At many schools, players are either taking finals this week or preparing to take them next week. The two teams that travel farthest this week by bus, Northern Michigan and Ohio State, warm up the bus only after players have finished finals.
Finals. Christmas. Family. Mom’s cooking. Who wouldn’t be distracted?
One coach confided, "I hate this week." He could have been speaking for the whole lot of them.
This week there are four good-to-dynamite conference series, and a nonconference pairing that will give fans at each school some good hockey.
No. 5 Miami hosts Northern Michigan this week. Last week the RedHawks were in the Wildcats’ general neighborhood, where they beat Ferris State 6-2 and lost in overtime to Lake Superior 4-3. These teams are tied for points in the CCHA with 14.
Ohio State travels to Lake Superior for two in the Soo, where they haven’t won in Santa-knows-how-long. In addition to beating Miami, the Lakers dropped a 7-0 game to Michigan last weekend. At home last week, the Bucs took two from Alaska-Fairbanks, 8-3 and 4-0 . These two teams are separated by just a point.
No. 7 Michigan and Western Michigan meet for a home-home series, with Western’s "home" being Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids. Michigan beat Lake Superior 7-0 last weekend, and Western dropped two to Notre Dame, 2-1 and 4-2.
Ferris State travels to Fairbanks for two this weekend. Last weekend the Bulldogs were beaten by Miami, while the Nanooks lost two to Ohio State.
In nonconference play, Notre Dame travels to Wisconsin for one game on Wednesday, then returns home to host the Badgers Friday. Notre Dame topped Western twice last weekend, while the WCHA’s Badgers are looking for their first win in five tries.
After splitting a series last weekend, both No. 2 Michigan State and Bowling Green have the weekend off.
Last week’s record in picks: 6-3 Overall record in picks: 51-42
Northern Michigan (7-4-3, 6-3-2 CCHA) at No. 5 Miami (10-2-0, 7-2-0 CCHA) 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH
Miami comes home after splitting on its first road-trip weekend, winning 6-2 over Ferris State and losing 4-3 to Lake Superior in overtime.
Of the Ferris State game, Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni says, "We executed exactly what we had to do against them. We were able to get a quick lead on them and put them in the position to (try to) come from behind."
On Saturday, Lake did to Miami what Miami did to Ferris. After Joe Blaznek’s goal at 1:59 of the second period, the Lakers led the RedHawks 3-0. In the second period, the ‘Hawks scored three unanswered goals of their own, and a scoreless third period forced the overtime. But Blaznek’s goal at 1:19 of OT — on the power play — gave the Lakers the upset.
"We came out flat in the first," says Mazzoleni. "I thought we played pretty well in the second and third periods."
The loss was only the second in CCHA for the RedHawks, who’ll be loath to give up any more points at home this weekend as they host the Wildcats.
"We’re at home, and they’re the last games before break," says Mazzoleni. "They’re crucial points."
Both the ‘Hawks and the ‘Cats have 14 points, but having played only nine conference games, Miami has two in hand on Northern.
This is Mazzoleni’s first encounter with Northern Michigan, so he says he has little idea of what to expect. "They’re a team that’s rebuilding, rebuilding the image of their program. They have a quick attack. [Comley’s] teams play with a lot of spunk; they finish their checks. They’re a physical team."
Perhaps as the Northern Michigan team bus passes through Columbus, the Wildcats will jeer at the only team able to deliver two home losses to the ‘Cats, Ohio State. That was two weeks ago, when Northern lost 5-1 and 5-4 to the Buckeyes in Marquette. After having last week off, this squad needs points to go into the break on a positive note.
Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley doesn’t say much about the losses to Ohio State. "It was disappointing, but they have a good team….We have a young team and the quality of play is going to go up and down because of that."
Comley knows what his team is facing on this first major road trip of the Wildcat season. "Obviously, they have an outstanding team. We’ll have to play very well in order to win."
One interesting stat to look at in this series is the plus/minus. Northern Michigan is plus-80 in CCHA play, and Miami is plus-84. What does that mean? Each team spreads its scoring around, which could means that fans in Oxford could see a variety of players on each side light the lamp.
Defense may be the difference in this game, between two teams whose players can score, but don’t underestimate that Miami offense. Tim Leahy is tied for second in scoring in CCHA games with 15 points (9-6). Other ‘Hawks in double digits in scoring include Adam Copeland and Dan Boyle (13), Marc Tropper and Dustin Whitecotton (12), Alex Kim (11) and Gregor Krajnc (10). That’s seven RedHawks with points in the double digits — again, in just nine games.
Roger Trudeau, Fred Mattersdorfer and Buddy Smith lead the Wildcats in CCHA scoring, each with nine points in 11 games.
Miami’s Trevor Prior and Northern’s Duane Hoey are neck-and-neck in CCHA goaltending stats. In Prior’s seven games played (6-2-0), his GAA is 2.19 and his save percentage is a healthy .912. Hoey has eight full games this season (5-2-1), where he’s posted a GAA of 2.52 and a save percentage of .889.
After an early-season schedule that has seen many games at home, Comley says his players are "looking forward to getting on the road, to seeing other parts of the league."
There’s not much to see in Oxford besides some nice rolling hills and the inside of a smallish rink, and the Wildcat opinion of teams from Ohio may not improve one bit after this weekend of play.
PICKS: Miami 5-2, 4-2
Ohio State (9-6-1, 6-5-0 CCHA) at Lake Superior (5-7-3, 4-5-3 CCHA) 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday, Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI
"We’re a team searching for an identity," says Lake Superior head coach Scott Borek. "We play one good game, one bad game on a weekend. I really like the way we persevere through difficult times.
"We’re the classic case of a team that’s one game over .500. If we can get over that hump, we’ll be all right."
At home last weekend, Lake Superior lost a 7-0 game to Michigan, a result that didn’t look likely when the Lakers trailed by just two goals at the end of two.
"It was disappointing," says Borek. "It was two-nothing after two. I thought that if we got the next goal, we’d have a chance.
"You just can’t give Michigan any chances. You certainly can’t give Bill Muckalt and Matt Herr chances."
The loss was even tougher to swallow considering that Lake Superior had taken three points from favored Notre Dame the weekend before. It was also hard in front of a packed, Wolverine-hating crowd on national television.
"Sometimes," says Borek, "you find out some things about yourself, about players, and about the whole team from those games."
The Lakers must be quick studies. The following night, Lake Superior beat No. 5 Miami (formerly No. 4 Miami) 4-3 in overtime.
"Miami got a slow start," says Borek. "We got up three nothing. We scored the third goal in the second period, and I thought if we just maintained our defensive posture we’d take the game."
After Lake Superior’s three unanswered goals, Miami answered — with three of its own. The game was tied 3-3 after two.
"It was a potential disaster. We took a five-minute major in the third period and I thought we were cooked because their power play is so good," says Borek. "We got some great momentum out of killing that."
To get over that hump that Borek talks about, the Lakers have to get by Ohio State, another team that’s riding a wave of momentum.
"This weekend is obviously important to us," says Ohio State head coach John Markell. With just a point between the teams, this weekend is important for everyone on the ice. These games have playoff implications.
"We have to maintain pace with everybody else," says Borek. "It’s a challenge on the road, and if we play well, there’s a possibility they’ll get some points."
The Buckeyes can afford some modesty, given their four-game league win streak — their best start in over a dozen years — and the near-total lack of press coverage in Columbus, home to the ghost of Woody Hayes.
Judging by the cheering at Ohio State home games, long-suffering fans know that they’re watching something good even if CCHA fans around the league have a tough time believing what they’re seeing in the standings.
It was, perhaps, that little bit of disbelief that put Alaska-Fairbanks off in its first game against Ohio State last weekend. The Nanooks were so frustrated that a pile-on ensued behind the visiting net. Initial reports that OSU player Chris Richards was at the bottom of the pile were erroneous; according the Richards, it was linemate Dan Cousineau on the bottom of the heap.
The Richards-Cousineau combination gives the Buckeyes offensive depth not seen on this team for years and years. While Hugo Boisvert sits alone atop the CCHA in league scoring this week with 16 points — aided by Quebecois linemates Eric Meloche and Jean-Francois Dufour — Richards and Cousineau have been quietly contributing to the Buckeye success.
For his seven points on the weekend against Alaska-Fairbanks, Richards is the reigning CCHA Offensive Player of the Week. With five goals and nine assists, he is tied for third in CCHA scoring.
"Right now Chris Richards is our most valuable player," says Markell. "Dan Cousineau has matured. He knows he’s a key component in our play. He learned defense last year, and that helps him up front."
Markell believes that if the Buckeyes are to be successful against Lake Superior, they can’t sit back and watch the first line of Boisvert, Meloche and Dufour carry the team. "If we can get two lines going, if we can get points from other lines, we stand a good chance."
Borek is well aware of the new-found offensive potential of this Buckeye team. "Like Michigan, Ohio State plays an up-tempo game. Our hope is that we can make it a very slow game."
In addition to the Buckeye offense, Ohio State has two competent goaltenders in Ray Aho and Jeff Maund. The rookie Maund is hot now, tied for third with Miami’s Trevor Prior in the wins category with eight, behind only Chad Alban (13) and Marty Turco (12). That’s some company.
For Lake Superior, fellow rookie Rob Galatiuk posts respectable numbers himself, with a 2.94 GAA and a save percentage of .893. The Lakers also have firepower up front, as both Jason Sessa and Terry Marchant have 11 points in CCHA play.
For several seasons, the Lakers have owned the Buckeyes. You have to go back to the 1991-92 season for an Ohio State victory over Lake Superior, and since then, the Buckeyes have been 0-16-3 against the Lakers.
Perhaps, if the Buckeyes have been really, really good boys, Santa will come through for them in the Soo this weekend.
PICKS: Ohio State 5-2, Lake Superior 4-3
No. 7 Michigan (12-3-1, 7-2-1 CCHA) at Western Michigan (5-9-2, 4-9-1 CCHA) 7 p.m., Friday, Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI Western Michigan at Michigan 7 p.m., Saturday, Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
"On paper," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson, "Western Michigan may have the best defense in the league."
Sometimes even the best defense — along with its accompanying offense — loses games.
Last weekend the Broncos dropped two games to Notre Dame, 2-1 Friday and 4-2 Saturday, though Western head coach Bill Wilkinson says that Saturday was actually the better game of the two for his team.
"Friday we just didn’t play well. Saturday night we played a good game but they got some opportunistic goals."
Western’s problem all season has been an inability to score goals. The Broncos are being outscored 40-32 in league play, and only one Bronco is in double digits in scoring. Time and again, Wilkinson has said that he’d like to see the few players who are playing hard up front get some help.
Frank Novock leads Western with eight goals and three assists. Steve Duke has eight assists and several Broncos have seven points, but the overall news is not great. On the upside, 15 different Broncos have scored at least one goal this season.
Matt Barnes is playing well in net for Western. In league play, Barnes is the only Bronco goaltender of record, with over 800 minutes in net, a GAA of 2.71 and a save percentage of .904.
Barnes is going to need as much help as he can get from the Broncos’ fabled defense and from whatever offensive Western Michigan can muster. With two games against No. 7 Michigan — and neither of them really "home" — these are points that won’t be easy to come by.
Berenson has said repeatedly that Marty Turco, Bill Muckalt and Bobby Hayes have carried the Wolverines this season. Add to that list Matt Herr, who played in the Wolverines’ 7-0 defeat of Lake Superior last weekend, his first game in months after a groin injury.
Herr assisted on two of Muckalt’s three goals in the Lake game. Berenson cautions that Herr won’t be playing up to par for a while, but if he can assist on two goals his first game back, woe betide the team that faces him on his first par night.
It merits saying that Muckalt is having a career season, with nine goals and six assists in league play for a piece of second place in CCHA scoring. "The guy that stands above it all is Bill Muckalt," says Berenson. "He’s been our best player all season."
Wilkinson knows what his team is facing in this series. "In that game against Lake, they scored opportunistic goals. They’ve got good kids up front, and Turco is good in the net."
Turco, with nearly 600 minutes in net, has a GAA of 2.10 and a save percentage of .914.
Berenson is taking nothing for granted in this series. He says of the Broncos, "It seems like they’re a scrappy team. They’re a physical team, and they’ve lost more than their share of close games."
Wilkinson says, "We’ve got to play with the attitude that we can slow them down and take them off their game. They’re a good skating team. And we have to take advantage of our offensive chances."
With only nine points in 14 league games, the Broncos, currently in ninth place, need points this weekend to keep playoff hopes alive. But now that the Wolverines have reentered the top ten, they’ll want to stay awhile.
PICKS: Michigan 4-2, 5-2
Ferris State (4-8-3, 4-5-1 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (4-11-1, 4-9-1 CCHA) 7 p.m. AT, Saturday, 4 p.m. AT Sunday, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK
Don’t let last weekend’s scores fool you. Even though Ferris State lost at home to Miami, 6-2, and Alaska-Fairbanks lost on the road to Ohio State, 8-3 and 4-0, these are two competitive teams, each with something to prove.
Ferris State assistant coach Drew Famulak says that the Miami game "was kind of lost and won in front of the net. They just have some great defensive players, and Prior played a great game."
The shots on goal were a bit more even than the score would indicate — Miami won that battle, 29-24. And even though Ferris was trailing 6-1 in the third, the Bulldogs never gave up, scoring their second goal of the game at 19:32 in the third.
As for the Nanooks, they looked flat against Ohio State on Friday, but bounced back on Sunday to play a very tough game. Chris Marvel played solidly in net, turning away 33 of 37 shots on goal. The game could have gone either way through nearly two periods, until the Buckeyes scored their third with less than a minute left in the second.
Famulak says his team knows something of what to expect in Fairbanks. "The one thing we have to worry about is their power play. We’ll key on our penalty kill in practice this week."
UAF’s Sjon Wynia (7-8–15) and Jeff Trembecky (7-7–14) are among the league’s best scorers. "They incorporate their offensive power well into their overall game plan," says Famulak.
In league play, the Nanooks have given up more goals by far than any other team — 75 in 14 games — while scoring 47. Defensively, there’s room for improvement.
Famulak says that’s the one area where the Bulldogs can also improve. "Defensively we’ve got to play better. We’ve got to compete better from the blue line in."
Rookie goaltender Vince Owen has seen the lion’s share of work between the pipes for Ferris State. He’s allowed an average of 3.48 goals against; Owen’s save percentage is .866, and the team’s overall percentage is .868.
Offensively, Joel Irwin leads the Bulldogs with five goals and seven assists in league play. Kevin Swider is right behind him with five goals and five assists.
The Bulldogs are a much more disciplined team than are the Nanooks, with 111 penalty minutes to UAF’s 171. In fairness, Alaska-Fairbanks has played two more league games than has Ferris State.
Another stat of note: Alaska-Fairbanks is at minus-130 as a team in league play.
The Bulldogs could feel the need to prove that they’re for real this season after not making the playoffs last year. The Nanooks could feel the need to prove that they are a team that can make the playoffs.
PICKS: Ferris State 6-2, Alaska-Fairbanks 3-2
Notre Dame (8-6-2, 5-5-2) at Wisconsin (7-5-0, 7-3-0 WCHA) 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dane County Coliseum, Madison, WI Wisconsin at Notre Dame 7 p.m., Friday, Joyce Arena, South Bend, IN
Dave Poulin is not only pleased with the wins the Irish earned last weekend over Western Michigan, but also the way in which those games were won.
"It was very encouraging," says the Notre Dame head coach. "They were like the games we’ve been involved in but haven’t been able to get a point in."
As every Irish fan knows, Notre Dame lost 12 games by one goal last season, and the Irish have been working on play in close games ever since. Helping the cause has been the senior leadership that Poulin says his team has been looking for along the way.
"Matt Eisler showed a lot of leadership Friday when he wasn’t even on the ice." Poulin says, noting that the senior goaltender was "very supportive" of Forrest Karr.
Having two goaltenders playing well can make a big difference for a team. In almost 200 minutes of league play and a league record of 2-0-1, Karr’s numbers are better than Eisler’s in just over 530 minutes of league play. Karr’s GAA is 1.85, while his save percentage is .912. Eisler’s GAA is 3.25, and his save percentage .893.
Poulin says that Notre Dame looks forward to the strong competition the Irish will see in these two nonconference games. "We’re looking to maintain momentum and to go into the Christmas break. We’ll certainly go into the break on a high CCHA note, but we’d like to go in on a high national note."
In contrast, the Badgers are looking to find some momentum before their brief break. "We’ve lost four games in a row," says Wisconsin head coach Jeff Sauer. "We need a win. We played well enough to win the four games.
"The real downside is that with the exception of one of the three games, we’ve played well defensively. We’re just not generating offense right now and that concerns me. We’re pretty deep at forward."
Junior defenseman Craig Anderson is leading the Badgers in scoring with three goals and 11 assists in overall play. Sophomore winger Dustin Kuk leads the team in goals with five.
Two of the four losses in the Badgers’ four-game streak were at the hands of CCHA and Big Ten rivals, Michigan State and Michigan. In the College Hockey Showcase, the Spartans downed the Badgers 2-0, while the Wolverines beat the Badgers 3-1.
After losing two games to North Dakota last weekend, Sauer says, "I’m not really looking at the opponent [this week]. I’m looking to win."
Senior center Brad Englehart will be out for this series. Englehart has missed three weeks with a concussion.
This week, we’ll pick against last week’s Notre Dame picks.
PICKS: Wisconsin 3-2, Notre Dame 3-2