The play during the first weekend in February was an excellent preview for the race to the Mason Cup because in the CCHA, anything can happen. The three teams from my former home state of Ohio showed that each is in the hunt for something completely attainable.
1. Miami is in the hunt for that regular-season title. The RedHawks, picked fourth by the coaches and fifth by the media in the 2012-13 preseason polls, tallied their second consecutive CCHA sweep of the second half with two wins over Alaska, a team that had been on a six-game tear through league opponents. Once again, freshmen Jay Williams and Ryan McKay split time in the Miami net, but a story even bigger and more frightening (to opponents, at least) than another dynamic goaltending duo for the RedHawks is Miami’s 10 goals against Alaska goaltender John Keeney, the league’s January Rookie of the Month. Austin Czarnik, Riley Barber and Kevin Morris each had two-goal games for the RedHawks and Cody Murphy scored one in each contest. With 44 points, Miami is one point ahead of second-place Western Michigan. The RedHawks head to Kalamazoo this weekend.
2. Ohio State is in the hunt for a first-round playoff bye. After stumbling three weekends ago in Marquette, the Buckeyes are now undefeated in their last four games (3-0-1), having taken four of six points from visiting Notre Dame last weekend with a 6-3 win and 2-2 tie. Senior Brady Hjelle continued to play inspired hockey. Forget the day-in-the-park 29 saves he made in OSU’s 6-3 win; in the 2-2 tie, he stopped 45 in 65 minutes of play. Even scarier? The way the Buckeyes scored in the second period in the win — five times in two batches, with four goals on the power play. Three goals between 1:09 and 3:12 and another two goals late in the period 1:46 apart. Two goals — one early, one late — by Ryan Dzingel. Sure, bad Notre Dame team defense and a shaken Fighting Irish goaltender contributed to that second-period carnage, but I can think of several other teams that would not have been able to take advantage of all of the opportunities presented. With 35 points, the Buckeyes are one point ahead of fifth-place Alaska. The top five teams in the CCHA get a first-round playoff bye … and the Buckeyes head to Fairbanks this weekend.
3. Bowling Green is in the hunt to host a first-round playoff series. That is a lovely thing to have typed. The long-suffering Falcons are reaping the rewards of good, old-fashioned hard work and may find themselves at home for the first round of the CCHA playoffs. The Falcons swept Lake Superior State at home, outscoring the Lakers 11-4. Eight different Falcons scored in the two games. Sophomore Dajon Mingo (what a great name) had a goal in each contest, including Friday’s game winner, and freshman Mark Cooper had the game-winning goal in Saturday’s win plus another marker. BGSU is now 5-3-0 in the second half and tied with Michigan for eighth place with 25 points, one point behind Lake Superior State and five ahead of 10th-place Northern Michigan. The Falcons also have two games in hand on the Wolverines and Lakers. I’d like to be able to tell you that BGSU plays either team this weekend, but the Falcons have a home-and-home series against last-place Michigan State, a team with 16 points. Teams in the sixth, seventh and eighth spots in the final standings host a first-round CCHA playoff series.