The American poet laureate Robert Penn Warren put it this way: "You’ll have to rethink the whole question."
What question will you ask, fan of the CCHA, and do you know how to ask it? Does any CCHA question have an answer now?
Well, perhaps. The Michigan State Spartans demonstrated why they are the top team in the country by sweeping their opponents in the College Hockey Showcase last weekend.
Funny thing about that Showcase. Michigan did the same thing, against the same teams.
The CCHA became a much more interesting place last week as Lake Superior took three points from Notre Dame, and Ohio State stymied Northern Michigan in Marquette. Last week, the most interesting play was in the middle of the pack, and that’s where it will be again this week.
No. 1 Michigan State hosts Bowling Green for two this weekend, Saturday and Sunday. The Spartans blanked No. 10 Wisconsin 2-0 Friday and edged Minnesota 3-2 Sunday. Bowling Green, with a strong grip on last place, is coming back to the lower 48 after a disappointing showing in Fairbanks, where the Falcons took one point in three games.
No. 4 Miami, fourth in the CCHA with a dozen points, defends its position with a game at Ferris State on Friday. The Bulldogs are knocking on the RedHawks’ door, just a point behind in the standings. Both teams had last weekend off.
Miami then travels up to Lake Superior for a game. The Lakers are feeling pretty good after two games in South Bend, winning 4-2 in the opener and taking a third point with a 3-3 overtime tie on Saturday. Lake climbed to sixth in the league with nine points overall.
The No. 7 Michigan Wolverines clawed their way back into the top ten by beating Minnesota 4-3 and No. 10 Wisconsin 2-1 in the College Hockey Showcase. The Wolverines have one game this weekend, and it’s a doozy — the Lakers host the Wolverines Saturday night.
Western Michigan and Notre Dame duke it out this weekend in the first series on the CCHA middle-pack fight card. While the Broncos went home for the holidays last weekend, the Irish slipped a bit by losing to the Lakers. Western has nine points, and Notre Dame is right behind with eight points, so this is a significant series for both teams.
Notre Dame also has a strange mid-week match-up against No. 10 Wisconsin next Wednesday.
OK — who’s taken the Buckeyes and replaced them with this team that can win games? The Buckeyes stunned Northern Michigan — you know, the team that’s second in the CCHA — by taking two from the Wildcats in Marquette last weekend, 5-1 and 5-4. While Northern recovers with a good rest this weekend, the Buckeyes host Alaska-Fairbanks for the second fight on the CCHA middle-pack card. Fairbanks took five points from Bowling Green at home last weekend, and since a single point separates these two teams, this will be a series to watch.
Just when you thought it was safe to settle down for a long winter’s nap…
Last week’s record in picks: 7-4 (but the whole spirit of the picks was correct) Overall record in picks: 45-39
Notre Dame (6-6-2, 3-5-2 CCHA) at Western Michigan (5-7-2, 4-7-1 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI Western Michigan at Notre Dame Saturday, 7 p.m., Joyce Arena, South Bend, IN
This will be a tough battle for both of us," says Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson. "They’re coming off one point in the last three games."
Actually, Notre Dame is coming off two points in its last four games, and there’s not a win in the bunch. The Irish were still licking their wounds over a one-point weekend against Ferris State when Lake Superior had the audacity to come to South Bend to deliver another one-point weekend for the Irish.
While the Irish are taking some mental licks, the Broncos have been feeling some physical pain recently.
Sophomore defenseman Jeff Lukasak was playing with a broken jaw until he broke his jaw again — two fractures, same face. The first fracture, under his chin, wasn’t enough to keep him out of the lineup, but every man has his limits. Additionally, senior winger Chris Slater will be out until January with a broken ankle.
Compounding the list of injuries is illness — chicken pox, to be specific. Senior defensemen Jeff Rucinski and Steve Duke are just getting over a disease best experienced in childhood, when memories fade faster. Only two other Broncos haven’t already had the chicken pox, so Rucinski and Duke are being kept away from goaltender Matt Barnes and the coach’s son, Mark Wilkinson.
"Fortunately, we have enough depth in our program to be able to deal with this, and we have a good defensive core," says Wilkinson. "If we could just find someone to help Frank Novock score some goals…"
Scoring has been the big problem for the Broncos this season. With seven goals and two assists in league play, Novock is easily the most prolific scorer for the Broncos so far. Right behind him is Duke, with eight league assists — but no goals.
None of the top three scorers for the Broncos, including Chuck Mindel with six points, is on the plus side of the plus/minus ratio. That could matter a lot when playing a team like Notre Dame which can consistently create scoring opportunities. Each of these teams is trailing its opponent in the goal game, with Western scoring 29 to its opponents’ 34 league goals and Notre Dame down 33-30.
Notre Dame clearly has the more dynamic offense. Sophomore Ben Simon, currently tied with two other players for the fourth-highest scoring in the CCHA, brings with him 11 points and the potential to break away whenever he’s on the ice. He can also score shorthanded. With six goals and two assists, Aniket Dhadphale can also score for the Irish, as can Lyle Andrusiak and Benoit Cotnoir.
The pairing of Notre Dame and Western Michigan also creates a potentially excellent goaltending matchup, the Battle of the Matts. With over 800 minutes in net, Western’s Matt Barnes has a 2.65 league GAA and a very solid .906 save percentage. For Notre Dame, Matt Eisler has over 700 minutes in net, with a higher GAA (3.41) but a lower save percentage (.886). Forrest Karr has also seen time in net for the Irish this season, and so far he looks good. In league play, in 134 minutes, Karr has a GAA of 2.23 and a save percentage of .911.
So, the Irish have greater depth at offense and goal, but the Broncos have Matt Barnes and greater depth at defense.
Wilkinson says, "We play better on the road. More focused." Given that, and the fact that Notre Dame has four road wins this season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see each team win in the other’s barn.
PICKS: Western Michigan 3-1, Notre Dame 4-2
Alaska-Fairbanks (4-9-2, 3-8-1 CCHA) at Ohio State (7-6-1, 4-5-0 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Ohio State Ice Rink, Columbus, OH
This matchup could be subtitled, "The Battle of the Teams Feeling Good about Themselves."
After a week of rest, the Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks took it to the Bowling Green Falcons in Fairbanks last week, beating BG 9-2 the first game and 4-3 in overtime the second, and settling for a 2-2 Sunday tie.
"Everything that could’ve gone wrong for them and right for us did," says Alaska-Fairbanks head coach Dave Laurion. "Collectively it wasn’t a good performance for BG and it was good for us.
"Saturday was a real battle. It was nice to find a way to win it. To win the first two was key. When we played the third night, they played hungrier than we did. We just weren’t in sync. I guess if you’re going to tie, it’s better to come from behind and tie than it is to lead and lose."
In the opening game, midway through the second period, Fairbanks was up 4-0, thanks in large part to Darren Tiemstra, who scored his first two collegiate goals, one in the first and one in the second.
"You knew it was a good omen when [Dwayne] Zinger and Tiemstra scored, since they hadn’t scored yet this season," says Laurion.
If Laurion seems a bit gleeful about the five points the Nanooks earned at the expense of the Falcons, it may be easy to forgive him when you realize that the wins were the first two home CCHA wins the Nanooks have had this season. Also, the Nanooks remember suffering a three-game sweep against BGSU in Fairbanks about this time of year, two seasons ago.
"We [had] never beaten Bowling Green at Thanksgiving," he says. "It was nice to get that off the statistical side of things."
The defensive pairing of Tiemstra and Chad Hamilton is performing well for the Nanooks. "Tiemstra and Hamilton had great weekends," says Laurion. "They were just solid for us. Kirwin continues to be a catalyst for us up front."
In fact, Alaska-Fairbanks has plenty of firepower up front. When the Nanooks travel to Columbus this weekend, they bring with them the guy on the top of the league charts in scoring. Sjon Wynia is tied for first in points with Lake Superior’s Terry Marchant and Miami’s Tim Leahy; Wynia leads the trio in goals with six.
Jeff Trembecky is tied for second with 13 points (including seven goals). Jim Lawrence is among the three players with 11 points in league play, for fourth-best scoring in the league. And Chris Kirwin has four goals and six assists for 10 points.
"They’ve got us concerned," says Ohio State head coach John Markell. "We know they’re explosive. They’ve got a very potent power play. We don’t want to let them pass free through the neutral zone."
In fact, this series pits one of the better league power plays, the Nanooks’, with one of the better league penalty-killing units, the Buckeyes’.
"We’ll want to keep it on the boards with them," says Markell, "like we did with Northern Michigan."
That strategy worked last weekend for the Buckeyes, who surprised everyone — even themselves — by beating Northern Michigan 5-1 and 5-4 in Marquette. In addition to puck control, a key to the Buckeyes’ success was the play of freshman goaltender Jeff Maund.
"Jeff has a very good calming effect on our club. The guys play well in front of him. It’s not that they don’t play well in front of Ray [Aho], but Jeff played very well in Northern."
So well, in fact, that he was named CCHA Defensive Player of the Week for his play. Maund made 34 saves in Friday’s 5-1 win, with at least 10 saves in each period. On Saturday, when the Buckeyes had to come from behind to win, he made 24 stops and allowed one even-strength goal, for a total of two even-strength goals in the series. For the weekend, he turned aside 58 of 63 Northern shots on goal for a .921 save percentage.
In addition to solid goaltending, the Buckeyes also have solid defense, with improved play from senior captain Taj Schaffnit and sophomore Ryan Jestadt, as well as from rookies Andre Signoretti and Jaisen Freeman.
And don’t discount the Buckeye offense. Sophomore Hugo Boisvert — one-third of the Bucs’ French Connection line — has 12 points in league play, and linemates Eric Meloche and Jean-Francois Dufour have eight points apiece. That line alone is responsible for 14 of the Buckeyes’ 26 league goals, and is solidly on the plus side of plus/minus.
Also able to score for the Buckeyes are Chris Richards, Brandon Lafrance, Louie Colsant…and a host of other players. This may be the deepest Buckeye offense in a decade.
Even though Laurion was happy with goaltender Chris Marvel’s play against Bowling Green, goaltending and defense continue to be inconsistent — almost a liability — for the Nanooks. Between them, Marvel and Ian Perkins have a 5.20 GAA in league play and an .845 save percentage. In league play, the Nanooks’ opponents have a collective 3.63 GAA.
The Nanooks are also pretty fair about letting their own players be on the ice when another team scores — nearly everyone’s on the minus side of the league plus/minus. As a whole, the team stands at a whopping -85.
The Buckeyes are also in the red in that category, but they stand at only -16 as a team. In contrast to the Nanook goaltending, the duo of Jeff Maund and Ray Aho has combined for a team league GAA of 2.98 and save percentage of .900. Facing the Buckeyes this season, opponents have combined for a GAA of 2.87 in league play.
Games tend to be a bit closer for the Buckeyes, who have been outscored this season by CCHA opponents just 27-26. The Nanooks have been outscored by league opponents by a total of 22 goals this season.
Of course, statistics don’t tell the whole story.
"Certainly they’re playing good hockey," says Laurion of the Buckeyes. "They’re a program starting to take a good long look at what Michigan and Michigan State, the other Big Ten schools, have done in terms of facilities and recruiting. And it’s starting to pay off for them."
No matter how much the Buckeyes have improved, the Nanooks remain optimistic coming into these games.
"We know they’re going to be a tough challenge," says Laurion, "but I know our guys are going to be hungry and see this as a chance to move up in the standings." Markell says, "We have to be tough mentally this weekend. We’re certainly not going to take them for granted."
In the teeny, tiny, little, mini OSU Ice Rink, in a place that’s prime for what Ron Mason calls "ping-pong hockey," tensions can build and play can be fast. Both of these teams — even the home team — will be hampered by the smaller rink, and tempers may flare.
In that regard, it’s a shame that former OSU captain Steve Brent will be on the sidelines as a volunteer student coach instead of on the ice. There may be other players willing to step in for Brent for a rematch of last year’s Trembecky-Brent brawl in Fairbanks, but it could never be the same.
This is a huge series for both teams, and both teams need the points. The Nanooks are pumped, but the Buckeyes are better than anyone expects. The Nanooks have the ability to run up the score, but the Buckeyes — for the first time in years — have the ability to come back.
Little OSU Ice Rink will be packed with sorority rushes (no lie — it’s a mandatory event for Rush Week). Don’t know what that has to do with the game, but it’s too good not to share.
Anyway, the Buckeyes don’t know how good they are, which may be their only liability this weekend.
PICKS: Ohio State 5-4, 4-3
No. 4 Miami (9-1-0, 6-1-0 CCHA) at Ferris State (4-7-3, 4-4-3 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI
This is the best game in the CCHA this weekend.
While the Buckeyes don’t know how good they are, no one seems to know how good the Ferris State Bulldogs are.
With 11 points in 11 CCHA games, the Bulldogs are just one point behind the RedHawks. More and more it looks like last season may have been the fluke, while this season is the welcome reward for a little foresight and planning.
The Bulldogs have a strong junior class which includes wingers Joel Irwin and Kenzie Homer. Irwin leads the team in points with 10 along with rookie center Kevin Swider, and Homer is right behind with nine points. In nine league games, Swider hasn’t earned any time in the penalty box, either.
Rookie Vince Owen is doing good things in net for Ferris State. With a GAA of 3.15 and a save percentage of .875 in league play, Owen is giving the Bulldogs the opportunity to stay in games with tough opponents.
This team has beaten Lake Superior, Western Michigan and Notre Dame, and tied Michigan and ND again. Not bad for a team that’s getting no attention whatsoever this season.
Assistant coach Drew Famulak is modest about the Bulldogs’ success this season. "We’re playing well, but competition is good among all the CCHA teams this season."
Ferris State had the weekend off for Thanksgiving, a break the team earned by playing many games in just a few short weeks. The Bulldogs last played two weeks ago, when they tied and defeated Notre Dame, 5-5 and 4-3.
"We had played 10 games in 23 nights in the last month," says Famulak. "Mentally our kids may have been a little tired during the second game against Notre Dame." The Bulldogs trailed 3-2 at the end of the second in that one, and came back from behind to win in the third.
What’s the secret of the Ferris State turnaround? "We’ve brought down our goals against," says Famulak. "Defensively, we’re a better hockey team.
"Our kids are playing well in both ends of the rink this season. They’ve worked very hard."
Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni may be among the few who know how good this Ferris State team is. "Ferris State, in our league, is probably the most underrated team. They have excellent personnel. The freshmen they’ve brought in contribute from the blue line. Bob Daniels has done a great job with that program."
Mazzoleni says that this will be a "very difficult matchup."
For the trip north, Miami will pack a power offense, a solid defense, good-to-great goaltending, excellent coaching and just one CCHA loss.
Five RedHawks have points in the double digits in league play, in just seven league games. Tim Leahy leads the way with 14 points. Behind him are Dan Boyle and Adam Copeland with 12 points each, and Alex Kim and Dustin Whitecotton with 10. The RedHawks have outscored CCHA opponents 35-18.
Another impressive stat for the ‘Hawks is a team plus/minus ratio of +71 in CCHA play. Seems like lots of ‘Hawks can score.
In net, Trevor Prior, Ian Olsen and Adam Lord have a combined 2.60 GAA and a league save percentage of .895. That’s especially impressive when you consider that Lord’s stats alone include a GAA of 6.22 and a save percentage of .733.
Prior has been outstanding so far this season, with a 2.04 GAA and a .919 save percentage. Both he and Olsen will travel north to Michigan, and Prior will start against Ferris State.
Miami’s defense is good, but this is the biggest challenge the ‘Hawks defense will face so far this season — a confident team, far away from Oxford, Oh.
Ferris State could very well hand Miami its second CCHA loss of the season, or the Bulldogs could do what they’ve done so well so far this season by taking a point from a strong opponent.
Miami has the deepest team offensively in the CCHA, and solid depth at all other positions. The RedHawk arsenal is the advantage in this game, but they’ll have to pull out all the stops to beat a Ferris State team that knows how good it is.
PICK: Miami 4-3
No. 7 Michigan (10-3-1, 6-2-1 CCHA) at Lake Superior State (4-6-3, 3-4-3 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI No. 4 Miami (9-1-0, 6-1-0 CCHA) at Lake Superior State Saturday, 7 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI
Lake Superior’s reward for taking three points from Notre Dame on the road last weekend is to return home to the Soo to face No. 7 Michigan and No. 4 Miami in the same weekend.
"It will be a great weekend for us," says Lake Superior head coach Scott Borek.
Borek’s hoping it will be a great weekend of hockey at home, since his Lakers are 1-2-1 so far against CCHA teams at home.
The series at Notre Dame last weekend gave the Lakers renewed confidence. "It was a good weekend," says Laker head coach Scott Borek. "I wish we’d finished the job on Saturday after that two-goal lead." Borek says that the Lakers were a bit winded after using special teams so much of the weekend.
"I think we really fatigued, and they took advantage of us the second half of the second game."
In the 3-3 tie, the Lakers had a 2-0 lead and allowed the Irish to come back with three unanswered goals. It was Jason Sessa’s goal at 18:32 in the third period, when the Lakers were up on the power play and had pulled their goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage, that tied the game.
"We got some great play from Terry Marchant. We had good leadership, both in games and in the locker room." Marchant was named CCHA Offensive Player of the Week for his play against Notre Dame. In the Friday game, he assisted on Lake State’s first two goals and he scored the game-winner. In the 3-3 tie, he scored the first goal of the game and assisted on Sessa’s third-period goal.
Borek says that his upperclassmen are adjusting to the leadership roles they need to assume for this young team. "We were really lacking in that early. That happens when you have 10 or 11 freshmen and they’re looking for someone to follow. Now [the upperclassmen] are giving us options, making the big plays and keeping us in at the end of the games."
Also helping the Laker effort is rookie goaltender Rob Galatiuk. "He’s playing consistently, and consistently giving us a chance to stay in the game." In CCHA play, Galatiuk has a respectable 2.58 GAA and a save percentage of .909.
Michigan vs. Lake Superior
The Wolverines return to the top ten this week after defeating both Minnesota and then seventh-ranked Wisconsin in the College Hockey Showcase.
"We had good results," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "We played pretty well. I can’t tell you we played any better than Minnesota or Wisconsin, but we stayed in there and found a way to win.
"Turco was the difference in our first game, and our defense was the difference in the second." Junior goaltender Marty Turco has been the difference in many Michigan games, posting a 2.34 GAA and save percentage of just over 90 percent in 538 league minutes.
The improvement of play in the Michigan defense is a welcome change for the Wolverines, who miss defenders Blake Sloan and Harold Schock as much as they miss the offense they lost to graduation last year. "I’ve got to credit Mike VanRyn, Bubba Berenzweig, Sean Peach and Dave Huntzicker, a walk-on who’s been among our top four defensemen every night. These guys don’t get the stats, but they make a difference for us."
Also making the difference for the Wolverines is Bill Muckalt, who leads the team in scoring with six goals and five assists. Soon to join in will be Matt Herr, who skated this week and is expected to travel with the team to Lake Superior. Herr, a senior who had the potential to have a career year, has been sidelined with a groin injury for the entire season.
"He won’t be able to contribute like we expect him to for a while," says Berenson, who is nevertheless clearly happy that the team captain will be able to finally be a part of the team this season.
Berenson says that Lake Superior’s statistics say little about the team his Wolverines will face this weekend. "They’ll bounce back from a slow start. I expect it will be a tough game."
One advantage the Lakers have is home ice. "It’s wild," says Berenson. "It’s a tough place to play."
Borek says that Taffy Abel Arena sells out for every Michigan game. "The fans are really into it every time Michigan comes to town."
After flexing a little CCHA muscle, the Lakers have the ability to score, but it remains to be seen whether they can score against Marty Turco. Even though Michigan’s defense is the Wolverines’ weakest link, the last line of that defense is Turco, and he’s been on his game nearly every night.
The advantage of the Michigan offense and goaltending may be a wash in a rowdy, packed Abel Arena. Michigan will have to take the Lakers off their game to win this one.
PICK: Michigan 4-2
Miami vs. Lake Superior
"We have not played well at home," says Laker head coach Scott Borek. "We haven’t had our best goaltending at home, and the team hasn’t responded well to that."
Borek says that the Lakers are looking forward to offering Miami a better welcome than the one the RedHawks had last season. "Last year was unfortunate. For the first time we’d filled the arena against Miami and we had this huge snow storm. They closed the bridge, so a lot of people stayed away. And we played some of our best hockey in that game."
Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni has a story about that game, too. He says that because of weather conditions and a timid bus driver more used to southern Ohio than the Upper Peninsula, his team got to the rink at 6:15 p.m., and had to immediately take the ice for pregame warm-ups.
That was Jan. 17, and the Lakers won that game 5-2.
"To beat Miami," says Borek, "we have to play our absolute best game." Although the Lakers seem to be improving as the season progresses, receiving solid goaltending from Rob Galatiuk and good leadership from Terry Marchant, Ted Laviolette and Jason Sessa, the inconsistency with which the Lakers have played will be something the RedHawks will be able to exploit.
Mazzoleni says he looks forward to this weekend of play on the road. It’s the RedHawks’ first real road trip this season, and the ‘Hawks have only played seven CCHA games. "We need some time on the road to help the team bond," says Mazzoleni.
With their depth and their confidence, Miami should win this one, avenging the snow bowl of the 17th.
PICK: Miami 5-2
Bowling Green (2-12-2, 1-7-2 CCHA) at No. 1 Michigan State (12-1-2, 7-1-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., and Sunday, 4 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, MI
It’s the battle between what’s up and what’s down.
Eleven league points separate Michigan State and Bowling Green, but it’s more than mere statistics that keeps these two teams a world apart.
After bringing home just one point from a three-game trip to Alaska last weekend, the Falcons will be tired and down.
In contrast, the Spartans beat both No. 10 Wisconsin and Minnesota in the College Hockey Showcase last weekend. With a little help from arch-rival Michigan, Michigan State showed the world how good CCHA hockey can be.
This series is a study in contrasts. In league play, Michigan State is outscoring opponents 30-16, while Bowling Green has been outscored by league opponents 43-25.
In league play, Michigan State is a combined +60. Bowling Green is at -86.
In league play, Michigan State’s goaltending has an overall 1.76 GAA and a .905 save percentage — and nearly all of that is Chad Alban. When facing CCHA opponents, Bowling Green’s combined GAA is 4.22, and Mike Savard and Shawn Timm have a combined save percentage of .846.
Just two weeks ago, Michigan State beat Bowling Green in Ohio, holding the Falcons to 10 shots on goal.
Although Spartan head coach Ron Mason says, "When we played them down there, they showed us they were a good team," he’s more concerned with his own team than with the Falcons.
"I’m more worried about how we play than about them," Mason says. "From our standpoint, we’re just trying to stay in first place."
A big concern for the Spartans is the loss of Bryan Adams, who will be out quite a while with a broken collarbone. Adams is tied for the team lead in points (12) with Mike York.
In league scoring, Dan Price leads all Falcons with 12 points. He’s the only Falcon with league points in the double digits, though the Falcons have also seen good play up front from Curtis Valentine, Adam Edinger and Brad Holzinger. Still, no one but Price has emerged as a true offensive threat in league play.
Mason says, "You just never know when you play another team in this league exactly what’s going to happen."
But, if history is any indication, the Spartans will shut down the Falcon offense — as the Spartans have done against many teams this season. And unless the Falcons can keep their collective heads, watch for Michigan State to exploit that frustration, and for Bowling Green to take spend time it can’t afford in the penalty box.
Spartan fans, bring your brooms.
PICKS: Michigan State 4-3, 4-1