Further proof that something mysterious is taking place in the CCHA: Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley says that this week’s series in Marquette against Michigan will be "fun."
Fun. And did you know that Comley takes fillings without anesthesia and regularly rents the movie Camille Claudel, just for fun?
All funning aside, there’s some serious hockey being played in places like Marquette and East Lansing — although you may be a little surprised by just who is being serious with whom, and where.
Still on top in the CCHA is No. 4 Michigan State, but not because of the Spartans’ stellar play at home. Last weekend, Michigan State split with — drum roll, please — Notre Dame, winning in South Bend 5-1, but losing at home 6-1. The Spartans haven’t won at home yet, but they hope to remedy that this weekend when the Irish come back to town for game three of this series.
Northern Michigan graces the number-two spot in the CCHA, beating Western Michigan 3-0 Friday and 4-2 Saturday in Kalamazoo last weekend. This weekend, the Wildcats welcome the Wolverines for a weekend that’s sure to be, well, fun. No. 8 Michigan returns from Fairbanks four points richer.
The undefeated No. 7 Miami RedHawks dispatched the visiting St. Lawrence Saints 2-1 and 6-5 last weekend. On Saturday, the ‘Hawks travel up the road to Ohio State for their only game of the weekend. The Buckeyes went to Clarkson last weekend where they — drum roll, please — beat the then-tenth-ranked Golden Knights, 6-2. They also tied Clarkson, taking home a three-point souvenir package from Upstate New York.
Ferris State came back to earth last weekend while visiting Bowling Green, tying BG 3-3 in the first game, and dropping the second 3-1. This weekend the Bulldogs travel to southwest Minnesota for some tough competition at Mankato State.
Bowling Green is relieved at winning — finally — a Division I game. This weekend the Falcons head to Notre Dame on Friday and host Western on Saturday.
Western Michigan should take out a personal ad: "Very nice hockey team with witty head coach seeks players who can score goals. Defensive skills not necessary. Goalies need not apply." All the Broncos need is offense, but Western dropped two games to Northern at home last week. This week, the Broncos swing through Ohio, stopping at Ohio State Friday before backtracking to Bowling Green Saturday.
Lake Superior hosts Alaska-Fairbanks for two this weekend. Last weekend the Lakers split with Vermont, 2-3 and 7-4.
Last week’s record in picks: 7-7 Overall record in picks: 21-20
Can somebody pass me some of what Rick Comley is drinking, please?
No. 8 Michigan (5-2-0, 2-1-0 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (4-1-2, 3-0-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI
Northern Michigan is a team flexing its CCHA muscle. With an overall record of 4-1-2 and a CCHA record of 3-0-1, the Wildcats are making some noise that they’re not the doormats many people expected of a young team just returning to CCHA play.
"It’s always a combination of things," says Northern head coach Rick Comley. "We’re not making too much of it. We’re happy that we’re getting off to a good start."
The Wildcats swept Western Michigan last weekend, shutting out the Broncos 3-0 Friday, and winning 4-2 Saturday. "For the first time against Western, we had our lineup. We were able to have our Smith line back together, with Trudeau and Vigier, and that’s a critical element for our success. And that line — when they’re together — is as good as any line that anybody has."
The "Smith line," junior center Buddy Smith and sophomore wingers Roger Trudeau and J.P. Vigier, which solidified late last season, has been hampered by injuries early on this season. In Friday’s game, Trudeau had the first goal, assisted by Smith; he also picked up an assist on the last goal of the game, scored by Vigier.
Also playing well for Northern is senior defenseman Curtis Sheptak, who earned CCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors for the Northern series with Western. For the weekend, Sheptak had two goals and was +5.
Comley said his team is happy with their start, especially with taking three points from U.P. rival Lake Superior, but the coach wants to see his team remain grounded — at least for the time being. His job this week?
"Just trying to make [the players] realize that it’s great to go and win on the road; it’s great to beat Lake Superior, but don’t forget now it’s back to work. Michigan is the best team we’ll play yet and it’s another test for us."
For its part, Michigan is coming off the successful, long road trip to Alaska-Fairbanks. The Wolverines beat the Nanooks 6-3 and 4-3. The last goal of the Friday game was an empty-netter, completing a hat trick for Michigan rookie Mark Kosick — the first three goals of his collegiate career. Kosick is the CCHA Offensive Player of the Week.
Kosick is also the only Michigan player among the top ten league scorers in the CCHA. While it’s still early in the season, this statistic alone tells a big story about the turnover in Michigan personnel from last year to this.
"Obviously," says Comley, "they’ve had a great turnover in people, but they’re a good team. They work hard. Muckalt is one of the elite players, Turco is one of the elite goaltenders. They work tremendously hard, and they’re very talented. They’re one of those schools that gets the cream of the crop when it comes to recruiting, so they’re very talented, and they’re the best team that I see so far for us."
As mentioned above, Comley says this series against Michigan will be "fun," and that his team is eager to host the Wolverines.
"One of the main reasons we came back into this league was the interest people had in seeing us play Michigan and Michigan State. The University of Michigan is never going to be in Marquette unless it’s hockey, and only in this situation. People are very excited about this series."
While the Wildcats are coming on strong — and it’s difficult to pick against them — the Wolverines are not to be underestimated. In addition to Kosick, Bill Muckalt has been lighting up the board offensively, and Michigan’s defense remains one of the best in the league.
Are the Wolverines beatable? Yes. Are the Wildcats beatable? Yes, even at home. This will be tremendous test for both teams.
As tough as it is to call this one, common sense says that experience will win over youth, even if that youth is the most enthusiastic youth in the league.
(For the accuracy of this girl reporter’s common sense, just look at last week’s predictions for the Northern Michigan-Western Michigan series.)
PICKS: Michigan 5-3, 6-3
Western Michigan (2-4-2, 1-4-1 CCHA) at Ohio State (3-2-1, 0-1-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., OSU Ice Rink, Columbus, OH No. 7 Miami (6-0-0, 3-0-0 CCHA) at Ohio State (3-2-1, 0-1-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., OSU Ice Rink, Columbus, OH
The Ohio State Buckeyes surprised Clarkson — and the rest of the college hockey world — by taking three points from the then-top-ten Golden Knights in Potsdam last weekend. The Buckeyes held the Knights to just three goals on the weekend: a 1-1 Friday tie and a 6-2 Saturday win.
"We played a very patient game, a very defensive game that still gave us opportunities, and that’s what we were encouraged about," says OSU head coach John Markell. "I was very proud of our team, the way they competed. Everybody, to a man, competed, and that’s what you need to do to win.
"Both goaltenders played well," added Markell. Sophomore Ray Aho got the tie Saturday, while rookie Jeff Maund registered his second win in as many starts Saturday.
The results of the weekend got the attention of ESPN and USA Today. ESPN had a blurb on the team Monday morning, while the Monday edition of USA Today carried a piece with the headline, "Ohio State Making Waves in the CCHA."
All the attention is nice, but as Markell says, "Accolades are only good until your next game."
The attention would be even nicer if it were completely accurate. The Bucs are not exactly "making waves in the CCHA." Two weeks ago, Ohio State lost its only CCHA game of the season to Miami, 3-0. From this weekend on, Ohio State plays only CCHA teams for the rest of the regular season.
Western Michigan vs. Ohio State
"Western has a very big, physical team," says Markell. "We respect them. We know that they have a good team and this is CCHA action, and it’s going to be a tough game."
Western visits central Ohio after a losing two at home to Northern Michigan, 3-0 and 4-2. Western head coach Bill Wilkinson says his offense is "missing in action."
"We don’t have anybody putting the puck in the net right now. It’s killing us. We’re playing well in our own end, but we’re giving up way too many opportunities at the other end." In eight games played, no Bronco has more than three goals, and no one has more than five points total. And there are only five Broncos on the "plus" side of the plus/minus.
There are two bright spots for Western. One is defense. While the Broncos have scored just 14 goals in eight games, they’ve held their opponents to just 18 goals. That’s in overall play. In league play, the ratio is 10-17.
The second bright spot for Western is goaltender Matt Barnes. Barnes is allowing just 2.48 goals per game; his save percentage is an impressive .917.
As concerned as Wilkinson is about the offense, it’s still too early to say the problem is chronic. "We haven’t really panicked with it, but hopefully somebody can come through here as [the season] goes along."
Against Ohio State, Wilkinson says, "We’ll see a pretty good brand of goaltending. Probably another low-scoring game, if we play our style. It better be, for us. It’s hard for us to get into a run-and-gun type of game, because our guns are pretty empty."
No single player on the Buckeye squad has more than five points, either, but that’s five points in six, not eight, overall games. And the Buckeyes are spreading the scoring around. Eleven Buckeyes have at least one goal, and more than half the team has a point. Two of the Buckeyes’ potential big guns — Tyler McMillan and Brandon Lafrance — have yet to score this season, but it’s just a matter of time before they do.
Like the Broncos, the Buckeyes have a solid defense and good goaltending. The Buckeye defense isn’t as experienced as the Broncos’, but what they lack in experience, they seem to be making up in whatever it takes to get the job done.
In net for the Buckeyes is a pair of young but confident goaltenders, Ray Aho and Jeff Maund. Aho is picking up where he left off at the end of last season, with a 2.41 GAA and a save percentage of .899. Maund’s rookie record is 2-0-0, with a 2.57 GAA and a .927 save percentage.
As evenly matched as these teams are defensively, the difference may be the offense that Wilkinson continues to seek, and the confidence that Ohio State brings to this game with its best start in over a decade.
PICK: Ohio State, 4-2
Miami vs. Ohio State
Miami fended off a strong St. Lawrence team at home last weekend, narrowly escaping with four points as they beat the Saints 2-1 and 6-5.
"St. Lawrence was a very good hockey team," says ‘Hawks head coach Mark Mazzoleni. "I thought they had two excellent lines, a good young defensive core, and their goaltending was excellent.
"They were very competitive, hard-fought games. They play a very aggressive style of offense, and because of that, it forced our team to play at a very high level against a good hockey team."
This is the only game the RedHawks play this weekend, and it’s their first road game of the season. When these two teams played three weeks ago, Miami was on the winning end of a 3-0 game, the last goal of which was an empty-netter.
"I expect Ohio State to throw everything at us," says Mazzoleni. "They believe that they’re in a position to beat us. I’m expecting — and I’ll convey this message to our team — a very hard-fought hockey game."
Ohio State may have an advantage in its tiny rink, where the corners are tight and the lines of sight short. "In their smaller rink, things are going to happen very quickly," says Mazzoleni, "and we’re going to have to be very attentive to our defensive responsibilities against them."
Even though it’s been 11 games and four CCHA seasons since the Buckeyes last beat Miami, and the last loss is still fresh in the collective memory of his team, John Markell says he can’t see beyond Friday’s game with Western until after that game is over. Says Markell, "Right now — like we treated the Clarkson games — we have six periods. We have the first period against Western to worry about, then we’ll worry about Miami."
Markell does say one thing about Saturday’s game. "We’re going to definitely approach the game like we can win it."
With half of the CCHA’s top 12 scorers, the RedHawks will not easily give up their first loss of the season. Leading the league in overall scoring is defenseman Dan Boyle, with six goals and 12 assists; right behind him is Tim Leahy, with seven goals and six assists. In league play, Miami’s Adam Copeland has eight points, second-best in the CCHA, while Boyle and Leahy are next with seven points each.
Let’s not forget Miami goaltender Trevor Prior, whose league play has been astounding. In three CCHA games, Prior’s GAA is 1.05, and his save percentage is .946. And one of those three league games was against this tough, new Ohio State.
This one should be the proverbial barn-burner.
PICK: Miami 4-2
Bowling Green (2-5-1, 1-0-1 CCHA) at Notre Dame (4-2-0, 1-1-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Joyce Arena, South Bend, IN
Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers says this weekend of hockey will be "two grind-them-out games. Notre Dame’s got a pretty big club and they’re feeling good about themselves. They’re playing well."
Playing well may be an understatement. Notre Dame is off to its best start in years and years, and the Irish split a series last weekend with Michigan State, beating the Spartans in Munn Ice Arena.
Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin says this winning is the rewarding result of working hard with a young team. Beating Michigan State at home is "a very small step…yet it’s a big step for the program, winning in there."
The Irish lost to the Spartans 5-1 in South Bend, then returned the favor by winning 6-1 in East Lansing the next night. Those were Notre Dame’s first CCHA games of the season.
"It was sort of weird having the four nonconference games before we played the conference games," says Poulin. "Some teams, it seems, had played five and six conference games.
"Playing good nonconference teams helped us. Playing St. Cloud and Boston College really helped us in our preparation."
Poulin is not fooled by Bowling Green’s early season record. "I put that all aside. Bowling Green is going to be Bowling Green. They’re going to be a Buddy Powers team. They’re going to play really hard. I think it will be a terrific game."
Playing particularly well for Notre Dame are sophomore Ben Simon, with a total of eight overall points, and junior Aniket Dhadphale, with seven points overall. In net for the Irish, Matt Eisler is playing solid hockey, with a GAA of 2.39 and a save percentage of .924.
Notre Dame’s on a streak, but Bowling Green finally, finally has a taste of victory. With all the guns on the ice, Bowling Green is going to look to even up those CCHA standings.
PICK: Bowling Green 3-2
Notre Dame (4-2-0, 1-1-0 CCHA) at No. 4 Michigan State (6-1-2, 4-1-1 CCHA): The Grudge Match Saturday, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI
These two teams beat each other up last weekend, with Michigan State taking the first game in South Bend 5-1, and Notre Dame taking the second game in East Lansing 6-1.
Now the Irish and the Spartans meet in East Lansing for their last game of the regular season. "It’s kind of unusual," says Spartan head coach Ron Mason. "As a coach, you’d rather have any team in the league both terms — before and after Christmas. We’ve done this in the past, and I don’t think it’s quite right, but at this point it’s probably good that we meet each other again."
Good for Michigan State, that is, before Notre Dame really gets rolling this season. The Spartans haven’t won a game at home yet, and they’re eager to prove that they’re better than the 6-1 beating they took last weekend. But don’t tell Mason you think the Spartans are out for revenge.
"I don’t think there’s such a thing, really — revenge. Technically, what are you revenging? It’s early in the season, both teams are playing as hard as they can, and it’s just a question of who’s going to win the game."
With their loss to Notre Dame, the Spartans dropped a few points in the national polls, and received no first-place votes in the USCHO poll. But Mason says that his players don’t pay attention to the polls, and they certainly weren’t distracted by their ranking and overconfident when they met the Irish last weekend.
"We never even talked about it. In fact, ever since we beat Michigan at Michigan, our guys were losing some of their interest," says Mason. "We scored a lot of goals in the next two games. Then all of a sudden in the game here, the puck didn’t go in as easily and consequently we ended up losing.
"But I don’t think there’s any thought on anybody’s mind here about where we’re ranked, because whether you’re one or whether you’re ten, it’s going to be decided in January and February, probably."
Although the Irish are encouraged by having won in Munn last week, head coach Dave Poulin says he has no delusions of an easy victory this time around. "I’m sure they’ll come out. They always come out. It’ll be no different. It’ll be interesting."
The Irish are off to a great start on the season, the best in years, but the season is young. Poulin says, "You also know the long battle is ahead. It’s cautious optimism from our standpoint. You know how tough this league is every single night."
If the Spartans don’t make this game their first home win of the season, the Irish will prove that they have more than just luck on their side.
PICK: Michigan State 5-2
Western Michigan (2-4-2, 1-4-1 CCHA) at Bowling Green (2-5-1, 1-0-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Bowling Green Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH
The small city of Bowling Green, Oh., breathed a collective sigh of relief last weekend as the Falcons finally earned some CCHA points, and their first Division I win of the season. In a back-and-forth game, Bowling Green tied Ferris State 3-3, then beat the Bulldogs 3-1 in the recap. Both games were in Bowling Green.
"Three points is better than no points," says Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers. "We played a lot more disciplined than we did against Clarkson, staying out of the penalty box. We got really good goaltending and some timely goals."
The good goaltending came from junior Mike Savard, who allowed only four goals on 58 shots for the weekend, raising his save percentage from .901 to .910.
Six different Falcons scored on the weekend. B.J. Adams and Dan Price each scored their first goals of the season, a welcome sign from an offense that has been struggling.
Powers says he expects a physical, defensive game from Western. "Western never changes — it’s always going to be a grind with Western."
These two teams met earlier in the season for nonconference play, with Western winning that game 3-0. "We had them early here," says Western head coach Bill Wilkinson, "but they were missing a lot of kids."
Indeed, every Falcon will be able to play this weekend, the first time that’s happened for this injury-plagued team since the 1995-96 season.
Wilkinson says that Bowling Green is a dangerous offensive team that likes to open an early lead. "That’s what they like to do, so we’ll have to shut them down, not give them any opportunities. BG really likes to open it up with their skating."
In spite of good goaltending and excellent defense, Western has struggled lately because of an overall lack of offense.
A healthy Bowling Green team is a scary Bowling Green team, even a full week after Halloween.
PICK: Bowling Green 5-2
Alaska-Fairbanks (1-5-1, 0-4-0 CCHA) at Lake Superior (1-4-1, 0-2-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI
Who could have predicted that an early season battle for the basement would take place between the Nanooks and the Lakers? Both teams have yet to win a conference game, and neither has shown much reason why, lately, it should win a conference game. Well, unless both of these games end in ties — a distinct possibility — someone has to win this weekend.
Laker head coach Scott Borek says, "It’s probably a decent time for us to play them. The nice thing for them coming in is that they’ve been playing at a very high pace in the two series that they’ve lost. Three out of the four games have been pretty close. They’re playing at a really nice pace right now. I’m sure they come in with a lot of confidence."
Alaska-Fairbanks dropped two games to Michigan at home last weekend, but the scores were respectable — 6-3 and 4-3. Jeff Trembecky leads the Nanooks in scoring with seven points, but Jim Lawrence and Sjon Wynia have four goals each.
"They’ll be a very difficult opponent," says Borek. "I think they’re very opportunistic. They’re very offensive when they get the puck. They’re not real big, so hopefully we can use our size. They’re very talented offensively."
Alaska-Fairbanks needs offensive talent, because the Nanooks are struggling defensively. In league goaltending, Chris Marvel and Ian Perkins have a combined save percent average of. And in league play, the Nanooks have been outscored 45-20 so far this season.
The Lakers are also having difficulty finding the net, having been outscored 19-9 in three league games, with a team plus/minus of -51. Lake Superior is finally finding its feet in the net, however, relying heavily on freshman Rob Galatiuk. This past weekend, in a split with Vermont — losing 2-3 Friday and winning 7-4 Saturday — Laker Shawn Greene logged his first win.
"We actually played better on Friday than we did on Saturday," says Borek. "I thought we played very well on Friday night. It was probably one of our best efforts in a long time. We just played big. We controlled the puck a lot. We possessed the puck a lot. They didn’t get very many good scoring opportunities except on their power play.
"That was the difference in the game. We took a couple of bad penalties back to back, and let them back into the game. Then they scored three on the five-minute major. Those were the only they got, but it was enough."
Borek says his upperclassmen, especially, have been frustrated with this season’s slow start, and Saturday’s win was a very welcome change of pace. "We needed it badly. I thought we were playing pretty good hockey for two weeks. We just couldn’t get over the hump; we couldn’t score. Against Vermont the second night, we got down three nothing, and it was kind of like, ‘Oh, gosh.’
"But we stayed with it and just kept playing and got a bounce, which might have been the first one of the year, and things started rolling our way. We got a short-handed goal by Joe Blaznek — it was three-on-five, and that got us going and slowed them down and got the crowd into the game."
This series could be decided on anything from special teams to whose offense decides to show up and play. Fairbanks has one of the better power plays in the league, while the Lakers have one of the better penalty-killing units. The Nanooks have three players among the top 20 scorers in the CCHA while the Lakers have none, but Laker players like Blaznek, Jason Sessa and Bryan Fuss may be on the verge of producing.
Buoyed by a win last Saturday, with both games at the Soo, the Lakers have the edge here.
PICKS: Lake Superior 5-3, 5-4
Ferris State (2-4-1, 2-3-1 CCHA) at Mankato State (3-3-1) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. CT, Civic Center, Mankato, MN
Ferris State came out on the short end of a trip to Ohio, taking only a single point from Bowling Green last weekend. Friday’s game was a back-and-forth affair that ended in a 3-3 tie, while the Bulldogs lost 3-1 on Saturday.
Assistant coach Drew Famulak says the results don’t tell the whole story of both games. "We played pretty well this weekend We played better Saturday than we did Friday. What it came down to Saturday is that they played better on the specialty teams than we did."
Bowling Green goal Saturday was shorthanded, and another was on the power play. Special teams is an area where Famulak says the Bulldogs need to improve. "They took a five-minute penalty early, and we just couldn’t get anything going. We need to get our power play on track. We’re holding teams to 25, 26 shots a night, three goals or less, but we’re not generating anything on our power play. It’s frustrating right now for our guys."
Adding to the frustration has been a shoulder injury sustained by captain Brett Colborne.
"He’s our captain, and our quarterback for our power play, so I think that’s had an effect on us as well," said Famulak. "He’s going to be out now — we’re going to sit him for about two weeks. He’s on the way to recovery."
Colborne has no goals and three assists in six games played.
Famulak says the Bulldogs — enjoying their best start in a many years — know that Mankato State will offer some very tough competition this weekend. "They’re a legitimate Division-I team, there’s no doubt about that. They’re coming off a split with Denver, so obviously, they’re pretty high about that." Mankato won the first game of that series 5-3, and dropped the second game 4-1.
To prepare for the game, Famulak says the Bulldogs are working on their power play. And, because it’s nonconference, a few Ferris State players who haven’t seen much time may be on the ice. "We’re going to give some other kids some chances to play some different roles — maybe some of the freshmen. We may look at our goaltending situation with [Jeff] Blashill and [Mike] Szkodzinski maybe getting some ice time this weekend."
So far this season, the Bulldogs have relied on rookie goaltender Vince Owen, whose .894 save percentage is considerably higher than last season’s team save percentage of .840. Owen’s GAA is 2.98.
Mankato State, gearing up to join the WCHA, could be all that Ferris State can handle this time out.
PICKS: Ferris State 4-3, Mankato State 4-3