Have you made your New Year’s resolutions yet?
As 1998 ends and the second half of the season begins, each CCHA team has at least one resolution it can make — and keep — to become more competitive from now through March.
No. 3 Michigan: With a league-leading 21 points, the Wolverines are doing many things right. Michigan should resolve to keep feeding Mike Comrie the puck for the rest of the season. This freshman has the touch.
The Wolverines beat Michigan Tech 4-1 in the first round of the Great Lakes Invitational before losing 3-1 to Michigan State in the title game. This week, Michigan travels to Columbus to play Ohio State in the inaugural game in the Jerome Schottenstein Center.
Ferris State: Tied for second in the CCHA standings with 18 points, the Bulldogs have obviously been flexing a little muscle as well this season. Ferris State should resolve to let hot goaltender Vince Owen perform whatever pregame ritual he performs, without interruption.
The Bulldogs have been off since early December, when they lost 2-0 to St. Lawrence, and 5-4 to Clarkson. This week, Ferris State travels to Guelph, Ontario, for a holiday tournament against Canadian teams.
Ohio State: Tied for second with Ferris State, the Buckeyes should resolve to keep scoring by committee. In two games against Notre Dame in early December, eight different Buckeyes were responsible for the eight goals scored. In their 2-1 loss to Boston University and 6-5 win over Minnesota in the Mariucci Classic last weekend, seven different Buckeyes found the net.
This weekend, Ohio State hosts Michigan on Saturday night in the first-ever game in the Jerome Schottenstein Center.
No. 6 Michigan State: In fourth place with 16 points, the Spartans are a defensive tour de force. While the Spartans could resolve to score more goals, what’s the point when the defense allows so few against? Michigan State’s defense should simply strengthen its resolve for the rest of the season.
After beating Northern Michigan 5-3 in the opening round of the GLI, the Spartans captured their second straight Great Lakes Invitational title with a 3-1 win over Michigan. This week the Spartans travel to Alaska for three against the Nanooks.
No. 9 Notre Dame: With 15 points, fifth-place Notre Dame has one of the most lethal power plays in the league. The Irish should resolve to keep their opponents in the box, and to avoid penalties themselves.
Notre Dame has been off since losing two in a row to Ohio State in Columbus in early December, 4-3 and 4-1. The Irish face a big challenge this week, traveling to play a pair of games against the No. 1 Sioux in North Dakota.
Northern Michigan: The sixth-place Wildcats (15 points) need to resolve to do one thing for the rest of the season: no defensive breakdowns.
Northern Michigan lost 5-3 to Michigan State in the first round of the GLI before trouncing Michigan Tech 8-1 in the consolation game. This week, the ‘Cats host Lake Superior Saturday and Laurentian in an exhibition Sunday.
Bowling Green: Congratulations are in order for the Falcons, who won their first tournament in ten years!
This is a team with speed and savvy — in more ways than one. Savvy — Mike Savard, the go-to guy in the Falcon net — needs to believe in his own consistency. The resolution the Falcons need to make? Resolve to think positively about what happens between the pipes.
The seventh-place Falcons (13 points) return to league play after a triumphant weekend in Milwaukee, beating Cornell 3-2 in overtime, then winning the title game 4-1 over Yale to take the 1998 Badger Showdown Championship. Bowling Green travels to Nebraska-Omaha for two this weekend.
Alaska-Fairbanks: Tied for eighth place with eight points, the Nanooks are one of those bubble teams that needs to play the proverbial three periods of hockey to make the playoffs. Alaska-Fairbanks should resolve to do just that, every game.
Off since early December, when they lost 5-3 to Northern Michigan and beat Lake Superior 5-4 in a trip through the UP, the Nanooks host Michigan State for three this weekend.
Western Michigan: Sharing eighth place with Fairbanks, the Broncos have one win and six ties to their credit. Just resolve to win a couple, Western Michigan — for the love of heaven, just win a game instead of tying!
The Broncos are idle this week.
Miami: In tenth place with seven points, the fledgling RedHawks can make one resolution that will help them immediately for the rest of the season: resolve to stop giving up goals in the last minute of the period.
The RedHawks lost 7-2 to Colgate and beat St. Lawrence 4-3 in overtime at the Syracuse Invitational. Miami is also idle this week.
Lake Superior: With two conference wins and two ties, the Lakers need to play their best to reach the CCHA playoffs. One plus for Lake Superior would be consistent goaltending. In the second half of the season, one of the three Laker goaltenders should resolve to emerge as the starter.
The Lakers dropped a pair of games at the Denver Cup, 4-0 to Denver and 9-2 to Colorado College.
This week, Lake Superior travels to Northern Michigan for one game Saturday night.
Last week’s record in picks:0-2 Overall record in picks: 49-39 Record in tournament picks (not included in the overall record): 5-15 Will somebody pass me a glass of that fizzy stuff?
No. 3 Michigan (13-3-2, 10-1-1 CCHA) at Ohio State (9-8-2, 8-4-2 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Jerome Schottenstein Center, Columbus, OH
Could you ask for a better pairing for the inaugural game at The Jerome Schottenstein Center?
While the Michigan-Ohio State hockey match-up lacks the intense rivalry the two schools share in football, this is the first time the Wolverines and the Buckeyes meet on ice this season, and the first time the two meet since Ohio State beat Michigan 4-2 in the CCHA semifinals last season.
Both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes begin the second half of the season confidently, but not happy about their performances of a week ago. Michigan looked shaky in the first half of the GLI championship game against the Spartans, and Ohio State lost a close game to BU before pulling a win out of thin air against Minnesota in the Mariucci Classic.
Each team enters this game with something to prove. The Wolverines want to prove that the one loss to Ohio State in their last 35 matches was a fluke.
The Buckeyes want to prove that last season was no fluke.
But with all the hoopla surrounding this game, and with everything riding on it, Ohio State head coach John Markell puts it all in perspective. "It’s an important game for the standings. We’re chasing them, and we haven’t seen them yet. I don’t think it’s much more than that."
As for this being a Michigan-Ohio State game, Markell says, "I wanted to beat BU as much as I want to beat Michigan."
In spite of the disparity in records, these two teams may be very well matched.
Each team scored by committee. At the GLI last week, five different Wolverines scored the five Michigan goals on the weekend. At the Mariucci, seven different Buckeyes accounted for the seven Ohio State goals in the tournament.
In goal for the Wolverines, Josh Blackburn’s conference GAA is a league-leading 1.44, and his CCHA save percentage is .934.
For Ohio State, Jeff Maund’s GAA is 2.16, his save percentage .928.
Defensively, Michigan has the edge. The Wolverines are allowing 1.58 goals per game, while the Buckeyes are allowing 2.36. But Michigan is without Mike Van Ryn and Jeff Jillson, both of whom are playing in the World Juniors.
Who to Watch
For Michigan, the guy you can’t help but watch is Mike Comrie. With five goals and 10 assists in conference play, Comrie leads the Wolverines in scoring. For pure offense, watch both Josh Langfeld (7-3–10) and Dale Rominski (6-2–8), both of whom can score goals and create chances.
Scott Matzka (1-6–7) is an underrated Wolverine workhorse, a real grinder and playmaker.
Defensively, Bubba Berenzweig (1-6–7) has improved his game this season, making him a dangerous on both sides of the puck.
For Ohio State, given how many players can score lately, it may be a matter of who not to watch. Hugo Boisvert (6-10–16) leads the Buckeyes in scoring, and he’s fun to watch whenever he’s on the ice.
The combination of Chris Richards (2-8–10) and Neal Rech (1-2–3) is exciting to watch for all the two-on-one breakaways they generate.
But for pure fun, the two offensive players most fun to watch for the Buckeyes are Boisvert’s linemate Eric Meloche (2-4–6) and Brandon Lafrance (2-2–4). Each has incredible speed, great hockey sense, and each is capable of scoring the prettiest goals you’ve ever seen.
Defensively, the Buckeyes are an improved team this season. Watch freshman Scott Titus and Jason Crain. Titus is a stay-at-home defenseman, while Crain is an offensive threat, especially at the point on the power play.
Goaltenders for both teams are fun to watch, as Blackburn and Maund can each come up with big saves.
Pick: While Michigan leads the all-time series 44-19-7, this may be a game during which history matters little.
The Buckeyes have a tendency to spell tight goaltenders, and they like to lose at home as much as do the Wolverines; no matter that "home" is now a 17,500-seat arena as opposed to a 1,400-seat barn.
If Ohio State stays out of the penalty box — as they did against Notre Dame a month ago — the game is theirs.
Ohio State 4-2
No. 6 Michigan State (13-3-2, 7-2-2 CCHA) at Alaska-Fairbanks (5-9-0, 4-8-0 CCHA) Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, 7 p.m. AT, Carlson Center, Fairbanks, AK
The Spartans are buoyed by their second straight Great Lakes Invitational tournament championship, this one taken without two key players — sophomore goaltender Joe Blackburn and freshman winger Adam Hall, both with the World Juniors.
In Blackburn’s place, Mike Gresl looked shaky against Northern Michigan but solid against Michigan, and was named the tournament MVP.
Now the Spartans must travel to Fairbanks without their star goalie, a prospect that is clearly unsavory to head coach Ron Mason.
"This is the only series all year where six points are up for grabs, and that is critical when it comes to the league standings," says Mason. "There is a lot at stake this weekend."
When you’re chasing three CCHA teams, clearly there is a lot at stake, and the Spartans perhaps have something to worry about, having split a two-game set with the Nanooks in Fairbanks last season.
The Nanooks have been idle since early December, when they split a pair of games in the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Contrary to preseason predictions, UAF is not wallowing in last place, and may finish as high as seventh place if their sometimes-winning ways continue.
Who to Watch
For the Spartans, that’s a gimme: Mike York, Mike York, Mike York.
York (3-13–16) leads the Spartans in scoring and finesse. To take nothing away from his teammates or opponents, when York is in the game, he is simply the best player on the ice.
In his first-ever appearance at the GLI — he’s missed the previous three playing in the World Juniors — York scored the opening goal, the game-winning goal, and the empty-netter against Northern Michigan.
Bryan Adams (8-4–12, +11) and Shawn Horcoff (4-6–10) are just behind York in scoring.
Michigan State’s defense is second to none in the league, and the players to watch there are Chris Bogas, Mike Weaver, Jeff Kozakowski, who tallied his first two goals of the season at the GLI.
Gresl made some big saves but gave up some huge rebounds during the GLI. You have to watch him this weekend because he’s all the Spartans have in net.
Nanook players to watch include Jim Lawrence (6-5–11), Chris Kirwan (6-2–8), Sjon Wynia (3-3–6), and Kerry Hafele (1-3–4), an underrated player who doesn’t receive a lot of attention on a team that doesn’t receive a lot of attention.
Ian Perkins (4.60 GAA, .869 SV%) has been steady in net for Alaska-Fairbanks.
Picks: It’s nearly impossible to sweep the Nanooks in a three-game series at home, and let’s not forget the Spartans couldn’t do that in two games last season, when Michigan State was a lot closer to being number-one in the country, and UAF was closer to being last in the league.
The Spartans haven’t lost on a Saturday night this season. No need to pick against that mojo.
Michigan State 3-2 Friday, 4-2 Saturday; UAF 4-3 Sunday
Lake Superior (3-11-3, 2-7-2 CCHA) Northern Michigan (12-9-0, 7-8-0 CCHA) Saturday, 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI Laurentian (2-7-3) at Northern Michigan (12-9-0, 7-8-0 CCHA) Sunday, 7 p.m., Lakeview Arena, Marquette, MI
After dropping a very close game to Michigan State in the first round of the GLI, the Wildcats punished the Huskies in the consolation game, winning 8-1.
For a team that struggled with scoring toward the end of the first half of the season, the eight goals from a variety of players was a boost that may well carry into January and beyond.
"We’ll try to carry some of the momentum from our win over Michigan Tech into the start of the second half of our CCHA campaign," says Northern head coach Rick Comley. "Every game will be critical for us if we’re going to reach our goal of finishing in the upper echelon of the CCHA and gain a home-ice playoff berth for the first round of the playoffs."
The first hurdle on that road to CCHA points is this weekend’s game against Lake Superior, a team that struggled throughout the first half of the season, and struggled last weekend in back-to-back losses in the Denver Cup.
"The last time we played that poorly was out east," says Laker head coach Scott Borek. "We had average-to-poor goaltending and poor defensive play."
Borek says that there are several reasons the Lakers are having a tough time playing as a unit this season.
"Youth is certainly a factor. And we’ve had an unsettled goaltending situation. It’s not that we don’t want to settle the situation, but no one’s stepped up and grabbed it."
Two sophomores and a junior are vying for the starting position in the Lake Superior net. Sophomore Jayme Platt seems to be the forerunner, with a 1.88 league GAA and .930 league save percentage. Junior Mike Brusseau has also posted some impressive numbers, a 1.45 GAA and .939 save percentage. Unfortunately, Brusseau has been plauged by a groin injury.
The odd man out would appear to be last year’s Laker starter, sophomore Rob Galatiuk, whose 4.30 league GAA and .873 save percentage put him far behind the other Lake goalies in numbers.
Borek says, however, that numbers don’t tell the whole story, and he makes it clear that no one has emerged as the go-to guy as of yet.
Lake Superior vs. Northern Michigan
Jeff Cheeseman (5-3–8) leads the Lakers in scoring, followed by Trent Walford (1-6–7), Tobin Praznik (3-2–5), and Fred Slukynsky (4-1–5). Of the four top Laker scorers, Slukynsky has perhaps the most potential for making the game-breaking play.
Northern Michigan, on the other hand, is loaded for bear. Buddy Smith (2-18–20) and J.P. Vigier (14-6–20) are tied with Notre Dame’s Brian Urick and Ben Simon for the lead in league scoring.
In addition to Smith and Vigier, Roger Trudeau (8-4–12), Bryan Phillips (3-3–6), Fred Mattersdorfer (4-4–8), and a host of other Wildcats can score.
Duane Hoey (3.27 GAA, .866 SV%) and Dan Ragusett (2.86 GAA, .892 SV%) split time in the Northern net, but at this point in the season, Ragusett is clearly the more consistent of the two.
Northern is prone to defensive breakdowns — and Lake Superior may be capable of capitalizing on such breakdowns — but the Wildcats outgun and outdefend the Lakers from top to bottom.
Pick: Northern Michigan 5-2
Laurentian vs. Northern Michigan
Through the end of November, scoring leaders for Laurentian include Blair Sherrit (8-3–11), Martin Robert (2-7–9), and Keith Welsh (4-4–8). With a 3.31 GAA and .913 save percentage, Jarrett Rose appears to be Laurentian’s starter in net.
Pick: Northern 6-1
No. 9 Notre Dame (9-5-2, 7-5-1 CCHA) at No. 1 North Dakota (12-1-1, 10-1-1 WCHA) Saturday and Sunday, 7:35 p.m. CT, Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, ND
After a stunning 6-0 start to their season, the Irish finished the first half of the season with four straight losses, but head coach Dave Poulin in unconcerned about Notre Dame’s mini-slump.
"We lost three one-goal games in a row, and all four games were against virtual top ten teams," says Poulin.
The losses were all on the road, to Michigan, Ferris State, and two to Ohio State. Poulin says that the Irish aren’t looking back at those losses, but ahead at the second half of the season.
"We’re starting fresh, and I really like my team."
Notre Dame hasn’t played since the back-to-back losses to Ohio State the first weekend in December, and Poulin says that he’s treated the past week of practice "like a whole training camp." Poulin also says that the time off most certainly help heal some injuries, especially to the essential Aniket Dhadphale and Joe Dusbabek.
Ryan Clark, however, had shoulder surgery during the break, and it’s unknown when he’ll return to the Notre Dame lineup.
Notre Dame brings one of the most powerful first lines in college hockey to Grand Forks to take on the Sioux. Ben Simon (8-12–20) and Brian Urick (8-12–20) are tied with Buddy Smith and J.P. Vigier (Northern Michigan) for the lead in league scoring. On the line with Urick, Dhadphale is a wicked threat, tallying 13 points (6-7) in just nine games.
Notre Dame leads the CCHA with goals scored in conference games (47); 16 of those have come on the power play. The Irish power play is clicking along at 22%.
Defensively, the Irish are big, strong, and fast, with Benoit Cotnoir, Nathan Borega, and Tyson Fraser leading the blue line.
In goal for Notre Dame, Forrest Karr can best be described as consistent. With a 2.59 overall GAA and .896 overall save percentage, Karr is neither the best nor quickest netminder in the CCHA, but he is steady.
Other players of note for the Irish include Chad Chipchase (5-1–6) and Dan Carlson (4-10– 14), two-thirds of Notre Dame’s effective second line.
For the scoop on the number-one team in the country, read Todd Milewski’s WCHA Preview.
Picks: Common sense dictates that North Dakota has every advantage in this series. The Sioux have lost one game all season, are playing with all cylinders clicking, and are playing at home.
Earlier in the season, however, the mandate came down from Notre Dame fans all over the country that the Irish were not to lose again this season. After this reporter foolishly picked then-No. 1 Boston College to beat Notre Dame in Boston, the flood of e-mail received afterwards from the Irish faithful was convincing enough for me to vow to never pick against the Irish again this season.
So, as much as it hurts me to do this, I’m picking Notre Dame to win two. I know full well that this may hurt my picks this week — as the Irish have for a few weeks running now — but I’m convinced that there’s a lesson in blind faith here that I am doomed to learn.
Notre Dame 4-3, 4-3
Bowling Green (9-7-1, 6-1-1 CCHA) at Nebraska-Omaha (2-16-0) Saturday and Sunday, 7:35 p.m. CT, Omaha Civic Auditorium, Omaha, NE
The Falcons kick off the second half of the season as the 1998 Badger Showdown Champions, their first tournament title in ten years. Head coach Buddy Power says that the weekend in Milwaukee can serve as a springboard for his young Falcon team.
"I hope it certainly spurs them [the Falcon players] on," says Powers. "We’re a young team that hasn’t had a lot of good things happen to it in the last year-and-a-half. Our guys are growing up and some guys, their games are developing and they’re starting to finish chances."
Adam Edinger, the tournament MVP, was among those to finish his chances in Milwaukee. Edinger scored twice in the 3-2 win over Cornell, and once in the 4-1 over Yale. Edinger (8-10–18) and Dan Price (8-10–18) lead the Falcons in scoring.
In addition to Edinger’s terrific play in the Badger Showdown, senior goaltender Mike Savard was solid in net, earning a spot on the all-tournament team. Savard (3.61 league GAA, .873 SV%) made 51 stops on the weekend and allowed just three goals.
"Mike Savard had a great weekend in goal for us and everybody knows how important goaltending is," says Powers.
Goaltending and defense have been the biggest problems for Bowling Green this season. One of just three teams to score more than 40 goals against league opponents in the first half of the season (along with Notre Dame and Northern Michigan), the Falcons have, however, given up 53 goals in league play, second only to Western Michigan in the CCHA.
The Mavericks dropped two games to Harvard at home in mid-December, and play at Wisconsin on New Year’s Eve.
The Mavs are being outscored this season 75-37. James Chalmers (3-9–12), Bully Pugliese (4-6–10), and Jason White (4-6–10) are the leading scorers for Nebraska-Omaha.
Kendall Sidoruk (3.22 GAA, .889 SV%) and Jason Mitchell (4.97 GAA, .846 SV%) split time in the Maverick net.
Picks: The Falcons are faster and more prolific than are the Mavericks, and although Bowling Green tends to allow a lot of goals, they should outlast Nebraska-Omaha for two games.
Bowling Green 5-4, 5-3
Ferris State (9-5-3, 8-3-2 CCHA) at Guelph (4-6-2) and other teams Canadian Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Red and Gold Rinks, Guelph, Ontario
The Gryphon Invitational Tournament takes place at Guelph every year and it involves eight teams. Usually seven of those teams are Canadian college teams and one is a U.S. college hockey team. Last year Cornell was the U.S. participant and this year Ferris State is the participant. Unfortunately, Ferris State and Guelph are the only two teams that we know of in this field of eight.
Another thing that we know is that it is a tournament that has four games in one day, lasts for three days, and every win advances you to a bracket. Each team in the tournament plays three games, and if you win all three, you are the champion. If you lose one game, you could be anywhere.
"We had our tournament last year," says Ferris State assistant coach Drew Famulak, "And since that’s no longer happening, we needed to pick up some games before heading back into league play.
"We’ll get a workout. There’s only so much you can do in practice."
Famulak says that the tourney should prepare the Bulldogs for their return to CCHA action against Michigan next week. "It’s good competition, and we’ll get a chance to play everyone — both goaltenders, all eight defensemen."
Pick:The Bulldogs win every game they play in this one, no matter who they face.
And a very Happy New Year to all!