This Week in the CCHA: December 27, 1996

CCHA Preview: Dec. 27-31, 1996 by Paula C. Weston

Each team in the CCHA except for the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks is competing in non-conference tournament play during the holiday break. The University of Michigan is defending the Great Lakes Invitational title for the eighth straight year, while Michigan State, Lake Superior State and Michigan Tech will try to unseat the Wolverines. At the Pepsi College Hockey Tournament, three middle-of-the-pack CCHA teams meet, along with the ECAC’s St. Lawrence. Western Michigan and Ferris State, each with 10 points in the CCHA, compete against Ohio State, a team with eight points. The Dodge Mariucci Classic brings together teams from each college hockey conference. Miami, ranked third nationally in the Around the Rinks/USCHO Poll, represents the CCHA. Clarkson, Boston College and Minnesota will also play in Minneapolis. Bowling Green travels East to the RPI Marine Midland Holiday Hockey Tournament. RPI, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and Brown round out that tournament. Notre Dame travels east as well, to take on Princeton. Although these games are meaningless in terms of conference play, each team can gain a second-season boost in confidence by winning a tournament — or at least playing well. There are three games on the docket in addition to tournament play. In a nonconference matchup, Miami meets Mankato State for the first time. In another nonleague tilt, Michigan State and Colorado College meet in East Lansing. The only game with conference implications is the Ferris State-Michigan game on New Year’s Eve. Last week’s record in picks: 2-4 Overall recordin picks: 33-21

The Great Lakes Invitational Tournament Friday, Dec. 27, and Saturday, Dec. 28, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

Friday: Michigan State (11-5-0, 9-2-0 CCHA) vs. Lake Superior (12-7-1, 9-4-0 CCHA), 4 p.m. Michigan (15-1-1, 8-1-1 CCHA) vs. Michigan Tech (5-11-1, 2-11-1 WCHA), 7:30 p.m. Saturday: Consolation game, 4 p.m; Championship game, 7:30 p.m.

Defending champion Michigan hopes to sweep this tournament for the ninth straight year. Even though these games have no bearing on the CCHA standings, the Wolverines have used their past GLI titles to propel them to success for the rest of the conference year. "When you win that tournament, it helps your team come together and get ready for the second part of the season," says Michigan coach Red Berenson. "I think our team has high expectations for this tournament, since we’ve found a way to win it for the last eight years. It’s become a high point in the season. "It would definitely be bragging rights for the seniors to say they’ve never lost. Every year it’s been something our team points to before the season starts. They talk about the GLI as though it’s important, not just another Christmas tournament." Michigan State is one team that would like to see the Wolverines relinquish the GLI title, but coach Ron Mason says he isn’t looking at the tournament as a whole yet. "All we’re worried about is Lake State. We’ve got the toughest first-round opponent we’ve faced in a long time. The biggest thing we want to try to do is get into the championship game and take it from there." Michigan, Michigan State and Lake Superior each have players who will be absent because of U.S. National Junior Team play. Mason is particularly concerned how the absence of Mike York will affect the team’s play. The sophomore forward has 18 points in 11 CCHA games. Lake Superior State will play without Jason Sessa, who leads the CCHA in scoring with 24 points in 13 league games. The Lakers make their first GLI appearance in many years, and are excited about the prospect. "This should be a great tournament," says Laker coach Scott Borek. "The rivalry is strong. We haven’t been to the GLI since 1977. It’s a great chance to play top league opponents in nonleague games. I’d love to win the tournament, but there’s only one tournament we really care about. "The biggest thing you want take away from the tournament is a confidence level against CCHA opponents. You want to know that you can physically control or compete with them. I want us to play very well, to take us into the second half." Michigan Tech is currently rebuilding its team under first-year head coach Tim Watters. The Huskies are in last place in the WCHA, and have just two league victories. Part of what’s ailing them is a lack of offense. While two players for the Huskies are in double-digit scoring, each is averaging less than a point per game. Kevin Mulligan has 13 points in 16 games, and Andre Savage has 11 points in 16 games. The Huskies are even when goaltender Luciano Caravaggio is in net. Caravaggio’s record is 4-4-1, with a very respectable save percentage of .912. With their consistently more powerful offense and excellent goaltending from Marty Turco, the Wolverines should bag their ninth consecutive GLI tournament title. Lake Superior will win the consolation game. PICKS:Friday, Michigan 7-2, Michigan State 4-3; Saturday, Michigan 4-3, Lake Superior 5-1

Pepsi College Hockey Tournament Friday, Dec. 27, and Saturday, Dec. 28, Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI

Friday: Ferris State (8-11-1, 5-9-0 CCHA) vs. Ohio State (4-13-0, 4-8-0 CCHA) 5 p.m. St. Lawrence (4-8-1, 3-3-1 ECAC) vs. Western Michigan (7-7-2, 4-6-2 CCHA), 8 p.m. Saturday: Consolation game 5 p.m.; Championship game, 8 p.m. Ferris State comes to the Pepsi College Hockey Tournament with some newly found confidence and very little pressure. "We went three-and-one before the break," says assistant coach Drew Famulak, "so our confidence level is up." The Bulldogs took a weekend series from Notre Dame the last weekend in November, beat Ohio State a week later, and lost to Michigan their last game before the break. The Bulldogs were pleased with the early play of freshman goaltender Mike Szkodzinski. "Our young kids have started to play well," says Famulak, "and we’d like to keep building on the success we had in the past few games." Nonetheless, Bulldog goaltending has been inconsistent. Szkodzinski has a goals-against average of 3.53, with a save percentage of .883. Veteran goaltender Jeff Blashill has improved his GAA to 3.78. His save percentage is .868. Famulak says his team looks forward to playing competitive CCHA teams in nonconference play. "This is a great way to showcase Division I hockey in western Michigan." Joining Ferris State as co-host of the tournament is Western Michigan University. WMU is a team accustomed to loftier CCHA ground, but since the departure of star sophomore goaltender Marc Magliarditi, the Broncos have adjusted their expectations for the season. Still, the Broncos are a team more used to winning than are their CCHA tournament opponents. At 7-7-2 overall, this team seems to be poised to move upward. The Broncos started December by losing to Michigan, then split a series with league-leading Miami. Western Michigan tied with Bowling Green to end the month. Stepping into the net for the Broncos this season, Matt Barnes is a respectable fifth in CCHA goaltending with a GAA of 3.32 and an .880 save percentage. Two Broncos, Justin Cardwell and Mike Melas, each have 21 points in 16 games. The Ohio State University Buckeyes are somewhat of a mystery. They have twice as many wins at this point in the season than they did last year at this time. They’ve taken two out of three from Ferris State, and they started December by beating Bowling Green. But the Buckeyes are inconsistent. They lost to Ferris State one week after beating BGSU, and took only one of three games from Alaska-Fairbanks. The biggest problem for the Buckeyes now is goaltending. The freshman goaltending duo of Ray Aho and Tom Connerty anchors the bottom of the CCHA. Aho has a save percentage of .851, and a GAA of 4.59. Connerty’s save percentage is a dismal .823, and he’s allowed an average of 5.65 goals per league game. Overall defense is a problem for the Buckeyes. Only one player, senior team captain and reformed goon Steve Brent, is on the plus side for OSU, at +3. There are some bright spots for the Buckeyes. The power play is looking better. Pierre Dufour is tied for fourth in power-play scoring among CCHA forwards with 13 points, and Ryan Root has 12 points, for third place among defensemen. St. Lawrence picked up three points in its last ECAC weekend with a 3-3 tie at Harvard, and a 5-4 overtime win at Brown. Saints junior Scott Stevens is second in the ECAC in scoring with five goals and seven assists. Stevens netted the overtime winner against Brown. One of the strong points for the Saints this season is the power play. Ranked first in the ECAC at 27.3 percent, the Saints hold a slight lead over Cornell (27.1 percent). Even though the power play is first in the league, shorthanded goals are a problem. The Saints have allowed four short-handers in 33 power-play opportunities. This may be one of the most evenly matched tournaments in the country. The Ohio State-Ferris game is a toss-up; the outcome depends on which OSU team shows up for the tournament — the one that beat Bowling Green, or the one that lost two of three to Alaska-Fairbanks. Western Michigan should prevail over its initial ECAC competition. PICKS: Friday, Ferris State 3-2, Western Michigan 5-3; Saturday, Ohio State 3-2, Western Michigan 4-1

Dodge Mariucci Classic Friday, Dec. 27, and Saturday, Dec. 28, Mariucci Arena, Minneapolis, MN

Friday, Clarkson (8-5-0, 4-3-0 ECAC) vs. Miami (14-4-0, 10-2-0 CCHA), 5 p.m. Boston College (7-8-1, 4-5-1 HE) vs. Minnesota (10-6-0, 9-5-0 WCHA,), 8 p.m. Saturday: Consolation game, 5 p.m.; Championship game, 8 p.m.

Miami University is off to its best start ever, and there may be little that can stop this team. At first, the key to Miami’s success was defense. Junior goaltenders Trevor Prior and Adam Lord are the stingiest duo in the CCHA. According to coach Mark Mazzoleni, as the team gained confidence in its defense, the team played more confidently overall. Mazzoleni says that each Miami player feels as though he can contribute, which leads to a true team effort. Leading the team in scoring is sophomore forward Randy Robitaille, who has 11 goals and 11 assists in 22 CCHA games. His plus-minus rating stands at +9; in fact, there are only two players on the team in the minus, each at -1, and those two have played just a few games each. Miami leads the CCHA in goaltending. Prior has an .896 save percentage, with a minimal goals-against average of 2.25. Lord’s save percentage is .903, and he is giving up just 2.48 goals per game. In addition, this bunch nearly leads the CCHA in special teams. Miami is third on the power play, and second on the penalty kill. In their last two games, the Clarkson Knights had an 8-4 victory over Brown, and a 5-4 loss to Harvard. Nine players scored the 13 Clarkson goals. Finally, Clarkson is seeing more offensive balance, though they are still just sixth in the ECAC standings. Most notably, senior captain Todd White has been tallying points. The last weekend of play before the break, White scored four times, twice in each game. White leads all ECAC scorers with 16 points, and is second in the overall point standings with 26. Boston College comes to the tournament without three-fifths of its top power-play unit. That unit consists of four 18-year-old freshmen and an 19-year-old sophomore. Unfortunately for the Eagles — at least in the short-term — Jeff Farkas, Blake Bellefeuille and sophomore sensation Marty Reasoner are instead skating for the U.S. Junior National team. Only defenseman Mike Mottau and the Eagles would-be Cam Neely, Kevin Caulfield, remain for the power play. BC coach Jerry York will probably move upperclassmen Brian Callahan, Jamie O’Leary and Ken Hemenway onto his top unit. Callahan leads BC scoring with 14 goals and nine assists. O’Leary is the only true center remaining with Farkas and Reasoner gone. Hemenway led the team in power-play goals last year with eight. On the plus side, Greg Taylor’s broken glove hand is expected to be much closer to 100 percent after extra time off. Taylor, one of the top goalies in Hockey East, missed five games before coming back and playing through pain and a lack of dexterity. The Minnesota Golden Gophers ended the first half of their season on a high note. After beating Michigan State in the consolation game of the College Hockey Showcase, the WCHA’s fourth-place Gophers split a home-home series with second-place St. Cloud State. The Gophers are solid defensively. Goaltender Steve DeBus is among the top five WCHA goaltenders, with a GAA of 2.99 and a save percentage of .896. Offensively, Minnesota could pick up its pace. The Gophers have no scorers among the top ten in the WCHA, but forward Eric Rasmussen is just out of the rankings with 16 points. While this is a competitive tournament, this is Miami’s year. Ranked third in the nation, Miami has a chance to prove to the rest of the country that it’s not a fluke by beating Minnesota (sixth in the ATR/USCHO Poll) for the championship. PICKS:Friday, Miami 4-2, Minnesota 3-1; Saturday, Miami 4-1, Clarkson 3-1

RPI Marine Midland Holiday Hockey Tournament Friday, December 27 and Saturday, December 28, Houston Field House, Troy, NY

Friday, Brown (1-9-1, 1-7-1 ECAC) vs. Bowling Green (8-8-2, 4-8-2 CCHA), 5:30 p.m. RPI (7-4-2, 4-1-1 ECAC) vs. Mass-Amherst (7-9-0, 4-6-0 HE), 8:30 p.m. Saturday: Consolation game, 5:30 p.m.; Championship game 8:30 p.m. The only reason the Bowling Green State University Falcons will advance to the Championship game in this tournament is because they play Brown in the first round. The Bears can’t seem to get a break this season. The team is suffering through a six-game losing streak and is in last place in the ECAC. Brown is in last place in total defense in the ECAC, giving up an average of 5.00 goals per game. The Bears are eighth in total offense, averaging 3.27 goals per game. They also lead the league in penalty minutes, amassing a whopping 282 minutes in just nine games. During their slump, the Bears have had three one-goal losses, two of them in overtime. There are signs that the Bears are close to turning the season around. Little by little the offense has started to wake up. Adrian Smith and Jade Kerey each recently had two-goal games, but defenseman Jimmy Andersson is still the team’s leading scorer with 13 points. The last time Bowling Green and Brown met was at this same tournament, Dec. 30, 1982. BGSU won 7-4. Much has changed since then. In fact, much has changed this season. Bowling Green is a team in pain. The Falcons were supposed to be a top-ten team this season, according to preseason polls. Instead, Bowling Green has struggled defensively, especially with goaltending, and is tied for fifth place in the CCHA with Western Michigan and Ferris State. The problem for Bowling Green isn’t offense. Curtis Fry has 19 points in 14 games. Mike Johnson has 18 points in 14 games. But the Falcons haven’t been able to lift themselves out of the quagmire. They had a chance on Dec. 14 when they played Western Michigan; the game ended in a 2-2 overtime tie. RPI is a pleasant surprise early in ECAC play this season. The Engineers are fourth in the league, but hold the highest winning percentage. Freshman goaltender Joel Laing is second in the ECAC with a .938 save percentage and a 2.33 GAA. He has been splitting time with another freshman, Scott Prekaski. Prekaski has a 2.92 GAA, and a .917 save percentage. The duo shared ECAC Rookie of the Week honors two weeks ago. Eric Healey leads RPI’s scoring barrage with 17 points (7-10). Centering him is Alain St.-Hilaire with 12 points; the other winger on this line is Matt Garver, also with 12 points. This high-scoring line is one of the reasons RPI has been a surprise. When Garver was out with a separated shoulder, RPI was shut out in three consecutive games. "It’s anybody’s tournament," says UMass head coach Joe Mallen. "RPI is very much improved. I got to see them early in the year and they’ve completely reloaded and look to be a much better team than the squad we saw last year. I also have great respect for Bowling Green and Brown. "But the question is the same as it is with a lot of the holiday tournaments. Everybody takes off for exams and takes a break from practice. All of a sudden you just reassemble everybody and go out and play hockey. It’s a tough way to do it. Obviously the team that has their timing together has the best shot at winning the whole thing." UMass-Amherst opened December with a sweep of Providence, and hoped to use that to launch a winning streak going into exams. But they dropped games to two ECAC teams, losing 7-2 to Princeton and 6-5 to Dartmouth. Goaltender Brian Regan, who suffered a pulled groin against Princeton, is expected to return for tournament play. But Tom Perry is still out with a broken wrist. Lost too is the momentum that seemed to be building at the start of the month. Even so, Mallen hopes that being off for just one week — despite the resulting distractions that exams forced his team to endure against Princeton and Dartmouth — will pay off in better timing and perhaps a tournament win. PICKS:Friday, Bowling Green 4-2, Umass 4-1; Saturday, RPI 4-2, Umass, 5-3

250th Challenge Series Notre Dame (5-10-1, 4-8-1 CCHA) at Princeton (9-3-2, 6-2-1 ECAC) Saturday, Dec. 28, 4 p.m., Sunday, Dec. 29, 2 p.m., Baker Rink, Princeton, NJ To talk to Notre Dame coach Dave Poulin is to believe that his Irish are on their way up in the CCHA. Poulin talks about close games and the rebuilding of the program. The reality is that, despite improvement this season, Notre Dame has yet to pull itself out of the CCHA’s second tier, in spite of some opportunities to do so. Notre Dame has lost five games by just one goal, but with the exception of a 3-0 shutout of Ohio State, the Irish have not won by more than two goals. Offense seems to be the problem. Brian Urick leads the team with 13 points in 13 CCHA games, but no one has double-digit goals for the Irish. Poulin says he’s a little concerned with the two weeks off prior to this match-up, "…but players do seem to be more aware of staying in condition these days." Princeton finished second in the J.C. Penney Classic. After defeating Union, the Tigers dropped a 6-1 decision to Maine. Dominque Auger, the freshman defenseman from Levis, PQ, earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team. He went 2-2-4 in the two games, picking up a goal and an assist against Union. Auger scored the lone goal against Maine in the second period. Senior Jean Verdon was another bright spot for the Tigers. He had two goals against the Dutchmen and assisted on Auger’s power-play goal against the Black Bears. Another peak performer for the Tigers this past weekend was sophomore Jason Given. Given posted three assists against Union, and is now tied for 15th in the ECAC for scoring. The Irish have lost each of the five times these teams have met. That shouldn’t change this series. PICKS:Princeton 3-2 and 4-1

Miami (14-4-0, 10-2-0 CCHA) at Mankato State (7-8-2, independent) Monday, Dec. 30, 7:05 p.m., Mankato Civic Center, Mankato, MN This is the first meeting between Miami and the Mavericks. Mankato State was even for the month of December, splitting a two-game series with Bemidji State just before the break. Miami should come into this game as champions of the Mariucci Classic. Even tired from tournament play just two days before this game, a Miami win will give the Team Formerly Known as the Redskins a nice boost of confidence going into the second half of CCHA play. PICK: Miami 5-2

Ferris State (8-11-1, 5-9-0 CCHA) at Michigan (15-1-1, 8-1-1 CCHA) Tuesday, Dec. 31, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI In this, the last CCHA league game of 1996, the number-one ranked Wolverines should have no problem at home with Ferris. Both teams will be a bit fatigued from playing in very competitive tournaments. Michigan’s superior offensive power and overall depth will be key in this game. Should Ferris pull off the upset (they won’t), the Bulldogs would have sole possession of fifth place in the CCHA with 12 points. A Wolverine win gives Michigan 19 points, and sole possession of second place in the CCHA. PICK:Michigan 6-2

Colorado College (10-5-1, 10-5-1 WCHA) at Michigan State (11-5-0, 9-2-0 CCHA) Tuesday, Dec. 31, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI The Colorado College Tigers have won an unprecedented three consecutive WCHA regular-season titles. Last year, the Tigers lost a heart-wrenching overtime game to Michigan in the NCAA Championship game. This season, CC is struggling a little, in third place in the WCHA, but the Tigers are coming off a two-game sweep of Northern Michigan. To end November, they split two games with Alaska-Anchorage, and tied and lost to league-leading North Dakota before beating Northern. Part of the problem is uneven goaltending. Senior goalie Judd Lambert’s save percentage is .875, while freshman goaltender Jason Cugnet is only slightly better at .879. Michigan State continues to play tough against top-level CCHA opponents. They’ll be ready for the Tigers at home. Colorado College leads the overall series 42-31-1, but the teams haven’t met since the 1980-81 season. PICK:Michigan State 5-3

Special thanks to USCHO Hockey East Correspondent Dave Hendrickson and USCHO ECAC Correspondent Jayson Moy for their help with previews for teams in their respective divisions.

Happy New Year, CCHA fans!

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

Copyright 1996 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.

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