This Week in the CCHA: October 31, 1997

Are you scared yet?

As the CCHA enters its third week of play, spooky things are happening all over the league. Ferris State split a series with Western Michigan. Notre Dame lost yet another game by one goal. Michigan State beat Michigan in Yost, for the first time since the 1993-94 season.

And for those of you keeping track, that’s two Michigan losses at home. Scary stuff indeed.

Number-two Michigan State welcomes Notre Dame to league play this week with a home-home series. The Spartans must be high after beating the Wolverines 4-2 in Yost, then putting the upstart Ferris State Bulldogs in their place with a 6-1 victory on Tuesday night in Grand Rapids. Notre Dame let one get away to Boston College, 3-2 at home last Friday night.

The No. 7 Miami RedHawks flexed their considerable collective muscles by sweeping Alaska-Fairbanks at home last weekend, outscoring the Nanooks 17-6 in the two games. This week Miami welcomes St. Lawrence for a little interconference action.

How lucky can a team be? After dropping those two games to the seventh-ranked team in the country, Alaska-Fairbanks gets to host No. 8 Michigan. The Wolverines will be looking forward to the opportunity to prove their worth after the home loss to Michigan State.

The surprising Ferris State Bulldogs, inspired by rookie goaltender Vince Owen’s play, split a weekend series with Western but dropped the weekday game to the Spartans. This week the Bulldogs travel to Bowling Green to test themselves south of the border. Bowling Green lost twice to No. 10 Clarkson last weekend, letting the Friday night game slip away 4-3, then committing a comedy of errors along the way toward a 6-1 Saturday loss.

Western Michigan and Northern Michigan face off this weekend in an in-state matchup that could become an important and intense CCHA rivalry. While Western split last weekend, the Wildcats took three points away from Lake Superior at home, tying the Lakers 2-2 Friday, and beating them 5-3 Saturday.

In two more nonconference series, the Lakers host Vermont for two, while Ohio State travels to Clarkson for two games in upstate New York (and you thought only Michigan was the only hockey state with an "up-" something). OSU split its weekend with Merrimack, losing 7-2 Friday and rebounding for the 5-3 win Sunday.

Will CCHA fans be treated to more tricky play this weekend, or will the center finally hold? Who said Halloween was kid stuff, anyway?

Last week’s record in picks: 8-5 Overall record in picks: 14-13

Note: if another team ties this weekend, this reporter is going to give up picking altogether.

Northern Michigan (2-1-2, 1-0-1 CCHA) at Western Michigan (2-2-2, 1-2-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Ice Arena, Kalamazoo, MI

The surprising Northern Michigan Wildcats are probably more so because fans and coaches in the CCHA know so little about them. "I haven’t seen them," says Western head coach Bill Wilkinson. "Any time you get a new team in your league, they’re going to be a pretty formidable opponent."

Why is that, you ask? The early-season attitude around the CCHA is that Northern Michigan — a team that was struggling for some credibility in the WCHA last season — has renewed vigor just because it’s playing in a new conference.

"The positive of switching leagues right now is the newness that it brings," said Northern head coach Rick Comley at the beginning of the season.

After that, there’s little else to say about why the Wildcats are doing well against their new opponents, since there’s so little recent history. And after having said that, let’s talk about how the Wildcats might do against Western.

"I really don’t know," says Comley.

Helpful, very helpful. All the way around.

"I know that Bill [Wilkinson] is very confident with that team, and he thinks he can win a league championship with that team," says Comley. "For whatever reason, they’ve gotten off to a little bit slower start than they thought they would, so I don’t know what to expect."

Wilkinson has an answer for that one. "We’re playing pretty well defensively. We’re looking for offense. We’re not going to beat people 7-2. We have to stay very smart and disciplined."

Wilkinson says that there are many offensive players who have yet to distinguish themselves by scoring this season. "I expect them to contribute; you expect at least one goal from each line on a weekend and we’re not getting that."

Of the 11 goals Western has scored this season, just three have been five-on-five. Wilkinson says that this is a trend that needs to be reversed. But don’t ask him where the offense is going to come from.

"I don’t know," he says. "You tell me." Only four Broncos have scored more than one point, and two key players who can usually be counted on to score, Joe Corvo and Frank Novock, have yet to score a goal.

Comley was happy with what he saw from his Wildcats last weekend. "It was good, hard-fought hockey," he says. "It was a good effort."

Comley says he was especially encouraged "from the standpoint that it was not our best line." The Wildcats have been a bit beat up at the start of the season. Both J.P Vigier and Roger Trudeau, double-digit scorers for the ‘Cats last season, have been hampered by injury.

Comley has been readying his team to face one of the CCHA’s toughest defensive cores. "If Lake is any indication, the CCHA is going to be a physically tougher and more defensive division than the WCHA."

It’s good that Comley and his ‘Cats are prepared for a physical series, because that’s likely what they’ll get.

PICKS: Western 4-3, 4-2

Ferris State (2-3-0, 2-2-0 CCHA) at Bowling Green (1-5-0, 0-0-0) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Bowling Green Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH

This is the first weekend of CCHA play for Bowling Green, looking for its first win over a Division I team. But don’t think BG head coach Buddy Powers is pessimistic. Frustrated, maybe, but not pessimistic. "We just gave Clarkson a couple of easy goals on Friday night," says Powers. "It was a one-goal game in the third period, and we couldn’t take advantage of opportunities to score.

"We thought the Friday night game was a game that could have gone either way. When you’re in that tight a game and you have chances, you have to score."

Bowling Green dropped two games to tenth-ranked Clarkson at home last weekend — a close 4-3 loss Friday, and a 6-1 loss Saturday. If Bowling Green just "gave Clarkson a couple of easy goals" in the Friday loss, what happened Saturday?

"We lost our cool," says Powers. Indeed, the Falcons, feeling frustrated, gave Clarkson almost 10 minutes of five-on-three hockey in the second period of Saturday’s game. Clarkson repaid the gift with three goals in two minutes. "By the time the dust settled," Powers says, "it went from 2-1 to 5-1."

At one point there were five Falcons in the penalty box. Keeping company were (in order of the time at which the penalties were assessed) Dave Faulkner, Brad Holzinger, Zach Ham, Doug Schueller and Louis Mass, for hooking, hooking, slashing, charging and roughing respectively.

That’s three forwards and two defensemen. And some of Bowling Green’s best penalty-killers.

"It ended up another game of learning for the young players and the vets," says Powers. "If we learn from it, that will be the positive. The other side of it is it’s a lesson in self-control that you have to learn. You’ve got to play your way through [frustration]."

Bowling Green is a young team, with more than a dozen freshmen and sophomores, so Powers can chalk some of this up to inexperience. "Our team has to grow up, and quickly. If it’s one guy, you can always sit one guy, but if it’s a bunch of guys…"

The youth of this club has allowed — or maybe required — Powers to work different players into different lines, in an attempt to find the combinations that work best. "We did a lot of experimenting in the first six games putting players in different situations. We’ve got to put our best lines out there Friday night against Ferris State.

"They’re a team that’s feeling real good right now."

There can be no doubt about that. In spite of a 6-1 loss to the number-two team in the country Tuesday night, the Ferris State Bulldogs are having their best start in years.

Ferris assistant coach Drew Famulak says that this success has been planned for a long time. "We’ve got nine junior forwards in the line up, and for two years we were paying our dues with them. The only way to get them experience is to play them."

Famulak says that this junior class has been the one Ferris has been banking on since it was recruited, and now, along with a little help in the net, the dividends are paying off. "Vince Owen has stepped in and played our first three CCHA games," says Famulak, answering (for now) one of the big Ferris State preseason questions: what about goaltender?

The rookie Owen has a .876 save percentage, which may not look terrific to most people, but it’s a whole heck of a lot better than Ferris State’s team SV% of .840 last season.

In addition, Ferris is spreading the scoring around. Nine Bulldogs have more than one point, and the points are coming from both offensive and defensive players, and from each class.

Bowling Green may have the home-ice advantage, but Ferris State has a confidence it hasn’t felt in years.

PICKS: Ferris State 4-2, Bowling Green 4-3

No. 2 Michigan State (5-0-2, 3-0-1 CCHA) at Notre Dame (3-1-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Joyce Arena, South Bend, IN Notre Dame at Michigan State Saturday, 8:15 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI

What a way to begin CCHA play. The Irish meet the Spartans for the first time this season, and in Notre Dame’s first CCHA games.

It’s early in the season, and Notre Dame has jumped out to a good start. But the Irish faced their first test last week when a resurgent Boston College came to town, and perhaps the Irish learned that they have a few things to work out.

It was shades of last season when Notre Dame went into the third period with a 1-0 lead and left the game with a one-goal loss. Sophomore center Ben Simon put the Irish ahead 2-0 in the third, but BC scored three goals within five minutes to take the game away,

winning by a final score of 3-2. The Irish could not convert on their last six power-play opportunities.

Notre Dame head coach, Dave Poulin, says that this one-goal loss does not echo last season’s one-goal games. "Last year, we had a lot of one-goal losses, but this one does not compare. Boston College is the favorite in Hockey East this year and we stuck in there with them the whole game."

Poulin was pleased with what he saw from goaltender Matt Eisler. The Irish were outshot 36- 27.

Michigan State, on the other hand, is on a tear. State leads the series with Notre Dame 39-27-4, and it would be an upset indeed if any numbers but those in the first column change this weekend.

The Spartans held the Wolverines to just 20 shots in their 4-2 win over Michigan on Saturday, but they were actually outshot by one in that game, with just 19 of their own. In their 6-1 win over Ferris Tuesday, the Spartans held Ferris State to just 23 shots on goal, but again were outshot by one, with 22 themselves.

It doesn’t seem to matter how many shots the Spartans generate. The Michigan State defense is keeping opponents to just 1.5 goals per game. Senior goaltender Chad Alban’s save percentage is hovering at .924.

Just for good measure, the Spartans are expecting to sell out Saturday’s game, the 200th consecutive regular-season sellout at Munn Ice Arena, where the Notre Dame hasn’t won in 10 visits. Dave Poulin had an assist in the last Irish victory at Munn: Feb. 14, 1981.

By the way, Michigan State has a 5-2 record all-time on Halloween, including two victories over Notre Dame. ‘Tis the weekend for superstitions, but the Spartans shouldn’t need magic to win twice.

PICKS: Michigan State 4-2, 3-0

No. 8 Michigan (3-2-0, 0-1-0 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (1-3-1, 0-2-0) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. AT, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK

The last time these two teams met, Michigan came out ahead by 18 goals on the weekend. "They were an experienced team," says UAF head coach Dave Laurion of the Wolverines. "We were a young team in our first playoff, our first taste of playoff hockey. It was unfortunate that we had to go to a hornet’s nest, because we did."

Even though the most recent memories of the Wolverines are unpleasant for the Nanooks, Laurion is determined to change things when Michigan travels north for this weekend series. "We played them tough in Fairbanks [last season]," says Laurion. "They beat us 6-4 and 5-3, and we gave up two goals while we were on the power play each night, and not playing our best hockey last year. They’re a team we’ve never beaten. We’re 0-12 against them, it’s time to get one.

"The only three games [in which] we got waxed last year were the three in Michigan. All the other games, we were right in it."

Alaska-Fairbanks got waxed last Friday in Oxford, when the RedHawks beat them 11-3. However, the Nanooks did not roll over on Saturday, challenging the RedHawks in game two of the weekend and forcing Miami to come from behind for the 6-3 win.

Michigan’s only game of last weekend — and its first official CCHA game of the season — was a 4-2 loss to Michigan State. Michigan coaches couldn’t be reached for comment for this preview.

Don’t expect this allegedly-diminished Wolverine team to roll over. Michigan doesn’t like to lose, and the Wolverines tend to avenge losses by beating up on their next opponents. In fact, if you are a Fairbanks fan, you should be afraid — be very afraid.

PICKS: Michigan 5-2, 5-2

St. Lawrence (1-1-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at No. 7 Miami (4-0-0, 3-0-0 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH

Miami comes off a weekend of trouncing Alaska-Fairbanks 11-3 one night, then having to battle back to win 6-3 the next. The difference in the second game was Trevor Prior.

In a game that was 2-1 after just two minutes of play, Prior was brought in to relieve Adam Lord, who was making his first start in net this season. Lord allowed three goals in the first half of the first period, and after Prior was brought in, the RedHawks looked like a different, more confident team.

Half a dozen Miami players top the CCHA overall scoring stats, but that may be because of the big game against UAF. Miami is outscoring its CCHA opponents 20-6, led by senior forward Adam Copeland’s eight points and senior defenseman Dan Boyle’s five goals. Incidentally, Boyle was last week’s CCHA Offensive Player of the Week.

Also, keep an eye on freshman Alex Kim, who has "Rookie of the Year" stamped all over him. Meanwhile, missing Friday’s game will be senior forward Tim Leahy, who received a game misconduct last Saturday.

St. Lawrence comes to Miami with a win and a loss from last weekend, a weekend in which the Saints were outscored 18 to 11. The Saints lost to Colorado College in the first game of the J.C. Penney Classic, 12-3, and beat St. Thomas 8-6 in the consolation game. That’s little consolation if you’re a St. Lawrence fan.

For more on St. Lawrence, read Jayson Moy’s ECAC preview.

PICKS: Miami 6-2, 6-2

Ohio State (2-2-0, 0-1-0 CCHA) at No. 10 Clarkson (2-0-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Cheel Arena, Potsdam, NY

In an apparent central Ohio-upstate New York exchange of teams, the Buckeye travel to Potsdam to meet Clarkson this weekend. Last weekend, the Buckeyes split with Merrimack, losing 7-2 Friday and winning 5-3 Sunday.

Those were both games the Buckeyes should have won, and head coach John Markell knows it. After the Friday game he said, "There were so many bad players out there tonight that it’s not fair to single anyone out. It was a very, very, very bad game. They embarrassed themselves."

One bright spot on the weekend was the way in which the Buckeyes bounced back Sunday, even while starting rookie goaltender Jason Maund. Another bright spot is the number of offensive chances the Buckeyes generated. OSU outshot Merrimack 91-67 on the weekend. Now Ohio State has to work on scoring on some of those shots, and the Buckeyes need to convert on the power play.

Ohio State’s first line was shaken up a bit last weekend, when Brian Morrison had to sit out Sunday’s game because of a minor shoulder injury. Markell played freshman Jean-Francois Dufour in his place, on a line with sophomores Hugo Boisvert and Eric Meloche. Markell must have liked what he saw from the all-Quebec line, since Dufour will remain there this weekend.

Just as the Buckeyes are counting on youth to carry them to success this season, the Golden Knights have been looking for rookies to score. So far this season, half of Clarkson’s 10 non-exhibition goals this season have been scored by freshmen. In last weekend’s 4-3 and 6-1 wins in Bowling Green, Willie Mitchell and ECAC Rookie of the Week Don Smith had two goals each, and Murray Kuntz had a goal as well.

For more on Clarkson, read Jayson Moy’s ECAC preview.

Ohio State played Clarkson close early last year when the Golden Knights came to Columbus, and it’s tempting to pick Ohio State for an upset in at least one of these games. What the hell — and we can say that, since it’s Halloween. Scarier things have happened.

PICKS: Ohio State 4-3, Clarkson 4-2

Vermont (0-2-0, 0-0-0 ECAC) at Lake Superior (0-3-1, 0-2-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI

Two teams looking for a win.

Vermont begins its season without the "French Connection" of seasons past, and only two players — B.J. Kilbourne and Stephane Piche — have scored for the Cats in their first two games this season. However, Vermont outshot Boston University 34-23 when the Catamounts and the Terriers met, and Vermont has lost to two good teams.

Laker fans will see James Tierney and maybe Andrew Allen in net for Vermont. For more on Vermont, read Jayson Moy’s ECAC preview.

For their part, the Lakers are also trying to regroup from a different kind of one-two punch — the losses of John Grahame in goal and Bates Battaglia on offense. Retooling is still something Lake Superior needs to do.

The Lakers took just one point from Northern Michigan last weekend, tying 2-2 Friday and losing 5-3 Saturday. Lake Superior head coach Scott Borek says that his team is progressing. "I was very pleased with the way we played this weekend. I thought we moved a lot closer to playing our kind of hockey this weekend."

Borek says that some of his veterans are a little frustrated by the Lakers’ slow start. "We haven’t scored yet in the first period. Some of our older guys are trying to do it all for us."

The players are not the only ones frustrated. Where hockey is the only sport, fans are not happy with the beginning of this Laker season. "I’m trying to keep the heat off our players from the community and the school," says Borek, "so that the guys can grow at their own pace."

Borek says that Vermont is "an extremely hungry team, probably going through the exact same growing pains as we are. Their goalie is trying to take over for a great goalie, our guy is trying to take over for a great goalie. They’re trying to make up for offensive losses, we’re trying to get some offense back."

Borek says that he’s relying on rookie goaltender Rob Galatiuk as the starter.

PICKS: Vermont 3-2, Lake Superior 4-2.