Not With A Bang, But With A Whimper?
Is this how the CCHA season will end, with few or no surprises in the coming two weeks?
Four teams can capture first place and the regular-season title, but it’s unlikely that Ferris State will give it up — unless the Bulldogs pull a Fredonia State.
If FSU loses out and MSU wins out — and if OSU doesn’t finish with 39 points — the Spartans will finish the season tied with the Bulldogs but will win on the goal differential tiebreaker.
Should Michigan and FSU finish tied for points and league wins, Michigan wins the tiebreaker on goal differential. The Wolverines, of course, can win the league outright if they take three more points in their final four games than the Bulldogs do in theirs.
Ohio State is still within striking distance of first place as well, in spite of the Buckeyes’ current three-game swoon. Again, OSU can win the league outright on points depending on how Michigan and FSU do compared to the Buckeyes in the coming two weekends, but FSU swept OSU in two games in Big Rapids earlier this season, and that would probably factor into tiebreakers.
Of course, OSU and Michigan face off against each other for the first time during the regular season during the last regular-season weekend of the year — a series that could, theoretically, produce a regular-season champ, but which will in all likelihood decide second place.
Here’s a look at the importance of each series this weekend.
Bowling Green (7-20-3, 4-17-3 CCHA, 11th place) at Lake Superior (5-23-4, 2-21-1 CCHA, 12th place)
The Lakers are currently six points behind he Falcons in the standings, and with their final regular-season series in Miami next weekend, are unlikely to catch BGSU in the standings, even with the interesting possibility — if the planets are aligned and someone sacrifices a virgin to the spirit of Gitche Gumee — of a Laker sweep this weekend.
The Falcons are 7-2-1 against the Lakers in their last 10 meetings, and eight of those games have been decided by two goals or less.
Last weekend, Terry Denike and Matt Violin combined for 97 saves in LSSU’s two losses to Notre Dame. (Don’t you just want to give them a hug or something?)
In all probability, the Lakers will finish in last place in the league and the Bulldogs in first, and FSU will make fast work of LSSU in the opening round of the CCHA playoff.
Bowling Green can’t catch Nebraska-Omaha, the current holder of 10th place, so if the Falcons beat the Lakers this weekend, they’ll probably watch the top of the standings to see whether they travel north or south for the first round.
Miami (18-14-2, 11-11-2 CCHA, tie eighth place) at Alaska-Fairbanks (12-12-6, 9-11-6 CCHA, tie eighth place)
Each of these teams has 24 league points; Miami currently has more two more league wins. Even if UAF sweeps this weekend, should Miami take their last two games against LSSU, the teams will tie in points, but Miami will finish ahead of the Nanooks.
Although it is unlikely that either team will usurp one of the three teams currently tied for fifth place (Northern Michigan, Western Michigan, Notre Dame) to secure home ice for the first round of the CCHA playoffs, if either were to do so, it would be UAF — a team that is playing with a lot of confidence these days.
The goal for each team this weekend is not merely points, but all available points. For the Nanooks, these four points represent the only movement they can make in the standings; UAF takes on UAA next weekend, so these are UAF’s last regular-season league games.
The RedHawks, who started out so convincingly this season, have proven that they are sketchy and inconsistent — but capable of taking advantage of a better team’s letdown. The Nanooks ride a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2) into this series.
It’s impossible to predict how Miami will finish. RedHawks? Red faced?
If UAF does not secure home ice, the Nanooks are going to be the one team that no one in the top six wants to face the first round. No matter who they face — and I’d lay money they’ll face Michigan State in the first round of the playoffs — they may be peaking at just the right time … and The Joe is no longer a mystery to them.
Michigan (23-8-1, 17-6-1 CCHA, second place) vs. Michigan State (18-12-2, 14-9-1 CCHA, fourth place)
This is the kind of series that should be watched every week, dammit.
Michigan is fighting for the league title, and — barring that — second place. Michigan State can also win the league title, but it’s more likely that the Spartans will be happy finishing as high as they possibly can. As any coach in the league will tell you, any CCHA team can beat any other CCHA team on any given night (blah, blah, blah), but wouldn’t you rather face Bowling Green than Alaska-Fairbanks in the first round of the playoffs?
This series has all the bells and whistles of, well, this series — just as it did two weeks ago.
The added super special surprise bonus of this series is that MSU is an NCAA “bubble” team, and the Spartans probably need these points more than the Wolverines do.
Get a ticket to the game at JLA if you live within driving distance and don’t have plans for Saturday night — and why would you have any other plans than these?
Notre Dame (13-13-6, 11-10-3 CCHA, tie fifth place) vs. Western Michigan (14-16-2, 12-11-1 CCHA, tie fifth place)
The Irish really do hold their fate in their own hands. Tied for fifth place with both Western Michigan and Northern Michigan — but with one fewer league win with either — Notre Dame not only plays WMU this weekend but takes on NMU for the regular-season finale.
That having been said, it’s hard to imagine that the Irish will have what it takes to either win out or earn enough points to secure fifth or sixth place — and home ice in the first round of the playoffs.
That may sound like a slam, but Western Michigan plays with more intensity than does Notre Dame, and Northern Michigan is a better team, period.
And with Miami and UAF nipping at the heels of these three teams, it’s quite possible that Notre Dame will finish as low as ninth or 10th — and that’s my prediction, that Notre Dame falls beneath UNO and finishes 10th, to face OSU in the first round of the playoffs.
As for WMU, the Broncos will either secure home ice or travel to Fairbanks for the first round.
(Watch me eat my words, all the way around. Pass the Hershey’s syrup.)
Ohio State (1-9-3, 15-7-2 CCHA, third place) at Northern Michigan (16-14-2, 12-11-1 CCHA, tie fifth place)
Northern will finish fifth; OSU will finish third.
Holy swan songs, CCHA fans! The Buckeyes controlled their own destiny, and instead of finishing up strong began a three-game dive in Cincinnati a week ago.
The Wildcats, plenty capable of securing home ice, gave the Lakers their second win of the season two weeks ago.
The Buckeyes could, theoretically, take the league or finish third, or fourth, or … but they will play at home in the first round, if Nationwide Arena can be considered “home.” Because Notre Dame plays both of the other current fifth-place teams in the next two weeks, none of those teams can catch OSU. Miami can catch the Buckeyes in points, but OSU holds tiebreakers in that series.
NMU wants to host a first-round series, and the Wildcats should be able to do so. They have solid forwards who can score, a goaltender who can play out of his mind, and a reasonably good defense.
What will this series decide? In two words, not much. Maybe. Probably. If the teams split, each will perpetuate the status quo.
Nebraska-Omaha (13-7-4, 9-15-2 CCHA, 10th place) at Ferris State (23-8-1, 18-5-1 CCHA, first place)
The Bulldogs want the league title. The Mavericks cannot catch Miami because the RedHawks have two games in hand on the Mavs; should the Mavericks catch UAF in points, the Nanooks have the tiebreaker.
So what is there at stake in this series? First place. FSU is two points ahead of Michigan in the standings. A Bulldog sweep — even if the Wolverines sweep the Spartans this weekend — puts FSU in a sweet place going into the final weekend of the season. During that weekend, OSU hosts Michigan, while FSU travels to Bowling Green.
For the Mavericks, finishing up strong would be nice, considering everything UNO has had to contend with this season, from departures to injuries to intangible “stuff.” Dan Ellis can take any team anywhere, so finishing up with points against league-leading Ferris State — followed by nonconference games against Minnesota State-Mankato — could give UNO a boost going into the first round of the playoffs, and few jaws would drop if UNO pulled an upset on the road to advance to The Joe.
Tickets for the Midwest Regional
Tickets are now on sale for the 2003 NCAA Midwest Regional, Saturday and Sunday, Mar. 29-30, at Yost Arena. Call the Michigan Athletic Ticket Office at 734-764-0247.
Super Six Tickets
Tickets are now available for the CCHA’s Super Six, which will be held Mar. 20-22 in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena.
These are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday games to accommodate the NCAA’s postseason selection scheduled for Sunday, Mar. 23.
And remember, there are six games this year, including a consolation game Saturday afternoon.
For tickets, call 248-645-6666. Group discounts are available by calling (313) 396-7911.
Notes From The League
UAF: The Nanooks are 3-0-2 in their last five games, and some of the thanks for that goes to sophomore goaltender and walk on Keith Bartusch, who started those five contests. Last Friday, Bartusch made 40 saves against OSU to lead UAF onto a 4-1 win, snapping OSU’s 17-game unbeaten streak at Value City Arena. UAF went on to sweep the weekend.
BGSU: Junior forward D’Arcy McConvey earned two assists — the 49th and 50th of his career — when BGSU tied WMU 3-3 in Kalamazoo last Friday. McConvey added two more in Saturday’s 4-2 loss, bringing his season total to 19, a career high.
FSU: The Bulldogs, who were idle last week, face UNO at home this week — and the Mavericks have never lost in Ewigleben. UNO is 3-0-1 in Big Rapids since joining the CCHA in 1999, and is 6-1-1 overall against FSU.
LSSU: Freshman defensemen netted all of LSSU’s goals in the Lakers’ 6-3 loss to Notre Dame last Saturday. Ren Fauci registered a pair, including the team’s first power-play tally in eight games. Kory Scoran scored the third.
Miami: Andy Green is the new RedHawks’ record holder for points in a single season by a rookie blueliner. He earned two assists in Miami’s 3-2 loss to Sacred Heart (Sacred Heart?!), giving him 20 points on the season (4-16–20).
Michigan: Red Berenson has two chances this weekend to become the 14th head coach in college hockey history to record 500 victories.
MSU: The Spartans suffered a 4-2 loss to NMU last Saturday in their 300th consecutive regular-season sellout at Munn Ice Arena.
UNO: When the Wolverines swept the Mavericks in Omaha last weekend, they became just the third CCHA team to sweep the Mavs in the Bullpen. UAF has done so twice, and MSU has also taken two in a row from UNO in Omaha.
NMU: The Wildcats, currently in the three-way tie for fifth place with Notre Dame and Western Michigan — and fighting for home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs — finish their regular season with four consecutive games at home. NMU takes on OSU this weekend, and Notre Dame in a week.
Notre Dame: Notre Dame’s four-game win streak is the longest of this season, and the Irish’s longest since last season when they won five in a row from Feb. 8 through Mar. 2.
OSU: With their 4-1 loss to UAF last Friday, the Buckeyes failed to match their school record of 13 straight home-ice wins, set in 1969-70.
WMU: Freshman netminder Scott Foster, who keeps hockey cards in his skates for luck, helped the Broncos extend their undefeated streak against Bowling Green to seven games with a win and a tie last weekend.
Come Sweet May Again, and Step on It!
Last week, I printed this poem and asked you to identify it:
Among of green
stiff old bright
broken branch come
white sweet May
Of course, all y’all broke my heart — except for my old friend and faithful Nanook fan, Eric Carlson.
Eric knew that the poem is “The Locust Tree in Flower,” written by someone you should have read in high school, William Carlos Williams (he’s an American poet, for those of you playing at home).
Eric was the only one who knew. The only one. And he’ll take a raincheck on dinner at Dave’s house next Saturday because, well, it’s a bit of a drive.
I Should Have Known
As a bonus, I offered you these lyrics, from a Canadian band:
Cuddle up with William S. Burrow, leave on the light for Bell Hooks,
I’ve been flirtin’ with Pierre Berton ’cause he’s so smart in his books.
Of course the band is Moxy Fruvous, and of course the song is “My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors” from their 1993 release, Bargainville. Tom Bergh had the first correct response, and if he lived anywhere near Dave Hendrickson, he’d be a lucky, lucky man.
Try to Keep Up Here, OK?
Okay, slackers, here’s this week’s snippet of verse. Once again, identify poem and poet, and win dinner next Saturday at Dave Hendrickson’s house.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.
And your bonus (answer this one, and you get dessert). Identify song and artist (American this time).
Well a lot of good cars are Japanese.
But when we’re driving far,
I need my baby,
I need my baby next to me.
A faithful reader from whom I had heard before last week — Jason R. — asked why I chose the lyrics I print. Jason, it’s simple: it’s what I’m listening to as I’m writing.
USCHO covers the CCHA all week long on the CCHA Blog, with weekend recaps on Monday, picks on Friday, and updates during the week.