Thank you Nanooks and Bulldogs. Thank you. While I realize that neither of you is entirely pleased with last weekend’s split, you did win on the nights that I picked for each of you to win. Two other series split with each team winning on nights opposite of my picks for their wins. You’d think they’d have a little consideration for this lowly CCHA reporter, but no.
Three of the four full weekend series in the CCHA split Dec. 10-12 – which is no surprise, given how the first half of this season progressed. In addition to the Alaska-Ferris State series, the Lakers and Broncos split in Kalamazoo and the Wildcats and Fighting Irish split in South Bend. The Buckeyes swept Bowling Green, marking OSU’s first regular-season sweep of a CCHA opponent since they swept, well, Bowling Green Jan. 8-9, 2010.
And then the Wolverines blanked the Spartans, 5-0. You may have heard something about that game.
The shuffle at the top of the standings
Miami had the weekend off, so that gave Michigan and Notre Dame a chance to gain some ground and they did.
Notre Dame is the new top team in the conference with 29 points, followed by second-place Michigan (28) and third-place Miami (27). The Fighting Irish could have distanced themselves a bit with a sweep in South Bend, but Northern Michigan had other thoughts. Saturday, the Wildcats led 3-0 going into the third, but the Irish scored twice – and, not surprisingly, David Gerths and T.J. Tynan did the scoring – to bring the final score to 3-2.
In that contest, NMU sophomore Brian Nugent doubled his goal output from a year ago by netting his second goal of the season in the second period, and that held up to be the game-winner. Wildcat goaltender freshman Jared Coreau had a herculean effort in net, stopping 51 pucks for his third win of the season.
ND bounced back Sunday to win 5-2, scoring three unanswered goals in the second half of the third period to win the game.
The Wolverines beat the Spartans and soundly, winning 5-0 in The Big Chill in the Big House. There were a couple of notable things about that contest. First, senior UM goaltender Shawn Hunwick was not slated to start. He replaced senior Bryan Hogan, who suffered a significant groin pull in pre-game warm-ups. Even though the two have been splitting time in net this season and Hogan has had the better numbers, it’s impossible not to think about how Hunwick propelled the Wolverines through the late going of 2009-10 after the same injury sidelined Hogan.
Another important thing to note: MSU is now scoreless for the last 136 minutes, 38 seconds of play. The last Spartan to score a goal was captain Torey Krug, at 9:22 in the third period of MSU’s 3-2 win over FSU Dec. 3.
UM freshman defenseman Jon Merrill had the first two goals of the Big Chill game, giving him the game-winner of course. The Wolverine power play, which has been struggling mightily this season, netted three goals.
So the Irish end the first half of CCHA play with the top spot in the league and the Wolverines end on a very high note and with a game in hand on both Notre Dame and Miami.
In the middle
The same three teams that were tied for fourth place last week are tied for fourth again this week, because each split points evenly for the weekend.
Northern Michigan, Alaska and Ferris State came into the weekend with 20 points each; now each has 23. NMU took those three points from ND, an important way to keep pace with the Nanooks and Bulldogs, who split with each other. These teams are just three points behind Miami. NMU has played 13 games, UAF 14 and FSU 15.
In FSU’s 4-2 win Friday, Andy Taranto scored for UAF at 13:33 in the first, but the Bulldogs kept the Nanooks off the scoreboard again until Jarret Granberg scored his third power-play goal of the season at 18:04 in the third to make it a 3-2 game. Junior Jordie Johnston’s (say that three times fast) empty-net goal at 19:39 made it a 4-2 game for FSU. It was Johnston’s second goal of the season, and he’s now one away from equaling his career-high of three from two seasons ago.
As it turns out Taranto was the first and last to score a goal in that series, as he found the net at 3:37 in OT Saturday – on a five-on-three power play – to lift the Nanooks over the Bulldogs for a 4-3 win. If it weren’t for Nik Yaremchuk’s goal to tie it for UAF in the late third period, there would have been no overtime.
Fourth place isn’t the only bottleneck in the CCHA. With their two-game sweep and six points, the Buckeyes lifted themselves into a three-way tie for seventh with Western Michigan and Lake Superior, who split a series with each other. Each team has 17 points; the Buckeyes and Broncos each have two games in hand on the Lakers.
OSU beat Bowling Green, 4-3, in overtime Friday. After trailing 2-0 early in the third OSU netted three unanswered goals. James McIntosh knotted the score for BG at 17:16 in the third, but Danny Dries had the game-winner at 3:54 in OT. The Buckeyes jumped out to a two-goal lead after two in the 4-2 win Saturday.
LSSU and WMU split a pair of decisive victories in Lawson Arena, with the Lakers winning 5-2 Friday and the Broncos 4-1 Saturday. Three goals in the second half of the second period – by Ben Power, Nick McParland and Dan Radke – cemented the game for LSSU Friday. Nick Pisellini started in net for WMU but was replaced by Jerry Kuhn at the start of the third.
The Broncos scored all four of their goals in the third period in Saturday’s win, the first two coming 21 seconds apart, and all four by four different WMU players. Kuhn had the win.
Last and perhaps likely to stay there
I still can’t get over that the Spartans are in 10th place. They’ve played like a next-to-last-place team only a couple of times this season. Saturday in Michigan Stadium was one of them, giving up three power-play goals. While it’s clear that the offense is struggling, the Spartan blue line needs some quiet, seasonal contemplation between now and the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament.
With 10 points, MSU is two points ahead of last-place Bowling Green and the Spartans have two games in hand on both the Falcons the Lakers directly ahead of them.
The Falcons – well, let’s just say that Chris Bergeron is doing what he can. The sweep at the hands of Ohio Start was the fourth time this season that BG hasn’t earned points in a two-game set against a CCHA opponent. Bergeron and his staff inherited a program that needs rebuilding from the bottom up. I know they’re up to the task, but it makes for some pretty painful hockey this season. There are valiant players at BG who will reap few immediate rewards this year. A few years from now, though, they may be able to look back on this 2010-11 season and know that whatever success came to Bowling Green after this year did so in part because of their efforts in a tough season of hockey.
How did I do?
December has been painful. I went 4-5-0 for the weekend, in large part for having called two series splits the wrong way.
And my condolences
I am saddened by the passing of UAH athletic director, Jim Harris, who died of a heart attack Dec. 11. He was 63.
I had the pleasure of talking with him through the process of UAH’s application to the CCHA. The outcome wasn’t what Harris desired or even expected; I was very lucky, however, to have been able to spend a little time on the phone with him. He was a nice man, and one whose enthusiasm for Chargers hockey was unsurpassed.
My deepest sympathies to Harris’s family and friends, and everyone in Huntsville who is touched by his death.