It’s the Girl Reporter’s List of Sins and Graces, the worst and the best of the CCHA that don’t necessarily fit into the usual categories.
Disclaimer: I have yet to visit Abel Arena, Lakeview Arena, and the Carlson Center.
Worst rink: The Joyce Arena. You’d think a school with the athletic tradition of Notre Dame could give its hockey team a building it didn’t have to share with fencing.
Worst rink food: The hot dogs at Yost Arena. The smell hits you the moment you walk into the door, and if you eat one of these things, the rest hits you about an hour later.
Worst hospitality: OSU Ice Rink. No heat in the press box (or anyplace else in the building). Birds and other animals making squeaking noises in the walls. You have to go to St. John Arena to use the toilet.
Worst road uniforms: Ferris State. Somebody, please, match maroon to maroon. Or better yet–get new pants. Or new sweaters. Something. Anything.
Worst home uniforms: See, "Best home uniforms" below.
Worst cheer: The announcer says that a team is back at full strength. And what does the crowd say? "And they still suck!" Please, kill this chant. Doesn’t anyone have anything new to add? This one is as fresh as the Macarena.
Worst fans: Anyone who doesn’t like your team. That’s the way it works, right?
Best gesture by a coach or coaches: The Jesus Gesture, a spreading of the arms in disbelief, best performed by OSU assistant coach Casey Jones. Of course, Jones learned it from OSU head coach John Markell, who learned it from MSU head coach Ron Mason–an obvious chain of command.
Best cheer: The "score" cheer at Miami. "Give me an ‘S’! Give me an ‘E’! Give me an ‘X’! What’s it spell? Score! Score! Score!" It’s even funnier when you consider that the nature of the cheer doesn’t have to accurately reflect the lives of those who do the cheering.
Best rink food: Yost Arena, but you can’t have this stuff. It’s the food provided to press, and it’s not bad at all. Better than those yucky hot dogs.
Best road uniforms: Lake Superior. That anchor on those blues…styling, just styling.
Best home uniforms: None. They’re all so dull that shame should be shared uniformly. Ha! Get it? Uniformly! (Insert groan here.)
Best player off the bench: This is a tie between Michigan’s Krikor Arman and Ohio State’s Ray Aho.
Arman–a second-year, redshirt, walk-on player–scored two first-period goals in his first-ever game for the Wolverines, a 7-2 win over Notre Dame in South Bend. Quite an introduction to the league.
Aho–OSU’s sophomore goaltender who has been playing backup all season–came off the bench to start in the OSU-Northern Michigan game on January 34 and shut out the Wildcats 2-0. One week later, he did it again in the second game of a weekend series in Western Michigan, shutting out the Broncos 2-0. Just last week, he came off the bench in the second game of the Bucks’ weekend series against Ferris State, and won 6-1. Where Aho is concerned, "backup" is a relative term.
Best underrated player: Perhaps this one should be listed under "Sins," because overlooking the good work that Ohio State junior center Chris Richards is doing is sinful.
Richards finished the regular season tied for third in league points with Michigan State’s Mike York. In 29 CCHA games, Richards had 17 goals and 24 assists for 41 points–and he did that without loading up on power-play points (only six league points were on the power play, four goals and two assists). Richards had a hat trick and two game-winning goals, and was a crucial component on the Buckeye penalty kill, where he scored three shorthanded goals. He finishes the season at plus 13.
And another thing: Richards had two seven-point weekends, each of which earned him CCHA Offensive Player of the Week, including last weekend’s performance in Big Rapids.
All this from a kid who stands 5-10, and weighs in at 170 pounds soaking wet. On Ohio State’s second line. Last year, he totaled just 22 CCHA points.
Best talking game: Chris Bogas, Spartan defenseman. I can’t tell you what he says on the ice, but he’s really, really funny. We laugh in the press box, anyway.
Best player who wants to goon it up: Tim Leahy, Miami senior forward. Twenty penalties for 73 minutes is not earth-shattering, but, boy, does Leahy want to go. It’s admirable that he doesn’t drop the gloves as often as he’d like.
Best-dressed coaching staff: Ask any CCHA coach, and he’ll tell you the truth about this one. Go ahead–ask him.
Quote of the year: At the CCHA Media Day before the start of the season, Western Michigan head coach Bill Wilkinson said, "I’d like to welcome again Rick and his Wildcats back to the league. I’d also like to welcome Michigan back to the league as well."
Later in the year, after Michigan established itself among the top four in the league, Wilkinson would tell me, "Yeah, but I didn’t have to welcome them with such open arms, did I?"
Best fans: All of you who read USCHO on a regular basis. You didn’t think I’d actually rate one team’s fans against another, did you?
And Now for Your Regularly Scheduled Preview…
The second season is upon us, and aren’t we all just a little bit surprised about who is hosting whom?
Congratulations to the No. 3 Michigan State Spartans, who captured their first regular-season title in eight years with a 4-1 win over Lake Superior last Friday; they lost to Northern Michigan 5-1 on Saturday. The Spartans host eighth-place Ferris State, who finished the regular season with two home losses to Ohio State, 4-1 and 6-1.
No. 4 Michigan finished second in the league with two wins last weekend, 5-4 over Bowling Green and 1-0 over Notre Dame. The Wolverines will host Notre Dame, who finished the regular season in seventh place with that loss at Yost.
No. 9 Ohio State had third place sewn up two weeks ago, and finished the season by beating Ferris State twice last weekend. The Buckeyes will host Lake Superior, which finished the regular season in sixth place with the loss to Michigan State.
Northern Michigan captured fourth place and the right to host a first-round playoff series when they beat the Spartans and when Miami lost to Bowling Green 6-5 last weekend. The Miami loss sends the RedHawks to Marquette, just in time for the arrival of winter.
These games have implications beyond the CCHA championship. While Michigan State and Michigan will surely be invited to the NCAA tournament regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s games, Ohio State probably needs to advance to The Joe to get the nod. For each of the remaining teams, it will probably take winning the CCHA title game in Detroit to win an invitation to the big dance.
Last week’s record in picks: 5-2 Overall record in picks (final regular-season tally): 123-77
To the races!
Ferris State (15-19-3, 12-15-3 CCHA) at No. 3 Michigan State (29-5-5, 21-5-4 CCHA) Friday, 7:08 p.m., Saturday, Sunday (if necessary) 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI
The Spartans finished the season on a bit of a sour note, losing 5-1 to Northern Michigan on the road last Saturday. "We were flat in the first period," says Michigan State head coach Ron Mason, "but we got better as the game progressed.
"I sat Chad [Alban] out, and that was a big factor. But he deserved a rest."
Before the loss to Northern, Michigan State had won seven in a row, and had gone unbeaten for eight straight.
Ferris State finished out the season with two losses at home against Ohio State, including the penalty-filled debacle that passed for hockey last Saturday night, during which the Bulldogs had 136 penalty minutes (of the 243 total given).
The game ended 6-1, and naturally special teams made a big difference. "The game pivoted really on our inability to convert on our five-on-three, and Ohio State’s ability to convert on their five-on-three," said Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels after the game.
Ferris State finished the regular season with a three-game losing streak, which included a 6-3 loss to Michigan State before dropping two in a row to Ohio State.
The Spartans have outscored the Bulldogs 19-4 this season; three of those goals came just two weeks ago in the Spartans’ 6-3 win over Ferris in East Lansing on Feb. 28. "We had pretty good game against them," says Daniels.
In that game, MSU was up 3-0 after one, and the Spartans made it 5-2 on an empty-net goal at 18:53 of the third.
Then the Bulldogs scored with less than a minute left in the game to make it 5-3. Michigan State had the final goal of the game, Chad Alban’s fabled empty-netter, with just seconds to go in the game.
On Jan. 17, the Spartans topped the Bulldogs 7-0 in Big Rapids. And on Oct. 28 in Grand Rapids, Michigan State won 6-1.
On the season, Michigan State’s Mike York has three goals (hat trick Jan. 17) and four assists against the Bulldogs; Rustyn Dolyny and Kevin O’Keefe each have four goals.
On the season, Michigan State’s power play has been a factor in beating the Bulldogs in two of three games (in the third game, there were no Ferris State penalties). The Spartans have scored four goals in 11 power-play opportunities against the Bulldogs, for a series PP of 27.5 percent. That’s nearly three full percentage points higher than Michigan State’s league power play finished against the entire CCHA.
The Bulldogs have scored just once on their power play against Michigan State, for ten tries. The conversion rate of 10 percent is more than three full points lower than Ferris State’s league power-play stat (13.6 percent) on the season.
Ron Mason denies that the Spartans have the Bulldogs’ number this season. "We’ve always had a great rivalry with Ferris State. They’ve taken us to the limits."
As for the lopsided scoring, Mason says, "The puck just went in the net in those games. You can’t predict goals, and all you can do is play your best game. We didn’t play them any different from how we played anybody else."
Michigan State leads this series 43-21-10, with a 25-11-4 record in Munn Ice Arena. In addition to being 3-0-0 against Ferris State this season, the Spartans were 3-0-1 last season against the Bulldogs.
The last time the Bulldogs beat the Spartans was in a first-round CCHA playoff game in 1995-96. Ferris State won the second game in Munn 5-3; Michigan State took the series, winning the first game 3-2 in overtime, and the third game 3-1.
Michigan State is 7-3-0 against Ferris State in the CCHA playoffs. The two teams have met in four first-round series, with the Spartans advancing each time.
The Bulldogs have advanced beyond the first round of the CCHA playoffs just once since becoming a Division I team in 1979-80. The last time Ferris State won a first-round playoff series, they did so against Alaska-Fairbanks in 1992-93, a season they finished with a 21-16-4 record. The Bulldogs then beat Michigan State in the semifinals at The Joe, but lost the title game to Miami.
This series brings Bob Daniels home. Daniels is a 1982 graduate of Michigan State.
Point to Point
Looking at offense, defense and goaltending, Michigan State has the edge on the Bulldogs in every category.
Three Spartans finished in the top ten in league scoring for the season.
Mike York finished the season tied for third in league points (with OSU’s Chris Richards). In 28 games, York had 18 goals and 23 assists for 41 points. He was third among forwards in power-play points (19), with nine league power-play goals and 11 goals on the power play for the season overall. York had one hat trick and two game-winners in league play. He finished the season at plus 14.
Sean Berens finished the season in sole possession of fourth place in CCHA scoring (26-13–39). Berens was stunning on the first-place Spartan power play, with 13 power-play goals overall, and 12 in league play. Berens had three hat tricks, five game-winners, and two empty-net goals. He finished the season at plus nine through 28 league games. He’s the man to go to in the clutch.
Rookie Rustyn Dolyny (or is that Rookie of the Year Rustyn Dolyny?) finished the season sixth in league scoring with 17 goals and 17 assists in 30 games. Also a major component of the Spartan power play, Dolyny had nine of those league goals on the Spartan man-advantage. Five of his league goals were game-winners, and he finishes the season at plus 13.
For the Bulldogs, the most prolific scorer on the season was defenseman Brett Colborne, one of the league’s most underrated players. Colborne finished the season with 27 league points (7-20), tied for tenth in league scoring with Bowling Green’s Dan Price and Notre Dame’s Ben Simon.
Colborne had two league power-play goals, one shorthanded goal, and finishes the season with a plus/minus of zero throughout 30 games.
Only one Bulldog, Kenzie Homer, finished the season with more than ten goals in league play (11-6–17). Joel Irwin (10-15–25), rookie Kevin Swider (8-17–25), Brian McCullough (10-11–21), and Brent Wishart (10-11–21) are the Bulldog scoring leaders.
One of the strengths of the Bulldog offense is that the scoring is spread around. Any one of those guys–and a number of others, including Geoff Bennetts and Jason Hodel–can score from nearly anywhere. But the Bulldog offense doesn’t create enough chances for that to happen often.
Defensively, there can be no question that the Spartan defense is the best in the league, and perhaps in the country. It’s certainly the best in the history of the CCHA. Michigan State’s league 1.80 GAA represents the best defensive effort ever in the CCHA, period. It’s no coincidence that Ron Mason also coached the second-best defensive team in league history, the 1978-79 BGSU Falcons (2.25 league GAA).
It’s impossible to talk about the Spartan defense without mentioning Tyler Harlton. The senior defenseman, considered the best defensive defenseman in the league, has just one goal and 11 assists in league play (that goal was a game-winner, by the way), but Harlton finished the season with a league-leading plus 27 in 30 CCHA games.
Mike Weaver is another Spartan defenseman who deserves mention. Weaver also had just one goal in league play–also a game-winner–and 14 assists. He finished the season at plus 25 in 30 league games.
For Ferris State, Brett Colborne is one of those rare offensive defensemen who can actually play defense. The Bulldogs have also seen good defensive play from rookie Jim Dube (plus six) and Scott Lewis (minus five), and J.P. Tessier (minus three) just to name a few. The Bulldog defense is good, but on the season Ferris State has allowed more league goals than it has scored (88 for, 106 against).
In net, it’s obvious that Michigan State has the clear advantage. Not only is Chad Alban the best goaltender in the CCHA, but he’s playing in Munn Ice Arena. Alban plays the puck along the boards like Carl Yastrzemski played the Green Monster in Fenway Park.
Alban finished the season with a 1.63 GAA in league play, the best GAA in CCHA league history. His .922 league save percentage is the third-best in CCHA history. He also finished his regular-season career with more shutouts than any other CCHA goaltender (10), the fourth-best record for wins (61), and a lifetime save percentage of .900 (sixth in league history).
For Ferris State, newcomer Vince Owen has shouldered the load on the season. He is the only league goaltender who saw play in all 30 league games. Owen finished the season with a .875 league save percentage, and a 3.27 league GAA. His stats place him ninth among goaltenders with 1,000 minutes or more of league play.
Without last week’s penalty-filled game against OSU, these two teams would be nearly dead-even in penalty minutes. Daniels says that his team needs to understand that staying out of the box will help their cause.
"The first thing we need to do is to address the discipline situation. Once we get that covered, we’ll look at different ways to try to solve State.
"Obviously, no one has really been able to figure out how to solve them. We’ll try some different things and see what we can come up with."
There are a couple of things that Ferris State will have to "solve" to get past the Spartans, including Michigan State’s dominance at home, and the Spartan ability to significantly outscore opponents.
Michigan State has never lost a CCHA first-round playoff series at home, in 15 different seasons. The Spartans are 28-4-0 in first-round games at Munn. Michigan State is 16-3-2 in Munn this season.
Michigan State led the CCHA with 110 goals scored and just 54 goals against in league play.
Daniels sounds determined when he talks about this series. "We’ll play hard. We’re going to show up there to win. We’re not going just to play; we’re going there to win."
There’s no doubt that Ferris State will play to win. The Spartans will be playing to win, too, and they’ll do so in two games.
PICK: Michigan State in two–5-2, 5-2
Notre Dame (17-17-4, 12-14-4 CCHA) at No. 4 Michigan (28-9-1, 22-7-1 CCHA) Friday, Saturday, Sunday (if necessary), 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
The Wolverines finished the regular season with a three-game win streak, including a 1-0 shutout of Notre Dame at home last weekend.
"We’re feeling OK," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "I think when you look behind us at the 30-game schedule, we had a much better 30 games than most people anticipated."
Berenson says he’s looking forward to the "new season." "We pushed hard, and I think we pushed Michigan State hard during the regular season. Now we’re looking forward to the next challenge.
"Our leaders are playing well, and I think we’re as ready as we can be."
Before losing to Michigan last week, Notre Dame defeated Northern Michigan twice at home. The Irish finished their season with a 7-9-2 record in January, February and March.
Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin says that his team is feeling "pretty well" after the second half of the season.
"We played very well against Michigan last weekend. We’re playing very well, Matt’s [senior goaltender Eisler] playing well, and the team is playing well in our own end."
The Wolverines swept the Irish in the season series this year, but it wasn’t always easy.
Last week’s 1-0 win might have been an 0-0 tie if it weren’t for Bill Muckalt’s unassisted goal 32 seconds into the game. Notre Dame goaltender Matt Eisler did the proverbial headstand in net, as the Wolverines outshot the Irish 35-18.
Michigan beat Notre Dame back to back the last weekend in April, 7-2 in South Bend, and 5-4 in overtime at Yost. The game in South Bend saw Krikor Arman step up for his first two collegiate goals; Chris Fox and Bobby Hayes each had two points as the Wolverines outshot the Irish 31-27. Each team also went one for five on the power play.
The game the following night would see the Wolverines very nearly lose a game they completely controlled early on. Michigan scored three unanswered goals in the first, then each team scored a goal in the second.
Leading 4-1 going into the third, Michigan replaced Marty Turco in net with Greg Malicke. The Irish promptly scored three unanswered goals–four actually, depending on who you ask. Steve Noble had a goal that was disallowed.
Greg Crozier had the game-winner for Michigan at 3:19 in overtime; he had a hat trick on the night.
In the two-game series, Michigan had three goals on 11 power plays; Notre Dame had three goals for ten tries on the man-advantage. Muckalt’s goal in last week’s game was even-strength.
As it does with most teams, Michigan leads the all-time series with Notre Dame, 47-32-2. The Irish haven’t beaten the Wolverines since Feb. 25, 1995.
Michigan and Notre Dame have met four times in post-season play, with the edge going to the Wolverines. Their last playoff pairing ended with two Michigan wins, as the Wolverines eliminated Notre Dame in the first round of the CCHA playoffs in 1992-93.
With two wins Notre Dame advanced at Michigan’s expense in the first round of the CCHA playoffs in 1981-82. The Irish won a two-game, total-goals series in the 1979-80 WCHA first round; the Wolverines did the same in 1975-76.
Point to Point
As in the series between Ferris State and Michigan State, Michigan has its opponent beat–at least on paper.
Offensively, Michigan has two of the most dynamic players in the league.
Bill Muckalt just missed the league scoring title, with 20 goals and 23 assists for 43 points. Six of those goals came on the power play, where Muckalt was the top scoring forward in overall games. Two hat tricks, six game-winners. Muckalt finished the season at plus 14.
Bobby Hayes finished the regular season tied for seventh in league scoring (with Lake Superior’s Terry Marchant). He had 16 goals and 17 assists in 30 games, including four power-play goals. Hayes is a threat when the Wolverines are a man down, scoring three shorthanded goals in league play. He finished the season at plus 15.
Rookie Mark Kosick finished the season tied for ninth in league scoring (with Miami’s Marc Tropper) with 10 goals and 18 assists. Also valuable to the Wolverines on the power play, Kosick scored nine league goals on the PP, and finished the season at plus nine.
When you’re playing Michigan, you need to do more than control the three Wolverines who finished the regular season among the league’s top ten scorers. Playing only 20 games because of injury, senior captain Matt Herr had 11 goals and 12 assists, including three game-winners. Rookie Josh Langfeld was fourth in team scoring with 11 goals and 13 assists.
Junior Dale Rominski stepped up his game this season to end the year with nine goals and eight assists in league play, and a phenomenal plus/minus of plus 19.
Notre Dame has some decent offense, but the Irish are more role-players than are the Wolverines, which sometimes translates into a lack of offensive consistency.
The top sniper for the Irish is junior Aniket Dhadphale. With 18 goals and eight assists in league play–eight of those goals on the power play–Dhadphale is the Irish go-to man when a goal is needed. Station Dhadphale anywhere to score, especially close into the crease; Dhadphale is not, however, the kind of player who fights it out in the corners, and his stat of minus seven throughout 30 league games says a lot more than mere words can about the kind of player he really is.
The top scorer for Notre Dame this season has been Ben Simon, who’s had a rather quiet second half of the season. Simon finished the regular season in tenth place in league scoring, with five goals and 22 assists. Simon is definitely a player; with two shorthanded goals, two power-play goals and a game-winner, Simon is essential to the Irish offense. He finished the season at plus five.
The Irish have four more players who finished with 20 or more league points: rookie standout defenseman Mark Eaton (9-17), Brian Urick (11-14), Benoit Cotnoir (9-15), and Lyle Andrusiak (6-14). Dan Carlson had three league power-play goals for the Irish.
Defensively, this is a fairly even match. For Michigan, Bubba Berenzweig has made great strides this season, finishing at plus 15 with four goals and seven assists in league play. Dale Huntzicker also finished with an impressive plus/minus (plus 17); Huntzicker was the CCHA Defensive Player of the Week for the final week of regular-season play.
Several of the Wolverine forwards play decidedly defensive games, especially Rominski, whose on-ice maturity is evident in sticky situations.
The Wolverines have allowed two or fewer goals in 22 of their 38 games overall this season, and three or fewer goals in 30 of those games.
Notre Dame has an excellent pair of offensive defensemen in Eaton and Cotnoir. Cotnoir finished the regular season leading all defensemen on power-play points with 19 (4-15 overall). Both Eaton and Cotnoir play as well defensively as they do offensively, and Eaton is simply outstanding on both sides of the puck.
The Irish defense has been a bit short this season, with injuries to Tyson Fraser, Ryan Clark and Nathan Borega.
In net, Marty Turco is a definite advantage for the Wolverines. No other CCHA goaltender has seen as much playoff action as has Turco, and two years ago–lest you forget–he was the goalie of record when Michigan captured the national title.
And just in case you haven’t heard, Turco is the winningest goaltender in NCAA Division I history. Turco finished the season with a league GAA of 2.06 and save percentage of .908 in 29 games. His stats place him second among league goalies with 1,000 or more minutes in net.
Turco can be rattled; you only need to look at game tapes of the series with Miami in Oxford for proof. And once rattled, it’s hard for him to get his head back into the game. But this doesn’t happen often, and it probably won’t happen in the playoffs, where Turco feels right at home.
Matt Eisler took some time finding his feet for the Irish, but once he found them, he stayed on them (unless he was doing the proverbial hand-stand; see "Recent History" above). Eisler is a solid goalie capable of spectacular play. He finished the season with a 2.79 league GAA and .899 save percentage, fifth in the league among goaltenders with 1,000 or more minutes in net.
The key to this series between two relatively young teams may be, ironically, experience.
"Turco’s a pretty good playoff goalie," says Berenson. "Certainly I feel good that he can give us stability back there.
"The success of this team is due to the experienced players, especially Turco and Muckalt. Also, players like Rominski and Hayes have matured."
The Wolverines have finished in first or second place in regular-season CCHA play every season since 1990-91, and they’ve had at least 21 CCHA regular-season wins in each of those years.
You can’t buy that kind of success, and the experience it gives your players.
As if to prove they’re ready to take on the world, six different Wolverines have scored the game-winners in the last six Michigan games (Muckalt, Andrew Merrick, Crozier, Berenzweig, Kosick and Herr).
The fact that forecasts this series better than anything else: the Wolverines are dominant in postseason play in the last three seasons. Michigan is 15-3-0 in its last three years in playoff action, including two CCHA post-season titles, three NCAA semifinal appearances, and that NCAA championship.
Berenson is not taking these games as gimmes. "Notre Dame in particular had a pretty strong finish. They’re a strong team physically, and they’re a fast team."
Says Poulin, "We’re a young team going into the playoffs, but we’ve played very well in Yost. Our kids are excited about it."
Berenzweig hurt his knee against Bowling Green, but should play this weekend.
PICK: Michigan in two–4-2, 5-2
Lake Superior (15-16-4, 12-14-4 CCHA) at No. 9 Ohio State (22-11-2, 19-10-1 CCHA) Friday, Saturday, Sunday (if necessary), 7 p.m., OSU Ice Rink, Columbus, OH
Lake Superior is traveling to Ohio State. Sounds like an episode of The Twilight Zone, but this is for real.
Lake Superior had an inconsistent season, and ended the season on a three-game losing streak. There was no shame in the losses, however, since two were at the hands of Michigan State, and the third was to Michigan.
Laker head coach Scott Borek says these last three regular-season games have helped him prepare for the playoffs. "I’d hope it’s really picked up our defensive tempo."
Ohio State ended the season the hottest team in Division I hockey. The Buckeyes are 13-1-1 since Jan. 9, the highest win percentage since then (.900) in the nation.
"There’s no reason for us to let up now," says Buckeye head coach John Markell. "We didn’t let up last weekend." The Bucks ended the regular season with two road wins against Ferris State.
The Lakers are one of just three teams to take the season series over the Buckeyes, taking a pair of games in the Soo in mid-December (4-3, 4-2), and
losing 7-0 to Ohio State Jan. 9.
It was, in fact, that shutout that began Ohio State’s current hot streak.
"The 7-0 game was very uncharacteristic," says Borek. "The power play was the difference in the game. I think they had more desire that night than what we had."
Power play or no, Eric Meloche had a goal and three assists in that game; Hugo Boisvert had two goals and an assist. Rookie defenseman Andre Signoretti tallied the game-winner.
In the December series, Terry Marchant had two goals and three assists for Lake Superior; Ben Keup had a goal in each game. Even though they won, the Lakers couldn’t keep Meloche from scoring–the sophomore had three goals on the weekend.
In fact, this season, Meloche has four goals and three assists against Lake, in a series the Buckeyes did not win.
"We played two excellent games against them in December and lost, but that was at the end of exam week, and we traveled up there all day on a Thursday to play them Friday," says Markell.
There’s a long playoff history between these two teams, but all of it has played out in Abel Arena and not in Columbus. As recently as the 1995-96 season, the Lakers eliminated the Buckeyes in two straight games in the first round of the playoffs in Sault Ste. Marie.
Since the 1983-84 season–the last time the Buckeyes hosted a playoff series–Lake Superior and Ohio State have met five times in the first round, with four decisions going to the Lakers. Since that season, the Buckeyes have advanced to the CCHA semifinals only once, in 1985, and it took three games in Lake Superior to do it.
Lake Superior is 9-3-0 all-time against Ohio State in the CCHA playoffs.
The Lakers have an impressive CCHA post-season record of 41-17-0, and an NCAA tournament record of 20-11-1. They have captured the CCHA championship four times, most recently in 1994-95. Lake Superior has won the NCAA national title three times, most recently in 1993-94.
The Lakers lead the all-time series 63-34-7, and hold a 9-1-0 advantage in the last 10 meetings, with their only loss that Jan. 9 game at the OSU Ice Rink. Lake Superior also holds an advantage in games played in Columbus, 24-18-3.
This series marks the first time since 1984-85 that Lake State has not hosted a first-round playoff series.
Point to Point
Offensively, the edge clearly belongs to Ohio State.
The Buckeye finished the regular season with three players among the top ten in CCHA league scoring, including league scoring title winner Hugo Boisvert.
Boisvert is one of the best all-around forwards in the country, period. He led the league in scoring for the entire second half of the season, and finished with 20 goals and 27 assists. Nine of those goals were on the power play in league action; Boisvert was tied for third in points (19) among forwards on the overall power play.
Boisvert had two shorthanded goals, a hat trick and three game-winners. He finished the season at plus 16.
Chris Richards tied Michigan State’s Mike York for third in league scoring at the end of the regular season with 41 points (17-24). Richards is the league’s most underrated player, playing for a team that few people in the league think is for real, which seems to work out for the junior center–it leaves him alone to do his job with Ohio State’s prolific second line.
Richards had four power-play goals, a hat trick (just last weekend against Ferris State), two shorthanded goals and two game-winners. He finishes the season at plus 13.
Eric Meloche is another third of the Buckeye first line, le trio Quebecois. Meloche finished fifth in league scoring with 20 goals and 15 assists, three league power-play goals, two shorthanded goals, and five game-winners.
There’s nobody prettier on the breakaway than is Eric Meloche. He finished the season at plus 12 through 30 league games.
Jean-Francois Dufour is the third member of the first line, and the fourth Buckeye to have 20 points in league play during the regular season (7-14). The rookie had two league power-play goals and two game-winners, but his role on line is mostly to get into the corners and feed Boisvert and Meloche the puck. He finished plus four in league play.
Two Lakers finished the season with 20 or more points, and several others made significant offensive contributions.
Senior Terry Marchant flirted with the league scoring title early on, but finished tied for seventh place in league points (with MSU’s Rustyn Dolyny), with 14 goals and 19 assists. Four of those goals were power-play goals, and three were game-winners. He’s one of the few Lakers to finish on the plus side, at plus seven.
Marchant is slumping lately, however, with just three points (1-2) in his last 11 games.
Jason Sessa finished tied for eighth in league scoring (with Miami’s Adam Copeland). In 27 games, Sessa had 16 goals and 13 assists; seven of those goals were power-play goals. Sessa finished the season at minus five in league play.
Ted Laviolette (6-11), Tobin Praznik (7-8) and Ben Keup (7-6) are Lakers to be watched. Keup is the only Laker to have played in all 30 league games during the regular season.
It took half a season for the Buckeye defense to become solid, but now that it has, it’s a definite advantage, especially in the little OSU Ice Rink.
Lead by senior captain Taj Schaffnit and senior assistant captain Ryan Root, the Ohio State defense is definitely defensive, a system that allows the forwards to light up the lamps.
Best among these defensive defensemen is sophomore Ryan Skaleski, who began his career with the Bucks as a walk-on last year. Skaleski has few points (one goal and two assists in league play), but he finishes the season at plus 13.
Two of the Buckeye defenders are equally adept on both sides of the puck. Root and rookie Andre Signoretti can both score, and are key on the Buckeye power play. Signoretti is fourth among defensemen in power-play points (15) and finished the season with three goals and 14 assists in league play, and a plus/minus of plus 13.
Root finished the season with seven goals and eight assists in league play, and five of those league goals came on the power play. He finished the year with a season plus eight.
In goal, once again, OSU has an advantage. Ohio State has the best one-two punch in net in the league (which is nothing new, if you remember Kurt Brown and Tom Askey).
Rookie Jeff Maund is simply outstanding. He finished the regular season with a record of 15-6-0 in league play, a league GAA of 2.51 and .913 save percentage. Among goalies with 1,000 or more minutes in net, Maund is second in save percentage, third in GAA.
Sophomore Ray Aho is no slouch, either. Aho finished the season with a league record of 4-4-1, an impressive league GAA of 2.24, and an equally impressive league save percentage of .915.
That’s a combined league save percentage of over 91 percent.
A pair of rookies pace the pipes for Lake Superior. Rob Galatiuk has been the go-to man for most of the season. With 1,368+ minutes in league play, Galatiuk has a GAA of 2.98, and save percentage of .894.
Jayme Platt may be playing better than Galatiuk lately, and fans at the OSU Ice Rink may see either one or both of these netminders in this series. Platt finished the season with a league GAA of 3.50 and save percentage of .895.
"I think John [Markell] has done an unbelievable job keeping them in line this year, allowing them to be the underdog," says Borek. "For the first time this year, they’re the favorites."
Losing home-ice advantage for the first time in 13 years has certain perks, says Borek. "I think with this team that it’s great that we’re on the road. Being on the road puts less pressure on you. There’s no pressure on us, and there’s an expectation level that the Buckeyes have to do well.
"It’s nice being the hunter, and not the hunted."
Markell doesn’t see the series that way at all. "They’re [Lake Superior] aware of how the series has gone. They’re in the driver’s seat–they’ve beaten us twice."
Part of the reason for Ohio State’s success this season has been the underdog mentality. In spite of how well this team has played, the Buckeyes continue to get little local press, keeping the pressure off–at least for now.
The Buckeyes have surprised many teams throughout the league with how well they’ve played–and that’s part of why they’ve won. Not being taken seriously can be a big advantage.
Markell and his players still think of themselves as the underdogs in this series. "We respect any team we play against, especially a team that has beaten us two out of three."
As good as Ohio State has played this second half of the season, the Buckeyes have become even more dangerous in the last two weeks, with their power play finally clicking. The Buckeye league power play jumped to second place after games against Miami, Bowling Green and Ferris State.
Lake Superior ended the regular season with the best league penalty kill (.907), and ten shorthanded goals. Marchant led the league in shorthanded points (3-3), followed by Sessa (3-2).
Ohio State can also be dangerous when shorthanded. Boisvert tied Sessa for shorthanded points (2-3); watch out for the Richards-Neal Rech combo, which has proven deadly more than once this season.
One big advantage for the Buckeyes is the teeny, tiny, little, god-bless-it-substandard OSU Ice Rink. These games represent the last games to be played in the rink, a barn the Buckeyes have come to love to defend this season. Ohio State is 10-3-0 in the little rink. The place is sold out, and even the pep band has become part of the atmosphere.
The Buckeyes are 13-3-1 in 1998. Two losses were to Michigan, one to Michigan State.
"If we keep our focus right now," says Markell, "I think we’re hard to beat."
And then some.
PICK: Ohio State in two–5-3, 4-2
Miami (19-12-4, 14-12-4 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (17-14-4, 15-12-3 CCHA) Friday, Saturday, Sunday (if necessary), 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI
This season hasn’t gone as planned for the Miami RedHawks, who were expected to finish in the top four.
"In life you don’t always accomplish what you want," says Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni. "We played very, very hard when we lost to OSU; we played very, very hard when we beat Bowling Green."
The RedHawks unraveled in February, compiling a 2-6-1 record in their last nine games. The ‘Hawks finished the season with a 6-5 loss to Bowling Green, which opened the door for Northern Michigan to sneak into fourth place.
"We outplayed them last week, but we didn’t stop the puck."
The Wildcats also struggled toward the end of the season, going 3-4-0 in their last seven games. The ‘Cats ended the regular season with a 5-1 win over Michigan State. Three of the four most recent losses were to Notre Dame.
Northern Michigan owns the season series, after splitting with Miami in Oxford in mid-December (3-2 Northern, 5-2 Miami), and winning 5-3 at home Jan. 16.
The games in Marquette were nearly even in shots on goal and power-play goals. The series is interesting in that a number of different players made a difference in each game throughout the year; no one player dominated for either team.
In the first game, Wildcat rookie Fred Mattersdorfer had a goal and an assist, while Miami defender Josh Mizerek had two assists. In the second game, Miami rookie Alex Kim had a goal and an assist, as did Josh Harold.
In the most recent game, four different Wildcats scored, and Tyson Holly had two goals.
The ‘Cats and the ‘Hawks have met 16 times since 1978-79; Northern Michigan leads the all-time series 11-3-1.
The last time the RedHawks won in Marquette was Nov. 14, 1981, a 4-3 overtime game. In Lakeview, the Wildcats lead the series 8-1-0.
This is Miami’s 10th CCHA post-season appearance. The RedHawks are 12-14-0 in the playoffs, including last season’s 2-1-0 post-season record. Last year, Miami swept Ohio State in Oxford before losing to Michigan State at The Joe.
The RedHawks are 2-7-0 in road playoff appearances, and 1-5-0 in the postseason at Joe Louis Arena.
The Wildcats were originally members of the CCHA, then left to join the WCHA for a while, and have returned home just this season. Rick Comley is the only coach Northern Michigan has had as a Division I team. In his 22nd season, Comley has amassed a 448-375-50 record.
Northern hosts playoff games for the first time since March of 1994, when the Wildcats beat Alaska-Anchorage in two games.
When the Wildcats first played in the CCHA (1977-84), Northern twice won the CCHA championship (1979-80, and 1980-81) on its way to NCAA semifinal action.
The Wildcats possess a 6-1-5 mark in CCHA playoff games at home, and an all-time home league playoff ledger of 18-1-5–which includes a 12-0-0 record in WCHA home playoff games.
The only time the ‘Cats have lost a home playoff game was against Western Michigan in 1984.
Point to Point
On paper, it would appear that Miami has many advantages over Northern Michigan. Appearances, however, can be deceiving, as the secret to each team’s relative success is balance.
Offensively, Miami has it all over Northern–when "it" works. Adam Copeland and Tim Leahy lead the RedHawks in league scoring, each with 29 points (tied for eighth in CCHA scoring with LSSU’s Jason Sessa).
Copeland has 19 goals and 10 assists in league play; three of his goals are on the power play, one is shorthanded, and he had four game-winners in league play on the season. He finished the season at plus nine.
Leahy had five goals and 24 assists in 30 league games; two of those goals were shorthanded. He finished the season plus three.
Four more RedHawks finished with 20 or more points in league play. Marc Tropper (9-19) finished tied for ninth in league scoring (with Michigan’s Mark Kosick); defenseman Dan Boyle (12-13) finished the season plus 13 in league play; the much underrated Dustin Whitecotton (5-20) had penalty minutes in the single digits; rookie Alex Kim (11-10) was plus 17 in league play on the season.
When Miami’s offense plays like a unit–and not like a bunch of individual guys who think they can score–this team is tough to beat.
Like Miami, Northern spreads out the scoring, with 10 players who have six or more goals, and 16 players with 10 or more points.
Roger Trudeau led the Wildcats in CCHA scoring with 13 goals and 11 assists. In 28 league games, Trudeau had one power-play goal, one shorthanded goal, four game-winners, and he finished the season at plus nine.
Next in league scoring is Buddy Smith, who played just 23 league games because of injury. Smith finished the regular season with five goals and 17 assists, and a plus/minus of plus nine. This kid is a playmaker.
J.P. Vigier had nine goals and 11 assists in 28 league games. Vigier is important on the anemic Northern Michigan power play; three of those goals came with a man-advantage. One shorthanded goal, and one game-winner, and a very impressive plus 15 league finish.
Rookie Fred Mattersdorfer finished the season with 11 goals and eight assists in league play. Rich Metro had nine goals and eight assists.
The key to the Wildcat offense is the forecheck; Northern Michigan will just hit you off the puck, creating offensive chances themselves in the process.
Defensively, there’s good news for Miami: Todd Rohloff is back. The senior captain missed half of the regular season with a hand injury. Rohloff is one of the league’s best defensive defensemen. His presence will be appreciated on the ice, on the bench, and in the locker room.
In Rohloff’s absence, Dan Boyle has had to play a more defensive game. While this has taken Boyle off his offensive numbers, he’s proven to be effective in his own zone, perhaps rediscovering skills he had forgotten he had.
When Rohloff left the lineup, Miami had to rethink its whole plan of attack. Without the big defensive presence protecting their own end, the RedHawks have had to play a much more defensive game, rather than the open-style of offense that many forwards preferred.
Miami has a number of good defensemen, including Boyle, Josh Mizerek, Josh Harrold, and Brooke Chateau. It has been difficult, however, for the defense to switch styles in mid-season. Perhaps with Rohloff back on the ice, some players may be able to return to more comfortable roles.
Northern Michigan plays a defensive game from top to bottom, preferring to play close to the vest and waiting for defense to create offensive chances.
The Wildcats’ best defenseman is Curtis Sheptak. In 30 games, Sheptak is plus two, with three goals and nine assists. A pair of Schmidts–Doug and Kevin–shore up the defense.
In net, when Trevor Prior is on his game, he’s hard to beat. But lately he’s been easy to rattle.
Prior finished the season with a league GAA of 2.66 and .905 save percentage. His stats put him fourth in league play among goaltenders with 1,000 or more minutes in net.
Duane Hoey has been the goalie of record for Northern Michigan this season. After a rocky first half, Hoey improved his save percentage significantly, and finished the season with a league save percentage of .883 and league GAA of 2.93. He’s sixth in goaltending stats among netminders with 1,000 or more minutes.
One factor that went a long way toward Miami’s tailspin was a lack of leadership, both on the ice and in the locker room. With Todd Rohloff back, the RedHawks could receive the pick-up that they need. It’s a lot to ask of just one player, but it’s do-or-die time; after half a season off, Rohloff is, no doubt, ready to lead.
"We have a huge emotional lift because Rohloff’s back," says Mazzoleni. "He’s our leader, and he’s a big tough kid."
While the Miami offense faltered in the second half of the season, scoring just 1.5 goals per game from Jan. 30 to Feb. 26, the RedHawks finished the season strong, with 13 goals in their last two games.
If the Miami defense is more comfortable with Rohloff back, and if the Miami offense can start producing again…
Miami’s league power play–once among the best–has struggled, and finished the regular season fifth (.168). As mediocre as that sounds, Northern Michigan’s league power play is much worse, finishing the season last in the league (.109).
On the PK, Miami finished the regular season seventh (.820), while Northern finished eighth (.819).
One advantage that Miami should have is experience. Loaded with talent, this Miami team has seen a few playoff games, and this Miami team used to know how to pull out the win.
If positive attitude could win a series, then this one belongs to Miami, just on the basis of how proud Mazzoleni is of his players. "Our team has shown great character through this last part of the season.
"We’ve never quit. I’m very proud of the way our guys have played. We faced adversity, and we persevered. We have the ability to advance.
"I’ve never coached a better group of kids."
Says Rick Comley, "Miami has been struggling a little lately, but they are a talented offensive club. We’ll need a strong defensive effort each night if we’re going to be successful and advance to Joe Louis Arena."
Make that three nights. And Miami in three nights. The RedHawks are the Phoenix.
PICK: Northern 3-2, Miami 4-2, Miami 5-2