This Week in the CCHA: March 8, 2007

Wildcats, and Nanooks, and Mavericks — Oh My!

I couldn’t figure out how to fit “Lakers” into that … and besides, Lakers are ships, not ferocious beasts.

What a weekend of hockey in the CCHA. I expected the first round of the playoffs to be good, but not as good as these eight teams mustered. Here are 10 reasons to love your conference this week.

One …

… defenseman, two awards nominations.

Buckeye senior Sean Collins is a finalist for the league’s Best Offensive Defenseman and Defensive Defenseman awards.

It’s a measure of respect well-earned.

Two …

… fantastic first-round upsets, and I never saw either of them coming.

The No. 11 seed Alaska Nanooks became the first school in CCHA playoff history to win on the road three years running. This year, they eliminated No. 6 seed Western Michigan in three games. Last year, it was Notre Dame in two. In 2004-05, it was Bowling Green in two.

After going down two goals in the second period last Friday, the Nanooks responded with two goals 1:05 apart late in the third, Ryan Muspratt’s shorthander at 17:38 and Darcy Campbell’s goal at 18:43. Senior Lucas Burnett was the hero, his third goal of the season winning the game.

The Broncos pounded the Nanooks, 6-2, on Saturday, but Sunday’s game was all Alaska, with the ‘Nooks scoring in each period and Wylie Rogers stopping 32-of-33 shots.

Head coach Tavis MacMillan told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, “To beat a team as good as Western in their own building, you have to have a great team effort, and I thought we did, right from [player] one through 21.”

Those wins in Lawson were the 10th and 11th for the Nanooks this season.

And all it took, seemingly, for the No. 10 seed Northern Michigan Wildcats to upset No. 7 seed Ohio State was a change in goaltenders.

From the moment freshman Brian Stewart took the net for NMU in last Friday’s 6-2 loss to OSU — after Bill Zaniboni had allowed three unanswered goals before the middle of the second period — the Wildcats played better, more confident hockey.

Friday’s game was closer than the score, and Saturday’s 3-2 overtime NMU win was as good as any hockey game gets, and all because of the recharged Wildcats. The Buckeyes brought their game every night, and their freshman goaltender, Joseph Palmer, was excellent in the series.

But the 3-2 OT win in the little OSU Ice Arena, with a game-winner by Dusty Collins, gave the ‘Cats momentum that they carried into Sunday’s 3-2 win. After falling behind 1-0 after one, the Wildcats gained the lead in the second and never looked back.

“I think the biggest single thing,” said NMU head coach Walt Kyle, “is we changed goaltenders. And that’s no slight on Billy [Zaniboni]. We changed goalies and the kid was unbelievable. I mean, he was unbelievable.”

Stewart stopped 76-of-80 shots for a save percentage of .950 in the series.

The way his presence affected his team reminded me of what Dave Caruso did for the Buckeyes in the 2004 CCHA Super Six, when Caruso came in for Mike Betz in the first game.

Northern was transformed. The Wildcats worked hard and played with passion I haven’t seen from them for more than a season. They were truly impressive.

Three …

… series that went to three games.

The Nanooks and Wildcats took their series to three games and upset the higher seed, but the No. 8 Lakers prevailed on home ice against the No. 9 Bulldogs, even though it took three games to advance.

The Bulldogs beat the Lakers in overtime last Friday, 4-2, with Bomersback’s hat-trick goal winning it at 12:29 of the extra stanza. The final two contests were one-goal games, with LSSU winning 4-3 and 3-2. The winning goal in each of those games was scored in the third period, after the teams were knotted at the end of two.

And that fourth contest between No. 5 Nebraska-Omaha and No. 12 Bowling Green was no cakewalk. Yes, the Mavericks beat the Falcons in two straight games, but it took them 10 goals to do so — well, technically, nine, since they won 3-2 in OT Friday and 7-5 Saturday.

These four series defined what we all love about college hockey, and are a ringing endorsement for loving the one you’re with, that being the CCHA playoffs. We can only hope that this weekend’s series are half as exciting.

Four …

… goals in one period.

Bowling Green senior James Unger scored four goals in the first period of Saturday’s 7-5 loss to Nebraska-Omaha, a league playoff record. Unger had five goals on the weekend, having scored in Friday’s 3-2 overtime loss.

Unger had two goals in 19 games entering the series.

Five …

… skaters, plus a goalie.

Congratulations to the 2006-07 CCHA All-Conference First Team: forwards T.J. Hensick (Sr., Michigan), Scott Parse (Sr., UNO), and Mike Santorelli (Jr., NMU); defensemen Jack Johnson (So., Michigan) and Matt Hunwick (Sr., Michigan); and goaltender David Brown (Sr., ND).

Six …

… goals in four games.

Ferris State senior Mark Bomersback made a spectacular return after having broken his leg Oct. 6 by netting six goals in his last four games. The total included a hat trick in FSU’s Friday night 4-3 OT win over Lake Superior State.

Seven …

… winless games.

Alaska entered last weekend’s series with Western without having won since Feb. 2 (0-6-1).

Eight …

… teams left.

Here they are by the overall numbers. The stats after the slash represent their ranking among CCHA opponents for that category.

No. 1 Notre Dame

• Record: 27-6-3
• Record home: 12-2-2
• Goals per game: 3.44/fourth
• Goals allowed per game: 1.75/first
• Power play: .189/second
• Penalty kill: .905/first
• Top scorer: Erik Condra (13-26–39)
• Top goal scorer: Ryan Thang (17-17–34) and Mark Van Guilder (17-15–32)
• Top goaltender: David Brown (1.68 GAA, .927 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: Any skater on this team can score.

No. 2 Michigan

• Record: 23-12-1
• Record home: 13-5-0
• Goals per game: 4.19/first
• Goals allowed per game: 3.14/seventh
• Power play: .183/fourth
• Penalty kill: .819/ninth
• Top scorer: T.J. Hensick (17-39–56)
• Top goal scorer: Andrew Cogliano (21-21–41)
• Top goaltender: Billy Sauer (3.03 GAA, .899 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: Top offense in the nation.

No. 3 Miami

• Record: 23-1-4
• Record home: 15-3-1
• Goals per game: 3.45/third
• Goals allowed per game: 2.58/fourth
• Power play: .188/third
• Penalty kill: .889/second
• Top scorer: Nathan Davis (20-28–48)
• Top goal scorer: Ryan Jones (27-17–44)
• Top goaltenders: Charlie Effinger (2.67 GAA, .896 SV%), Jeff Zatkoff (2.25 GAA, .917 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: Steve Cady Arena.

No. 4 Michigan State

• Record: 19-12-3
• Record home: 11-3-2
• Goals per game: 3.12/seventh
• Goals allowed per game: 2.44/second
• Power play: .181/sixth
• Penalty kill: .863/third
• Top scorer: Tim Kennedy (13-20–33)
• Top goal scorer: Bryan Lerg (21-11–32)
• Top goaltender: Jeff Lerg (2.45 GAA, .912 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: Bryan Lerg leads the nation with eight game-winning goals.

No. 5 Nebraska-Omaha

• Record: 18-14-8
• Record away: 5-8-5
• Goals per game: 3.75/second
• Goals allowed per game: 3.00/sixth
• Power play: .194/first
• Penalty kill: .841/fifth
• Top scorer: Scott Parse (24-28–52)
• Top goal scorer: Scott Parse
• Top goaltenders: Jeremie Dupont (2.83 GAA, .887 SV%), Jerad Kaufmann (2.94 GAA, .893 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: Deepest offense in the league.

No. 6 Lake Superior State

• Record: 19-17-3
• Record away: 5-9-2
• Goals per game: 2.59/10th
• Goals allowed per game: 2.51/third
• Power play: .143/11th
• Penalty kill: .841/sixth
• Top scorer: Troy Schwab (6-21–27)
• Top goal scorer: Josh Sim (15-10–25)
• Top goaltender: Jeff Jakaitis (2.25 GAA, .931 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: Takes fewer penalties than any team in the league (13.28 minutes per game).

No. 7 Northern Michigan

• Record: 15-22-2
• Record away: 6-14-0
• Goals per game: 2.36/11th
• Goals allowed per game: 2.85/fifth
• Power play: .157/10th
• Penalty kill: .856/fourth
• Top scorer: Mike Santorelli (29-17–46)
• Top goal scorer: Mike Santorelli
• Top goaltenders: Brian Stewart (3.23 GAA, .904 SV%), Bill Zaniboni (2.56 GAA, .909 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: The senior class has awakened.

No. 8 Alaska

• Record: 11-20-6
• Record away: 4-12-3
• Goals per game: 2.65/ninth
• Goals allowed per game: 3.19/eighth
• Power play: .174/eighth
• Penalty kill: .820/eighth
• Top scorer: Kyle Greentree (21-20–41)
• Top goal scorer: Kyle Greentree
• Top goaltenders: Chad Johnson (3.07 GAA, .885 SV%), Wylie Rogers (2.90 GAA, .895 SV%)
• Dirty little secret: Eliminated Notre Dame in South Bend last season.

Nine …

… days from today, two teams will battle for the Mason Cup.

Ten …

… was the magic number.

After losing nine games in a row to Ohio State in Columbus — dating back to 1981 — Northern Michigan finally shook the jinx with that overtime win Saturday night.

Now they own a two-game streak in the OSU Ice Arena, where I’m sure the Buckeyes will never want to play again … as if they wanted to this time.