This Week in the CCHA: February 6, 1998

All this to promote the Columbus Blue Necks, or Blue Flacks or Blue Bugs — or whatever they’re calling the NHL franchise that will ride the millennium into town.

Scattered among the hockey faithful and the nouveau riche are several Ohio State hockey fans, wearing — what else? — Blue Somethings gear.

"Is Michigan State really that good?" one asks. "Nah," he answers himself. "They won’t win the conference."

Someone tries to explain that the Spartans have just spanked Miami of Ohio, and everyone — everyone around here, at least — knows how good the RedHawks are.

Blue Jackets! That’s what it is. But a bug is involved somehow.

Anyway, with the prospect of Michigan State coming to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes, this fan is excited. "It’s the biggest night of the season," he says, and for one of these teams it may very well be.

Heads nod in silence. The line inches forward.

"I think," he says solemnly, "Ohio State has a chance."

Oh, good people, be afraid. He’s right, and that should scare us all.

No. 1 Michigan State asserted itself rather authoritatively last weekend against No. 7 Miami — who had, as we all remember, swept No. 6 Michigan the week prior (sorry) — skating to a 1-1 overtime tie Friday, then just giving the ‘Hawks a good, old-fashioned 7-0 pounding on Saturday, both games in East Lansing.

This week, Michigan State travels through Ohio to visit two very good teams, Ohio State and Miami.

With 31 points, the Spartans are just two points behind first-place Michigan. The Wolverines took two away from Notre Dame, winning g 7-2 in South Bend, and 5-4 in overtime at Yost. Michigan hosts Lake Superior for one game in Joe Louis Arena Saturday night.

Tied for third in the CCHA with the Northern Michigan Wildcats are the Miami RedHawks, who get a one-game reprieve from Michigan State when they play Alaska-Fairbanks Friday night.

Then they get to play the Spartans again, this time at home. Miami and Northern each have 27 points.

In sole possession of fifth place — and darned unaccustomed to it — are the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Bucs are just one little point behind Miami and Northern Michigan. The Buckeyes beat Western Michigan 4-2 and 2-0 last weekend, and take on Michigan State and Alaska-Fairbanks this weekend.

With 22 points, Lake Superior is four points behind Ohio State, and things don’t look to improve for the Lakers this weekend with a televised game against the Wolverines Saturday. Lake Superior split with Bowling Green on the road last week, winning 1-0 and losing 4-3.

Ferris State and Notre Dame square off for one this weekend, on Saturday night. The two teams are tied with 19 points. Ferris State split with Northern Michigan last weekend, a 3-2 overtime win and a 5-3 loss. The Irish lost two tough ones to Michigan.

Ferris State takes on Western Michigan Friday, while Notre Dame tangles with Bowling Green.

The Alaska-Fairbanks Nanooks are back in CCHA action this week after sweeping Mt. Royal 5-3 and 8-5 last weekend at home. UAF travels to Miami and Ohio State.

Western Michigan. What to say about Western Michigan. They hope to break an 18-game losing streak this weekend when they travel to Ferris State and host Bowling Green.

Bowling Green gave Lake Superior a hard time last weekend, losing by the slightest of scores, 1-0, and beating the Lakers 4-3.

With just five regular-season weeks of hockey left, you might say that the CCHA is an interesting place.

Last week’s record in picks: 10-2 Overall record in picks: 94-62

Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of m’hat! Again? That trick never works.

No. 1 Michigan State (22-3-4, 14-3-3 CCHA) at Ohio State (16-10-1, 13-9-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., OSU Ice Rink, Columbus, OH No. 1 Michigan State (22-3-4, 14-3-3 CCHA) at No. 7 Miami (17-6-3, 12-6-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH

For half of the season, Michigan State was the toughest team, defensively, in the CCHA. Now the Spartans have added offense to the near-impenetrable defense, making Michigan State, well, scary.

After losing to Michigan State 7-0 last weekend, Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni said of the Spartans, "They were the best team we have played this season, by far. They deserve, unequivocally, their number-one ranking."

The Spartans are solid from the net to the red line. Singing Chad Alban’s praises is easy, given his style, performance and numbers. Alban is 20-2-4 overall, with a mind-blowing save percentage of .921 and a stingy GAA of 1.57.

While Alban can take most of the credit for that goals-against average, some of it belongs to the Spartan defense, led by the best defensive defenseman in the CCHA, Tyler Harlton. The Spartan captain leads the CCHA with an incredible plus-27 rating.

Harlton isn’t alone on the blue line. Jon Gaskins, Mike Weaver and Chris Bogas — who has a way with words, at least on the ice — are among the corps of Spartan defenders.

But since the beginning of 1998, the Spartans have become more than just a strong defensive team. Now Michigan State can score, and seemingly score at will. The Spartans have scored six or more goals in five of their last eight games. In the first 21 games of the season, Michigan State scored six goals in a single game just once.

It’s no surprise who leads the Spartans in scoring. Mike York has 27 points (14-13) in 18 league games. Sean Berens — the goal-scorer — has 17 goals and six assists in 18 league games.

Rookie of the Year candidate Rustyn Dolyny has 11 goals and 12 assists in 20 league games. Bryan Adams has 14 points (3-11) in just a dozen league games.

The whole team has an astounding plus/minus rating of plus 136 in league play. They are plus 205 overall.

Plus 205.

Michigan State vs. Ohio State

The Green Machine brings its game to the teeny, tiny OSU "War Memorial" Ice Rink Friday night, and the Buckeyes are not afraid.

Respectful, but not afraid.

"Obviously," says Ohio State head coach John Markell, "Michigan State is on a roll."

So is Ohio State.

The Buckeyes have won seven straight, with a January record of 7-2-0. This is the longest OSU win streak since the 1983-84 season, and it’s currently the longest winning streak of any Division I team in the country. Ohio State has won its last six home games.

Put it this way: if the Buckeyes don’t win another game this season, they’ll still have their best record since 1987-88.

The Buckeyes, too, are solid from the net out. Netminding duties are being shared by Rookie of the Year candidate Jeff Maund, and seasoned sophomore Ray Aho. For the last seven games, the duo has a combined GAA of just 1.43. During the win-streak, Maund has one shutout, while Aho has two. The pair has set a team record in season shutouts by combining for five this season, four against CCHA opponents.

In 411 minutes of league play this season, Aho has a GAA of just 2.19 and a league save percentage of .911. Maund isn’t far behind, allowing 2.65 goals per league game with a save percentage a .908.

But long-time CCHA fans know that good goaltending isn’t unusual for Ohio State. OSU had good goalies when they were losing. The difference this season is that OSU has defensemen — yes, defensemen — who are helping in their own end, in addition to an offense that is among the best in the league.

The game between the Spartans and the Buckeyes matches Tyler Harlton with perhaps his heir-apparent, OSU’s Ryan Skaleski, one of the best defensive defensemen in the league. The sophomore, who walked onto the team last year (as did Ray Aho), has improved his puck-handling skills throughout the season, is fearless in the corners and can get called for elbowing just for looking at a guy because he’s so big.

This player is truly Ohio State’s unsung hero.

Helping Skaleski are a pair of good offensive defensemen, senior Ryan Root and freshmen Andre Signoretti. Add the leadership of senior captain Taj Schaffnit, and you have a surprisingly strong Buckeye defense.

Then there’s the offense. Sophomore Hugo Boisvert leads the league in CCHA scoring with 34 points (14-20). His linemate, Eric Meloche, has stepped up his game during the current win streak, and is now tied with Mike York for fourth in CCHA scoring with 27 points (15-12).

In addition to a first line that can score, OSU has a solid second line, anchored by junior Chris Richards, whose 25 points (8-17) tie him with UAF’s Sjon Wynia for fifth in CCHA scoring.

The collective numbers of the Spartans and the Buckeyes add up to one hell of a game Friday night in the little ice rink that produces what Ron Mason calls "pinball hockey."

When these two teams met in November — before the Spartans found their offense, and the before the Buckeyes found their defense — Michigan State won 2-1 on Mike Weaver’s early third-period goal. It was an electric hockey game, and both coaches expect the same this time around.

"I think you’re going to see the same type of game," says Markell, adding, "They were having trouble putting the puck in the net, and now they don’t seem to."

"I think you’re looking at a hockey team that on the verge of proving they’re an upper-tier team," says Mason of the Buckeyes.

One reason why the games between the two teams have been at least interesting since John Markell became the Buckeye head coach is that Markell was a star player for Mason when they were both at Bowling Green. There’s a lot of respect between the Former Player and the Coach, and that mutual respect is something that the Buckeyes and the Spartans now share.

The Michigan State Spartans may be the only CCHA team that knows how good the Buckeyes are, and that’s a distinct advantage.

But the greater advantage may belong to the Buckeyes, whose home crowds, pep band and youthful enthusiasm have made the War Memorial a little barn worth defending.

Twice this season the Spartans have had eight-game unbeaten streaks. Both times the streaks ended with a loss in the ninth game.

This is the ninth game.

If you happen to see Ohio State hockey Sports Information Director Dan Jones, just call him Nostradamus. He predicted the current Buckeye win streak. He’s also predicting a win over the Spartans.

PICK: Ohio State 2-1

Michigan State vs. Miami

The Spartans brought the RedHawks back to earth last weekend with a 1-1 tie and a 7-0 win in East Lansing.

"It was good hockey, and we played well," says Mason. "The pucks went in on Saturday night."

Says Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni, "We got schooled. It was a clinic. They played their ‘A’ game, and we didn’t play well at all."

Two goals were disallowed in the Friday night game, one for each team. There was also a goal waved off in Saturday’s Notre Dame-Michigan game, that one for Notre Dame.

There, but for the whistle, go the CCHA-leading Spartans.

The Spartans will face a Miami team that remembers only too well the sting of that 7-0 loss, a Miami team that — like the Spartans and the Buckeyes — is good from the net out.

Last Saturday’s game notwithstanding, Trevor Prior has been solid in net for the RedHawks. In nearly 900 minutes of league play, Prior’s save percentage is .910, and his league GAA is 2.55.

Prior and Ian Olsen are combining for a team league save percentage of .884 and a team GAA of 2.82.

It’s no secret that the loss of Todd Rohloff has been a big blow to the RedHawk defense. Rohloff, whose senior year was cut in half with a severe wrist injury, was nearly as good a defensive defenseman as Harlton, and that’s pretty darned good.

The Miami defense is, overall, geared more toward offense, led by senior Dan Boyle, whose 20 points place him among the leaders in CCHA scoring. It’s true that Boyle has been forced to rediscover his defensive skills in Rohloff’s absence, but the Miami defense is not used to playing, well, defensively.

There are reasons for that. Goggin Ice Arena is small, the Miami goaltending is solid, and Miami has one of the deepest offenses in the league. Four Miami players have 20 or more points in CCHA play: Adam Copeland (12-10–22), Tim Leahy (4-17–21), Dan Boyle (10-10–20), and Dustin Whitecotton (3-17–20). Five more players have points in the double digits.

But if a team depends on scoring to win games, that team may have problems against Michigan State, as Miami discovered last weekend.

And you better have a pretty strong defensive game plan, if you’re going to stop players like Dolyny, York and Berens.

Miami will have Alex Kim back. The rookie’s mysterious disappearance from the lineup for "violation of team rules" has yet to be explained, but there’s no mystery about his scoring ability. Before his suspension, Kim was responsible for nine even-strength league goals.

Michigan State may be without Shawn Horcoff, who injured his hand last weekend.

Miami fans may be without satisfaction. With Michigan playing just one game, the Spartans will have a chance to gain some ground on the Wolverines.

PICK: Michigan State 4-1

Western Michigan (5-22-2, 4-16-1 CCHA) at Ferris State (11-13-3, 8-9-3 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, MI Ferris State (11-13-3, 8-9-3 CCHA) at Notre Dame (13-3-3, 8-10-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Joyce Arena, South Bend, IN

With 19 points and a standings tie with Notre Dame, Ferris State is ready to make its move.

"We’re pretty much in the same position we’ve been in," says head coach Bob Daniels, "hovering right around that five-hundred mark."

Five hundred and within striking distance of fourth place — not bad for a team that didn’t make the playoffs a year ago.

"As far as bad seasons go," says Daniels, "that was very survivable with that group of kids.

"A lot of the things we went through last season carried over to this year." Things like learning to win, persevering, paying attention to detail.

It’s that tenacity and never-say-die attitude that helped the Bulldogs battle back from a 2-1 deficit to beat the Northern Michigan Wildcats 3-2 in overtime Friday. Sure, they lost 5-3 on Saturday, but they were competitive.

"Those were really two excellent hockey games," says Daniels. "We could’ve easily lost on Friday and won on Saturday. Really, two good, fun hockey teams to be involved in.

"Northern Michigan is a real hardworking team. The two games couldn’t have been much tighter. The second game was a one-goal night with an empty-netter."

Ferris State, too, is a hardworking team, from top to bottom. At the top is Joel Irwin, who leads the team in league points (8-12–20) and plus/minus (+6). Lending a hand is Rookie of the Year candidate Kevin Swider (7-11–18), along with defenseman Brett Colborne (4-13–17) and Brian McCullough, an underrated player with 14 points in CCHA play.

Colborne anchors the Bulldog defense, and he’s essential on special teams, with 13 power-play points, second among defensemen only to Benoit Cotnoir’s league-leading 15.

The weakest link for Ferris State is between the pipes. Rookie Vince Owen has seen almost every minute of league play for the Bulldogs. His league GAA is 3.37, and his league save percentage is .874. The team’s combined league save percentage is .870, a little too low to be competitive.

Western Michigan vs. Ferris State

The Broncos have lost 18 straight games, a new CCHA record. But don’t expect the Bulldogs to take note of this statistic.

In fact, if you’re a Ferris State player, your coach wants you to stop reading right now.

Daniels says that his team is not thinking about the possibility of ending Western Michigan’s streak, nor is his team thinking this will be an easy win.

"No, the kids are not talking about it at all, nor are we going to mention it.

"We’re scared about getting beaten any night just because the standings are so close. I’m sure our kids know they’re on a bit of a losing streak, but they beat us 4-2."

That Western win over Ferris State was early in the season, and the Bulldogs turned around the next night and beat the Broncos by the same score.

And then there was that 9-1 drumming during the Pepsi Tournament. "That was a really good game for us," says Daniels, but he insists that the score was an "aberration," because some teams don’t typically play well after a couple of weeks off.

Daniels takes the Broncos very seriously. "I look at their scores, and many games are within a goal."

The Broncos dropped two to Ohio State last weekend, 4-2 and 2-0. Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson is not discouraged, necessarily, by what he sees from his team.

"Friday was very undisciplined. I was disappointed in our mental toughness. Saturday night we had our chances. We just didn’t challenge him [OSU goaltender Ray Aho] enough. We had our opportunities.

"Our guys are holding pretty strong. We played hard again. We’re trying to do the things that it takes to win a game. We worked hard, we finished our checks, we drove the net–no result.

"But every game we play, we’ve got a chance to beat them, and they’ve got a chance to beat us."

Wilkinson says that he’s familiar with what this Ferris State team can do.

"Ferris is a well-balanced team. They have a bunch of experienced forwards. Colborne is one of the better defenseman in the league."

In the end, it may be Ferris State’s experience with winning that makes the difference in this game.

PICK: Ferris State 4-2

Ferris State vs. Notre Dame

These two teams are tied for seventh in the CCHA, with 19 points each. Ferris beat Notre Dame once this season, and the teams skated to a tie in South Bend.

Given the tie in the standings and the number of CCHA games left to play, this is one big game.

"It’s huge," says Daniels. "It’s important to both schools."

Both teams are playing not only to make the playoffs, but to try to catch home-ice advantage. With eight points separating Notre Dame and Ferris State from fourth-place Northern Michigan, it’s a long shot, but one each team thinks is worth fighting for.

"We still feel like we’re in the mix," says Daniels. "We’ll need some help from teams ahead of us, though."

There’s one real advantage the Bulldogs have in this game: they’re playing in South Bend. Just three of Notre Dame’s 13 overall wins have come at home.

But if Ferris is to beat Notre Dame, it won’t be easy. Notre Dame is a team with both talent up front and solid goaltending.

The Notre Dame offense is actually led by two defensemen, Benoit Cotnoir and talented rookie Mark Eaton. Each has 18 points in league play; Cotnoir has seven goals and 11 assists, while Eaton has 4 goals and 14 assists.

Eaton has stepped up his game in the second half of the season, with nine points in his last five games, including the power-play goal that forced the overtime game in Yost last weekend. His 18 points in league games makes him fifth among all CCHA freshmen in scoring, and second among defensemen behind Miami’s Dan Boyle. The kid’s a player.

Another rookie who helps the Irish is center Dan Carlson. Carlson has 14 points in his last 15 games, and has 21 points overall.

Aniket Dhadphale is Notre Dame’s best goal-scorer, with 11 goals and three assists in 21 league games.

In net for Notre Dame, Forrest Karr and Matt Eisler are combining for a league save percentage of .881 and a league GAA of 3.18.

Each team has an aggressive front, with lines capable of producing goals. Each team has goaltending that is good, but not great.

Ferris State has the better defense, and the Bulldogs should be able to get past an Irish defense that seems better geared toward an offensive game.

Notre Dame is capable of some fancy footwork, but still seems to be a team that has yet to find consistency. One week they’re up, the next they’re down.

And they’re definitely down at home.

PICK: Ferris State 4-3

Bowling Green (5-21-2, 3-15-2 CCHA) at Notre Dame (13-3-3, 8-10-3 CCHA) Friday, 7:08 p.m., Joyce Arena, South Bend, IN

The Falcons played two good games at home last weekend, losing to Lake Superior 1-0, and beating the Lakers 4-3.

The Falcons seem to be sparked by the play of rookie goaltender Shawn Timm, whose performance has, in the words of head coach Buddy Powers, given Bowling Green the chance to be in every game Timm’s started.

Timm is 2-9-1 in league play, with a league GAA of 3.51 and a solid save percentage of .890. When a goaltender is saving 90 percent of the shots he sees, and he still has a GAA of three-and-a-half, and he’s only won two games, there’s something more going on than meets the eye.

What’s going on with Bowling Green is a defense that is not performing, an offense that can’t seem to score more than two goals on a regular basis (they’re averaging 2.55 in league play), and a spread-the-wealth attitude when it comes to allowing goals.

Defensively, Bowling Green is allowing people to shoot that puck. In those 700 minutes of league play, Timm has made 331 saves. Notre Dame’s Matt Eisler, who has seen a full 150 minutes more in league play than has Timm, and whose save percentage also hovers around 90 percent, has made 359 saves. You do the math.

Offensively, were is not for Adam Edinger’s 18 points, Dan Price — who returns to the ice Friday for the first time since December 23 — would still be leading the team in league points with just 13. Repeat: that means that every other Falcon has fewer than 13 points in league play.

And the team stands at minus 167.

The Irish will be feeling pretty good about themselves for this game, having taken Michigan into overtime at Yost just one week before. Notre Dame lost both games to Michigan, a 7-2 home loss, and that 5-4 loss in OT.

"We didn’t play real well Friday night," says Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. "Saturday, we played really well."

Poulin says he doesn’t know why his team isn’t taking advantage of home ice. "I don’t know whether they [the players] are more distracted at home or not. We’re just playing better on the road."

Home or away, for the rest of the season the Irish will be without Joe Dusbabek, who is academically ineligible to play. Poulin says he’s treating this loss just like any injury.

"You just go. We’ve been so fortunate health-wise, that I have no right to complain."

Poulin is aware of how well the Falcons are playing, and how much Bowling Green might want to be the spoiler in this CCHA playoff race. "They’ll play hard. There’s still team pride."

This may be Notre Dame’s fourth home win of the season. The Irish can score, and the Falcons have a tough time defending, Timm or no.

PICK: Notre Dame 4-3

Alaska-Fairbanks (9-17-2, 6-16-1 CCHA) at No. 7 Miami (17-6-3, 12-6-3 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH Alaska-Fairbanks (9-17-2, 6-16-1 CCHA) at Ohio State (16-10-1, 13-9-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Fairgrounds Expo Center, Columbus, OH

Last week, readers were asked to explain why Alaska-Fairbanks was playing Mt. Royal so far into the CCHA season. Indeed, readers were asked to give information about Mt. Royal.

As for the college itself, a reader named Thor wrote, "Mt. Royal is a school in Calgary that plays in the Alberta college hockey league. Generally the teams are made up of ex-junior A and B players that are taking two-year diploma programs or general studies before leaping to University."

Thanks, Thor.

As for why the Nanooks were playing them, that explanation came straight from Alaska-Fairbanks coach Dave Laurion.

"We had two weekends in a row that we had off, and we put out an APB to Division I teams. Everyone is in conference play and no one wanted to come to Fairbanks."

Laurion said that the Nanooks went down the list of Division I teams, then Independents, then Division II and III teams, then Canadian University teams, and finally Canadian College teams.

"The only reason we played Mt. Royal is that they were the only team willing to come out here at the end of January."

Makes sense.

Mt. Royal gave Alaska-Fairbanks two competitive games that the Nanooks won, 5-3 and 8-5.

"They’re the number one Canadian College — as opposed to University — team," says Laurion. "They have players that any Division III team would take. They have players that could play Division I hockey."

So, instead of taking a total of two weeks off, the Nanooks got some good competition, and the players felt productive.

"It was important for us to get some wins. Guys want to win. We’d had players in the lineup who hadn’t been able to play, and it gives us a chance to insert them into the lineup.

"For us it was the chance to compete without the pressure of conference points. And it was nice that some of our guys knew a lot of their players from their junior days."

So now you know.

Alaska-Fairbanks at Miami

"Our points with Alaska-Fairbanks are crucial," says Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni. "We’ve got to play with a little bit more jam.

"I don’t want the outcome of Saturday to be our mindset, because we played very good hockey in the four games before that game."

"That game" would be the 7-0 loss to Michigan State. It seems that the Nanooks’ reward for traveling to the gateway of the heartland is a game with a nationally ranked team with something to prove.

But Laurion knows what he and the Nanooks are getting into. Alaska-Fairbanks has lost twice in Goggin Ice Arena already this season, an 11-3 pounding, then a more competitive 6-3 loss the next night.

"Unfortunately when we went to Miami, we weren’t prepared," says Laurion.

The Nanooks have struggled on the road this year, with just one road win, 6-2 over Lake Superior in November.

"We need our players — to a man — to take our game better on the road," says Laurion. "We need to play better defensively, and better in front of our net."

Ain’t that the truth. Ian Perkins is the go-to man for Alaska-Fairbanks in net this season. Perkins’ league GAA is 4.46, and his league save percentage is .870. On the road, the Nanooks are allowing an average closer to six goals per game.

Alaska-Fairbanks does have some talent up front. With 25 points (11-14) Sjon Wynia is tied for fifth in league scoring with OSU’s Chris Richards. Jeff Trembecky (9-9–18) and rookie Jim Lawrence (7-10–17) are both capable of generating offensive chances.

Unfortunately for Alaska-Fairbanks, sophomore standout Kerry Hafele (2-13–15) won’t even be making the trip because of injury.

Simply put, the Nanooks are outmatched in this game. Miami has the kind of defense that can stop the Nanook firepower, and the kind of offense that can shred the Nanook goaltending.

PICK: Miami 6-2

Alaska-Fairbanks at Ohio State

Dave Laurion says that his team has one advantage in this game: the game is being played at the Ohio Fairgrounds Expo Center, with its much bigger ice surface.

"It’s just a nicer facility," says Laurion. It doesn’t hurt that the angles are wider, and his team — used to skating on an Olympic sheet — will have more room to move around.

The Buckeyes have beaten the Nanooks twice this season, both games in War Memorial, the rink without a real name. The first game was a sloppy and punishing 8-3 win, a game in which it was clear that the Nanooks did not take the Buckeyes seriously.

The second game, just one night later, was a more competitive 4-0 Nanook loss, a game in which Alaska-Fairbanks had plenty of offensive chances but lacked the ability to capitalize.

Laurion is hoping that things will go differently in the larger rink. And he’s hoping for a win because the Nanooks are still playing to make the playoffs.

In addition to points, Laurion says, "We need one of those teams who have eight or nine wins to fall apart.

"Everything’s got to fall into place, but we can only control what we do. Obviously our goal is to get that eighth spot."

Two things will help the Nanooks, says Laurion: "Defend our end better. Defend around our net better."

That will be a difficult thing to do against the red-hot Buckeyes, who have proven they can win in the big as well as the little home rink. Hugo Boisvert leads the CCHA in scoring; linemate Eric Meloche isn’t far behind. Jean-Francois Dufour rounds out le trio Quebecois.

The second line of Chris Richards, Dan Cousineau and Todd Compeau really clicks. If the Vinnie Grant-Brandon Lafrance line starts to score, watch out.

In addition to those offensive threats, the Buckeyes have a pair of defenders, Ryan Root and Andre Signoretti, who can score as well as protect the net.

The Buckeye power play got hot last weekend, scoring four goals.

Three Buckeyes have won Player of the Month honors in January (Boisvert and Meloche for offense, Root for defense).

Then there’s either Jeff Maund or Ray Aho to get past.

When you’ve been down so long, you take nothing for granted. That’s why the Buckeyes will take Alaska-Fairbanks very seriously.

PICK: Ohio State 5-2

No. 6 Michigan (22-6-1, 16-4-1 CCHA) vs. Lake Superior (12-11-4, 9-9-4 CCHA) Saturday, 7:08 p.m., Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

The Wolverines beat Notre Dame 7-2 in South Bend, then had their hands full at home as the Irish forced an overtime game. Michigan won 5-4.

Michigan head coach Red Berenson said that Notre Dame is "the best I’ve seen them since I’ve been coaching at Michigan." That’s quite an endorsement.

The Wolverines bounced back from two road losses to Miami, games that Berenson said Michigan played "well enough to win, but didn’t." Michigan received a little help from Ann Arbor’s newest folk hero, Krikor Arman.

Never heard of Krikor Arman? You’re not alone. The second-year walk-on from West Bloomfield, Michigan, had what the Wolverines are calling "one of the most memorable first-game performances in the University of Michigan Athletic Department’s history" — which is no small praise from a place that tends to exaggerate.

Arman scored two first-period goals in the 7-2 win over Notre Dame. It was his first collegiate game.

"I’ve watched this kid work hard every day in practice," says Berenson, who is obviously impressed with Arman’s performance. "He deserved a chance to play."

Berenson adds, "We’ve got kids who have played 20 games and don’t have two goals."

The Wolverines got help in Saturday’s game from another unexpected source, Greg Crozier. Crozier, who has been largely absent from the Michigan lineup — a healthy scratch — had his first career hat trick in Saturday’s 5-4 win, including the game-winner at 3:19 of overtime.

Apparently, there’s more magic left in Ann Arbor than was previously thought.

Michigan takes on Lake Superior in Joe Louis Arena, a televised game in a place now known as YAE — Yost Arena East.

The Wolverines are 47-19-1 in Joe Louis, which includes wins in nine consecutive Great Lakes Invitationals, numerous regular-season and playoff games, a few CCHA titles here and there.

Lake Superior has more than just that voodoo working against it. The last two times the Lakers have played Michigan in a televised game, Michigan has administered a public spanking.

On Feb. 21, 1997, Lake Superior lost to Michigan 8-0 in Yost, on television. Earlier this season, on Dec. 5, Lake Superior lost to Michigan 7-0 in Abel Arena, on television.

You’d think that Scott Borek would get the message.

"I have a good feeling about it," says the Laker head coach of his team’s impending doom. "It’s going to be a huge challenge. I just think we’ll play well. I’m not going to say we’re going to win, but we’ll be competitive."

Berenson thinks the Wolverines are in for a heck of a game. "They’re a much better team than they were when we saw them earlier," says Berenson of the victims. "They’re a team that’s a serious contender for home ice."

But the Lakers are not a team without problems. "We’re trying to get some consistency going. Everybody’s going to be healthy and back."

"Healthy" means healthy and "back" means back from team suspensions. It’s no secret that Borek has been trying to get his players to think like they should, issuing team suspensions for players who haven’t been giving enough effort.

Haven’t seen Jason Sessa lately, have you?

Lake Superior had a roughish weekend against Bowling Green last week, winning 1-0 and losing 4-3, both games on the road. "I thought we played better on Saturday than we did on Friday," says Borek. "We played well defensively Friday, and did what we had to do to win a game when we weren’t really clicking.

Terry Marchant still leads the Laker offense, and with 13 goals and 18 assists for 31 points, he’s tied with Bobby Hayes for third in league scoring. The wayward Sessa has 24 points (14-10) in 19 games.

The Lakers are also getting help from players you wouldn’t normally expect to see making big plays, like Tobin Praznik (7-4–11) and Mike Kucsulain (2-7–9).

The Laker defense is, in the coach’s word, inconsistent. In net for Lake Superior, Rookie of the Year candidate Rob Galatiuk has a league GAA of 2.82 and a league save percentage of .900.

But the Lakers have more than just the television curse working against them. They also have Bill Muckalt, whose 32 points (16-16) are good enough for second in the league, followed closely by Hayes (15-16), and a little more distantly by several other Wolverine playmakers–rookies Mark Kosick (8-13–21) and Josh Langfeld (9-11–20), team leader and class act Matt Herr (6-9–15 — in just 11 games), and Dale Rominski (7-6–13), who is having a breakout season.

The Michigan defense is nothing to laugh at, and if you can get past it, you’ve won the right to challenge Marty Turco, whose league GAA is 2.26, with a .907 save percentage.

If you’re a Laker fan and you’re going to the game, bring that rabbit’s foot, or any other mojo you’ve got.

PICK: Michigan 6-2

Bowling Green (5-21-2, 3-15-2 CCHA) at Western Michigan (5-22-2, 4-16-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI

Chances are, if you want a ticket to this game, you can probably still get one.

While these two teams anchor the bottom of the league, they actually have little in common.

Bowling Green has momentum going for it, after losing a close 1-0 game to Lake Superior, then beating the Lakers 4-3 at home.

Western Michigan has momentum, too — the wrong kind. The Broncos dropped two games to Ohio State last week, and have lost 18 in a row. Every defeat now is a new record for consecutive losses by a CCHA team.

Bronco head coach has tried everything to stop this slide. Miracle grapefruit? Tried it. Hound dog tie? Worn it. Wind-up clapping monkey? Don’t ask.

What frustrates the Broncos and their fans most is how well Western Michigan can play a game…then lose. The Broncos have lost nine one-goal games, including an overtime loss to Michigan. Nine more of the Bronco losses have been two-goal games.

Clearly, Western Michigan is trying to compete.

Maybe this is the game that does it for them. Bowling Green plays well in spurts; the Falcons are an inconsistent team.

Western Michigan has a better defense and better goaltending in Matt Barnes. Neither team seems to be able to finish offensive chances.

Perhaps the insertion of Price into the Bowling Green lineup will mix it up even more for the Falcons.

And every losing streak must come to an end. Doesn’t Western Michigan have to win some time?

"Don’t say that!" says Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson. "Don’t pick us! Don’t pick against us! Just don’t pick!"

Well, someone’s got to win. Unless this game ends in a draw.

Throw away that monkey, Bill!

PICK: Western Michigan 2-1