This Week in the CCHA: February 20, 1998

Dear Miss Hockey Manners,

When spearing, is it more appropriate to use the butt end of the stick, or can I apply the blade?

Signed, Player Perfectionist

Dear Gentle and Otherwise Reader,

Ah! This is not the letter of a mere goon, but rather that of a true artiste! Your stick is your brush, your opponent your palette! You want to create–no, you are compelled to create!–and I am humbled by your talent.

Either end will get you two–or possibly more–so choose carefully the instrument of your statement.

Happy hockey, Miss Hockey Manners

Dear Miss Hockey Manners,

Are hockey and graciousness mutually exclusive?

Signed, Sensitive Fan

Dear Gentle and Otherwise Reader,

Of course hockey and graciousness are not mutually exclusive. For example, take what Michigan State goaltender Chad Alban said about Ohio State after the Spartans halted the Buckeye unbeaten streak at ten games: "They’re a great hockey team. There’s no question about it."

Another example is what Wolverine Bill Muckalt says of Spartan defenseman Tyler Harlton: "I’ve played against Tyler in juniors and here, and he’s always been a solid defenseman, but it seems he has picked up his play several notches. He’s improved his skating. He’s the backbone of their team. He’s a great leader and a good person."

Are you not moved, as am I?

Happy hockey, Miss Hockey Manners

Are you familiar with the phrase "down to the wire?" These last three weeks of regular-season CCHA play will be the proverbial horse race.

This is the weekend that many CCHA fans have been looking forward to all season. No. 5 Michigan faces No. 2 Michigan State in a "home-and-Joe" series, two games that will probably decide the CCHA regular-season title.

Michigan leads the conference with 39 points; Michigan State holds on to second place, just three points behind.

The Wolverines beat Miami 3-1 and Northern Michigan 4-2 last weekend; the Spartans kept pace with two wins of their own, 4-2 over Western Michigan, and 4-1 over Ohio State.

Oh, gentle and otherwise readers, does it get any better than this?

In third place–for the moment–sit the Buckeyes, with two points gained in a 5-3 win over Notre Dame, and 31 total points. Ohio State is, however, idle this week, and both Miami (30 points) and Northern Michigan (29 points) have a chance to gain some ground.

Helping the Buckeyes in their quest for home ice were the No. 9 Miami RedHawks, who lost 3-1 to Michigan and 5-4 to Bowling Green. This weekend, Miami travels to Ferris State and Western Michigan.

The fifth-place Wildcats beat Bowling Green 3-2, then lost to Michigan 4-2. Northern Michigan hosts Notre Dame and Alaska-Fairbanks.

Sixth-place Lake Superior (24 points) and eighth-place Ferris State (21 points) split a pair last weekend, with the Bulldogs winning 4-2 Friday, and the Lakers winning 3-2 Saturday.

This week Lake Superior hosts Alaska-Fairbanks and Notre Dame. Ferris State hosts Miami and Bowling Green.

With 22 points, the Fighting Irish are in alone in seventh place. Notre Dame dropped two games last weekend, a 5-3 loss to Ohio State, and a 5-3 loss to Western Michigan. The Irish travel to the Yoop this weekend for games against Northern and Lake.

The Nanooks also visit upper Michigan, playing Lake and then Northern. With 14 points, Alaska-Fairbanks still holds playoff hopes. The Nanooks were idle last weekend.

Bowling Green and Western Michigan are anchoring last place with 13 points each. The Falcons lost 3-2 in overtime to Northern Michigan and beat Miami 5-4 last week. The Broncos lost 4-2 to Michigan, and beat Notre Dame 5-3.

The Falcons and Broncos meet on Friday night. Bowling Green plays Ferris State on Saturday, while Western hosts Miami.

Last week’s record in picks: 9-1 Overall record in picks: 106-66

Get me–I’m giving out wings!

No. 5 Michigan (25-6-1, 19-4-1 CCHA) at No. 2 Michigan State (24-4-5, 16-4-4 CCHA) Friday, 7:08 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI Michigan State at Michigan Saturday, 7 p.m., Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI

As mentioned above, this series will probably decide the regular-season title. With just three points separating these two teams and an equal number of games remaining for each team, this one should be subtitled.

The Whole Enchilada

After nearly an entire season of watching Michigan State position itself to leap with conviction into the NCAA Tournament, and watching Michigan surprise everyone in the CCHA, what’s left to be said about these two teams?

Mike York and Bill Muckalt, blah, blah, blah.

Sean Berens and Bobby Hayes, yada, yada, yada.

Tyler Harlton and…is there anyone comparable to Tyler Harlton in the CCHA? OK, that’s one for the Spartans.

Chad Alban and Marty Turco, bla–wait a minute. Turco isn’t playing Friday night.

"We’re not going to start Marty Turco," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "He missed some classes he shouldn’t have missed, and he knew if I found out I’d take this step, and I found out. He’s definitely not starting Friday. We’ll see about Saturday."

So, there’s another one for the Spartans. A big one. The absence of Turco on Friday night guarantees nothing for the Spartans, but without him the Wolverines will have a tougher time keeping Ron Mason from his 800th career win in front of an adoring Munn crowd.

All right–that’s the big news. Now let’s just get the whole marquee-player-thingy out of the way, shall we?

The Marquee Players

The Spartans

Mike York: In 22 league games, York has 15 goals and 18 assists for 33 points (third in the CCHA). He has just 13 penalties for 26 minutes. One hat trick, one game-winner, one shorthanded goal. Plus 13. Fast on the breakaway, amazing agility, graceful hands and excellent hockey sense.

Sean Berens: In 22 league games, Berens has 20 goals and nine assists for 29 points (tied for seventh in the CCHA). Two hat tricks, three game-winners, one shorthanded goal. He’s tied for third in the league in power-play points with 16 in all games played. Absolutely deadly on the breakaway–not the guy you want to steal the puck. Natural goal-scorer.

Chad Alban: In 22 league games–1,321 minutes and 59 seconds in net–Alban is 15-3-4. He’s allowed just 36 goals for a league GAA of 1.63. His save percentage in league play is .921. Like a third defenseman, Alban’s puck-handling ability contributes to the Spartan stinginess with shots on goal.

Tyler Harlton: The best defensive defenseman in the league. In 24 games played, one goal and seven assists. Harlton is plus 27 in overall play, and plus 20 in league play. He not only leads the Spartans in plus/minus–he leads the CCHA.

The Wolverines

Bill Muckalt: In 24 league games, Muckalt is second in CCHA scoring with 18 goals and 18 assists for 36 points. He has two hat tricks, five game-winners, two empty-netters, and he’s plus 15. He leads the league in power-play points (25) in all games played. Muckalt is a real sniper, with the ability to score from nearly anywhere. He’s also a great set-up man, which makes him doubly dangerous.

Matt Herr: In 17 league games, Herr has 18 points–seven goals and 11 assists. The senior captain missed half the season with a groin injury, but since coming back has made everything better for the Wolverines. Four of his seven goals are power-play goals. He’s at plus eight. His leadership is outstanding; Herr is a true class act.

Bobby Hayes: Fourth in scoring in the CCHA, Hayes has 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points in 23 league games, including 11 points in his last 13 games. Hayes has really stepped up this season, and he’s poised to lead the Wolverines next year.

Marty Turco, who may play Saturday: In 24 league games–1,387 minutes and 50 seconds in net–Turco has a record of 18-4-1. Turco has allowed 47 goals for a league GAA of 2.03. His league save percentage is .911. These numbers put him just a shade behind Alban in goaltending stats among goalies with significant time in net. Lightning-fast reflexes make him the bane of many a breakaway. Sometimes the puck must seem as large as the moon to Turco.

The Supporting Cast

Each of these teams is more than the sum of a few household names. There are players on each team that make their lines click, run their power plays, defend the nets and rarely get press.

Without these guys, neither the Spartans nor the Wolverines would be the contenders they are today.

You’ve heard of some of them–especially if they’re rookies. But others may need a bit by way of introduction.

The Spartans

Rustyn Dolyny: Genuine Rookie of the Year potential, the kid with a cool name is tied for second with Berens in scoring for the Spartans (tied for seventh in the CCHA). In 24 league games, Dolyny has 14 goals and 15 assists for 29 points, and he’s taken just 11 penalties for 22 minutes in league play this season. He has six power-play goals and five game-winners.

Kevin O’Keefe: With Bryan Adams out with an injury earlier, and now out again, O’Keefe has been asked to step up to help out Mike York, and step up he has. In 36 games played last year, O’Keefe had a total of 11 points. This season, in 24 league games, he has seven goals and nine assists for 16 points. O’Keefe has one power-play goal and a game-winner.

Jeff Kozakowski: One point on the potent Spartan power-play, coach Mason has said that Kozakowski is one of the Spartans who make their first power-play unit flow. Kozakowski has no goals, but ten assists in league play — in fact, he has 12 points overall, all assists. Eight of those assists have come on the power play.

Brad Hodgins: Hodgins is the other point-man on the Michigan State first power-play unit. Like his teammate Kozakowski, all of Hodgins’ league scoring has come in the form of assists (10). He has one goal and 11 assists overall, and he’s one of the six CCHA defenseman with nine points on the power play, all assists.

The Wolverines

Dale Rominski: This junior winger is another Wolverine who has been able to step out from behind the shadow of The Michigan Nine. Rominski had just 15 points for the season last year; so far this season in league play, Rominski has nine goals and six assists for 15 points in 24 games. He has a shorthanded goal, and is plus 16.

Michigan head coach Red Berenson says he’s not surprised by Rominski’s progress this season. "Dale has been a character player from day one, but his role has continued to improve."

Bubba Berenzweig: The big junior defenseman with the very unhockey-like name, Berenzweig needed to improve this season, according to his coach. "There’s no question," says Berenson, "he had to step up. Based on his talent, his game was a long way from what it should have been. This was his chance, and I’m pleased with how he’s playing."

In 24 league games, Berenzweig has four goals and six assists for 10 points, and he’s at plus 13. He has a power-play goal, and two game-winners, including the deciding goal with 24 seconds left in overtime against Western Michigan on January 10.

Mark Kosick: Another genuine rookie-of-the-year candidate, Kosick scored his first three collegiate goals in one game, against Alaska-Fairbanks on Halloween. Kosick is second among forward in power-play scoring in the CCHA, with three goals and 14 assists (17) in all games played. He’s tied for eighth in CCHA league scoring, with 10 goals and 17 assists in 23 games.

In addition to his hat trick, he has two game-winners and an empty-netter, and he’s at plus 10. He’s third in scoring for the Wolverines. A natural goal-scorer, like Muckalt he’s a threat from any angle. Oh–and he’s a true freshman, just 18 years old.

Josh Langfeld: Often overshadowed by Kosick, Langfeld is quite a player in his own right. Fourth in scoring for Michigan with 10 goals and 12 assists for 22 points in 24 games played, Langfeld possesses agility, great hands and breakaway speed. He has 12 points on the power play, four of which are goals.

The Whole Ball of Wax

Michigan State is 5-0-2 against ranked opponents this season. Alban was in net for each of those wins, and in those five games posted a 0.98 GAA and a .950 save percentage.

Three of those wins were shutouts.

These games pit the two best power plays in the league. Michigan State’s power play started clicking a couple of months ago, and is humming along at the league-leading rate of 23.4 percent. Michigan’s power play is performing at 18.4 percent.

According to some Spartans, the power play couldn’t have geared up at a better time. For the first half of the season, Michigan State was winning primarily with defense. "Now with our power play clicking, it really takes the weight off the defense," says Harlton.

With top offensemen Shawn Horcoff and Bryan Adams out of the lineup with injuries, the first Spartan power-play unit has picked up some slack. Says Dolyny, "Without those two, we knew our power-play unit would have to produce. The rest of our offense really misses those guys, but our power play has been working well."

That power play has scored at least one goal in 11 of the Spartans’ last 13 games, while the first power-play unit has been responsible for the last 22 Spartan man-advantage goals.

Kozakowski–one big point on the Spartan power play–says that the key to winning against Michigan will be controlling the Wolverine offense. "They have four great lines, they’re all fast. Defense will be our key. We’ve won our games all year by playing defense.

"Hopefully we’ll chip in a few goals here and there. And if the power play keeps going, that will help us out a great deal."

Berenson thinks that the Wolverines have an advantage because of their lower national ranking and higher standing in the CCHA. "I think the pressure is on Michigan State. They’re the team trying to catch us and overcome us, and this is the chance to do it.

"We’ve been a surprise this season. Even we didn’t know where we’d be at the end of the year. This will be a real test for us."

The Wolverines have not been swept in a CCHA season series since the Spartans took four games from them in the 1988-89 series. The Spartans are also streak-stoppers, having put an end to a Wolverine streak with each of their four victories over Michigan this season and the last.

Nov. 2, 1996: MSU 5, UM 4 in East Lansing, ending a 15-game Wolverine win streak which included their seven-game playoff run to the national championship.

Feb. 8, 1997: MSU 2, UM 1 in Detroit, stopping Michigan’s program-record 23-game unbeaten streak.

Oct. 25, 1997: MSU 4, UM 2 in Ann Arbor, stopping the Wolverines’ 32-game home unbeaten streak against CCHA opponents.

Dec. 28, 1997: MSU 5, UM 3, stopping the Wolverines’ nine-year Great Lakes Invitational title streak.

Note: Michigan brings a five-game win streak into this weekend.

These two teams have met a total of 222 times since their first battle in 1922, and Michigan leads the series 118-98-6, including the Spartans’ two wins this season.

"It comes right down to the two of us head to head, and at this point we can’t ask for anything more than that," says Mason. "That’s not the end of it either. There’s a lot of hockey still to be played after that, and both teams are going to have to continue to play well, otherwise all these spots change."

Michigan State and Michigan, head to head. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

PICKS: Michigan State 4-2, Michigan 3-2

No. 9 Miami (18-8-4, 13-8-4 CCHA) at Ferris State (12-16-3, 9-12-3 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI Miami (18-8-4, 13-8-4 CCHA) at Western Michigan (7-24-2, 6-18-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI

By the way, there’s other hockey being played this weekend, and for the teams playing, the points are just as important.

Still within mathematical striking range of first place are the Miami RedHawks. But right now the ‘Hawks are just hoping to hold onto home-ice for the playoffs.

"We have a resilient team," says head coach Mark Mazzoleni. "We have games we haven’t played to our capabilities, then the next weekend we’ve come through."

That’s a fairly accurate assessment of RedHawk hockey. After beating Michigan twice at home, the ‘Hawks tied Michigan State in Munn, then were punished for it the next night with a 7- 0 Spartan shutout.

The following weekend, at home Miami struggled at home for a 3-2 win over Alaska-Fairbanks, then tied Michigan State the next night 0-0.

Then they played well in a 3-1 loss to Michigan Friday night, and lost the next night to Bowling Green 5-4. "On Friday night we played an excellent hockey game," says Mazzoleni. "We had our opportunities, and we didn’t capitalize on our power play. We were there to win the hockey game. Our guys played hard."

On Saturday against BG, Miami was outshot 20-5 in the first period, and Dan Price’s eventual game-winning goal took the Miami defense completely off guard. By Mazzoleni’s reckoning, this should be the weekend Miami bounces back.

Miami at Ferris State

Ferris State swapped points with Lake Superior last weekend, winning 4-2 and losing 3-2. Assistant coach Drew Famulak says that his team isn’t slumping, no matter what the recent Bulldog record says.

"We played very well this weekend. We gave up 20 shots the first night and 18 the second….We’ve been hovering around five-hundred, and our attitude is very good."

Miami and Ferris State have beaten each other up once this season, each delivering the spanking at the other’s home rink. Miami won in Big Rapids 6-2 in December, and Ferris won in Oxford 5-1 last month.

Each coach is concerned with his team’s power-play. "During our stretch our penalty kill was very, very good, but our power play has gone completely silent," says Mazzoleni. Miami’s power play, once performing at about 23 percent, has slipped to fifth in the league at 17.3 percent.

"I think our power play needs to improve. We had the opportunity to make it 3-0 on the power play in Saturday’s game [against Lake Superior] and we didn’t take advantage of that," says Famulak. "That may have been the turning point in the game." Ferris State’s league power play is ninth, capitalizing just 14.2 percent of the time.

This game may come down to experience. Miami’s a hurting team with Todd Rohloff gone from the defense, but this balanced team is loaded with veteran talent that understands what it takes to win a game.

Miami has a quintet of 20-point players in league play: seniors Tim Leahy (5-19–24), Adam Copeland (13-10–23), Marc Tropper (7-16–23) and Dan Boyle (11-11–22), and under-rated sophomore Dustin Whitecotton (4-18–22).

But there’s no one breakout player on this Miami team, no single playmaker as they had in Randy Robitaille last year. When the RedHawks play like the balanced team they are, they’re hard to beat.

The four top Ferris State scorers are in the plus. Junior Joel Irwin (9-13–22) and senior Brett Colborne (6-16–22) provide leadership as well as offense; sophomore Brian McCullough (8-9–17) and Rookie of the Year contender Kevin Swider (7-14–21) provide offensive depth.

Miami has been forced to move to a more defensive game with the loss of Rohloff, since the ‘Hawks need Boyle in their own end to defend, rather than up front making plays. Ferris State has a very good defense, led by Colborne and rookie Jim Dube.

In the net, Miami has the clear advantage. When he’s on his game, Prior is one of the best in the league, with a 2.50 GAA and a .913 save percentage in over 1,000 minutes of league play.

For the Bulldogs, rookie Vince Owen has been asked to shoulder the load. Owen has a 3.33 league GAA and a save percentage of .871 in league play.

Says Mazzoleni, "I expect a dogfight."

Believe him. In eighth place with 21 points, the Bulldogs need all they can get. So do the RedHawks.

PICK: Miami 4-2

Miami at Western Michigan

Don’t write this game off, as apparently Miami did against the Falcons last week. Not taking a last-place team seriously cost the RedHawks two points, and if they continue to play up or down to the level of their opponents, they could be in trouble this game.

Another factor in this game is that points are still important to the Broncos.

"You never know what could happen," says Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson. "Mathematically, if we win them all and Ferris loses a few, we can catch them.

"Of course, the difference is that they [Ferris State] control their own fate. We don’t. We could win every game left and still not make the playoffs."

Since shaking off the mantle of losing with a win against Ferris State, the Broncos have lost two close games–2-3 to Bowling Green, 2-4 to Michigan–and last week beat Notre Dame 5-3.

What’s the difference between winning and losing for the Broncos? "Scoring goals."

Wilkinson laughs, but he’s right. The Broncos have been competitive in many of their 24 losses this season, often losing by a single goal.

Who’s scoring for the Broncos? Well, "scoring" is a relative term. Frank Novock leads the team in scoring, with 21 points (11-10) in 25 league games. He’s also at minus 11.

Steve Duke is second in Bronco league scoring, with one goal and 14 assists for 15 points in 25 games.

Then there’s Mike Melas, who had 12 points in 15 games. But the junior center is no longer with the team. "Mike Melas is off the team," says Wilkinson. "He wouldn’t go to class, so I told him he couldn’t play. I gave him plenty of warning."

According to the coach, Melas isn’t even on campus. He may resurface shortly in the ECHL.

You may have heard rumors about Joe Corvo, the junior defenseman and assistant captain with 10 points. Wilkinson says, "Joe Corvo served a four-game suspension for a violation of team rules. He’s back this weekend." That’s all Wilkinson would say.

The Broncos have a defense that can play tough (but breaks down frequently) and a goaltender–Matt Barnes–who stands on his head. In nearly 1,600 minutes of league play, Barnes has a GAA of 3.06 and a save percentage 3.06 of .895. Not bad for a guy who has seen a lot of shots; Barnes has 691 saves.

Miami has the offensive advantage in this game, if the RedHawks play their game.

PICK: Miami 4-3

Notre Dame (14-15-4, 9-12-4 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (15-11-4, 13-9-3 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI Alaska-Fairbanks (9-18-3, 6-17-2 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (15-11-4, 13-9-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI

There is no one thing you can point to and say, "There–that’s the reason why Northern Michigan is successful." In fact, there are signs all over the place that should point to a team with fewer points. Lots of underclassmen. Questionable goaltending.

But the fact remains that the Wildcats get it done when they need to, with a good first line and some of the most punishing checking in the league.

With 29 points, Northern Michigan is just one point behind fourth-place Miami, and two points behind third-place Ohio State. Northern slipped out of the top four with a weekend off, so the ‘Cats are hoping to regain a top-four spot while the Buckeyes are idle.

The Buckeyes swept the Wildcats, so if Northern and Ohio State tie at the end of the season, the Bucks have the tiebreaker, and–in all likelihood–home ice for the playoffs.

Northern beat Miami twice this season, so if the ‘Cats and ‘Hawks tie in points at season’s end, Northern has the tiebreaker, and–in all likelihood–home ice for the playoffs.

Notre Dame at Northern Michigan

Notre Dame has one goal remaining for the season–to finish the season as competitively as possible going into the playoffs.

"We really didn’t play well this weekend," says Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. The Irish dropped games to Ohio State and Western Michigan, both by the score of 5-3.

Poulin realizes that the Irish preseason goal of home ice for the playoffs will not be realized. "We want to take care of our own end, to play each game the best we can."

The Irish top line of rookie Dan Carlson, senior Steve Noble, and junior Brian Urick has real potential. Carlson has put up respectable numbers for a rookie (6-7–13 in league play). Urick is the goal-scorer on the line, with nine goals and nine assists in 25 league games.

Aniket Dhadphale continues to be the sniper for the Irish. The junior winger is especially deadly on the power play, with nine goals and three assists overall on the Irish man advantage this season.

The nicest surprise for Notre Dame this year is Mark Eaton. The rookie defenseman from Delaware (of all places) has six goals and 16 assists in 25 league games. In addition to scoring, Eaton plays his position well. He robbed OSU’s Eric Meloche twice on the breakaway in last week’s Irish loss.

The Wildcat first line of Buddy Smith (7-18–25), Roger Trudeau (11-10–21), and J.P. Vigier (10-11–21) is simply outstanding. Smith is good in the corners, and like all the Northern Michigan players, can finish checks like nobody’s business.

Rookie of the Year candidate Fred Mattersdorfer is fourth on the Wildcat team in scoring just behind that top line, with 10 goals and 10 assists in 29 league games.

On paper and on ice, the Wildcats can–and just might–outscore the Irish. Then there’s the matter of what happens between the pipes.

The Irish goaltending is slipping a bit lately. Senior Matt Eisler can make the big save, and his league save percentage is very competitive at .892. His GAA is 3.09, belying a league record of 5-9-3.

Forrest Karr has seen a third as much time as Eisler in the Notre Dame net, with a record of 4-3-1. His league save percentage is .862, and his league GAA is 3.22.

Neither goalie has been consistent.

For Northern Michigan, Duane Hoey’s league save percentage has improved recently, from around 86 percent to a solid 88 percent. He has a winning league record of 12-9-3, and his GAA in those games is 2.93.

Notre Dame has a very good power play, and Northern Michigan has a fairly bad penalty kill, but the Wildcats tend to avoid penalties.

This is the first game between these two teams this season. They play the remaining two next weekend. It’s hard to say what will happen, but it’s a pretty certain bet that the Notre Dame players will be bruised after all is said and done.

PICK: Northern Michigan 3-2

Alaska-Fairbanks at Northern Michigan

The Nanooks gave a couple of good Ohio teams–Miami and Ohio State–a couple of good games a couple of weeks ago. Miami got by 4-3, but the Bucks settle for a 4-4 tie. Overall, it was a good weekend of play for Alaska-Fairbanks.

One thing we know about the Nanooks is that they can score. Sjon Wynia leads the Nanooks in league scoring with 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points in 24 games. He’s ninth in scoring in the league, and tied for sixth among forwards for power-play points with 13.

Jeff Trembecky provides leadership as well as scoring for Fairbanks. With 12 goals and 10 assists, he’s second on the team in scoring, and ninth in the CCHA. He’s third in CCHA power- play points among forwards (4-12, 16).

A third Nanook is also making a difference on the power play. Rookie Jim Lawrence is a player; with five goals and nine assists, he’s fifth among forwards for CCHA power-play points. In 25 league games, he has seven goals and 11 assists.

Offense is not the problem for the Nanooks, but defense certainly is, from the goal out.

Between Ian Perkins and Chris Marvel, the team has a .864 league save percentage and a league GAA of 4.74. Perkins may still be suffering from the groin injury he sustained against Ohio State two weeks ago.

The Nanooks have been outscored 120-76 in league play. The team plus/minus in league play is minus 168.

This weekend will be a real test for the Nanooks, whose offense matches well with Northern’s, but whose defense and goaltending may be their downfall. The Nanooks–with 715 league penalty minutes–may be frustrated by Northern’s physical style.

Northern has beaten Fairbanks twice this season, 5-4 (OT) and 7-3, on two consecutive nights in mid-November. Wildcat fans may be able to get out the brooms.

PICK: Northern Michigan 5-3

Alaska-Fairbanks (9-18-3, 6-17-2 CCHA) at Lake Superior (13-13-4, 10-11-4 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI Notre Dame (14-15-4, 9-12-4 CCHA) at Lake Superior (13-13-4, 10-11-4 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI

The Lakers have been a team struggling for unity all season. This has produced some of the most uneven play in the CCHA.

In spite of this, Lake Superior head coach Scott Borek says that the Lakers have consistency–of the wrong kind.

"Right now I think we’re playing consistently poorly. We’ve been more consistent in the last month, in a negative way."

The Lakers split with Ferris State last weekend, a 2-4 loss and a 3-2 win. At one point in the closer, Lake Superior was down 2-0.

"I don’t think we played very well Friday; we worked very hard to get back, and once we got back we gave up kind of a bad goal."

Six Lakers were hurt in Saturday’s game, a number Borek calls "very concerning."

Jeff Cheeseman (back) and Blaine McCauley (knee) are probably gone for the season. Joe Blaznek, with a knee injury, is not practicing, but will be evaluated closer to game time. Mike Kucsulain is probable for this weekend with a knee injury. Jason Sessa–another knee injury–is possible. Bryan Fuss, with a deep rib cage bruise, is game-to-game.

Those six players are responsible for 29 of Lake Superior’s 73 league goals.

"We haven’t played at home in five weeks," says Borek, "and we’re really beaten up."

Alaska-Fairbanks at Lake Superior

Just what the Lakers need–a physical team capable of beating them in the Soo.

In early November, at the beginning of the Nanooks’ hellishly long road trip through Michigan, the Lakers and Nanooks split a pair of games in Abel Arena, with UAF winning 6-2 the first night, and the Lakers winning 8-2 the second.

Who wins the season series probably doesn’t matter nearly as much as do points to these two teams. The Nanooks, seven points behind eighth-place Ferris State, will play as though they can make the playoffs. The Lakers want to finish as high in the standings as possible to guarantee a more even postseason pairing.

"Most likely we’re going to travel for the playoffs," says Borek. "Right now our goal–and even our game plan–is that we’re not playing UAF, we’re playing ourselves. We want to play the past the first weekend of March, and to do that, we have to play our best game.

"I think if you play UAF, Western or Bowling Green, you’re playing extremely dangerous teams. These teams are motivated."

As beaten up as the Lakers are, it’s difficult to assess what kind of game they’ll give the motivated Nanooks. Terry Marchant still leads the Lakers in points. In 24 league games, he has 13 goals and 18 assists, including four power-play goals and four game-winners. He’s one of the few Lakers on the plus side, at plus 11.

Of the six Laker scorers with points in the double digits in league play, three are hurt, including Sessa (16-11–27), Blaznek (6-8–14) and Kucsulain (3-8–11).

Ted Laviolette has 14 points in 23 league games (5-9) and Tobin Praznik has 13 points in 24 league games (7-6).

The Lake Superior defense plays a fair game, and the Laker penalty-killing unit is on top of the CCHA at 92.8 percent. The Lakers are the only team in the CCHA in double digits in shorthanded goals, with 10.

Rob Galatiuk has been the main netminder for Lake Superior all season. The rookie has good numbers–a 3.00 league GAA, and a league save percentage of .894.

Given the potential for offensive fireworks that each team has, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a high-scoring game. The Nanooks have been playing more disciplined hockey in the second half of the season, and seem more focused.

In net, the advantage is Lake Superior’s. Galatiuk is solid, and has played with more consistency than have either Perkins or Marvel have for the Nanooks.

Home ice should be an advantage this late in the season for Lake Superior, but those injuries could open the door to an upset by a confident Nanook team.

PICK: Lake Superior 5-4

Notre Dame at Lake Superior

Earlier in the season, the Lakers beat Notre Dame 4-2 and tied the Irish 3-3 in South Bend.

Everything about Notre Dame’s numbers suggests that they will win this game. The Irish are better on the road than at home. They have four players (Simon, Dhadphale, Eaton, and Cotnoir) with 20 or more points in league play. Rookie Mark Eaton is excellent on defense, and Cotnoir is a solid defenseman. Matt Eisler has the capability of coming up with major-league saves, and his numbers are good.

So why don’t I have faith in the luck of the Irish?

Notre Dame is a bit thin defensively, with Tyson Fraser (back) and Nathan Borega (shoulder) out. And it just appears that the Irish haven’t found their feet this season.

Much like Lake Superior.

The Lakers are 4-6-1 in January and February, with a split against Ferris last weekend. The Irish are 4-7-2 in January and February, with two losses last weekend.

The Lakers are hurting, literally, with injuries to at least six key players. The Irish have a couple injured, are without Joe Dusbabek (academics) for the rest of the season, and will come into this game after play the uber-physical Northern Michigan Wildcats.

As a team, the Lakers have a league save percentage of .886 with a team league GAA of 3.35. The Irish have a team league save percentage of .883 and a team league GAA of 3.14.

Each team is being outscored slightly by opponents. Notre Dame brings its very good league power play (18.0 percent) to Lake Superior’s outstanding penalty kill.

The Irish are healthier, and with all the young, enthusiastic talent they have, they should win.

But they probably won’t. The Irish are slumping, and they can’t seem to figure out why. The Lakers know exactly why their slumping, and that may be the difference.

Home ice is an advantage in the Soo, where hockey is looms as large as does football in South Bend.

PICK: Lake Superior 3-2

Bowling Green (7-22-3, 5-16-3 CCHA) at Western Michigan (7-24-2, 6-18-1 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI Bowling Green (7-22-3, 5-16-3 CCHA) at Ferris State (12-16-3, 9-12-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, MI

Bowling Green is a team reborn, sort of. Not quite the mythic Phoenix, the Falcons have received excellent goaltending from rookie Shawn Timm–whose league save percentage is just above .900–and a shot in the offensive arm with the return of Dan Price to the lineup.

Lately, it looks like the Falcons can beat anyone–and they very nearly have. A 1-0 shutout of Michigan State in December. Last weekend’s 5-4 win over Miami.

In their last three weekends of play, the Falcons are better than .500 with a record of 3-2-1.

But two players alone cannot sustain a team for very long. Fortunately for the Falcons, the season’s almost over, and the last impression they leave on fans and the league may be a positive one.

Before we get all mushy, however, let’s remember that coach Buddy Powers himself has said that he wants to upset as many teams as possible in the remaining games, to ruin a few end-of-the-season celebrations. Powers is not aiming for the playoffs; realistically, that just isn’t going to happen for the Falcons. But his spread-the-misery mentality has more than a few teams worried.

Last week the Falcons upset Miami (and took one step closer to the famed Ohio Cup). There’s not much at stake in the grand scheme of things in the Bowling Green game against Western Michigan, but don’t you think that Ferris is shaking a little bit?

Bowling Green at Western Michigan

"We’re battling Bowling Green for the bottom spot," says Bill Wilkinson, "and nobody wants to finish last."

Leave it to Wilkinson to sum it all up.

Each of these teams has tried to make something happen in the last few weeks, and Bowling Green has had a bit more success.

This game will be better than your average cellar-dweller matchup. Each of these teams has excellent goaltending. Each has good–but not great–defense. Each has a couple of players who can score.

Well, all right–Bowling Green has Dan Price, and that’s the biggest offensive threat in this game.

Even though Price missed a bunch of games, he still leads his team in scoring with nine goals and 10 assists in 16 CCHA games. Like the rest of the Falcons, he’s in the minus–but he’s only minus eight, which isn’t as bad as some Falcon players.

The second leading Falcon scorer, Adam Edinger, is out, and Chris Bonvie–third in points with 14–is banged up.

For the Broncos, it’s the same old story–Frank Novock can score, Steve Duke can set up a play, and Mike Melas is gone, gone, gone.

Joe Corvo is back, and that’s good news.

You know, either of these teams could have made the playoffs, and neither wants to finish in last place, so fans will get a good game, well played. Given their momentum lately, it’s likely the Falcons will win this won.

PICK: Bowling Green 4-2

Bowling Green at Ferris State

If the Bulldogs want these points–and they really, really do–they’ll have to find a way to get around Shawn Timm.

If the Falcons want these points–and they really, really do–they’ll have to contend with a Ferris State defense that’s better than most people realize.

And that’s the difference in this game. The Falcons may not take the Bulldogs seriously. Call it a hunch, but it’s certain that Ferris State will know that Bowling Green is for real, but it’s not a given the other way around.

After all–and this is meant with no disrespect whatsoever to Bowling Green–the Falcons are flexing their collective muscle lately, and may be playing a little bit beyond their collective team level right now.

With Timm to spur them and Price back in the lineup, they have a jump they haven’t had all season. If that jump leads to over-confidence, the patient and focused Bulldogs will be all over them.

Stopping Price won’t be easy–he is an outstanding player, period. But the Bulldogs are fighting for their playoff lives, and beating them at home won’t be easy either.

This game may come down to discipline. The Falcons have the clear advantage in net, but the Bulldogs are a better-balanced team. Either team that keeps its cool could win this game.

PICK: Ferris State 3-2