The word of the week for the CCHA is cautious, as in cautiously optimistic.
It was the first week of regular-season play for some teams, while others have yet to see league or even NCAA play. Several winning coaches are happy with what they saw–to a point.
"We played well for this early in the year," says Notre Dame’s Dave Poulin, whose Irish beat Lake Superior 4-2 and thumped Western Michigan 7-1.
"I like the fact that we scored some goals," says Buddy Powers, whose Falcons tallied nine goals to Miami’s seven while outshooting the RedHawks 75-38.
"We played pretty well defensively, and when we did give up a good chance, our young goalie seemed to be up to the job," says Michigan’s Red Berenson, whose young goalie tallied his first collegiate shutout in his first-ever CCHA game in a 2-0 win over Lake Superior.
But, as usual, Michigan State’s Ron Mason puts his team’s weekend in perspective better than any other coach when he says, "The right things happened. Mike York scored, our freshmen scored, and Joe [Blackburn] had a shutout.
"But it’s still the Green and White game."
There are pairings this weekend around the CCHA that already have playoff implications, including the fascinating contradance that Ferris State, Lake Superior, Notre Dame, and Ohio State play out in Michigan’s upper regions.
But first, from the proverbial and tentative top:
So, you think you wanna join the CCHA, Blaise MacDonald? No. 2 Michigan plays Niagara for two games in Yost Arena.
No. 4 Ohio State is probably grateful to return to CCHA play after dropping two games in the Ice Breaker last weekend, a 4-3 double-overtime loss to Boston College, and a 4-3 loss to Minnesota. The Buckeyes take on Lake Superior and Ferris State on the road.
No. 5 Michigan State beat Western Ontario 5-0 in exhibition play Tuesday night. This weekend, the Spartans host Western Michigan and Massachusetts-Amherst in Munn.
Northern Michigan defeated former WCHA rivals Michigan Tech 8-2 and 3-0. The Wildcats host Miami–which lost to Bowling Green 4-2, and tied the Falcons 5-5 at home–this weekend.
Notre Dame beat Lake Superior 4-2 and Western Michigan 7-1. The Irish have the flip side of the Buckeye trip, playing Ferris State Friday and Lake Superior Saturday.
Ferris State beat Western Michigan 3-1 Friday. They host the Irish, a team they finished just one point behind in the league standings last year, and Ohio State, the team largely responsible for that eighth-place finish. The Buckeyes swept the Bulldogs in the final regular-season weekend of play last year.
Lake Superior hosts Ohio State and Notre Dame. The Lakers may have a bit of revenge on their minds when OSU comes to town, having lost two straight to the Buckeyes in the opening round of the CCHA playoffs last year. LSSU finished tied in points with Notre Dame last season, and lost to the Irish just last week.
After dropping their first two CCHA games and scoring just two goals last weekend, Western Michigan will try to find a spark against Michigan State.
Bowling Green defeated and tied Miami in Goggin Ice Arena last week. The Falcons host Northeastern for two this weekend.
Alaska-Fairbanks opens its season with a home-home series against Alaska-Anchorage.
Notre Dame (3-0-0, 2-0-0 CCHA) at Ferris State (1-0-0, 1-0-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, MI Notre Dame at Lake Superior (0-2-0, 0-2-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI
Notre Dame made a statement with its first weekend of CCHA play. Two wins: 11 goals for, three against.
"We played pretty well," says head coach Dave Poulin. "Both were pretty good games."
After beating Lake Superior State 4-2 on Friday, the Irish took it to Western Michigan in a 7-1 win. Poulin says that he is encouraged by the offensive production, and by the number of players who scored.
"For our first seven goals, there were six different scorers. You need some depth for success in this league."
Senior Brian Urick had four goals on the weekend. Sophomore Chad Chipchase and rookie David Inman each had two goals. Sophomores Matt Van Arkel and Dan Carlson, and junior Ben Simon had a goal apiece. For his efforts, Urick was named the CCHA Offensive Player of the Week.
Poulin says that special teams were a factor, as four of the Irish goals against the Broncos came on the power play.
Poulin also finds his net play encouraging. "[Senior Forrest] Karr played very well," says Poulin. "He’s a really steady goaltender." Karr made 41 saves on the weekend, and earned CCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Poulin says he can’t really talk about what to expect from either Ferris State or Lake Superior this weekend, since it’s so early in the season.
"You know, at this point in the season, doesn’t everyone focus more on what’s in-house?" He does add that it’s "tough" to play the same team–Lake Superior–twice in two weekends.
Notre Dame vs. Ferris State
Ferris State has traditionally had Notre Dame’s number, leading the all-time series 21-8-3. Last season, the Bulldogs and Irish were 1-1-1 against each other; the last meeting was a 7-1 Irish victory which broke a seven-game winless streak against Ferris State for Notre Dame.
Last week, Ferris State beat Western Michigan 3-1, with the usual suspects scoring for the Bulldogs–Joel Irwin, Kevin Swider, and Brent Wishart.
Matt Barnes faced just 17 shots from the Broncos. It’s too early to tell whether this is a sign of a strong Ferris defense or a weak Western offense.
Expect a very physical game when these two teams collide. Each team has something to prove, but each may go about doing so differently. The Bulldogs don’t have any huge advantage to playing at home, but they may catch an overconfident Notre Dame team off guard.
Notre Dame vs. Lake Superior
It seems the Irish are breaking droughts all over the place. Last week’s win over Lake Superior marked the first Notre Dame win over the Lakers in eight games.
Lake Superior swept the Irish last season, but that was last season. The new-look Lakers were held to shots on goal in the single digits in last week’s 4-2 loss to the Irish.
Picks: Ferris State 3-1 Friday; Notre Dame 4-2 Saturday
Miami (0-1-1, 0-1-1 CCHA) at Northern Michigan (2-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI
Northern Michigan is another team making an early-season statement. The Wildcats beat Michigan Tech 8-2 and 3-0 to begin their NCAA season.
Before the season began, head coach Rick Comley said his team would do as well as his upperclassmen, meaning that the success of the team depended on how well his veterans had matured.
It’s clear that senior Buddy Smith has returned in good form. The Wildcat captain had a hat trick in Northern’s 8-2 win over Michigan Tech.
A pair of sophomores–defenseman Doug Schmidt and center Ian LaRocque–scored two goals on the weekend.
Northern saw solid play from two goaltenders. Junior Duane Hoey made 22 saves on 24 shots, while sophomore Dan Ragusett stopped 31 shots in the Wildcats’ 3-0 shutout Saturday.
At the start of the season, RedHawks head coach Mark Mazzoleni said that he thought his team would score a lot of goals, but that he was a little worried about team defense.
For the first weekend of play, Mazzoleni seemed to be right on the money. The ‘Hawks scored seven goals on the weekend but allowed nine, which adds up to just one point as Miami lost 4-2 to Bowling Green, and tied the Falcons 5-5 in overtime.
Miami was outshot 73-40, and allowed five power-play goals on the weekend.
Last season, the Wildcats were 4-1-0 against the RedHawks, including a two-game sweep of Miami in the opening round of the CCHA playoffs.
Given Northern Michigan’s maturity and hard-checking style of play, and the home-ice advantage, this will be a long road trip for the fledgling ‘Hawks.
Picks: Northern Michigan 4-3, 4-3
No. 4 Ohio State (0-2-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) at Lake Superior (0-2-0, 0-2-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI Ohio State at Ferris State (1-0-0, 1-0-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Ewigleben Ice Arena, Big Rapids, MI
Two consecutive losses is not exactly the kind of statement Ohio State wanted to make at the start of the season.
The Buckeyes return from the Ice Breaker with little to show for the trip, unless you count an overtime loss to the number-one team in the country. Ohio State lost 4-3 in double OT to Boston College, then fell completely flat in a 4-3 loss to host Minnesota the following day.
"We had a couple of guys play poorly," says Markell. "A couple of veterans played badly. It seems to be a pattern for us, but we were not prepared when they dropped the puck. Boston College came at us like madmen. It took us a while to adjust to their speed, especially on the bigger rink."
Markell says he is concerned about starting slowly, given the tough road schedule the Buckeyes face at the beginning of the season, and the unlikelihood of another season-ending 18-game undefeated streak.
"We want to be in good shape after this first half of the season, to put us in good position to finish in one of the top four spots in the league."
Markell says he is encouraged by some of what he saw on the weekend. "I was really proud of the two rookie defensemen, Jason Crain and Scott Titus.
"The goaltending was solid, the penalty kill was solid, and our power play was pretty good."
Two key players were injured. Eric Meloche suffered a bruised collarbone and is day-to-day. Rookie Mike McCormick sprained a knee, and may be out for a couple of weeks.
Filling in for Meloche on Ohio State’s first line with Hugo Boisvert and J.F. Dufour will be senior Brandon Lafrance. Lafrance had a goal in each game last weekend, and replaced Meloche for the Minnesota game. Markell says that Lafrance is a player with something to prove; the winger’s two goals last weekend equal two-thirds of his goal production in 25 games last season.
One note of interest: junior Hugo Boisvert and senior Chris Richards are each one point away from 100 points as Buckeyes. Last weekend, Boisvert had three goals–and Richards assisted on all three, all on the OSU power play.
Ohio State vs. Lake Superior
Ohio State was the team that ended Lake Superior’s season last year with a two-game sweep in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. Lake Superior was also at the receiving end of a 7-0 whipping the Buckeyes delivered after dropping two games to Michigan in January. That win was the first of eight straight for Ohio State.
Markell says that Lake Superior is a dangerous team, given the little bit of recent history, and the two CCHA Laker losses last weekend. "I expect them to come at us and grind it out with us, doing everything they can to win. They have so many new players we don’t know exactly what to expect."
Last weekend, Lake Superior lost 4-2 to Notre Dame and 2-0 to Michigan. Against the Wolverines, the Lakers were held to just 20 shots on goal.
One bright spot may be the play of the two Laker sophomore goaltenders, Jayme Platt and Rob Galatiuk. Platt saved 33 of 36 shots he faced against the Irish; Galatiuk–the frontrunner for the starting position–saved 38 of 40 shots in the Michigan game.
While this young Lake Superior team may gel later in the season, and emotions will be high, given last year’s CCHA playoff results, Ohio State is a team with more firepower, more unity, and better goaltending.
Ohio State vs. Ferris State
The recent history here isn’t especially pretty. Ferris State dropped its last two regular-season games to Ohio State last year, giving the Bulldogs an eighth-place finish.
And those two games weren’t pretty–they were penalty-filled melees, and Markell knows that the very same thing could happen again in Big Rapids. "They have a good solid hockey club. They’ll take it to us, and we’ll have to watch our Ps and Qs to stay out of the penalty box."
The Buckeyes owned Ferris State last season, and don’t think the Bulldogs don’t remember. With two wins–4-1 and 6-1–in Big Rapids during the last weekend of regular-season play, Ohio State swept Ferris State on the year.
Ferris State has yet to score an even-strength goal. Two of three goals against Western Michigan last weekend were on the power-play, and Kevin Swider’s was shorthanded.
Vince Owen was solid in net for Ferris State, stopping 23 of 26 shots on goal.
The Bulldogs and Buckeyes will play a tough, physical game. There’s no love lost between these two teams.
The Buckeyes have something to prove this season–that last year wasn’t a fluke. They’ll try to begin to persuade the college hockey world this weekend.
Picks: Ohio State 5-2, 4-2
Western Michigan (0-2-0, 0-2-0 CCHA) at No. 5 Michigan State (0-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI Massachusetts-Amherst at Michigan State Saturday, 7 p.m., Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing, MI
"We’re in a state of transition here in terms of the way we play," says Michigan State head coach Ron Mason. "It’s going to take a few games played before we can see what we have consistently."
Of course, Mason is referring to L.A.C.A.–or life after Chad Alban. Alban, the Hobey Baker runner-up last season, was the kind of goaltender who dictated the way in which a defense played its game.
Sophomore Joe Blackburn’s style of play may be different from Alban’s, but so far Blackburn stymied would-be goal scorers, with a shutout in the Spartans’ Green and White game, and a 5-0 shutout Tuesday night against Western Ontario.
Mason, of course, would caution that Blackburn hasn’t yet been tested.
Blackburn may have to wait another week before feeling any real heat.
Western Michigan vs. Michigan State
The Spartans open CCHA play against Western Michigan, a team struggling with player suspensions, the off-season loss of scoring talent, and perhaps an overall malaise.
The Broncos lost an exhibition game against Wilfrid Laurier, then dropped games 7-1 to Notre Dame and 3-1 to Ferris State last weekend.
The Spartans own this series, especially in Munn, where Michigan State is 24-4-3 against Western Michigan. The Broncos last beat the Spartans in February of 1997.
The Spartans have Mike York, Dustyn Rolyny, a great defense led by Mike Weaver, Joe Blackburn, the best power play in the league, and a cast of great supporting players.
The Broncos have trouble.
Massachusetts-Amherst vs. Michigan State
Michigan State is just 6-10-0 against Hockey East teams in the 1990s. For the skinny on Massachusetts-Amherst, check out Dave Hendrickson’s Hockey East season preview.
Picks: The Spartans keep Western Michigan in the doldrums, then exorcise a few of their Eastern demons against the Minutemen. MSU 4, WMU 0; MSU 4, Mass-Amherst 1
Niagara at No. 2 Michigan (1-0-0, 1-0-0 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI
Michigan head coach Red Berenson is a bit concerned about his youngish team. "We don’t have the returning team we had even last year. We don’t have the cornerstone players–a Muckalt, a Turco.
"We’re having trouble finishing around the net. We don’t seem to be as prolific in our scoring. We had 42 shots and two goals–that’s not a typical Michigan team."
While it’s true that the Wolverines scored just twice in their CCHA-opening shutout over Lake Superior, it’s not much to worry about–yet. With a solid defense led by Bubba Berenzweig and Mike Van Ryn, a good offense led by Bobby Hayes, Josh Langfeld, and Mike Kosick, and an apparently tough young goaltender, Josh Blackburn, Michigan is still a difficult team to beat, especially in Yost.
Berenson says of Niagara, "They’re an emerging program. It’ll be good competition. It will give our team a little more game experience.
Picks: Michigan 4-3, 4-2
Northeastern at Bowling Green (1-1-0, 1-1-0 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH
Nine goals. A win and a tie. Who are these Falcons?
With characteristic wit, Bowling Green head coach Buddy Powers compares this year’s team to last year’s team.
"We were real young, and now we’re just young."
Bowling Green beat Miami 4-2 and tied the RedHawks 5-5 in Goggin Ice Arena last weekend.
"We played hard both nights," says Powers. "I thought our team showed good character."
The good news is that eight different Falcons scored goals. The bad news is that sophomore goaltender Shawn Timm gave up two goals on 16 shots Friday, and five goals on just 22 shots Saturday.
"Goaltending is a concern for us this weekend," says Powers, who will split time in net between Timm and senior Mike Savard.
In defense of his young goaltender, Powers says, "I think it’s harder for the goalies than for anyone at the beginning of the year to get their rhythm down."
After a season that must have seemed like a penance, the Falcons are showing signs of making real noise in the CCHA, and Powers sounds confident.
"We played as a team, really well, and a lot of our young guys did a nice job.
"Chris Bonvie had a great weekend as a player, even though the he scored just one goal. He had 10 shots on goal alone Friday night.
"I like our jump and the way we went about things."
Powers says this weekend against Northeastern is a good tune-up, given what the Falcons are facing in CCHA play in the coming weeks. "Michigan State, Ferris and Michigan are lurking right out the corner so we have to play better than we played in Oxford."
To read all about the Falcons’ competition, see Dave Hendrickson’s Hockey East season preview.
Picks: Northeastern 4-3, Bowling Green 4-3
Alaska-Anchorage at Alaska-Fairbanks (0-0-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m. AT, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK Alaska-Fairbanks at Alaska-Anchorage Saturday, 7 p.m. AT, Sullivan Arena, Anchorage, AK
The battle of Alaska rages on.
Last season, the Nanooks opened with a 5-5 road tie and a 4-0 home win over the Seawolves.
This year, Alaska-Fairbanks is huge–literally. A team that likes to hit and hit hard, the Nanooks have an advantage over nearly anyone in terms of size.
These are two teams who are struggling for respect. Last season, the ‘Wolves won just six games overall, the Nanooks just ten.
For more on Alaska-Anchorage, read Todd Milewski’s WCHA season preview.
Picks: Fairbanks 4-3, 3-1