Well, we’re down to it. [scg_html_ccha2013]The final battle for the Mason Cup pits Ohio State against Notre Dame and Michigan against Miami. Could anyone have predicted that at the beginning of the season? As the CCHA prepares to write its final chapter, let’s look at the stories. Each is a good one. Michigan (17-18-3, 10-15-3-3 CCHA) It’s not unusual to see Michigan vie for a playoff title. After all, this is the Wolverines’ 24th consecutive [...]
I knew the series in Fairbanks and Sault Ste. Marie would go to three games. I was wrong, however, about who would advance from those series.
Last week: 4-4-0 (.500)
Season to date: 122-90-29 (.566)
This is the second round of the CCHA playoffs. The winners from these four series advance to Joe Louis Arena March 23-24 to play for the Mason Cup. Just as in last week’s first round, all four series are best-of-three series at single sites. All series are Friday-Saturday with Sunday as necessary. There are no shootouts; teams play until someone wins. All games begin at 7:05 p.m. EDT except for Friday’s Michigan-Western Michigan game (6:35 p.m.) and Friday’s Bowling Green-Notre Dame game (7:35 p.m.).
After this round, teams will be re-seeded as necessary for the championship tournament in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. The numbers before a team’s name indicate its finish in the final CCHA standings this season.
No. 11 Michigan State at No. 1 Miami
To earn the right to play the regular-season champion Miami RedHawks, Michigan State won its first-round CCHA playoff series on the road against Alaska. The Spartans won the first game, 2-1, in front of junior Will Yanakeff’s 34-save performance. Saturday’s game went to Alaska, 4-1, and MSU took the deciding game Sunday, 4-3, with freshman Jake Hildebrand in net. It was the first playoff series win for the Spartans since 2007, the year Michigan State won the national championship.
The RedHawks, who had a first-round bye last week, captured the regular-season title in the last game of the season with a 4-2 home win over Ohio State. Miami was 7-3-0 in its last 10 games of the season. In November, the RedHawks tied and defeated the Spartans at home, and Miami is 6-0-1 in its last seven games versus Michigan State, dating back to the 2010-11 season.
Taking nothing away from the improved Spartans, the tough Miami defense — in front of the even tougher goaltending tandem of Ryan McKay and Jay Williams — should make this a two-game sweep. Miami 2-1, 3-2
No. 9 Bowling Green at No. 2 Notre Dame
Like the Spartans, the Falcons had to play their way to the second round on the road. After losing their first game to Lake Superior State in Sault Ste. Marie last weekend, 2-0, the Falcons demolished the Lakers with a 6-3 win Saturday and 7-0 romp Sunday. At the end of the 2011-12 season, as the No. 11 seed, Bowling Green won its first-round CCHA playoff series against Northern Michigan before beating top-seeded Ferris State in three games in the CCHA quarterfinals.
With their second-place finish, the Fighting Irish had a first-round bye last week. Notre Dame was 5-2-3 in its last 10 games and the Irish are 3-0-2 in their last five contests, with the last two wins coming at home against Bowling Green March 1-2, a set in which ND outscored BGSU 8-4. Notre Dame is 14-1-1 at home against Bowling Green since 2005-06.
I know I’m calling against the unconventional odds here by picking the Irish in three, given Bowling Green’s current three-series CCHA playoff streak dating back to that upset in Marquette in last year’s first round. All three games are televised by Comcast. Bowling Green 3-1, Notre Dame 3-2, Notre Dame 4-2
No. 7 Michigan at No. 3 Western Michigan
Last weekend, Michigan swept Northern Michigan in two games in the first round of CCHA playoff action, and the sweep was the first home sweep of the season for the Wolverines. That wasn’t the only unusual thing about the weekend; the Wolverines narrowly survived Friday’s 3-2 game before completely handling the Wildcats in Saturday’s 6-2 win. In Saturday’s game, Michigan played like the team most people expected the Wolverines to be this season rather than the seventh-place team that they became.
Before last week’s bye, Western Michigan was 3-3-4 in its last 10 contests of the season, most recently splitting a road series with Michigan State, a 5-2 win and 1-0 loss. WMU was 3-1-0 against UM during the 2012-13 regular season, outscoring UM 12-6 in those contests.
I know that my picks will upset the touchier types among Western Michigan fans, and the only logic to them is Michigan’s 5-0-1 current unbeaten streak along with last Saturday’s game against the Wildcats. Those specific Wolverines are on a mission and I’m not picking against them until they lose. Of course, the Wolverines from earlier in the season may be the ones who play in Kalamazoo this weekend, which would mean two fairly easy wins for Western. A third possibility is that last weekend’s Wolverines show up and the very good Broncos beat them anyway. FOX Sports Detroit is carrying Friday’s game. Michigan 3-2, 4-2
No. 5 Ferris State at No. 4 Ohio State
Each of these teams earned a first-round bye, with the host of this series determined on the last night of regular-season play. Each team finished the season with 13 conference wins, but Ohio State came out two points ahead of Ferris State by virtue of the Buckeyes’ split with Miami the last weekend of the season.
FSU went 3-5-2 in its last 10 games, taking one point from Michigan in Ann Arbor the last weekend of the regular season with a 4-1 loss and 1-1 tie. OSU went 4-4-2 in its last 10 games, splitting with Miami on the road the last weekend of the regular season, a 3-0 win and 4-2 loss.
Ohio State is 7-4-2 all-time against Ferris State in the CCHA Tournament, but the teams haven’t met in postseason since 2005-06, a sweep by the Bulldogs in Ewigleben Arena. The teams split a pair of 3-1 games Big Rapids Jan. 11-12, with FSU taking the first game.
This series will be played in the little OSU Ice Rink because a paying customer of greater importance has booked the Schottenstein Center. (Seriously, the Buckeyes need a hockey-only arena. Seriously.) The games are not televised but will be streamed live here for free. These teams are evenly matched. Ferris State 3-1, Ohio State 3-1, Ohio State 3-2
What a weekend of hockey! What did we learn?
1. Be wary of those last-place teams.
At the end of the 2011-12 season, the last-place Bowling Green Falcons beat Northern Michigan on the road in the first round of the CCHA playoffs and Ferris State on the road in the second. This year, last-place Michigan State went to Fairbanks and beat Alaska in three games to advance to the CCHA quarterfinal round next weekend. The Spartans won 2-1 in overtime Friday, lost 4-1 Saturday and won 4-3 Sunday. Five of MSU’s last seven games were against the Nanooks, since the two teams met in Fairbanks Feb. 22-23.
The Spartans have two excellent goaltenders at their disposal as they continue in the playoffs. Junior Will Yanakeff played Friday and Saturday and freshman Jake Hildebrand played Sunday night. Each netminder earned a win.
Michigan State travels to Oxford, Ohio, next weekend to take on the CCHA regular-season champion Miami RedHawks.
2. Be wary of those Bowling Green Falcons.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in post-season this year and the last, it’s that when a CCHA playoff series goes to three games and the Falcons are involved, don’t bet against BG. Last year, the Falcons took both the Wildcats and the Bulldogs to three games — each time on the road — and ended their season in Joe Louis Arena. This year, Bowling Green went to Sault Ste. Marie in the first round and positively hammered Lake Superior State. The Lakers won Friday’s game 2-0, but the Falcons won the Saturday and Sunday contests by a collective score of 13-3 which includes Sunday’s 7-0 shutout.
Eight different Falcons scored in the weekend, including Latvian defenseman Ralfs Freibergs, a freshman who netted his first career goal in his sixth career game Sunday night.
The Falcons will play Notre Dame on the road next weekend in the second round of the CCHA playoffs.
3. Be wary of the Michigan Wolverines — be very wary of the Michigan Wolverines.
This Michigan team that looked for most of the season as though it was incapable of playing Division I hockey has finally figured out a few things. One thing that the Wolverines know now is that they have decent goaltending. In their two-game, first-round sweep of Northern Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines had every confidence in freshman goaltender Steve Racine because they could have; he was solid in every way. Another thing the Wolverines now know is how hard they have to work to win a playoff game. UM led NMU 3-0 at the end of the first period in Friday’s game and had to work every inch of that ice in the second two periods to secure a 3-2 win.
The most important thing that the Wolverines learned, though, is that they are capable of taking a game when they want it — and they wanted Saturday’s contest from the first drop of the puck. The outcome of that 6-2 win was never in doubt. When Michigan heads to Kalamazoo next weekend to play the Broncos in CCHA quarterfinal action, the Wolverines will be far greater than the sum of their seventh-place CCHA finish.
The last regular-season weekend of the CCHA was exciting. It was also difficult — and I’m not talking about my picks.
Last week: 8-3-1 (.708)
Season to date: 118-86-29 (.569)
I don’t know how that happened.
We begin the CCHA playoffs this weekend with three best-of-three series at single sites. Times are local. All series are Friday-Saturday with a Sunday game if necessary. There is no shootout in the playoffs. Teams play until someone wins, as it should be.
After this round, teams are reseeded for next week and anyone playing this week will be on the road in the second round. The highest-seeded survivor this week plays Western Michigan, the middle team plays Notre Dame and the lowest seed plays Miami.
With the exception of the Northern Michigan-Michigan series, I seriously have no idea how these will turn out. Of course, I don’t know how that one will turn out, either. As they say, that’s why they play the game. One note to make the final season of the CCHA even sadder: None of these playoff games is televised, unless there are local listings that I don’t know about at this writing.
The numbers before a team’s name indicate order of CCHA finish.
No. 11 Michigan State at No. 6 Alaska
This is the second time in three seasons that the Nanooks have played host to the Spartans in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. In the playoffs at the end of the 2010-11 season, Alaska swept Michigan State 3-2 and 4-3 but needed three overtimes to do so, winning in double OT in the second game. This is also the second time in three weeks that the Spartans have flown to Alaska for a series. The teams split a regular-season pair of games in Fairbanks Feb. 22-23, a 1-0 win for MSU and a 4-2 win for Alaska.
Junior Will Yanakeff was in the net for MSU in both of those recent games against Alaska, but he was not on the ice last weekend when the Spartans split a pair of home games against Western Michigan and a different MSU goaltender earning a 1-0 victory. Freshman Jake Hildebrand was in net for both games against the Broncos and after Friday’s 5-2 loss, Hildebrand stopped 28 shots in his first career shutout Saturday night. Yanakeff was sidelined with an injury. I’m not sure who will be in the MSU net this weekend.
While the last-place Spartans were gritting out a victory against the ranked Broncos, the Nanooks were defending the Governor’s Cup against rival Alaska-Anchorage. Junior Cody Kunyk had the game-winning overtime goal in Anchorage Friday as the Nanooks won 2-1, and senior Andy Taranto had two goals in Saturday’s 3-1 win, including the game winner. This is the fourth straight year that the Nanooks have taken the Governor’s Cup.
Each team, then, is coming into this weekend on a very positive note. Each team is 4-6-0 in its last 10 games and .500 in its last six, but the Nanooks are riding a three-game win streak into the series — and the first win in the streak was against MSU. Alaska is 6-6-2-1 against Michigan State since Dallas Ferguson became the Nanooks’ coach.
All games begin at 7:05 p.m. I think this series goes to three games. Michigan State 2-1, Alaska 3-2, Alaska 3-2
No. 10 Northern Michigan at No. 7 Michigan
There’s bad news for the Wildcats at the start of this series: NMU’s leading scorer, Matt Thurber, has broken his leg and his season is over. Matt Wellens had the story in the Mining Journal Tuesday, the day that Thurber, a senior, broke his leg in practice. Poor Thurber. Seriously, that’s no way to end your last season of college play.
The Wildcats ended their regular season with a home split against Lake Superior State, winning 3-1 Friday and losing 3-0 Saturday. Junior goaltender Jared Coreau had 50 saves in the win and 32 in Saturday’s loss, earning him CCHA Goaltender of the Week honors. It was the third weekend in a row during which NMU split a conference series.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines are on a mission. At home last weekend, Michigan took five of six points from Ferris State, which in part prevented the Bulldogs from getting home ice in the second round of the CCHA playoffs. The Wolverines were dominant in their 4-1 Friday win and put up 36 shots on goal in Saturday’s 1-1 overtime tie. The Wolverines know that they need six wins to make it to their 23rd consecutive NCAA tournament, and Michigan is playing very urgent hockey right now.
The Wildcats are 4-7-0 in their last 11 games (11 games because of a single game against Michigan Tech). The Wolverines are 5-5-0 in their last 10 and 3-0-1 in their last four. NMU took four points from Michigan in Marquette Nov. 2-3 with a 4-4 tie and 4-3 win. Michigan, however, has never lost to Northern Michigan in the CCHA tournament (6-0). All games in this series, including Sunday if necessary, begin at 7:35 p.m. Michigan 4-2, 4-2
No. 9 Bowling Green at No. 8 Lake Superior State
Bowling Green finished the season in ninth place, the highest finish by a Falcons team since 2007-08, when they finished seventh. It’s a bittersweet ending, though, as the Falcons needed one point last weekend to tie Lake Superior State and just two to finish ahead of the Lakers to host a first-round playoff series. Instead, the Falcons fell victim to a driven Notre Dame squad still in the hunt for a regular-season title. BGSU lost to ND 4-3 and 3-1.
In Marquette last weekend, a split was good enough for the Lakers to secure both home ice and the Father Cappo Cup, a total-goals trophy for which the Wildcats and Lakers fight annually. LSSU lost 3-1 and won 3-0 with a goal total of 10-4 over the Wildcats in four games this season.
Junior Kevin Murdock had his third shutout of the season and his career in the victory, which was unusual for the way in which the goals were scored; all three Laker markers were shorthanded. Kevin Perfetto scored unassisted at 2:37 in the second, Kellan Lain scored unassisted at 16:18 in the third, and Domenic Monardo’s 100th career point was the shorthanded, empty-net goal exactly three minutes later. After the game, LSSU coach Jim Roque quipped that shorthanded was the only way the Lakers could score, since they were in the box all night. LSSU had nine penalties for 21 minutes in the contest.
The Falcons and Lakers met Feb. 1-2 in Bowling Green, with BGSU sweeping 4-1 and 7-3. The Falcons are 5-5-0 in their last 10; the Lakers are 3-7-0 in their last 10, with last Saturday’s win breaking a three-game losing streak. Friday’s game begins at 7:35 p.m.; games begin at 7:05 p.m. Saturday and (if necessary) Sunday. BGSU 3-2, LSSU 3-1, 3-2
The final weekend of regular-season CCHA play was very interesting, thanks to a couple of upsets and some overtime.
1. Miami is the last-ever CCHA regular-season champ.
The RedHawks needed to win one game to capture the regular-season championship, but they needed to play two to do so. After losing 3-0 to Ohio State Friday night, Miami won its final regular-season game Saturday, 4-2. At a glance, the score makes the game look closer than it actually was; the RedHawks were up 4-0 by the 15:50 mark in the third period. Miami outshot Ohio State 36-27 in the contest. Many of the post-game quotes from the RedHawks were very interesting, but the one that caught my attention was something that senior forward Curtis McKenzie said: “That trophy’s forever ours now.”
2. Seniors on senior night + home game = motivation.
I covered a gritty game in East Lansing Saturday night, Michigan State’s 1-0 shutout of Western Michigan. The last-place Spartans knew they were heading to Alaska for the first round of the CCHA playoffs, so all that team was playing for was pride. The only goal of the game was scored by senior Anthony Hayes, assisted by classmates Kevin Walrod and Chris Forfar, a line that hadn’t played together for some time. It was Hayes’ fourth goal in 36 games, the ninth of his career.
Notre Dame senior forward Nick Larson netted an unassisted power-play goal for the Irish late in ND’s 4-1 win over Bowling Green Saturday, his third in 35 games this season. Senior Curtis McKenzie opened the scoring on the power play in the first period for Miami in the RedHawks 4-2 win Saturday, his ninth goal of the year. Michigan senior Kevin Lynch had the only goal in regulation in the Wolverines’ 1-1 home tie with Ferris State, his seventh of the season; his classmate, A.J. Treais, had the only goal in the shootout to give UM the extra point.
3. Teams on the bubble.
The only CCHA team high in the PairWise Rankings as the regular season ends is Miami. Western Michigan is tied for 10th with St. Cloud State. Notre Dame is tied for 14th with Rensselaer. Alaska is No. 16.
At this point, it’s impossible to say where these teams will be in three weeks — and so much depends on what happens in other leagues. I will be sad if the CCHA is underrepresented in the NCAA tournament and sadder still if the league doesn’t place at least one team in the Frozen Four. I think the next month calls for a lot of aspirin and seltzer water.
I’m sure you’re already following Bracketology. If you’re not, you should be.
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
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.
As we head into the penultimate weekend of CCHA regular-season play — ever — here’s how I’ve done so far.
Last week: 3-6-1 (.350)
Season to date: 106-79-26 (.564)
I suppose I should content myself with the possibility of an overall regular-season picks record above .500.
With two weekends left, every game in every series is important. Nearly everything is still to be decided: the regular-season championship, the final two first-round playoff byes, who will host and who will travel in the first round. And just look at these series this week.
Ferris State is the odd team out this week. All series are single-site, Friday-Saturday. All games begin at 7:05 p.m. local time unless otherwise noted.
No. 3 Miami at Lake Superior State. The RedHawks are in first place with 50 points. Last week, Miami split with Notre Dame, winning at home Friday night, 3-1, and losing 2-1 Sunday in Soldier Field. All Miami has to do from here on out is win to be crowned the last-ever, regular-season CCHA champions. The Lakers — sitting in seventh place with 32 points — will try to have a say in that with this series. Last weekend, LSSU swept visiting Alaska, 5-1 and 4-2, with a near super-human performance from Kevin Murdock in Friday’s game. Murdock’s 46 saves in that contest earned him CCHA Goaltender of the Week. He splits time in net with fellow junior Kevin Kapalka. The RedHawks split their net time between two freshmen, Ryan McKay and Jay Williams. All of this is worth mentioning because the key to this series is goaltending; the RedHawks and Lakers score roughly the same number of goals per game, but Miami’s defense has been off-the-hook good, allowing 1.50 goals per game, tops in the nation. The RedHawks are not infallible, but they’re pretty darned good right now where it counts. Miami is 8-4-0 in the last 12 in this series. Friday’s game begins at 7:35 p.m. Miami 2-1, 2-1
Michigan at Ohio State. Michigan is 10th in the league with 25 points and needs to win the CCHA championship tournament to extend its NCAA tournament appearance streak to 23. Ohio State is tied with Ferris State for fourth, each team with 42 points, and the Buckeyes are looking to earn themselves a first-week playoff bye. Strange. All of it, strange. The Wolverines last played a couple of high-scoring road losses to Notre Dame Feb. 8-9, losing 7-4 and 6-4. Last weekend, the Buckeyes took four of six points from visiting Western Michigan, tying 1-1 Friday and winning 6-3 Saturday. The story of the season for the Wolverines is, well, kind of obvious. The story of the season for the Buckeyes is senior Brady Hjelle (1.79 GAA, .941 SV%), who in addition to being a wall in net has scored two assists in his last three games. The Wolverines are 6-4-0 versus the Buckeyes in the last 10 meetings. These teams do not like each other. Friday’s game begins at 6:35 p.m. and is televised by the Big Ten Network; Saturday’s game is carried by Comcast. Ohio State 4-2, 4-3
Michigan State at Alaska. The last-place Spartans have 22 points. Last weekend, MSU split a pair of home games against Northern Michigan, losing 5-3 Friday and winning 4-2 Saturday. Junior forward and captain Greg Wolfe is a man possessed lately; he has four goals and three assists in his last seven games and the first of those goals came after 16 games without a marker. The Nanooks lost two on the road to Lake Superior State last weekend, 5-1 and 4-2. Alaska, in sixth place with 37 points, sits five points behind Ohio State and Ferris State, the two teams currently tied for fourth and therefore currently in position to earn a first-round playoff bye. The Nanooks are 5-5-2 against the Spartans in their last 12 and 4-1-1 versus MSU in the last six meetings in Fairbanks. Alaska 3-2, 3-2
Northern Michigan at Bowling Green. Last weekend, the Wildcats split a pair of road games with the Spartans, winning 5-3 Friday and losing 4-2 Saturday. Friday’s win was the first CCHA road win of the season for the Wildcats. NMU enters the weekend in ninth place with 26 points, one point ahead of Michigan five points behind Bowling Green, the team currently in the lowest spot to host a first-round CCHA playoff series. The Falcons also split on the road last weekend, beating Ferris State 2-1 in overtime Friday before losing 4-3 Saturday. Freshman goaltender Tommy Burke (2.15 GAA, .908 SV%) played both games for BGSU last weekend, as senior goaltender Andrew Hammond remained sidelined with an injury. Hammond’s status is currently day-to-day. The Falcons have ended the Wildcats’ season for the past two years. At the end of both 2010-11 and 2011-12, BGSU took the final two games of the first-round, best-of-three CCHA playoff series the first weekend in March. I would think that kind of thing sticks with a team, no matter which end of victory the team occupies. BGSU 3-2, 3-2
No. 11 Notre Dame at No. 8 Western Michigan. Each of these teams has secured a first-round CCHA playoff bye. Each of these teams is still very much in the hunt for the final CCHA regular-season championship. Third-place Notre Dame has 47 points; second-place Western Michigan has 48. Each team is chasing first-place Miami, who has 50 points. Last weekend, the Irish split a pair of games with Miami, losing 3-1 Friday in Oxford, Ohio, and winning 2-1 Sunday in the first game of the Hockey City Classic in Chicago. Meanwhile, the Broncos took two points from Ohio State in Columbus, tying the Buckeyes 1-1 Friday — and winning that very important shootout point — and losing 6-3 Saturday. The Broncos are monstrously good at home, having lost just two games in Lawson Arena this season. The Irish are .500 on the road (6-6-1) and 1-4-2 in their last seven games in Kalamazoo. The Last Notre Dame win in Lawson Arena came Feb. 25, 2011. Friday’s game begins at 7:35 p.m. and is televised by CBS Sports Network. Western Michigan 3-2, 2-1
No Bad Days
Three years ago, Louie Facca was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, a form of of muscle degeneration that affects young boys. Louie, now five years old, is the son of Western Michigan assistant coach Rob Facca.
Facca often talks about hearing the diagnosis. Upon receiving the news, Facca says he knew that he could never have a bad day. Think about it in terms of relativity. From this new perspective, Facca and his wife, Nikki, formed “No Bad Days,” a foundation dedicated to helping find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
This weekend, the Broncos will hold their second annual Ice Duchenne, an event to raise funds for CureDuchenne, one of the major organizations leading the charge to helping find a cure for Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Part of this weekend’s fundraising efforts will include the raffling of an autographed Steve Yzerman jersey. Tickets are available at Lawson Arena through the second intermission of Saturday’s game.
The Broncos are also asking fans to spread the word by using hashtags #NoBadDays and #IceDuchenne2013 in social media.
Speaking of those Broncos
When speaking of the Broncos, thoughts turn naturally to the Harlem Shake. Naturally. Even though my old pal and friend of the CCHA, former Miami SID Jess Bechard, says that the Harlem Shake is an indication of the final decline of humanity as we know it (I’m paraphrasing here), this video absolutely is worth the look. Absolutely.
Why? Because that’s Western Michigan head coach Andy Murray just to the right of the green guy, who in turn appears to be doing something unmentionable to a stuffed elephant.
Some weekends are more interesting than most.
Disclaimer: I haven’t worked out every possible permutation with ties and shootouts, so these are reasonable (but rough) estimates.
1. Four teams are still in the hunt for the regular-season title.
Interestingly, each of them was paired this past weekend against another still mathematically capable of capturing the final CCHA regular-season championship. First-place Miami played third-place Notre Dame and the teams split, with the Irish earning their first win over the RedHawks since Dec. 3, 2010, a six-game winless streak (0-4-2) snapped with a 2-1 win in the first game of Sunday’s Hockey City Classic in Chicago’s Soldier Field. Miami won 3-1 Friday in Oxford. If the RedHawks win out, they capture the regular-season championship.
Ohio State — tied for fourth place with Ferris State, who doesn’t have enough games remaining to finish as high as first place — took four of six points from third-place Western Michigan with Friday’s 1-1 tie and Saturday’s 6-3 win.
The RedHawks have 50 points, the Broncos 48, the Fighting Irish 47 and the Buckeyes 42. Western Michigan hosts Notre Dame this weekend and Miami hosts Ohio State March 1-2 to end the regular season. Could be a photo finish.
2. Six teams can finish in sixth place.
Not all at once, of course, but there are six teams that can possibly finish in sixth place: Ohio State, Ferris State, Alaska, Lake Superior State, Bowling Green and Northern Michigan. In fact, all but NMU can finish higher than sixth, but no one above the Buckeyes or below the Wildcats can finish in sixth place. Fifth place means a first-round CCHA playoff bye; sixth through eighth means hosting the first round of the playoffs, and everybody below Notre Dame can — technically — still do that.
With a two-game home sweep of Alaska this past weekend, Lake Superior is in seventh place with 32 points, one point ahead of eighth-place BGSU and five behind sixth-place Alaska. Both the Lakers and the Falcons have two games in hand over the Nanooks.
The Lakers’ goaltenders worked miracles to help LSSU earn those wins over Alaska. In Friday’s 5-1 game, Kevin Murdoch made 46 saves; in Saturday’s 4-2 win, Kevin Kapalka stopped 33.
The Lakers have Miami this weekend but end their season with two road games against the Wildcats. The Falcons have Northern Michigan at home this weekend and end their season on the road against Notre Dame.
3. Michigan and Michigan State are in the bottom two spots in the standings.
That on its own is fascinating in this last season of CCHA hockey. The Wolverines had the weekend off and the Spartans split at home with Northern Michigan. Technically speaking, each could finish high enough to host a first-round playoff series, but that seems unlikely given their remaining schedules. The Spartans head for Alaska next weekend and the Wolverines go to Columbus to play Ohio State. Each is at home the final weekend of the season, giving MSU the chance to play the spoiler when hosting WMU and UM to do the same for FSU.
The Spartans scored three goals in the third period of both Friday’s 5-3 loss and Saturday’s 4-2 win. In Saturday’s contest, MSU outshot NMU 19-3 in the first period yet came out of that stanza trailing 1-0. In Saturday’s game, the Spartans outshot the Wildcats 39-18.
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.
While winter was bearing down on the East Coast, the hockey in the Midwest couldn’t have been hotter.
1. Notre Dame controls its own destiny. The Fighting Irish beat Michigan twice while everyone else around them split, most notably Miami and Western Michigan. It’s the first two-game sweep Notre Dame has managed in the new year and it tightened the top of the standings considerably. Miami’s in first place with 47 points followed by Western Michigan with 46 and Notre Dame with 44. Each team has the same number of games remaining and the Irish play the RedHawks this coming weekend and the Broncos Feb. 22-23.
2. Usually scoring four goals in a game means a victory. Not so for the proverbial victors of Ann Arbor. In five games this season, Michigan has scored four goals and not captured a win. The Wolverines lost 5-4 to RIT Oct. 11, tied Northern Michigan 4-4 Nov. 2 and lost 5-4 to Alaska Jan. 11. This past weekend against Notre Dame, Michigan scored four goals in each contest but the Irish netted seven Friday and six Saturday. Nine of the total goals scored between the Irish and Wolverines involved special teams play. A glance at the box scores looks like a road map for poor overall team defense and inconsistent goaltending with each team as guilty as the other.
3. In the second half of the season, the CCHA has self-sorted into three tiers. I was hoping that in the last season of CCHA play, four or five teams would be crowding the top and making a viable play for the title — how cool would a three-way tie for first be, with ties being broken by goal differentials or coin tosses? — but three teams are looking at No. 1 with three more teams competing for the remaining two first-round bye spots and five teams looking to finish as high as they can for the first round. The predictability of the structure is disappointing, but the speculation about order of finish is interesting at least — as is the unusual placement of a few programs. There are several races being run.