This Week in the CCHA: October 17, 1997

After a week of nonconference play, it’s difficult to say who’s at the top of the CCHA heap, but because Michigan State won the Ice Breaker Invitational, the Spartans get the honors. The Spartans beat Boston University 3-1 and Wisconsin 2-1 to take the first tournament of the season, and the first tournament title of these Spartan seniors’ college careers. This week Michigan State has a home-home series with tough in-state rivals Western Michigan.

Western Michigan has three points in its overall standings, tying with Western Ontario in the season opener in Grand Rapids, and shutting out Bowling Green at home in a nonconference game.

Michigan is also 2-0 at the start of this season, rallying from a two-goal deficit to beat Minnesota in Minneapolis, and then coming home to beat up on the University of Toronto. This week, the Wolverines host Colgate for two games at Yost.

The Miami RedHawks shelled Waterloo 10-2 in their lone game last weekend. They host Ohio State, which blanked the University of Toronto 5-0 in its only game so far this season.

Northern Michigan plays a home-home series with Michigan Tech this weekend. In their first game of the season, the Wildcats posted a 10-1 win over Laurentian at home.

Notre Dame travels to St. Cloud for two games to continue that friendly interconference rivalry this weekend. The Irish beat Western Ontario 5-1 last weekend.

Bowling Green split its games last weekend, beating Waterloo 9-2 at home, but losing in nonconference play to Western Michigan on the road. The Falcons head to Massachusetts this weekend, where they’ll play Boston College on Friday, and Northeastern on Saturday.

Alaska-Fairbanks plays a pair of games against its only in-state rival this weekend, meeting Alaska-Anchorage in a home-home series. The Nanooks dropped their home opener to Alberta, 3-1.

Ferris State travels to the Soo to take on the Lakers for one game Saturday. Windsor got the better of both teams last weekend, beating Ferris 3-2 and Lake State 5-4 in overtime.

Let the prognosticating begin!

Western Michigan (1-0-1, 0-0-0 CCHA) at No. 2 Michigan State (2-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday, October 17, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI No. 2 Michigan State at Western Michigan Saturday, October 18, 7 p.m., Lawson Ice Arena, Kalamazoo, MI

Michigan State is flying high after winning the Ice Breaker Invitational. After all, it’s the first tourney title this group of Spartan seniors has ever won. "Until last week," says senior goaltender Chad Alban, "we hadn’t won a tournament.

"It’s been frustrating being so close."

The Spartans are hoping this preseason vote of confidence will propel them into CCHA play the way in which Michigan has been using the Great Lakes Invitational as a mid-season pick-me-up. Spartan coach Ron Mason is satisfied with what he saw from his team in Wisconsin.

"Both wins were close and were basically good hockey. The second night, Chad kept us in the game early and gave us the chance to win."

Mason expects nothing more than business as usual this weekend when his Spartans meet the Broncos — which between these two teams means tough, physical hockey. "I have a great deal of respect for Western, simply because Bill Wilkinson has done a great job of coaching. Every time we’ve played them in the last few years, it’s been a barnburner in terms of physical intensity."

There’s no doubt that Wilkinson has respect for the Spartans. "They’re probably the number-one team in the country right now, so we’re going over there to do the best job we can. We just want to keep it as close as possible for as long as possible, and do our jobs defensively."

This should be a defensive struggle, with good goaltending from each team. Alban is arguably the best goaltender in the CCHA, and Western’s Matt Barnes seems to find a way to get the job done, giving up just one goal last weekend in Western’s OT tie with Western Ontario.

Both coaches expressed some concern about where their goals are going to come from. "We didn’t give up an even-strength goal [last weekend]," says Wilkinson, "but we didn’t score an even-strength goal either."

Mason says that forwards are "an area we continue to work with." He’s happy with Kevin O’Keefe, who scored two goals in the Spartans’ first game, but with Mike Ford still injured, Mason says he’s been moving people around.

"We’ve moved Jon Gaskins forward [from defense], and he seems to be playing the best hockey of his career." Sean Berens has "been injured some," and Mason says he hasn’t been able to really test Berens this season.

Wilkinson says that Broncos are so deep defensively that they’ve moved two players — Jeff Lukasak and Chris Slater, a former Michigan State defenseman — from defense to forward to generate some offensive opportunities.

"The fact that it’s a home-home series is delicious for fans," says Mason. You said it, coach. What a great way to open up CCHA play. Don’t let these coaches deceive you — each has players capable of scoring goals. But this probably will be a trench war, one that may come down to goaltending.

PICKS: Michigan State 3-2, 3-2

Ohio State (1-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Miami (1-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Saturday, October 18, 7 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH

Miami ended Ohio State’s season last year, and don’t think the Buckeyes have forgotten. "Our guys know we can play with them," says OSU coach John Markell. "And the guy who beat us is gone."

That guy is — was — sophomore Randy Robitaille, who left the RedHawks for the Boston Bruins’ organization. Markell insists that without Robitaille in those playoff games, the outcome may have been different. But don’t think he doesn’t respect this current Miami team.

"They’re a very good hockey club," says Markell, who was hoping his team would have a good week of practice after their 5-0 victory over the University of Toronto. "They’re [the OSU players] well aware of what’s going to happen in Miami."

For Miami coach Mark Mazzoleni, the feeling is mutual. "We have tremendous respect for their program and what they’ve done there. They have a solid coaching staff, and their new rink is only going to help their cause. They have three classes they’ve brought in as a staff, and that makes a difference for them this year."

Mazzoleni says it’s too early in the season to tell what will happen in Saturday’s game, but he is pleased with what he’s seen from his team so far. "Our team is the best skating team that we’ve had here. We’ll be able to play more up-tempo. That was a goal of ours coming in years ago, and we think we’ve achieved that."

As always, look for strong goaltending and solid defense from the RedHawks. Although Mazzoleni admits the RedHawks will miss the kind of break-it-open capability of Robitaille, there’s still plenty of offensive talent on this team. Gregor Krajnc, Tim Leahy, Adam Copeland and Dan Boyle are just a few of the RedHawks capable of scoring goals.

Expect solid defense from the Buckeyes, who add two talented freshmen, Andre Signoretti and Jaisen Freeman, to a veteran core. Ray Aho, who stepped up for the Buckeyes the second half of last season, is the starting goaltender.

Plus, there’s something different for the Buckeyes this season: offensive potential. Junior Brian Morrison has been placed on line with sophomores Eric Meloche and Hugo Boisvert. Other Buckeyes who can produce offensive chances include Chris Richards, Dan Cousineau, Todd Compeau, Ryan Root, and freshman Vinnie Grant.

This Miami team has had OSU’s number for a couple of years now; it’s too early in the season to say otherwise.

PICK: Miami 4-3

Ferris State (0-0-1, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Lake Superior State (0-0-1, 0-0-0 CCHA) Saturday, October 18, 7 p.m. Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI

Each of these teams lost to the University of Windsor last week, and each coach says that his team is still looking for answers.

"The game could be 9-8 or 2-1," says Lake Superior coach Scott Borek. "If it’s 2-1, we will probably both be happy, because then we’ll both know we have a goalie."

Lake Superior goaltender John Grahame gave up his last year of eligibility to join the Boston Bruins’ organization, leaving the Lakers with a big hole in net. The Lakers have three goaltenders on their roster: sophomore Jamie Kosecki and freshmen Rob Galatiuk and Jayme Platt. Galatiuk had 20 saves in the Lakers’ 5-4 OT loss to Windsor. "As of today [Wednesday], any one of those three kids could start in goal," says Borek.

"Our real question marks are our freshmen defensemen and our goaltending," says Ferris head coach Bob Daniels. "We’ve still got Jeff Blashill. His freshmen and sophomore years were really solid, but last year he really struggled."

Sophomore Mike Szkodzinski made 28 saves when the Bulldogs lost 3-2 to Windsor. The Bulldogs have two more goaltenders on their roster, sophomore Roger Wilsey and freshman Vince Owen. The buzz about Owen is good, but Daniels doesn’t know if he’ll start in net against the Lakers.

Ferris State has four freshman defensemen on its roster. Daniels says that two of them — Matt Golden and Scott Lewis — will have an immediate impact. They’ll have to; there isn’t much experience on this team defensively.

Both Ferris State and Lake Superior have lost an explosive offensive threat. Ferris State defenseman Andy Roach graduated, and Laker Bates Battaglia left to pursue professional hockey. Daniels says he’ll look to juniors Geoff Bennetts and Kenzie Homer to pick up some slack. Borek says he’s not sure that the team can make up for the loss of Battaglia.

"I have no way of gauging how that game will go," says Daniels. "[But] I firmly believe it will be a one-goal, two-goal game.

"They’ve got a great team. Sessa, Blaznek, Fuss — those guys can score. We don’t know a darn thing about the goaltending. We’re not going to underestimate them."

Experience may be the factor here, with all else being even this early in the season.

PICK: Lake Superior 4-3

Colgate (0-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at Michigan (2-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI

Thank goodness the University of Toronto played at Yost last weekend. That gave the fans an opportunity both to vent the off-season steam and warm up their voices for Colgate’s first weekend of college hockey this season.

These two teams actually have a bit in common. Both have lost their top scorers, and each has able players who can now come out of the shadows of the departed players.

Is there anyone in college hockey who doesn’t know by now that Michigan lost nine players? Hmm? We’re all on the same page here, right? Well, what you may have forgotten (unless you’re a Michigan fan, of course) that Michigan was more than the sum of the Michigan Nine. Take senior right wing Bill Muckalt, for instance.

"He’s on a mission," says coach Red Berenson. "He came back, and he could have left. He’s kind of played in the shadow of Morrison and Botterill for three years."

The Wolverines beat Minnesota on the road last week, and Berenson says Muckalt was "outstanding. He was the best player in both games on all four teams last weekend." Muckalt had the game-winning goal in the Minnesota game, and two goals and an assist in the Toronto game.

For Colgate, Rob Mara and Tim Loftsgard are expected to fill the skates of the Red Raiders’ two top scorers, Hobey Baker Finalist Mike Harder and Dave DeBusschere. Coach Don Vaughn says that these two have "played in the shadows."

Berenson is a little concerned about his defense, having graduated four defensemen. For the first time in a long time, freshmen are going to have to make an immediate impact on the Wolverine team. Berenson is especially impressed with two rookie defensemen. "Mike VanRyn looks very comfortable right away. David Huntzicker — an Ann Arbor kid — has surprised people. He’s played both games and held his own."

Berenson like what he saw in both games last weekend, saying that the Minnesota game was a "huge" game. "It was a good game, because we were playing against a real good, top opponent. For the most part, I thought we had good vibes from our freshmen, playing in front of 16,000."

Vibrations or no vibrations, this Michigan team isn’t quite dead yet.

PICKS: Michigan 5-3, 6-3

Michigan Tech (1-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) at Northern Michigan (1-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Marquette Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI Northern Michigan at Michigan Tech Saturday, 7 p.m., MacInnes Student Ice Arena, Houghton, MI

This home-home series is one for the nostalgic. Northern Michigan — which started out in the CCHA, then moved to the WCHA, and now comes back to the CCHA — shares a bit of history with Michigan Tech. Eighty-three games worth of history. This series stands at 40-38-5 in favor of Northern Michigan.

Michigan Tech, picked eighth in the preseason WCHA coaches’ poll, has won its last six season- opening games. Northern Michigan, picked ninth in the preseason CCHA coaches’ poll, will probably be more comfortable playing this old friend than with any of its new CCHA playmates.

Tech brings a pair of goaltending brothers to the ice. Junior David Weninger and his rookie brother Todd will share time in the net.

Meanwhile, Northern returns its number-one scoring line this season, but its second line on the depth chart is a rookie one. That says a whole lot about Northern’s prospects offensively.

Each of these team destroyed the poor University of Laurentian last week. They seem relatively evenly matched, each with its own problems to address.

(For a second look at Michigan Tech, check out the WCHA conference preview.)

PICKS: Michigan Tech 5-4, 6-4

Notre Dame (1-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at St. Cloud State (1-0-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., National Hockey Center, St. Cloud, MN

These two teams began their friendly rivalry last season, when they split two games in South Bend. Now, each is entering the second week of play with a win. In a game with a spectacular finish, Notre Dame downed Western Ontario 5-1 last week, while St. Cloud beat the University of Regina 4-2.

Last week’s game was a crowd-pleaser for Irish fans. Notre Dame outshot Western Ontario 55-15, but didn’t put the puck in the net for the first 48 shots on goal. (Give that Western Ontario goaltender a cookie and a gold star.) All of the Notre Dame goals came in the third period; the second, scored by senior center Lyle Andrusiak, turned out to be the game-winner.

Notre Dame scored four goals on its final seven attempts, three of which came in the final minute of the game.

And they only needed two goals to win.

Actually, this type of play could be symptomatic for the Irish, who last season lost 12 games by one goal. Twenty-four points lost because the Irish couldn’t generate offense. Perhaps Notre Dame was making up for lost goals in the final period of the Western Ontario game. Perhaps a great, cosmic, goal-generating switch has finally been turned "on" for the Irish.

Or, Notre Dame could be in for a long season, again.

Both of these teams were picked seventh in their respective conference’s preseason coaches’ polls. The Irish are fielding a sophomore-heavy team, and will rely on underclassmen to provide leadership. St. Cloud returns 18 lettermen, which looks like plenty of experience on paper; however, the Huskies’ top two scorers are gone this season.

Still, experience and the home crowd have to count for something.

(For a second look at St. Cloud, see this week’s WCHA preview.)

PICKS: St. Cloud 4-1, 4-3

Alaska-Fairbanks (0-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Alaska-Anchorage (0-1-0, 0-0-0 WCHA) Friday, 7 p.m. AT, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, AK Alaska-Anchorage at Alaska-Fairbanks Saturday, 7 p.m. AT, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK

The Nissan Governer’s Cup pits in-state rivals the UAF Nanooks and the UAA Seawolves. Both teams lost to visiting University of Alberta last week.

These two teams play dissimilar styles of hockey. The Seawolves are the least-penalized team in WCHA history. Last season, in 37 games played, the Seawolves had a total of 100 penalties for 211 minutes. Compare that to the 996 penalty minutes Fairbanks had last season, and a collective -60 for the team on plus/minus.

This disciplined style should benefit both teams, since a big question for each is goaltending. Last season, the Nanook goaltending was good but spotty. Sophomore Chris Marvel posted a 3.99 GAA last season after earning the starting position when junior Ian Perkins was injured. Perkins’ GAA was 5.08 on the season. Meanwhile, for the Seawolves, Doug Teskey is the main man in goal.

Neither team is explosive offensively, but with troubled defenses, these games could be high-scoring. Fairbanks coach Dave Laurion says that he wants his team to jump out to a good start this season, rather than having to play catch-up to make the playoffs after December. This series could be a reality check for the Nanooks.

(For another look at Anchorage, there’s this week’s WCHA preview.)

PICKS:Anchorage 6-4; Fairbanks 5-3

Bowling Green (1-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Boston College (0-0-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East) Friday, 7 p.m., Kelley Rink, Chestnut Hill, MA Bowling Green at Northeastern (0-0-0, 0-0-0 Hockey East) Saturday, 7 p.m., Matthews Arena, Boston, MA

Boston College leads its all-time series with Bowling Green 5-3, but those three Eagle losses were the last three games these teams played. Last year, the Falcons swept the Eagles in two games in Ohio. This year, BC may increase its lead.

Bowling Green is still plagued with injuries. Last year, Falcon players, coaches and fans had to endure a frustrating season that saw every key Bowling Green scorer in and out of the lineup because of injuries.

This year, Bowling Green coach Buddy Powers says, "I wish I had my full team going. [Adam] Edinger got a spearing penalty against Western, so he can’t play Friday. [Dan] Price still can’t play yet." Price was in an auto accident during the offseason that left him with a bruised knee. Edinger had 29 points for the Falcons last year; Price had 32.

Powers says that he’s looking to turn the loss of two key players into an advantage for a team that has nine freshmen. "We’ve got so many young guys in the line up that it’s good to throw them into spots. The biggest thing I want to see us do is pass the puck better and offensively generate some chances.

"We’ll see how are guys hold up against BC, which has more experience." Boston College returns lead scorer Marty Reasoner.

Bowling Green should have an easier time with Northeastern than with BC. The Huskies play 20 freshmen and sophomores, just four more than Bowling Green, but Bowling Green returns at least some offense this season. The Huskies return their top six scorers this year, but not one among them had more than 22 points last season.

Goaltending is probably not an issue for Northeastern. Sophomore goaltender Marc Robitaille had a respectable .884 save percentage in his rookie year. For the Falcons, Mike Savard is uneven.

PICKS: Boston College over Bowling Green, 6-4; BGSU over Northeastern, 5-1

Paula C. Weston is CCHA Correspondent for U.S. College Hockey Online.

Copyright 1997 Paula C. Weston. All rights reserved. U.S. College Hockey Online