What a strange season. In one of those if-the-season-were-to-end-today scenarios, seven CCHA teams would likely make the NCAA tournament; all seven of those teams are currently ranked. Lake Superior State just dropped out of the current rankings.
To be honest, I don’t know what to think. In past years when the CCHA has appeared strong overall, it faltered in the post-season. This year, though, the league has an impressive nonconference record of 50-20-5. Sure, eight of those wins are against Alabama-Huntsville (no offense, Chargers), but 14-10-1 against the WCHA and an even year against Hockey East may be good omens.
And the fantasy of every CCHA fan is for the league to go out with national championships this year and next.
Now, to more immediate matters, my picks.
Last week: 7-2-2
Season to date: 89-60-22 (.584)
Something’s not right here. A single week in which I was correct seven times, including a split that went the way I called it?
Of course, the week since last weekend’s play has been a bit more mixed.
Everyone plays except for Michigan this weekend. All series are Friday-Saturday, single-site except for the BGSU-WMU series, which is home-and-home with the Broncos hosting Friday. All games begin at 7:05 p.m. local time except for the first game in the NMU-Miami series, which begins at 7:35 p.m.
I see at least six teams rooting for a Lake Superior State sweep.
No. 16 Michigan State at No. 10 Ferris State
Last weekend, the Spartans took four points at home from Lake Superior State with a win and tie while the Bulldogs took five on the road from Ohio State with a win, tie, and shootout point. Each team has an unbeaten streak on the line, MSU’s four-game (2-0-2) and FSU’s six-game (4-0-2), the second-longest active streak in the country. The Bulldogs haven’t lost in 2012 and the Spartans haven’t traveled. The teams met four times last season with the Bulldogs winning three of those matches. The Spartans are a better first-night team, so that may be a factor. FSU 3-2, 3-2
No. 19 Northern Michigan at No. 17 Miami
The Wildcats surprised many people by beating Michigan Tech on the road last weekend, 5-2 — well, they didn’t surprise me. NMU is playing well in front of Jared Coreau (2.07 GAA, .930 SV%), and steadiness in net may be just the thing that Northern Michigan needs to make a late-season run. That having been said, the Wildcats are meeting another team that is also playing well in front of a stellar goaltender. In the first half of the season, Miami couldn’t organize its impressive talent into one cohesive unit. Since the start of the year, however, the RedHawks have made a quick climb up the ladder, thanks in no small part to the outstanding play of the re-emergent Connor Knapp (1.77, .932). Last weekend, Miami swept Western Michigan at home, outscoring the Broncos 7-1. Last season, the RedHawks swept the Wildcats at home by a collective score of 13-1. Miami 3-1, 3-1
No. 4 Notre Dame at Alaska
At home last weekend, the Fighting Irish split a pair of close games with Michigan, games that looked like NCAA playoff hockey — fast, fun, smart. Alaska split at home, too, losing 3-1 to Bowling Green before taking the 4-1 rematch. That game snapped a six-game winless streak (0-4-2) that dated back to the Nanooks’ Dec. 2 win over visiting Michigan. These teams met earlier this season in South Bend, where the Irish needed overtime to win the second contest. Notre Dame is 13-2-1 against Alaska since the 2006-07 season, including a 4-1-1 record in Fairbanks. UAF 3-2, ND 4-2
No. 6 Ohio State at Lake Superior
The Buckeyes haven’t won a game this year, having gone 0-3-3 in their last six — four of which were at home. Last weekend, OSU took one point from visiting Ferris State, losing 4-3 and tying 3-3. On the road last weekend, the Lakers took two hard-earned points from Michigan State, losing 4-2 and tying 2-2 with the shootout point. The teams last met in Columbus in early December, when OSU swept LSSU 5-2 and 2-1, but the Lakers ended Ohio State’s 2010-11 season with a first-round CCHA playoff series sweep in Sault Ste. Marie, outscoring the Buckeyes 7-2 in the process. OSU 4-2, LSSU 3-2
Bowling Green vs. No. 13 Western Michigan
Each of these teams played on the road last weekend, and only one returned home with points. The Falcons split in Fairbanks, earning their second conference win of the season with Friday’s 3-1 decision. The Broncos lost twice in Oxford, Ohio, and were kept to a single goal in the process. These teams played a home-and-home series Dec. 9-10, a 3-3 tie in Bowling Green — with WMU earning the extra shootout point — and a 6-1 WMU win in Lawson Arena the second night. The Falcons haven’t won in Kalamazoo since 2008; the Broncos are 4-0-1 at home against BG in the last five games. WMU 5-2, 3-2