Unhappiness is the theme heading into
the first round of the reformatted, three-week CCHA
tournament. Lake Superior State is on a monthlong
slide that cost it a bye. Ohio State might have had
the worst season in the nation, relative to expectations.
Western Michigan and Alaska Fairbanks both had more
downs than ups. Ferris State and Notre Dame are probably
feeling OK, although it's tough to get too amped about
seventh- and eighth-place finishes.
But the most bummed-out teams this week
might be No. 5 seed Nebraska-Omaha and No. 12 Bowling
Green, who play in a best-of-three series at the Qwest
Center this weekend. All the Mavericks needed was
two points out of their trip to lowly WMU last weekend
to secure a first-round bye. Even a non-sweep by Northern
Michigan against Ohio State would have clinched it.
Instead, the Mavericks blew a 5-2 lead and settled
for a tie Friday – a draw UNO coach Mike Kemp
called "crushing" – then lost Saturday,
while NMU took both from the Buckeyes.
So the Mavericks must play this weekend
while the Wildcats get a break.
Bowling Green, meanwhile, is in shock
about finishing in last place. With offensive stars
such as Alex Foster and Jonathan Matsumoto, and a
fairly veteran lineup, there's no way the Falcons
should be the worst team in the league. But that's
where they find themselves.
So the question is who will dry their
tears first and take care of business this weekend.
"We're disappointed, no question,"
Kemp said. "We feel like we let an opportunity
slip through our fingers. But the team, really, is
positive. They think they can stay sharper by playing
this weekend as opposed to being off. Hopefully, that
will pay off for us.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers weren't
in very good shape a month before the playoffs, but
they got it done. We have to play the card we've been
dealt and get 'er done."
CCHA First Round Matchups
Bowling Green at No. 5 Nebraska-Omaha
BGSU: 8-18-2 (13-21-2 overall) UNO: 12-10-6 (18-12-6 overall) Season series: Bowling Green
leads, 2-0 Falcon fact: BGSU hasn't beaten
a league opponent (or an opponent in a league)
since Jan. 21 against Michigan. The Falcons
are 0-5-1 in their last six, and are on an eight-game
winless streak if you don't count their Feb.
4 victory over Division I independent RIT. Maverick fact: UNO junior Scott
Parse is the leading vote getter in the online
for Hobey race, with sophomore teammate
Bill Thomas in second. Parse has roughly 81,000
voting points to Thomas' 52,000. How BGSU wins: Getting an early
lead and winning Friday night would compound
the Mavericks' anguish after last weekend's
meltdown. BG can score with anybody in the nation,
but needs decent goaltending and, especially,
defensive-zone coverage. How UNO wins: The Falcons are
suspect defensively, which often leads to several
odd-man rushes per night. If the talented Parse,
Thomas and Co. can bury some of them, the Mavs
should be fine.
11 Western Michigan at No. 6 Lake Superior State
WMU: 7-16-5 (8-22-6 overall) LSSU: 11-12-5 (15-12-7 overall) Season series: Lake Superior
leads, 4-0 Bronco fact: WMU is the only
team in the CCHA giving up more than four goals
per game (4.14). The Broncos also have the second-worst
offense at 2.44 goals per game. Laker fact: This will be Lake
Superior's first home playoff series since 2000. How WMU wins: LSSU doesn't
score a whole lot, so if WMU can get the lead,
it has a fighting chance. Brent Walton will
be the best offensive player on the ice, by
far. How LSSU wins: As we said,
LSSU doesn't score a lot, but it did post 10
goals on porous Western back in October and
it does lead the season series in goal differential,
23-2. The real question will be whether goalie
Jeff Jakaitis can continue to keep the Broncos
at bay. Tight defense is a must.
Ohio State at No. 7 Ferris State
OSU: 11-14-3 (15-17-5 overall) FSU: 10-11-7 (15-13-8 overall) Season series: Ohio State leads,
1-0-1 Buckeye fact: Senior forward
Rod Pelley has played 163 games for Ohio State,
the second most in school history. Mark Anderson
(1981-85) holds the record with 167. Bulldog fact: FSU leads the
CCHA in special-teams goals differential (PPGs
and SHGs for minus PPGs and SHGs against) with
a +16 mark. How OSU wins: The Buckeyes
are the more talented team, but they've been
searching for consistency, leadership, luck,
offense, passion, motivation, etc. all season.
Finding a couple of those would go a long way
this weekend. Time for the seniors and/or stars
to step up. How FSU wins: Ewigleben Arena
is a tough barn on visiting teams, especially
if the crowd is fired up. Early goals, big hits
and the like might crush the mentally fragile
9 Alaska Fairbanks at No. 8 Notre Dame
UAF: 11-13-4 (15-14-5 overall) ND: 11-13-4 (13-17-4 overall) Season series: Tied 1-1 Nanook fact: Leading goal scorer
Curtis Fraser's 11 tallies are the fewest of
any team leader in the category in the CCHA.
So it's no surprise that UAF is last in the
league in offense at 2.38 goals per game. Fighting Irish fact: Junior
goalie David Brown is smokin' hot, having allowed
only 13 goals in his last nine starts. He's
only 4-4-1 during that stretch, but his save
percentage is .951. How UAF wins: UAF needs
good goaltending, especially against a
grinding team such as Notre Dame. No more softies
like the three Chad Johnson gave up Friday.
The Nanooks don't have the firepower to overcome
a big deficit. A close, low-scoring game is
about all they can ask for on the road. How ND wins: Good goaltending
has almost become a staple for the Irish, so
their focus can lie elsewhere. Get the lead,
then trap the heck out of the far-from-home
Nanooks and watch the frustration grow.
One of the interesting subplots of this
series is the fact that BG swept UNO in their only
meeting of the season. But that was the first week
of November, many moons ago. Much has changed, particularly
for the Mavericks, who had a rough opening month before
becoming one of the league's top teams. Bowling Green
had a brilliant run from December into early January
– knocking off Michigan State, Ohio State, St.
Lawrence and Colgate among others – but now
is on a 1-7-1 skid.
"At Bowling Green, you're not ever
going to feel satisfied finishing where we did this
year," Falcons coach Scott Paluch said, "but
we've been playing some pretty good hockey down the
stretch. We think we have enough in the arsenal to
be a dangerous team. We've been in situations where
we can win games down the stretch here, but nobody
has made that key play to do it for us. We need a
Mr. March to step up and lead.
"I like the team that we're taking
to Omaha, and we have an opportunity to have our own
On the injury front, UNO expects to
have freshman forward Tomas Klempa back in the lineup
after missing eight games with a broken wrist.
AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
Weekend warriors: As
it stands, there won't be as many weekday CCHA games
next year as there were this season. Even though the
league's 2006-07 schedule had been drafted by the
time the postseason tournament structure was elongated
by a week (like this season), most teams have opted
to reschedule for weekends.
The notable exceptions are Western
Michigan and Ferris State, who will play each other
on one Tuesday in each half of next season. Elsewhere,
Northern Michigan and Notre Dame decided to play between
Christmas and New Year's, Bowling Green and Miami
found a free weekend during October, and Ohio State
and Lake Superior settled on a weekend in January.
Michigan and Michigan State have yet to reschedule.
Alaska Fairbanks and Nebraska-Omaha weren't on the
league schedule for the final 2006-07 weekend because
of stipulations allowing outlier UAF to have the weekend
immediately before the postseason off.
With short notice of the condensed
schedule this season, there were 14 games between
CCHA teams on nontraditional nights (eight Tuesdays,
six Thursdays), plus four Tuesday non-conference games
involving a CCHA team. We didn't count exhibitions
or games during Christmas break. The Jan. 16 Ferris
State vs. Bowling Green game was counted as a Thursday
because that's when it was originally set to be played
before ice conditions necessitated a postponement.
Next year's number of weekday
contests still could climb, but probably not to the
same degree. Teams can move any league game to any
time they see fit, so long as it's mutually agreed
upon, CCHA director of communications Fred Pletsch
wrote to INCH in an e-mail.
Speaking of schedules, next year's
"clusters," as per the league's five-year
rotation, will be UAF-UNO-BGSU-Notre Dame, OSU-Miami-NMU-LSSU
and Michigan-MSU-FSU-WMU. Teams play their clustermates
four times each, as opposed to twice each for schools
outside the cluster.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
• History for MSU: The Spartans
set a school season record with their 12th overtime
game Saturday against Lake Superior State. That game
ended in a tie, giving Michigan State eight draws
this season, which ties another school record. ...
The Spartans went undefeated through February (5-0-2)
for only the third time in school history, joining
the 1985-86 and 1998-99 squads.
• Senior Night was a major downer
for Michigan's Noah Ruden (who didn't play), Brandon
Kaleniecki and Andrew Ebbett on Saturday. The Wolverines
carried a 3-0 lead into the third period against visiting
Ferris State, only to see the Bulldogs tie it up and
then win in overtime, 4-3. "It's terrible,"
Michigan coach Red Berenson told the Ann Arbor News.
"It's the worst period of the year – at
home. This is Senior Night? This is a tribute to honoring
our seniors who have really been heart-and-soul players
for us? This is what they got?"
• Michigan goalies Ruden and freshman
Billy Sauer have been mediocre or worse for the last
month or so, leaving the Wolverines without a clear
No. 1 heading into the postseason. It seems that nobody
in Ann Arbor – coaches and players included
– knows who will get the call. It might come
down to performances in practice next week.
• For those wondering how the
tournament seeds were determined among the three ties
in the CCHA standings, here we go: Northern Michigan
edged Nebraska-Omaha for the No. 4 seed because of
more league wins (14 to 12), the same reason Lake
Superior State superseded Ferris State for the No.
6 seed (11 to 10). But because Notre Dame and Alaska
Fairbanks had the same number of league wins as each
other (11) and split their season series 1-1, the
third tiebreaker had to be invoked to decide which
of them was No. 8 and which was No. 9: goal differential
in the season series. Notre Dame won that measurement,
5-3, and thus will host the Nanooks (again) this weekend.
Overall, it was a wild finish to the
regular season. Imagine if Ferris hadn't come back
from 3-0 to beat Michigan. Or if Western Michigan
hadn't come back from 5-2 to tie UNO. Or if Northern
Michigan hadn't erased a 2-0 lead to beat Ohio State
on Saturday. Every matchup in the first round could
• Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson
hopes the ice at the Joyce Center is better for this
weekend's rematch against UAF than it was last weekend.
"The ice was terrible tonight, worse than it's
been all season," Jackson said after Friday's
win. He blamed it on too much heat in the multipurpose
building stemming from other events during the week.
• This weekend's No. 10 Ohio State
vs. No. 7 Ferris State playoff series is a rematch
of a first-rounder from last year, when the circumstances
were much different. No. 11 seed Ferris State put
a scare into the mighty Buckeyes, the No. 2 seed,
before blowing a two-goal, third-period lead in Game
3 and losing in overtime in Columbus.
• You must read Ferris State senior
Greg Rallo's tremendous tale of trailer parks, mini-sticks
and Grey Goose on
the CCHA Web site.
variety of sources were utilized in the compilation
of this report.