With just a couple of shopping weeks left until Christmas, perhaps the smart CCHA shopper should be considering what to give to his or her favorite team. After consulting statistics, game performances, and Santa’s little helpers, the CCHA Gift-Giving Committee has come up with these helpful suggestions.
The No. 4 Michigan Wolverines sit atop the CCHA standings with 19 points–and just 33 goals scored in league play, the fewest among the top six teams with the exception of Michigan State. To make a Wolverine happy, give him permission to find the net.
The No. 9 Ferris State Bulldogs have to be happy with their 18 league points, good enough for a share of second place. But few people in the CCHA and around college hockey seem to take this talented team seriously. During this season of giving, give the Bulldogs the gift of some credit– they’ve earned it.
Tied with Ferris State, the Ohio State Buckeyes have given themselves several gifts lately, in the form of league wins and goals by many different players; however, there is a certain on-ice combination that is not scoring, in spite of a gazillion even-strength and shorthanded breakaways. So contribute to the Chris Richards-Neal Rech Magic Touch Fund, and get these guys some hands.
No. 10 Notre Dame has lost four in a row, but there’s no doubt the Irish will come back strong in the second half of the season. With 15 points Notre Dame is in sole possession of fourth–not a bad place to be. What the Irish need, ironically, is a little luck and a little faith in themselves, two factors that will put them right back into the thick of it after Jan. 1.
With 14 points, the Northern Michigan Wildcats are tied for fifth and are in good league shape approaching the second half of the season. A good gift for the Wildcats would be an injury-free week–or one with a full roster of players.
Sharing fifth is No. 7 Michigan State, a team already gifted with an incredible defense, great goaltending, and Mike York, who has finally figured out a way to put it in the net himself. What the Spartans need is goaltending of Joe Blackburn’s caliber while Blackburn himself is gone away with the U.S. National Junior Team from mid-December through Jan. 5. Not only will Blackburn miss the Great Lakes Invitational, but also three important league games in Fairbanks.
With 11 points, Bowling Green sits alone in seventh place in the league. This season, the Falcons have explosive offense, but could frankly use a little help defensively and in net. If you’re inclined to give to the Falcons this year, a bit of tweaking on the defensive side of things would be a welcome gift.
Neither eighth-place team made the playoffs last year, so both the Nanooks and Broncos have improved over last season. Alaska-Fairbanks is a much better team, with the ability to score goals (what are they feeding Pat Hallet, who scored four goals in one game against the Lakers to become this week’s CCHA Offensive Player of the Week?) and some solid goaltending. Given the distance the Nanooks have to travel for every away game, however, perhaps astral projection is the best thing any UAF fan can give to Fairbanks this season.
While both UAF and Western Michigan have eight points, the Broncos have just one little CCHA win–and six ties. It’s clear what Western Michigan needs this season–a decisive win. Or a loss. (This girl reporter would take a loss–the ties are tough on the pick record.) Be generous when giving to the Broncos this year, and give them permission to take two points in one night.
Miami is another team that doesn’t need another tie for Christmas. With seven points, the RedHawks are in tenth place in the league. Playing well in spurts, this young Miami team needs time to mature. The gift of time–with which comes consistency–may be all this team can use.
The Lakers gave themselves a gift last week–their second win of the season. With six points, Lake Superior anchors the basement, but that can easily change in a league so evenly matched. Coach Scott Borek has remarked that this is a team without a breakout player, so this season, give your favorite Laker permission to step up his game.
Heading into the holiday break, there are only a few league games on the schedule for this weekend, but they’re games with real playoff implications.
Northern Michigan heads to Yost and Munn for what has to be the toughest road trip of anyone’s season, while the Broncos head to Bowling Green for one game.
Ferris State heads East to way upstate New York, for games against St. Lawrence and Clarkson. Michigan Tech visits Lake Superior for two, and St. Cloud State visits Miami for two.
Everyone else in the league is idle.
Last week’s record in picks: 5-5 Overall record in picks: 49-37
Apparently, Ohio State is yet another team that hasn’t received the memo about Notre Dame winning every game for the remainder of the season.
Northern Michigan (11-6-0, 7-6-0 CCHA) at No. 4 Michigan (11-2-2, 9-1-1 CCHA) Friday, 7 p.m., Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI Northern Michigan (11-6-0, 7-6-0 CCHA) at No. 7 Michigan State (10-3-2, 6-2-2 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Munn Arena, East Lansing, MI
After starting the season 7-1-0, the Wildcats have gone 4-5-0 in their last nine games, all against league opponents. Plagued by nagging injuries, the ‘Cats have fallen into the same win-loss pattern they did last season, when they opened the year with an unbeaten streak, slumped in the middle, then had home ice in the CCHA playoffs.
In their only game last weekend, the Wildcats came from behind to beat Alaska-Fairbanks 5-3 at home. Northern Michigan outshot Fairbanks 13-1 in the first, only to escape the period with a 1-1 tie.
After the Nanooks scored on their first two shots of the second period, the Wildcats notched three goals in three minutes to make it 4-3.
Five different Wildcats scored in the game, including J.P. Vigier, who tallied Northern’s fifth goal of the game midway into the third period.
With 14 goals, Vigier leads the league in goal-scoring, and is tied for the league lead in points with 20. Another Wildcat, Buddy Smith, also has 20 points (2-18). With Roger Trudeau (7-4–11), Fred Mattersdorfer (4-4–8), and a few other ‘Cats who can score–and 46 league goals this season–Northern Michigan has one of the most productive offenses in the CCHA.
The Wildcats have, however, been allowing nearly as many goals as they’ve been scoring (39). Dan Ragusett (2.83 GAA, .893 SV%) and Duane Hoey (3.01 GAA, .877 SV%) have been splitting time in the Northern Michigan net, and each has respectable numbers. However, in a league like the CCHA–where the top five goaltenders have save percentages higher than .910– respectable is not always enough.
Northern Michigan is a better road team than home team this season, with a 6-3-0 record when traveling–just one win shy of the Wildcats’ road win total from last season.
Northern Michigan vs. Michigan
The Wolverines own a 10-9-0 advantage in the all-time series, having won six of the last eight games. However, on Halloween, Northern Michigan handed the Wolverines their first and only league loss of the season, a 6-1 drubbing in Yost. Six different Wildcats scored, two on the power play. Josh Langfeld scored the only Michigan goal.
The game was one of Josh Blackburn’s worst in net; the rookie made only six saves and allowed four goals.
Of course, that was then, and this is now–and now Blackburn leads the league in both goals-against (1.44) and save percentage (.934).
"He’s been able to make a difference in almost every game we’ve played," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson. "Josh has kept us in some very close games and given us a chance to win those games, and that’s all you can ask."
Last weekend, the Wolverines beat Miami 1-0 on Sean Ritchlin’s very late third-period goal before breaking open a 2-2 tie against Bowling Green to beat the Falcons 5-2. Berenson says that Blackburn was a factor in each game, allowing the Wolverines that chance until they could find some offense.
It is offense, in fact, that worries the coach the most. "We’re not scoring."
The Wolverines have scored 33 goals while allowing just 18, and Berenson says that sooner or later Michigan will have to pick up this pace to make a run at the league title.
"It used to be that we’d have three or four or five players at the top of the CCHA in scoring. This season, that just isn’t the case."
With four goals and nine assists, rookie Mike Comrie leads the Wolverines in league scoring–and he’s a virtual fifth in the league’s scoring depth chart. Sophomore Josh Langfeld (6-3–9) is one of five players with nine points, all tied for 25th in scoring (a virtual tenth in scoring).
Berenson is quick to point out, however, that his isn’t the only team struggling for goals–and he’s right. "The talent has evened out in the league, and there’s parity. There’s no dominant team running away with everything.
"It goes right through the league. There [are] a lot of teams that really struggle for goals."
And although the Wolverines lead the league in points, Berenson says that this Michigan team isn’t as dominant as those of years past.
"We haven’t established ourselves. Our power play is not a power play to be feared anymore. We’re not putting chances away.
"We could’ve had four or five games go the other way for us. We’re not much better and we’re not much worse than any other team in this league."
Northern Michigan at Michigan State
Michigan State leads this all-time series 10-9-1, and after a 3-1 Oct. 30 win in Munn, the Spartans lead the season series 1-0-0. MSU also has the edge, 5-4-1, in Munn, where the Spartans are now undefeated in 21 consecutive games.
Last weekend, the Spartans swept Nebraska-Omaha in two games at home, 2-0 and 3-1. Junior goaltender Mike Gresl got the shutout in his second career start as the Spartans held UNO to nine shots on goal Friday, the fewest shots Michigan State has ever allowed in a game.
Joe Blackburn (1.48 GAA, .915 SV%) got the win the second night.
"I thought Nebraska was a really good team," said Spartan head coach Ron Mason. "They were good defensively, and seemed like a good match for our league."
With three wins in their last four nonconference games, Mason jokes, "We keep winning and dropping in the standings."
While good play from a backup goaltender is good news for the Spartans, even better news was the play of Mike York, who scored three of Michigan State’s five goals on the weekend. Prior to the games against UNO, York had three goals on the season.
Of course, York is no slouch in the scoring department. A playmaker, York leads the Spartans with two goals and 14 assists in conference play. And through over 300 shifts this season, York has yet to be on ice for a single even-strength goal against.
Mason isn’t concerned with York’s seeming lack of goal production. "He’s on track like he was last year, when he scored most of his goals in the second half [of the season]. And offense is hard to come by this year for everyone."
Like their counterparts and arch-rivals down the road, the Michigan State offense is low-key, scoring just 32 league goals this season while allowing a stingy 15. After York, Shawn Horcoff (4-6–10) and Bryan Adams (7-3–10) are the point leaders for the Spartans.
This game pairs the league’s best overall offense (NMU, 3.88 goals scored per game) with the league’s best overall defense (MSU, 1.33 goals allowed per game). Mason is well aware of the potentially-explosive Northern Michigan offense.
"While they’ve been injured, their good players are still there. They’ve got their top line, they’ve got their good defense, and they’ve got their goalies.
"When we played them earlier in the year, I thought they were the best team we played."
"We’re faced with a great challenge this weekend playing against two of the top teams in the country on back-to-back nights," says Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley.
"I think our quality of play has started to improve a little lately and is getting back to where it was early in the season. We’ll be looking to end the first half on a positive note and use it as a springboard for the GLI and the second half of the season."
As good as the Northern offense can be, the Wildcats will have a tough time this weekend against the league’s two most consistent and stingiest goaltenders, and against the league’s toughest defenses.
Both Michigan and Michigan State have made a season of stingy defenses, and as loath as fans of each team probably are to hear it, the two teams are very similar. The Blackburn in Ann Arbor seems to be a bit hotter than the one in East Lansing right now, but Michigan State’s defense is the best in the league, bar none.
This weekend would be a good preview for the GLI, if every player in these two games were playing in The Joe at the end of the month.
Michigan State may put a full team on the ice for the first time this season. The ‘Cats will be without junior left winger Tyson Holly (knee) until the GLI, and senior defenseman Mike Johnson (shoulder) is questionable.
As hard as it is to pick against Northern for two consecutive games, it’s harder still to pick against either Michigan State or Michigan at home right now.
Michigan State over Northern 3-1; Michigan over Northern 3-1
Western Michigan (1-7-6, 1-7-6 CCHA) at Bowling Green (6-7-1, 5-6-1 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., BGSU Ice Arena, Bowling Green, OH
This series pits two of the CCHA’s more interesting stories this season. The Broncos are just one tie away from tying the league record for ties (say that three times, really fast). And the Falcons are scoring goals left and right–40 in league play, as they have three of the CCHA’s top 11 scorers–but are also having trouble keeping the puck from their own net.
Last weekend, Bowling Green dropped a single home game to Michigan, 5-2, a game that was tied going into the third.
"We played good for two periods," says head coach Buddy Powers. "One sloppy shift in the third period is all it took for Michigan to take the game.
"We had some power-play chances and we didn’t respond. They took some penalties in the third after they had the lead, and we couldn’t capitalize on them."
With five goals and 12 assists, Dan Price leads the Falcons in scoring, followed by linemate Adam Edinger (8-7–15) and defenseman Mike Jones (4-9–13). Powers says that in addition to scoring depth, the Falcons are looking to even out from game to game.
"I see the young guys playing more consistently–that’s what we need to do to be good, consistency from top to bottom. We want to be better at the end of each month through the season, and we were certainly better at the end of November than we were at the end of October."
One area of inconsistency for Bowling Green has been defense, from the blue line in. The team is in the minus overall, and goaltending has been an issue. Senior Mike Savard has emerged as the starter, with a 3.69 league GAA and a .872 save percentage.
Until last Friday night, goaltending was not the issue for Western Michigan, whose senior netminder Matt Barnes has been solid (3.03 league GAA, .890 SV%). The Broncos got shelled by Lake Superior 6-0 Friday before bouncing back to a 2-2 overtime tie against Ferris State the next night.
In the loss, Barnes made 31 saves on 37 shots; rookie goalie Jeff Reynaert made 42 stops in the tie.
The Broncos are being outscored 28-54 in league play this season. Leading Western Michigan in scoring are David Gove (4-6–10), Jason Redenius (6-2–8), Frank Novock (2-6–8), Matt Addesa (4-3–7), and Chuck Mindell (3-4–7). None of the Broncos’ leading scorers is on the plus side of things.
This is the first meeting between these two teams this season. Last season, the Broncos took three of four from the Falcons. Bowling Green leads this all-time series 59-35-3.
The Broncos are winless in their last ten games (0-5-5), dating back to their one victory of the season, over Notre Dame on Oct. 24, and are winless on the road this season. This is the slowest Bronco start in school history.
"Western’s had a tough first half," says Powers, "but they’re not giving up many goals. We’ve got to make sure we take care of business at home before we break for the holidays."
The Broncos have lost Brett Mills for the season with shoulder problems. Also questionable this week for Western Michigan are Caley Jones (wrist), Chad Kline (wrist), and Jeff Lukasak (ribs).
Bowling Green’s faster offense and better forecheck should carry the Falcons through this game.
Bowling Green 4-2
No. 9 Ferris State (9-3-3, 8-3-2 CCHA) at St. Lawrence (8-4-0, 4-1-0 ECAC) Friday, 7:30 p.m., Appleton Arena, Canton, NY No. 9 Ferris State (9-3-3, 8-3-2 CCHA) at Clarkson (5-6-0, 3-2-0 ECAC) Saturday, 7 p.m., Cheel Arena, Potsdam, NY
At 7-3-1 for their last 11 games, the Bulldogs are making more than just a little statement in the CCHA, and the exclamation point for emphasis is sophomore goaltender Vince Owen.
Owen, the hottest goaltender in the CCHA, has an astounding .934 save percentage in league play, owing in part to his .976 save percentage in a four-game stretch that included wins over Northern Michigan, Notre Dame, and Lake Superior.
In overall play, Owen looks even better, with a 1.85 GAA and a .935 save percentage.
Bulldog assistant coach Drew Famulak is quick to point out, however, that it isn’t all Owen.
"I think we’re playing better team defense this year as well. There’s no question he’s making big saves."
Ferris State has allowed just 25 goals this season in league play, the third-lowest total after Michigan State and Michigan.
Famulak says it comes down to confidence, and "outstanding leadership from that senior class." He also points to the defensive efforts of senior defenseman J.P. Tessier and sophomore defender Jim Dube.
As stingy as the Bulldogs have been on the blue side of things, Ferris State scores goals, and seems to do so by committee. Joel Irwin (5-9–14) leads the team in overall scoring, followed by Kevin Swider (8-5–13), Brian McCullough (4-7–11), Geoff Bennetts (8-1–9), and Brent Wishart (4-5–9).
No one player’s numbers are spectacular, but as a team, the Bulldogs get the job done.
Most recently, Ferris State tied Western Michigan 2-2 in overtime. Dube and Swider each had a goal, and Owen made 25 stops in the effort.
Famulak says his team is well aware of the level of competition it faces as Ferris State heads east this week. "Especially with Clarkson–they’re so good defensively. Even though they’ve got two freshman goalies, you still have to get to them.
For more on St. Lawrence and Clarkson, check out this week’s ECAC preview, written by correspondents Becky "The Saint" Blaeser and Jayson "Asian Invasion" Moy.
The Bulldogs head east with something to prove–that they have the goods, that they’re not fluky, that the CCHA is as strong as its rankings indicate. Ferris State is not the biggest team in the league, but the Bulldog speed should be a good match for the speedy ECAC teams.
Ferris State 3-1 over St. Lawrence; Clarkson 3-2 over Ferris State
Michigan Tech (4-10-0, 4-8-0 WCHA) at Lake Superior (2-7-2, 2-9-2 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Taffy Abel Arena, Sault Ste. Marie, MI
This series is sort of like watching the Eagles and Giants duke it out in the NFC East. Minus the conference rivalry.
Neither the Huskies nor the Lakers have seen a lot of success this season, but the neighbors of the Upper Peninsula should put together two good games this weekend.
Lake Superior exploded for 10 goals last weekend, nearly one-half of the total Laker offensive league production this season.
Fred Slukynsky had the hat trick and Jeff Cheeseman had two goals in the 6-0 beating of Western Michigan Friday. On Saturday, the Lakers jumped to a four-goal lead in the first period before running into Alaska-Fairbanks’ Pat Hallet, who scored four all by himself in the Nanooks’ 5-4 come-from-behind win.
Assistant Laker coach Mike Collins says that the win at home–the second league win of the year for Lake State–was "well needed."
"We capitalized on some great opportunities. We played very well defensively Friday night, as we have all season. One thing that made a difference was that our power play finally woke up, and [Western Michigan goaltender Matt] Barnes had an off night, which definitely makes a difference.
"We still think we weren’t outplayed in the second and third periods against Fairbanks. They just found a way to score."
Collins says, "We don’t have any superstars; we don’t have any guys that own the team. Our whole team just continues to work hard."
While no one "owns" the Lakers, sophomore goaltender Jayme Platt has certainly staked a claim.
Although Platt is 2-5-0 in league play, his numbers are excellent, with a 1.88 GAA and a .930 league save percentage–certainly numbers good enough to give the Lakers a chance to be in any game when he’s minding the net.
Platt’s been splitting time with fellow sophomore Rob Galatiuk, who is giving up on average nearly five goals per game, with a save percentage that hovers around .860. "Rob had the tough night Saturday," says Collins.
The Lakers have yet to find any offensive consistency. Jeff Cheeseman leads the team in overall scoring (5-4–9).
Sault Ste. Marie is a tough place to play for visiting teams, but the Huskies have been better on the road than at home this season.
With Platt in net, the Lakers have a chance to beat anyone–providing they can find a way to score themselves.
For more on Michigan Tech, read WCHA Correspondent Todd Milewski’s weekly preview.
Lake Superior 4-3 Friday; Michigan Tech 3-1 Saturday
St. Cloud State (6-8-0, 5-7-0 WCHA) at Miami (3-11-3, 2-10-3 CCHA) Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m., Goggin Arena, Oxford, OH
The young and struggling RedHawks played No. 4 Michigan tough at home last week, losing 1-0 on Sean Ritchlin’s goal at 19:36 of the third period. Ian Olsen made 25 saves for the ‘Hawks in the loss.
If you ask Miami head coach Mark Mazzoleni what to expect from the fledgling RedHawks, his response–standard from week to week–is, "I have no idea."
A good sign is that Mazzoleni laughs when he says it.
After playing the surging Buckeyes tough two weeks ago, Miami turned in a very uneven performance the day after Thanksgiving in a 5-1 loss to Bowling Green before tying Western Michigan 1-1 the following night. In their last five games, the ‘Hawks are 1-3-1.
Which is the reason why Mazzoleni says, "I don’t really worry about our opponents right now. That’s to take nothing away from St. Cloud. We just have enough to worry about with our team."
In addition to having a young team, the RedHawks have been bedeviled by injuries this season. Down for the count is junior forward Dustin Whitecotton, the team’s top returning scorer from last season. Whitecotton broke his left humerus during at Nov. 6 game against Alaska-Fairbanks.
Mark Shalawylo, the team’s leading scorer this season, missed the game against Michigan with a groin injury. He may play this week.
After Shalawylo (5-9–14), the RedHawks get their offense from Alex Kim (6-8–14), Jason Deskins (6-6–12), and Ernie Hartlieb (4-4–8). Of the top four Miami scorers, only Shalawylo is on the plus side of things.
Ian Olsen has been the man in net for the ‘Hawks this season. In overall play, Olsen’s GAA is 3.16, and he has a .895 save percentage.
Miami and St. Cloud have met twice before, a two-game series in Goggin during the 1987-88 season. Miami won both of those games.
Don’t expect a repeat performance. While this young club is talented, the RedHawks have had difficulty putting together three good periods of hockey, let alone six. Meaning no disrespect at all to the ‘Hawks, a little consistency would be a good thing.
For more on St. Cloud, read Todd "Skippy" Milewski’s WCHA preview.
St. Cloud 4-3, 3-2