This Week in the CCHA: February 13, 1998

No, it’s not what you’re thinking. With four weeks left in regular-season CCHA play, it’s understandable that your mind would jump to the home stretch of the season.

But, come on, CCHA fan. What does mid-February mean to most folks? It may be hard to imagine, given how involved we all are with college hockey right now, but there’s something sweet going on, something that has to do with matters of the heart.

It’s Valentine’s Day, and what other sport do you know of more closely related to romance than hockey?

After all, we learned from a hockey player that love means never having to say you’re sorry.

Doesn’t hockey mean the same thing?

Given the current race for the playoffs in the CCHA, love–or rather, love lost–may be on the minds of many CCHA teams this weekend.

It was the English poet Algernon Charles Swinburne who wrote:

Love, that sounds loud or light in all men’s ears Whence all men’s eyes take fire from sparks of tears, That binds on all men’s feet or chains or wings; Love, that is root and fruit of terrene things.

Substitute the word "hockey" for "love," and who could argue?

No. 5 Michigan held on to the top spot in the CCHA last weekend with a 4-1 win over Lake Superior Saturday in Joe Louis Arena. The win gave the Wolverines 35 points, three ahead of No. 3 Michigan State. Michigan hosts No. 7 Miami and Northern Michigan this weekend.

With a rare one-point weekend, the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans remain in second place in the CCHA, while dropping out of first in the USCHO Poll. The Spartans fell 4-2 to Ohio State and tied Miami 0-0, both games on the road. This week, Michigan State hosts Western Michigan and Ohio State.

No. 7 Miami beat Alaska-Fairbanks 3-2 and tied with Michigan State 0-0 last weekend. The three points keep Miami in the hunt for the CCHA title; with 30 points, the RedHawks are two points behind Michigan State and a point ahead of Ohio State. This week, Miami travels to Michigan and Bowling Green.

With their 4-2 win over Michigan State and a 4-4 tie with Alaska-Fairbanks, Ohio State moved into fourth place in the CCHA last weekend. This week, the Buckeyes travel to Notre Dame and Michigan State for their final regular-season game against each team.

Northern Michigan fell out of the top four simply because the ‘Cats didn’t play. With 27 points and a game in hand, the Wildcats are in hot pursuit of the fourth-place Buckeyes, this week hoping for points in road games against Bowling Green and Michigan.

Notre Dame and Lake Superior are tied with 22 points each. Last week, Notre Dame tied 1-1 with Bowling Green, and beat Ferris State 7-1. Notre Dame hosts Ohio State and travels to Western Michigan this week.

Lake Superior lost a game to Michigan last week. The Lakers travel to Ferris State for two.

Ferris State holds on to eighth place with 19 points, in spite of two losses last weekend. In addition to losing 7-1 to Notre Dame Saturday, the Bulldogs lost 4-2 to Western Michigan Friday.

With 11 points, the resurgent Bowling Green Falcons look to play the spoiler this week in the CCHA. The Falcons took three points last weekend, tying Notre Dame and beating Western Michigan 3-1. Bowling Green hosts Northern and Miami.

With their win over Ferris State, the Broncos broke their seemingly-endless losing streak, then dropped a game to Bowling Green. Western, tied in points with the Falcons, travels to Michigan State, then hosts Notre Dame.

"It is that powerful attraction towards all we conceive, or fear or hope beyond ourselves…" The quote is from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s On Love, but isn’t he really talking about this CCHA playoff race?

Last week’s record in picks: 3-6 Overall record in picks: 97-65

"…Regrets which glide through the spirit’s gloom, And with ghastly whispers tell That joy, once lost, is pain."

After all, I’m no Jayson Moy.

No. 7 Miami (18-6-4, 13-6-4 CCHA) at No. 5 Michigan (23-6-1, 17-4-1 CCHA) Friday, 7:08 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI Northern Michigan (14-10-4, 12-8-3 CCHA) at No. 5 Michigan (23-6-1, 17-4-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI

At the start of the season, when Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson welcomed Northern Michigan back to the CCHA–then welcomed Michigan back to the CCHA in the same breath–everyone chuckled at the thought of the Wolverines coming back to earth.

Guess who’s laughing last?

The Wolverines have surprised everyone–including head coach Red Berenson–by holding on to the top spot in the CCHA for most of the season.

"We weren’t expecting to be at the top of the league, not at the beginning of the season," says Berenson. "We’ve won a lot of one-goal games."

Week after week, Berenson reminds anyone who will listen that this Wolverine team is not the team of last season, that one fronted by The Michigan Nine. In doing so, Berenson doesn’t necessarily mean to compare his current squad unfavorably with the team that won a national championship two years ago; rather, he’s pointing out how hard this team has had to work this season.

"Nothing is easy in this league," says the coach. "Turco was the difference in a lot of games."

Marty Turco has earned his scholarship this season, compiling a 16-4-1 league record, a league save percentage of .911, and an impressive league GAA of 2.08.

Helping Turco keep the Wolverines afloat have been Bill Muckalt and Bobby Hayes, second and third in league scoring, respectively. Everyone knows about Muckalt (16-16–32), but Hayes has to be one of the CCHA’s unsung heroes, with 15 goals and 16 assists.

If you look at Turco, Muckalt and Hayes, you see nearly the sum total of the reason for Michigan’s success in the early part of the season, when Matt Herr was still out with a groin injury.

But if you look at the second half of the season, you see a trio of rookies who have helped Michigan hold onto first place when the going got a little tougher.

Defenseman Mike Van Ryn and forwards Josh Langfeld and Mark Kosick are all three legitimate Rookie of the Year candidates, and all three testimony to Michigan’s recruiting prowess.

Van Ryn (3-12–15) is ninth in scoring for Michigan, and Berenson has been singing his praises all season. But Langfeld (14-13–27) and more recently Kosick (9-25–34) are two Wolverines who have been getting a lot of attention.

"Langfeld has been a horse right from day one," says Berenson. "I think he’s been a strong, physical player. He’s an older freshman, too, and that makes a difference.

"Kosick is a young freshman–a true freshman, as is Van Ryn–and I’ve been amazed at how well he’s played under the circumstances. I think in the last month he’s really come on."

Veteran leadership and young, enthusiastic talent. Welcome back to the CCHA, Michigan.

Miami at Michigan

When the Wolverines traveled to Goggin Arena last month, few people thought Miami could pull off one win. When the dust settled Miami had four points to Michigan’s zero.

"Those were good games," says Berenson. "I think we’ll see the same type of game here. It’s a big game for both teams. They’re still in the hunt for first place."

"It’s a huge game if you want to win the league," says Mark Mazzoleni. "But we’re not necessarily looking to finish first.

"Our goal from day one was to finish in the top four, to be the best team we can going into the playoffs." The Miami head coach says that his team is more concerned about the CCHA tournament rather than with winning the regular-season title.

Along the road toward the CCHA tournament, Miami has had to make adjustments to its signature fly-out-of-the-gate style of hockey. With the season loss of defenseman Todd Rohloff, the RedHawks have had to change the way they play defense.

With Dan Boyle on your team, changing the way you play defense changes the way you play offense.

"Todd Rohloff was every bit the player that Tyler Harlton is," says Mazzoleni, adding that losing the defensive defenseman has forced one of his top scorers–Boyle (10-11–21)–to play a more defensive game.

"I think we’re adjusting all the better each week. I like playing good defensive hockey."

Mazzoleni is, after all, a goalie at heart.

This game should be every bit as entertaining for the fans in Yost as it was for the fans in Goggin. RedHawk goaltender Trevor Prior (2.37 league GAA, .916 SV%) proved to be the better goaltender in the previous pairing, but Turco has been playing his game ever since the weekend in Oxford.

Miami will get an added lift from the return of Alex Kim (10-6–16), whose style compliments Dustin Whitecotton. Whitecotton, with 20 points in league play (3-17) is Miami’s most underrated players.

If Mark Shalawylo can play with his hand injury taped up tight, the Kim-Whitecotton-Shalawylo line could make a big difference.

On the Wolverine side of things, keep an eye on Dale Rominski, who is fifth on the team in league scoring with nine goals and nine assists. Rominski has improved throughout the season, and he makes the second Michigan line click.

This game is in Yost Arena. CCHA fans know what that means. According to Berenson, "Home ice can be an advantage."

And you thought Ron Mason was the master of understatement in the CCHA.

PICK: Michigan 4-2

Northern Michigan at Michigan

Last week, the Wolverines beat Lake Superior 4-1 at Joe Louis Arena, a contest that was a "home" game for the Lakers in a place Michigan fans like to call Yost Arena East.

"The first period was pretty close," says Berenson. "Once we scored one, we had the feeling we had the momentum. Toward the end, Turco shut Sessa down on the breakaway, and that was a big lift.

"Overall, I like the way our defense played."

So, note to other CCHA teams: not only has Michigan scored more league goals than anyone else, but now the defense is working, too.

Perhaps it’s a good thing that Northern Michigan had last weekend off.

The Wildcats are 5-4-1 in 1998, splitting their last two games with Ferris State two weeks ago, a 3-2 overtime loss, and a 5-3 win.

While they were idle, the ‘Cats slipped to fifth place behind Ohio State, a team that beat them three times this season.

Northern Michigan has a game in hand on the Buckeyes, but the ‘Cats need points to climb back into one of the top four spots.

Helping them in their efforts will be the line of Buddy Smith (3-15–18), Roger Trudeau (11-8–19) and J.P. Vigier (8-8–16). The two weeks off will have helped Smith, who’s been banged up all season.

One real advantage the Wolverines have is in net; or, perhaps more accurately, the Wildcats have a disadvantage in net.

Duane Hoey is capable of astounding saves in any game, and he can rise to any challenge in big games. He can make saves, and he can come up big, but he’s inconsistent.

The young goaltender has a respectable league GAA of 2.93, but his league save percentage tells a different story; .878 doesn’t seem to be a number that would be competitive by CCHA standards.

In fact, as a team, Northern Michigan’s league save percentage–.875–is considerably lower than its opponents’ collective .891.

How is Northern Michigan winning games? By playing well as a team, by making the most of offensive opportunities and by finishing checks.

Do not underestimate the importance of finishing checks. We’re not talking dirty hits, but we ain’t talking love-taps, either. The Wildcats are simply the toughest-checking team in the league. When they’re on their game, the ‘Cats have the ability to dictate the pace of the game just through checking.

They’re so hard-hitting–so clean-hitting, but hard-hitting–that you may feel bruised after having just watched them from a safe distance.

This season series is tied, with a 5-3 win for Michigan and a 1-0 win for Northern–a rare shutout of the Wolverines.

Like most coaches, Berenson says he’ll play Friday’s game, then think about the Wildcat-Wolverine match. "We really are playing one game at a time. I’ve told our team where we finish depends on how we play in each of our games."

So while Friday’s match is foremost on the minds of the Wolverines, come Saturday morning, perhaps they’ll be thinking about an early-season 1-0 loss.

PICK: Michigan 4-2

Ohio State (17-10-2, 14-9-1 CCHA) at Notre Dame (14-13-4, 9-10-4 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Joyce Arena, South Bend, IN Ohio State (17-10-2, 14-9-1 CCHA) at No. 3 Michigan State (22-4-5, 14-4-4 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI

The team whose school colors most fit the holiday weekend is Ohio State. Lately, Buckeye hockey fans have been wearing the colors with pride, but it wasn’t so long ago that this hockey program typified the "gray" in Scarlet and Gray.

Head coach John Markell said he never dreamed at the start of the season that his team would be in the position of defending fourth place. "We were looking at .500."

The Buckeyes are just one point behind third-place Miami and just one point ahead of fifth-place Northern Michigan–and each of those teams has a game in hand on Ohio State. "We know we have a hard stretch. We have one game left at home out of our last six, and it’s against a top-ten team [Miami]. It’s going to be tough for us from here on in."

Markell, in his third full year as head coach, says that the current Buckeye nine-game unbeaten streak has led to positive feedback from the success-starved OSU hockey fans, which has fed the Buckeye players’ desire to win.

"When I was recruiting them, I told them, ‘You’re going to get a pat on the back that’s an elation you won’t be able to feel anywhere else because if you go to some program and you don’t win and they’re used to winning, there’s pressure to win.’

"Here, everything is appreciated. People come up to me wide-eyed and ask, ‘How are you doing this?’

"People appreciate what they’re doing, and the players are reaping the benefits of it. Now it becomes tough, because now the players pressure themselves to win. Now they want to win. They want to do it for everybody."

The Buckeye pep band made its first appearance at Ohio State’s 7-0 win over Lake Superior. The teeny, tiny OSU War Memorial has been sold out ever since.

For the Buckeye players, the experience of playing to a packed, enthusiastic house is a new one. After beating Michigan State 4-2 at home last Friday night, Todd Compeau–the senior forward who had a goal 29 seconds into the game and the game-winner–said that he’d never seen anything like it in his four years at Ohio State. "It was like winning the Rose Bowl."

"Everything is going good for them," says Markell, "and they see what they’re doing for hockey, the town, and this university, and it’s a good feeling. They want that to continue.

"We know we have a lot work for, a lot to look forward to if we play well."

Ohio State at Notre Dame Grudge Match, Part I

In football, the OSU-Notre Dame rivalry is huge. If these two hockey teams keep playing each other the way they have under coaches Markell and Dave Poulin, the intensity on ice may rival that of the gridiron.

The season series is tied, and each team won its games with two shorthanded goals. Notre Dame won 3-2 in November and Ohio State won 5-3 in January, both games in Columbus at the Fairgrounds Expo Center.

There’s no shame in giving up shorthanded goals to the team that’s second in the league in scoring shorthanded goals, but don’t tell Irish head coach Dave Poulin. "We gave up two shorthanded goals, the only shorthanded goals we’ve given up all season."

The Irish are playing well, but inconsistently, as has been their story all season. Last week, Notre Dame tied Bowling Green 1-1 and beat up on Ferris State 7-1, both games at home, where–this season, at least–the Irish have been struggling. The 7-1 win was the biggest Irish margin of victory against a Division I opponent in 15 years.

"From a confidence standpoint it was huge," says Poulin. "We simply scored a lot of goals."

Markell knows this game is going to be very tough, and he’s concerned about the sold-out crowd in South Bend.

"Notre Dame will be ready for us. Hopefully we’ll be ready for them. We’re prepared to go to war here.

"They’re at home. ‘Ohio State-Notre Dame’ says enough in itself. It will be a hard one. There’s a revenge factor there, too, for what we did to them last year."

What Ohio State did last year was beat Notre Dame at home, twice, in the same weekend, in early February, knocking the Irish out of the CCHA playoffs.

"We’re going to have to go in there with a really good game to beat them," says Markell. "For us and for them, these points are huge."

Not only is Ohio State trying to hold on to fourth place, but Notre Dame is trying to catch them. Finishing fourth or higher "was a goal at the beginning of the year, and it’s still our goal," says Poulin.

This game against OSU is all that much more important, Poulin says, because Notre Dame’s remaining games are very tough. "We play Northern three times." And Lake Superior and Michigan once each.

On paper, Ohio State is the better team. Three players in the top ten in league scoring. A league plus/minus ratio of plus 83 to Notre Dame’s minus 24. A team league goaltending save percentage of .906 compared with Notre Dame’s .888. OSU has rookie defenseman Andre Signoretti (3-11–14); Notre Dame has rookie defenseman Mark Eaton (5-15–20).

Both teams have breakaway potential, and the most dangerous offensive breakaway threat for Notre Dame is Aniket Dhadphale, whose five-point weekend earned him last week’s CCHA Offensive Player of the Week honors.

What this game will come down to is depth and emotion. The Buckeyes are the deeper team, and if they play their game, the should win. They also have the nine-game streak on their side.

On the other hand, Notre Dame has the packed crowd and the more pressing desire for points.

This one is going to be close.

PICK: Ohio State 4-2

Ohio State at Michigan State Grudge Match, Part II

For Ohio State fans, there may never have been a brighter moment in Buckeye hockey history than last Friday’s upset of Michigan State. When Compeau scored that first-minute goal, the little barn exploded. The Plexiglas shook from the noise even before the fans started to beat on it.

The story led the evening sports on two local network television affiliates, and was the first story behind the Olympics on the third.

For a team that hasn’t seen any press in years–a team that sits in the shadow of a winning football team or even a losing men’s basketball team–this is heady stuff.

It’s a shame the Columbus daily newspaper didn’t pick up the story. Not a single Buckeye hockey game has been covered by the local daily, including Michigan State game. Says Markell, "We’ve not been given a whole lot of respect."

But Markell is happy with a different kind of respect he’s watched grow this season: self-respect. After beating the Spartans on Friday night, Ohio State tied Alaska-Fairbanks 4-4 on Saturday, blowing the 3-0 lead the Buckeyes held after one.

"I was glad to see that they [the OSU players] were very upset with what happened with Alaska," says Markell. I’m not discrediting Alaska; I think Alaska played a great game. But we certainly did not play our ‘A’ game. We were a step behind the whole night.

"But we earned a point. We could have easily lost that game, and we earned a point. I was glad to see in the dressing room that they were upset with themselves. That’s what you need from a team. They have to be able to look in the mirror and understand that they blew one."

Markell says he’s not looking ahead to Saturday’s game against Michigan State, but don’t you believe it. "We know a bit about Michigan State because, luckily, we just played them."

Spartan head coach Ron Mason says the same thing, but don’t you believe it. "We’re not a juggernaut by any means we hope that when we play hard we give ourselves the best chance to win." Yeah.

This season series is tied at a game apiece, with Michigan State winning 2-1 in November, and OSU taking the more recent game. Believe it or not, these are evenly matched teams.

The key to Ohio State’s win was the second line of Chris Richards, Dan Cousineau, and Todd Compeau. Markell put this line up against the Spartan first line centered by the phenomenal Mike York (21-17–38 overall) to allow Ohio State’s first line centered by league-leading Hugo Boisvert (16-21–37 league) some room against the second Michigan State line.

This strategy did more than work in the last game, as that second line was responsible for three goals.

Expect the same again this weekend, but with a twist or two. Now that Bryan Adams is out with a separated right shoulder suffered in the game against Ohio State, Mason will have to shuffle his lineup again to compensate.

But he’s done that before–with winning results.

Even if Michigan State struggles offensively–which is doubtful, given the way that Sean Berens (17-7–24 league) is playing–the Spartan defense is, simply put, the best in the country.

But don’t take our word for it.

Michigan State is allowing just 1.65 goals per game, a GAA that is 0.35 better than the next-best team in college hockey (Yale). Michigan State hockey’s superb SID, Nate Ewell, researched the defenses in 12 leagues amateur and professional (NCAA Division I, NHL, AHL, IHL, ECHL, Central, United, West Coast, Western Pro, OHL, QMJHL, WHL) and found that this is the largest margin between the first- and second-best defensive teams in any league.

While you’ve been cautioned repeatedly that numbers can lie, here are numbers to take to the bank.

This rematch should be every bit as exciting as least week’s game. Keep in mind that Ron Mason and his team have a healthy respect for the Buckeyes–who took two of three from the Spartans last season–and that’s a serious advantage in this game.

PICK: Michigan State 4-2

Lake Superior (12-12-4, 9-10-4 CCHA) at Ferris State (11-15-3, 8-11-3 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI

This is the battle between two teams in need of points and some hope going into this last stretch of the season. "One of us could end up in eighth place," says Laker head coach Scott Borek. "We’re two teams going in the same direction."

The Lakers lost 4-1 to Michigan in Joe Louis Arena last weekend, but Borek says that–until the third period, at least–the game was closer than the score indicates.

"It was our kind of hockey game. The shots after two periods were 12-10."

It’s that last 20 minutes of hockey that’s been the real killer for Lake Superior this season. "We’re not a real confident hockey team right now. We’ve lost a lot of games in the third period, and that works on our psyche right now." The Lakers are being outscored 35-31 in the third period.

While Terry Marchant flirts with the league scoring title this season (his 13 goals and 18 assists tie him for third in the league with Michigan’s Bobby Hayes), and every CCHA fan is familiar with Laker names like Jason Sessa, Ted Laviolette and Joe Blaznek, it’s three freshman defenseman that Borek is especially pleased with this season.

"Matt Frick from West Bloomfield, Michigan–I thought he’d be good in the future. Ryan Knox is playing well. Klem Kelgar from Slovenia, too. Those three guys have really played well, and we haven’t been able to take them out."

While the names may not be of the household variety, and of the three only Knox has made an offensive impact (2-8–10), Borek says that these three have anchored his defense, giving them valuable experience they can take into next season.

The Lakers lost 6-1 at home against the Bulldogs very early in the season, but that was a long time ago; Borek says he’s not sure what to expect, but he adds, "It’s such an important game that both teams will be playing well."

Both teams will be trying to snap losing streaks, two games for Lake Superior, and a four-game streak for Ferris State.

Ferris has an offense with the potential to cause some damage, with Joel Irwin leading the way (8-13–21). Senior captain defenseman Brett Colborne is second for the Bulldogs in scoring with 20 points (6-14), followed by Rookie of the Year candidate Kevin Swider with 19 points (7-12).

Ferris State has a good defense–one that can, or should, outmatch Lake Superior. The real battle for this game, however, may be played between the pipes, with two freshmen goaltenders doing the honors.

For Lake Superior, Rob Galatiuk has been the go-to guy all season, and has earned respectability with a .898 save percentage and a league GAA of 2.87 in nearly 1,400 minutes of league play.

Vince Owen is the man for Ferris State. In over 1,400 minutes in net, Owen’s save percentage leaves something to be desired–.874–and he’s giving up 3.44 goals per game.

Both of these teams need points, and the in-state rivalry between the Bulldogs and the Lakers will insure a good crowd.

PICKS: Ferris State 3-2, Lake Superior 5-3

Western Michigan (6-23-2, 5-17-1 CCHA) at No. 3 Michigan State (22-4-5, 14-4-4 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI Notre Dame (14-13-4, 9-10-4 CCHA) at Western Michigan (6-23-2, 5-17-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI

Don’t ask which of Bill Wilkinson’s talismen–the houndog tie, the clapping monkey, the miracle grapefruit–did the trick. He doesn’t care. The Broncos snapped their 18-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over Ferris State, and that’s all that matters.

"We played very well, especially for the first two periods," says the Western Michigan head coach. "We kind of sat back in the third period."

Wilkinson said that there were a couple of moments in particular that gave Bronco fans something to cheer about. "Chris Slater’s post-goal celebration brought some excitement back to our team. [Matt] Barnes made a great breakaway save on [Kevin] Swider in the last minute."

After winning for the first time in many months, you’d think that the Broncos would have been ready to face Bowling Green on Saturday.

Not so, says Wilkinson. "As well as we played Friday, we played poorly Saturday."

Wilkinson and the Broncos are not resigned yet to the role of spoiler; even though the Broncos have just 11 points, they’re still working toward making the playoffs.

Wilkinson says he hopes his players are "scared" going into this weekend. "If we don’t win this weekend, we’re totally done."

Western Michigan at Michigan State

Michigan State’s last game was a 0-0 tie with Miami. "It was a gut check for us," says Spartan head coach Ron Mason. "We had to play well and we did. It could’ve gone either way for both teams."

In spite of the difference between the records of the Broncos and the Spartans, Mason is not taking this game for granted.

"We have tough games with Western. We tied them here at the start of the season. I thought they’d be a contender but it just hasn’t worked out for them."

But, Mason says, "We know how good we can be when we’re on our game."

It’s no secret that from top to bottom the Spartans are the better team. Defensively, they’re the best team in the CCHA, and the Bronco offense may be no match for Alban, Harlton et al.

In 23 games, Frank Novock (11-10) has scored 21 points for the Broncos, and he’s received precious little help. If the once-famed Western Michigan defense can hold the now-fabled Michigan State offense, the Broncos will have a chance.

It isn’t, however, likely.

PICK: Michigan State 4-1

Notre Dame at Western Michigan

Western Michigan and Notre Dame are two teams with similar goals: the Broncos need points to make the playoffs, and the Irish need points for fourth place and home-ice advantage.

Notre Dame has the edge in this game on several levels.

Western has been outscored in league play by 20 goals (72-52), while Notre Dame is outscoring league opponents 72-70.

Western is averaging 2.13 goals per game, while Notre Dame is scoring 3.23 goal per game on average.

While both teams have been outscored in the third period, the Irish have been outscored in third-period play by just seven goals, while Western has been outscored 46-28 in the last twenty minutes.

Western has two players with 20 or more points overall, compared with Notre Dame’s seven.

If the game is close, the Irish may have the advantage. Western is 1-8 in one-goal games, while Notre Dame is 5-6.

The most important advantage the Irish may have is that they’re playing on the road, where they’ve won more games. Like the Irish, the Broncos have struggled at home, posting just a 3-12-1 record in Lawson Arena.

PICK: Notre Dame 3-1

Northern Michigan (14-10-4, 12-8-3 CCHA) at Bowling Green (6-21-3, 4-15-3 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH No. 7 Miami (18-6-4, 13-6-4 CCHA) at Bowling Green (6-21-3, 4-15-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH

Finally, Bowling Green is seeing some daylight after several dark and stormy months.

"We’ve got a few games where Shawn Timm has stolen a couple of games for us," says Falcon head coach Buddy Powers. "And there have been some games where we’ve scored enough goals to win.

"Offense is still the problem."

Just a quick look at Bowling Green’s season stats tell the story of an offense that hasn’t been able to do much of anything. While junior Dan Price was suspended for more than a month for his involvement in an auto accident that led to the death of a passenger, Price remained the Falcons’ lead scorer.

That was until Adam Edinger took over the top spot in the last week of Price’s suspension.

Which would be good news if Edinger weren’t out for the season with a torn ACL and MCL.

From the accident that shadows this season to injuries, it doesn’t seem to end for the Falcons. Along with the negative press the Falcons have received is criticism over Dan Price. Some people have accused Bowling Green of bringing Price back to the lineup as a last-ditch effort to make the playoffs. That kind of talk makes Powers angry, and what makes him angrier still is the perception that alcohol played a role in the accident.

Police tests have proven that it was excessive speed–not alcohol–that made Price lose control of the car he was driving last summer, but Powers said since the word "alcohol" was the initial buzzword, people prefer to believe the worst.

"What the bottom line is that this is just a tragic accident, and this is something Price have to live with for the rest of his life. Now that he’s back playing, we hope he can focus on getting on with his life."

Powers says his team is still "grinding away," and says that the Falcons just haven’t had the points they expected from their top four returning players–Price, Edinger, Holzinger and Fox.

"It’s one thing to ask guys who are returning to go from no goals to fifteen goals, but these guys all scored last year, and all of our returning guys have struggled.

"Price, Edinger, Fox and Holzinger–you’ve got to figure those guys, if they play according to their past, those four players would be looking at anywhere from 45-65 goals."

After Edinger (18 points) and Price (14), Chris Bonvie (8-4–12), Curtis Valentine (5-5–10), Mike Jones (2-8–10) and Doug Schueller (1-9–10) are the only Falcons scoring in double digits.

The Bowling Green power play is capitalizing on chances just 14.4 percent of the time in league play. The team has a combined league plus/minus ratio of minus 168.

"Bonvie’s our leading goal scorer and he’s got 11 goals." Powers says that "for freshmen [Bonvie and Valentine] are doing pretty well," but they shouldn’t be expected to carry the team. And, Powers adds, the CCHA is a tough place for freshmen to make an impact.

"Our one outstanding freshman has been Shawn Timm. He’s gone from the outhouse to the penthouse, so to speak."

Since taking over the starting duties in December, Timm as earned a 3-9-2 record, with a league GAA of 3.20, and an excellent save percentage of .899.

Powers says that the way in which the Falcon freshmen have been playing points to a promising future for Bowling Green. "Our young guys, our freshmen defense and our freshmen goaltender have all played pretty well. But we have to live in this moment.

"The biggest thing has been to keep the guys’ spirits up. No one expected this kind of a season to happen. Some guys get so uptight about trying to be good, and once that sets in they make plenty of mistakes."

Powers says the challenge is to get his players to think about what they can accomplish this season. "We try to keep everybody right in the moment. We’ve shortened the practices up and try to make sure there’s some fun in practice."

And the Falcons now will take pleasure in every win, since nearly every win is an upset. "We’re going to have the opportunity to make a few teams absolutely miserable, and we’re playing for that now."

Northern Michigan at Bowling Green

"We’ve been playing pretty well since that awful game against Northern Michigan." Powers is referring to the Falcons’ 8-2 loss to Northern just a few weeks ago."

Are the Falcons thinking about that loss going into Friday’s game? Powers laughs. "We keep reminding them every day about it."

Northern has Bowling Green beat offensively, but the Falcons have the edge in net. Both teams are very hard-hitting, and there may be quite a few bruised bodies after this one is over.

Northern owns this series with Bowling Green, but the Falcons know that the Wildcats are chasing points, trying to regain fourth place in the league. Given how much Powers and the Falcons want to play the spoiler, this could be make for a very good game.

PICK: Northern Michigan 5-2

Miami at Bowling Green

This is the first meeting between these two teams, and there’s more than pride at stake; there’s the Ohio Cup.

Mention the cup to either Mark Mazzoleni or Buddy Powers, and each will chuckle a little. The Ohio Cup is awarded to team in Ohio with the best record against other Ohio teams.

Right now, Miami and Ohio State each have a win in their season series, and Bowling Green and Ohio State each have a win in their season series.

This is the first meeting of the season between Miami and Bowling Green. So, of course, The Cup.

"Well, we do have an Ohio Cup banner hanging in our rafters," says Mazzoleni when pressed for comment.

In their last game, the RedHawks tied 0-0 with Michigan State. "Even though it was a 0-0 game, it had pretty good flow to it. Either team was in a position to win it. It was a very good game, and I was pleased because we competed through the end of the game."

Even though the ‘Hawks are a top-ten team, Mazzoleni is concerned about this Falcon team. "Bowling Green–the way they’re playing now, we don’t know what to expect, but we know they’ll be tough. And that’s a hard building to play in."

Although the Falcons have played well "in spurts," according to Powers, he’s not overly optimistic. "The simplest way to explain it is if you don’t score goals you can’t win. We’re averaging two goals a game."

But he’s not overly pessimistic, either. "Our bad games have been guys not executing on certain shifts."

In order to counter the lack of offense, Powers has tried different techniques to try to get something going.

"We’ve varied things to find out what system is going to benefit the players. We wanted to turn the forwards loose to see if they could score, but we know now that that doesn’t work.

"We still don’t play a trap or anything like that. We want to make sure we have a third man back to help the defense, so that we’re not giving up too many odd-man rushes."

If the Falcons like to play a game that opens up at the start–and that’s the system they like best–they’ll have their hands full with this Miami team. In spite of the slight slumping lately (and let’s face it: three "slumps" have been against the then-top-ranked team in the country), Miami has plenty of firepower, and the RedHawks have an adequate defense and excellent goaltending.

The Falcons have been bolstered by the return of Dan Price, and by the play of rookie goaltender Shawn Timm, whose play last weekend earned him the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week.

Believe it or not, this one is hard to call, since each team is a bit unpredictable lately. But, if all goes by the books, Miami should win this one.

Let’s just hope that no one gets hurt in the quest for The Cup.

PICK: Miami 5-2