This Week in the CCHA: December 13, 1996

CCHA PREVIEW: Dec. 13-15, 1996

CCHA Preview: Dec. 13-15, 1996 by Paula C. Weston

The teams atop the CCHA standings remain constant, as Lake Superior State and Michigan State (each with 18 points) hold on to their one-point lead over Michigan, while Miami stands one point behind the Wolverines. The potential for change in the pecking order exists this weekend when Miami hosts Lake Superior for two games.

While it’s too early to tell if the CCHA is losing its "two-tier" structure in favor of a three-tier design, it’s clear where the line is drawn between teams with realistic hopes of finishing in the top four and teams that simply won’t get there. Ferris State moves into fifth place this week, but they need six points to catch up with Miami. There are three teams with nine points each — Western Michigan, Notre Dame and Bowling Green — all tied for sixth place. In a middle-tier matchup, Bowling Green travels to Western Michigan for one game.

The second line drawn in the CCHA sand is the one that separates those middle teams from the remaining two, Ohio State and Alaska-Fairbanks. These two teams meet this week for what could be the battle of the basement, or the beginning of either team’s climb up the standings.

These imaginary lines could shift if a team gets hot or turns cold. When CCHA play resumes in 1997, it could seem like the start of a brand-new season.

Michigan State, Michigan, Ferris State and Notre Dame are idle this week. This weekend’s games are the last games involving CCHA teams until Dec. 27, and CCHA conference play begins again after the first of the year.

Last week’s record in picks: 6-2 Overall record in picks: 31-17

Lake Superior (12-5-1, 9-2-0 CCHA) at Miami (12-4-0, 8-2-0 CCHA) Friday & Saturday, 7 p.m., Goggin Arena, Oxford, OH

For the first time this season, Miami gave up more than five goals in a game, in a 7-6 OT loss to Western Michigan last weekend. For the first time this season, another team has bettered Miami in total goals against (Miami has now allowed 43 goals, Michigan 41). Is this reason to panic?

Miami coach Mark Mazzoleni doesn’t think so. "We played hard last week [at Western]. We played six good periods of hockey. Every time they went ahead, we came back."

This Miami team, which has been so good at stopping teams with high-octane offenses, will have to play tough defensive hockey this weekend to beat Lake Superior. Even with recent coaching changes, Mazzoleni knows that the Lakers have been consistent. "Lake Superior’s program has experienced so much success that [Lakers coach Scott Borek] doesn’t need to change anything. We expect a very typical Lake State team — good offense."

Unofficially, Lake Superior has two of the top ten scorers in the nation. Jason Sessa has 28 overall points, and Joe Blaznek 25. In the official CCHA tallies, Sessa has 10 goals and 12 assists, and is second in CCHA scoring.

Each team brings good goaltending to the games. Trevor Prior will start for Miami, and John Grahame for Lake Superior.

Lake Superior’s biggest weakness is special teams. The Lakers are last in the CCHA in the power play, and sixth on the penalty kill. Miami can exploit those weaknesses, with a third-ranked power play and second-ranked penalty kill in the CCHA.

This series is almost too close to call.

PICKS: Miami 4-3 Friday, Lake Superior 5-4 Saturday Ohio State (3-11-0, 3-6-0 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (2-14-0, 2-12-0 CCHA) Friday, Saturday & Sunday, 7 p.m., Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK

Talk about your evenly matched teams. This three-game series could be the beginning, or the end, for either the Nanooks or the Buckeyes.

According to Nanook coach Dave Laurion, the key to this series is Friday’s game. "If we win the first game, I think we’ll be that much better the next two nights. I don’t know how hungry our guys are going to be. I expect both teams are very hungry. We haven’t won a game at home. The first game’s critical for us. It may give us momentum for the rest of the weekend. We need to have success early in the weekend."

The lack of success early in the weekend is what cost Alaska-Fairbanks three games at the hands of the Lakers Thanksgiving weekend. Laurion points to the 4-3 loss on Friday, Nov. 29, as determining that weekend’s outcome for the Nanooks. They lost the remaining games 4-2 and 7-5.

Both the Nanooks and the Buckeyes are frustrated for having lost close games, but Buckeye coach John Markell remains optimistic. After all, his team is doing better now than they were at this point last season. "We’re probably sitting exactly where we could be, if I were to map out the season from the beginning. Now it’s time to step up and do something about it.

"Every game for us is important. We’re looking up at most teams. Hopefully we can get a few points before Christmas."

Many teams in the CCHA are relying heavily on rookies this season, but none more so than the Buckeyes. Two of the Buckeyes’ rookies are among their top scorers, and the Buckeyes are waiting for their two freshman goaltenders to adjust to play in the CCHA. Markell says he’s asking his freshmen to play like upperclassmen, something they’ll have to do to win this weekend.

In every aspect but one, these teams are nearly identical. Goaltending, special teams, defense — that’s all a wash. What Alaska-Fairbanks has that Ohio State lacks is a powerful offensive leader. Nanook Cody Bowtell will be instrumental in this series. If Bowtell and the Nanooks can pepper the weak Ohio State goaltending with shots, it will be a long plane ride home for Christmas break for the Buckeyes.

Whichever team calls the basement home after this series will do so for the rest of the season.

PICKS: Alaska-Fairbanks Friday 5-2, Saturday 4-3; Ohio State 4-3 Sunday Bowling Green (8-8-1, 4-8-1 CCHA) at Western Michigan (7-7-1, 4-6-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Center, Kalamazoo, MI

This game is much bigger for Bowling Green than it is for Western Michigan. Bowling Green was ranked in the top ten in every preseason poll, and had huge expectations for this season. Now the fans are disappointed, the players are discouraged, and coach Buddy Powers is left wondering what to do to make it all better again.

"For a while, our scorers stopped scoring," says Powers. "We’ve made defensive mistakes. There are nights when we need more help in front of the net and don’t get it.

"We’re playing a lot of young guys, and they take these losses in different ways. The fans have a right to expect us to beat certain clubs, and they’re anxious for us to get back into the top of the league. The losses don’t sit too well with anyone."

Western Michigan coach Bill Wilkinson knows about dashed expectations. "We lost six forwards and six seniors in the off-season. And losing [sophomore goaltender] Marc Magliarditi threw us.

"It’s put pressure on [goaltender] Matt Barnes. He’s played pretty solid, and he’s given us enough goaltending opportunities to win games."

Goaltending is a big concern for Bowling Green, whose goaltending duo of Mike Savard and Bob Petrie has given up 66 goals on the season. "We’re giving up four goals a game, and when you give up four goals in college hockey, it’s hard to ask your offense to come up with more goals," said Powers. "You want to keep opponents under four goals.

"Five to eight times in every game there are going to be breakdowns [on defense] and you need your goalie to make those saves, and we haven’t been getting those saves. Both these guys have the ability to play at this level; both have the ability to succeed at this level."

Wilkinson says he’s glad the Broncos are home for this game. "Bowling Green is a formidable opponent, no matter what their record. Any time you play at home, you’re better off. I just wish the students weren’t gone for Christmas."

The Broncos are struggling offensively, and the Falcons are struggling defensively. Interesting pairing. Look for Bowling Green’s defense to give the Broncos an early Christmas present.

PICK: Western Michigan 4-3

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

Copyright 1996 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.

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