This week, No. 1 Michigan State hosts two games against No. 5 Miami. With the two points gained from their 4-3 win over Lake Superior, the Spartans now have 28 points, just one behind No. 7 Michigan and two ahead of No. 5 Miami in the CCHA standings. The Spartans also have a game in hand on both teams, making these two games especially interesting.
The RedHawks are red-hot after their two home wins over Michigan, winning 3-1 Friday, and 4-3 Saturday.
Still at the top of the CCHA standings, Michigan has a home-home series against Notre Dame this weekend, traveling to South Bend Friday night. The Wolverines will be looking to do some damage after their back-to-back losses.
Notre Dame needs points to climb the standings. Last weekend the Fighting Irish beat Bowling Green 5-4 in overtime, and dropped a game to Ohio State, 5-3. With 19 points, Notre Dame is seventh in the CCHA standings.
Fourth-place Northern Michigan is just one point behind Miami after beating Bowling Green 8-2, and losing to Ohio State, 2-0. Northern and Ferris State duke it out in Big Rapids this weekend.
With 17 points, Ferris State is holding on to eighth place in the CCHA. The Bulldogs won two games at home against ECAC teams last weekend, beating Rensselaer 3-2 and Cornell 5-3.
Ohio State is surprising everyone by continuing to climb the CCHA rankings. With 22 points, the Buckeyes are in sole possession of fifth place, three points behind Northern Michigan and two ahead of Lake Superior. After shutting out Northern Michigan 2-0 and beating Notre Dame 5-3, Ohio State travels to Western Michigan for two this weekend.
The Broncos, hosting OSU, try to play the spoiler. Last weekend, Western Michigan lost to Cornell 2-0 and Rensselaer 2-1. With nine CCHA points, Western remains in tenth place.
Sixth-place Lake Superior heads to Bowling Green for two this weekend, after losing a close one to No. 1 Michigan State, 4-3. These are points the Lakers need to stay in the hunt for fourth place.
With just six CCHA point, Bowling Green remains mired at the bottom of the league. The Falcons took an 8-2 beating at the hands of the Wildcats last week, while losing 6-5 to Notre Dame in overtime. Like the Broncos, the Falcons will try to spoil someone else’s fun.
Ninth-place Alaska-Fairbanks plays Mt. Royal this week.
This is the first weekend of the CCHA season when every team squares off for two consecutive games against the same team. Finally.
Last week’s record in picks: 9-2 Overall record in picks: 84-60
Don’t try this at home.
No. 5 Miami (17-5-2, 12-5-2 CCHA) at No. 1 Michigan State (21-3-3, 13-3-2 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI
Q: What do you do if you’re a nationally-ranked team and you’ve only earned three points in four games?
A: You beat a higher-ranked team — not once, but twice — a team that few people thought you could even take two points from, let alone four in one weekend. And you don’t let it go to your head.
After the RedHawks snapped out of a lull by beating Michigan at home, 3-1 and 4-3, head coach Mark Mazzoleni says his team is taking it in stride.
"It was a positive experience, but if you are going to be a serious challenger in the league, you have to win those games."
Since critics all over the CCHA have doubted Miami’s ability to play with the alleged big boys, one successful weekend in which the RedHawks handed the Wolverines their first back-to-back losses since November 1995 will probably not be enough to turn the tide of public opinion.
"These games just have huge ramifications," says Mazzoleni. For both teams.
With a 4-3 win over Lake Superior last weekend, the Spartans managed to hang on to second place in the CCHA. But head coach Ron Mason is well aware that that could change this weekend.
"It’s a great test for us because it’s two games. With four points at stake, there’s the possibility of movement in the standings."
No kidding. The Spartans, with a game in hand on the RedHawks, have just two more points than do the ‘Hawks.
Each team brings to the rink a variety of tools with which it can win either game — or both.
Miami’s Trevor Prior stopped 67 of 71 Wolverine shots on goal last weekend, and seventeen of those stopped shots were taken by Bill Muckalt. It’s no surprise that Prior earned CCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts.
But Prior’s success in net isn’t limited to last weekend. The senior goaltender’s league save percentage is an astounding 91 percent. Prior and Ian Olsen have been solid for the RedHawks all season long, combining for a team save percentage that is just shy of .900.
Chad Alban is, hands-down, the best all-around goaltender in the CCHA, perhaps in all of college hockey. The Michigan State senior has nearly 1,000 minutes between the pipes in league play, during which he’s managed to save over 90 percent of the shots he faces, while limiting opponents to an average of 1.83 goals per game.
Alban is an added advantage for the Spartans, just for the way in which he plays the puck. As a last line of defense, there are simply none better.
Miami has the deepest offense in the CCHA. Period.
Adam Copeland leads the team in league scoring (12-10), and his 22 points tie him for seventh in CCHA points with Ohio State’s Chris Richards. Remarkably, the RedHawks have three other players in the top ten in CCHA points — Tim Leahy (4-17–21), Dan Boyle (10-10–20) and the young sophomore Dustin Whitecotton (3-17–20).
Boyle is having yet another superb season, and can easily be called the best offensive defenseman in the league. But something interesting has happened to Boyle recently; with the injury to fellow blueliner Todd Rohloff, Boyle has been forced to play more — dare we say it? — defense. This makes Boyle doubly dangerous. Not only can he score, but his recently-honed defensive skills help him to help his teammates make plays up front.
In addition to those four, Miami has the currently-absent-but-could-play-any-time Alex Kim (and, no, I truly do not know why he’s out — and Mazzoleni is not saying), and Marc Tropper, who knows how to feed a puck.
While all this talk of offensive prowess may get Miami fans pumped up, let’s not overlook the considerable talents of the Spartans, who seem to be flexing their collective offensive muscle at just the right time of the season.
Mike York has 13 goals and 12 assists. Sean Berens has 15 goals and six assists. Since returning from the World Juniors, York has eight goals and three assists. In this calendar year, York has one hat trick, and Berens has two. Two weeks ago the Spartans scored 13 goals in one weekend.
In addition to York and Berens, Bryan Adams is healthy, proving it by scoring the game-winning goal in Michigan State’s come-from-behind win over Lake Superior.
Miami may be deeper, but the Spartans are on fire.
Without Todd Rohloff, Miami is simply not as effective defensively as they are with him, Boyle’s improved play notwithstanding.
The Spartans have the toughest defense in the CCHA, led by Tyler Harlton. Do not be deceived by Harlton’s off-ice demeanor; though he is one of five finalists for the Humanitarian Award given to "college hockey’s finest citizen," on the ice, he’s all business.
How to call these games? Is the moon full? Are the planets aligned? Can you stand an egg on its end? Are your crystals polished?
Mazzoleni says, "We have tremendous respect for their program. Their game is predicated on you making mistakes. We have to go in and play very smart and mistake-free games."
Mason says, "The beautiful thing is that they’ve come off such a successful weekend. I don’t think our players would have underestimated them even before the Michigan games."
PICKS: Miami 3-1, Michigan State 3-2
Northern Michigan (13-9-4, 11-7-3 CCHA) at Ferris State (10-12-3, 7-8-3 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI
While Miami and Michigan State duke it out for the top spot in the CCHA, Northern Michigan and Ferris State fight the battle for fourth place and home-ice playoff advantage.
Last weekend, the Wildcats handed Bowling Green an 8-2 loss, then went on to be shut out 2-0 by Ohio State the following night. Wildcat head coach Rick Comley was unhappy with the scheduling that let an OSU team sit on a Friday, while Northern Michigan contributed to the Falcons’ general unhappiness.
This week, Northern will have an opponent that not only matches its own schedule, but one that matches up with the Wildcats in several significant ways.
While nearly everyone has better special teams than does Northern Michigan, a quick look at other significant stats shows why these games are going to be as exciting as the games in East Lansing.
The weakest link for each team is goaltending. For Northern Michigan, Duane Hoey is the goaltender of choice. Hoey improved his league save percentage to .874 last weekend. Comley has commented that Hoey lets in soft goals, but you couldn’t say that while watching his performance in the 2-0 loss to Ohio State. Hoey’s GAA is 2.93.
Vince Owen is the usual starter for Ferris State (yes, Ferris State, despite what you may have read in this column last week). His league save percentage .873, and his GAA is 3.43.
He’s had a week off, as goaltenders Jeff Blashill and Mike Szkodzinski each picked up a win for Ferris State last weekend.
Each team plays a very defensive game. "We’ve built our game around defense," says Ferris State assistant coach Drew Famulak, "and we take offensive chances as we can."
Those offensive chances are generated by any number of players, from Joel Irwin, who leads the team in league points (8-11–19), to Jim Dube, whose ability to feed the puck has given him two goals and eight assists in CCHA play. Not to be ignored are Rookie of the Year candidate Kevin Swider (7-9–16) and Brent Wishart (7-7–14), who has stepped up his play in recent games.
While eight Bulldogs have points totaling ten or more, no single Ferris State player has ten league goals. The Bulldogs like to spread around not only the scoring, but also the blame: the team has a rating of minus 11 in league play.
Across the ice, Northern Michigan’s first line of Roger Trudeau (10-7–17), J.P. Vigier (6-8–14) and Buddy Smith (2-11–13) is as good as any in the league and better than some. Smith is an amazing player — a finesse player who is still not afraid to dig into the corners. He was back in action against Bowling Green and Ohio State after missing time because of a groin injury, and looked like he didn’t miss a beat.
Like the Bulldogs, the Wildcats like to spread the scoring around. Only Trudeau has ten league goals, but a whole bunch of other ‘Cats can, and do, score. Unlike the Bulldogs, not one single Wildcat is in the minus in league play, and the teams has a collective plus/minus rating of plus 104 in conference games.
It also bears mentioning that the Wildcats are the least penalized team in the CCHA. Opponents don’t commit many penalties against them, either.
But don’t think that these Northern Michigan players are, well, gentlemanly on the ice. This is a rockin’, stompin’, clean-but-tough team, one that finishes checks like nobody’s business.
"When we played them in November, it was a very physical game," says Famulak. That 5-2 decision went to the Bulldogs, in Marquette.
If these games were played in Marquette, at this point in the season, Northern would have an edge. But the games are in Big Rapids, and Famulak says, "It’s going to be high emotion.
"Our crowd is very good, and we had a good rivalry with them when they were in the CCHA before." The schools are big rivals in all other sports in the Great Lakes Athletic Conference.
Both teams need the points. Without these points, Northern may tumble out of that crucial fourth-place spot.
PICKS: Ferris State 3-2, Northern Michigan 3-2
Ohio State (14-10-1, 11-9-0 CCHA) at Western Michigan (5-20-2, 4-14-1 CCHA) Friday, 7:08 p.m., and Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI
In the world of weather, when heat and cold collide, the front can be so powerful that actual violence can occur.
Ohio State has won five in a row. Western Michigan has dropped 16 straight. In terms of hot and cold, this weekend series has all the makings of a real storm.
John Markell, Ohio State head coach and master of understatement says, "I think it’s going to be a heck of a series.
"Why should we be overconfident with Western? They came in here and beat us in our own building."
In early November, the Broncos beat the Buckeyes 3-1 in Ohio State’s little Ice Rink. That was 18 games and 16 losses ago. The law of averages — or at least the superstition of hockey players — says that every streak must come to an end.
"It scares the wits out of you that at some point that does turn," Markell says about Western’s string of luck, which now ties the longest streak for losses in CCHA history. "Look how it did for Bowling Green with Michigan State.
"It’s gone so far for them that it makes us very tense. We could play well and end up with no points. Unfortunately, in the CCHA, there’s no given games."
Bill Wilkinson says that his team is playing well, in spite of the record. The Bronco head coach said he saw tape of Western’s two losses this past weekend, and saw "a lot of positives."
"We played well both nights. But we were zero-for-nine on the power play Friday, and oh-for-four Saturday. Even though we only gave up one out of eight, special teams is where your bread and butter is.
"It’s very frustrating for the kids. They’re playing and working very hard."
One of the positives that Wilkinson points to is the play of backup goaltender Chris Peck, whose save percentage on the weekend was above .900.
But Western Michigan wasn’t the only team whose backup saw time and played well. For Ohio State, Ray Aho gave Rookie of the Year candidate Jeff Maund a breather, and earned his first Division I shutout against Northern Michigan, as well as a 5-3 win over Notre Dame.
Wilkinson’s less worried about Ohio State’s goaltending than he is about the team’s speed. "Ohio State’s a good team, and they play pretty well on the bigger ice surface. They have a couple of kids who like to open it up."
Markell puts it more succinctly: "It’s going to come down to goal-scoring."
That’s been the key difference for both teams this season. Western Michigan has a hard time finding the net. Ohio State has a new-found ability to score goals.
Frank Novock still leads the Broncos with 10 goals and 7 assists in league play. Right behind him is Steve Duke, a playmaker with one goal and 23 assists. Joe Corvo and Brett Mills each have ten points for the Broncos.
Ohio State is a different offensive story altogether. With three players among the top ten CCHA scorers, the Buckeyes have, to paraphrase Jimmy Stewart in Philadelphia Story, unsuspected depth.
With 30 points, Hugo Boisvert (12-18) is tied for first in CCHA play with Lake’s Terry Marchant (13-17). With 14 goals and nine assists, Boisvert’s linemate Eric Meloche is sixth in CCHA scoring; he’s also this week’s CCHA Offensive Player of the Week for his two game-winning goals, one shorthanded. Chris Richards, the junior forward who anchors OSU’s second line, has seven goals and 15 assists and is tied for seventh in points with Miami’s Adam Copeland (12-10).
Take out all the other variables, and on offense alone the Buckeyes have the Broncos beat.
But there are those other variables. "Their power play’s not real hot, so maybe that’s a tradeoff," says Wilkinson.
As special teams go, the Broncos and the Buckeyes are fairly evenly matched. For all their offensive power, the Buckeyes don’t score much on the power play. Right now Ohio State is tenth in the league power play, converting on just 13.8 percent of chances. The Broncos are eighth at 15.5 percent.
Ohio State is fifth in league penalty killing, while Western Michigan is seventh.
The Buckeyes have an edge in net, no matter who plays. Sidelined with a sprained right knee, Maund watched Ray Aho shine last weekend, proving that his seven-game streak without a loss last season was no fluke. CCHA teams should be on the alert: Ohio State has two of the best young goaltenders in the league.
Defensively, maybe Western Michigan — with its once-fabled corps — has an edge, especially with players like Steve Duke and Joe Corvo, who are effective on both sides of the puck. But maybe Ryan Skaleski, Andre Signoretti and Ryan Root have something to say about that, too.
Just one word of advice if you head to Lawson this weekend and you see an upset by Western: ask Bill Wilkinson where he gets his miracle grapefruit.
PICKS: Ohio State 4-2, 4-3
No. 7 Michigan (20-6-1, 14-4-1 CCHA) at Notre Dame (13-11-3, 8-8-3 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Joyce Arena, South Bend, IN Notre Dame at No. 7 Michigan Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
Michigan is stinging from two straight losses to No. 4 Miami, the first back-to-back losses the Wolverines have experienced since November of 1995.
If you’re a team in this league, you know what that means: the potential for a spanking.
Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin is nonplused. "If they’re not happy, they’re mad; if they’re not mad, they’re happy. With Michigan, you get what you get.
"You’re getting [Matt] Herr back healthy. You’ve got Marty Turco. You’ve got Bill Muckalt."
In the tone of his voice, you can almost hear Poulin’s shoulders shrugging.
But he means no disrespect. Poulin — arguably one of the classiest individuals in college hockey — just means that the Wolverines are tough no matter what their collective mood. As the coach is fond of saying, there are no easy games in this league.
Can the Irish take points from this Michigan team? Yes, and oddly enough they have a better chance of doing so at Yost, given their road record.
They beat St. Cloud State twice on the road. They beat Wisconsin and Michigan State on the road. They beat Ohio State on the road and Alaska-Fairbanks twice on the road.
Just last weekend, they beat Bowling Green 6-5 on the road, but needed overtime to do it.
The Irish are still finding their feet, playing unevenly from game to game or week to week. That is not to say that Notre Dame is playing poorly — quite the contrary. But among the CCHA’s top eight teams, the Irish are playing with the least consistency.
The Irish have depth at several positions, including in the net. In league play, Forrest Karr and Matt Eisler are combining for a team save percentage of .888 and a team GAA of 2.90.
"Forrest continues to play well, and we evaluate [the goaltending situation] on a daily basis. This puts me in a great position to be able to choose between them."
From the net out, the Irish have real talent, and at least a couple of blue-liners who can score. Benoit Cotnoir is truly an impressive and graceful player. The junior defensemen leads the team in league scoring (7-11–18) and plays well on both sides of the puck.
Another offensive defenseman, Mark Eaton — also a legitimate contender for Rookie of the Year — is third in league scoring for the Irish, with two goals and 14 assists. Eaton’s defensive skills match his playmaking abilities; he’s fearless along the boards.
Aniket Dhadphale leads the Irish with 11 goals, and this player has the potential to be a goal-scoring machine. Sophomore Ben Simon (4-12–16) is a player, and Brian Urick (7-7–14) has breakaway ability.
As talented a team as is Notre Dame, how do the Irish stack up against the Wolverines? Well, how does any team stack up against the Wolverines?
Poulin is correct in singling out Herr, Muckalt, and Turco. Herr, who missed half the season with a groin injury, still has 13 points (5-8) in league play. With 28 points, Muckalt is second in scoring in the CCHA.
With every win, Marty Turco sets a new NCAA Division I record for most wins by a goaltender. In over 1,000 league minutes in net, Turco’s GAA is 2.16 and his save percentage is .906.
But this Wolverine team is more than the sum of three players. Bobby Hayes (13-14–27) is having a career season, and has an eight-game point streak on the line. Several rookies are making big contributions to the Wolverine effort as well. The organization is high in Mark Kosick (7-11–18), but Josh Langfeld (9-10–19) is a true player.
Also contributing are rookies Scott Matzka and defenseman Mike Van Ryn, and don’t overlook Dale Rominski (6-4–10) and defenseman Bubba Berenzweig (3-5–8), who has improved steadily all season.
A few notes: Steve Noble, the Notre Dame senior center, is another CCHA finalist for the Humanitarian Award. Joe Dusbabek, the Notre Dame right winger, will miss the rest of the season because he’s academically ineligible to play. Has anyone seen Wolverine Greg Crozier?
The Irish will have their hands full, both home and away.
PICKS: Michigan 5-2, 4-2
Lake Superior (11-10-4, 8-8-4 CCHA) at Bowling Green (4-20-2, 2-14-2 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH
The Lakers need four points to keep pace with the rest of the CCHA pack, and to fight for fourth place. Given the way things have been going for the Falcons lately, the Lakers may get those points on the road.
In spite of a seemingly uneven start to the season, the Lakers are playing darned good hockey.
Last weekend Michigan State was lucky to take two points from Lake Superior. The Lakers had three second-period goals from unexpected sources — Ted Laviolette (his fourth), Jeff Attard (his first) and Mike Kucsulain (his third) — to surge ahead of the Spartans 3-2 after two.
Sean Berens scored at :54 of the third to tie the game. Bryan Adams had the game-winner for the Spartans midway through the third period.
The Lakers have good offense, decent defense and decent goaltending, so they have a two advantages over the Falcons.
Two Lakers remain among the league’s top ten scorers. With 30 points (13-17), Terry Marchant is tied with Ohio State’s Hugo Boisvert for the league lead. Jason Sessa’s 24 points (14-10) are good enough for fifth in league scoring.
Defenseman David Lambeth is out with an injury, so the Lakers will be relying more on Laviolette, whose on-ice time has been, well, interrupted several times this season, for reasons known only to Laviolette and Laker coach Scott Borek.
In league goaltending, rookie Rob Galatiuk has respectable numbers — a 2.90 GAA and a save percentage of .897. The Lakers have yet to turn that crucial corner of actually outscoring opponents, however, having scored 63 goals, but given up 71.
The hard-working Bowling Green Falcons must be relieved that someone has finally moved ahead of Dan Price in scoring. Price, who hasn’t played since mid-December because of legal problems, was the leading Falcon scorer still up until last week.
Adam Edinger is the someone who takes over the top spot for the Falcons. While that’s good news, the bad news is that Edinger has just 14 points, and only four of those points are goals.
The Falcon offense is weakish, the defense is weakish — the Falcons have allowed 80 goals this season while scoring just 45 in the CCHA — but Bowling Green’s goaltending is not bad.
Rookie Shawn Timm seems to have taken over in net from Mike Savard (who wasn’t getting much help anyway), and so far has a league save percentage of .886. Unfortunately, his league GAA is 3.82, which says a lot more about Bowling Green’s defense than can be said with mere words.
Bowling Green lost twice last weekend, a nationally-televised 8-2 loss to Northern Michigan, and a 5-4 overtime loss to Notre Dame. They have to win one soon, and they could play the spoiler with Lake Superior.
Could, but probably won’t.
PICKS: Lake Superior 5-2, 4-2
Mt. Royal at Alaska-Fairbanks (7-17-2, 6-16-1 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. AT, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK
Who is Mt. Royal, and why do the Nanooks play so many non-Division I opponents?
This is not a rhetorical question. If you have an answer, email me, ’cause I’m stumped.
There is little information available about Mt. Royal — in fact, none — so this preview will focus more on the strengths and weaknesses of Nanook hockey.
Alaska-Fairbanks had last week off after dropping two of three to Notre Dame the week before. The Nanooks play well at home, and have some considerable talent on their team. Unfortunately, this is a team that looks like it hasn’t quite gelled; inconsistency is the key to this Nanook season.
The Nanooks have an explosive offense. Sjon Wynia leads the team in scoring with 25 league points (11-14), and is among the top ten scorers in the CCHA. Jeff Trembecky has improved throughout the season to 18 points (9-9).
Rookie Jim Lawrence (7-10–17) has been a nice addition to the roster, while Kerry Hafele has managed to avoid the sophomore slump with 15 points (2-13).
The Nanooks have scored 70 league goals, which puts them right up there with Michigan, Miami and Northern Michigan in that category. When the Nanooks score all those goals, however, their competition responds by scoring even more. Alaska-Fairbanks has allowed 113 goals this season, far and away the most in the CCHA.
The explanation for this is a combination of defense and goaltending — neither of which is up to par this season. Ian Perkins and Chris Marvel are combining for a team save percentage of just .861, and a combined GAA of 4.86. But the two have combined for a total of 702 saves. Clearly, they’re not getting much help.
Still, since Mt. Royal isn’t a Division I opponent, the Nanooks should be able to handle them — whoever they are.
PICKS: Alaska-Fairbanks 5-4, 5-4