This Week in the CCHA: February 7, 1997

CCHA PREVIEW: Feb. 7-8, 1997 CCHA Preview: Feb. 7-8, 1997 by Paula C. Weston

It’s crunch time in the CCHA, and each game this weekend will be an exciting game to watch.

Michigan held on to first place, easily defeating Ohio State and Bowling Green last week. With 34 points in 19 games, the Wolverines will be difficult to catch.

Second-place Lake Superior is going to try to gain some ground on the Wolverines in head-to-head combat. The Lakers took two from Notre Dame last weekend, keeping pace with the Wolverines. The Lakers have 31 points in 22 games; if they are going to make a move, their single game with Michigan this weekend is a good place to start.

The Spartans of Michigan State would also like to catch their arch-rivals. The Spartans lost a controversial game to Western Michigan in overtime last Saturday, and beat Notre Dame Tuesday of last week. The Spartans have also played 19 games, but they have seven fewer points than the Wolverines. Michigan State plays Western Michigan and Michigan this weekend.

The Bowling Green Falcons are spreading their wings and making a run for home ice in the CCHA. The Falcons, who lingered near the bottom of the standings most of the season, have climbed to fifth place in the CCHA with 19 points. Bowling Green played two nationally-ranked teams last week, and came away from the weekend with a point, a 2-2 tie with Miami. This weekend the Falcons host the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks.

Western Michigan is right behind Bowling Green in the standings with 18 points. The Broncos had a pair of wins last weekend, beating Michigan State 3-2 in a contest marred by several game disqualifications, and Ferris State 6-4. Western Michigan meets both teams again this weekend.

With 15 points in 21 games, nothing is guaranteed for the seventh-place Ferris State Bulldogs. The top eight teams in the CCHA make the playoffs, and the Bulldogs let the ninth-place Buckeyes get the better of them in the season series this year, so every point counts. Ferris State meets Western Michigan in the Bulldogs’ only game of the weekend. They lost to the Broncos last weekend.

Eighth-place Notre Dame hosts ninth-place Ohio State in what should be a dandy series in South Bend. Each team has played 20 games; the Irish have 11 points, and the Buckeyes ten. Both teams lost two last weekend, but Notre Dame has beaten Ohio State once this season in conference play.

The University of Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks make their final road trip of the season, traveling to Bowling Green for two games. Tied for ninth with the Buckeyes, the Nanooks need these points for the playoffs. After this series, the only remaining conference games for the Nanooks are three home games with Ferris State.

Miami is idle this week.

What a weekend of college hockey! Not a bad game in the bunch.

Last week’s record in picks: 6-4 Overall record in picks: 75-53

No. 1 Michigan (25-1-3, 16-1-2 CCHA) vs. No. 8 Lake Superior (18-9-4, 14-5-3 CCHA) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

This is the first conference matchup between the Wolverines and the Lakers. Michigan has beaten the Lakers twice this season; the first was a non-conference game in October, and the second was the title game of the Great Lakes Invitational in December.

Each team won two games last weekend. Michigan beat a pair of Ohio teams

by the same score: 6-1 over Ohio State Thursday, and 6-1 over Bowling Green last Saturday. Lake Superior beat Notre Dame at home, 6-3 and 4-0, sweeping the Irish for the year.

"Bowling Green played well," says Michigan coach Red Berenson. "It was a good game. We scored some key goals at the right time in the second period, which has been our weakest period. We had home ice advantage, too.

"Bowling Green is a different team now. They were a young team when we played them earlier this season, but they’re a more experienced team now."

The Lakers are just three points behind Michigan in the CCHA, but Michigan has three games in hand. Fans can expect to see a typically-physical Lake Superior game against a Michigan team that looks unbeatable.

Berenson says he has great respect for the Lakers. "When these two teams play, it’s close hockey. Both teams at times look like they have an edge, and then the other team takes the edge away."

Lake Superior is "hosting" the game, which is being played in Detroit. "I guess I’d rather play them at Joe Louis than at Lake State," says Berenson.

This will be a good, tough game between two teams with legitimate chances of taking the title.

PICK: Michigan 5-3

Michigan State (16-8-3, 12-4-3 CCHA) at Western Michigan (11-12-4, 7-8-4 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI

A cynic who saw last week’s Spartans-Broncos game might call this one a grudge match.

The official story is that Western Michigan beat Michigan State with one second left on the clock in overtime, but Michigan State head coach Ron Mason has said that he doesn’t think there was any time left on the clock. Mason is also unhappy with the way the goal was scored — immediately following a face-off that he doesn’t think was set up by the book.

In any case, Western Michigan was engaged in a little post-game celebrating on the ice when activities of another kind began. Conflicting stories abound about who started the fight, but it was definitely a fight — the bench-clearing kind — and five Broncos and six Spartans have the game disqualifications to prove it.

Center Joel Irving, left wing Matt Addesa, goalie Peet Moseley, and defensemen Brendan Kenny and Geoff Collard were the Bronco honorees. All sat out last Saturday’s game against Ferris State, and all will be back for this game except for Collard, who will miss a second game because this was his second DQ of the season. Earlier this season, he and Spartan Tony Tuzzolino exchanged glances, and then some.

Tuzzolino was not one of the Spartans who brawled this time around. Defensemen Tyler Harlton and Jeff Kozakowski, left wingers Bryan Adams and Mike Watt, and goaltenders Chad Alban and Mike Brusseau each received game disqualifications as a result of the fight. Since this game is the first one the Spartans will play since the penalties were assessed, all six will miss this game against the Broncos.

All six — including the starting and backup goaltenders. So, who’s going to mind the net for the Spartans?

It looks like Mike Gresl, a redshirt freshman, will be in goal Friday night. Mason didn’t want to play Gresl, who will, in effect, lose one year of eligibility by playing. Mason insisted that the decision was up to Gresl, that Mason wouldn’t force him to play.

"He actually came up to me and asked to play, and I said fine," said Mason. "He’s a 20-year-old, with sophomore credits in school, so he won’t be losing a lot."

NCAA rules state that each team must suit up two goaltenders for each game, and the Spartans have only three on the roster. Mason has approached sophomore Jim Sexsmith, a goalie for the Michigan State club team, about filling the vacancy this weekend. Sexsmith is eligible to play, but the necessary NCAA paperwork may not go through in time for Friday’s game. If Sexsmith can’t suit up for the game, Mason says he’ll have to put the pads on a forward or defenseman currently on the roster.

So what about the actual game between the Spartans and the Broncos?

"We lost our two top goalies, our two top defensemen, and Mike York," says Mason. "It’s going to be interesting to see how we battle against those defensive losses."

Mason says that he doesn’t think his players will have revenge on their minds. "I think that all of them have been through this, coming up through the juniors, so it won’t affect them."

Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson agrees. "I think everybody’s geared up to play. We’re looking forward to playing hockey. Retribution isn’t really part of college hockey. That sort of intimidation may be part of the pros, but we just want to play hockey."

In their last five games, the Broncos have fared well against top-ten teams, tying Michigan and Lake Superior, and beating Michigan State. "We want to continue to win," says Wilkinson. "Any time you continue to win, it’s a bonus to your team’s confidence."

Both coaches expect a trouble-free game. Quips Mason, "It will probably be one of the cleanest games played this year."

PICK: Western Michigan 5-3

Ohio State (7-22-0, 5-15-0 CCHA) at Notre Dame (8-19-1, 5-14-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Joyce ACC, South Bend, IN

After a bench-clearing brawl, a mere fight for a playoff spot pales in comparison. In spite of the lowly status of the Buckeyes and the Fighting Irish, this is the series to watch this weekend.

The Buckeyes are tied for ninth place in the CCHA with Alaska-Fairbanks; each team has ten points. That puts the Buckeyes just one point behind the Irish, and that makes for some great hockey.

"I think everyone’s fully aware of what these games mean," says Irish head coach Dave Poulin. "It’s the season in a microcosm."

The Irish have dropped four of their last five, and three of those losses were in-conference. Two were shutouts, the most recent being the final game last weekend in Lake Superior’s season sweep of the Irish.

"We played real well on Friday," says Poulin. "We were 3-3 with a couple of minutes to go." Then the Lakers scored three goals in less than three minutes, late in the third period.

Poulin says that Lake Superior’s experience made the difference in the second game. "Saturday night was a veteran game. [Irish captain Terry] Lorenz put it in the net accidentally.-There wasn’t a Laker in sight and we never recovered from that."

The Buckeyes lost 6-1 to Michigan last Thursday, and 6-4 to Miami Saturday. Buckeye head coach John Markell says he was happy with his team’s efforts in Saturday’s game.

Poulin expects very competitive games. "I know the Buckeyes are playing really well. Everybody says so. They’re playing patient, defensive hockey."

Markell doesn’t see the series against Notre Dame as "must-win." "No, not really," he says. "We’ll take it one game at a time. We know what we have to do."

Both coaches agree that home-ice can be the edge in this series. "It’s their advantage," says Markell. "They’re in their own rink."

"I think playing at home will make a difference," says Poulin. "Both games are sell-outs, and it should be a terrific weekend of college hockey."

The Buckeyes are capable of generating offensive chances, having outshot all of their recent opponents except for Michigan. If the Buckeyes can learn to put the puck in the net, and if Buckeye goaltender Ray Aho continues to play well, and if the Buckeye defense gives Aho some help, then the Buckeyes will have a chance to get the points they need. That’s an awful lot of ifs, though.

These may be the neediest two teams in college hockey right now. "It’s going to be two hungry hockey clubs," says Markell.

PICKS: Notre Dame 4-3, Ohio State 6-4

Alaska-Fairbanks (9-19-0, 5-17-0 CCHA) at Bowling Green (13-12-3, 8-10-3 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH

Ohio State and Notre Dame aren’t the only hungry teams in the CCHA. Tied with the Buckeyes for ninth place in the CCHA, the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks have only five conference games left in which to make up the difference and secure a playoff spot.

"They’re a desperate club," is how Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers defines the Nanooks. "We’ve been making that point pretty clear to our players here."

Alaska-Fairbanks head coach Dave Laurion doesn’t sound that desperate. "We’re reasonably healthy," he says. "We’re looking forward to getting back into conference play. We need to get at least a point. Realistically, we need more."

Each team is experiencing a rebound of sorts. So far in 1997, Bowling Green is 5-2-1, and four of those wins are conference wins. One of the losses is last week’s 6-1 loss to Michigan, and the tie is last week’s, against Miami.

"Well," says Powers, "Michigan played a real good game, and if Michigan plays real well and you don’t, you lose."

Alaska-Fairbanks has won its last four games, all non-conference. Last weekend the Nanooks took two from Air Force. "We’ve played well," says Laurion. "It’s nice to get in some non-conference wins against strong teams. It helps our confidence. We played some aggressive games, which is good. We know Bowling Green is aggressive."

The teams have met once before this season, a 7-4 home win for Bowling Green. Laurion knows that Bowling Green has improved as the season has progressed. "Certainly they’re a better team than when we played them before. They’ve got talent. We’ll have to play our best to win."

Powers isn’t taking this series for granted. "Every game is going to be life or death for UAF, Notre Dame and Ohio State," says Powers. "Those teams are going to play tough. UAF just took a couple of games from Air Force, so they’ll be coming in here in a pretty good frame of mind.

"Whether you’re Michigan and you want points to take the division, or Lake or Miami, or if you’re the teams trying to make the playoffs, every point counts."

With 19 points, Bowling Green is in fifth place behind Michigan State. Even though it would be difficult to catch up with the Spartans and their 27 points, don’t tell the Falcons it’s not worth trying.

PICKS: Bowling Green 6-3, 5-3

Michigan (25-1-3, 16-1-2 CCHA) vs. Michigan State (16-8-3, 12-4-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

This is the third and final meeting in regular-season play for the Wolverines and the Spartans, and it’s the rubber game of the match. The Wolverines owe their only conference loss to the Spartans, and both teams will be playing for pride as well as points.

"Typically, in our games with them, goaltending has been a big factor," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "If they’re clicking with their power play, their power play can keep them in a game. And they have the best penalty-killing unit in the CCHA."

Berenson says that records mean little when it comes to the Michigan-Michigan State rivalry. "They have some good forwards. I don’t know if they’ve met some good goaltending or if they’ve had an offensive slump lately. It doesn’t matter; – you can put all that aside when Michigan plays Michigan State. It’s a competitive series."

Michigan State head coach Ron Mason says that Michigan is the number-one team in the country for good reason. "They’re living up to everybody’s expectations. It doesn’t surprise anybody that they are where they are. It’s a great challenge, and it’s certainly a game we look forward to."

Six Spartans will be well-rested for this game after serving game disqualifications Friday. The Spartans who do play Friday night will have to pick up some slack, and that concerns Mason. "Some guys will be asked to play very hard Friday night, and that may affect Saturday’s game."

This game is scheduled at Joe Louis Arena every year, and both coaches know it’s a good way to showcase college hockey. "It’s an opportunity for fans who can’t usually get tickets to either team’s home games to see the game," says Berenson. "Each team will be well-represented by its fans."

PICK: Michigan 3-2

Western Michigan (11-12-4, 7-8-4 CCHA) at Ferris State (11-18-2, 7-13-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, MI

These teams met last Saturday, and Western Michigan got the better of it, by a score of 6-4. "We came out flat," says Ferris State assistant coach Drew Famulak. "We were 2-1-1 against nationally ranked teams, then we just came out flat."

Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson sees it a little differently. "They came out and scored right away, and we answered right away. That took something away from them."

The Broncos were without five players serving game disqualifications for brawling with the Spartans the night before. Wilkinson said that the quick goal in response to Ferris State was just what the Broncos had to have.

"We needed that boost. The game the night before drained us a little bit, and getting that goal right after they scored helped us in the game."

Wilkinson knows the Bulldogs will be playing hard. "They’ll play a lot more enthusiastically than they did in our building."

"Every point now counts now because of the playoffs," says Famulak. "We’re just looking to make the playoffs."

PICK: Western Michigan 6-3

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

Copyright 1996 Paula C. Weston . All Rights Reserved.

Return to Feature Articles Return to News and Recaps Return to US College Hockey Online