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This Week in the CCHA: March 20

CCHA says goodbye with semifinal matchups that once seemed unlikely

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 […]

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Paula’s picks, Jan. 8, 2013: Two Tuesday games

Last weekend was a good weekend for the CCHA, but was a good weekend for me? Of course not.

Last week: 3-4-2 (.444)
Season to date: 73-49-21 (.584)

Slowly approaching season numbers that may not even add up to mediocrity.

Tonight

There’s a full schedule of CCHA action this weekend, but there are two games tonight, one conference and one nonconference. I’ll pick the weekend’s game Friday morning, as usual.

Bowling Green at Michigan. Last weekend, the Falcons traveled to New York State to play Canisius, tying the Golden Griffins 2-2 Saturday and winning 3-2 Sunday. BGSU senior Marc Rodriguez had the game winner Sunday, his first point in 19 games dating back to March 16, 2012. Meanwhile back in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines lost an exhibition game to the U.S. Under-18 Team, 5-3, Friday night — UM’s first loss ever against the youngsters from across town. The Falcons and Wolverines played the night before Thanksgiving (Nov. 21, 2012), a 3-1 home win for Michigan. Tonight’s contest is UM coach Red Berenson’s 1,200th career game. I’m thinking that this milestone plus last week’s loss may be enough for Michigan to pull this one out, in spite of the absence of senior A.J. Treais, who is serving a one-game suspension for his disqualification in the Great Lakes Invitational third-place game Dec. 30. The puck drops at 7:35 p.m. and the game is televised on the Big Ten Network. Michigan 3-2

No. 2 Notre Dame at No. 1 Minnesota. This is the first game since Dec. 15 for the Fighting Irish, who carry a six-game win streak into Minneapolis. In their last game, the Irish defeated Bowling Green on the road, 4-1. The Golden Gophers were in action most recently at their own Mariucci Classic, where they demolished the competition — a 4-0 win over Air Force and 8-1 over Boston College in the title game. There are some very interesting notes for this one. First, freshman Mario Lucia — son of Minnesota coach Don Lucia — returns to the team after capturing a gold medal with Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championship tournament. Second, sophomore forward Garrett Peterson will join the Irish for the second half of the season after sitting out the first half for what ND said were personal reasons. (In fact, Peterson is returning to college, too, after sitting out last semester.) Third, Minnesota is 14-8-2 against Notre Dame in Minneapolis, but the Irish have defeated No. 1 teams 12 times in their history. This game begins at 7:07 p.m. CST and is televised on Fox Sports North. I don’t know about your cable company, but mine carries the came tonight in southeast Michigan. ND 3-2

Weekend work-up, Jan. 7, 2013: A nearly perfect defense of the realm

What a difference a week can make.

1. Upper Peninsula — represent! After a dismal showing in midseason tournaments, the CCHA rebounded with a 6-0-2 record against nonconference opponents last weekend, led by the two league U.P. teams, Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State. The unranked Wildcats and Lakers each dispatched ranked opponents, with NMU beating St. Cloud State 6-2 and LSSU defeating Union 4-1 and 3-1. Even more impressive for Northern is that the sweep included NMU’s second and third road wins of the season while providing the most NMU goals in a weekend since early November. For the Lakers, the Two Kevins — Murdock and Kapalka — continued to vex opponents in net.

In the Bowling Green’s 3-2 win over Canisius, freshman Tommy Burke earned his second win with 32 saves. In Western Michigan’s 6-0 win over Bemidji State, sophomore Frank Slubowski earned his third shutout of the season — sixth of his career — while the impressive WMU defense allowed only 15 shots.

And while visiting the WCHA, neither Walt Kyle nor Andy Murray complained of home cooking. Thank you, gentlemen.

2. Garrett Thompson — represent! The junior forward from Ferris State scored all three of the Bulldogs’ goals against visiting Michigan State: one power-play goal, one even-strength goal and the empty netter to cap the game. It was the first hat trick in Thompson’s career and amounts to two-thirds of his goal total this season and nearly a quarter of what he scored last year. In the game, sophomore C.J. Motte made 23 saves in his third shutout of the season, fifth of his career.

3. Michigan defense, repres … um, Michigan defense? Wolverines? Anyone home? In a 5-3 exhibition loss to the U.S. Under-18 Team, the Wolverines allowed 37 shots on goal, proving once again that the problem with this team is more than just between the pipes. Freshman Jared Rutledge made 32 saves in the effort. Yes, Michigan was without defensemen Jacob Trouba and Jon Merrill, but a team is more than the sum of just two blueliners.

Paula’s picks: Jan. 4, 2013

So good to see my personal second-half slump off to a hearty start.

Last week: 3-6-0 (.333)
Season to date: 70-45-19 (.593)

Thanks, CCHA, for such a strong midseason showing. I didn’t count the Bowling Green game, as my prediction came after the drop of the puck.

This week

Let’s see if I can get this right, shall we? There is a single CCHA game, a single exhibition game and four nonconference series. Times are local.

Michigan State at Ferris State. This single game Saturday night is a twilight game, played at 5:05 p.m. The Spartans very nearly had a good weekend at the Great Lakes Invitational tournament. First they tied Western Michigan in the last minute of regulation in semifinal play, losing the shootout to the Broncos after a five-minute overtime and therefore earning the right to play for third place. Then the Spartans looked strong against Michigan in that consolation game, leading 2-1 heading into the third. Finally, the wheels came off; Michigan scored four third-period goals and MSU lost 5-2. This week, the Spartans play a team that did salvage something of its midseason tournament. After losing 5-3 to No. 12 Cornell in the first round of the Florida College Classic — allowing three third-period goals themselves — the Bulldogs trounced Minnesota-Duluth in that tournament’s third-place game, 6-2. FSU seems to have rediscovered its offense with nine goals in one weekend, scored by nine different players. The Spartans beat the Bulldogs, 3-1, in East Lansing just before the holiday break. I expect the Bulldogs to return that favor Saturday. FSU 3-1

No. 13 Union at Lake Superior State. The Dutchmen finished the first half in third place in the ECAC, going 0-1-3 in league play before taking third place in last week’s Catamount Cup with a 4-1 win over Merrimack. Sophomore Collin Stevens (2.12 GAA, .909 SV%) stopped 20 in that game and four different Dutchmen scored. The Lakers finished their first half strong with three straight league wins, including 1-0 road win over Miami (Dec. 8) and a home sweep of Northern Michigan (Dec. 14-15). Two of those games were shutouts, with Kevin Murdock (1.94, .941) winning over Miami and junior Kevin Kapalka (3.17, .903) in net the following game against the Wildcats. That series versus NMU was the last action the Lakers saw. The Dutchmen and Lakers have met once before, in the 2009 Rensselaer Holiday Tournament, a thrilling 0-0 overtime time that was decided by shootout, which Union won. I can’t underestimate the Lakers, in spite of Union’s ranking. Friday’s game begins at 7:35 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:05 p.m. Union 3-2, LSSU 3-2

Northern Michigan at No. 15 St. Cloud State. As I noted in this week’s column, the Wildcats are looking to turn things around in the second half, beginning with this series. One of the areas in which NMU has struggled is any area where they play that isn’t the Berry Events Center; the Wildcats are 1-8-1 on the road. Northern Michigan finished its first half of the season in last place in the CCHA and last played those two road losses against Lake Superior State. That single road win came Oct. 20 against Nebraska-Omaha. The Huskies are 9-3-0 at home and are in first place in the WCHA as the second half begins. SCSU split a series against visiting Rensselaer Dec. 27-28, losing 4-3 and winning 2-1; that loss snapped a three-game win streak. The Huskies lead this series in Minnesota 14-3-1. Friday’s game begins at 7:37 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:07 p.m. As much as I want to pick NMU for one, I am not calling against the odds. SCSU 2-1, 3-2

No. 10 Western Michigan at Bemidji State. Last weekend, the Broncos scored one goal in the GLI. That goal was enough to tie Michigan State in the first round and one shootout-goal — and remember, kids, those don’t actually count — was enough to propel WMU into the title game against Michigan Tech. That game didn’t go as well for Western Michigan as those other Huskies from the WCHA prevailed 4-0 to capture their first GLI title since 1980. WMU finished the first half with a split against Michigan, so the Broncos are 1-2-1 in their last four. BSU is tied for seventh in the WCHA standings, 2-1-1 in the Beavers’ last four league games, but 0-2 last weekend in the Ledyard Bank Classic. Both of those losses were by one goal to Hockey East teams, including the 3-2 overtime loss to No. 4 New Hampshire in the third-place game. BSU is 3-2-1 in this series, with the teams splitting the last time they met in Minnesota (Dec. 17-18, 2004). Friday’s game begins at 7:37 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:07 p.m. WMU 2-1, BSU 2-1

Bowling Green at Canisius. Like the Wildcats, the Falcons sit in last place in the CCHA as the second half begins, but BGSU finished the first half on a higher note, going 1-1-1 in their last three conference games. Last weekend, the Falcons played a single game against visiting Niagara, beating the Purple Eagles 3-0. That win was also Bowling Green’s first win at home this season; prior to that the Falcons last won in BGSU Feb. 24, 2012. In last week’s shutout win, senior Andrew Hammond had 38 saves and brought his career shutout total to six, one off the mark of all-time BGSU shutout leader Tyler Masters. Canisius is in fifth place in the AHA heading into the second half. Last weekend, the Golden Griffins split a pair of conference home games versus Army, winning 5-1 before dropping a 1-0 game in overtime. The Falcons swept the Griffs twice in Bowling Green last season, 4-1 and 3-1 (Nov. 11-12). This is a Saturday-Sunday series, with both games beginning at 12:05 p.m. BGSU 3-2, Canisius 3-1

U.S. NTDP at Michigan. If the Wolverines hadn’t come from behind against Michigan State in the consolation game of last week’s GLI, beating the Spartans 5-2 on the strength of four third-period goals, I was ready to write them off. I’m still not sure they can beat the youngsters from across town in this single Friday game. I don’t call exhibition games, but a seventh-place Michigan team is interesting enough to mention. Junior Adam Janecyk (2.00 GAA, .939 SV%) has played the last three games for the Wolverines, going 2-1 in that stretch. UM senior forward and leading scorer A.J. Treais (10-8–18) is eligible to play this game in spite of the one-game suspension issued by the CCHA this week for a late hit to the head that Treais delivered versus MSU in the GLI consolation game. Treais will have to serve that suspension in regular-season play — which may help the Wolverines past the kids in this game.

Weekend work-up, Dec. 31, 2012: Can I get a “Meh”?

Let me say this first, before anything else: Congratulations to the Michigan Tech Huskies on their impressive 2012 Great Lakes Invitational title. I know I should be sad for the CCHA, the league that had three teams in this tournament’s field, but I am delighted that former Michigan assistant Mel Pearson and his staff brought the MacInnes Cup home to Houghton for the first time since 1980.

Now let me say this: What a disappointing midseason showing for the CCHA. Three tourneys and no titles — in the league’s last season, too.

Sad. Just sad.

Here are three things I learned from the weekend.

1. Robert Morris owns Ohio. Okay, so that’s a bit exaggerated for effect, but the fact remains that the Colonials are 2-0-1 versus teams from Ohio — and not coincidentally, teams from the CCHA — this season. RMU defeated OSU in Columbus, 3-2, Dec. 7 before tying with the Buckeyes 2-2 at home the following night. On Saturday, the Colonials beat Miami 1-0 in the title game of the inaugural Three Rivers Classic, in spite of the RedHawks’ 51 shots on goal to the Colonials’ 21.

That tournament also provided the first Division I meeting between Penn State and a Big Ten foe. The Nittany Lions got the better of the Buckeyes in that one, the consolation game, 5-4.

2. When the Wolverines beat the Spartans this season, they need at least five goals to do it. Close games between UM and MSU this season? Not a chance. The teams met for a home-and-home series Nov. 9-10, with the Wolverines winning 5-1 the first night and Spartans taking the 7-2 rematch, each a home win. In that 5-1 game, Michigan exploded for three third-period goals; in Sunday’s GLI third-place game, the Wolverines came from behind with four third-period goals, resulting in a 5-2 win.

3. In spite of recent evidence to the contrary, Ferris State can score goals. It’s tough to score nine goals in a weekend and lose a game, but that’s what the Bulldogs did in Estero, Fla., in the Florida College Classic. FSU lost 5-3 to Cornell Friday before demolishing Minnesota-Duluth 6-2 Saturday, but there is good news in all of it; nine different Bulldogs scored and the two-game total topped the total from four previous games FSU played in December.

Paula’s pick: Dec. 29, 2012

How did I miss the Niagara-Bowling Green game tonight? Too much eggnog, I reckon.

The game has begun and the Falcons are up 1-0 already. I’d pick them to win regardless, but I’m willing to put this one in the “L” column for my personal picks for the lateness of its arrival.

And apologies to Purple Eagle and Falcons fans for the lack of preview.

My call? BGSU 3-2

Paula’s picks: Dec. 28, 2012

While in Florida visiting family for the holiday and failing to thwart my mother’s attempts to ruin my diet, I had an interesting conversation with one of my parents’ Christmas dinner guests.

“So, Paula, I hear you’re in Flint now,” said the guest, a lovely lady approximately the age of my mother, Dolly Weston. That means she’s about thirty-nine.

“Yes,” I replied. “I moved to Flint in 2008 to teach at Mott Community College.”

That elicited this one-word question: “Why?”

I thought about this for a minute. After all, I’d given the reason why I’d moved to Flint. Somehow this dinner guest intuited that there were deeper forces at work, forces that required a more substantial, meaningful answer. Fortunately for me, Dolly Weston understood and answered for me.

“She covers the college hockey,” said my mother — clearly wise beyond her thirty-nine years.

Yes, I cover the college hockey, the college hockey that returns this week from its brief December slumber. First, my picks record.

Last week: 3-4-1 (.438)
Season to date: 67-39-19 (.612)

Naughty. Very naughty indeed.

This week

There are three holiday tournaments this weekend involving six CCHA teams.

Florida College Classic
Friday Dec. 28 and Saturday Dec. 29
Germain Arena, Estero, Fla.

This tournament offers a rematch of the deciding game of the 2012 NCAA Midwest Regional tournament with a field that includes Cornell, Ferris State, Maine and Minnesota-Duluth. The No. 19 Bulldogs first face No. 11 Cornell — the team they beat 2-1 in Green Bay Mar. 24 to advance to the Frozen Four — at 4:05 p.m. Friday; FSU’s Saturday opponent not only depends on the result of the first game but also the result of the contest between the Black Bears and those other Bulldogs of Minnesota-Duluth.

Our Bulldogs — our Defenders of the Realm — are .500 at midseason (7-7-3, 6-6-1-0 CCHA) after ending the first half with a 3-1 loss to Michigan State Dec. 15. In their last three weekends of play, the Bulldogs went 1-3-1 with the three losses the last three games they played. In the losses, FSU was outscored 9-4. That’s no reason to count out this team. FSU was 7-6-1 in CCHA play just before the second half of the 2011-12 campaign and the Bulldogs ended their season playing for a national championship.

With a .927 save percentage and 2.26 goals-against average, sophomore C.J. Motte has been the goalie of record in every game the Bulldogs have played this season. Motte’s save percentage is comparable to his numbers in 12 games played last season, but the FSU defense in front of him has yet to reach its potential. So far this season, the Bulldogs are scoring nearly the same number of goals per game on average (2.82) than they were at the end of last season (2.88), but the Ferris State defense ended 2011-12 as the sixth-best in the nation (2.19 goals per game allowed) while the Bulldogs are 22nd (2.47) so far this year.

I do believe this FSU team will rebound and finish up strong, beginning with this tournament. Cornell (6-3-2, 3-3-2 ECAC) rides a four-game unbeaten (3-0-1) streak into Estero and the Big Red is well rested, having last played Dec. 1, a 3-1 home win over St. Lawrence. The Black Bears (2-11-2, 1-7-2 HEA) last won Nov. 10, the second game of a weekend split against Massachusetts-Lowell and they lost to and tied with Vermont (Nov. 30-Dec. 1) to end the first half. Those other Bulldogs (7-8-3, 5-6-3 WCHA) ended their first half with a road sweep of Alaska-Anchorage (Dec. 14-15) and went 4-1-1 in their last three series.

Friday’s game: Ferris State vs. Cornell, 4:05 p.m.
Saturday’s games: Consolation at 4:05 p.m; championship at 7:35 p.m.

Picks: I’m a homer when it comes to Ferris State and midseason tournaments. Sometimes I’m rewarded for it. I think they’ll play UMD for the tourney title. FSU 2-1, 3-2

Great Lakes Invitational Tournament
Friday Dec. 28 and Saturday Dec. 29
Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Mich.

This year’s Great Lakes Invitational Tournament features three CCHA teams — Michigan, Michigan State, Western Michigan — as well as host Michigan Tech. This tournament was to be played in Comerica Park this year but when the NHL cancelled the Winter Classic, this plan went down with it. Should the NHL resume play next season, the event may be part of the league’s Winter Fest in 2013.

This year’s field originally had St. Cloud State playing instead of Western Michigan, but Winter Fest organizers wanted four Michigan teams to attract locals for the planned outdoor game. Next year, Denver is supposed to be the fourth team … but that would mean that WMU would miss out on the midseason outdoor game. Should the event be rescheduled in Comerica Park next year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Broncos in their second consecutive GLI.

This year, WMU is clearly the favorite in the field. The No. 8 Broncos (11-4-1, 8-3-1-1 CCHA) are currently in second place in the CCHA with 26 points, four points behind the two teams tied for first place, Miami and Notre Dame. The Broncos had their six-game win streak snapped in the last game they played in the first half, a 2-0 loss to Michigan Dec. 15. Sophomore Frank Slubowski (1.98 GAA, .918 SV%) has been the goalie of record in all 16 of WMU’s games this season. Three of WMU’s leading scorers are defensemen: Kenney Morrison (4-6–10), Dennis Brown (0-9–9) and Danny DeKeyser (2-6–8). The Broncos are knotted for seventh in the nation with three other teams in scoring defense, allowing 2.00 goals per game. WMU’s scoring, however, is 42nd in the nation (2.38 goals per game). The Broncos captured the GLI championship in 1986 in their second tournament appearance.

The Wolverines are the defending GLI champs for two years running and have captured four of the last five tournament titles. Michigan (6-9-2, 4-7-2-2 CCHA) is tied with Alaska for seventh in the CCHA, each team having 16 points. The Wolverines struggled in the first half in front of two freshmen goaltenders who lack confidence, largely because they’re not getting much help from the defense in front of them; UM’s defense is 52nd in the country, allowing 3.35 goals per game. At this point last year, the Wolverines had netted 71 goals in 20 games; this season, they’ve scored 50 through 17. Michigan halted a four-game winless streak with that 2-0 win over Western Dec. 15, the weekend salvaged by the play of junior goaltender Adam Janecyk, who made 25 saves in his first game of the season, his first collegiate shutout decision. That UM defense will be without its best player for this tournament, freshman Jacob Trouba, who is playing with Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championship. The Wolverines have 15 GLI titles.

Michigan State (5-10-2, 4-8-1-0 CCHA) looks like a team that’s rebuilding this year, with young talent that needs to mature. The Spartans are in ninth place in the CCHA with 13 points and finished the first half on a high note, a 3-1 win over Ferris State that stopped a six-game winless streak and five-game losing streak. Another team struggling with offense, the Spartans are down 25 goals from where they were a year ago. Sophomore Matt Berry (9-7–16) leads MSU in scoring, followed by classmate Brent Darnell (5-8–13). Both players are on pace to exceed their goal output from their rookie seasons; Berry scored 11 goals in 37 games in 2011-12, Darnell six in 36. Freshman Jake Hildebrand (1.81 GAA, .941 SV%) has played in 10 of MSU’s games this season. The Spartans last captured the GLI title in 2009 and have won 12 total.

Michigan Tech (4-10-3, 3-8-3 WCHA) is coached by former UM associate head coach, Mel Pearson. The Huskies enter the GLI looking for their first win since Nov. 17, a 2-1 overtime victory that capped a weekend sweep of Bemidji State. Since that win, MTU is 0-4-3. The Huskies have played in every GLI since the tournament’s inception in 1965, but they last captured a GLI title in 1980. They last played for a title in 2007.

Saturday’s games: MSU vs. WMU at 3:35 p.m.; UM vs. MTU at 7:05 p.m.
Sunday’s games: Consolation at 3:35 p.m.; championship at 7:05 p.m.

Picks: Everything in me is telling me to pick Michigan for this tournament, especially with Janecyk in net. The Wolverines have an uncanny knack of turning things around when they’re down — with a goaltender emerging as the new darling of Ann Arbor. That’s not how I’m picking, though. Saturday: WMU 3-2, UM 3-2; Sunday MSU 3-1, WMU 2-1

Three Rivers Classic
Saturday Dec. 29 and Sunday Dec. 30
Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh, Penn.

This is the inaugural run of the Three Rivers Classic, which I can only hope will incite a long-standing rivalry between the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Hosted by Robert Morris, the field also includes Penn State in its first season of D-I hockey and CCHA teams Miami and Ohio State.

The No. 5 RedHawks (11-3-4, 8-3-3-3 CCHA) are the favorites here, even though Miami finished the first half with a loss, a tie and a win after an eight-game undefeated (6-0-2) streak. The RedHawks last played Ohio State, a 1-1 tie and 3-1 win in Columbus. With 30 points, Miami is currently tied for first place in CCHA play with Notre Dame. The RedHawks are 28th nationally in offense, averaging 2.78 goals per game — down slightly from where they finished last season (2.98) — but Miami has the third-best defense in the country, allowing 1.67 goals per game. While they can’t take all the credit, freshmen goaltenders Ryan McKay (0.58 GAA, .979 SV%) and Jay Williams (2.05, .921) have been outstanding in net. The RedHawks will be without leading scorer, freshman forward Riley Barber (8-14–22), and his classmate forward Sean Kuraly (3-1–4) for this tournament; the two are playing with Team USA in the IIHF World Junior Championship.

Ohio State (7-6-5, 6-3-3-1 CCHA) is currently in fourth place in the CCHA with 22 points, one point ahead of fifth-place Lake Superior State and four points behind Western Michigan. OSU played its last weekend of the first half against Miami — that tie and loss — and the Buckeyes’ last CCHA play before that was a two-game road sweep of Michigan State (Nov. 30-Dec. 1). The story of Ohio State’s first half has to be the play of senior goaltender Brady Hjelle (sounds like “jelly”), who is third nationally for goals-against (1.46) and second for save percentage (.951). Another narrative for the Buckeyes, though, is OSU’s offense, which can best be described as “sluggish.” Averaging 1.94 goals per game, OSU has the No. 54 offense in the nation; the Buckeyes were averaging 2.60 goals per game by the end of the 2011-12 season. Sophomore forwards Ryan Dzingel (6-8–14) and Max McCormick (6-4–10) lead OSU in goal production.

Penn State (7-8-0) is playing independently this season and will be part of the Big Ten Hockey Conference in 2013-14. The Nittany Lions are coached by former Alaska and Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky. PSU ended the first half of the season with a 3-2 loss to Robert Morris Dec. 15 — which made me perfectly happy after the Nittany Lions defeated my beloved alma mater, Fredonia State, 4-0 Dec. 11.

Robert Morris (7-4-2, 4-3-1 AHA) carries a five-game undefeated (3-0-2) streak into this tournament. Prior to that win over Penn State, the Colonials defeated and tied Ohio State, 3-2 and 2-2, and RMU’s last conference play was a win and tie against Holy Cross (Nov. 30-Dec. 1).

Friday’s game: Miami vs. Ohio State, 7:35 p.m.
Saturday’s games: Consolation at 4:30 p.m.; championship at 7:30 p.m.

Picks: This is an interesting field with familiar foes all around, and it’s Miami’s to lose — although I expect it to be very competitive, all around. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Robert Morris take the whole thing. Seriously. Miami 3-2 Friday, 3-2 Saturday; OSU 3-2 over PSU or losing to RMU 3-2

Weekend work-up, Dec. 17, 2012: Three surprises

Ten of the league’s 11 teams played at least one conference game this past weekend, a very late, full weekend for the CCHA. Here are three surprising things from this past weekend. Please note the sarcasm.

1. Apparently, Michigan has had a third goaltender all along. For the entire first half of the season until Saturday night, the Wolverines rotated freshmen Jared Rutledge and Steve Racine in net, resulting in a .866 team save percentage and just six overall wins. After Friday’s 4-1 loss to Western Michigan, the Wolverines started junior Adam Janecyk Saturday. The result? A 2-0 shutout win for the junior from Ada, Mich., who last played Jan. 7, 2012 — a 2-2 home tie against Lake Superior State — and who had played a total of roughly 134 minutes in his first two years at Michigan. Janecyk made 25 saves Saturday. Good for him … and what took you so long, Michigan?

2. Apparently, Northern Michigan has forgotten how to score goals. The Wildcats finish the first half of the season absolutely where I did not expect them to be — tied for last place with Bowling Green — after having been swept on the road by Lake Superior State. NMU has lost its last four CCHA games, shut out in two of them, and the Wildcats have scored no more than two goals in a game since a 4-3 overtime win against Alaska Nov. 23. This past weekend, the Wildcats netted one goal, sophomore defenseman Jake Baker’s first goal of the season at 19:18 in the first in Saturday’s 3-1 loss, with an extra attacker; it was Baker’s second career goal and his first since Oct. 29, 2011. Northern has one win in its last 10 CCHA games and even in their recent nonconference win over Michigan Tech Dec. 4, the Wildcats scored just two goals. NMU is No. 50 in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 2.05 goals per game.

3. Apparently, Notre Dame and Miami are the teams to beat. The Fighting Irish needed to win their single game this weekend to hold on to the top spot in the league going into the break and the Irish did just that. The RedHawks tied and defeated Ohio State — and took the shootout point — to tie ND for first. It’s important to note two things here: 1) ND has three games in hand on Miami and 2) no one is surprised that these two teams lead the league. That these teams are four points ahead of third-place Western Michigan — instead of a single point or two, for example — and eight points ahead of fourth-place Ohio State … well, that is surprising. I thought the points would be tighter at midseason.

And a fourth-place OSU? Yes, without any sarcasm, I find that surprising.

Paula’s picks, with cookie recipe: Dec. 14, 2012

Last week? Not so good as the week before …

Last week: 4-4-2 (.500)
Season to date: 63-35-18 (.621)

I am grateful to be above .500 overall nearing the midway point of the season.

This week

It’s rare in mid-December for nearly everyone to play, but that’s how it is this weekend in the CCHA with only Alaska done for the first half of the season. Six teams are playing two-game series and four are playing single games — and two series feature traditional rivals.

No. 19 Ferris State at Michigan State. Each of these teams was swept on the road by a CCHA opponent last weekend, each team scoring three goals in the weekend. The Bulldogs lost to Western Michigan, 4-2 and 2-1, while the Spartans lost to Notre Dame, 3-2 and 5-1. The losses put FSU in the middle and MSU at the bottom, with nine points separating the teams. FSU is 4-2-0 versus MSU in the past two seasons, including two one-goal home wins last year. This single game is Saturday evening at 5:05 p.m. FSU 3-2

No. 4 Miami at Ohio State. Last weekend, the RedHawks split a pair of one-goal games at home against the Lakers, winning 3-2 and losing 1-0. Meanwhile, the Buckeyes lost to Robert Morris at home 3-2 before tying the Colonials 2-2 on the road. Incidentally, OSU has never beaten RMU in Columbus, where Derek Schooley is 3-0 against The Ohio State University. Miami was 3-1-0 against OSU last season, although the teams have split the last four games played in Columbus. Friday’s game begins at 7:05 p.m., Saturday’s at 8:05 p.m. Miami 3-2, OSU 3-2

Northern Michigan at Lake Superior State. The Wildcats last played Tuesday, Dec. 4, a 2-1 home win over Michigan Tech. That game followed closely after NMU’s sweep at the hands of Western Michigan, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. The Lakers split with Miami on the road last weekend, losing Friday and shutting out the RedHawks 1-0 Saturday. Last season, the Wildcats were 3-1-0 versus the Lakers. Friday’s game begins at 7:35 p.m., Saturday’s at 7:05 p.m. LSSU 4-3, NMU 2-1

No. 3 Notre Dame at Bowling Green. Each of these teams got the better of its opponent last weekend, with the Irish sweeping visiting Michigan State and the Falcons defeating and tying Alaska on the road. For the Irish, the six points they earned gave them sole possession of first place — at least for this week — while the four points the Falcons earned weren’t enough to get them out of the cellar but were enough to give them a glimpse of daylight; the Irish are now two points ahead of second-place Miami while the last-place Falcons share that spot with the Spartans and Wildcats, three points behind Michigan. Saturday’s game is the 100th meeting between these two programs. Although the teams are tied 24-24-3 all-time in Bowling Green, the Irish swept the Falcons in BG last season. This single game is Saturday at 7:05 p.m. ND 3-2

No. 7 Western Michigan at Michigan. Last weekend, the Broncos swept the Bulldogs at home while the Wolverines last played Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, when they lost to and tied Ferris State. WMU rides a five-game unbeaten streak into this weekend, having lost last Nov. 16; in roughly that same span, UM is 1-4-1. The teams split a pair in Ann Arbor last season and the Broncos are 3-3-0 in their last six versus the Wolverines. This is a Friday-Saturday series, with games beginning at 7:35 p.m. each night. WMU 3-2, 3-2

As promised, cookies

The years progress but this recipe never gets old. I’ve lost count of the number of readers who’ve contacted me to either ask for the recipe or share their success with it. Some folks vary it, making the cookies thicker and icing them. To each his or her own, but I prefer these thin and slightly chewy, with sugar on the top and not icing. I do have an excellent recipe for iced butter cutout cookies if anyone’s interested.

My 78-year-old mother, Dolly Weston, once again spent days and days baking for Christmas in recent weeks. I don’t know how she does it. This one is definitely my favorite — and that’s saying something, since she is an excellent baker with many outstanding recipes.

Dolly’s cut-out cookies

3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
half tsp. nutmeg
1 cup butter
2 eggs
4 tsp. milk (1 tbs. plus 1 tsp.)
1 tsp vanilla

• Combine dry ingredients and set aside.

• Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time. Add milk.

• Mix dry and moist ingredients together until smooth.

• Divide into workable amounts and wrap in wax paper. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. The dough will be really gooey before you refrigerate it, really hard after refrigeration.

• Preheat oven to 375.

• Roll a small amount of dough one-eighth to one-quarter inch thick. Keep the remaining dough refrigerated.

• Cut into festive shapes. Mom always prefers bells and other rounded shapes, as they are less likely to get too crisp around the edges. Place on ungreased baking sheets.

• Brush with beaten egg whites and decorate with colored sugar before baking.

• Bake five to 10 minutes and watch carefully; these can burn quickly. They should not brown at the edges.

Make sure your rolling pin is cold and that the work surface is floured. I cut the flour with powdered sugar so that I’m not adding too much flour to the dough. Work quickly because the dough warms quickly. I always kick up the nutmeg a notch, too, but my mom does not.

The dough freezes well after it’s cooled in the fridge if it’s wrapped really, really tightly in plastic. Thaw it in the refrigerator before using. I also frequently double this recipe when I make it, but that makes a lot of cookies — certainly enough to share.

Next week

I’ll be taking a look back at the first half of the season while tackling end-of-semester grading. There will be coffee, lots and lots of coffee.

This weekend, I’ll be at the Friday WMU-UM game and Saturday’s FSU-MSU game. Very excited to see both the Broncos and Bulldogs for the first time in person this season. If you’re around the rinks, please say hello.

Find me on Twitter (@paulacweston) or email (paula.weston@uscho.com) if you want to chant and/or taunt.

Merry merry!

Weekend work-up, Dec. 10, 2012: Three critical points

As we’ve seen in recent years, one game can be the difference between a regular-season title and second place. This past weekend, that one game could have been played Saturday night.

1. Sweeps are golden. Notre Dame is the CCHA’s new No. 1 team, two points ahead of former first-place Miami because the Fighting Irish swept Michigan State and Miami split with Lake Superior State. Those two points are interesting, too, because the Irish have two games in hand on the RedHawks. Western Michigan was in fifth place heading into the weekend but with six points from a two-game sweep of Ferris State has vaulted to third, two points behind the RedHawks with two games in hand over Miami, too.

2. Sometimes one player makes all the difference. The Irish and Broncos each held their opponents to three goals for the weekend and took six points each as a result. The RedHawks held the Lakers to three goals in two games, too, but took three points instead of six because they couldn’t get one past LSSU junior goaltender Kevin Murdoch, who made 46 saves in the 1-0 win Saturday, the third shutout of his career. Murdoch was thrown into a starting situation when classmate Kevin Kapalka was injured in October. Kapalka is back, but now the Lakers have two capable men in net.

3. Robert Morris owns Ohio State. Well, at least in Columbus. The Colonials beat the Buckeyes, 3-2, in the Schottenstein Center Friday night, a chippy contest in which two game misconducts and a disqualification — to RMU player Brandon Denham — were assessed. Robert Morris is now 3-0 all-time versus Ohio State in Columbus. The teams skated to a 2-2 tie the following night in Pittsburgh.

Paula’s picks: Dec. 7, 2012

Well, they say this is the season of miracles.

Last week: 8-2-1 (.773)
Season to date: 59-31-16 (.630)

I counted Tuesday’s pick of the MTU-NMU game.

This week

There are four CCHA series and one nonconference set. All series are Friday-Saturday and single site except for the Robert Morris-Ohio State series, which is home-and-home. All games begin at 7:05 p.m. local time except for Friday’s Lake Superior-Miami match, which starts at 7:35 p.m.. Michigan and Northern Michigan are sitting this weekend out.

Bowling Green at Alaska. The Falcons last played the night before Thanksgiving (Nov. 21), a 3-1 road loss to Michigan. Coach Chris Bergeron hopes that the time off has given his team an opportunity to think about the rest of the season, beginning with this series against Alaska. The Falcons are in last place with six points, eight points behind the Nanooks. Alaska lost two at home last weekend to Miami, shut out Saturday night and outscored collectively 9-2 in the series. The Nanooks were 3-1-0 versus the Falcons in 2011-12, but one of those losses came at home (Jan. 20). Alaska 3-1, BGSU 2-1

No. 16 Ferris State at No. 7 Western Michigan. This is the series to watch. Two points separate fourth-place Ferris State from fifth-place Western Michigan, but the Broncos can gain even more ground this weekend with any points they earn because WMU has two games in hand over FSU. The Bulldogs shut out the Wolverines, 5-0, last Friday before taking one point in a 3-3 tie the following night. The Broncos swept Northern Michigan, 4-2 and 1-0. Seven different FSU players accounted for the team’s eight goals last weekend, and leading scorer Kyle Bonis was kept scoreless in Friday’s win. I think the Bulldogs are underrated. FSU took one point from WMU last season but one point was all the Bulldogs needed; the 1-1 tie Feb. 24 in Kalamazoo gave the Bulldogs the regular-season CCHA title. All of that having been said, Andy Murray owns Bob Daniels so far, with a 3-0-1 record against the Bulldogs last season. In those contests, the Broncos shut out the Bulldogs twice and outscored FSU 11-3. WMU 4-2, FSU 3-2

Lake Superior State at No. 3 Miami. Last weekend, the Lakers lost two on the road to Notre Dame, outscored 9-3 by the Irish. It was the first time this season that LSSU failed to capture any points in a two-game conference series. The first-place RedHawks swept the Nanooks in Alaska, 5-2 and 4-0. It was the first conference sweep of the season for Miami, which means that the RedHawks bring a seven-game undefeated streak (5-0-2) into this series, third-longest in the nation behind Niagara (11) and Quinnipiac (8). The Lakers were 3-1-0 against the RedHawks last season, but as Jim Roque said himself, he was glad to have caught Miami early when LSSU swept on the road (Oct. 27-28). Enrico Blasi is 24-11-1 all-time versus the Lakers. Miami 3-2, 3-2

Michigan State at No. 5 Notre Dame. The Spartans head to South Bend after being swept at home by Ohio State, 1-0 and 3-1, and are now winless (0-3-1) in their last four. Freshman goaltender Jake Hildebrand has been in net for those four games plus MSU’s last win, 7-2 over Michigan Nov. 10. Whatever has ailed the Spartans has not been Hildebrand’s fault; Hildebrand has a 1.76 goals-against average and .942 save percentage, but the Spartans are scoring 2.21 goals per game on average, 47th in the nation, and have netted three goals in their last four games. The Fighting Irish swept Lake Superior State at home last weekend (3-2, 6-1), their first home sweep of the season and third overall. ND’s sixth-best penalty kill nationally (91.4 percent) has been successful 96.7 percent since Nov. 4. Junior goaltender Steven Summerhays has the nation’s fourth-best goals-against average (1.57) and 10th-best save percentage (.936). The Irish are 6-1-1 versus the Spartans in the last eight meetings. That single loss came last season in South Bend (Feb. 25, 4-2). ND 3-2, 3-2

Robert Morris vs. Ohio State. Robert Morris (5-4-1) is currently in seventh place in Atlantic Hockey. Last weekend, the Colonials defeated and tied Holy Cross, 4-3 and 1-1. Senior Eric Levine (2.27 GAA, .938 SV%) was in net for both games. Senior Zach Hervato leads the Colonials in both goals and scoring (6-6–12). Hervato’s six goals in 10 games this season equal his career-high six goals in 33 games his sophomore season. The Buckeyes swept Michigan State on the road last weekend, 1-0 and 3-1. Sophomore Ryan Dzingel had the game winner on Friday and two assists Saturday and is now riding a seven-game point streak (4-6–10) into this series. The Buckeye defense has been playing crazy-good in front of senior goaltender Brady Hjelle, who has also been playing crazy-good. Hjelle is second in the nation in goals-against (1.23) and save percentage (.957) and that defense is sixth in the nation, allowing 1.86 goals per game. OSU is 3-2-1 all-time against RMU but the Buckeyes have never beaten the Colonials in Columbus (0-2). Last season, the teams met in the RMU Hockey Showcase (Dec. 30) in the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh, a 4-2 OSU win. Friday’s game is at OSU, Saturday’s at RMU. Homer picks, with my apologies to Derek Schooley. OSU 3-2, 3-1