This Week in the CCHA: January 24, 1997

CCHA PREVIEW: Jan. 24-28, 1997 CCHA Preview: Jan. 24-28, 1997 by Paula C. Weston

Things are thick at the top in the CCHA. Three teams — Michigan, Miami and Lake Superior — are tied for first, each with 26 points. Last weekend, Michigan gained three points and Miami none, setting up a potentially spectacular weekend of hockey as Miami travels to Yost for two games to challenge the Wolverines. Michigan has two games in hand over Miami. Lake Superior travels to two opponents who are trying to maintain playoff position. On Friday, the Lakers head to Bowling Green; Saturday it’s back north to Western Michigan. Michigan State trails the three leaders by four points, but has played as few CCHA games (15) as any other team in the conference. The Spartans host the last-place Buckeyes. Ohio State, with just eight points, needs to make a move now to attain a playoff spot. The sleeping Falcons may have awakened; with 16 points, Bowling Green is at the top of the second tier. Fresh off Tuesday’s win over the Broncos, BGSU hosts Lake Superior Friday night. Ferris State travels to beautiful central New York to play two at Cornell. The Bulldogs have 15 points, but have played 20 conference games. With few left, the series the Bulldogs lost to Ohio State may be costly indeed. Western Michigan is a point behind Ferris, and still adjusting to changes the Broncos hadn’t seen coming. They have a "light" schedule this weekend, against visiting Lake Superior. Notre Dame and Alaska-Fairbanks are hosting non-conference games. St. Cloud travels to Notre Dame for a pair, while Lethbridge makes the trip to Fairbanks. Notre Dame lost another one-goal game last weekend, to Alaska-Fairbanks, as those two teams split the weekend in South Bend. Last week’s record in picks: 6-5 Overall record in picks: 62-43

No. 8 Miami (19-7-0, 13-4-0 CCHA) at No. 1 Michigan (21-1-3, 12-1-2 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI "I’m looking forward to it," says Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni, "That’s for sure." When the 1996-97 schedule was made, no one could have known that this weekend series between Miami and Michigan would have the implications that it does. Certainly, everyone expected the defending NCAA champion Wolverines to be in the hunt for the CCHA title, but few expected Michigan to be competing head-to-head with Miami. This Miami team is no fluke, and is the one team in the CCHA that can come near to being called evenly matched with Michigan. "I think the thing we have to realize," says Mazzoleni, "is that we’re nineteen-and-seven for a reason." For several reasons, actually. Like Michigan, there are too few players on the Miami roster in plus-minus trouble to mention. Miami’s Randy Robitaille has 31 league points; so does Michigan’s John Madden. Michigan’s Brendan Morrison has 26 points; Miami’s Dan Boyle has 25. The two teams collectively have the best goaltending in the CCHA. For Miami, Adam Lord and Trevor Prior have split time in the net. Prior has seen most of the work, logging 715 minutes to Lord’s 301. Prior’s save percentage is .887, and his GAA is 2.77. Lord’s save percentage is .905, and his GAA is 2.58. Turco has seen almost all of the action that the Wolverines have. In his 840 minutes in the net, he has an impressive .874 save percentage, and a GAA of 2.93. Of course, Michigan has a depth that no team in the CCHA — not even Miami — can match. If you’re down to Michigan in the first period, quite simply, you’ve lost the game. "We have got to be smart and play the kind of game we know we can play," says Mazzoleni. "We have to be aware of certain parts of our play defensively that they’ll try to exploit." Neither team got quite what it wanted last weekend. Michigan came back to steal a point from Western Michigan Friday in a three-point weekend, but Miami dropped games to Lake Superior and Ferris State. The last time Michigan tied — 3-3 against Cornell at Yost — its next CCHA opponent, Alaska-Fairbanks, paid for it with a 13-1 beating. As for Miami’s disappointing weekend, Mazzoleni says his team didn’t give up, and that’s important. "Even though we were down 4-1 [against Ferris], we never quit." Michigan coach Red Berenson could not be reached for comment about this series, which is too close to call. PICKS: Miami 4-3, Michigan 7-3

No. 7 Lake Superior (16-8-3, 12-4-2 CCHA) at Bowling Green (12-11-2, 7-9-2 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH Of the three teams currently at the top of the CCHA standings, Lake Superior has played the most games (19). For Lake Superior, every point matters. But that’s true for Bowling Green as well. After hosting the Lakers, the Falcons play Miami and Michigan. During the next few games, Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers says, "We’ll find out a little bit about who we are and how far we’ve come." The Falcons had a shaky start to their season, lingering dangerously near the bottom of the CCHA standings. Part of the problem has been goaltending, not Powers’ favorite topic of conversation. "With the goaltenders, so much is confidence." Powers attributes recent Bowling Green wins to some good playing between the pipes. "Once Bobbie [Petrie] gets some confidence, he plays well." Also contributing to the Falcons’ woes was the absence of Brett Punchard, who recently returned to the line up after ankle surgery. Punchard’s impact cannot be underestimated. "I think he’s putting points on the board each game," says Powers. Still, Powers says that the Falcons haven’t done anything drastic to improve their playing lately. "Everybody thinks we’re playing better. "I’ve got to be honest with you — I don’t think there’s much different in our effort, if anything at all. Mistakes in front of the net aren’t affecting us mentally like they used to. When we used to give up a couple of goals, it would get us down." The Lakers had just one game last weekend, and they beat top rival Miami. "It was important for us to play as well as we did against Miami," says Lake Superior head coach Scott Borek. "It was a big win." Borek knows how dangerous Bowling Green can be. When these two teams met in October in Sault Ste. Marie, Bowling Green won both games, 6-4 and 4-2. "They really took it to us tough up here," says Borek. "I think that they’ve gone through their adversity for this season. They’ve hit their upside, and it’s going to be even higher for them than it was before. "This year they’ve had their problems early. Last year it was later. We’re playing them both times when they’re coming out of it, and this year it will be tougher." Laker goaltender John Grahame could again be the difference against a Bowling Green team with renewed self-confidence. But then again, BG is a tough place to play. PICK: Bowling Green 4-2

No. 7 Lake Superior (16-8-3, 12-4-2 CCHA) at Western Michigan (9-12-3, 5-8-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson is adamant. "We didn’t steal a point from Michigan; they stole it from us." At a little more than halfway through the first period, Michigan had a 2-0 lead when the Broncos scored at 11:06. Two minutes later, the Broncos scored again to tie the game at the end of one. In the second period, Western had two goals and Michigan one, giving WMU the lead. Early in the third, Michigan tied it up, but 14:17, sophomore center Mike Melas scored his third goal of the game for Western, a goal that should have been the game-winner, depending on your point of view. But at 19:14, Brendan Morrison — who else? — scored the goal that earned one point for top-ranked Michigan. It rankles still. "It didn’t affect us immediately," in the overtime, says Wilkinson. "It might have affected us the next night. They came out with a lot more gusto in their building." Wilkinson adds, "They’re hard to catch." Expect the Broncos to play with same intensity when they host the Lakers. The Broncos seem to be finally settling into the hand they’ve been dealt this season. Broncos goaltender Matt Barnes has a respectable .872 save percentage, and a 3.60 GAA. Wilkinson has a healthy respect for the Lakers. "They have one of the best goaltenders (in the CCHA) with John Grahame in goal. They’re strong up front, and Battaglia and Blaznek have emerged as real leaders. It will be a physical game." The Broncos are another team trying to maintain a playoff position in the CCHA. "We’re trying not to focus on the whole thing. We’re just trying to focus on Lake State, and take it as it comes." Laker Superior head coach Scott Borek knows this second road game will be no easier than his team’s first this weekend. "Western is excellent on defense. They have at least four guys on defense who are as good as any four guys in the league. They played two really good games against Michigan." Borek says he’s not deceived by the records of Bowling Green and Western Michigan. "We’re playing two teams that are really getting into gear now. Both Western and Bowling Green are ready to make their move." The Lakers have lost key players to injury and other things recently. Matt Alvey has dropped out of school because of academic reasons, and Mike Kucsulain has been injured since the Lakers spent a weekend in Columbus. "Mike Kucsulain is day to day," says Borek. "If we could get him back, we could have as solid a team as any we could put on the ice. "It’s an important weekend for us. If we have success it’s going to carry us through as we prepare to go to Yost." PICK: Lake Superior 4-3

Ohio State (6-19-0, 4-12-0 CCHA) at No. 6 Michigan State (14-6-3, 10-2-3 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., and Saturday, 4 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI It would be unfair to say that Michigan State head coach Ron Mason smells blood as the last-place Ohio State Buckeyes roll into town. "We feel right now we’re ready to make a run for things," says Mason. "We’re behind in number of games played, and we’d like to have those games as wins, but this gives us an opportunity now." Unfortunately, MSU didn’t help its cause very much Tuesday, tying lowly Ferris State in Grand Rapids, 3-3. On the other hand, the Spartans watched some top teams duke it out last weekend. Miami’s losses to Lake Superior and Ferris State helped Michigan State, as did Michigan’s tie with Western. "We’ve had good success over the years with Ohio State," says Mason, somewhat understating the Spartans’ 59-7-4 overall record against the Buckeyes. However, Mason knows that the Buckeyes can be troublesome. "They came in here last year with a horrible record and took us to overtime. What you ask of your players is not to overachieve, but to play as hard as they can. If we do that, we can come out on top." The importance of this series for the Buckeyes isn’t lost on Mason, either. "It’s sometimes even more important for them to win as it is for us. We’re shooting for the league title, while they’re just trying to make it into the playoffs. "With eight teams making it to the playoffs, it makes it a heck of a lot more entertaining down the stretch. You can get beat by anyone in this league." Buckeye head coach John Markell is counting on that. The Buckeyes are the only team in the CCHA with points still in the single digits. To make the playoffs, the Buckeyes will have to take some from formidable opponents. After Michigan State, the Buckeyes host Michigan for a game, and travel to Miami for one. Ohio State heads to East Lansing with a realistic outlook. "Our team has great respect for Michigan State," says Markell. "We’re going in to their barn. They’ve got a good hockey club, a ranked hockey club. Obviously we have our work cut out for us. They see it as points for themselves. They’re probably seeing it as four points for themselves." The Buckeyes have been working on goaltending all season, and it’s beginning to pay off. They split two non-conference games in Merrimack last weekend, and freshman goaltender Ray Aho was named the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week for his 76 saves (.927 save percentage). OSU has been working on very specific defensive problems as well. "We worked heavily on our play without the puck," says Markell. He says his players are "all capable of playing when they have the puck," and credits his team with being a little more focused. "They realize they have only 11 games left." The Buckeyes will be without team captain and key player Steve Brent Friday night. In last Saturday’s game, both Brent and Merrimack captain John Jakopin received what some have called questionable game disqualifications for punching during an altercation at the end of the first period. Brent is the heart of the Buckeye penalty-kill, and they do love to take their penalties. PICKS: Michigan State 6-2, 3-2

No. 10 St. Cloud State (14-7-3, 12-7-3 WCHA) at Notre Dame (7-15-1, 5-11-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Joyce ACC, South Bend, IN Last weekend, the University of Notre Dame Fighting Irish split a pair of games with Alaska-Fairbanks. The 5-4 loss on Friday was the seventh league game the Irish have lost by a goal this season. "That’s the norm," says Irish head coach Dave Poulin, "but this game was different. We had a 3-0 game and lost the lead." The one-goal losses put Notre Dame in the position of having to fight for a playoff spot. "It is frustrating, but you try not to focus on that." On Saturday, the Irish channeled that frustration into an important 6-2 win over the Nanooks. The win gives the Irish the series edge over the Nanooks, which may come in handy at the end of the season. "Every game is important, there’s no question," says Poulin. "Saturday night was a big game for us. We needed to go out and win it, and we did." At least for this weekend, when the Irish host St. Cloud, Poulin and the Irish won’t have to worry about how wins or losses affect the playoff picture. "The one sort of nice thing about playing a non-conference game is that you tend to focus on your own game more than theirs. When you’re playing a non-conference opponent, you have the chance to pay more attention to what your own team is doing." Poulin says that playing against such a tough non-conference opponent may help his team with "the little things we haven’t been successful with, like handling the puck in the defensive zone." The St. Cloud State Huskies split last weekend with in-state rival Minnesota. Like Notre Dame, the Huskies want to make the most of this non-conference meeting to stay fresh for the final stretch of conference play. For SCSU, Sacha Molin is third in scoring in the WCHA with 27 total points. He has scored a point in six of his last eight games. Dave Paradise (12 goals, 13 assists) scored a seventh short-handed goal at Minnesota on Saturday, a Husky career record. He has a four-game point streak going coming into the series against Notre Dame, and is now 18th in scoring all-time at SCSU. The Huskies are seeing good goaltending from both Tim Lideen and Brian Leitza. Lideen is averaging 3.07 goals against, and has a save percentage of .905; Leitza’s GAA is 3.27, his save percentage .891. The two should split duties this weekend. PICKS: St. Cloud 4-2, 4-3

No. 6 Michigan State (14-6-3, 10-2-3 CCHA) at Notre Dame (7-15-1, 5-11-1 CCHA) Tuesday, 7 p.m., Joyce ACC, South Bend, IN For the second week in a row, the Spartans play a Tuesday night game, this time on the road. Both the Spartans and the Irish will be coming off tough home series just two days prior. These two teams have met once before this season, on Nov. 17, a 4-3 decision in favor of Michigan State. That game was tied at three-all when Michigan State’s Mark Loeding scored with 54 seconds left in regulation play to finish Notre Dame’s fifth one-goal loss of the season. Each team has a lot at stake in this game. It’s a given that Michigan State is going to the playoffs; Notre Dame is struggling to make it. If Michigan State takes four points from Ohio State, the two points up for grabs in this game could mean some ground gained on the teams ahead of the Spartans. With Miami and Michigan battling it out in Ann Arbor, this Tuesday game could be very important indeed. PICK: Michigan State 3-2

Ferris State (10-16-1, 7-12-0 CCHA) at Cornell (9-4-4, 7-3-2 ECAC) Friday 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, 7 p.m., James M. Lynah Rink, Ithaca, NY The Ferris State Bulldogs have made the last few days count. Beating league-leading Miami 6-4, and then tying Michigan State 3-3 on Tuesday, meant more than just a boost in morale. "Points are precious," says assistant coach Jamie Russell. "We played very well in first and second period," says Russell. "We had good goal tending that kept us in the game." Russell knows that Cornell is a tough team to play. "We’ll have to be very good defensively. Hopefully, our special teams and goaltending will be up for the task." Russell says that tough non-conference games can help focus a team coming into the playoff home stretch. "You always want to come out and play well [in non-conference games]. Then you want no drop-off in intensity when you come back to league games." Last weekend, Cornell beat Colgate 3-1. The Big Red’s most recent CCHA game, however, was an impressive road tie with Michigan, a team that doesn’t like to give up points at Yost. Cornell has a very good goaltender in Jean-Marc Pelletier, whose overall save percentage is an amazing .924; his overall GAA is 2.44. These stats put Pelletier fourth in goaltending in the ECAC. PICKS: Cornell 4-3, Ferris 4-2

Lethbridge at Alaska-Fairbanks (5-19-0, 5-17-0 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK Alaska-Fairbanks head coach Dave Laurion is glad to be home. "I’ve been gone since Dec. 27," says Laurion. "I’ve got a lot of paperwork to catch up on." The Nanooks had the holiday break completely off, and reconvened in Ann Arbor to prepare for their game against Michigan. "We had the three practices in Ann Arbor," says Laurion, "and they went well. The guys came back in pretty good shape." Unfortunately for Laurion, good practices and good conditioning weren’t enough against an angry Michigan team. The Wolverines beat the Nanooks 13-1 in the first game the Nanooks played since hosting Ohio State in December. "We weren’t game-ready. They got those early goals, and that spelled disaster for our team." The game against Michigan was the first blowout the second-year Nanooks had been party to. Laurion says he considers himself lucky that they’d avoided it so far. "We had never been on the receiving end of a drubbing like that. It was like, welcome to the club." Overall, it was a disappointing five game road-trip for Alaska-Fairbanks. A lone win came against Notre Dame last Friday night. Laurion says his team played pretty good hockey after the Michigan game, and that the best Nanook game was a 3-1 loss against Michigan State. The third Spartan goal was an empty-netter. "It will be nice to be at home more in the second half of the season," says Laurion. "We can still salvage some respectability out of our season in non-conference games. It’s going to be tough to make the playoffs. We have five conference games left. "Right now for us, it makes a huge difference if we end up eighth or ninth." The Nanooks hold the tie-breaker over Ohio State, but not Notre Dame. Even though his team is going to have difficulty making the playoffs, Laurion says, "I like the format of two teams not making it. It makes the league more competitive." Updated information about the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns was unavailable. PICKS: Alaska-Fairbanks 4-2, 4-2 Thanks to USCHO WCHA Correspondent Jim Thies for his information about St. Cloud.

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

Copyright 1996 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.

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