Please forgive my omission of a pick for the Tuesday Northern Michigan-Michigan Tech game. Some Februaries are more challenging than others.
Last week: 6-4-0 (.600)
Season to date: 103-73-25 (.575)
Certainly better than last week — and it would have been much better, had Ohio State and Alaska split in the way that I had predicted.
What a critical weekend of CCHA play. First-place Miami plays third-place Notre Dame and the Fighting Irish sit just three points behind the RedHawks. That series is Friday-Sunday, with Sunday’s game being played in Chicago’s Soldier Field and being dubbed the Hockey City Classic. All other series are Friday-Saturday. All times listed are local. Michigan sits this weekend out.
You probably know this already, but the teams that finish in the top five in the final CCHA standings earn a first-round playoff bye. After that in the first week of the playoffs, Team 6 hosts Team 11, Team 7 hosts Team 10 and Team 8 hosts Team 9. Then there’s re-seeding for the second weekend of best-of-three play, and Team 1 hosts Team 8, etc.
From here on out, there is no low-stakes hockey.
No. 20 Alaska at Lake Superior State. The Nanooks split a pair of games at home last weekend against Ohio State, outscoring the Buckeyes 7-4 for the weekend. The Lakers — those kings of the unrequited in the CCHA — are returning to play after a bye week, having last lost twice to Bowling Green Feb. 1-2. The Nanooks are 1-3-0 in their last four and the Lakers have lost four in a row. The Nanooks currently sit in sixth place with 37 points, 11 points ahead of eighth-place LSSU. There can be no real reversal of fortune in this series, but the outcome can affect the standings in many ways. The last time Alaska won in Sault Ste. Marie was Nov. 21, 2009, and the Lakers are 20-7-1 versus the Nanooks all-time in Abel Arena. Friday’s game begins at 7:35 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:05 p.m. Alaska 3-1, Lake Superior State 3-1
Bowling Green at Ferris State. With 39 points, the Bulldogs are in fourth place and 11 points ahead of sixth-place Bowling Green. Last weekend, Ferris State split a pair of road games with Northern Michigan, winning 3-1 Friday and losing 3-0 Saturday. The Falcons split a home-and-home series with Michigan State, winning 2-1 at home Friday and losing 3-1 in East Lansing Saturday. Earlier this season, FSU swept BGSU in Bowling Green (Nov. 16-17), a 4-3 win and a 3-1 game that was capped by an empty-net goal. Don’t forget what the Falcons did the Bulldogs the last time these teams met in Big Rapids; in the second round of the 2011-12 CCHA playoffs, 11th-place BGSU knocked off first-place FSU in three games. I don’t think the Bulldogs are going to forget, either. My heart says split … but when has listening to my heart ever brought me anything but misery? Friday’s game begins at 7:05 p.m. Saturday’s start is at 5:05 p.m. and is televised by FOX Sports Detroit as part of Hockey Day in Michigan. FSU 4-2, 3-2
Northern Michigan at Michigan State. Last weekend, the Wildcats split a pair of home games with Ferris State, losing 3-1 Friday and winning 3-0 Saturday, but Tuesday night Northern Michigan lost to Michigan Tech, 8-2, in Houghton. Before Tuesday’s contest was nine minutes old, the Huskies were up 4-0; between 8:54 and 15:09 in the second, MTU scored four more. Ouch. The Spartans split their home-and-home series against Bowling Green last weekend, a 2-1 road loss followed by a 3-1 home win. With 19 points, last-place Michigan State is four points behind 10th-place Northern. Last season, the Spartans were 2-1-1 against the Wildcats. I’m going to eat these picks. I just know it. Friday’s game begins at 6:35 p.m. and is carried by the Big Ten Network. Saturday’s game starts at 7:35 p.m. and is part of FOX Sports Detroit’s Hockey Day in Michigan coverage. MSU 2-1, NMU 3-1
No. 12 Notre Dame vs. No. 3 Miami What each of these teams did last weekend made the CCHA a much more interesting league. Miami split on the road with Western Michigan, losing 2-0 Friday and winning 4-0 Saturday. Notre Dame swept Michigan at home, 7-4 and 6-4. Now three points separate the first-place RedHawks from third-place Fighting Irish with the Broncos sandwiched in between, one point out of first. Wow. Miami’s loss to WMU snapped a five-game win streak; Notre Dame’s two wins were its third and fourth conference victories of the second half of the season. The RedHawks have held opponents to two or fewer goals in their last eight games and in 22 of their last 23 contests. The Irish score in streaks — or get cold in streaks. In Oxford, Miami is 21-9-2 against Notre Dame all-time; on neutral ice, the RedHawks are 4-0-0 against the Irish. I’m not arguing with the odds. Friday’s game in Oxford begins at 7:35 p.m. and is televised by CBS Sports. Sunday’s game will be played in Chicago’s Soldier Field and begins at noon. That game will be televised by FOX Sports Detroit. Miami 3-1, 3-2
No. 6 Western Michigan at Ohio State. With 46 points, the Broncos are in second place. With 38 points, the Buckeyes are in fifth place. Each is attempting to capture a regular-season title — more likely for WMU than OSU — but the drama here is as much about OSU’s desire to stay at fifth place or higher for that first-round bye. Last week, WMU split a pair of home games with Miami, winning 2-0 Friday and losing 4-0 Saturday, while OSU split on the road with Alaska, a 6-1 loss Friday and 3-1 win Saturday. These teams last met in Columbus Nov. 13-14, 2009, two 4-2 wins for the Buckeyes. The teams split a series in Kalamazoo Feb. 10-11, 2012, with Western winning 3-2 in overtime the first night and the Buckeyes winning 4-3. It’s interesting how this series makes Buckeye fans of RedHawks and Fighting Irish alike. Games begin Friday and Saturday nights at 7:05 p.m. WMU 3-2, OSU 4-2
Congratulations, Super Fans!
Eleven loyal CCHA fans have been selected as winners of the CCHA’s Super Fan contest:
• John and Fran Zarling (Alaska)
• Terry Burton (Bowling Green)
• Gary Wigent (Ferris State)
• Brittany Litchard (Lake Superior State)
• Alex Cuccaiarre (Miami)
• Mike Nicholls (Michigan)
• Janeen Geisenhaver (Michigan State)
• Joshua Thoune (Northern Michigan)
• John DePiro (Notre Dame)
• Marie Mertz (Ohio State)
• Mark Shoup (Western Michigan)
Okay, so technically that’s 12 winners.
You can read a bio of each of the winners and see what they won on the CCHA website.
Thanks for all the valentines
So maybe you didn’t think you were sending me valentines when you took the time to write to me this week, but you were. This week’s column generated quite a bit of feedback, some of it very (undeservedly) kind. I’m delighted that so many of you get my sense of humor; I was also touched by the number of messages I received from long-time readers urging me to keep writing about college hockey after the CCHA is no more. Even though the CCHA is disappearing, I don’t intend to. Thank you so much for that.
I was also touched by the messages that some people sent about their own sadness or mixed feelings while facing the end of CCHA hockey. Thank you for sharing those.
I was amused by the number of people who were outraged by where I placed Quinnipiac in my USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll ballot. I had them at No. 7. It may be low. It may not be. Clearly, it’s a reflection of what I think of the strength of the various leagues in relation to each other. In the end, it doesn’t matter; balloting doesn’t determine the NCAA tournament field.
What I perhaps found even more amusing is how the people complaining about my placement of Quinnipiac were not complaining about any alleged mistreatment of Niagara. After all, Niagara is 18-5-5, 11th in the PairWise Rankings, and I had them at No. 15 in my ballot — which is where they are in the poll. There are teams with similar or worse records well ahead of Niagara, yet not one person outraged at my placement of Quinnipiac — and, believe me, there was outrage — came to Niagara’s defense.
In keeping with the theme of the week, I guess the heart wants what the heart wants.