CCHA PREVIEW: Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 1997 CCHA Preview: Jan. 30-Feb. 1, 1997 by Paula C. Weston
The University of Michigan Wolverines showed why they’re ranked first in the nation last weekend. They put some distance between themselves and the rest of the CCHA, taking two games from Miami at Yost Arena. With 30 points in just 17 games, the Wolverines have positioned themselves as the team to beat in the CCHA. Lake Superior was stumped by a reemerging Bowling Green team. In spite of the loss, the Lakers remain in second place in the CCHA with 27 points. This weekend, the Lakers host a Notre Dame team hungry for points and a playoff spot. Miami dropped two to Michigan last week — but which CCHA team hasn’t done that? Miami looked strong in two games at Yost Arena. With 26 points, this is a team making a serious run at the CCHA title. Michigan State is five points behind Michigan, but, with as many — or as few — games played as the Wolverines, the Spartans have a few with which to catch up. Last weekend, the Spartans split a pair of games with Ohio State. This weekend, they have one game, with Western Michigan. Bowling Green is alive! Reports of the Falcons’ demise were premature. With recent wins, the Falcons have claimed sole possession of fifth place in the CCHA, with 18 points. Look for two great matchups this weekend as the Falcons host Miami Friday night, and travel to Ann Arbor Saturday. Ferris State has one game this weekend, one that definitely counts. The sixth-place Bulldogs take on the seventh-place Western Michigan Broncos. One point separates these two teams. Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Alaska-Fairbanks are all battling for the eighth CCHA playoff spot. Notre Dame is newly confident, after playing well against St. Cloud last weekend. The Irish have 11 points. The Buckeyes are also experiencing a surge in confidence, after splitting a series in East Lansing last weekend. The win against Michigan State moved the Buckeyes into a tie for ninth place with Alaska-Fairbanks; each team has 10 points. The Nanooks have played more conference games than anyone else in the CCHA, which could be a big factor in the final stretch of the season. Alaska-Fairbanks plays two non-conference games against Air Force this weekend. Last week’s record in picks: 7-6 Overall record in picks: 69-49 No. 1 Michigan (23-1-3, 14-1-2 CCHA) at Ohio State (7-20-0, 5-13-0 CCHA) Thursday, 7 p.m., Ohio Expo Center Coliseum, Columbus, OH Michigan proved its worth last weekend by beating a very worthy Miami team twice. In Friday’s game, the Wolverines trailed at the end of the first and second periods. Trailing at home is not a situation with which Michigan is familiar. After the first game, Michigan head coach Red Berenson said that the game was a learning experience for his team. Learning from experience is something Michigan does particularly well; each time the Wolverines have tied in recent memory, their next opponents have paid the price with good, old-fashioned trouncings. But have the Wolverines learned what got them into the ties in the first place? Certainly, this Michigan team is capable of beating anyone in the CCHA, at any time. Have the Wolverines learned that other teams can be just as capable, on any given night or two? "Michigan’s not going to want to come in here and lose," says Buckeye head coach John Markell. "They have 12 seniors, and all those guys played on a national championship team. We’re not going to be able to make any mistakes." The Buckeyes split a series with Michigan State in East Lansing, a place where few opponents win — the Buckeyes have only twice. In fact, the Buckeyes have defeated Michigan State only eight times since 1964. Buckeye head coach John Markell says the key to Ohio State’s recent success — 2-2 in its last four games — is the way in which freshman goaltender Ray Aho has stepped up. "I think he’s gained confidence and learned that he can play in this league. That goes a long way. He has the ability. He can play up to CCHA standards." Aho was named CCHA Defensive Player of the Week for the second week in a row for his play against Michigan State. Aho made 78 saves on 83 shots for the weekend, including 44 saves in the Buckeyes’ win. The Buckeyes tied the Wolverines twice last season, but haven’t beaten them since the 1989-90 season. The Wolverines won the previous contest this season, 7-2. The Buckeyes will be without two key players for this game. Captain Steve Brent may miss the rest of the season because of a knee injury, while junior defenseman Ryan Root will miss the Michigan game because of a disqualification last Saturday at Michigan State. PICK: Michigan 5-3 Notre Dame (8-16-1, 5-11-1 CCHA) at No. 10 Lake Superior (16-9-4, 12-5-3 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI The last time these two teams met, the Irish were dealt yet another of their one-goal losses. "We had a real good game against them in November in a 4-3 loss," says Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. "They have a good program. People probably aren’t paying enough attention to the good job Scott Borek is doing in Lake." The Irish had an encouraging weekend series against St. Cloud State last weekend. "We played well," says Poulin. "It was probably the most sustained we’ve played this year." The Irish won 5-2 Friday, and lost 2-1 Saturday. "Ironically, I was probably more pleased with the way we played Saturday night in a loss," says Poulin. Lake Superior took only one point from two games last weekend. On Friday, the Lakers lost 8-5 to Bowling Green. Laker goaltender John Grahame gave up an uncharacteristic five goals in two periods before being replaced with Shawn Greene (who gave up three goals in the third). Grahame was back in form for Saturday’s game, making 28 saves on 29 shots in a 1-1 tie with Western Michigan. The Lakers are 1-1-3 in their last five games, which proves nothing more than that the level of competition in the CCHA is high. Each of these teams needs and wants these points for different reasons. Among the top four teams in the CCHA, Lake Superior has the fewest conference games left. If the Lakers are going to make a run at the title, they need every point. For Notre Dame, every point lost could make the difference in the struggle for a playoff spot. Poulin says that every remaining game has the intensity of a playoff game. "I don’t think there’s a question about it. There are five weeks left, and no matter how you break it down, that’s only ten games." Expect a gritty, physical series. PICKS: Lake Superior 4-3, Notre Dame 3-2 No. 9 Miami (19-9-0, 13-6-0 CCHA) at Bowling Green (13-11-2, 8-9-2 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH Here’s an in-state match-up that should be a great game to watch. The recently-resurrected Bowling Green Falcons are hot right now. The Falcons have a five-game win streak on the line; their last loss was against Ferris in early January. "For the first time, in the last four or five games we’ve been healthy," says Falcon assistant coach Wayne Wilson. "We’ve gone through a pretty difficult season, where things were on a real downward roll for us. Things got better when Brett Punchard came back; then when we started winning again, for whatever reason, it just sort of hit us." What "hit" Bowling Green was better goaltending from a more confident Bob Petrie, who has been the goalie of record in all five of those wins. For the last five games, Petrie’s GAA is 2.80, and his save percentage is .886. Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni knows his team will be playing a different Bowling Green team — literally. "When Bowling Green came here," says Mazzoleni, "Punchard was out with a broken ankle and Perrault had been suspended for a game for fighting. "They’re on a roll right now, and feel good about themselves." Mazzoleni says that the Falcons have good leadership from their upperclassmen, and that alone will make them a different team than the one that lost 4-0 in Miami earlier this season. "They play three senior defensemen, and four [or] five senior forwards. I’m sure they feel they can catch us yet." Miami looks to snap a four-game losing streak, most recently two to Michigan at Yost. Mazzoleni is not disappointed with Miami’s effort against the top-ranked Wolverines. "Our team worked hard the whole weekend. We kept our composure. They [Michigan] have the intangible, the experience." Now that Bowling Green’s offense has awakened, look for both goaltenders to be challenged. This game will be an opportunity for the Miami team to prove — once again — that it belongs in the top ten. PICK: Miami 5-4 No. 7 Michigan State (15-7-3, 11-3-3 CCHA) at Western Michigan (9-12-4, 5-8-4 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI The Spartans were poised to make a run at first place in the CCHA early last week. With a game last Tuesday against middle-of-the-pack Ferris State, and two games — at home — against Ohio State, surely the Spartans would take more than three points in three games, wouldn’t they? The Spartans tied with Ferris, and split with the Buckeyes. Ferris is a team on a roll, but … the Buckeyes? Spartan assistant coach Tom Newton says the games against the Buckeyes are big in East Lansing. "It’s a Big Ten rivalry game, and the fans take that very seriously. Whenever we play them, there’s a lot of attention within our community." "It was a good game. We had two power-play goals, they had two power-play goals. We had a giveaway that they capitalized on. "I give them a lot of credit," says Newton. "They played a very defensive brand of hockey." Newton knows his Spartans are facing a competitive opponent in Western Michigan. "As long as Barnes [Bronco goaltender Matt Barnes] plays as well as he has been, they’re going to be a real tough game for us. "They’re tight in the defensive zone. You really have to fight for your space against Western." Western Michigan has proven it can play with the top teams in the CCHA. Last Saturday, the Broncos skated to a 1-1 tie with Lake Superior at home. The previous weekend, the Broncos tied Michigan at Yost. But don’t tell Broncos head coach Bill Wilkinson that his team is playing better. "I wouldn’t say we’re playing better. We’re maybe playing a little more consistent. "Matt Barnes is feeling more comfortable playing goal. Everybody’s starting to understand the system, and everybody is playing better in the system." Michigan State wants the title. The Broncos want good playoff position. PICK: Michigan State 4-3 Bowling Green (13-11-2, 8-9-2 CCHA) at No. 1 Michigan (23-1-3, 14-1-2 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI This will be a true test of the Bowling Green "recovery." When these two teams first met this season, the blood-letting on the ice cost each team players through injuries and game disqualifications. If Bowling Green is up to the challenge, this game could be just as fun. "Michigan is a great team," says Bowling Green assistant coach Wayne Wilson. "Yost is a tough place to play. As tough as it is, it’s also a great environment for hockey. Our team likes playing there." Bowling Green has a potentially explosive offense, but can its defense fend off an incredible Michigan team? The Wolverines have seven players with 20 or more points in 16 league games. John Madden leads the league with 33 points, and Brendan Morrison, with 30, is third in CCHA play. Compare that with the three Bowling Green players with 20 or more points in 17 league games, and you have to wonder if the Falcons have come far enough to get the better of this Michigan team. Yost is a tough place to play. Senior Michigan forward Brendan Morrison credited the fans, in part, for Michigan’s come-from-behind win last week against Miami. Expect no less from the crowd this Saturday night. PICK: Michigan 4-2 Ferris State (11-17-2, 7-12-1 CCHA) at Western Michigan (9-12-4, 5-8-4 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI For their second home game of the weekend, the Broncos will battle for position with Ferris State. Western head coach Bill Wilkinson sees similarities in the Broncos’ opponents. "Both of them [Michigan State and Ferris State] have similar styles. They will forecheck with pressure if they’re capable. Both use a lot of neutral-zone play. We just need to prepare ourselves to face that style. "They’re both very good on the special teams. Our special teams will be tested." In non-conference play last weekend, Ferris State split with Cornell, a team tied for second in the ECAC. In their last conference games, the Bulldogs came away with three points against ranked teams, beating Miami 6-4 and skating to a 3-3 tie with Michigan State. Ferris State assistant coach Drew Famulak credits a maturing team with the recent Bulldog success. "Our sophomores are stepping up. By the time they’re sophomores, they’re used to this league." Famulak thinks this game will be close. "I expect a one-goal game from Western, either way." Both teams are aware of how important these points are at this stage of the season. "I think everybody’s jockeying for position," says Famulak. "Every game is important," says Wilkinson. "In this league, you can’t play a team six times. We’re done with Michigan, and we’re done with Lake State. Those game you can’t get back." Still, Wilkinson says he doesn’t feel any sense of urgency about the playoffs — yet. "Maybe when you get down to the last few weeks in February, you feel like it’s playoff pressure." Don’t let Bill Wilkinson fool you; these teams are playing for the playoffs. PICK: Ferris State 5-3 Ohio State (7-20-0, 5-13-0 CCHA) at No. 9 Miami (19-9-0, 13-6-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH When these two teams met in a home-home series three weeks ago, Miami outscored Ohio State 17-5. Both Ohio State head coach John Markell and Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni expect this game to be a bit more competitive. "I would hope we’re going to be a lot different," says Markell. "Obviously when you get down four or five quick goals in the first period…" Markell didn’t need to finish the sentence. In their first meeting of the year, Miami outscored Ohio State 4-1 in the first period. The next night, Miami improved to 5-0 after one. "When we played them," says Mazzoleni, "their goaltending at that time was struggling. We scored on some very, very poor shots. I’m sure they’ve gained a lot of confidence since then." The Buckeyes may have gained confidence in freshman goaltender Ray Aho, who has been spectacular in net for the past two weeks. In his last four games, Aho has a .933 save percentage, and a goals-against average of 2.77. During those last four games, Aho lowered his GAA by 0.55 while raising his save percentage by .030. It’s a nice little streak for a walk-on goaltender who came to the Buckeyes a month before the season began. If Aho plays well and gets some help from the inconsistent Buckeye defense, this will be a competitive game. PICK: Miami 3-1 Air Force (6-15-2, 4-10-1 against D-I) at Alaska-Fairbanks (7-19-0, 5-17-0 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK The University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks swept the University of Lethbridge (Alberta) Pronghorns in two non-conference games last weekend, and what a weekend it was. According to a story by Susan Adeletti in the Jan. 25 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, the Nanooks had to scramble for a goaltender for the first game. Starter Chris Marvel was fighting the ‘flu, goaltender Ian Perkins re-injured his ankle, and second backup goalie Wade Schachle was attending his brother’s wedding. So, Nanook head coach Dave Laurion called freshman walk-on Craig Worrell — who wasn’t even eligible to play last semester — just two days before the game. Worrell came in for the ailing Marvel after two periods and a 4-1 Nanook lead. The Nanooks managed to hold on to win 6-5. Oh, but this story gets better. The Nanooks won the second game 7-3, but without five key players who were benched for the Saturday game for team rules violations. According to Adeletti in the Jan. 26 News-Miner, the five Fairbanks players had been caught drinking the night before with friends who played for Lethbridge. Schachle — who flew in from Anchorage after his brother’s wedding— was the goalie of record for the second game. And now the Air Force is in town. Air Force lost two games last weekend to top-ranked and defending national champion Division II Alabama-Huntsville, 5-4 and 4-2. The Nanooks are 12-5-1 against Air Force. The teams last met in the 1994-95 season at the Cadet Ice Arena, where the teams split two games. Depending on who’s in net for the Nanooks — and who is eligible or not eligible to play for various reasons — the games against Air Force should help the Nanooks prepare for league play in the following weeks. PICKS: Alaska-Fairbanks 4-3, 4-2 You can read all about the further adventures of the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner (www.newsminer.com) and the UAF hockey home page (www2.polarnet.com/~jcarlson/uafhockey).
Paula C. Weston is the CCHA Correspondent for US College Hockey Online.
Copyright 1996 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.
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