November 1, 2007
CCHA Stalwarts Make Strong Statement Early On

By James V. Dowd

Over the past few years, parity has been a recurring theme amongst CCHA coaches in the preseason. The leaders of each of the 12 teams talk about how anyone can win on any given night, and how this nightly challenge would help prepare the top teams for deep runs into the NCAA tournament.

CCHA Notebook

No Nate Davis? No problem. Miami is ranked atop all of the national polls, and has been led by Jeff Zatkoff, with five of Miami's six wins on the season.

National TV Schedule

Finally, this notion became a reality with Michigan State's run to the national title last season. And if the first few weeks of this season are any indication, a few teams could be in the mix for a similar run this season.

In the latest edition of the INCH Power Rankings, three of the top five teams come from the CCHA, including bitter rivals Michigan State and Michigan at Nos. 4 and 5, respectively. And leading the way is a Miami team which has found its stride — sitting at No. 1 in every relevant poll — even with star forward Nathan Davis on the bench.

Miami has jumped into the top spot with 6 consecutive wins and a 4-0-0 start in the league, including a sweep of Nebraska-Omaha last weekend, in which the RedHawks outscored the visitors 12-4.

The RedHawks have been without Davis since the season opener, in which he injured his shoulder and was tabbed to miss a month before returning next week against Notre Dame or the following week against Michigan State.

In Davis' absence, spreading the wealth has been the key to the RedHawks' success. Forward Ryan Jones, one of Miami's top returners, has emerged as a Hobey Baker award candidate, notching 5 points in the six game stretch. Even better for Miami than the known quantity Jones, lesser known attackers junior Justin Mercier and freshman Carter Camper have amassed 8 points a piece, giving Miami the top two spots in the CCHA scoring race. And that's not to mention the three other RedHawks who have matched Jones with 5 points.

The last time the RedHawks reached the top spot in national rankings was in January 2006, and that lasted only one week before they split a series with Alaska at home and fell out of the No. 1 spot. This time around, the more experienced veteran core knows that team can't change its mindset despite the top billing.

"It's a huge honor to know that the people who are voting view our team as the best in college hockey right now," Jones told the Hamilton Journal-News. "But it's not going to change the way we operates. Our focus has been to prepare the best we can on a daily basis, and that's what we will continue to do."


Sauer Making the Grade: Everyone knows that all goaltenders are a little crazy.

Not surprisingly, a hallmark of junior goaltender Billy Sauer's first two seasons at Michigan were the recurring demons — Olympic-sized ice, the pressure of big games, Minnesota — which seemed to get inside the young net minder's head every time they game up.

Finally, Sauer seems to have exorcised some of these demons judging by his performance in a pair of victories over Boston University this weekend.

One of Red Berenson's favorite sayings is that all he, and the team for that matter, can ask of a goalie is that he give them a chance to win. After beating the Terriers on Friday night, the consensus was that Sauer did that and more.

"Billy kept us in the game," Berenson said in the post-game press conference. "If Billy hadn't had a much better than average game, the we wouldn't be talking about a victory. The whole game would have taken a different direction. He was the difference."

Berenson isn't the only one who took note of Sauer's performance. His saves at key junctures in the game inspired his teammates to reach down for an extra ounce of determination.

"I think the difference was Billy Sauer," captain Kevin Porter said to reporters after the game. "I think (the Terriers) had 15 or 16 shots in the first period and Billy kept us in the game. So that gave us a little bit of confidence. We knew that if we came down and got a few shots on net and a quick goal, then we would be right back in the game. I think the saves he made gave us confidence going into the second period."

Before the season started, Berenson had discussed using a two goaltender system, but second-string goaltender Bryan Hogan missed the first few weeks of the season while suffering from mononucleosis.

After Sauer's strong performances thus far, it seems doubtful Hogan will compete for the starting job any time soon.

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Michigan at Nebraska-Omaha

While the Mavericks' offense was underwhelming while being outscored 12-4 in its two losses at Miami last weekend, this could be the week they find their stride. Michigan week to Nebraska-Omaha players and fans is not unlike Ohio State week for Michigan football players and fans — something they shoot for all year long.

In the teams' five meetings in Omaha immediately prior to a two-game set in February 2006, Michigan had compiled a 7-1-2 record, but came away winless in two tries in the most recent series. While Saturday night's game ended in a tie, the Friday night contest saw Michigan overcome a late two-goal deficit to tie the game before Maverick Center Alex Nikiforuk found some magic up his sleeve, won the ensuing face-off after the tying goal and dancing through the likes of Andrew Cogliano and Jack Johnson on his way to an unforgettable unassisted game-winning goal.

While You're There: Surprisingly enough, Omaha is one of America's great hockey hotbeds. While the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights of the AHL have been relocated to the Quad Cities this season, the Omaha Lancers of the USHL are still around and at home Friday night against the Chicago Steel. Check them out a get a look at college hockey's future.

Stick Salute

Congratulations to Michigan State goaltender Jeff Lerg who tied a school record last weekend when he played in his 60th consecutive game. While this number doesn't strike the awe which Cal Ripken's 2,131 or Karlis Skrastins 495 in a row, the fact that Lerg became the first player since Joe Selinger, whose streak lasted from the 1957 season to the 1959 season., to do so puts things in persepective.

Bench Minor

While there were multiple checking-from-behind penalties which resulted in game misconducts, this week's cake goes to Bowling Green sophomore Kai Kantola. Kantola received a three-game suspension from the CCHA for his hit from behind on Notre Dame's Luke Lucyk. Kantola, a physical force, has played a key role in Bowling Green's limited success and the Falcons will feel his absence in upcoming series against Western Michigan and Ferris State.


• After starting the season with a pair of promising victories at the Lefty McFadden Invitational, the Ohio State Buckeyes have dropped their last four games to fall to 2-4 on the season. In interviews Wednesday, head coach John Markell made it clear that focus points as the season go on will be the veterans and newcomers buying into the system and gelling as a unit.

• Having experienced problems on special teams units in a loss to North Dakota and a pair of wins of Clarkson, Michigan State coach Rick Comley was pleased to have one half of that problem solved in last Saturday's win over Northern Michigan, when the Spartans went 3-for-4 with a man advantage. Their 2-for-5 performance on the penalty kill, however, shows there is work left to be done.

• Notre Dame suffered its first defeat in its CCHA regular-season title defense last Saturday in a 3-0 loss at Ferris State. The shutout was the first against the Irish in almost an entire year. Bulldog goaltender Mitch O'Keefe stopped all 37 shots that he faced in a game which included 10 Notre Dame power plays and was named CCHA goaltender of the week.

• Alaska senior goaltender Wylie Rogers was among three Nanooks named as alternate captains to skipper T.J. Campbell for this season. Rogers is the first goaltender in 17 years to earn this honor, and hopes to return his squad to its 2004-05 form, when he led them to a third-place finish in the CCHA tournament. New coach Doc DelCastillo also named forward Aaron Lee and defenseman Tyler Eckford as alternates.

• Western Michigan goaltender Riley Gill put on another solid performance in a Saturday night loss at Niagara last weekend. He stopped 24 of the 26 shots he faced in a 3-1 loss one night after freshman Jerry Kuhn allowed four goals on 22 shots in a Friday night defeat. While Gill will continue to put up solid numbers, the Broncos offense must work on finishing the puck. In the two games, Western Michigan took 70 shots and scored just 3 goals.

• For all the offensive firepower of Michigan's freshman class — which has accounted 54-percent of the team's goal and point totals thus far — it was first-round draft pick Max Pacioretty who was the only forward that couldn't find the back of the net until the sixth game of the year. Pacioretty, who was selected with the 22nd overall pick by Montreal in this year's draft, and has been compared to Brendan Shanahan, found himself in the right place at the right time and sent a one-timer into the Boston University net.

• Nebraska-Omaha coach Mike Kemp is holding his breath after two Maverick players — Nik Van Bokern and Jeric Agosta — are awaiting a ruling by the CCHA after being tossed from last Saturday's game at Miami for checking from behind. Kemp told the Omaha World-Herald that after reviewing tape of the hits, there was no malice and they will likely not result in further suspension.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. James V. Dowd can be reached at