Finally, Something To Talk About
The regular-season championship is on the line. In terms of an NCAA tournament invitation, it means nothing — but a championship is a championship.
Finally, here’s the obligatory playoff chatter for which you’ve been longing.
Michigan and Michigan State (17-5-4)
How much more even can this thing get? Well, if the teams finish tied in points and wins, remember that they tied each other twice during the regular season.
There is the possibility that the teams will tie in points but not wins, if one team ties its opponent twice this weekend and the other splits. Then the team with the greater number of wins would take the top seed in the first round of the playoffs.
After that, it’s win percentage versus other teams in the league, from the top down. If Michigan State and Michigan end the season tied in points and league wins and Alaska-Fairbanks remains in third place, Michigan will be the regular-season champion because the Wolverines went 3-1-0 against UAF this season, while the Spartans were 1-1-0.
If MSU and UM are tied in wins and points after this weekend and Northern Michigan vaults ahead of UAF in the standings — a possibility, as the Wildcats have two games against Lake State, while the Nanooks are finished with league play — MSU will be top seed because the Spartans were 2-0-0 against NMU, while the Wolverines were 0-2-0.
If UAF and NMU finish tied for points, the Wildcats have that tiebreaker, so the seeding goes to the Spartans.
The Spartans play a home-and-home series against Ferris State this weekend. The Wolverines are home-and-home against Western Michigan. Given WMU’s home record this season — and Lake State’s season-long performance, and the alignment of the planets — I’m guessing the Spartans will be the regular-season champs outright.
The Nanooks are through with league play. They can finish no higher than third, no lower than fifth.
Should the Nanooks and the fourth-place Wildcats tie in points, they’d also be tied in league wins. Who wins the tiebreaker, then? Northern Michigan, which beat Alaska-Fairbanks twice in Fairbanks, Jan. 25-26.
Should UAF, NMU, and WMU tie for points, NMU has the tiebreaker over UAF (head-to-head), and WMU has the tiebreaker over NMU, giving WMU third place, NMU fourth, and UAF fifth.
Northern Michigan (14-10-2)
The Wildcats are in good position to move ahead of UAF, since NMU is playing LSSU twice this weekend. Should Northern win two against the Lakers this weekend, third place is guaranteed, as NMU would finish with one point more than UAF.
Only Western Michigan can pass Northern this weekend. Should NMU drop two games to LSSU, WMU would need just one win against Michigan to outright pass the Wildcats. Should NMU drop one game to LSSU and WMU sweep Michigan, the Broncos would surpass the Wildcats.
Should WMU take one point from Michigan this weekend and NMU drop both games against LSSU, the Broncos and Wildcats would be tied in both points and league wins. If that happens, Western wins the tiebreaker because of the Broncos’ sweep of Northern Feb. 8-9.
The Wildcats could finish as high as third, but no lower than fifth. Should NMU end the season tied with UNO in points, NMU has the tiebreaker with one more league win than UNO.
The Mavericks are done with league play, and have only to sit back and watch the world around them.
UNO can finish no higher than fifth and no lower than sixth. Should NMU and UNO remain tied in points, UAF would automatically still be in third, and the Wildcats hold the tiebreaker (league wins) over the Mavs.
If Western Michigan takes one point from Michigan this weekend, UNO and WMU end the season tied in points, but the Mavs have the tiebreaker (league wins).
Should WMU surpass UNO and Ohio State win against Miami, OSU and UNO would end tied in league wins and points, and head-to-head — but the Mavericks would win the tiebreaker (goal differential in head-to-head).
Western Michigan (13-10-3)
The Broncos can finish as high as third and as low as seventh.
If WMU, UAF, and NMU all finish the season tied with 33 points each (WMU takes four points from Michigan, NMU takes three from LSSU), each team would also have 15 league wins. Northern has the tiebreaker over UAF (head-to-head), and UAF has the tiebreaker over WMU (head-to-head). Since WMU has the tiebreaker over NMU (head-to-head), WMU would finish third.
To finish fourth, Northern Michigan must not take four points from the Lakers this weekend, and the Broncos must sweep Michigan, which would tie WMU with UAF. UAF has the tiebreaker (head-to-head).
Should Western split with Michigan, the two points would automatically put the Broncos ahead of UNO. If nothing else in the standings from three to five changes, then WMU would finish fourth, NMU fifth, and UNO sixth.
However, WMU splits with Michigan and NMU takes even one point from LSSU, WMU finishes fifth and UNO sixth.
Does your head hurt yet?
If WMU takes no points from Michigan and OSU beats Miami Friday night, the Broncos would finish seventh and OSU sixth. If the Broncs and Bucks finish tied in points — OSU takes a point from Miami, WMU takes none from Michigan — WMU wins the tiebreaker (league wins).
Ohio State (12-11-4)
Ohio State needs to win its lone remaining game against Miami Friday night for a shot at staying home in the first round of the playoffs. The Buckeyes would also need Michigan to beat WMU twice to secure home ice, as the Broncos are one point ahead of the Buckeyes and WMU has the tiebreaker (league wins).
OSU can finish no higher than sixth, no lower than eighth. If the Buckeyes win and the Broncos lose, OSU would tie UNO in points, league wins, and head-to-head, but the Mavericks win on goal differential, giving UNO fifth place and OSU sixth.
Notre Dame is four points behind OSU. To catch the Buckeyes, the Irish need to beat Bowling Green twice this weekend — and if Notre Dame does that, it would tie OSU in points and win on the tiebreaker (league wins). Should this happen, Notre Dame would finish seventh, and probably travel to the friendly confines of Lawson Arena.
Notre Dame (10-12-4) and Ferris State (11-14-1)
The Irish cannot host a first-round series. Notre Dame can finish as high as seventh place, and as low as ninth.
If Notre Dame wins both its games this weekend and OSU loses to Miami Friday night, the Irish would catch OSU in points and win the tiebreaker (league wins) for seventh.
Notre Dame is one point ahead of Ferris State, but the Bulldogs already have an advantage in league wins (11 to the Irish 10). These teams cannot end the season tied in both points and league wins, so FSU has the tiebreaker.
Ferris State can finish no higher than eighth, no lower than ninth. In the unlikely event that FSU sweeps MSU and Notre Dame takes no points from Bowling Green, the Bulldogs will move ahead of the Irish, but they can’t catch the Buckeyes.
Behind them, Miami can catch neither the Irish nor the Bulldogs.
Miami (8-17-2) and Bowling Green (7-16-3)
With one league game remaining, the RedHawks can finish only 10th or 11th. Either way for Miami, it’s either a long trip (UAF, NMU) or a series against Michigan or Michigan State in the first round.
If Miami beats Ohio State Friday night, they’ll have 20 league points, three ahead of Bowling Green. So, should Miami beat OSU, Bowling Green would need three points from Notre Dame this weekend to pass the RedHawks outright.
Miami and Bowling Green can potentially end the season tied in points (19) and league wins (eight), if Miami ties Ohio State and BG splits with Notre Dame. In that case, the Falcons edge the RedHawks in goal differential head-to-head (11-9), as the teams split a pair of games this season.
Lake Superior State (4-20-2)
With just 10 league points, the Lakers are anchored in last place, with no potential to move up. All LSSU can do about the playoffs is wait to see who finishes in the top spot, then make travel plans for either East Lansing or Ann Arbor.
So, the Winter Olympics are over, and given the drugs and the French figure-skating judge, you’re still looking for that feel-good sense of sportsmanship.
Well, then you should have been in Ann Arbor last weekend for the OSU-Michigan series.
I’m not kidding. The play was intense, and on the ice things were rough with the potential to get nasty. But they never did — not after Michigan jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first ten minutes of the first game, when Ohio State could do nothing but skate around, not in the second period of the Wolverines’ 6-3 win the second night, when the game was anyone’s, really, until Michigan found that sixth goal.
There were penalties. There were words exchanged. At one point, Mike Komisarek and R.J. Umberger were bumping bellies, mask-to-mask, and all one could think of was the potential damage to that valuable real estate.
But at the ends of every period, when the two teams skated off the ice, there was no jostling, no words were exchanged — even though both teams leave the ice by the same door at Yost. In fact, many Buckeye players tried to leave the ice as the Michigan players were leaving, and there was no conflict.
Then, during the post-series handshake, the lack of animosity was palpable. The teams genuinely congratulated each other on two tough games. Players who fought or thought about it when the game clock was ticking were smiling and joking in line.
To the untrained eye, this behavior is baffling.
Both coaches said afterward that the teams just have a healthy respect for each other.
“We never got the sense that we could just take this team for granted,” said Michigan head coach Red Berenson, “and we knew we had to work hard. I think our players have great respect for them.”
“Well,” said Berenson’s counterpart, OSU head coach John Markell, “you have to respect Michigan, but I think it goes both ways. I think both teams know that the other is always going to bring their game when they meet.”
Somebody call Hallmark. I feel a moment coming on.
The truth is actually threefold:
1) Players from each team played together elsewhere, so many of these guys really do know and like each other.
2) Each program attempted to land several of the other team’s players for its very own, so there is some familiarity on that level, too.
3) These teams are young, and they just don’t have the collective memory of Michigan owning Ohio State outright for a decade of hockey. No sense of ownership on Michigan’s part; no sense of having been owned by the Buckeyes.
Thank the hockey gods, however, that someone remembered something at Yost. Whenever Buckeye defender Scott Titus was on the ice, a small but enthusiastic group of Michigan fans chanted, “Titus sucks! Titus sucks!” When he was off the ice, the group chanted, “We want Titus! We want Titus!”
It’s shocking that this group would even deign to use the junior’s real name. After all, in the Michigan Daily, the student newspaper, Titus was known as “The Villain” — never a name, though sometimes his number (five) was mentioned — after a Michigan-OSU series two years ago in Columbus.
During the third period of the second game of that series, Mike Comrie — remember him? — cross-checked Titus near the right boards in the OSU end, and a brawl ensued. The only player who did not participate was Josh Blackburn, content to watch it all from his net at the other end.
Jeff Jillson — remember him? — and J.F. Dufour went at it the best, dropping gloves and exchanging slugs. Buckeye goaltender Ray Aho mixed it up with someone a foot taller than he, but memory fails as to whom. However, both Aho and the Wolverine quit their small brawl by mutual consent, both smiling when it was over.
Titus — whom the Michigan student reporters blamed for the fight — was triple-teamed during the melee, hardly causing any damage.
After the game, Mark Kosick said that the Buckeyes were always cheap and dirty, and Eric Meloche responded by calling the Wolverines “weasels.” The Michigan Daily called Titus “The Villain” in every subsequent issue.
Ah, those were the days.
Now, the Buckeyes find themselves not only respecting the Wolverines, but rooting for them this weekend. When asked after OSU’s win over Miami Monday night whether he’d have any trouble pulling for Michigan this weekend, John Markell responded, “Go, Wolverines, go.”
You Just Wouldn’t Understand
In the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine, former MSU player Jeremy Jackson whines about his status in the world of hockey, alleging that he is where he is — with the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL, as opposed to being a drafted prospect on the fast track to NHL success — at least partly because he’s black.
After disregarding team rules at Michigan State, Jackson was let go by Ron Mason.
In the article, author Shaun Assael says that Georges Laraque of the Edmonton Oilers — himself a black player — tells Jackson that not everything is about race. He quotes Laraque on alleged discrimination as saying, “You know, Jeremy, part of that is your size.”
That’s not all it is. Jackson should also realize that most of it is his lack of discipline, not his race, his need to connect with his roots, his need to find and assert himself for the person he is.
The article implies that Laraque suffers for listening to country/western music — the preference, apparently, of many of the Oilers — in the locker room. Jackson claims that he pretends to like Dave Matthews just to fit in with white players.
Frankly, if that’s the case, I feel sorry for these men. I could never get used to a diet of country music, and if I were forced to listen repeatedly to the Dave Matthews Band — an overrated act if ever there was one — I’d feel culturally violated as well.
Of course, I’m white. A white chick. A white chick who covers hockey. Men’s hockey. In press boxes where the talk can revolve around anything from stick size to breast size. Where breast size — or body size, hair color, age — can determine whether or not you’re taken “seriously” as a reporter.
As a chick, that is. Black or white.
It Took A Full Season, But Look What We Have Here
In this season of true parity — a lesson in “be careful what you wish for” — it took the full schedule for personality of some teams to emerge. There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was in her 80s, and everyone makes the playoffs anyway.
Here’s a brief Girl Reporter synopsis of each team, in the order of this week’s current standings.
The exciting thing about Michigan State this season is that the Spartans are, well, exciting.
Last season, Ron Mason repeatedly said that his Spartans were a different team from those in recent years, one less defensive and more apt to score goals. This season, that is absolutely the case. Taking nothing away from MSU’s excellent defense, this is a squad that can open up a game, explode offensively, and — I didn’t believe it when I saw it myself — give up more than a few odd-man rushes.
Why is this last part so exciting? Because CCHA fans have become bored with mere perfection. The tight, defensive Spartan strategies of years past had lulled non-MSU fans into believing that Spartan hockey was dull. (Disclaimer: not the opinion of the Girl Reporter.) Now that the Spartans have shown that their style of play allows for mistakes here and there, they also have a chance to show fans how amazing they can be at overcoming those mistakes.
And now that the Spartans play a more rounded game — defense and offense, with outstanding goaltending — this team looks as though it has a good chance in the NCAA tourney.
Come CCHA fans. Free your minds and the rest will follow. Michigan is the team people love to hate in this conference, but what’s not to love about the 2001-02 Wolverines?
If you were lucky enough to witness Michigan’s win over Mercyhurst in the NCAA 2001 West Regional, you saw something missing from Wolverine hockey in recent years, something that seems to have carried over to this season: enthusiasm. This team plays with an infectious mixture of finesse and grinding, heart without the pretense of past years.
From the very first game of the year, the “Cold War,” this young Michigan squad has shown that in addition to talent, it has a love of the game not clearly evident among Wolverines in recent years. They’re having fun, and they’re fun to watch.
CCHA fans, drop your biases. These Wolverines are players you can root for in the Big Show.
Let’s just hope they remain unsullied by their fawning local press.
If the Nanooks lived any closer to the rest of the conference, this just might seem like a Cinderella story.
With certain criteria stacked against them — being in Alaska, for example — the Nanooks will finish third in CCHA play and host a first-round playoff series for the first time in team history.
I haven’t seen the Nanooks play this season, but I’ve listened to them via the Internet nearly every home series. It’s clear that while goaltending is adequate, netminding and defense are not UAF’s strong points. The Nanooks are averaging 3.25 goals per game in conference play, 3.56 (to lead the league) overall. This is a potentially explosive club but one that can certainly get caught with its defensive guard down.
Anyone who has followed my column through the years knows that I’ve always had a soft spot for the Nanooks, so what I’ve heard from around the league this season — if true — pains me to report. From reliable sources throughout the league, I’ve heard that the Nanooks are deliberately unsportsmanlike, in many aspects of the game. If true, this saddens me.
But, as I’ve been told recently in many email messages from loyal readers, hockey is a man’s sport, so what do I know?
I do know this: no player is an angel who approaches the century mark in penalty minutes, so Voros fans can stop writing to me about his inherent virtue.
With the heart this team has shown this season, UAF has a legitimate shot at capturing the league’s playoff title.
I’m going to say this and I don’t care who complains: I love this team.
I saw the Wildcats play two tough, clean games in Columbus early in the season, then saw them take it to the opposition during the Everblades tournament in December. The Cockburn-Theuer combo may very well be the best in the league.
This is a smart, fast, talented team that — like the Nanooks — perennially must overcome certain recruiting obstacles. They are a blue-collar, tenacious bunch, but they will only go as far as Craig Kowalski can take them. Yes, that’s a lot of pressure to put on one sophomore, but that’s the way it is.
Which team will show up for the first round of the playoffs, the Wildcats that beat Bowling Green 4-1 last Friday, or the team that got blanked by BG 6-0 the following night?
This is a team that typifies the “parity” of the league this season — as does WMU, OSU, Notre Dame, and Ferris State. A team that can look like the best in the conference, and a team that looks like it utterly lacks direction.
Dan Ellis is a goaltender that isn’t praised enough, and I’m guilty of that as well. Ellis is both tough and elegant in net, a pleasure to watch, and one look at UNO’s stats tell the story of the team with Ellis this season.
The Mavericks ended the CCHA season going 3-4-1 in February. (Don’t talk to me about January’s record, Mavs fans; look at the strength of schedule.) During that stretch, the Mavericks outscored opponents 19-16, thanks to back-to-back shutouts against Miami, but two losses to Michigan and one point from Fairbanks — the two teams on February’s schedule ahead of UNO — are a good indication of why the Mavericks are middle-packers this season.
Inconsistency seems to be the hobgoblin that’s troubling UNO. The Bullpen is a tough place to play, but middle-packers may be upset in the first round of the playoffs.
It’s a good thing this team can score goals, because the Broncos don’t have a viable defense.
From the net out, this team will have to play better team defense to advance after the first round of the playoffs, let alone through the CCHA tourney in Detroit.
The Broncos have cleaned up their collective act — a relief, given how chippy this team has been in years past — and score more than three goals per game, but WMU gives up three per game as well, outscoring league opponents just 88-82 this season. The team, as a whole, is in the minus, both overall and in league play.
Still, Western is a fun team to watch, capable of breaking a game wide open. They play an intense game.
The heart and soul of this hockey team is the defense, and when the defensive corps is on its game, OSU is nearly unbeatable.
That, however, has happened so inconsistently in this second half of the season that it’s hard to get a read on this team.
Without question, this is a team in need of better leadership — or, at least a team in need of having everyone on the same page. I’m not question captain Jason Crain’s leadership abilities (except when he takes stupid penalties), but I am questioning whether or not this team is focused as a single unit on one, solid, tangible goal.
Mike Betz is as good as the team in front of him; when they’re off, he’s off. When the D-corps is on, the Buckeyes can compensate for any inconsistencies among the frontmen.
Two first-round draft picks and the Buckeyes aren’t scoring goals? Something’s rotten in the state of Ohio.
The Irish have been a pleasant surprise this season, more focused than they have been in seasons past, vying for the title of “hardest-working team in college hockey.”
Unlike other middle-packers, the Irish have actually improved this season from last, and seem to play with all the heart in the world. The team is collectively on the plus side of things in both overall and conference play (unlike other middle-packers); the goaltending of rookie Morgan Cey has been more than adequate; veterans seem to be playing inspired hockey (David Inman is having a career season).
So many of the games that Notre Dame has lost this season have been by one or two goals that it’s clear that the Irish are just this close to climbing out of the middle of the pack next season — maybe.
The Bulldogs are a tough team, a little on the small side, but fast and skilled. Rob Collins is another player having a career season, and Chris Kunitz is either benefitting from that, or is establishing himself as one talented little instigator.
In net for FSU, Mike Brown and John de Caro have stepped up admirably.
All in all, FSU is a middle-pack team with some talent, some intensity, some speed — and seemingly no desire to climb out of the middle of the pack. There’s nothing wrong with this team, but there’s nothing there to spark the Bulldogs on to bigger and better things.
Talk about something rotten in the state of Ohio.
Monday night’s match in Columbus between the RedHawks and the Buckeyes was a battle of who wanted to lose less. Neither team had any zip, and Miami looked awful — that’s the only way to put it.
This was surprising, given how hard the Bucks and ‘Hawks usually play each other, no matter where either team is in the standings. To say these squads dislike each other is putting it mildly. Yes, there are some players on each team friendly with players on the other, but the intrastate rivalry has always been intense, so when Monday’s game packed the punch of three-hour-old dishwater, any observer had to know that something was wrong.
And what is wrong with Miami? Lack of heart? Lack of leadership? There are rumors about every team, of course, but there’s nothing substantiated here. It’s a team that just doesn’t seem to have a pulse.
And that’s a shame.
The Falcons have two players: Tyler Masters and Greg Day.
Masters has a save percentage of .905 overall — respectable — but a goals against average of 3.36. No defense in front of him. Need further proof? The team is a collective -117 overall.
Day has 17 goals and 16 assists, and no other Falcon has goal totals in the double digits.
Buddy Powers’ contract is up at the end of this season. It has yet to be renewed. I like Powers, and would hate to see him go.
If the Falcons have it in them to step up, now would be a good time.
Lake Superior State
The Laker team I saw in Columbus played its heart out. Their coach disagreed, and said that his team has little to no talent.
This is all I know.
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.