2005-06 CCHA Mid-Season Report
Lake Superior State and Ferris State
have similar resumes after entering the season with
similarly sagging expectations, but we’re going
to go with the Lakers for this honor because of their
two big wins – over Colgate and Miami. Before
the season, Lake Superior was picked
11th in the league by the media and coaches and 10th
by yours truly. But with a sweep at Notre Dame this
weekend, the Lakers would be alone in second place
in the standings to start 2006. LSSU is 9-5-4 overall,
matching its win totals of the last two seasons and
surpassing its marks from the two seasons before that.
The Lakers are second in the league defensively, only
allowing 2.06 goals per game, and also rank in the
top half of the conference in both special teams.
They head to South Bend with a six-game unbeaten streak
(5-0-1), their longest in nearly a decade.
We’ll go with Ferris
State senior center Greg Rallo so that the
Bulldogs get some love, too. After mediocre sophomore
and junior seasons, Rallo has turned it on during
his last year in Big Rapids. He leads the Bulldogs
in goals (10) and points (22), good for seventh in
the CCHA in scoring. Few could have seen that coming
after he posted 7-11–18 as a sophomore and 7-15–22
last season. Rallo did have a solid freshman year
(15-14–29), so this hot start might be a return
to his rookie form. More likely, though, he is more
of a focal point of Ferris’ attack now that
Jeff Legue, Derek Nesbitt and others have moved on.
BEST NEW FACE
|Lake Superior State, led
by goaltender Jeff Jakaitis, can take sole possession
of second place in the CCHA with two wins at Notre
Dame this weekend.
With all due respect to stellar freshmen
Jack Johnson, Andrew Cogliano and Jeff Zatkoff, we’re
going to go with an older face. New Notre
Dame coach Jeff Jackson, who guided Lake
Superior State to national championships in 1992 and
1994, is once again a welcome sight around CCHA circles
after stints with USA Hockey, the OHL and the NHL.
He has the Fighting Irish recovering from last season’s
stinkbomb by playing competitive hockey, and he might
be the guy to rouse the “sleeping giant”
he’s always seen in Notre Dame hockey. Don’t
be fooled by their 5-10-1 record. The Irish are much-improved.
WHAT HAPPENED TO...
Miami senior center Chris Michael?
He’s still the pivot of the GMC line, one of
the best units in all of college hockey, but his production
just hasn’t been there thus far. He has just
three goals and four assists for the first-place RedHawks,
and all three tallies came in one series at Nebraska-Omaha
in October. Michael, who was sick and missed last
weekend’s games against St. Lawrence and Clarkson,
has never been as big of a scorer as linemates Marty
Guerin and Matt Christie, but the RedHawks will need
him to chip in as they make their surprise bid to
win the league.
Alaska Fairbanks’ 4-3
win at Minnesota on Oct. 14. It was the first
game of the season for both teams, and Minnesota was
ranked No. 1 at the time. The Nanooks validated the
win – the first over a top-ranked team in program
history – by earning a tie the next night, but
the Gophers clearly had and have the more talented
squad. That UAF was ready to go and able to outwork
Minnesota on opening night is a testament to coach
Tavis MacMillan and his assistants. Runners-up in
this category are Western Michigan’s home sweep
of Ohio State on Oct. 28-29 and the Buckeyes’
home loss to Alabama-Huntsville earlier this month.
TOUGHEST ROAD OUT
Michigan State. Out
of conference, the Spartans played national powers
North Dakota, Wisconsin, Minnesota and at Cornell
(twice), and things didn’t get much easier in
league games. They played at Michigan and Ohio State,
hosted formidable Northern Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha
and just got back from the draining trip to Alaska
Fairbanks. If that weren’t enough, MSU contended
with injuries to forwards David Booth, Tim Kennedy,
Zak McClellan, Jim McKenzie, Drew Miller, Chris Mueller
and Nick Sucharski and defensemen Jeff Dunne, Brandon
Gentile, Jared Nightingale and Chris Snavely for various
amounts of time. Did we miss anyone? Oh yeah, Peder
Skinner left for the OHL a month into the season.
TOUGHEST ROAD IN
Western Michigan by
a hair over Bowling Green, Nebraska-Omaha, Michigan
and Ohio State. The Broncos still have a set at Miami
and a home-and-home against Michigan, plus a date
against Wisconsin in the Badger Showdown. Mix in road
trips to Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State and
Alaska Fairbanks and home series against NMU, Nebraska-Omaha
and Bemidji State, and things will be difficult for
the 10th-place Broncos.
Ohio State at Michigan on Feb.
2-3. With Miami lacking a marquee matchup
during its second-half schedule (at Michigan State
on Feb. 17-18 is the closest thing), old football
rivals Ohio State and Michigan appear to have the
winner here. It might be just a battle for second
place as far as the league is concerned, but the series
at Yost promises to have a major impact on both teams’
NCAA Tournament hopes. Plus, if the RedHawks crumble
under the pressure this winter, the Buckeyes and Wolverines
have to be considered the most likely teams to snatch
away the CCHA crown.
BIGGEST QUESTION ANSWERED
How will Ohio State react to
being the league favorite? Not well. The
overwhelming preseason pick of both the coaches and
the media stands at just 6-4-1 in the CCHA and 9-6-2
overall. Mixed in with good wins over Colorado College
and Michigan State are bad losses to Western Michigan
and Alabama-Huntsville. Coach John Markell was confident
in his squad’s mental makeup in September, but
he quickly realized that the Buckeyes were a little
too full of themselves. They’ve quietly gone
7-1-1 in their last nine games, so maybe Markell’s
hard-work message is getting through. But is it too
hang on? With a six-point lead right now
and, at worst, a five-point edge going into the break,
the RedHawks have a little wiggle room, and their
schedule down the stretch isn’t too menacing.
But odds are good that the incredible goaltending
in Oxford will cool off at some point, forcing Miami
to win games in other ways – scoring explosions,
gritty defense or just plain ol’ luck. Will
they have the fortitude to fight through tough times?
Coach Enrico Blasi has assembled a veteran group,
so leadership shouldn’t be an issue. But Miami
still has to prove to everyone that it has staying
power in first place.
First Half All-CCHA Team
Jakaitis, Lake Superior
Miami tandem has better numbers, but we like our
goalies to be workhorses. Jakaitis has played
nearly 200 minutes more than anyone else in the
league, and he still has the third-best save percentage
(.918) and the fourth-best goals-against average
(2.01) in the CCHA.
virtual lock for this team strictly considering
his own-zone coverage, Greene leads CCHA defensemen
with six goals and is third with 15 points.
gets the nod over defensive partner Jack Johnson
because the junior is a more disciplined player
than his freshman counterpart at the moment. He
also has chipped in 18 points (5 goals, 13 assists),
good for second among league blueliners.
most naturally gifted player in the CCHA is third
in the league in assists (18) and points (27)
at the halfway point. He’s the No. 1 reason
why Michigan averages a league-best 4.06 goals
most feared player on the most productive CCHA
line thus far, Matsumoto is fourth in the conference
25 points (9 goals, 16 assists).
junior has a point in 16 of UNO’s 17 games
this season and leads the league with 29 points
(10 goals, 19 assists). He is second nationally
at 1.71 points per game.