This Week in the CCHA: January 17, 1997

CCHA PREVIEW: Jan. 17-21, 1997 CCHA Preview: Jan. 17-21, 1997 by Paula C. Weston

Who will make the CCHA playoffs? Most agree that Michigan, Miami, Michigan State and Lake Superior will be there. After all, each of these teams is ranked among the top ten in the country.

Miami had its way with Ohio State last week, outscoring the Buckeyes 17-5 in a home-and-home series. Miami remains in first place in the conference with 26 points in 15 games played; clearly, Miami is making a legitimate run at the CCHA title.

After giving up a point at home to Cornell, the top-ranked Michigan Wolverines placated themselves by beating up the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks 13-1, and handling the Ferris State Bulldogs 8-4. There’s nothing like showing other teams in your conference exactly why you’re number one. With 13 games played, Michigan has 20 points.

The Spartans and the Lakers split their weekend series in an unusual way — they tied both games 4-4t keeping both teams in the hunt. The Lakers, however, have played two more conference games than Michigan State, and have 24 points. The Spartans are just a point behind.

But who will fill out the rest of the CCHA dance card? Four teams from the second tier make the playoffs. The sleeping Bowling Green Falcons seem to have awakened at the right time to make a playoff run. The Falcons beat Notre Dame by a goal, and Western Michigan by two. Bowling Green moves up in the standings to fifth, with 14 points.

Western Michigan and Ferris State are tied at 12 points apiece. The crucial difference here is that Ferris has played 18 conference games, Western only 13. Ferris has little time to improve its record or solidify its playoff spot; Western may be just warming up.

But for a single goal in several games, Notre Dame could be thick in the hunt in the middle of the CCHA. Instead, the Irish have lost six CCHA games by one goal, and fighting to keep playoff hopes alive. With nine points, the Irish are in eighth place, one point ahead of visiting Alaska- Fairbanks.

Ohio State travels to Merrimack this weekend for non-conference play. The Buckeyes may have to rely on the better record against Ferris State to squeak into the playoffs.

Last week’s record in picks: 7-3 Overall record in picks: 56-38

No. 4 Miami (19-5-0, 13-2-0 CCHA) at No. 10 Lake Superior (15-8-3, 11-4-2 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI Miami comes off a very strong showing against Ohio State, sweeping a home-and-home series, 8-2 and 9-3. No CCHA fan should be surprised at the number of goals Miami scored against a defensively weak Buckeye team; last weekend’s scores do, however, indicate just how protective Miami is of its own net. Each night, Miami was outshot, and both Miami goaltenders rose to the challenge.

This could be the difference between Miami and many other CCHA opponents: depth on offense, defense, and goaltending. It certainly could be the difference in this game against Lake Superior. Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni knows what his team has to do to win. "I think it will be a very close-scoring game up there. We’re going to have to play extremely disciplined. We don’t want to get into a power-play or penalty-kill shootout with them. We want to play five-on-five hockey. When we play five-on-five hockey, that’s going to give us our best opportunity to win." Lake Superior tied twice with Michigan State last weekend; – both games ended 4-4 and Lake head coach Scott Borek said his team is feeling th effects of playing hard.

"I don’t know if we’ll be able to dress 10 forwards Friday night. Every healthy body is going to dress. This isn’t an excuse, but we’re really banged up right now." Among the injured are Bryan Fuss, Mitch Lane, Matt Alvey, Mike Kucsulain and Dan Hanson. Even without the injuries, Borek knows what he’s up against. "We’re playing the team to beat right now. Miami’s playing great hockey. They’re on a mission." Pick: Miami 4-2 Alaska-Fairbanks 4-17-0, 4-15-0 CCHA) at Notre Dame (6-14-1, 4-10-1 CCHA) Friday-Saturday, 7 p.m., Joyce ACC, South Bend, IN If Miami is the Cinderella story of the CCHA, then Notre Dame is always the bridesmaid, and rarely the bride. (So, we’re mixing metaphors — that’s what sports lingo is all about. Haven’t you seen Bull Durham?) Notre Dame has lost eight games by one point; six of those are CCHA losses. "A lot of it is mentality," says Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. "We were tied with Michigan State 3-3 in the last minute at Munn. We had a face-off in our end, and the crowd got involved, because they’d seen [the Spartans] do it before. It comes down to experience." The last three games UAF played were losses at the hands of Michigan teams. Michigan beat UAF 13-1 on Jan. 10. The Nanooks held their next two opponents to ten fewer goals per game, as both Western Michigan and Michigan State won by the score of 3-1 (Jan. 11 and 14, respectively). It’s been a long road trip for the Nanooks, who hadn’t played together since mid-December before meeting the Wolverines in Yost. Can Alaska-Fairbanks salvage something from this trip to gain much-needed points in an attempt to make the CCHA playoffs? "We had a pretty good game with them before Christmas," says Poulin. "We’re looking at the whole playoff picture here. This series is important to playoff position." Even though Notre Dame beat Alaska-Fairbanks Dec. 7 in South Bend, Poulin thinks this series will be hard-fought. "Is there an easy team in this conference?" The Irish have to start winning those close games sometime, and now is the best time. PICKS: Notre Dame 4-3, 3-1 No. 1 Michigan (20-1-2, 11-1-1 CCHA) vs. Western Michigan (9-10-2, 5-6-2 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI "Every point is huge," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "It’s a logjam [at the top of the CCHA]; it will be right up until the last game. We’re trying to get our team playing better." Berenson’s Wolverines gave a point to Cornell last week in Yost as the teams skated to a 3-3 tie. Alaska-Fairbanks felt the brunt of that meeting, as Michigan took out its frustrations on a team that was little equipped to deal with it.

"It wasn’t that Alaska wasn’t very good, but we were kind of mad," said Berenson in defense of the Nanooks. Berenson was unhappy with his club’s overall play against both Cornell and Ferris State, which lost to Michigan 8-4 on Jan. 11. "We took a 5-0 lead in the Ferris game, and they outscored us 4-1 in second period. We were overconfident." Michigan doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes two weekends in a row. The Wolverines are looking to repeat as CCHA and NCAA champions; the Broncos want a good berth in the CCHA playoffs. "Western is a good team," says Berenson. "They lost some veteran players and they lost their goaltender [CCHA Rookie of the Year Marc Magliarditi] from last year, but they played a good game here." The last time the two teams met was a 3-1 victory for Michigan in Ann Arbor. Western beat Alaska-Fairbanks 3-1 Saturday, and lost to Bowling Green 4-2 Tuesday. Michigan’s offensive will be tough to beat in this series. PICKS: Michigan 4-2, 5-2 No. 4 Miami (19-5-0, 13-2-0 CCHA) at Ferris State (9-16-1, 6-12-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, MI This is the only conference game Ferris State has for the weekend, and Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni is aware of it. "Ferris is sitting there, not playing, waiting for us." Miami has more than double the points that Ferris State does, but the Bulldogs need this game to keep playoff hopes alive. Michigan allowed Ferris State to score four goals in the second period of last week’s Michigan 8-4 win over the Bulldogs, and Michigan’s defense is every bit as stingy as Miami’s. Still, can the Bulldogs beat a Miami team that is, as Laker head coach Scott Borek put it, "on a mission?" Much depends on how hard Miami has to play to beat the injury-riddled Lakers on Friday night, while Ferris is idle. Ferris showed real signs of life in a series split with Bowling Green the week before the Michigan game, and the Bulldogs have had time to rest. Miami dominated its series over Ohio State, a team comparable to Ferris in talent, with one big exception: goaltending. Competent Ferris goaltending can keep the Bulldogs in the game. PICK: Miami 5-2 Ohio State (5-18-0, 4-12-0 CCHA) at. Merrimack (6-13-1, 3-8-1 Hockey East) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Volpe Complex, North Andover, MA This is the first meeting between these two teams since 1976, when OSU hosted the Warriors for a pair, winning both games 5-4. Ohio State is struggling, both offensively and defensively. Ohio State coaching would like to believe that most of the trouble is with rookie goaltenders Ray Aho and Tom Connerty. Aho is letting in more than five goals per game in league play, while Connerty’s GAA is 6.06.

"We know it’s a weakness," said Buckeye head coach John Markell. "Not that these guys won’t mature into good goalies. We have to help our defensemen." But goaltending isn’t the only problem. With new recruits capable of generating offense and veteran players like Chad Power having career seasons, the Buckeyes can’t seem to put the puck in the net. In their recent series with Lake Superior and Miami, OSU outshot each team in each game, but came away with no points. Merrimack, on the other hand, is on somewhat of a roll. The Warriors have won three of their last five games, and split a series last weekend with Maine, winning 3-1 and losing 6-2. The Warriors rank second behind Boston University in Hockey East in penalty minutes per game. This could be very bad news for the Buckeyes, who have proven that they play their best hockey at even strength. The Buckeyes are easily drawn into bad penalties as well. Only one Buckeye, captain Steve Brent, is even in the plus-minus in league play for Ohio State; all other players are on the negative side of that statistic. Still, Markell says that his team is traveling to Boston to win. "We need to get back to disciplined hockey." PICKS: Merrimack 5-3, 4-2 Colgate (11-8-1, 6-5-1 ECAC) at Bowling Green (10-11-2, 6-9-2 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH The only game for the Bowling Green Falcons this weekend is a non-conference game against Colgate. Bowling Green beat Notre Dame 3-2 Saturday, and Western Michigan 4-2 Tuesday, helping the Falcons’ playoff cause. A win over Colgate could give the Falcons much-needed confidence going into the CCHA home stretch. The Red Raiders have won three of their last four games, most recently losing by a goal to Cornell. With 13 points, Colgate is tied for fourth place in the ECAC. Of the Falcon win against Notre Dame, Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers said, "We played two pretty good periods. In the third period, Notre Dame really turned it up a notch." Almost as important as the win for the Falcons was the play of goaltender Bob Petrie. Said Powers, "Petrie came up with some pretty big saves for us" in the Notre Dame win. Petrie had 23 saves in the first Bowling Green victory over Notre Dame this season. Petrie had another big night Tuesday, saving 29 as Bowling Green beat Western Michigan. Even though this game is non-conference, its importance is not lost on Powers and the Falcons. Another Falcon victory would mean a huge boost in confidence as they jockey for playoff position. "Every game is a playoff game for us," says Powers. PICK: Bowling Green 3-2 No. 7 Michigan State (13-6-2, 9-2-2 CCHA) vs. Ferris State (9-16-1, 6-12-0 CCHA) Tuesday, 7:30 p.m., Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI In this school-night matchup, each team has something to prove. The Spartans want to prove that they’re contenders for the CCHA title. The Bulldogs want to prove they have what it takes to make the playoffs. And the Bulldogs really need these points. Spartan goaltender Chad Alban has improved his league goals-against average to .873, putting him fifth among CCHA goaltenders with 300 or more minutes. He’s allowing 3.19 goals per game in a conference where only three goaltenders with any amount of playing time are allowing fewer than three. In fact, Alban is having a good season. He’s second only to Lake Superior’s John Grahame in minutes in net — Alban has 790 minutes, while Grahame has an unbelievable 1,032. Alban has been the goalie of record for the Spartans in all of their CCHA games. Spartan head coach Ron Mason has remarked more than once about the kind of workload Michigan State asks Alban to shoulder. This game won’t just be about goaltending and defense, but in the remaining CCHA schedule, with so many teams able to generate offense, defense will decide who makes it to the playoffs, and then who goes to the Joe. In 13 CCHA games, the Spartans have protected their net well, allowing just 32 goals. In contrast, in 18 conference games, Ferris State has been outscored 82-55. This telling statistic says a lot about Ferris State’s playoff hopes, and about this Tuesday night game. PICK: Michigan State 4-2 Thanks to USCHO’s Mike Machnik for information on Merrimack.

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

Copyright 1996 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.

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