This Week in the CCHA: January 9, 1998

And the most interesting place this weekend is once again the middle of the CCHA pack, where just six points, ambition and a little luck separate the ninth-place team from the fifth-place team.

No. 6 Michigan is a team with little to prove. After losing the GLI to Michigan State, the Wolverines swept the weekend and the season against Ohio State at home, a 4-2 televised win and a 6-0 shutout. Michigan leads the league with 23 points. This week the Wolverines host the unpredictable Bowling Green Falcons and travel to play Western Michigan.

After winning the GLI, No. 3 Michigan State traveled to Alaska-Fairbanks last weekend, where they split with the Nanooks, losing 6-4 and winning 6-2. Michigan State looks to prove that loss a fluke when Northern Michigan comes to Munn for two this weekend.

The Spartans and No. 4 Miami share identical league records, so the teams are tied for second place, each with 19 CCHA points in 13 games played. After beating Notre Dame 3-1 Friday and skating to a 2-2 tie against the Irish Saturday, the RedHawks feel they have little to prove — even if no one believes them. This week Miami hosts Ferris State and Lake Superior.

With 18 points in 15 games, Northern Michigan is one of the CCHA’s enigmas, beating Bowling Green 6-5 in overtime and losing to Ferris State 5-2 last weekend, both at home. Northern Michigan is like a shadowy film noir figure: you just don’t know what it’s going to do next. The Wildcats travel to East Lansing for two this weekend.

Lake Superior is the CCHA’s Team of the Moment. After winning the Rensselaer Invitational, the Lakers beat Bowling Green at home, 6-2. This team may not even have to prove it’s legitimate after a sluggish start to the season; other CCHA teams are believers already. The Lakers — who with 17 points are just a hair behind Northern Michigan — travel through Ohio for games with OSU and Miami.

Ferris State is a darned good 7-10-3 team, and they can prove it. The Bulldogs beat Northern Michigan 5-2 on the road last weekend. This weekend, the Bulldogs — just two points behind Lake Superior — head to Ohio to face the same opponents as the Lakers, on opposite nights.

Notre Dame is just two points behind Ferris State, as last weekend the Irish lost to and tied Miami at home. This weekend the Irish go all the way to Alaska to try to prove they are playoff contenders.

The other CCHA enigma is Ohio State, who lost a close 4-2 game to Michigan in Yost on Friday, then took a punishing 6-0 loss to the Wolverines Saturday. The Buckeyes are a point behind Notre Dame, and want to prove this weekend against Lake Superior and Ferris State at home that they’re better than their four-game losing streak might suggest.

The Nanooks proved last weekend that the cliche is true: on any given night in this league, any team can beat — or be beaten by — any other team. Alaska-Fairbanks surprised Michigan State at home by splitting with the third-ranked team in the nation, a 6-4 win Friday and a 6-2 loss Saturday. The Nanooks, with 11 points, want to prove that the distance — both geographic and in the rankings — is something they can overcome.

Western Michigan is the coldest team in the CCHA right now, but that doesn’t prove a thing. The Broncos dropped two games last weekend to No. 2 North Dakota, 12-5 and 5-1, both on the road. The Broncos host Michigan for one game this week.

Bowling Green has proven that what goes around comes around. The Falcons are playing much better after a slow start, taking Northern Michigan to overtime (and losing 6-5) on the road, and losing to Lake 6-2. The Falcons are a long shot for the playoffs with just six points, but never, ever count a Buddy Powers team out until the last whistle has blown.

Last week’s record in picks: 9-2 Overall record in picks: 65-47

Lake Superior at Ohio State Friday, 7 p.m., OSU Ice Rink, Columbus, OH Lake Superior at No. 4 Miami Saturday, 7 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford OH

The Lakers have a six-game win streak on the line this weekend, but if you took a look at Lake Superior’s record for the first 13 games of the season, you might be a bit thrown by their recent success.

From the start of the season through Dec. 5, the Lakers were 4-7-2, a spotty spell that culminated with a 7-0 loss to Michigan on national television.

(The last time Lake and Michigan played on television, on Feb. 21 of last year, Michigan won 8-0 in Yost. Note to Scott Borek: stop playing the Wolverines on television.)

Since beating Miami in 4-3 in overtime on December 6, however, the Lakers have been, well, unbeatable. But don’t tell head coach Borek that the team didn’t begin to turn it around before that game.

"First of all, you can’t include that Michigan game — that game was just a blip," says Borek. The coach insists that the team was slowly building to the point at which they could defeat top-ten Miami.

"Early on I think we were young in goal, and we were young on defense. I think we got out of the gate slow and the weight of expectation was heavy on us."

With 10 rookies and nine sophomores, this is a team that had a lot of adjusting to do at the start of the season. And Borek says that Lake Superior attracts talented players but not the marquee players that bigger schools in less remote places can get. "We’re not Michigan so, frankly, we don’t get the best recruits in the country."

After beating Miami, the Lakers swept Ohio State at home, then took the Rensselaer Invitational tournament (eliminating then-tenth ranked Yale in the process). Last week Lake beat Bowling Green.

But don’t call this team hot.

"To be brutally honest," says Borek, "all we are right now is competitive. We are by no means a team that is going to make the playoffs. I still think on paper that Ohio State and Notre Dame are better hockey teams than we are right now. We still have a long way to go."

In a town where hockey is the only game, Borek was concerned earlier in the season that the criticism of loyal and vocal Laker fans might hurt his young players before they had the chance to get used to playing in the CCHA. Now, he worries that the flood of opposite sentiments might get in the way of a team not yet used to winning.

"I think we’re handling success better. We’re not getting caught up in anything. Our players and coaches realize it’s not the last six, but only the next one that matters."

>Lake Superior at Ohio State

With their two wins over the Buckeyes earlier in the season, the Lakers have a 22-game unbeaten streak against the Buckeyes riding on this one little game, maybe the last chance this Buckeye senior class has to beat Lake Superior.

That Buckeye winless streak is second only to the Buckeye winless streak against Michigan (more on that later).

Ah…the last remaining vestiges of the Jerry Walsh years. But I digress.

Don’t talk about unbeaten streaks to Borek either. He doesn’t think his team’s chances against the Buckeyes this weekend are particularly good, especially since the game is being played in the tiny little Buckeye barn known simply as the OSU Ice Rink.

But veteran Buckeyes call it The War Memorial.

(Ah…the last remaining vestiges…)

"You have to be pretty mature to go into that building and win," says Borek. "Every shot from the red line is a grade-A opportunity."

When last these two teams met in Columbus, the games were played at the Expo Center/Fairgrounds Coliseum, a much bigger ice surface than the War Memorial. There are 19 players on the Laker squad who have never even seen the inside of the little rink.

"At home," says Borek, "we can make a mistake…and recover. You can’t make a mistake in that little rink and expect to recover."

It’s more than just the rink, says Borek. "Ohio State dominated us here. For five periods, they flat-out outplayed us."

Buckeye head coach John Markell won’t argue with that. "We dominated in Sault Ste. Marie. But we couldn’t score."

After losing two games to Michigan last weekend –t he first games the Buckeyes had played since their two losses to Lake before the break — Markell knows that his team needs to change direction.

"We’re going to try to nip things in the bud here. We’re a little frustrated right now. We’re frustrated by outshooting teams and not scoring.

"Frustration brings on tension and tension bears on your performance."

Markell knows how frustration can tangle up a team; the Bucs let frustration get in the way of playing well in a 6-0 loss to Michigan Saturday. But the coach says that it’s unfair to judge a team by one game against Michigan (Borek won’t argue with that), and he’s pleased with the efforts of his players.

"They’re trying hard. We took some stupid penalties [against Michigan], and you’re not going to beat anyone from the penalty box."

Markell says that turning things around for the Buckeyes is "a matter of bearing down. We have to score more than six goals in four hockey games."

Through the first half of the season, Hugo Boisvert (8-15–23), Eric Meloche (12-7–19) and Chris Richards (8-10–18) were on fire for the Buckeyes. Boisvert and Meloche play on the Bucs’ first line, and Richards on the second.

Of those three, only Boisvert had a point against the Wolverines, an assist on the power play.

Plenty of offensive opportunities, no finishing.

As in years past, goaltending remains consistently good for the Buckeyes. Jeff Maund has started since the Bucs’ 3-2 loss to Notre Dame in November, but Ray Aho remains strong in relief. Overall, the pair is combining for a GAA of 3.03 and a save percentage of .896.

For the Lakers, seniors Terry Marchant (12-18–30) and Joe Blaznek (12-6–18) and junior Jason Sessa (11-9-20) lead the team in scoring.

In league scoring, each team has two players among the top eleven: Marchant leads all players in CCHA scoring with 24 points. Sessa, Boisvert and Richards are also among the league’s top 11.

In goal for the Lakers, rookie Rob Galatiuk has been steady, and rookie Jayme Platt made an impressive first start for the Lakers in a 5-0 win over No. 10 Yale in the Rensselaer Invitational. Combined, the duo boasts a .901 save percentage and a GAA of 2.82.

On paper, the two teams look more even than not, but the intangibles will play a big role in this game.

"I think they’re on a roll. We expect them to play pretty well," says Markell of the Lakers. "They’ll be playing with a lot of confidence, and that can be dangerous. We have to get into the game early."

If Ohio State can play its game, in its War Memorial, the Buckeyes will break their four-game losing streak and that nasty winless streak against the Lakers.

If the Lakers keep their heads and thwart Buckeye scoring opportunities, it will be one very long night for a frustrated Ohio State team.

PICK: Ohio State 5-3

Lake Superior at No. 4 Miami

Neither Scott Borek nor Mark Mazzoleni said he could comment on this game; both said they were looking only at their next game, Ohio State for the Lakers and Ferris State for Miami.

Since they can’t comment, we can speculate: this will be a stunningly good game.

Over the last four years, Miami owns a slight edge over Lake Superior, 52-47-10, including this season’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Lakers in the Soo.

While the Lakers have Marchant and Sessa among the league’s top ten scorers, Miami has Adam Copeland (9-9, 18) and Dan Boyle (7-9, 16). Blaznek has 12 league points for the Lakers, but the RedHawks have four more players — Tim Leahy (16), Alex Kim (14), Marc Tropper (14), and Dustin Whitecotton (14) — in league double digits.

Defensively, Miami has an edge with Boyle, Josh Harrold, and Josh Mizerek. In net for the RedHawks, Trevor Prior and Ian Olsen are fourth and fifth in the league stats, respectively, among goaltenders with more than 60 minutes in net. The two have a combined GAA of 2.44 and a combined save percentage of .906 in league play.

This game pits the best league power play, Miami’s 23.6 percent, against the league’s best penalty-killing unit: Lake Superior’s 91.3 percent.

Miami has home-ice advantage (no small matter in Goggin), and the desire to go into the toughest part of the schedule (six games remaining against Michigan and Michigan State) on an up note.

Lake Superior has momentum to spare, but may be flat after a tough effort — win or lose — against Ohio State Friday.

PICK: Miami 4-3

Ferris State at No. 4 Miami Friday, 7 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford OH Ferris State at Ohio State Saturday, 7 p.m., OSU Ice Rink, Columbus, OH

Miami was limited to just five goals last weekend in South Bend, beating the Irish 3-1 Friday and skating to a 2-2 overtime tie Saturday. The guns of the Miami offense don’t like to stay quiet(ish) for very long.

The flip side of that trip is that the RedHawks limited a tough Notre Dame team — albeit without Ben Simon — to just three goals in two games. And the ‘Hawks did it without their senior captain, defenseman Todd Rohloff. Rohloff injured his wrist in the Denver Cup, and may miss the rest of the season.

Ferris State had a decisive 5-2 win over Northern Michigan last Saturday, a week after a good showing in the Pepsi Tournament, where the Bulldogs beat Western Michigan 9-1 in the first round, and lost to No. 2 North Dakota 6-3 in the title game.

Ferris needs to keep getting those league points every weekend in order to stay with the middle of the CCHA pack.

Ferris State at No. 4 Miami

Don’t let the score from the last time these two teams met fool you. That was a 6-2 home loss for Ferris State to Miami, but it doesn’t tell the story of this team.

At least Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni doesn’t think so. "That 6-2 game we played against them — we thought that was unusual for them.

"We expect them to play us tough. It’s going to be a dogfight. That’s probably the best way to put it."

Ferris State assistant coach Drew Famulak is optimistic with the direction of the Bulldogs, especially with the direction of the Bulldog offense.

"We’ve been playing well. Nine [goals] against Western, three against North Dakota, five against Northern. We’re starting to see some continuity offensively."

Ask Famulak why the offense has stepped up its game, and he has a one-name answer: "Joel Irwin."

In overall play, the junior forward has 24 points (11-13). Next in scoring for the Bulldogs is Rookie Kevin Swider with 21.

But if you look at league play, Irwin is also three points ahead of Swider, but — seemingly — miles ahead of the rest of his teammates. Only five Bulldogs, including Irwin and Swider, have points totaling in the double digits in league play.

Against Northern Michigan last week, Irwin and Swider had three of Ferris State’s five goals; Swider assisted on Irwin’s two goals, and Irwin assisted on Swider’s goal.

All of this may add up to a dependence on just one line to get the Bulldogs through each game. Consider also that the Bulldogs are allowing nearly as many goals as they’re scoring, a statistic to note when playing against a team that is outscoring opponents 56-32.

Famulak says the Bulldogs know what they have to do to win in Goggin. "We have to shut down their power play, and defensively we have to be very strong."

The Bulldogs have improved defensively this season from the net out, thanks in part to rookie goaltender Vince Owen. Owen’s numbers are good; he’s saving 88 percent of the shots he faces, including 33 saves against the Wildcats last week.

"He’s solidified himself as our number-one guy," says Famulak. "Our goaltending was suspect last year and that was one of the things we needed to work on."

Mazzoleni says that Rohloff’s injury gives rookie Trent Wolford a chance to play. "If there’s a silver lining to this, it’s that a freshman will be getting some experience. And other people will have to step up."

It is true that on any given night any given team, blah, blah, blah. And Ferris State could upset the No. 4 RedHawks, blah, blah, blah.

PICK: Miami 5-3

Ferris State at Ohio State

Here’s a game that you should see, if you’re within driving distance of Columbus, Ohio.

These two teams share similar strengths and problems. They’ve both played up to their potential…and down to their potential.

In short, there’s no way to predict how this game will be played, or how it will end.

It’s been so long since these teams have played each other that the last time they met, there could have been little to foretell how well these teams would be playing this season.

These two teams haven’t seen each other since each was in a real rut, merely hoping to make the 1996-97 playoffs.

These two teams haven’t seen each other since the first half of the 1996-97 season, if you discount last season’s Pepsi Tournament.

Ohio State won the series last year, but Ferris State won the last game that counted toward league play last season, 5-3.

What a difference a year makes. Both of these teams should be getting points every weekend. Both of these teams should make some moves this weekend.

Ferris State has 15 points to Ohio State’s 12; unless Ferris State loses both games and Ohio State wins both games this weekend, the Bulldogs will remain ahead of the Buckeyes for another week.

Ferris State has momentum and a kind of league respectability that Ohio State lacks. Ohio State has the advantage of its little War Memorial and a couple of lines hungry for points.

Each team has the tendency to rely almost solely on its first line to carry a game. Even with Ferris State’s impressive junior class (nine forwards), Ohio State may be deeper offensively.

The Buckeyes may have the edge in net as well. Maund is the real thing, and Ray Aho — who should start once in a while — is no slouch, either.

Defensively, Ferris State probably has the advantage. The Buckeyes are shallow defensively, and blue-line turnovers can lead to goals very quickly in the little rink.

Oh, don’t make me call this game….

pick: ohio state 4-3

Notre Dame at Alaska-Fairbanks Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. AT, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK

The Nanooks must be feeling pretty good after beating Michigan State 6-4 Friday.

So, they lost to the Spartans 6-2 Saturday. They scored six goals against Chad Alban! And they beat the number-three team in the country!

And this week they’re fighting for points just to make the playoffs.

The good new for the Nanooks is that they’re playing at home, where, seemingly, they can beat anyone. Five of their six wins have been at home (the road win was over Lake State).

More good news: the Nanooks own the series with Notre Dame, 11-4-0 since 1985.

More good news: Sjon Wynia and rookie Jim Lawrence are having great seasons. Wynia leads the team in scoring in league play (11-10–21); Lawrence has 16 points in 18 CCHA games.

The bad news for the Nanooks: a combined GAA of 4.66, and a combined save percentage of .854 by Ian Perkins and Chris Marvel in league play.

More bad news: Ben Simon’s back from the juniors, and he can score. In 12 league games, Simon has 13 points.

More bad news: minus 123, and that’s not the temperature in Fairbanks.

It may very well be that the Nanooks will be overmatched, but it doesn’t mean that they’ll lose. Illogical? Try traveling to Alaska and winning. Ask Ron Mason what it’s like.

And the Nanooks are desperate for points.

PICKS: UAF 4-2; Notre Dame 4-2; UAF 5-4

Northern Michigan at No. 3 Michigan State Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, MI

Michigan State head coach Ron Mason talked about what it’s like to win the GLI, and instead of going to home to play at Munn, boarding a plane in the dark right away to travel to Alaska.

What should’ve been an upper — breaking Michigan’s nine-year GLI streak and winning it yourself for the first time since 1985 — became a moment of pleasure before a long cross-continent trip.

"It’s a tough trip for anybody who’s not used to doing it," says Mason. "With our lineup the way it is, we were happy with two points."

The Spartans’ were without top-scoring Mike York (U.S. National Junior Team) and Shawn Horcoff (injury) in Alaska.

"It’s a good thing York’s back, because he’s our only center," says Mason. Additionally, Sean Berens and his 13 league points will miss Friday’s game against Northern Michigan because of a game disqualification in the second game against UAF.

Mason sounds disgusted when he passes along all this Spartan news. "I’m not in the best of moods."

That mood could turn around with two wins over Northern Michigan — something Michigan State should be able to accomplish this weekend. But who knows?

"They’re a very good team," says Mason. "They’re a team that’s surprised a few people, but they’re legitimate."

Northern squeaked by Bowling Green 6-5 in overtime at home last week, then lost to Ferris State at home, 5-2.

This trip to East Lansing marks the Wildcats second big road trip of the year. The last time they were this far afield, the ‘Cats split a series with Miami in Oxford.

The Wildcats are capable of spreading the scoring around, and are scoring on average more than three goals per game in league play. Fred Mattersdorfer leads the Wildcats in league scoring with 12 points. Three other ‘Cats — J.P. Vigier, Roger Trudeau and Buddy Smith — each have 10 points in league play.

In order to score, however, the Wildcats will have to get by Michigan State’s amazing defense, and they’ll have to do it in Munn. They may score, but win at Munn? Unlikely.

Friday’s game could be a tough, spare (no pun intended) defensive battle, since the Michigan State defense will be well aware they need to carry the game.

PICKS: Michigan State: 2-0, 3-2

Bowling Green at No. 7 Michigan Friday, 7 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI

Quick — name two CCHA teams with players facing felony charges.

If you said Bowling Green and Michigan, give yourself a gold star.

Last week, you read about senior Bowling Green forward Dan Price, who pleaded no contest to vehicular manslaughter charges stemming from a summer accident in which Price’s passenger was killed.

Price was suspended pending weekly review, and BG head coach Buddy Powers said of the incident, "In our team rules, you’ve got to be responsible for your actions…we want him to take some time and reflect about what’s going on in his life."

The Jan. 7 Detroit News reported that Michigan’s Chris Fox will be charged with assault with intent to do great bodily harm — a felony stemming from a summer league game at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills in June.

Fox allegedly slashed another player in the face after play was whistled dead in a no-check league. The Detroit Free Press reported on the same day that the alleged victim has undergone two surgeries to repair damage to his mouth, and may need more.

If convicted, Fox could get up to ten years in prison.

Michigan head coach Red Berenson is quoted in the News as saying, "It happened last summer, but it has nothing to do with our team."

Michigan sports information could not be reached about Fox’s status for the weekend.

What does this have to do with the game between Bowling Green and Michigan? One team’s without a player, and now the Bowling Green players have nasty things with which to taunt Fox — not that they would do so — should he play this weekend.

Michigan beat Ohio State 4-2 and 6-0 last weekend. With the Saturday shutout, Marty Turco tied a couple of records…maybe you heard? Turco tied the NCAA West Regional record for career shutouts with 13 (Denver’s Gerry Powers, 1966-69), and — as everyone who reads USCHO knows — tied former Wolverine Steve Shields’ NCAA Division I record for wins with 111.

Aside from proving Turco’s worth — and he’s had a brilliant season — this means one more thing:

Congratulations, Bowling Green! You’re number 112!

In spite of Bowling Green’s recent resurgence, no one can beat Michigan in their next game, simply because of this record. But since Bowling Green is making the trip to Yost, let’s talk about how well they’ve played in front of rookie goaltender Shawn Timm.

With Timm in net, they’ve tied Alaska-Fairbanks, and beaten Michigan State and Vermont. They also took Northern to overtime last weekend on the road before losing 6-5.

Timm has a respectable GAA of 3.41 and a save percentage of .890.

In league play, the Falcons sit collectively at minus 100, and only one player other than Dan Price — Adam Edinger — has 10 league points.

Given the parity of the CCHA this season, it may be too early to write off the Falcons. But even if Bowling Green can make a run for the playoffs, it won’t begin in Yost.

PICK: Michigan 5-1

No. 7 Michigan at Western Michigan Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI

The good news for Western Michigan: the Broncos scored six goals against No. 2 North Dakota on the road last Friday.

The bad news: North Dakota totaled nearly triple that number.

Last weekend, North Dakota outscored Western Michigan 17-6. This is very bad news indeed for a team that has depended on its fabled defensive core, especially when offense has been nonexistent.

And that’s what’s essentially missing from Western Michigan’s game — offense. It’s unlikely that Michigan will score a dozen goals against Western, but it doesn’t matter how many the Wolverines can score if the Broncos can’t score any.

In their four league wins, the Broncos have scored fewer goals (36) than any other CCHA team except for Bowling Green. In overall play, the Broncos have been outscored by opponents 78-49.

In league play, only two Broncos have scored in the double digits. Frank Novock leads the team with nine goals and four assists, and Chuck Mindel has no goals but 11 assists.

As Elmer Fudd would say, "There’s something screwy around here," because at the other end of the rink, Matt Barnes is playing his heart out, with a league GAA of 2.81 and a league save percentage of .902.

The last time the Broncos were on the ‘W’ side of a game was against Lake Superior at home…on November 14th, a 4-3 OT win. Since then, Western Michigan has lost 11 in a row.

What else do you need to know about Michigan? That Bill Muckalt (22-17–39) is having a career season? That Bobby Hayes (12-10–22) is an unsung hero? That rookie Mike Van Ryn is back from Team Canada and as a defenseman is a legitimate candidate for rookie of the year?

That Marty Turco (1.93 GAA, .920 CCHA) broke the record for NCAA Division I wins by a goaltender the night before this game?

PICK: Michigan 5-2