But the Michigan Wolverines had no time to
enjoy the view from the top in their last appearance in
the No. 1 spot.
During the 2005-06 season, the Wolverines
were giving top billing on two occasions in the early weeks
of the season, and promptly lost it on both occasions –
splitting with Alaska in Fairbanks the first time and being
swept at home by Wisconsin and Minnesota during the College
Hockey Showcase the second time around.
Having been named the top team in the USA
Today poll this week heading into a series at Lake Superior
State, the Wolverines are aiming to change that fate.
“We definitely need to prove ourselves.”
Michigan alternate captain Chad Kolarik said. “The
past few times we’ve (had the No. 1 ranking), we’ve
really blown it.”
While Michigan’s performance has been
strong so far – the Wolverines knocked of Boston College
and Boston University, and have started the CCHA campaign
with six consecutive victories for the first time in the
program‘s storied history – voters in other
polls have noted their relatively weak strength of schedule.
That will eventually play into decisions about NCAA Tournament
seeds and berths, and the Wolverines know they will have
to prove themselves against tougher teams to earn the respect
of voters in all the polls.
“We’re not really thinking about
the No. 1 ranking right now,” Kolarik said. “You
have to take it with a grain of salt and have fun. We just
need to enjoy ourselves and have confidence.”
Should the Wolverines sweep the Lakers this
weekend, their 11-1-0 record would be the program’s
best since 1961-62, when one of the squad’s top skaters
was a senior named Red Berenson. But reaching this milestone
won’t be easy, as Lake Superior State proved itself
a tough place for Michigan to win last season, when the
Lakers dropped the Wolverines in a 3-2 decision.
“It’s definitely tough (to play
in Sault Ste. Marie),” Kolarik said. “Last year,
they played us tight and beat us. They play a frustrating
style, they hit everything in sight and trap well because
they recruit big bodies. With the team that we are, we need
to dump it in and hit their defensemen before they can hit
In Michigan’s opening 10 games, Kolarik
has been one of the main contributors while playing with
fellow senior Kevin Porter. The pair played on separate
lines last year, Porter with the electric T.J. Hensick and
Kolarik with Andrew Cogliano, who is now an everyday contributor
for the Edmonton Oilers. While there were questions how
Kolarik and Porter would fair without their better-known
teammates, they have each notched 12 points and sit tied
for third in the CCHA scoring race.
“The points are coming,” Kolarik
said. “I’ve been playing more than 20 minutes
a game, so they should. I just need to hit hard, work hard
and set a good example.”
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
New face in net: He might
be small, but you never have to look too hard to notice
Michigan State’s Jeff Lerg in the Spartan net. From
his pre-faceoff fidgeting to his spectacular, game-changing
saves, it’s easy to forget that the junior stands
at 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds.
So it was easy to spot the difference when
the 6-foot Bobby Jarosz took to the ice for the first time
last Saturday against Mercyhurst. And while it can be hard
to step in on short notice, Jarosz composed himself and
stopped 24 of 26 shots in his debut.
“I found out (I was starting) this morning,”
Jarosz said during a post-game press conference. “I
called my parents and they drove all the way up (from Crystal
Lake, Ill.) … It’s been a while since I’ve
started, so I was just trying to remember all the stuff
in juniors and all my pre-game rituals.”
Perhaps the biggest battle a new goaltender
faces is earning the trust of his teammates. Although they
normally don’t have to worry about the net when Lerg
is guarding it, there was no additional level of anxiety
with Jarosz in.
Great Weekend Getaway
at Michigan State (Thurs.-Fri.)
It’s a little late notice to jump
to East Lansing for the Thursday night game, but even
making it just for Friday night’s matchup is
worth it. The Redhawks and Spartans have proven themselves
as two of the top teams in the nation and a sweep
by either would go a long way toward beginning to
stretch out a lead in the standings.
Miami’s high-octane offense has
Nathan Davis to add a little fuel to the fire, but
they meet the stalwart Jeff Lerg at the other end
of the ice. And judging by the way Michigan State’s
rookie defenders, namely Jeff Petry, are gelling with
the more experience teammates like Daniel Vukovic,
there’s no telling what might happen.
The same could be said at the other
end of the ice. However you look at it, this is one
of the top matchups in college hockey this season.
While you’re there: While
there are big football games in the vicinity Saturday,
the obvious reason to stay in the area is to head
to Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena for Saturday night’s
Red Wings game against the Blackhawks. Detroit has
established itself as one of the league’s best
teams once again but Chicago’s young talent,
namely Patrick Kane and former North Dakota star Jonathan
Toews, has already handed Detroit three of its five
losses on the year.
salute goes out to Michigan State’s
freshman class. Much has been made of the
contributions of Michigan’s newcomers, but the
Spartans showed theirs are just as praiseworthy. During
the team’s sweep of Mercyhurst, freshmen A.J.
Stuges and Jeff Petry both notched their first career
tallies within a minute. Also, netminder Bobby Jarosz
showed that the Spartans could still be in the race
without Jeff Lerg, stopping 24 shots in the victory.
has to go to Ohio State as a team.
After opening the season with a win at Lefty McFadden,
it looked as though everything was falling into place.
But eight consecutive losses later, it seems that
they can’t fight their way out of a wet paper
bag, sitting with a -20 goal differential. Here’s
to hoping they can turn it around against Robert Morris.
“You look back there and you don’t
see Lerg and it’s a little weird,” senior Chris
Mueller said. “Because for two years now, I’ve
seen a little guy whose head goes over the cross bar. We
want to play more aggressive when Lerg is in there, because
we know he is the best goalie in the nation. Our game is
defense first, and whether it’s Bobby or Jeff back
there, we’re going to start on defense and move to
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM
OF THE BAG
• After starting the season with six
consecutive losses, the Alaska Nanooks have this weekend
off, giving them a chance to regroup. Having three key players
suffering from injuries, time to heal is extremely valuable
to the Nanooks before they face off with new head coach
Doc DelCastillo’s former employer -- the Nebraska-Omaha
Mavericks next week.
• The Northern Michigan Wildcats didn’t
leave much time to spare when earning their first CCHA win
of the year last Saturday against Western Michigan. Freshman
Mark Olver scored with 7 seconds left in regulation to send
the game to overtime and fellow rookie Matt Butcher won
the game with just 3.3 seconds remaining in overtime.
• Last weekend’s series split
between Notre Dame and Miami in Oxford showed just how important
jumping to an early lead can be. On Friday night, it was
Notre Dame jumped to a 2-0 lead from which the Redhawks
couldn’t recover en route to a 2-1 victory before
Miami scored two opening-frame markers during their 3-1
win on Saturday night.
• Having lost eight consecutive games,
Ohio State is hoping some of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin’s
skill will rub off on them as they look to continue their
history of strong showings against CHA teams when they face
off against Robert Morris at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh
Friday before a Saturday rematch in Columbus. The Buckeyes
are 6-3-1 all-time when playing teams from College Hockey
• Although Nebraska-Omaha’s Bryan
Marshall finds himself in the top handful of point scorers
in the CCHA, it took him seven games to find the back of
the net for the first time. Marshall notched a 4-on-3 goal
in the opening minutes of last Friday’s game against
Ohio State before notching two additional assists in the
series giving him a 1-10-11 line for the year.
• Lake Superior State hopes to find
their feet after managing just a split with Wayne State
last weekend. It was to be the final meeting between the
in-state foes before Wayne State drops its program at the
end of the year. Despite the generally strong showing of
Lake Superior State fans at Joe Louis Arena, the combined
attendance of the two games was just over 800.
• Not that you weren’t already,
but look out for Miami in the weeks to come, as the Redhawks’
star forward Nathan Davis finally returned last weekend
after missing seven games with a separated shoulder he suffered
in the season opener against Vermont. Davis has been predicted
to figure into the Hobey Baker race before his injury and
should add a powerful punch to the Redhawks lineup.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. James V. Dowd can be reached