2006-07 CCHA Mid-Season Report
Notre Dame. Last year,
our Breakthrough Team in the season preview was Miami,
and the RedHawks won the CCHA regular-season title.
Might a similar fate await this year's Breakthrough
Team, the Fighting Irish? With the best balance between
offense and defense in the league, it's within reason.
At the halfway point, ND is in second place, two points
behind Miami with two games in hand. For further validation
of Notre Dame's legitimacy, listen to Alaska coach
Tavis MacMillan, whose team was swept in South Bend
on Dec. 2-3: "They remind me of Lake Superior
State from the early '90s," he said. "They
cycle the puck, they work hard, they're big, strong,
they can skate, and they're very well-coached.
That is a really good team."
David Rohlfs, Michigan
senior forward. Maybe this shouldn't be a surprise,
considering he's on a line with deadeye passer T.J.
Hensick and super sniper Kevin Porter, but Rohlfs
has 20 points in 19 games this season after registering
just 35 points in 117 games during his first three
campaigns. A 6-foot-3 forward-turned-defenseman-turned-forward,
Rohlfs has done a nice job taking the physical pressure
off Hensick and Porter and allowing them to use their
skills. And he has buried 10 of the gimmes his linemates
have left him on the goal line.
BEST NEW FACE
Knelson, Alaska freshman forward. The slick
youngster, who turns 18 a few days after the New Year,
is the kind of talent who would brighten any CCHA
program. What makes him more noteworthy is that he
resides in Fairbanks. Nanook faithful are used to
their freshmen being grown men with beards and wives
and mortgages, not whiz kids for whom NHL scouts are
beating down the doors. But Knelson is the latter,
and more players like him going to schools like Alaska
would help the depth of the league. Unfortunately
for the Nanooks, the Alberta native is still feeling
the effects of a November shoulder injury, but he
averages more than a point per game (13 in 12).
WHAT HAPPENED TO...
Stocked with NHL draft picks, the Wildcats seem to
be searching for an identity for the second straight
year. Tenth place in the league with a 7-10-2 overall
record is not where many figured such a talented team
would sit. But the 'Cats have won just three of their
last 12 contests. Goaltending isn't the problem. Chemistry
might be. Or lack of scoring balance. It's tough to
say. One thing is for certain, players with names
other than Santorelli and Zaniboni need to step up
in the second half (which brings a difficult schedule,
by the way). NMU freshman Matt Butcher has one point
in 19 games after finishing second in the British
Columbia Hockey League with 101 points in 57 contests
last season. He's not the only problem, but his struggles
are representative of the team's plight.
The CCHA's biggest head-scratchers happened
so early in the season that their context has changed
drastically since then. On Oct. 14, Minnesota State
Mankato scored with 15 seconds left in overtime to
defeat visiting Notre Dame, 3-2. Yes, those are the
same Mavericks who have gone 2-10-3 since then, and
the same Fighting Irish who have gone 13-2-1. But
on Oct. 14, the result didn't garner a second thought.
ND's next game, meanwhile, was considered the biggest
upset, a 7-1 thrashing of host Boston College,
ranked No. 1 at the time, on Oct. 20. While the score
still evokes wonder, the result no longer seems as
preposterous as it once did.
TOUGHEST ROAD OUT
Michigan State. In
the past month, the Spartans have played archrival
Michigan three times (twice on the road), traveled
to Minnesota and Wisconsin for the College Hockey
Showcase, played a home-and-home against Notre Dame
and traveled for a set on the Olympic ice at Northern
Michigan. Throw in nonconference games against formidable
St. Lawrence and Sacred Heart, and single road games
in tough CCHA barns at Western Michigan and Ferris
State, and the Spartans had a rude introduction into
2006-07. Only twice did MSU spend an entire weekend
at Munn Ice Arena.
TOUGHEST ROAD IN
Alaska. Granted, the
Nanooks have most of their toughest remaining games
at home, but they have to weather quite a storm just
to get to that part of the schedule. Opening the second
half are six straight road games, with trips to rival
Alaska Anchorage (which is trying to win the Governor's
Cup for the first time in six years), Ohio State and
Michigan State on back-to-back-to-back weekends. The
Fighting Tavises return home for a set against Michigan,
fly back to the Contiguous 48 for two at Bowling Green,
come home to face Miami, fly back to the Midwest for
a pair at Western Michigan, then come home for a set
against Notre Dame. To cap it off, a home series against
ever-dangerous Nebraska-Omaha concludes the regular
Miami at Notre Dame (Jan. 26-27).
Who would have thought that the biggest series of
the season wouldn't include Michigan State nor Michigan?
That's the way it's shaping up right now, with the
first-place RedHawks holding a two-point lead over
Notre Dame in the league standings while U-M and MSU
are in third and fourth, respectively. What makes
this Miami vs. ND battle for supremacy sort of funny
is the dichotomy of the schools' facilities. Miami
opened the palatial Steve Cady Arena this year, while
Notre Dame is in the middle of a fund-raising drive
to escape its half of the cavernous Joyce Center.
Naturally, this series will take place at the Joyce
BIGGEST QUESTION ANSWERED
Will Michigan's goaltending
hold up? Doesn't look like it. No matter
how many goals the Wolverines score, they eventually
will be done in by a porous defense and pedestrian
goaltending – unless something changes. Sophomore
Billy Sauer has a goals-against average of 3.51 and
save percentage of .884. His backup, in limited time,
has worse numbers. You can't lay it all at their feet,
as the U-M defense doesn't seem interested in playing
it at times, but difference-making saves by Wolverine
goalies have been few and far between.
Will Michigan State turn it
on during the second half, per usual? During
Rick Comley's tenure, the Spartans always seem to
muddle through the fall then take off after the holidays.
Last season, the Spartans were 6-7-4 in early December
before closing the season on a 19-5-4 run, including
a CCHA tournament championship and No. 1 seed in the
NCAA Tournament. MSU isn't in quite as bad shape this
year, but the preseason top-five team nationally is
barely in the top five of the CCHA with a 7-5-1 league
record (9-7-1 overall). The good news for Sparty is
that goalie Jeff Lerg has shown signs of regaining
his freshman form.
First Half All-CCHA Team
Lake Superior State
and Notre Dame's David Brown deserve props, and
we'd usually go with the bigger workhorse. But
while Brown has played more minutes (1,027-725),
Jakaitis actually has seen more pucks (427-418).
And the Laker senior's goals-against average (1.57)
and save percentage (.956) lead the CCHA.
|The mammoth sophomore
has been more disciplined this season, in terms
of positioning and avoiding penalties. His six
goals are tied for second among CCHA d-men.
|The smooth freshman
has been the best defenseman on the league's best
defensive team. Headed to the world junior tournament
this holiday break, Lawson has two goals and eight
||Davis leads the
league and is second in the country in scoring
with 35 points (14g, 21a). The junior has established
himself as a Hobey Baker front-runner.
is nipping at Davis' heels in the scoring race
with 33 points (7g, 26a). The senior center makes
any winger on his line a scoring threat.
||The defending CCHA Player of the
Year hasn't busted out, but he's still tied for
fourth in the league with 28 points (11g, 17a).
Plus, he filled in on the blue line when the Mavericks
had injury problems.