The second-to-last weekend of CCHA play taught us a few things.
1. Notre Dame and Western Michigan are well matched.
The Fighting Irish played two games against the Broncos in Kalamazoo and the teams split their points evenly but unconventionally. The teams tied both nights, with the Broncos taking the extra shootout point after Friday’s 3-3 game and the Irish doing the same after Saturday’s 1-1 contest. After Saturday’s contest, ND coach Jeff Jackson called the three points his team earned “huge.” Because of the push and Miami’s sweep of Lake Superior State, the Broncos and Irish remain exactly where they were at the start of the weekend, in second and third place respectively. The outcome of this series does make me fantasize about an ND-WMU CCHA championship game — with five overtimes.
2. No one wants to play Michigan in the playoffs.
No one. The Wolverines moved up one place in the standings with their road sweep of Ohio State, scoring 11 goals on the remarkable Brady Hjelle. In spite of languishing near last place in the CCHA standings, Michigan has been scoring more than three goals per game for most of this season, making the Wolverines a dangerous team. Sure, UM allowed three goals in each contest but freshman Steve Racine didn’t look bad in the UM net and the Michigan defense may finally have its collective poop in a group. We all know that the only way the Wolverines can make their 23rd consecutive NCAA playoff appearance is by capturing the Mason Cup. Every team Michigan may face from here on out knows it, too.
3. It may be too early to congratulate the RedHawks, but we can send kudos to the top five teams.
Miami, Western Michigan, Notre Dame, Ferris State and Ohio State will each get a first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs. Congrats to each of those teams. Both the Bulldogs and the Buckeyes need to send the Spartans a muffin basket — or a thank-you note, at the very least — for Michigan State’s role in solidifying FSU’s and OSU’s top-five status. The Bulldogs and Buckeyes began the weekend tied for fourth place with 42 points each and that’s how they ended it; FSU didn’t play and OSU lost twice to Michigan. The team that could have benefited from all of that was Alaska, five points behind the Bulldogs and Buckeyes as the weekend began. The Nanooks split a pair of games with the visiting last-place Spartans, losing 1-0 Friday night and winning 4-2 Saturday. Kudos, too, to MSU junior Will Yanakeff, who played both games and earned his first shutout of the season in the Friday contest, the third of his career. Yanakeff has seen action in just 12 games this season, having been pushed for the starting job by freshman Jake Hildebrand.
Miami is now five points ahead of Western Michigan in the standings and the RedHawks end the regular season with two home games against the Buckeyes. I’ve spent enough time around that series to know that it may not be too early at all to congratulate Miami as the last-ever, regular-season CCHA champion.