Appearances can be deceptive. While Michigan State is at the top of the USCHO poll, Northern Michigan is actually on top of the CCHA. At 6-1-1 in league play, the Wildcats have two more points than Michigan State. They’ve also played one more game.
Last week the ‘Cats beat Alaska-Fairbanks, 5-4 and 7-3. This week, Northern travels to Lake Superior for the one remaining game in its regular-season series with the Lakers. If Northern takes four points this weekend, the Wildcats will be assured of remaining atop the CCHA heap.
No. 1 Michigan State takes on a pair of Ohio teams this weekend. After sweeping Mankato State last weekend, the Spartans take it to the Buckeyes Friday night, then backtrack to Bowling Green on their way home Saturday.
The Wolverines have dropped out of the top ten after beating Ferris State 3-2 in overtime, then settling for a 2-2 tie last weekend. Like the Spartans, the Wolverines are playing Bowling Green and Ohio State this weekend. Like the Spartans, the Wolverines have played one fewer game than have the Wildcats.
At 4-5-1, Western Michigan hasn’t yet achieved .500 play in the CCHA, but the Broncos hang on to fourth place nonetheless. Western split with Lake Superior last weekend, and heads to Miami for two.
No. 4 Miami has played half the number of games Western Michigan has; yet the RedHawks are just one point behind Western in the standings. Miami took a game from Notre Dame last weekend, a 5-4 win that came down to the last thirty seconds of the game. With wins this weekend, Miami can significantly move up the CCHA ladder.
Ferris State and Notre Dame each have three CCHA wins, but Ferris State has played three more games than the Irish. Last weekend, the Bulldogs took a point from the Wolverines, and the Spartans beat the Buckeyes 3-2. Ferris State is ahead of Notre Dame in the standings by two points, so this crucial series could have playoff implications at the end of the regular season.
With just two wins in seven CCHA games, the Lakers are starting slowly. Last weekend LSSU split a pair of games with Western Michigan. This weekend, the Lakers hope to even up their series with Northern Michigan. The Wildcats have the edge in that season series, 1- 0-1.
Ohio State has just two wins in five CCHA games, but this is the best start the Buckeyes have had in a long, long time. Ohio State beat Bowling Green last weekend and lost to Notre Dame. This week, the Buckeyes will have to move mountains to get points. Michigan State visits Friday, and Michigan comes to Columbus Sunday.
Bowling Green lost a disappointing game to Ohio State last weekend. Trailing by three goals, the Falcons made it close in the third period, losing 5-4. This week, the Falcons have the same mountain to move as do the Buckeyes: Michigan Friday, Michigan State Saturday.
Alaska-Fairbanks — thankfully, and after a long mid-semester road trip — has the weekend off.
This is it, CCHA fans! The race for the playoffs begins — already — this weekend.
Last week in picks: 8-3 Overall record in picks: 33-31
Ferris State (3-7-2, 3-4-2 CCHA) at Notre Dame (6-4-0, 3-3-0 CCHA) Thursday, 7 p.m., Joyce Center, South Bend, IN Notre Dame at Ferris State Saturday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, MI
Notre Dame took two points from Ohio State last weekend, but came very close to getting one or more from Miami in a 5-4 loss. "It was a good game, a good college game," says Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. "It was a disappointing loss for us, but we have to figure out how to win those games."
It was disappointing for Notre Dame because the Irish scored to tie the game in the middle of the third period before Miami’s Adam Copeland ended the game for Notre Dame when he scored with 20 seconds to go.
After playing Miami hard, Notre Dame dominated two periods of hockey against Ohio State less than 24 hours later. The Irish led the Buckeyes 3-0 going into the third, and let their guard down just enough to allow the Bucs to threaten. Still, Notre Dame won 3-2.
Poulin has said all along that winning breeds winning, that his players just had to get a taste of it before they learned how. "We’ve got a higher skill level. We’re able to compete at a higher skill level right now. We’re able to control the puck a little bit more than we were. And some kids have early confidence from a couple of wins."
The Irish face a tough Ferris State team that is experiencing a resurgence of its own. The Bulldogs beat Alaska-Fairbanks in a rare weekday game and took Michigan to overtime twice last week, losing 3-2 Friday, and gaining one point from a 3-3 tie Saturday.
"I have a great deal of respect for Bob Daniels and for the program he runs up there," says Poulin. "They swept us last year."
Helping the Bulldog effort this season is the outstanding performance of rookie goaltender Vince Owen, who has allowed just six even-strength goals in over 186 minutes of action. His league numbers are respectable — a 2.83 GAA and a save percentage of .891. For his play against the Nanooks and the Wolverines, Owen was named CCHA Defensive Player of the Week.
Leading the Bulldogs on offense are Kenzie Homer, Joel Irwin, and Kevin Swider. Homer has eight points, and Irwin and Swider each have seven. As a team, the Bulldogs have an impressive plus/minus rating of plus-17.
For Notre Dame, the name Ben Simon is nearly synonymous with offense. The sophomore center has four goals and three assists; two of the goals are shorthanded.
In net for the Irish, Matt Eisler looks solid with a 2.89 GAA and a .907 save percentage.
With the parity of the CCHA evident so early in the season, these two teams may very well be fighting each other for playoff position with this series. "We’re battling for it," says Poulin, "there’s no question about that."
But, in a season like this one, Poulin’s quick to add, "Every game is big, let’s face it."
This series is tough to call, but it’s hard to pick against Notre Dame with the way the Irish are playing.
PICK: Notre Dame 4-2, 4-3
Western Michigan (5-5-2, 4-5-1 CCHA) at No. 4 Miami (7-1-0, 4-1-0 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH
Western Michigan brings its defensive brand of hockey to a Oxford, Oh., where offense can be explosive.
"They are a very, very good defensive team," says Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni. "They may have the best defensive corps in the CCHA. Barnes does a very good job for them in goal. You’re not going to have a lot of high-scoring games with them. You have to be prepared to execute based on the way they’re going to play defensively, so that you can create some rhythms, create some tempo."
Pacing that Miami rhythm are seniors Tim Leahy and Dan Boyle. Forward Leahy leads the CCHA in league scoring with four goals and nine assists for 13 points, while Boyle, a defenseman, has six goals and five assists.
There’s a third Miami player in the top ten in league scoring. In fourth place is Adam Copeland, with five and five.
Clearly, this is a nice rhythm, a nice tempo — for the RedHawks, at least.
They face one tough netminder in Matt Barnes. Barnes has logged more time in net than any other CCHA goaltender this season, over 727 minutes. His GAA is 2.23, and his save percentage is .915.
While Barnes and the excellent Western defensemen are preventing goals, they’re getting spotty help on the other side of the puck. Frank Novock and Steve Duke lead the Broncos with seven points. Chuck Mindel, Brett Mills, and Joe Corvo each have six.
Mazzoleni says, "You’re going to play certain teams in our league that can really buckle it down defensively, and then it’s got to be who’s going to score the goals." That’s pretty much how this series will go. Western will try to shut down the ‘Hawks dangerous offense, and if they succeed, fans will see two low-scoring games in Goggin Arena.
Although Trevor Prior has been the RedHawks’ go-to guy in net for most of this season and last, Mazzoleni says he’s "leaning toward" playing Ian Olsen on Saturday.
"You’ve got to build for the future," says Mazzoleni. "We made a decision when we took Ian Olsen that he would have to sit out a year for major junior hockey. He sat out all last year without playing, and he’s our goaltender next year. If we don’t play him this year, he’ll sit out two years then. We have to get him in there and get him going."
This good defensive matchup will ultimately come down to who scores goals, no matter which goalie plays in net for Miami. When it comes to scoring goals, few in the CCHA are better than the ‘Hawks.
PICKS: Miami 3-2, 4-2
Northern Michigan (7-2-2, 6-1-1 CCHA) at Lake Superior (3-6-1, 2-4-1 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI
The Lakers have been struggling this season with a young-ish team, a rookie goaltender and an offense that’s still trying to find its legs. Last week, Lake Superior State split with Western Michigan, losing 4-3 in overtime of the first game, and winning 4-1 in the second game. Both games were on the road.
"It was disappointing Friday, and great on Saturday — one of those," says Laker head coach Scott Borek. "We had a 3-1 lead with 10 minutes to go Friday night. We weren’t able to finish them off. We had good chances in overtime, they had good chances in overtime, and they scored."
Borek is encouraged about the play he saw from his team against Western on the road. "I think we played pretty well both nights," he says. "We matched up pretty well, the both of us.
"We’re playing a lot better, but we’re not getting a lot of results right now. Hopefully that will come with time."
Northern Michigan swept Alaska-Fairbanks on the Nanooks’ last leg of a long U.P. road trip. The Wildcats needed overtime to do it Friday, winning 5-4 in OT. Northern came back strong on Saturday to beat Alaska-Fairbanks 7-3.
Borek knows how well this Wildcats team is playing, since his Lakers have faced them twice already this season. In October, the Lakers and Wildcats skated to a 2-2 overtime tie before the Wildcats beat the Lakers 5-3. Both games were in Marquette.
Borek welcomes this last regular-season meeting with Northern as an opportunity. "Playing a first-place team, you have a chance to move up the standings if you can get the win. They’re playing great hockey. They’re very physical. We’re going to have to try to keep it a very close, tight-checking game, and they’re probably going to try to open it up. If we can keep it tight-checking, then we’ll have success. But if both teams’ shots are over thirty, that won’t bode well for us."
Right now, the Lakers are having trouble producing goals. Tobin Praznik, Jason Sessa and Terry Marchant each have seven points, but only Praznik and Marchant are on the plus side of the plus/minus, each at plus-4. The team, as a whole, is minus-40.
In contrast, Northern Michigan has an incredible overall team plus/minus rating of plus 90. There are 15 ‘Cats with at least one goal. Buddy Smith leads the team with nine points, and Fred Mattersdorfer is close behind with seven.
In order to beat the ‘Cats, Borek knows the Lakers have to keep the game close. "We’re not going to trade offensive chances with anyone in the league and be successful, just because we’re not really an offensive team. If we can slow the game down and make it twenty-five shots or under for both teams, that’s our kind of game. Then I think we have a legitimate shot of beating anyone. The minute you get a kind of end-to-end game, then we’re going to struggle."
The Lakers are hoping to get an offensive boost from Trent Walford, who has just been added to the lineup. "He’ll add offense shortly," says Borek. "[But] it will be a while before he can catch up." Walford sat out because he played major junior hockey.
The Lakers are getting good goaltending from rookie Rob Galatiuk. In league play, Galatiuk has a 2.79 GAA and a save percentage of .909. In the net for Northern, Duane Hoey has also been solid, posting a GAA of 2.26 and a .902 save percentage.
In order to salvage this season and move up in the standings, the Lakers need this game. Expect them to come out tough, but remember that Northern Michigan is first in the CCHA for a reason.
PICK: Northern 3-2
No. 1 Michigan State (9-1-2, 5-1-1 CCHA) at Ohio State (5-4-1, 2-3-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Ohio State Ice Rink, Columbus, OH Michigan State at Bowling Green (2-8-1, 1-3-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Bowling Green Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH
Michigan State regained the top spot in the country with a sweep of Mankato State at home. The Michigan State-Mankato State game was the only game involving a CCHA team that didn’t require overtime for a decision Friday night, as Michigan State won 5-2. The Spartans won convincingly again on Saturday, 4-0, as Chad Alban earned his eighth career shutout. "They’re a very good team," said Spartan head coach Ron Mason of Mankato State. "They surprised me with their overall skill level. We pretty much controlled their big line. That was a major reason for our victories. We killed penalties real well, and our power play was clicking. I think a combination of being at home and a good attention to detail by our team is the reason we won two, because you could very easily lose a game to that team."
Even though the Spartans are the top-ranked team after receiving 13 first-place votes in this week’s USCHO poll, Mason remains level-headed about Spartan hockey and the abilities of the team.
"We’re playing fine," says Mason. "I don’t think we’re going to kill anybody, but on other hand, basically, we’re a pretty hard team to play against. Then if we get some goals here and there, then we’re even tougher to play against."
Michigan State at Ohio State
With a 5- 4 win in Bowling Green, the Buckeyes gained two points and improved their record to 5-3-1, their best start since the 1990-91 season. The game in Bowling Green cost the Buckeyes, however; three Buckeye players received game disqualifications for a skirmish in the second period.
According to Ohio State head coach John Markell, the loss of those players — freshman forward Benji Wolke, junior forward Chris Richards and starting defenseman and team captain Taj Schaffnit — was a factor in Ohio State’s 3-2 loss to Notre Dame the following day.
"When we beat Miami, we had two lines going pretty good," says Markell. "That’s what you need in this league. When we lost our Wolke-Richards-Cousineau line, it affected our team."
Markell says his team is struggling mentally, and that he may have to shorten his bench to put an effective team on the ice. "Our guys need to focus more on what’s going on in this league and how competitive it is. We have to come to play with three lines. I have to be assured as a coach that I have three lines competing. I think you’re going to see in the rotation more three lines than you will four, because we’re not that deep physically and mentally right now to play four lines. That’s going to be one of our biggest adjustments."
Ohio State won the series against Michigan State last year, but, as Markell says, "That was a year ago."
Mason says that the size of the OSU ice rink may be a factor in this game. "We play Ohio State in that little box," he says, calling it "ping-pong hockey."
"There’s always an adjustment to that rink," says Mason, "and we’ll see how we do. So much depends on how comfortable our kids feel and how quickly. And of course Ohio State’s used to it, so they can go right after you. The biggest thing there is to make sure you don’t go behind early — they’ve been a good third-period team."
Each team plays a different opponent for the second game of the weekend, but each coach agrees that he has to focus on Friday’s game before thinking about who he’s playing next.
"Since we’ve started this format [playing two teams in one weekend], I concentrate on the Friday night game, and then change gears once it’s over," says Mason. "If you start thinking two games ahead you’ll forget about the next one, and that’s the most important. You’re concentration is primarily on the first night." Michigan State plays Bowling Green Saturday.
Ohio State takes on arch-rival Michigan on Sunday, a team they haven’t beaten in years, but Markell says, "If we look ahead to Michigan on Sunday, we’re making a serious mistake. We have to get past Michigan State first."
Both of these teams have solid goaltending, but no one has goaltending like the Spartans do this season. Chad Alban is the best in CCHA play, with a goals-against average of 1.57 and a save percentage of .916. For the Buckeyes, both Ray Aho and Jeff Maund are playing well, but the two couldn’t be having more different seasons. Aho’s numbers are better — a 2.71 GAA with a save percentage of .901, compared to Maund’s GAA of 4.00 and save percentage of .857 — but Aho is 0-4-1 while Maund is 5-0-0, a situation that Coach Markell himself has called "unfair" for Aho.
Defensively, the Spartans are stingy, giving up just 13 goals in eight CCHA games. That’s the same number of goals that OSU has scored in five CCHA games.
In spite of what Coach Mason says about the rink — don’t let him fool you — the only advantage the Buckeyes may have is on offense. The Buckeye first line of Hugo Boisvert, Jean-Francois Dufour and Eric Meloche is explosive, accounting for all five goals the Buckeyes scored against Bowling Green. For his two goals in the Bowling Green game and one against Notre Dame, Boisvert was named the CCHA Offensive Player of the Week.
It’s not so much a matter of how many goals this line scores, as it is that they score. When the Boisvert-Dufour-Meloche line gets three points, in any combination, the Buckeyes win. It’s that simple. When they’ve combined for three points between them, the Bucs are 5-0-0. When they don’t, the Buckeyes are winless.
Michigan State owns this series, 58-9-4. Keep in mind that two of those Spartan losses to Ohio State came last season. And the Buckeyes are at home…
Nah…ain’t gonna happen.
PICK: Michigan State 3-2
Michigan State at Bowling Green
Michigan State head coach Ron Mason calls this weekend’s games in Ohio a "tough trip." He says, "It’s not easy to go into to Ohio and play both of those schools. As much as Bowling Green’s up and down, Ohio State looks like they’re fairly consistent — and they’re always good in that rink. Yeah, I think we have our hands full."
Saying that Bowling Green is "up and down" may be an understatement. In a nightmarish repeat of a home game against Clarkson — when there were as many as five Falcons in the penalty box at one point — the discipline of the frustrated Falcons broke down once again when Ohio State came to town for Bowling Green’s only game last weekend.
Bowling Green lost 5-4, and both teams lost three players to game disqualifications after Falcon Adam Edinger hit Buckeye Benji Wolke after the whistle had blown and an altercation erupted. The disqualifications were questionable — no punches were thrown — but clearly the Bowling Green players were acting out in frustration at being down 5-2 against Ohio State, a team they don’t particularly like.
After the game, BG head coach Buddy Powers said he was disappointed that his team had, once again, essentially beaten itself.
There were some bright spots for the Falcons. Goaltender Mike Savard was playing like a man with a mission. Savard made 18 saves on 23 shots, many of which were at point-blank range and some of which seemed like volleys of gunfire. At one point, Savard stopped not one but three shots up close from Buckeye sniper Chris Richards, all while on his back.
Another bright spot for the Falcons is freshman Louis Mass, who played very well against the Buckeyes — until he was given a game DQ, that is.
There are plenty of little bright spots for Bowling Green, but nothing bright seems to be coming out of the big picture. Brad Holzinger leads the team with 11 points — but that’s one goal and ten assists. Dan Price has three goals, Dave Faulkner has six goals, but the Falcons aren’t scoring consistently, or enough.
The Spartans have found some offense with Bryan Adams and Mike York Adams leads the team with five goals and 13 assists for 18 points, while York has six goals and 10 assists for 16 points. The two are fourth and fifth, respectively, in CCHA in scoring.
PICK: Michigan State 4-1
Michigan (7-3-1, 4-2-1 CCHA) at Bowling Green (2-8-1, 1-3-1 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Bowling Green Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH Michigan at Ohio State (5-4-1, 2-3-0 CCHA) Sunday, 3 p.m., Ohio Expo Center, Columbus, OH
Last weekend, the Ferris State Bulldogs took the Wolverines to overtime twice, and Michigan paid for it by dropping out of the top ten. "We have a tough schedule," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "We’ve played two home games out of our seven league games, and obviously the next two are on the road as well. We’ll have two out of nine games on the road in the first part of the season. You look at Miami and Northern and some of these schools, they’ve hardly played on the road."
Right now, Michigan has three losses — the sum of losses suffered by the Wolverines in regular-season play last year. Not only has Michigan had a near-complete turnover in team personnel, but Berenson says that the road schedule and the loss of Matt Herr to a groin injury is troubling the team in the early season.
"We’re young and Matt Herr’s not playing. We’re doing pretty well when you look at the numbers. You have to see that we have ten freshmen, Matt Herr’s not playing, we’ve played most of our games on the road and we’re hanging in there. But that’s all. We’re not going to dominate anybody, I don’t think, at this point anyway."
Michigan at Bowling Green
Like most of the other coaches in the CCHA, Red Berenson finds it difficult to look beyond his next game, even when the Wolverines face two different opponents in the same weekend. "We’re going to play it like two one-game series, separate the two, so that we get a chance to prepare for both teams and hopefully get off to a good start," says Berenson. "I always concentrate on the first game of the road trip; that’s the most important one."
It’s a good bet that Michigan won’t have to concentrate very hard for their first one, as the Wolverines play an ailing Bowling Green team that can’t seem to. For this game, Bowling Green will be without three key players. Forward Adam Edinger and defensemen B.J. Adams and Louis Mass will miss Friday’s game because of game disqualifications in their game against Ohio State Nov. 15.
Berenson says that teams like Bowling Green, teams that are down, can be dangerous. "They’re struggling, and they’re unpredictable. Apparently they’ve got a couple of guys who are suspended. We don’t know really what to expect, except that they’re going to be a little desperate. If we can get off to a good start, that will be important."
There’s a good chance that the Wolverines will be able to do just that. With both Mass and Adams out, the Falcons will have trouble stopping Bill Muckalt and Bobby Hayes, who pace the Wolverines with five goals each.
Michigan scoring is averaging just over three goals a game, while allowing 19 goals in seven games. Bowling Green has also allowed 19 goals in league play this season, but in five games. The Falcons are having trouble scoring and defending.
Unless Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers has a secret weapon, this one could be a long night for the Falcons, even if goaltender Mike Savard stands on his head.
PICK: Michigan 5-1
Michigan at Ohio State
Hey! Did you hear about the big matchup between Ohio State and Michigan this weekend? You know, the one not played at the Ohio State campus? The one played…at the Ohio State Fairgrounds?
Yes, we should nod to the football game being played in Ann Arbor this weekend, not necessarily because we care, but because that game — the one with the pigskin, not the puck — gives a more public face to the level of intensity of the rivalry between these two teams.
As much as Ohio State fans despise Michigan fans, the Ohio State hockey team hates the Wolverine hockey team.
For the record, Red Berenson once corrected the use of the word "hate" in that sentence, saying, "No, they really respect us."
Nice euphemism, Red.
Ohio State wants this game so, so bad. How bad, you ask? Ohio State hasn’t beaten Michigan — in 21 regular-season and six playoff games — since the 1990-91 season.
When these two teams last met, it was at the Ohio State Fairgrounds Expo Center on March 2. It was the last game of the regular season for both teams, and it was Seniors’ Night for OSU. Senior captain Steve Brent responded by fighting with Bubba Berenzweig, kicking the Michigan player’s helmet across the ice just after saying something, um, respectful to Red Berenson and the Michigan bench, and just before leaving the game prematurely.
Ohio State led that game 4-3 going into the third period. That’s when Berenson decided to replace Greg Malicke with Marty Turco in the net to make sure his seniors didn’t lose their last-ever regular-season game to a team they’d never lost to before.
Michigan won, 7-4.
It’s a new season, and each team seems new, with The Michigan Nine gone, and a slew of new players for the Buckeyes. Each team is young. The Wolverines, however, are relying on veteran leadership to get them through their transitional period.
"Turco has continued to play well," says Berenson. "Billy Muckalt — every game is like a highlight film for him. Now, we don’t have the players to compliment him, not right now, anyway. And Bobby Hayes is playing really well. Turco and those guys are really carrying the team."
Unless something drastic happens, you’ll see Turco in net for the Wolverines for this game. His numbers in league play are good: a 2.46 GAA and an .898 save percentage. Those numbers look surprisingly similar to the numbers Buckeye goaltender Ray Aho has put up this season. Aho’s save percentage is a shade better than Turco’s at .901, and his GAA is 2.71. The difference is that Aho is winless.
The Buckeyes can’t seem to put any scoring up for the sophomore goaltender, who was instrumental in Ohio State’s season-ending seven-game unbeaten streak last season. With Aho in net, the Buckeyes are 0-4-1. With rookie goaltender Jeff Maund in net, the Buckeyes are 5-0-0, but Maund’s numbers tell a strange story — a 4.00 GAA, just 48 saves, and a save percentage of .857.
The goaltending stats alone tell the story of this season’s Buckeyes, a team that can’t seem to make up its mind whether or not it can play. This is a team that tied and beat Clarkson on the road, and came back from a 4-1 deficit to beat Miami 5-4. Yet the Buckeyes nearly threw their game away against Bowling Green, nearly blowing a 5-2 lead before winning 5-4. Then they played flat for two periods against Notre Dame, trailing 3-0 going into the third period before scoring two unanswered goals to make the final score 3-2.
Ohio State head coach John Markell is perplexed. "Either we’re going to be licking our wounds, or we’ll come back down to earth and play well."
Berenson says of the Buckeyes, "They’re at home, and they’re an improved team."
When the Buckeye first line of Hugo Boisvert, Eric Meloche, and Jean-Francois Dufour combines for three points, the Buckeyes are unbeaten.
They want this game, and they may get this game. It’s hard to pick a team to win in a place where the students toilet-paper their own campus before the big game — as OSU students do before the Michigan football game, no matter where it’s played — but, hey, those kids don’t go to hockey games.
Every streak has to end.
PICK: Ohio State 4-2