers are solid: a 2.88 league GAA, and a league save percentage of .898.
This game pits a solid Michigan offense and defense against a spotty Notre Dame offense and a Notre Dame defense with two of the better offensive defensemen in the game.
Everyone knows about Michigan’s Bill Muckalt, Bobby Hayes, Matt Herr, Mark Kosick and Josh Langfeld. The two seniors, Muckalt and Herr, will be missed tremendously next season. The junior, Hayes, has had a breakout year. The rookies, Kosick and Langfeld, should be household names.
But keep your eye on junior Dale Rominski, the unsung hero of this Michigan team. Rominski has nine goals and seven assists in league play, and his hockey sense has helped contribute to the overall performance of this Wolverine team this season; he’s plus 18 in league play.
For Notre Dame, Aniket Dhadphale continues to be the sniper, with 18 goals and eight assists in CCHA contests; he is, however, minus six, a stat that you can figure out all by yourself.
If you’re going to this game and you do nothing else, watch Mark Eaton. Watch Mark Eaton on Bill Muckalt. That matchup is more even than you may think.
Michigan won’t go down easy, even on the road.
PICK: Michigan 4-2
No. 10 Ohio State (20-11-2, 17-10-1 CCHA) at Ferris State (15-17-3, 12-13-3 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI
Just what the heck is going on here, anyway?
Ohio State — a team picked anywhere from fourth to last in preseason polls — has wrapped up third place and home ice, and actually needs these points to help bolster its NCAA bid.
Ferris State — now eighth in the league, and just a couple of months ago looking for all the world like the team that would be defending third or fourth place at the end of the season — needs these points to avoid playing Michigan State in the first round.
And you’d better believe that Ferris State wants to travel anywhere but to East Lansing for round one, since the Spartans have outscored the Bulldogs 19-4 in regular-season play this year.
Ohio State beat Ferris State 5-3 on January 10 in the little War Memorial rink in Columbus. That was a good game, with nearly even shots on goal (FSU 29, OSU 26), and a terrific defensive struggle through the neutral zone.
Two players accounted for nearly all the scoring in that game; Kenzie Homer had two goals for Ferris State, while Hugo Boisvert picked up his first collegiate hat trick (the last goal was an empty-netter).
Last weekend, Ferris State beat Michigan 2-1 and lost to Michigan State 6-3. Ohio State beat Miami 3-1 and Bowling Green 5-2.
"We played well both nights," says Ferris assistant coach Drew Famulak.
In fact, the Bulldogs have played well all season, with the exception of just a couple of games here and there. "We’ve won three out of our last four, four out of our last six, and we’re losing ground," says Famulak.
The Bulldogs are one of three teams with a dozen CCHA wins fighting for positions six, seven, and eight in the league. Depending on the way things go this weekend, one of those teams — the one in eighth place — could be the only CCHA team making the playoffs with a record below five-hundred.
Since the Bulldogs resigned themselves to a first-round playoff road series, "we haven’t really worried about the standings much lately," says Famulak. The effect has been freeing; Famulak says that not worrying about where his team might finish has allowed Ferris State to focus more on itself than its opponents.
The strategy is working. "We’ve played well defensively for a while now. We’re keeping teams to pretty low shots on goal.
"Our power play is coming. We’re happy with where our special teams are."
Ferris State’s league power play is at 14.4 percent, while its penalty killing is at 82.8 percent.
Famulak says that playing the same opponent twice this weekend is beneficial for the Bulldogs. "This way, if we don’t play our best Friday, we may recover the following night."
The Buckeyes need these wins to keep the attention of the NCAA tourney committee.
"We have tremendous respect for Ferris going in," says head coach John Markell.
Respect is something the Buckeyes themselves don’t see a whole lot of, even though Ohio State has had a remarkable second-half run this season, losing only to Michigan and Michigan State since the start of the calendar year.
In fact, OSU’s win percentage is the best in the country since Jan. 9; with a record of 11-1-1 and a win percentage of .884 during that stretch, the Bucks are even ahead of Hockey East powerhouse Boston University (14-2-0, .875) during that span.
Last weekend, Ohio State became the ninth team in the country to post 20 wins this season.
"Our team is unassuming," says Markell. "We don’t think we’re better than anybody else."
Markell says there are some "personal goals" the Buckeyes would like to achieve this weekend, most notably the league scoring title. Hugo Boisvert (18-23–41) leads the league in scoring by just one point over Michigan’s Bill Muckalt, and two over Michigan State’s Mike York.
Another personal goal would be to finish the season on a high note, keeping the second-half losses to just those three against ranked teams, and going into the playoffs with confidence in any number of players.
To that end, Markell will start goaltender Ray Aho for one game this weekend. Aho has lingered in Rookie of the Year candidate Jeff Maund’s shadow for most of the season, but don’t think for a moment that Aho is rusty or can’t play.
Aho is third in the numbers among CCHA goaltenders with 400 or more minutes in net, with a league GAA of 2.39 and a save percentage of .907.
And don’t forget Maund. With a 2.58 league GAA and .911 league save percentage, no one should forget Jeff Maund.
Vince Owen is the workhorse for the Bulldogs in net. In over 1,500 minutes of league play, Owen has a 3.17 GAA and a .876 save percentage.
The Bulldogs have five scorers with 20 or more points in league play: Brett Colborne (7-19–26), Joel Irwin (10-15–25), Kevin Swider (8-16, 24), Brian McCullough (10-11–21) and Brent Wishart (10-11–21).
With the notable exception of rookie defenseman Andre Signoretti (3-14–17), the top Buckeye scorers play on the first two lines: Boisvert (18-23–41), Chris Richards (13-20–33), Eric Meloche (18-14–32), J.F. Dufour (7-10–17), Dan Cousineau (4-12–16) and Todd Compeau (9-6–15).
And just last weekend — heaven help the Bulldogs — the formerly-anemic OSU power play began to click. The Buckeyes won each game with a power-play goal, and scored five total on the weekend, vaulting the OSU PP into fourth place (.173) in league play.
"We know it’s going to be a very hard-fought series," says Markell.
Truer words were never spoken.
PICKS: Ohio State 4-3, 4-2
Miami (19-11-4, 14-11-4 CCHA) at Bowling Green (7-26-3, 5-20-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH
This is the tale of two teams. The first, the home team, is thankful the season is over. The second team, the visitor, is grateful to have survived January and February.
"The biggest thing we have to do is play our game," says Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni. "It’s got so much importance for us."
Indeed. If the RedHawks win this one little game, they hang on — just barely — to fourth place, and play the first round of the CCHA playoffs in the comfort of Goggin Arena.
If they lose, they may be heading to Marquette.
The ‘Hawks snapped a five-game losing streak by beating Bowling Green last weekend 8-2. The win avenged a 5-4 loss to the Falcons just the week before.
Mazzoleni says that his team is balanced, but "we haven’t shown that on the road. We’ll have to rise to the challenge."
Miami’s late-season slip may be one of the great mysteries of the universe. Loaded with talent, this RedHawk team should have floated into one of the top spots in the league. Instead, with injuries and suspensions, a lack of on-ice leadership, and a bit of role-shifting, the ‘Hawks may have to back into fourth place, and be grateful for it.
On paper and on ice — just like we said last week — Miami is the better team. Trevor Prior is one of the best goalies in the league (2.56 league GAA, .910 save percentage). The ‘Hawks have lots of guys who can score (Copeland, Leahy, Tropper, Kim, Boyle…yada, yada, yada).
So, maybe they’re banged up a little defensively, but who isn’t?
If Miami plays its game, the ‘Hawks should win.
PICK: Miami 5-2
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.