This Week in the CCHA: November 29, 1996

CCHA PREVIEW: Nov. 29-Dec. 1, 1996

CCHA Preview: Nov. 29-Dec. 1, 1996 by Paula C. Weston

On the surface, it seems that little changes from week to week in the CCHA. The top three teams have shuffled around a bit — Michigan State now tops the conference, Miami holds on to second place and Michigan hovers at third. While the status quo held for another week of CCHA play, a closer look reveals a conference where the fourth-place team can leapfrog to first in just one weekend, and the teams languishing at the bottom of the conference could be in the running with just a couple of wins.

The top three teams in the CCHA play non-conference games this week. Michigan and Michigan State join the WCHA’s Wisconsin and Minnesota for the College Hockey Showcase. Miami has a New York State road tour, with stops at Colgate and Cornell. Western Michigan (tied for fifth place with Notre Dame) travels to Providence. The six remaining teams will try to break their mid-conference gridlock by fighting amongst themselves.

Last week’s record in picks: 7-1 Overall record in picks: 14-5

Lake Superior State (8-5-1, 5-2-0 CCHA) at Notre Dame (4-6-1, 3-4-1 CCHA) Tuesday, Nov. 26, 7 p.m., Joyce Center Field House, South Bend, IN

The Lakers will attempt to distance themselves from the CCHA pack with this game against the Fighting Irish.

Lake Superior brings a six-game win streak to South Bend. After a four-point weekend against Ferris State, the Lakers became the fourth CCHA team with points in double digits (10). The Lakers will be looking to junior left wing Joe Blaznek to continue his four-game point streak. Blaznek leads the Lakers in points with 20 on seven goals and 13 assists.

The Lakers will also be counting on junior goaltender John Grahame, whose 47 saves against Ferris State made him the Bauer/CCHA Defensive Player of the Week.

With just seven points, Notre Dame is tied with Western Michigan for fifth place in the CCHA. A win against Lake Superior State would put the Irish just one point behind the Lakers. Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin says he’s happy with the way his team is playing. The Irish split last weekend, upsetting Bowling Green on Friday, and losing at Miami Saturday.

"We’re playing more disciplined hockey, and our recruiting class brought us a higher level of talent. To a man, each player is playing well.

"We know what Lake State is. They’ve experienced enormous change, but we know to expect good hockey from them," Poulin said.

Both of these teams are on the move upward in the conference. This is an even matchup that’s difficult to call. The Lakers have a slight edge offensively and defensively, with 30 goals for and 24 against, versus ND’s 26-28. And the Lakers are more accustomed to winning than are the Irish.

PICK: Lake Superior 5-2

Lake Superior State (8-5-1, 5-2-0 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (2-9-0, 2-7-0 CCHA) Friday, Saturday, Sunday, 7 p.m., Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK

This series serves as a proving ground for both the Lakers and the Nanooks. After flying out of Chicago the morning after the Notre Dame game, the Lakers can potentially take six points in three games to jump into a first-place CCHA tie with Michigan State. The Nanooks, on the other hand, want to show the world that wins against Michigan State and Western Michigan were by design, not chance.

The Nanooks will look for offensive leadership from senior center, and team captain, Cody Bowtell, whose 13 points ties him with Western Michigan’s Justin Cardwell for third in the CCHA. The Nanooks had last week off, so they may have a real advantage over the Lakers.

Besides playing without a break, the Lakers are playing hard. Going into Tuesday’s game with Notre Dame, the Lakers were on a six-game win streak. While accumulating points during what was arguably a soft spot in their schedule (they beat Ferris State and Ohio State twice apiece), the Lakers have just one player among the top scorers in the CCHA: sophomore right wing Jason Sessa. Sessa was held scoreless against Ferris State last Friday.

Lake State has the better offense, but don’t expect Alaska-Fairbanks to let them walk away with it all.

PICKS: Alaska-Fairbanks 3-2 Friday, Lake Superior 4-1 Saturday, Lake Superior 5-3 Sunday

Notre Dame (4-6-1, 3-4-1 CCHA) at Ferris State (5-10-1, 2-8-0 CCHA) Friday & Saturday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, MI

Notre Dame looks to climb the CCHA ladder on the backs of the Bulldogs. But nothing is certain in this strange start to the CCHA season.

One of Ferris State’s two league victories was a 5-1 win in South Bend on Nov. 15. And the Bulldogs played the Lakers tough on the road last weekend. But FSU has lost its last three games each by a score of 3-2, and that’s something Bulldog assistant coach Drew Famulak says has to change.

"We held Lake Superior to 15 shots in that first night we played them. We’ve played well, and our power play is good. We need to get a break."

Ferris State needs more than a break to begin to see daylight from the bottom of the CCHA standings. Says Famulak, "We only have four games before Christmas. We have to get some points."

Notre Dame has a chance to distinguish itself from the muddy middle of the pack with points this weekend, but coach Dave Poulin says he can’t look that far ahead when there’s a game at hand.

"I can’t look toward the weekend when we’re playing Lake [Tuesday night]. It’s funny to be schedule-watching this early in the season, anyway. If you look at what’s happening in-house, and take care of that, the rest takes care of itself."

Notre Dame is playing more like a team on the way up than Ferris is right now. With four points this weekend, the Irish may start putting some essential distance between themselves and the lower tier of the CCHA.

PICKS: Notre Dame 3-2 (sorry, Ferris) Friday, 5-1 Saturday

Ohio State (2-9-0, 2-7-0 CCHA) at Bowling Green (6-7-1, 2-7-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Rink, Bowling Green, OH

Bowling Green (6-7-1, 2-7-1 CCHA) at Ohio State (2-9-0, 2-7-0 CCHA) Sunday, 3 p.m., Fairgrounds Coliseum, Columbus, OH

Surprisingly, the only thing separating these two teams in CCHA play is one point — the tie that Bowling Green had with Michigan.

Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers is not amused. "No one’s going to fear Bowling Green right now. We’re making other teams feel confident right now."

The Falcons dropped a pair of games at home last weekend, Friday to Michigan State and Saturday to Notre Dame. Powers says his team is finding new ways to lose. "The winning goal in the Michigan State game was deflected off of our defender."

Powers says his team isn’t playing hard enough. "We allowed Notre Dame to score soft goals, instead of storming back after Friday’s loss.

"These guys can’t feel sorry for themselves. They’re treating themselves as victims. They’re not victims — they’re making their own mistakes."

One team that hopes Bowling Green finds a solution to its problems closer to Christmas than Thanksgiving is Ohio State. After a weekend off, the Buckeyes would like to pick up a few points themselves.

"Other teams we think we’re equal with are beating this [Bowling Green] hockey club," says Buckeye head coach John Markell. "They’re still a dangerous hockey club. We’re going to have to have a lot of shots on net to exploit their defense. We’re going to have to play an effective hockey game, no matter what their record is."

Going into this weekend, the Buckeyes have scored only 17 goals in league play, the lowest total in the conference, and Markell doesn’t understand why.

"Some players will have to start stepping up, and I’m waiting for that. I can’t see why they’re not doing that. Other guys we expect to create chances and play well aren’t doing it."

The Buckeyes took two out of three from the Falcons last year; the Falcons beat the Buckeyes in non-conference play at the start of the season. Both teams are struggling. This may be a split weekend, but don’t be surprised if the Falcons get the four points they need.

PICKS: Bowling Green 4-1 Saturday; Ohio State 3-2 Sunday

The fourth annual College Hockey Showcase:

Michigan (11-1-1, 6-1-1 CCHA) vs. Minnesota (8-4-0, 8-4-0 WCHA) Friday, 4:30 p.m., Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

Michigan State (9-4-0, 8-2-0 CCHA) vs. Wisconsin (6-6-0, 6-6-0 WCHA) Friday, 8 p.m, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

Michigan vs. Wisconsin, Saturday, 4:30 p.m. Michigan State vs. Minnesota, Saturday, 8 p.m.

Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin square off this weekend for the College Hockey Showcase at the Joe.

When the Wolverines play, there will be more than just a couple of games at stake; there’s CCHA (and Big Ten) pride on the line. "It’s a unique tournament in that you have four of 10 schools that are traditional hockey powers who have had strong teams for a long time," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "When we play each other, there’s something more at stake than what [shows] up in the standings."

Regardless of Michigan’s top ranking in every major college hockey poll (including the USCHO/Around the Rinks poll), Berenson isn’t overconfident about the Wolverines’ abilities. "We haven’t proven that we’re much better than any team we’ve played. Every night has been a battle. I can’t tell you who the best team is in our league right now."

In spite of Berenson’s modesty, Michigan is a real contender to repeat its national title this year. The Wolverines have four of the top 11 scorers in the CCHA — John Madden, Warren Luhning, Matt Herr and Brendan Morrison — and solid goaltending in Marty Turco. The Wolverines swept Brown last weekend.

Michigan State is no offensive slouch either. The Spartans have three of the top 11 scorers in the CCHA in Sean Berens, Mike York and Mike Watt. Even though Michigan State has outscored opponents 47-31, coach Ron Mason said last week that his team is still working to come together. Michigan State completed a successful sweep through Ohio last week, beating both Bowling Green and Miami.

With combined goals-for at 87 and goals-against at 53, you have to wonder who Berenson and Mason think they’re fooling.

From Jim Thies, USCHO’s WCHA Correspondent, we get this insight on Minnesota and Wisconsin:

"Minnesota loves to play against tough competition, and that’s what they’ll get with this weekend’s games with Michigan and Michigan State. Of course, no one will want to talk much about last year’s loss to Michigan in the NCAA tourney, but don’t kid yourself. The Gophers want to erase that memory. A big question is who will be in goal this weekend. Steve DeBus (5-3-0, 3.14, .895) and Erik Day (3-1-0, 1.00, .956) both have injured shoulders. Casey Hankinson (7-7–14) is tied for second in the league in scoring, while Erik Rasmussen (8-5–13) is tied for the league lead in goals.

"Wisconsin wants to get over that .500 mark, but it will be tough against Michigan State and Michigan in Detroit. The Badgers would like to redo the calendar and play all their remaining games on Friday since they are 5-0-0 then, and just 1-5-0 on Saturday. Brad Englehart (7-5–12) leads the Badgers’ scoring attack, and has six goals in his last six games. Rick Enrico (3-5–8) is another known quality player. Goalie Mike Valley (1-0-0, 3.11, .902) won his first collegiate start last Friday, but look for Kirk Daubenspeck (5-6-0, 3.41, 886) to return to action."

Both Michigan and Michigan State should be right at home with these high-scoring WCHA teams. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that the CCHA will prevail (note: journalism is an objective science).

PICKS: Friday: Michigan 5-4, Michigan State 6-2. Saturday: Michigan 7-2, Michigan State 3-2

Miami (9-3-0, 7-1-0 CCHA) at Colgate (6-4-0, 3-3-0 ECAC) Friday, 7 p.m., Starr Rink, Hamilton, NY

Miami(9-3-0, 7-1-0 CCHA) at Cornell (5-1-0, 5-1-0 ECAC) Saturday, 7 p.m., James M. Lynah Rink, Ithaca, NY

Miami faces real challenges on the road as it travels through central New York for two games against ECAC teams.

Miami suffered its first CCHA loss against Michigan State last week, but remains in second place in the CCHA. One key to Miami’s success is its Scrooge-like defense. While Miami has scored only 30 goals in CCHA play, it has allowed only 14. That’s fewer than any other CCHA team.

Each of Miami’s opponents split its games last weekend. Both Colgate and Cornell lost on Friday — Cornell to Yale, 4-3, and Colgate to Princeton, 4-3. Each team won Saturday. Colgate beat Yale 4-3 (OT), and Cornell beat Princeton 3-1. Cornell scored two power-play goals in its game against Princeton, while holding the Tigers scoreless on the power play for six tries. Neither Colgate nor top-ten Cornell may be capable of generating big offense, which is exactly what would be needed to beat this Miami team.

PICKS: Miami 4-2 Friday, 3-1 Saturday

Western Michigan (5-4-1, 3-4-1 CCHA) at Providence (5-5-1, 4-3-1 HEA) Friday & Saturday, Schneider Arena, Providence, RI

A well-rested Western Michigan travels to take on the Providence Friars of Hockey East. Western Michigan is one of the CCHA teams that has yet to find its offensive feet. So far this season, the Broncos have allowed more goals (29) than they’ve scored (27). This series against Providence is notable primarily for Western’s absence from CCHA play this weekend, which may affect how the rest of the CCHA shakes down.

Providence swept Northeastern last week, squeaking by 4-3 in OT on Friday, and rolling 8-0 on Saturday. Overall, however, Providence is not exactly an offensive powerhouse. Providence has no player with more than three points in league play, and no one with more than five points in overall play.

By contrast, Western Michigan has two players in double digits in CCHA play, and three in double digits for points in overall play. Western Michigan’s Justin Cardwell is the third-leading scorer in CCHA play with 15 points.

The Broncos should overpower the Friars.

PICKS: Western Michigan 5-2 Friday, 6-2 Saturday

Paula C. Weston is the CCHA Correspondent for US College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1996 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.

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