There are several rookie goaltenders who have made a difference for their respective teams. The most notable of these is Jeff Maund, Ohio State’s rookie who never–not for one second– played like one.
Maund has considerable talent, considerable points–and considerable stats. He’s 14-6-0 in over 1,200 minutes of play; he’s 12-6-0 in league play. His league GAA is 2.70, and he’s given up 49 goals in 530 league shots for a save percentage of .909.
Maund is tied with Miami’s Trevor Prior in wins, and he’s kept company all season long with the likes of Prior, Chad Alban and Marty Turco. He has all the right moves, and he’s one of the few goaltenders I’ve seen who can actually get better as the game progresses.
Deserving of mention: Shawn Timm (BGSU) and Rob Galatiuk (LSSU).
The sole criterion for rookie defensemen is not necessarily the ability to play well on both sides of the puck, but the two rookies who earn mention here can do just that.
My favorite rookie defenseman to watch has got to be Notre Dame’s Mark Eaton. Eaton is the kind of blueliner who can score and defend–just ask OSU’s Eric Meloche, whom Eaton stuffed on Meloche’s considerable breakaway twice in a Notre Dame losing effort. If I were choosing sides for a team, I’d choose Eaton.
In 27 league games, Eaton has eight goals and 16 assists. Six of those goals are on the power play. He has just 11 penalties for 22 minutes in league play, and he’s plus seven.
Ohio State’s Andre Signoretti is the kind of defenseman you’ll take any day of the week to anchor one point of your power play. Signoretti is another guy who can score and defend. In 25 league games, Signoretti has three goals and 11 assists, 15 penalties for 30 minutes, and his plus/minus is plus 12. He’s had two power-play goals in league play and two game-winners.
Deserving of mention: Mike Van Ryn (UM), Jim Dube (FSU)
The best newcomer up front has to be the guy with the great name, Spartan Rustyn Dolyny.
In 26 games, Dolyny has 15 goals and 17 assists for 32 points. He’s taken just 11 penalties for 22 minutes. He has seven league power-play goals, five league game-winners, and he’s fifth in scoring in CCHA play. He’s also plus 13.
Dolyny is fast and smart, and while other Spartans may make the offense and power play actually click, Dolyny takes care of business when he has the puck.
Michigan has a pair of newcomers who have had quite an impact on Wolverine hockey. Center Mark Kosick is especially impressive because he’s a true rookie–born in 1979 (that’s two years after the release of Star Wars: A New Hope, for those of you keeping track). While Kosick has put up impressive numbers, if I were choosing sides, I’d pick his teammate Josh Langfeld.
Langfeld plays with poise, and his hockey sense is impeccable. Kosick’s league numbers are slightly better than Langfeld’s, but Langfeld’s are nothing to scoff at. Fourth among Wolverines in league scoring, in 26 CCHA games, Langfeld has 10 goals and 13 assists, 13 penalties for 26 minutes, four league power-play goals, and he’s plus 11. And he’s plenty fun to watch.
Third on my list is a rookie who has been overlooked most of the season, but who has proven to be a player. Ferris State’s Kevin Swider is second in league scoring for the Bulldogs. In 24 league games, Swider has eight goals and 16 assists, has taken just four penalties for eight minutes, has four league power-play goals, three game-winners, and is plus eight.
Like Langfeld, Swider is fun to watch, and has become a key playmaker for the Bulldogs this season.
Deserving of mention: Mark Kosick (UM), Alex Kim (MIA), Fred Mattersdorfer (NMU), and Jim Lawrence (UAF)
So, my all-rookie team would be: Jeff Maund (G), Mark Eaton and Andre Signoretti, and Rustyn Dolyny, Josh Langfeld and Kevin Swider (F).
My rookie of the year? Jeff Maund. His presence has meant more to this surprising Buckeye team than any other single rookie has meant to his. While Ray Aho has proven this season that he also has buckets of talent, Ohio State didn’t perform well for Aho early in the season; as soon as Maund took the net, he took the game.
And how much more confident do you think the Buckeyes are knowing they have two of the top five goaltenders in the CCHA?
Besides, didn’t the Buckeyes take one in the chin last year when Hugo Boisvert wasn’t named CCHA Rookie of the Year?
And Now, For Your Regularly Scheduled Preview…
Meet the new boss. Not quite the same as the old boss.
With two consecutive wins over No. 5 Michigan 5-1 and 4-1, the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans slid into first place in the CCHA with 40 points. The Wolverines, however, are just one point behind.
This week the Spartans host the Lakers and the Bulldogs. The Wolverines host…the Bulldogs and the Lakers.
You’d think with Ohio State idle last week, Miami or Northern would jump ahead into third place. Well, I thought so, but I didn’t have that darned crystal ball…where did it go? If I could only find it…
Sorry. By just staying home, minding their own gosh-darned business, the Buckeyes remain in third place with 31 points. And they jump into 10th place in the nation in the Pairwise Rankings. If there were more than 2,500 Buckeye hockey fans in Columbus, believe me, the place would be on fire.
Thursday, the Buckeyes host the no-longer-top-ten-and-probably-really-steamed-about-it Miami RedHawks. This game is important for all the right reasons. Forget the fact that both teams are fighting for playoff home ice; The Ohio Cup is at stake in this game.
Then the Bucks travel to Bowling Green for the final game of that series on Saturday, where, again, The Ohio Cup may be at stake.
Tied for third in points with OSU is Northern Michigan, but remember that the Bucks own the regular-season series over the Wildcats. Northern lost to Notre Dame 4-3 and beat Alaska-Fairbanks 3-1 last weekend to gain those points for the tie. This weekend, the ‘Cats play two games at Notre Dame.
Miami lost 4-3 to Ferris State and 2-0 to Western Michigan last weekend, and the cornered ‘Hawks will take on OSU in the little War Memorial (bring an ice pack–you might need it), then play Bowling Green on Friday. The RedHawks are in fifth with 30 points.
In sixth place, the Lakers are not playing like a team banged up. Does anyone know better how to rally than Scotty Borek and his Lakers? After beating UAF 2-1 and Notre Dame 2-1 (OT) last week, the Lakers take on Michigan State and Michigan. Watch out for the Lakers, who are within striking distance of a top-four finish with 28 points.
Ferris State remains in seventh place with 25 points. The Bulldogs won a couple of games last week, a 4-3 win over Miami, and a 3-0 win over Bowling Green. This week, Ferris State travels to Michigan and Michigan State.
With 24 points, in the eighth and last playoff spot–although their standing may change–are the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Notre Dame beat Northern Michigan 4-3 and lost to Lake Superior 2-1 (OT) last weekend. This weekend, the ‘Cats and the Irish go at it again for two.
The bottom three teams–Western Michigan, Alaska-Fairbanks and Bowling Green–have all been eliminated from playoff contention. Two of them–the Broncos and the Nanooks–duke it out for three up north, while Bowling Green tries to play the spoiler at home against Miami and Ohio State.
Last week’s record in picks: 5-5 Overall record in picks: 111-71
All right. I’m through being nice. Return the crystal ball, and you’ll live. OK? That’s all I want. Put the ball down, back away slowly, and you won’t die…
Miami (18-10-4, 12-10-4 CCHA) at Ohio State (18-11-2, 15-10-1 CCHA) Thursday, 7 p.m., OSU Ice Rink-cum-War Memorial, Columbus, OH Ohio State (18-11-2, 15-10-1 CCHA) at Bowling Green (7-24-3, 5-18-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH
It’s February 13–Friday the 13th–and you’re Ohio State. You’re about to play Notre Dame, and in order to move into third place in the CCHA, you have to win, and Miami has to lose. You win, and Miami loses. But the next night, you’re Ohio State and you’re playing Michigan State. To remain in third place, you either have to win, or both Miami and Northern Michigan have to lose. No way you’re going to win at Munn, so you thank your stars for the brief appearance in third place. But what happens? Miami and Northern lose, and you’re still in third.
Jump to one week later. You’re still Ohio State (are you with me here?), and you’re not playing. That’s bad, because with two points, Northern Michigan ties you in third; with four, they vault ahead of you. And Miami is just three points behind you, too. So, you thank the hockey gods for your week in third place and…Northern takes two points, but Miami takes none, and you’re still in third.
"No one expected Miami to lose both," says OSU head coach John Markell. "Western Michigan was overdue. But we also did ourselves a favor; we won our games to put ourselves in this position."
Luck has little to do with how well the Buckeyes have played this season. Loaded with talent, Ohio State has improved steadily, especially in the second half of the season when the second line of Chris Richards, Dan Cousineau, and Todd Compeau has clicked. Then there’s the occasional contribution of the fourth line, especially Neal Rech and Tyler McMillan.
And don’t forget le trio Quebecois.
Markell will tell you that his players knew all along that they could possibly finish in the top four (and it ain’t over yet), but he still sounds a little surprised by the way things have worked out.
"Yes, it’s a little different from what we expected. For success, you need good players playing well, and peripheral players playing well. We didn’t know at the start of the season how Jeff Maund would respond. We’re getting good play from Neal Rech, and Tyler McMillan is a good defensive forward."
Every weekend of play just seems to get bigger for the Buckeyes, and this one is no exception. Not only are the Buckeyes playing for points–for home ice in the playoffs–but the Ohio Cup is at stake.
The Ohio Cup is awarded to the Ohio Division I team with the best head-to-head record against the other Ohio Division I teams. Ohio State will take the Cup if they beat Miami Thursday night; if they lose, they can still get it if they beat Bowling Green Saturday.
In order for Miami to win the Cup, they have to beat Ohio State, then beat Bowling Green twice more. For Bowling Green to win, Ohio State has to lose to Miami, and the Falcons need to beat Miami once more and the Buckeyes once.
"We’re more worried about playoff positioning than we are about the Cup," says Markell.
Miami at Ohio State
These two teams don’t like each other very much. Miami eliminated Ohio State in the first round of the playoffs last year; earlier this season, OSU came back to score four unanswered goals to beat Miami in the War Memorial.
The season series is tied at one game each.
"We respect Miami," says Markell. "They’re well coached. Obviously, they’ve been struggling a little lately, and we don’t know whether that will be good for us or for them come Thursday."
The ‘Hawks and the Bucks match up quite nicely from the net out. Trevor Prior and Jeff Maund are having similar seasons. They are third and fourth, respectively, among CCHA goaltenders who have 1,000 or more league minutes of play. In those games, Prior is 11-7-2, with a GAA of 2.58 and a save percentage of .910. Maund is 12-6-0, with a GAA of 2.70 and a save percentage of .909.
How well a goaltender can perform under pressure is especially important in the teeny, tiny OSU Ice Rink. It’s a bit bigger than Goggin, but the corners are short and any shot from the red line could be a grade-A opportunity.
So defense is important in the War Memorial. This has been a problem lately for the RedHawks, who have not been able to adjust completely to the mid-season loss of Todd Rohloff. The ‘Hawks are playing well defensively, with seniors Dan Boyle and Brooke Chateau leading the forces. If Boyle’s offensive numbers are a bit off this season, that’s because he’s been playing fairly good defense.
For Ohio State–a defense that occasionally nearly puts the puck in its own net–the men to watch are Ryan Skaleski and Ryan Root. Skaleski is the proverbial stay-at-home defender; Root is an offensive threat whose defensive game has improved steadily over the past two seasons.
This may be a strange thing to read, but Ohio State has a better offense. Hugo Boisvert leads the league in CCHA scoring with 16 goals and 22 assists in 26 games. He is, quite simply, one of the best players in the league.
His linemate, Eric Meloche, is sixth in league scoring with 17 goals and 14 assists. Meloche’s breakaway ability is breathtaking, and he has five league game-winners. Boisvert and Meloche each have two shorthanded goals.
Often overlooked at Ohio State is the second line, and the league’s most underrated player, junior Chris Richards. A scrappy, blue-collar player, Richards is seventh in league scoring with 11 goals and 19 assists.
For Miami, the number-one threat continues to be Adam Copeland, with 14 goals and 10 assists in league play. Tim Leahy actually has one more point than does Copeland (5-20–25), but Copeland possesses speed, agility and the ability to shoot from anywhere; he’s a dangerous man.
Dan Boyle (11-12–23) is still a force to be reckoned with, and the combination of Dustin Whitecotton (4-18–22, another underrated player) and Alex Kim (10-8–18) is potent.
Markell says the key to this game is poise, and he’s right. "We’re playing against a very mature hockey team, and we have a young club.
"This will be a test of our maturity."
Both teams need points, and Miami feels a might bit edgy. This is going to be a hard-hitting, name-calling, crowd-spurring thing of beauty.
Playing at home never used to be an advantage for the Buckeyes, but when you’re 9-4-1 at home, even the little War Memorial becomes a barn you love to defend.
PICK: Ohio State 4-3
Ohio State at Bowling Green
"We respect Bowling Green," says Markell. "We know we’ll have to go in there with our ‘A’ game. We’re not the kind of team that can take any opponent for granted."
In addition to a healthy history of in-state rivalry between the two teams, Markell knows that one other factor will dictate Bowling Green’s game Saturday. "It’s a nothing-to-lose situation for them, and they will be playing the spoiler."
Last week, Falcon head coach Buddy Powers said that playing the spoiler was one of the few things Bowling Green has to look forward to for the remainder of the season. BG has been able to jump up and bite a few teams right where it hurts.
After a dismal first half of the season–which included a seven-game losing streak–and a rocky start to the second half of the season–which included a seven-game losing streak–the Falcons have been playing inconsistent, yet sometimes good, hockey lately.
In their last eight games, the Falcons are 3-4-1, with wins over Lake Superior, Western Michigan and then-top-ten Miami. The tie was against Notre Dame.
By now, everyone knows the secret of this late-season Falcon redux. Rookie goaltender Shawn Timm is the real deal, and his team plays better in front of him. In just over 1,000 minutes of league play, Timm has a GAA of 3.39, and a save percentage of .895.
Another reason for the relatively better play of the Falcons lately is the return of Dan Price to the lineup. In 18 league games, Price has 11 goals and 10, and he leads the team with 21 points.
But two players alone cannot carry a team. The entire story of the Bowling Green offense can be summed up like this: for all except one week while Price was gone, Price still led the Falcons in scoring.
Here’s another telling factor: minus 191 in league play.
Still more statistics that tell the story of the season most Falcon fans would probably like to forget: the Falcons are giving up, on average, 3.90 goals in league games, while their opponents are giving up 2.50. And Falcon opponents are saving 90 percent of the shots Bowling Green tosses at them.
It would be a mistake to call the Falcons a bad team, and it would be a mistake to say that they can’t beat Ohio State. The Buckeyes have already taken two from Bowling Green this year, but they had to come from behind to do it both times.
One big advantage Ohio State has is that the Bucks take the Falcons very seriously. Even in an environment as hostile to Buckeyes as is the BGSU Ice Arena, Ohio State should win this one.
PICK: Ohio State 5-2
Northern Michigan (16-12-4, 14-10-3 CCHA) at Notre Dame (15-16-4, 10-13-4 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Joyce Center, South Bend, IN
These two teams met for the first time this season last weekend, where the Irish prevailed 4-3 in Marquette. "It was good for us because we were up 3-2 going into the third, and they came back and scored to tie it up," says Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin. "We needed to learn to win a game like that."
Poulin likened last week’s game in Lakeview Arena to a test. "It’s no different from school. You don’t like tests when you’re taking them but when you’ve passed they’re great."
The Irish are still bit short defensively, with Tyson Fraser and Nathan Borega still out. Making a defensive difference for Notre Dame have been rookie Mark Eaton (8-16–24) and junior Benoit Cotnoir (7-14–21), who are second and fourth, respectively, in Notre Dame league scoring.
Poulin says he’s also happy with the defensive play of rookie Ryan Clark.
Up front for the Irish, junior Aniket Dhadphale continues to be the sniper with 16 goals and seven assists. His 23 points put him third in league scoring for the Irish; he’s also the only Notre Dame player with goals in the double digits in league play.
As spectacular as Dhadphale can be, he’s no playmaker. Stationed in front of the net, Dhadphale can pop in the puck, but he’s minus eight in league play, which certainly colors his stats.
Junior Brian Urick is probably the most consistent of Notre Dame’s offensive threats. With nine goals and 10 assists, he’s fourth in league scoring for the Irish, and he’s the right winger on the Irish first line, complimented by rookie Dan Carlson and senior Steve Noble.
The enigmatic Northern Michigan Wildcats have more than just a few things in common with the Irish. The ‘Cats are a bit thin defensively, with goaltending that can be inconsistent. But Northern has a potentially dynamite first line.
Word is that defenseman Curtis Sheptak is out for Northern, and if so, that’s bad news indeed. In league play, Sheptak has four goals and 15 assists; one of those goals is on the power play.
With one goal and six assists on the anemic Northern Michigan power play (9.7 percent–last in the league), Sheptak will be missed.
Like the Irish, whose Matt Eisler has played well but inconsistently this season (2.90 league GAA, .899 save percentage), the Wildcats are having a little bit of trouble in net. The go-to guy for Northern Michigan is Duane Hoey, whose league save percentage is .883, and league GAA is 2.91. The good news about Hoey is that as 1998 began, his save percentage in league games was as much as .010 to .015 lower.
The first line of Buddy Smith (4-16–20), Roger Trudeau (12-10–22), and J.P. Vigier 8-10–18) is the killer for the ‘Cats. But the Wildcats have players from top to bottom who can score, and the team is at a healthy plus 114 in league play.
There are several things that will factor into these two games.
Northern Michigan is playing for home ice. Tied in points with Ohio State (31) and in third place, the Wildcats know that Ohio State has the tiebreaker in that series. And chasing Northern is Miami, with 30 points.
The Irish have the definite edge in special teams. Notre Dame’s league power play second, performing at nearly 19 percent; Northern’s league power play is under 10 percent. In league penalty killing, Notre Dame’s PK performs at a rate of 84 percent; Northern’s is about 82 percent.
Notre Dame is averaging four-or-so fewer penalties per game than is Northern.
The Irish have four players with 20 or more points in league play; Northern has two.
In addition to these factors, the actual physical nature of the games will affect the results. Northern Michigan is the most physical team in the league; if Notre Dame can keep up, check for check, these should be two fun-filled games.
Both teams are relatively young, and the team with the most focus should take the points each night.
PICKS: Northern Michigan 4-3, Notre Dame 3-2
Lake Superior (15-13-4, 12-11-4 CCHA) at No. 2 Michigan State (26-4-5, 18-4-4 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI Lake Superior (15-13-4, 12-11-4 CCHA) at No. 5 Michigan (25-8-1, 19-6-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
The Lakers won a pair of games last weekend, 2-1 over Alaska-Fairbanks, and 2-1 in overtime over Notre Dame.
"Friday was kind of frustrating game," says Laker head coach Scott Borek. "We couldn’t capitalize very much. Saturday we played much better."
Helping the Laker effort was rookie goalie Jayme Platt. "We got a nice spark from Jayme," says Borek.
"I pulled Robbie [Galatiuk] in the second game at Ferris. Our team was in a little bit of a rut, and he was in that rut, too. When I put Jayme in, the team responded."
Platt got the start Friday against Fairbanks because Borek felt that the backup deserved another shot after his performance against Ferris State. "He played so well Friday that I had to put him in Saturday."
For his two wins, Platt was named the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week. In the two games, he made 52 stops and allowed just two goals; his save percentage for the two wins was .963.
Borek doesn’t know who he’s going with this weekend, Platt or Galatiuk, who’s spent more than 1,300 minutes in net for the Lakers in league games. Each has a winning record. Platt is 3-2-0 in league games, with a GAA of 3.04, and a league save percentage of .906; Galatiuk is 9-8-4, with a league GAA of 3.00 and save percentage of .894.
Borek says his players are looking forward to games against both No. 2 Michigan State and No. 5 Michigan. "The next three games will be playoff games. After these, we should really be ready to anywhere we go."
No matter what the outcome of Friday’s game against Michigan State or Saturday’s game against Michigan, Borek says that his team will return home wiser. "Maybe a bit humbler," he quips.
Lake Superior at Michigan State
The Spartans have been banged up for most of the season, and they’ve seldom had a roster that wasn’t without key players because of injuries or the World Juniors.
Forward Bryan Adams has been out, then in, then out, then back again. Adams played this past weekend, scoring the first goal in Friday’s game. "That was a real boost for us," says Mason.
Shawn Horcoff is also out with a broken thumb, but will be back for the playoffs.
In Friday’s game, four more Spartans were hurt, including left winger Jon Gaskins (sprained right knee). Defenseman Chris Bogas hurt his wrist and Damon Whitten hurt his shoulder. But both players put themselves together with duct tape (well, OK, it was a cast for Bogas) and played with fervor against the Wolverines Saturday.
"We’ve had that kind of performance from a lot of guys this year," says Mason. "I’m not sure we’ve played completely healthy all season."
Like the Spartans, the Lakers have been a team plagued by injury. But, thankfully says Borek, "Cheeseman is the only one out for the year."
In order for the Lakers to have a chance with the Spartans in Munn, Lake Superior will have to contain a potentially explosive offense, and contend with a defense anchored by senior goaltender Chad Alban and defenseman Tyler Harlton.
This is nothing you don’t already know. Berens has been on a mission since recovering from his early-season injury. Three hat tricks, all in league games. 12 power-play goals, all in league play. 24 goals and 11 assists for 35 points, third in the league. One shorthanded goal. Five game-winners.
Mike York may be the most elegant player in the CCHA. His numbers (17-20–37) put him in a tie for second in league scoring (with Michigan’s Bill Muckalt).
In addition to Berens and York, the Spartans have a host of other talented offensive threats with whom you are doubtless acquainted. Add to this mix the best defense in the country, and Chad Alban (17-3-4 CCHA, 1.58 GAA, .924 save percentage) in his own rink, and the Lakers have a lot to handle.
For their part, the Lakers can put up decent offense, with Terry Marchant (14-19–33) and Jason Sessa (16-11–27) leading the team in league scoring. Marchant and Sessa, however, continue to be two of the very few Lakers who are on the plus side, on a team that is minus 135 in league play.
The Lakers lost 4-3 in Munn just a month ago, and in spite of some questionable stats, Lake Superior is a team that can hang tough. They also have a three-game win streak on the line.
From top to bottom, on paper and on the ice, the advantage belongs to the Spartans. A Laker win would be a fairly big upset.
PICK: Michigan State 4-3
Lake Superior at Michigan
The Wolverines have taken two games from the Lakers this season, a 7-0 nationally televised win, and a 4-1 win televised locally in Detroit. Remember that the Lakers lost 8-0 to Michigan last year on television.
This game, mercifully, is not being televised.
In the 4-1 loss, the Lakers were up on the Wolverines into the second period when Michigan just roared back to take the game, as the Wolverines are so capable of doing.
On reason for the Wolverine success, one big reason why Michigan has been able to come back in games this season–and take so many close games–is senior Bill Muckalt. Michigan head coach Red Berenson is fond of calling Muckalt an "elite" player–a term that is much overused this season when referring to some of the top players in the CCHA.
Still, Muckalt is one of the best, just a step behind OSU’s Hugo Boisvert for the lead in league points, tied with Spartan Mike York with 37 (18-19). Muckalt leads his team in league points, and is a among the team leaders in other categories: power-play goals (6), game-winners (5), plus/minus (plus 13) and, oddly enough, penalty minutes (56).
Muckalt is capable of setting the pace of any Michigan game.
Just a few of Michigan’s other weapons in its well-stocked arsenal are Bobby Hayes (16-17, plus 18), the rookies Kosick (28) and Langfeld (23), goalie Marty Turco (2.07 GAA, .909 save percentage), and a slew of other players who have made this Michigan team somewhat of a surprise in the CCHA this season.
How do these two teams match up? Well…
Michigan has better offensive firepower, better defense, and better goaltending. Michigan also seems to have Lake Superior’s number this season.
And Michigan is home, and home is Yost, where the Wolverines seldom lose.
And this will be Michigan’s senior night, honoring Matt Herr, Bill Muckalt, Marty Turco, Chris Fox and Gregg Malicke.
One more stat of note: in 1998, the Wolverines are 10-4-0, and those four losses came in the form of back-to-back weekend series sweeps by Miami and–just last week–Michigan State.
It may be a long night for the Lakers.
PICK: Michigan 5-2
Ferris State (14-16-3, 11-12-3 CCHA) at No. 5 Michigan (25-8-1, 19-6-1 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI Ferris State (14-16-3, 11-12-3 CCHA) at No. 2 Michigan State (26-4-5, 18-4-4 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena
But for a little mid-season setback, the Ferris State Bulldogs might be fighting for home ice now. "We just stumbled a little bit in January," says assistant coach Drew Famulak.
At the start of the year, Ferris State made finishing in the top four a team goal. Currently in seventh place, the Bulldogs cannot gain home-ice advantage for the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean the team and coaches are overwhelmed with disappointment.
An end-of-the-season series with Alaska-Fairbanks proved to be season-ending for Ferris State in 1996-97. The Bulldog reversal of fortune has the team in high spirits.
"Look at where we were this time last year. We ended up sitting out the postseason," says Famulak. "We’re pretty positive right now."
The Bulldogs took two games last weekend, a 4-3 win over Miami and a 3-0 win over Bowling Green. "Defensively we played very well. Tessier and Jim Dube have been playing very well for us on defense."
Defense, says Famulak, is the key to Bulldog success. "We just need to keep playing good defense, and our offensive chances will come from that."
The Bulldogs are relieved that they have the points to make the playoffs at this point in the season, since their last four games are against the league’s top three teams–Michigan and Michigan State this weekend, and two at home against Ohio State to end the regular season.
"We just want to play the best we can going into the playoffs. It doesn’t matter who we face when we get there."
It’s likely that Ferris State will face one of the teams the Bulldogs play this weekend. A little playoff preview can’t do anything but help the Bulldog cause.
Ferris State at Michigan
The Bulldogs have solid players at every position, although their weakest link is between the pipes.
In goal for Ferris State this season, rookie Vince Owen has been a workhorse, posting a 10-11-3 record in CCHA play. His 3.18 GAA is of less concern than is his league save percentage of .874; something closer to 90 percent would probably better help the Bulldog cause.
Offensively, Ferris State has several players who have contributed all season long. Three players have 24 points each in league play–Joel Irwin (10-14), rookie Kevin Swider (8-16) and defenseman Brett Colborne (6-18).
The fourth Bulldog to reach 20 points in league play this season is Brent Wishart, whose three goals and three assists last weekend brought his league totals to 10 goals and 10 assists.
The Bulldogs are tough defensively, but can they match up to Michigan in Yost Arena? (All right, Wolverine fans, refrain from saying, "Who can?" right now and you go to the head of the class.)
The Bulldogs have taken the Wolverines into overtime twice this season, losing 3-2 in Yost, and tying 3-3 in Van Andel Arena, a game in which Ferris State rallied to score three goals in a little over four minutes to tie the game. Michigan leads Ferris State 40-18-1 all time, and the Wolverines have a current unbeaten streak against the Bulldogs (9-0-1) that goes back to October of 1994.
Michigan is also 21-7-0 all time in Yost Arena against Ferris State.
So the odds are against the Bulldogs, but they’ve proven this season that they can play with the Wolverines if they stick to their defensive game plan. And it doesn’t hurt if you can rattle Marty Turco a little either.
PICK: Michigan 4-2
Ferris State at Michigan State
Ron Mason is a little concerned about his team’s remaining regular-season games. "We have a tough schedule for the rest of the season. We knew that even if we beat Michigan, nothing would be decided by it.
"It’s a long season, and there’s a lot of bumps and bruises along the way. At least at this point, we have a chance. We knew that when we moved ahead of them."
The Spartans jumped into first place in the CCHA with two wins over the Wolverines, and Friday’s was Mason’s 800th career win as a coach.
"I thought in the game here Friday night we really, really played well. When we were up 3-0, it’s pretty hard to come back on us. Chad came up with some big saves for us."
After the game, the Spartan fan exuberance spilled over onto the ice. "That was really something. I’ve never seen anything like it."
The wins not only put the Spartans in first place in the CCHA, but put them in a better position for postseason–and post-CCHA–play. But Mason says he’s not concerned yet with how the Spartans may seed in the NCAA tournament. "The biggest thing for us is that we’ve got to qualify. Then you take it from there."
Unless the world goes mad, this is one game that the Spartans should be able to count on to help get them where they want to go. Michigan State seems to own the Bulldogs lately, outscoring them 13-1 in two games this season, at two different times of the season.
The Spartans are 42-21-10 overall against the Bulldogs, and 24-11-4 against Ferris State in Munn Arena. Michigan State is 11-1-2 in its last 14 games against Ferris State, and the Spartans have not lost a regular-season game to the Bulldogs since February of 1994.
Michigan State has also scored seven goals against Ferris State in four of its last five games against the Bulldogs. In that fifth game, the Spartans scored six goals.
This is not to say, necessarily, that the Bulldogs will go down easy, but–as in their game with Michigan–the odds are against Ferris State.
Not at all helping the Bulldog cause is the fact that Saturday is Senior’s Night for the Spartans. The team will honor Chad Alban, Sean Berens, Jon Gaskins, Tyler Harlton and Kevin O’Keefe. "Some groups are easy to work with," says Mason, "and this is one of those groups."
PICK: Michigan State 5-2
Miami (18-10-4, 12-10-4 CCHA) at Bowling Green (7-24-3, 5-18-3 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Goggin Ice Arena, Oxford, OH
The RedHawks were a bit stunned the last time they faced the Falcons. Bowling Green outshot Miami 20-5 in the first period, and by the time Miami recovered, it was too late to get back into the game.
Dan Price had a hat trick in the 5-4 Bowling Green win over Miami, a sweetheart delivered to the Falcon faithful at home on Valentine’s Day.
Miami has a four-game losing streak coming into this game, and a five-game winless streak. Bowling Green lost a pair of games last weekend.
This sets up a curious second meeting between the two teams. It was obvious that Miami didn’t take Bowling Green seriously in their first meeting of the season. That was a dangerous thing to do, but have the RedHawks learned their lesson?
On paper, the ‘Hawks have it all over the Falcons; Miami has better goaltending, a much better defense (plus 71 team rating as opposed to BG’s minus 191 in league play), and more then one player who can score on a consistent basis.
But you can toss that all out the window–as the RedHawks apparently did two weeks ago–if Miami doesn’t behave like the balanced, mature team that has brought the ‘Hawks so far this season.
The RedHawks will be playing for points, and if they don’t pick them up in Thursday’s game against OSU, then they may be playing with, um, added emotion.
Bowling Green is the king team of added emotion; come on, Falcon fans, how many times have you seen more than one player in the box at the same time this season? It’s not that the Falcons play too rough or too stupid, but sometimes, frustration-mode kicks in, and players stop thinking.
This game could go one of several ways: (1) high-scoring from both teams, with plenty of guys from both sides in the penalty box; (2) low-scoring from both teams, with plenty of guys from both sides in the penalty box; (3) a game in which Miami controls the pace, plays with poise, and wins the game like they should, even though Bowling Green will be trying their best to play the spoiler.
Monty, I’ll take door number three, please.
PICK: Miami 4-2
Western Michigan (9-24-2, 8-18-1 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (9-20-3, 6-19-2 CCHA) Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK
In these last games of the season for both the Broncos and the Nanooks–two teams who have been eliminated from the playoffs–what’s at stake?
"Team goals," says Western coach Bill Wilkinson. "We have eight league wins; we’d like ten.
"Some players have personal goals they’d like to achieve as well. There’s a maturity factor at play here."
For the Broncos, an 18-game losing streak ended much too near the close of the season to do them any good. Since snapping that streak with a 4-3 win over Ferris State February 6, Western has gone 3-2, with a pair of wins last weekend, 6-3 over Bowling Green, and 2-0 over Miami.
"The funny thing is," says Wilkinson, "that we’re not playing much different from when we were losing. But we’re scoring goals.
"It gives us confidence, but it’s a little bit too late for us."
It’s also too late for the Nanooks, whose last little bit of the season has also resulted in better play. Alaska-Fairbanks is 0-3-1 in its last four games, all on the road, but each of those games was well played.
The Nanooks lost 3-2 to Miami, then tied the Buckeyes 4-4. Last weekend, Fairbanks lost 2-1 to Lake Superior, and 3-1 to Northern Michigan.
Throughout this little stretch, Ian Perkins has been the goalie of record for three of four games (he was injured in the game against OSU and replaced by Chris Marvel). Perkins has looked very good in these games; he made 41 saves on the Wildcats last weekend.
This is an interesting matchup for several reasons. First, it pits a team with offensive troubles (Western) against a team that has little trouble scoring goals (Fairbanks).
Second, while Western has had better and more consistent goaltending in Matt Barnes, goaltending should be strong for Fairbanks, especially at home, where they tend to play much better.
Third, it will be interesting to see how Fairbanks’ sometimes-nonexistent defense handles Western’s sometimes-nonexistent offense, and whether or not the Bronco defense will be able to stop Sjon Wynia and Jeff Trembecky, too of the league’s better scorers.
Fourth–and this may be the most fascinating (or disturbing) factor by far–it will be interesting to see how well the league’s two teams with the worst reputations for chippiness pair up. As one coach who shall remain nameless put it, will the Broncos need to book extra passage for the body bags?
The Nanooks have 804 penalty minutes in 27 league games. The Broncos have 679 in 27 league games. You do the math.
The Nanooks play much better at home, and that may be the key to this series.
PICKS: Fairbanks, two out of three