This Week in the CCHA: November 14, 1997

Consistency: n.1. firmness or thickness, as of a liquid 2. agreement; harmony 3. conformity with previous practice. How many CCHA coaches can use this word — in any of its forms — in this week’s preview?

John Markell says, "We’re still trying to establish respect, and we do that by playing more consistently."

Red Berenson says, "Our defensive play has been inconsistent. Our penalty-killing has been inconsistent. Our power play has been inconsistent. And offensively we’ve been inconsistent. So, I guess you could say we’ve been inconsistent."

"Inconsistency," says Buddy Powers.

Inconsistency is a word that could easily apply to the entire Central Collegiate Hockey Association. Who, other than Northern Michigan and Notre Dame, is playing consistently? In what way is this league constant? From what we’ve seen of the first four weeks of play, can anyone predict what will happen from one week to the next?

No. 3 Michigan State proved that there is a master plan of the Cosmos be defeating Notre Dame 3-1 at home last weekend. It was the last time the two teams will meet in the regular season, meaning the Spartans have taken this series. MSU hosts Mankato State for two this weekend.

Second in the CCHA is Northern Michigan. The Wildcats upset the natural order of things last week by splitting a series with Michigan, losing 5-3 Friday and winning 1-0 Saturday. This week the ‘Cats host the exhausted Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks, who are finishing up a five-game road trip through Michigan.

The Nanooks are at the bottom of the league, splitting a pair of lopsided games with Lake Superior last weekend, winning 6-2 Friday and losing 8-2 Saturday. The Nanooks also dropped a game to Ferris State on Tuesday, 7-2.

The resurgent Western Michigan Broncos hold tight to the third spot in the CCHA this week after a victorious sweep through Ohio. The Broncos beat Ohio State 3-1 Friday and Bowling Green 8-3 Saturday. They host Lake Superior — which split with Fairbanks — this week.

With a record of 3-3-1, Ferris State is still in fourth place in the CCHA after dropping two to Mankato State last weekend and beating the Nanooks Tuesday. This week the Bulldogs travel to No. 10 Michigan, which is in sixth place in the CCHA after splitting with Northern last weekend.

No. 5 Miami lost its only game to Ohio State, 5-4 in Columbus. The RedHawks have another single-game weekend when they host Notre Dame on Saturday.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, beat Bowling Green 2-1 Friday before losing to Michigan State Saturday. The Irish travel up the road to Ohio State for a Sunday matinee game.

Before playing ND, Ohio State faced Bowling Green Saturday night. Last week the Bucs split, losing to Western but topping Miami. Bowling Green lost two games last weekend.

Consistency. At least you can find consistency in these picks, which have been consistently bad.

Last week’s record in picks: 4-7 Overall record in picks: 25-27

Your bookie loves me.

Notre Dame (5-3-0, 2-2-0 CCHA) at No. 5 Miami (6-1-0, 3-1-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH,/P>

Miami had one game last weekend, a 5-4 loss to Ohio State, the RedHawks’ first loss of the season. Miami watched a 4-1 lead dissipate in a matter of minutes — the first five minutes of the third period, to be specific.

"Neither team played well for two periods. It wasn’t a good game," says Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni. "Then in the third period, they came out and got the initial goal, which brought their emotion level to a different state, and our kids stayed the same. Then when they came back in five minutes and popped those two goals, they took it to another level that we couldn’t. You have to give them credit for it. They were deserving of the victory, and we were not."

The game wasn’t a total wash for the ‘Hawks, says Mazzoleni. The loss to Ohio State — and the way it happened — may be something Miami can learn from.

"It was something, I think from a coaching standpoint — and this takes nothing away from Ohio State — that we’ve been trying to preach certain things to our team, but a lot of things have come easy the first part of our season, even though we could have conceivably lost a game against St. Lawrence. But it was camouflage in a victory.

"Sometimes you need to get kicked in the head hard to understand that the margin between victory and defeat at this level is so small. Any team on any given night is going to clip someone. We are usually a much more tenacious, hard-working team, and we didn’t bring that element with us on Saturday night.

"I have confidence in our kids. We have real good leadership, and they understand now what we’re trying to tell them. I think this will help us not only for Notre Dame, but down the road."

In addition to being a "tenacious, hard-working team," the RedHawks are, seemingly, a charmed one. After the loss to unranked OSU, Miami actually went up, from seven to five, in the USCHO poll.

Notre Dame travels to Oxford to play a Miami team determined not to repeat mistakes from last weekend. Notre Dame is one of the CCHA’s "teams of the moment" (sharing that bit of spotlight with Northern Michigan). The surprising Irish are playing hard, competitive hockey.

Notre Dame split last weekend, a 2-1 win at Bowling Green, and a loss at Michigan State. The game at Munn was a rematch of play from the weekend before, when Notre Dame split with Michigan State, losing at home and winning on the road.

"We did play well," says Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin of last week’s game against the Spartans. "I was encouraged by the way we played, walking into a situation where they were sitting, waiting — we had played the night before, and then traveled….It was 1-1 with three minutes to go."

The Irish are getting some impressive offense from sophomore Ben Simon, who with three goals and one assist — including a shorthanded goal–is just behind team leader Brian Urick, who has a goal and four assists.

Irish goaltender Matt Eisler has played particularly well this season. He’s fourth among goaltenders with significant time in net, with a goals-against average of 2.35 and a save percentage of .926.

Mazzoleni says that Miami will have to be at the top of its game to beat the Irish. "They have a very balanced team. They have very, very good young talent on their team. Eisler’s been as good as anyone’s goaltender so far. They’re a team that’s gaining confidence all the time, and I’m sure they feel very good about themselves. We know what we have to get done, and we respect our opponent."

In spite of the loss to OSU — and it has been just one loss — the RedHawks are an immensely talented team. Five of the top 12 scorers in CCHA league play are RedHawks, including three of the top five league scorers. In goal for the ‘Hawks, Trevor Prior has been very tough, allowing just 2.08 goals per game, and saving shots at a .915 clip.

Miami has been flawless at home.

PICK: Miami 6-3

Ohio State (4-3-1, 1-2-0 CCHA) at Bowling Green (2-7-1, 1-2-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Bowling Green Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH

Emotionally, these two teams couldn’t be further apart.

On Friday, the Buckeyes lost a game they should have won, a 3-1 loss to Western in which they outshot the Broncos 38-25. On Saturday, they came back from behind to beat No. 7 Miami 5-4.

Buckeye head coach John Markell says of his players, "They have the ability to play with these big clubs, but they have to be on top of their game, mentally. I think they’re learning the mental part of the game. They know that they can’t always come back like that, and they know that they have to be ready for the first period, and not just when they’re down.

"They also have to take it to the teams that we think we’re the equal of, before they even start. They have to play with emotion and confidence."

Ohio State is consistently outshooting — but not outscoring — its opponents. In their three CCHA games the Bucs have scored six goals and allowed ten. New to this Ohio State team is the ability to shoot, and sometimes to score. Leading the scoring for the Buckeyes is the all-Quebec line of sophomores Eric Meloche and Hugo Boisvert, and freshman Jean-Francois Dufour, younger brother of former Buckeye Pierre Dufour.

When this line clicks, the Bucs click. When these three score at least three points between them, the Buckeyes are 4-0-0. When they don’t, Ohio State is 0-3-1.

The Buckeyes travel to Bowling Green, a tough place for any team — but especially the Bucs — to play. There is no love lost between these two: Bowling Green owns this series, 31-56-4, but the last time these two teams met, they skated to a 3-3 overtime tie in Columbus in a memorable, physical game.

Last weekend, Bowling Green lost 2-1 to Notre Dame in South Bend and 8-3 at home to Western. "We didn’t score goals," says Falcon head coach Buddy Powers. "We didn’t take enough shots. It’s hard to win games on one goal, and then things fell apart. Some veteran guys had a bad night on Saturday night, and that really hurt us."

Powers speaks in clipped sentences. "Big mistakes on Saturday. Gave them easy goals. They only got twenty-two shots. Eight-three — you’d think we got run out of the barn, but it wasn’t that way at all. We play fine, and then make a big mistake — shot, goal."

The young Bowling Green team has been bedeviled by the same thing troubling other CCHA teams lately. "Inconsistency," says Powers. "It’s not discipline anymore, unless you want to call it mental discipline. Some of the things that [Dan] Price and [Dave] Faulkner did in the game Saturday night…their minds just weren’t on the present. They were either in the future or in the past, but they weren’t on the present. Those two guys were minus three and minus four.

"I have no qualms with the effort at all at Notre Dame. They got a power-play goal off a rebound, a shorthanded goal where they got a line change and [Ben] Simon just got a step on them and cut in alone. We had ample chances to score in the game, and just didn’t get it done."

In spite of a rough weekend and a start that’s less than what the Falcons expected, Powers is not unhappy with his team, and he knows what needs to be done for Bowling Green to turn it around.

"Our forwards have to start enjoying the game more, wanting to do things with the puck, instead of handling it like a hot potato," he says.

"It’s two things. One, we have veteran guys who are trying to step up and play big-time roles, and are putting too much pressure on themselves to handle those roles. Two, our young guys are just getting their experience. They’re not finishing.

"With the combination of things, we don’t have a really big-time, veteran player. You’re taking role players and casting them into to starring roles, and they’re getting nervous about it, not handling it well. Then they’re starting to think, ‘I gotta do this, I gotta do this, and I gotta do this.’ When you get in that mindset, nothing happens.

"Guys are playing hard, they’re working hard. I don’t have any qualms with that.

"So many of our games have been close in the third period, they could’ve gone either way. But they haven’t gone our way."

Powers also has a healthy respect for Ohio State. Put simply, he says, "They have the better club.

"They really blew Western out on Friday night but couldn’t score. To do that and to lose, and to come back the next night and be down four to one — to me, that’s a turning point game right there for them. They blow a game they should’ve won Friday night, then they’re down four-one going into the third period Saturday night and they turn around and win the game. That says to me that there’s a team, I think, that could be going in the right direction.

"We went the other way. We played a tough game on Friday night that could go either way. We lose it, we come back home. And we just give it away at home."

John Markell knows that Saturday’s game won’t be easy. "I think Bowling Green’s going to work hard — they always do. If we come in and work equally hard, hopefully we can come out on the top end. We’re in their arena. There are a lot of factors, things that have to go right, in order to work for us. If our guys come in with the attitude that we think we’re better and we don’t have to do it on the ice, we’ll be in trouble."

With a record of 4-3-1 — the best Buckeye start since the 1990-91 season, Markell can afford to be a little optimistic. "We’ve got some things to build on. I think we’ve got twenty-five guys headed in the right direction. Let’s hope that comes out of them on Saturday and Sunday."

PICK: Ohio State 5-3

Notre Dame (5-3-0, 2-2-0 CCHA) at Ohio State (4-3-1, 1-2-0 CCHA) Sunday, 3 p.m., Ohio Expo Center, Columbus, OH

Ohio State head coach John Markell effectively uses a form of this week’s vocabulary word in a sentence: "We’re still trying to establish respect, and we do that by playing more consistently. That’s what we’re striving for."

Consistency. Respect. With the first, Ohio State can surely earn the second.

The Buckeyes have knocked off two top-ten teams in the last two weeks. They took three points from then tenth-ranked Clarkson in Potsdam, and Clarkson dropped out of the top ten. They beat No. 7 Miami at home last Saturday, an exciting come-from-behind win, and Miami moved up two spots in the poll.

Some respect. Respect won’t come until the Buckeyes can prove to the hockey world that they’re for real.

"You have to go through character-building situations in order to do that," says Markell. "Learning how to win is a lot of hard work, and they’re starting to do that."

Learning how to win is something this Buckeye team has in common with Notre Dame, another team that has something to prove.

Last week Notre Dame beat Bowling Green 2-1 at home, and lost the deciding game of the season series to Michigan State, 3-1 in East Lansing. "I’m encouraged, no question. We kill penalties very well. We’re playing better in our end. We’re scoring the opportune goal, particularly the opportune power-play goal early in the game."

Both teams will be playing on short rest, both having played the night before, something each coach anticipates will be a factor in the game. "You’ll be using your bench a little more than you would," says Poulin. "It is a turn-around."

If OSU looks for some fresh legs on Sunday, Craig McKechnie and Neil Rech may get a chance to play again. Both played in the Miami win last Saturday, and Coach Markell is pleased with what he saw. "I want to compliment Craig McKechnie and Neil Rech for what they did. They came in and gave us a spark. We’re going to rotate them in and out, along with other guys, and try to get it done every night."

Both teams are getting good-to-terrific goaltending. For the Irish, Matt Eisler is solid. He’s fourth among goaltenders with significant time in net, with a GAA of 2.35 and a save percentage of .926. Ohio State has two netminders who can play well. Sophomore Ray Aho and freshman Jeff Maund have been splitting time. Maund is undefeated at 3-0-0. Combined, the goalies have a 2.85 GAA and a .899 save percentage this season.

Don’t think that Ohio State is cocky after beating Miami for the first time in three seasons. Markell says his Buckeyes are well aware of the challenge of this game against the Irish. "They know that Notre Dame is a pretty good hockey club. We’re going to have to be very aware of Ben Simon.

"We have them in our building, and we have to take care of business ourselves."

PICK: Ohio State 4-2

Lake Superior State (2-5-1, 1-3-1 CCHA) at Western Michigan (4-4-2, 3-4-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI

"I thought for the first time, since our first game of the year, that we actually played some poor hockey. We played poorly both nights, actually."

Lake Superior head coach Scott Borek says the Lakers didn’t play up to expectations last weekend in their split with Alaska-Fairbanks in Sault Ste. Marie.

"In most ways, I was extremely disappointed that we weren’t able to continue to play well."

The Lakers lost to the Nanooks 6-2 on Friday, and won 8-2 Saturday. According to Borek, there were a number of things that prevented the Lakers from playing up to their potential. "We probably underestimated Alaska a little bit. It was parents’ weekend, and that was kind of distracting.

"We didn’t get great defense or goaltending, team defense. At a couple of critical points in the game [Friday] we didn’t do what we needed to do defensively….[Then] we didn’t play well offensively on Saturday, even though we scored eight goals."

With a record of 1-3-1 in CCHA play, the Lakers have struggled this season, so far falling far short of preseason polls that placed Lake Superior fourth overall. Borek says that, in spite of their slow start, the Lakers had been playing really good, competitive hockey, and he hasn’t been displeased.

Until last weekend.

"Losing that game on Friday was a major loss. That’s a team we’re going to have to pass at some point. That’s where we are. We’re not in the group of people that needs to climb over each other. We’re not in the group — as the preseason polls had us — with Michigan, Miami and Michigan State. We’re not in that group. And I don’t expect we will be in that group all year. But we’d better do well in the group we’re in.

"We’re not as healthy as we could be, and we’re still trying to find ourselves a little bit emotionally."

Borek hopes that this weekend’s series with in-state rivals Western Michigan will give the Lakers the jump-start their season needs.

"Now we need to get it going this weekend. Hopefully, going on the road will help us. Western has kind of healed their woes. Western’s getting outstanding goaltending and outstanding defense. They’re in every game they play.

"We are certainly the underdogs going into this weekend. We’re trying to steal some points away from a pretty good hockey team, on the road."

The Lakers will have a difficult time taking points from Western Michigan, a team that flexed its collective muscle last weekend on a swing through Ohio. Western earned four CCHA points last weekend, beating Ohio State 3-1 and Bowling Green 8-3.

Before last weekend, Western head coach Bill Wilkinson said that his offense was "missing in action." He still believes that defense will determine the Broncos’ success.

"The key to the defense is goaltending. Matt [Barnes] is seeing the puck pretty big these days. The defense is playing pretty well, not allowing too many shots against him, but the defense is not infallible. You have to make a good shot to beat him."

Barnes made 37 saves in the Broncos’ win over the Buckeyes. His GAA is 2.36, and his league save percentage is .922.

These two teams play tough — sometimes rough — defensive hockey, and Wilkinson expects nothing less. "[The Lakers] are struggling right now, and sometime that’s the worst kind of team to get. They’re going to come in here clawing and digging for points. It’s always a physical series."

Western is 1-3-0 at home, but unless the Lakers can turn things around in a week, Western will even up that record.

PICKS: Western 4-2, 5-2

Ferris State (3-6-1, 3-3-1 CCHA) at No. 10 Michigan (6-3-0, 3-2-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI Michigan at Ferris State Sunday, 2 p.m., Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI

The Michigan Wolverines have taken six points from their last four CCHA game, but they’ve had to travel to do it.

"We had the two longest trips of the year back to back," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "We went to Alaska one weekend, and the next weekend we went up to Northern. Well, I don’t think [the traveling] helped the team. I can’t say it’s an excuse for not playing better, maybe, but it’s a tough trip."

Michigan took one of two games from the Wildcats in Marquette last weekend, winning 5-3 Friday, and losing 1-0 Saturday.

"Actually, both games were close games," says Berenson. "The Friday game was 3-3 going into the third, and we scored two goals — a power-play goal and a shorthanded goal. On Saturday night, it was 0-0 until three minutes left in the game, and they scored. Both teams had chances to win it, and I thought they played a little better than we did defensively, but they couldn’t put the puck in the net offensively. And Turco played well for us defensively as well."

Friday’s game was Wolverine goaltender Marty Turco’s 100th career win.

Berenson says that although the Wolverines are ranked in the top ten, this Wolverine team is still adjusting to personnel changes, and it may be some time before Michigan is at the top of its game.

"I think we’re improving every weekend. The one real concern that I have is the absence of Matt Herr. He’s still out, and he won’t play again this weekend. It’s a groin thing that’s just not going away. It’s something we all have to be patient with, but I expected him back maybe two weeks ago — now maybe this coming week. I don’t know when he’s coming back.

And no question, he’d be our number-one centerman. It’s tough to have a player of that stature out that long, and we’re not that good a team that we can just keep surviving without him." The coach looks forward to Herr’s return also to take some of the pressure off of senior Bill Muckalt, who, according to Berenson, has assumed all team leadership.

According to Berenson, hockey fans should no longer expect that easy win or blowout game that they saw from Michigan teams of the recent past. "Our defensive play has been inconsistent. Our penalty killing has been inconsistent. Our power play has been inconsistent. And offensively we’ve been inconsistent. So, I guess you could say we’ve been inconsistent."

In this home-and-home series against Ferris State, Berenson is taking nothing for granted. "They’ll come in and play us close. They always check us well, and they play pretty well against us. I expect it to be a closer checking game than you might think on paper."

The Bulldogs are coming off a short week, having beaten Alaska-Fairbanks 7-2 on Tuesday in Big Rapids. Last weekend, Ferris State lost two games to Mankato State, 5-2 and 7-5. The Bulldogs were competitive in both games, coming back from behind in Saturday’s game to tie before Mankato put the game away in the third.

After a decent start to the season, the Bulldogs seem to be searching for what Berenson says the Wolverines are lacking — consistency. Ferris State is struggling on special teams, eighth in the league in power play, and dead last in penalty-killing. Offensively, nine Bulldogs have multiple points, but just one player, Ed Kowalski, has as many as four points in league play.

The Bulldogs have seen some good goaltending from Vince Owen this season. The rookie has a 2.98 GAA and a very respectable save percentage of .894.

Rookie Mark Kosick is leading the Wolverines in league scoring, with seven points. Michigan is also seeing excellent play from another rookie, defenseman Mike VanRyn.

Michigan may have graduated their snipers, but they’re still deeper than many teams in the CCHA, including Ferris State. Both teams need to overcome inconsistency to play good hockey in this series.

PICKS: Michigan 5-2, 4-2

Alaska-Fairbanks (2-7-1, 1-6-0 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (5-2-2, 4-1-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI

Northern Michigan is one of the CCHA’s "teams of the moment." This is a squad doing better than anyone expected. With a less-than-stellar performance in the WCHA last season, and with 20 underclassmen, few people thought the Wildcats would make the CCHA playoffs, let alone beat top CCHA teams.

While it may be too early in the season to speculate about the playoffs, the ‘Cats are playing with a fire and a — dare we say it? — consistency that’s made everyone stand up and take notice. Last week the Wildcats split at home with Michigan, in a series that head coach Rick Comley predicted would be "fun." Michigan won 5-3 Friday night, but the Wildcats won 1-0 Saturday, with Fred Mattersdorfer scoring the lone goal at 15:41 of the third.

This week the ‘Cats welcome the Nanooks — although Alaska-Fairbanks may feel a bit less than welcome, playing its last road games of a season tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

The Nanooks are winding up a punishing middle-of-the-semester swing through Michigan. After playing Lake Superior two games last weekend, they traveled downstate for a game at Ferris; now they’re back in the U.P., facing a Marquette team that’s receiving attention in the national polls.

For all of their efforts, Fairbanks has earned just two points on this trip, winning 6-2 over Lake Superior Friday night. The Nanooks dropped their next two games, an 8-3 loss to the Lakers on Saturday, and a 7-2 loss to Ferris State on Tuesday. The Nanooks scored the first two goals of the Ferris game; the Bulldogs scored the next seven.

It’s hard to imagine that Alaska-Fairbanks will have the legs to get a jump on Northern, and for this weekend they may simply be outmatched. The Nanooks lead the league in the power play, and they have some players capable of producing points, most notably Sjon Wynia with three goals and four assists, and Jeff Trembecky with two goals and five assists. And it’s worth noting that Northern Michigan has the league’s worst power play.

However, as a team, the Wildcats are plus-55, while the Nanooks are minus-90. Lots of ‘Cats can score. Few Nanooks can.

Expect Northern Michigan to continue its winning ways, adding fuel to the debate about why the ‘Cats are not yet nationally-ranked.

PICKS: Northern 6-2, 4-2

Mankato State (5-3-1) at No. 3 Michigan State (7-1-2, 5-1-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI

Ron Mason summarizes the Spartans’ 3-1 win over the Fighting Irish last weekend like this: "We’ll take it. Hard-fought victory. Notre Dame’s playing very well. We played very well, too."

The only game the Spartans played last weekend was the rubber match of the series with Notre Dame, and Mason wasn’t taking anything for granted going into that one. As it turned out, the Spartans had to score twice in the third period to win the game, giving them the series for the season.

This weekend, the Mankato State Mavericks travel to Munn, and, again, Mason is taking nothing for granted.

"We’re going to have our hands full because they’re a good team," says Mason. "They’re trying to prove they’re good, which means that these games are very, very important to their program, less important to ours. But on the other hand, we have to win the games."

Mason says he knows what it’s like to coach a team like the Mavericks, a team fighting for respectability and recognition.

"I’ve been on the other side of the fence many times as a coach, when I was at Lake State and Bowling Green, looking at upward teams and hoping I could have an opportunity to be as good as they are going into games like this. You have everything on your side, and quite often you win them because your kids play so hard and you get the breaks.

"We have to play our game and hope that our kids have the inner fortitude to play our best game."

Mankato State is coming to Michigan after sweeping another CCHA team, Ferris State, 5-2 and 7-5 at home. And, for the first time in Mankato State hockey history, the Mavericks received a vote for a national poll — one in the USCHO poll.

The Mavericks certainly have a chance against the Spartans, and there’s no telling what a team with nothing to lose can gain. However, it’s hard to ignore the awesome Spartan defense and goaltending. Netminder Chad Alban leads the CCHA in goaltending among players with more than a handful of minutes. Alban’s GAA is 1.57, and his save percentage is .916.

The Spartans are allowing few opportunities for opponents to score, and Michigan State has outscored CCHA opponents 23-13 in seven CCHA games.

PICKS: Michigan State 4-3, 3-1