This Week in the CCHA: December 6, 1996

CCHA PREVIEW: Dec. 4-7, 1996

CCHA Preview: Dec. 4-7, 1996 by Paula C. Weston

The CCHA became a more interesting place this week. The Lake Superior State Lakers vaulted into first place by winning four games in six days, and taking advantage of non-conference games for second-place Michigan State, third-place Miami, and fourth-place Michigan.

The middle ground got muddier as Ferris State stopped Notre Dame’s momentum and gained sole possession of fifth place in the conference with two wins to complete a season sweep of the Irish for the season. Bowling Green and Ohio State split a home-and-home series, with each team perhaps showing what it’s truly capable of this season. Western Michigan also split, in a non-conference series with Providence, and is tied with Bowling Green and Notre Dame for sixth place.

Ohio State is alone in ninth, since Lake Superior’s fortune came at the expense of Alaska-Fairbanks. The Nanooks remain in last place thanks to their three losses at home to LSSU.

Any way you look at it, the CCHA is a more slippery division than it was a week ago. Just four points separate last-place Alaska-Fairbanks from fifth-place Ferris State. And with the scant schedule that rounds out 1996, things could even out even more. Lake Superior, in particular, is idle this week.

Last week’s record in picks: 11-5 Overall record in picks: 25-10

Western Michigan (6-5-1, 3-4-1 CCHA) at Michigan (13-1-1, 6-1-1 CCHA) Wednesday, Dec. 4, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI

The Broncos of Western Michigan are getting help from emerging goaltenders: sophomore Matt Barnes and freshman Peet Moseley. In a split last week with Providence, Barnes made 29 stops in a losing effort, while Moseley saved the second game for the Broncos by recording 38 saves in a game in which Western Michigan was outshot 42-24.

Of course, when a game comes down to goaltending in the CCHA, you want to have the ever-consistent junior goaltender from Michigan, Marty Turco, whose save percentage of .894 ranks him among the best.

These teams might be more even offensively than one would think. While Michigan’s John Madden has 16 points on the year, and several other Wolverines are at 10 or more, there are several Broncos’ in double digits as well.

The team with the more experienced goaltending — and the potential for spectacular offense — will prevail.

PICK: Michigan 6-2

Miami (11-3-0, 7-1-0 CCHA) at Western Michigan (6-5-1, 3-4-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI

The well-oiled Miami machine pulls into Kalamazoo for the only full-weekend series in the CCHA. What used to be a tentatively confident Miami team is now playing like it’s used to winning.

Miami coach Mark Mazzoleni says that an overall team effort is responsible for Miami’s success. "The biggest thing that’s helped us is our depth. Our so-called fourth line has helped us a lot. They’re playing as good as our top lines. We rotate in seven, not the standard six, defenders. We’re playing everyone on the team, so everyone feels as though he’s contributing."

Western Michigan will need all of its firepower to face the CCHA’s stingiest defense. Miami has allowed only 34 goals against this season; a big part of that is the league-topping goaltending duo of juniors Trevor Prior and Adam Lord. Western can expect to see both of them this weekend, as Mazzoleni is perfectly happy with a rotation. "Our team has confidence in them," he said.

Who wouldn’t? Prior’s save percentage is .920, Lord’s is .922. Prior’s goals against average is just 1.51; Lord — the slacker — has a GAA of 2.00.

Still, Mazzoleni is ready for the Broncos to play hard, fighting for that middle ground in the CCHA. "I expect a really tough series. There have always been very competitive games between us, no matter where we are in the standings. Western has one of the best defensive cores in our league."

Even though Western is fighting for position, Miami is on a tear right now. Only one Miami player is under in the plus/minus ratio, and he’s at -1 in league play only. Ever hear the phrase "Cinderella story"? Well, you’re reading it.

PICKS:Miami 4-1, 3-2

Ohio State (3-10-0, 3-5-0 CCHA) at Ferris State (7-10-1, 4-8-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI

Ferris State junior goaltender Jeff Blashill came up with 51 saves in two games to help the Bulldogs sweep Notre Dame last week. Freshman Mike Szkodzinski started in goal for Ferris Friday, but was replaced by Blashill after allowing two goals before the 10:00 mark. In Friday’s game, Blashill saved all 29 shots he faced, and for his efforts was selected as the Bauer/CCHA Defensive Player of the Week.

Outstanding goaltending alone doesn’t guarantee wins. Ferris has four players with double-digit points, including senior forward Gordy Hunt, who had two goals in Friday’s game. But no real offensive leader has emerged for the Bulldogs.

"We don’t really have a go-to guy up front," said assistant coach Drew Famulak. "We seem to be getting things done by committee."

That could be good news for the Ohio State Buckeyes, whose defense is suffering this season. The Buckeyes are starting to feel the loss of their stellar goaltending duo of Askey and Brown, who both left after last season. In the net for the Buckeyes are freshmen Tom Connerty and Ray Aho. Connerty got shelled Saturday in losing to Bowling Green, and his goals against climbed to 5.54. Sunday, the Buckeyes played up to their potential, dominating a game against BGSU. Aho got his first collegiate win, but his goals against average is 4.09. Yikes.

Still, the Buckeyes looked impressive Sunday, with a newly-formed line of sophomore Chris Richards, junior Todd Compeau, and senior Steve Brent that has the potential to do what the Buckeyes have the most trouble doing — scoring points. Brent and Compeau each had two goals in Sunday’s game.

Buckeye coach John Markell has respect for Ferris State. "They’re playing very well. It’s a key game. We’ve already won the series with them, but we need the points."

Said Famulak, "We’re just trying to build on the success we had last weekend."

PICK: Ohio State 6-4

Notre Dame (4-9-1, 3-7-1 CCHA) at Michigan State (10-5-0, 8-2-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI

The Irish need some of their namesakes’ fabled luck. Last week, Notre Dame was hoping to pick up at least a few points, with three games in six days. Some analysts (hmm-hmm) thought the Irish would use the series against Ferris State to continue their climb in the CCHA. Instead, Ferris swept Notre Dame for the season, and the Irish gained no ground.

They’re not likely to gain any against the Spartans, either. The Spartans split last weekend in the College Hockey Showcase, beating Wisconsin before losing a tough game to Minnesota 5-3.

Notre Dame has a sleepy offense, and goaltending that needs to improve. A trio of sophomores — Aniket Dhadphale, Benoit Cotnoir, and Brian Urick — have double-digit points, but the team has scored only 39 league points to their opponents’ 52. Goaltender Matt Eisler’s save percentage is .884.

Michigan State coach Ron Mason, however, is taking nothing for granted. "All I know is that they’re a much improved team this year over last year, in depth and talent," said Mason.

"It will be a tough game. In any of the games we had with them last year, they were very competitive. It seems like Ferris may have their number, so you can’t judge them by that series."

But you can judge Michigan State by the numbers: 68 goals for and 49 against. Two Spartans — Sean Berens and Mike York — among the top-ten scorers in the CCHA.

Notre Dame will have to wait until Saturday to pick up CCHA points.

PICK: Michigan State 6-2

Alaska-Fairbanks (2-12-0, 2-10-0 CCHA) at Bowling Green (7-8-1, 3-8-1 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH

The Falcons broke their eight-game losing streak last Saturday against OSU, only to meet and lose to a different OSU team Sunday afternoon. Falcons coach Buddy Powers was happy with the win, but unhappy about the way his team played all weekend.

"Our boys just have to play harder. They’re not playing hard enough," said Powers after the loss to OSU. "If you don’t play hard, you don’t get to score goals.

"Overall, we have to be grittier. Different guys keep making big mistakes defensively. It seems when we make a big mistake, it ends up in our net. You’ve got to score more than three goals to win a hockey game."

Scoring goals is not the only problem BGSU has. Goaltending seems to be the main one. Senior Bob Petrie has an .843 save percentage, with a 4.42 goals-against average. Sophomore Mike Savard is playing little better. With Savard’s .863 save percentage, and a 4.38 GAA, the two are virtually identical in the net.

The Nanook offensive slump may be what saves Bowling Green in this game, or it may not. The Nanooks have scored only 40 goals this season, but Ohio State had scored only 34 before its meeting with the Falcons last Sunday.

The Alaska-Fairbanks goaltending is little better than that of Bowling Green. Chris Marvel has a save percentage of .868, and Ian Perkins is about the same at .862. Both are allowing more than four goals per game.

But there’s something wrong with Bowling Green. The team, fans and coaches seem dispirited. Two weeks ago, Powers said that no one is afraid of Bowling Green. The Nanooks may be fearless Friday night.

PICK: Alaska-Fairbanks 5-4

Alaska-Fairbanks (2-12-0, 2-10-0 CCHA) at Notre Dame (4-9-1, 3-7-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., JACC, South Bend, IN

This could be the game to watch. Each team is recovering from a sweep — the Nanooks at the hands of the Lakers, the Irish from the sting of the Bulldogs. Each team is hungry. Each team needs this win. Only one can have it.

When you look at scoring, the teams seem evenly matched. Notre Dame has scored 39 goals and allowed 52; UAF has scored 40 and allowed 61. But Notre Dame has a significant advantage in every other category: league goaltending, power play, and penalty-kill.

This game is going to come down to who wants it more. Notre Dame would gain significantly more ground with two points than would Alaska-Fairbanks. Throw in the home crowd, and the Irish have the edge.

PICK: Notre Dame 4-2

Michigan (13-1-1, 6-1-1 CCHA) at Ferris State (7-10-1, 4-8-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI

Normally, you don’t talk about Michigan last in any given preview. Without being disrespectful to either team, however, this is not exactly the game of the week.

Michigan continues its offensive dominance in nearly every game it plays. Coach Red Berenson admitted that Michigan was outplayed last week in its game against Minnesota in the College Hockey Showcase, but the Wolverines still won the game. And they won the game the same way they won the NCAA Championship — an overtime goal scored by Brendan Morrison. Magic.

The mark of a good team is that it can pull a victory from defeat. If the Wolverines can come back to win in overtime after blowing a lead to the No. 5 team in the country, they should be able to handle a team that has yet to make a mark on the CCHA.

The key to this game is not how many goals Michigan is capable of scoring — they’ve scored 16 more goals than Ferris State has in CCHA play this season — but how few they’ve allowed. They are the second-tightest team in the CCHA, second only to Miami, which has a phenomenal goaltending duo. Michigan has allowed only 37 goals this season, and done it with one goaltender, Marty Turco. Ferris, in contrast, has allowed 69 goals this season. There’ll be a few more in this one.

At this point, Michigan is too, too solid for Ferris to beat.

PICK: Michigan 7-2

Apologies to the Providence hockey organization for mistakes in last week’s preview column. I wrote, "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." Providence did not need overtime to win the Friday game. Also, before that game, Providence had 11 players with more than three points in league play (three players had 10 points) and 13 players had more than five points overall. At that point, David Green led the team with 12 points in 11 game.

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

Copyright 1996 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.

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