I think that this is the first time in my tenure as CCHA columnist for USCHO.com that I’m glad that all 11 teams make the playoffs. I’ve never been an advocate of letting everyone into the playoffs. I like the idea of someone not having played well enough to earn a chance to make it to the CCHA tournament. In the past, I would have been happy with the top eight teams in the final standings living to play another weekend, with the bottom three planning their spring breaks.
Not this week. I’m just not ready to say goodbye to the CCHA and its teams.
I can assure you that I have no mixed emotions about this last weekend of CCHA regular-season hockey. Nope. The one overwhelming feeling is sadness. Nothing mixed about it.
Before we get to this weekend’s matches, though, let’s look at how poorly I did last week.
Last week: 4-4-2 (.500)
Season to date: 110-83-28 (.561)
If I go .500 this weekend, I’ll be happy — with the picks, that is.
Everyone plays this weekend, although Alaska is done with conference play. There is hardware on the line — major and minor — and everyone has a stake in every game. In South Bend and Kalamazoo, there will be many temporary Buckeye fans. This tickles me.
All games are Friday-Saturday. The only nonconference series is also the only one that is home-and-home. All times are local and listed with each series.
Bowling Green at No. 11 Notre Dame
As the weekend begins, Bowling Green is in seventh place with 34 points. A BGSU sweep this weekend would tie the Falcons with sixth-place Alaska, with each team having identical records. Notre Dame is in third place with 50 points and the Fighting Irish are already guaranteed a first-round bye along with home ice in the second round of the playoffs. There is a slim chance that the Irish can take the regular-season title, but it’s not completely in their control. The Falcons split with Northern Michigan at home last weekend, losing 5-2 Friday and winning 5-3 Saturday. The Irish split with Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, tying 3-3 Friday and 1-1 Saturday with each team capturing an additional shootout point. The Irish are 12-1-1 at home against Bowling Green since 2005-06. Friday’s game begins at 7:35 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:05 p.m. Notre Dame 3-1, 2-1
Ferris State at Michigan
The defending regular-season champions, the Ferris State Bulldogs, have no chance of repeating. Ferris State is tied with Ohio State for fourth in the conference, each team with 42 points and each team out of reach to the remainder of the field; both the Bulldogs and the Buckeyes will receive a first-round playoff bye, but whether either hosts a second-round playoff series has yet to be determined. With 31 points, Michigan is in ninth place and absolutely has the ability to move up enough to host a first-round playoff series. The Bulldogs are returning from a bye week, having last played two games at home against Bowling Green Feb. 15-16. That series resulted in a split, with FSU losing in overtime, 2-1, the first night and winning 4-3 the second night. Michigan swept Ohio State last weekend in Columbus, 5-3 and 6-3 — and so decisive were those victories that I had half a dozen Buckeye fans emailing me with virtual gnashing of teeth. OSU may have fallen victim to a Michigan team that has finally remembered how to play hockey. That, I think, is what this weekend will determine. The teams played earlier this season in Big Rapids, with the Bulldogs winning 5-0 Nov. 30 and the teams tying 3-3 the following night. Both of these games begin at 7:35 p.m., with Friday’s game televised by CBS Sports Network and Saturday’s carried by FOX Sports Detroit. Michigan 3-2, 4-2
Lake Superior State at Northern Michigan
While it’s assured that each of these teams will end the season among the bottom six teams in the league, what has yet to be determined is where each will finish — and who will capture the Father Cappo Cup! The Lakers have more than a mere edge in Cappo Cup play going into this weekend, having swept the Wildcats at home Dec. 14-15 by a two-game total-goals score of 6-1, and total goals count in determining who captures this trophy. Last weekend, the Lakers were swept at home by Miami, 5-4 and 2-1. The Wildcats split on the road against Bowling Green, winning 5-2 and losing 5-3. The Lakers enter the weekend in eighth place in the CCHA with 32 points, two points behind seventh-place Bowling Green and with no hope of catching sixth-place Alaska. LSSU is also three points ahead of 10th-place Northern Michigan, and the Wildcats sit two points behind Michigan — making this series one of the most interesting of the weekend. The Wildcats are 7-3-3 at home; the Lakers are 3-11-1 on the road. I think NMU will sweep but not score enough goals to overcome the difference for the Cappo Cup. Both games begin at 7:35 p.m. NMU 4-2, 3-2
Ohio State at No. 3 Miami
The Buckeyes would love to play spoiler this weekend, but I just don’t see that happening. OSU sits in a tie for fourth with Ferris State, each team having secured a first-round playoff bye. All Miami needs is one victory to take the last-ever CCHA championship — ironic, given that Miami was the first team to declare its intention to leave the CCHA after the formation of the Big Ten Hockey Conference was announced, but I digress. Last weekend, the Buckeyes lost at home twice to the (potentially) re-emergent Wolverines, 5-3 and 6-3; the RedHawks went to Sault Ste. Marie and beat Lake Superior State twice, 5-4 and 2-1. Miami is 2-0-1 versus Ohio State this season; the RedHawks tied the Buckeyes in Columbus Dec. 14, beat OSU 3-1 in Columbus the following night and then beat the Buckeyes again Dec. 28 in Pittsburgh, 1-0. Friday’s game begins at 7:35 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:05 p.m. By 10:00 p.m. Friday, the RedHawks should be celebrating. Miami 4-3, 2-1
No. 8 Western Michigan at Michigan State
Last weekend, the Broncos split with Notre Dame in Kalamazoo by tying 3-3 and 1-1; WMU took the extra point Friday, ND took it Saturday. Entering this weekend, Western Michigan is in second place, five points behind first-place Miami. The Broncos have a first-round CCHA playoff bye and second-round home ice, but they’ll need a lot of help from Miami’s opponent, Ohio State, to capture the regular-season title. Michigan State went to Alaska and took three points from the Nanooks, winning 1-0 Friday and losing 4-2 Saturday. The last-place Spartans — how strange is it to say that? — are four points behind 10th-place Northern Michigan so they have a chance to advance, but MSU cannot secure home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. These teams met earlier this season in the semifinal round of the Great Lakes Invitational, a game that Matt Berry tied for Michigan State, 1-1, with 16 seconds remaining in regulation. The Broncos advanced to the GLI title game based on a shootout. Western hasn’t won at Munn Ice Arena since Feb. 17, 2007. Last season, the Spartans swept the Broncos in Kalamazoo. I know I shouldn’t call against MSU’s 2-0-1 record against WMU in the last three meetings, but the Broncos are still playing for a regular-season title. Games begin each night at 7:05 p.m. and Comcast is carrying each game. WMU 3-2, 3-2
Alaska-Anchorage vs. Alaska
More hardware on the line! The Seawolves and Nanooks are playing for the Governor’s Cup, which Alaska has held for three years running. The Seawolves are looking for their first win since they beat Michigan Tech Feb. 8. In their last three losing contests, the Seawolves have been outscored 15-6; last weekend, Anchorage lost two home games to Nebraska-Omaha, 3-0 and 6-5 (OT). Alaska split with Michigan State at home last weekend, losing 1-0 and winning 4-2. Saturday’s win halted a four-game losing streak for the Nanooks. These two teams will be league-mates next season. I’d like to see the Governor’s Cup go to the CCHA one last time. Friday’s game is in Fairbanks and begins at 7:05 p.m.; Saturday’s contest in Anchorage begins at 7:07 p.m. Totally homer picks, one last time. Alaska 3-2, 3-2