This Week in the CCHA: January 10, 1997

CCHA PREVIEW: Jan. 10-14, 1997 CCHA Preview: Jan. 10-14, 1997 by Paula C. Weston

Last week’s play produced some shuffling at the top of the standings in the CCHA. After taking two from Ohio State, Lake Superior State — currently ninth in the Around the Rinks/USCHO poll — moved into a tie for first place with No. 6 Miami. Each team has 22 points. Michigan retains its national number-one ranking, but is in third place in the CCHA with 19 points. Seventh-ranked Michigan State was idle last week, and holds down fourth place with 18 points. The second tier of the CCHA is topped by Bowling Green and Ferris State, who split last week (as predicted); they are tied for fifth place, each with 12 points. Western Michigan stands alone in seventh with 10 points, but could gain ground this weekend with a game against Alaska-Fairbanks, and one against Bowling Green next Tuesday. Rounding out the CCHA are Notre Dame with nine points and Ohio State and Alaska-Fairbanks, each with eight. Last week’s record in picks: 6-3 Overall record in picks: 49-35 No. 7 Michigan State (13-6-0, 9-2-0 CCHA) at No. 9 Lake Superior (15-8-1, 11-4-0 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI Although this is the first conference meeting between the Spartans and the Lakers, these teams have already played once this season, when Lake Superior beat Michigan State 5-0 in the first round of the Great Lakes Invitational Tournament. In that meeting, each team was missing an important offensive player; this weekend, Michigan State’s Mike York and Lake Superior’s Jason Sessa return from World Junior Tournament play. Neither MSU head coach Ron Mason nor LSSU head coach Scott Borek sounded particularly enthusiastic about this series. Both expect very tough games. "They took it to us hard in the GLI," said Mason. "Let’s face it, – they’re on a pretty darned good roll. We’ve got our hands full. And it’s tough to play up there." The Lakers are coming off a winning weekend against Ohio State, and Laker goaltender John Grahame was the biggest part of that success. Mason acknowledged that a key to the Laker shutout at the GLI was superb goaltending. "Their goaltender played very well; full marks t John Grahame," Mason said. There has been some public speculation about Michigan State goaltender Chad Alban, and the thought is that the Spartans would have a few more wins if Alban were playing better. Mason, however, sees it differently. "When he plays really well, we win. He’s got a couple of games he’d like to have back, there’s no doubt about it, but who doesn’t? But when you ask him to play every night like we do … it’s a tough league. "This is a team," said Mason, "and everyone has to play well. I think our kids will play well this weekend." "Containment," said Borek. "Containment. We just want to contain their offense. We’ll score goals when we get chances. We’ll score three or four goals, but we need to contain their offense. They can be very explosive. We need to contain them, and take our chances to get to their goalie." The Lakers contained an offense and got to a goalie when they played Ohio State. In spite of being outshot 77-50 by the Buckeyes, the Lakers scored nine goals in two games. Laker center Terry Marchant was named the Bauer/CCHA Offensive Player of the week. Marchant’s play was instrumental in both victories over OSU. He scored the first goal of the game on Friday and the game-winner on Saturday. On the other side, Michigan State’s Tyler Harlton was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Week for leading the Spartan defense in a 6-2 win over seventh-rated Colorado College. MSU held the Tigers to 0-for-6 on the power play while scoring two short-handed goals. Harlton finished that game with a plus/minus rating of +3 as MSU allowed only 21 shots on goal. This is the second week in a row that the CCHA Offensive Player of the Week meets the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week in a matchup. Last week, John Grahame took on OSU’s Chad Power; Grahame clearly came out on top. PICKS: Lake Superior 3-2; Michigan State 4-2 No. 6 Miami (17-5-0, 11-2-0 CCHA) vs. Ohio State (5-16-0, 4-10-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., OSU Ice Rink, Columbus, OH Saturday, 7 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH This home-and-home series pits these two teams for the first time this season. Last year, Miami and OSU tied twice before Miami won the rubber match, 3-2 in Columbus. This is a whole new season, one in which Miami is attempting to stake a claim to the CCHA title. Ohio State would settle for a playoff berth. It can’t be said too often: the difference between these two teams is goaltending (perhaps the difference between Miami and nearly every one of its opponents is goaltending). While Miami can count on solid play from experienced junior goaltenders Trevor Prior and Adam Lord, Ohio State is struggling with two first-year netminders who anchor the bottom of the CCHA goaltending stats, Ray Aho and Tom Connerty. "Trevor Prior is still the goalie of choice," says Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni, "considering how well he’s been playing. But I’m sure we’ll get back to playing Adam again." How good are the Miami goaltenders? In league play, Trevor Prior has a .892 save percentage with a 2.34 goals-against average, and Adam Lord has a .904 save percentage with a 2.48 GAA. Keep in mind that Prior is Miami’s hot goalie right now. In contrast, the Buckeyes’ pair is allowing more than four goals per game. Right now, the more experienced Ray Aho has the better numbers, with an .844 save percentage and a GAA of 4.59. The true freshman, 18-year-old Connerty, is allowing 5.65 goals per game; his save percentage is .823, the lowest in the CCHA. Even with the difficulties Ohio State is experiencing in net, Miami is taking nothing for granted. "They had us twice last season," says Mazzoleni. "When you look at their games this past weekend against Lake, they had a decided advantage in shots. They’re a team capable of beating any team on any given night, like any other team in this league." Believe it or not, Ohio State has a potentially lethal offense. The line of rookies Eric Meloche, Hugo Boisvert (who played on-line together for the Cornwall Colts) and senior Chad Power is capable of scoring lots of goals — well, they’re certainly capable of taking lots of shots. And two Ohio State players,- forward Pierre Dufour and defenseman Ryan Roo,rare among te CCHA leaders in power-play points. But the Buckeyes aren’t winning games. "We just have to get mentally tougher in the third period," says Buckeye coach John Markell. "Whether I have to shorten my bench or talk to some of these guys, I don’t know yet. "Miami is a strong hockey club. They’re offensive. They’ve got some good players in Danny Boyle and Randy Robitaille. We’ve got them in our smaller rink, so we’ll see if we can play in-their-face kind of hockey, and we’ll see what we come out with. A lot of those guys haven’t played in our small rink. We had success against them last year. "My feeling is that our team is doing pretty good. We just need a couple of breaks here. If we keep pouring on 35 shots a game, we’ll come out with a "W” here pretty soon." Ohio State is going to need more than a couple of breaks to win these games. PICKS: Miami 6-5, 3-2 Alaska-Fairbanks (4-15-0, 4-13-0 CCHA) at No. 1 Michigan (18-1-2, 9-1-1 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI Alaska-Fairbanks hasn’t played since taking two out of three from Ohio State in mid-December. What a lucky break to come back to hockey against the defending NCAA Division I Champions. Interviewed before the break, UAF head coach Dave Laurion hoped that the time away would help his team settle down, and soothe some jagged nerves. Laurion said that, at the time, the team was still deeply disturbed by the absence of Erik Drygas, who suffered a spinal injury before the season began. Largely because of that incident, said Laurion, the Nanooks were off to a very shaky start. The Alaska-Fairbanks players traveled directly to Ann Arbor from their individual holiday destinations; the team has been practicing in Ann Arbor all week. Laurion was hoping that time to acclimate would help his team prepare for a difficult five-game road trip, starting with the Wolverines. This strategy may hold a certain advantage for the Nanooks, but Michigan doesn’t lose at home. The Wolverines are confident after their ninth straight Great Lakes Invitational Tournament championship. Also, Michigan beat Ferris State 11-1 New Year’s Eve. Nanooks Cody Bowtell and Jeff Trembecky may be among the league’s top scorers, but the Wolverines have a whole arsenal of offensive threats, and Marty Turco defends their goal. PICK: Michigan 5-2 Bowling Green (9-11-2, 5-9-2 CCHA) at Notre Dame (5-13-1, 4-9-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Joyce ACC, South Bend, IN This is the third time these two clubs will meet this season; Notre Dame leads the series 2-0. Bowling Green lost to Notre Dame at home, 7-5, and in South Bend, 5-3. "We lost at home against them," said Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers dispassionately, "then we played them two weeks later and they beat us on the road." At this point in the season, Powers doesn’t have much more to add about his team’s struggles. "We’re still treading water," he said. "We gave up some goals Friday night [against Ferris State], made a couple of mistakes defensively." It’s been a strange year for the Falcons, but Powers believes his team can work through it. "You get in a bad cycle, and all that you can do is keep grinding away. In the 20 years that I’ve been doing this, I’ve learned that things come around." There is some good news for the Falcons. Forward Brett Punchard will probably be returning to the line-up this weekend after a long absence. Punchard broke his right ankle in the multiple-injury-producing Bowling Green-Michigan game on Nov. 9. Punchard underwent successful surgery on Nov. 12, and has been practicing with the team in non-contact drills for the past two weeks. Then there’s the bad news for BGSU. Three Falcons suffered shoulder injuries last weekend. Senior defenseman Kelly Perrault injured his shoulder during the Falcons’ morning skate on Jan. 3; he missed both Ferris State games, and is listed as day-to-day. Freshman forward Adam Edinger and defenseman Peter Ratchuk each sustained sprained shoulders during the Friday Ferris State game. Edinger is listed as questionable for the weekend, and Ratchuk will definitely not play. According to Powers, it’s unlikely any of the recently injured will play this weekend, although the trio will be re-evaluated for Tuesday’s game against Western Michigan. If you’re moved by the frustration the Falcons feel, consider this: Notre Dame has dropped seven one-goal games, and all five Irish CCHA losses have been by just one goal. The Irish are tough defensively this season, mainly because goaltender Matt Eisler is having a great year. Eisler has a 3.55 GAA and an .883 save percentage in CCHA play. Last season, the junior let by well more than four goals per game. And now the Notre Dame offense may be clicking. Give credit to the Irish for putting together the least-pronounceable line on ice. In their nine games on line together, Aniket Dhadphale, Joe Dusbabek, and Lyle Andrusiak have combined for eight of Notre Dame’s 17 full-strength goals. Each is on the favorable side of the plus-minus ratio, and now the linesmen are keeping company with Brian Urick in the points category. This week junior defenseman Justin Theel announced that he will end his playing career because of chronic back injuries. Theel will serve as a student assistant coach for the remainder of the season. Considering the luck of the Falcons, in this series the luck of the Irish will prevail again. PICK: Notre Dame 3-2 Alaska-Fairbanks (4-15-0, 4-13-0 CCHA) at Western Michigan (8-10-2, 4-6-2 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI It is possible for a team to be too well-rested, and that may be the case for the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks. After nearly a month off, the Nanooks travel to Kalamazoo after playing Friday in Ann Arbor. In spite of spending a week in Ann Arbor to prepare for this tour-of-Michigan-and-Indiana road trip, the Nanooks may just be out of sorts; after all, the players haven’t played together on their own ice since mid-December. Western Michigan dropped two games to No. 2 North Dakota last weekend. Western head coach Bill Wilkinson says his team can’t be too disappointed with the losses. The second game of the series against North Dakota was tied up well into the third, when North Dakota scored two unanswered goals. As for Alaska-Fairbanks, Wilkinson says, "I haven’t seen them since the middle of November, when we played them here. They’re a good skating team. They know how to clog up the neutral zone." The teams split that weekend, with the Broncos winning the first game 4-2, and the Nanooks taking the second 5-3. Western Michigan will win the rubber match. PICK: Western Michigan 5-3 Ferris State (9-15-1, 6-11-0 CCHA) at No. 1 Michigan (18-1-2, 9-1-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI Is this a grudge match for Ferris? They lost twice to Michigan in December. A 7-3 home loss is tough enough for any team to take, but losing 11-1 is a really lousy way to celebrate New Year’s Eve. In Ferris State’s only game of the weekend, the Bulldogs are not likely to improve their standing in the CCHA. The only team to take a point from Michigan at home this season has been Cornell, in a 3-3 tie on January 7. The Wolverines’ generosity in such matters is probably exhausted, at least for the time being. It’s a clean sweep. PICK: Michigan 6-2 Western Michigan (8-10-2, 4-6-2 CCHA) at Bowling Green (9-11-2, 5-9-2 CCHA) Tuesday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH This will be a game to watch. Each team is feeling the sting of a season that is less than expected. Each is beginning to have to jockey for play-off position in a way that neither could have foreseen. This is what Broncos head coach Bill Wilkinson said about playing BGSU at Bowling Green: "They’re very good at home. It’s always a tough place to play. They’ve got talent. They’re having a puzzling year as well." This is what Wilkinson said about his own team: "Our goaltending has to improve; our defense has to improve; our offense has to improve." This is what Falcons head coach Buddy Powers said about playing Western Michigan: "They played us tough last time." The teams skated to a 3-3 tie in December. This is what Powers said about his own team: "When your offense isn’t scoring, your defense isn’t defending, and your goaltending isn’t working, you can’t win games." Freaky. PICK: Bowling Green 4-1 Alaska-Fairbanks (4-15-0, 4-13-0 CCHA) at No. 7 Michigan State (13-6-0, 9-2-0 CCHA) Tuesday, 7 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, MI Last and certainly not least is this game, the third this season between the Nanooks and the Spartans. This cruel little Alaska-Fairbanks road trip has a game in East Lansing sandwiched right in the middle. After playing single games at Michigan and WMU, the Nanooks play the Spartans, then head to South Bend for a weekend series, just to see what a Lower 48 state other than Michigan looks like. These two teams split in Munn in mid-November. The Nanooks took the first game 5-2, and the Spartans won 5-3 on the second night. By this time in their trip, the Nanooks should be adjusting to life on the road; they should also be clicking again after so much time off. Alaska-Fairbanks did get a bit of boost at the end of the first half of the season, when they took two of three from the Buckeyes. But the Spartans are beginning to feel the drive for the CCHA title, which is really up for grabs among the top four teams. All around, the Spartans are a more consistent team. This should be a close game. PICK: Michigan State 5-4

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

Copyright 1996 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.

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