2007-08 CCHA Hockey Mid-Season Report
James V. Dowd
Having occupied the CCHA cellar throughout
last season, no one expected much from Bowling
Green heading into this season. The team
looked very much the same, and seemed destined for
similar results. The Falcons have, however, bounced
back and find themselves in the middle of the pack
in the league, having notched sweeps of Western Michigan
and Ferris State, as well as winning a game against
Northern Michigan. Taking into account close games
with Michigan and Notre Dame, the Falcons look to
improve despite a tough second-half schedule.
Many Michigan fans were hoping Bryan
Hogan would turn out to be a more reliable goaltender
then they had been accustomed to since Al Montoya
left Ann Arbor for the New York Rangers farm system.
But Hogan never got the chance, as incumbent starter
Billy Sauer has matured into a legitimate,
every-night No. 1 goaltender and now finds himself
matching wits with the top goaltenders in the conference
and country. Instead of dwelling on mistakes and digging
himself a hole like he had done in his first two season
in Ann Arbor, Sauer has learned to face his problems
and learn from them.
BEST NEW FACE
A seven-game losing streak — not
the way a coach envisions his first lead job to start.
Nevertheless, rookie Alaska head coach Doc
DelCastillo has proven his mettle in recent
weeks, piloting his team to a 3-2-2 mark in its next
seven games. DelCastillo stayed patient at the helm,
helping his team improve week-by-week, and even notched
a win over seemingly untouchable Miami — in
Oxford, nonetheless. Look for the Nanooks to continue
to build on this recent success in the second half
under DelCastillo’s more than adequate tutelage.
WHAT HAPPENED TO…
|Forwards Kevin Porter and
Chad Kolarik and the team's freshmen have received
much of the credit for Michigan's success, but
goaltender Billy Sauer's improvement has been
just as vital.
Prospects for Ohio State’s season
looked bright after knocking off Wisconsin to win
the Lefty McFadden Invitational in week one, but it
was all downhill after that for the Buckeyes. It took
12 more games for Ohio State to get
back into the win column, and now appear all but eliminated
from contending for a first-round bye in the CCHA
playoffs — a spot they were aiming for at this
The Buckeyes couldn’t seem to
do anything right, falling behind in the first two
periods — where they are minus-8 and minus-16
in goal differential — and failing to build
upon whatever chemistry was present in the season-opening
With just one win in its first 11 games
and having received a 3-1 beating at the hand of Miami
one night prior, few expected Alaska to come out firing
on all cylinders for a series finale in Oxford Dec.
8. But the Nanooks had something to say about that,
running all over the RedHawks en route to a 3-0 victory,
one that might help to turn their season around. The
Nanooks took advantage of two power-play goals to
power ahead of the home team before delivering the
knockout blow on an empty net in the final minute.
TOUGHEST ROAD OUT
Lake Superior State
fans knew it would be tough moving on without graduated
goalie Jeff Jakaitis, but no one anticipated an 0-8-2
start in the league. But if there is one thing the
Lakers can take away from it, it's that they’ve
had quite a tough slate during the first half of the
season. The Lakers skated against Michigan State,
Michigan, and Notre Dame and traveled to Nebraska-Omaha.
TOUGHEST ROAD IN
The Michigan Wolverines
have looked strong so far, but it will only get tougher
as the season progresses. With a plethora of freshman,
there is no telling how the season will wear on them,
and whether Sauer can continue to keep pace with the
league’s best netminders isn't a given. Even
if they experience the best case scenario with the
goalkeeper and the newcomers, the Wolverines still
must face Michigan State four times, Notre Dame twice,
and Miami twice.
Without question, the most important
series will be when Michigan heads to Miami
Feb. 8-9. Throughout the first half, these
two teams have proven themselves as not only the CCHA’s
elite, but also the NCAA’s elite. Michigan will
have to rely on continued magic from Billy Sauer and
its freshman class, while Miami will aim to continue
crushing opponents with their high-octane offense.
Whether a shootout or a goaltender’s duel, these
games promise to be highly entertaining.
BIGGEST QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Will Michigan’s Kevin
Porter be as productive without T.J. Hensick on his
line? As everyone in the nation has quickly
come to realize, the answer to this question is a
resounding “yes.” Porter has absolutely
dominated the CCHA so far, scoring two more goals
than any other player in the country. Fellow senior
Chad Kolarik has been a huge asset to Porter’s
play thus far, as the two have developed a chemistry
that has frustrated NHL fans in Phoenix — both
seniors are Coyotes’ draftees — drooling.
Is Jeff Jackson going to falter
much like Charlie Weis? While many people
across the country have a strong distaste for Notre
Dame athletics, few would argue that Notre Dame’s
newfound success in hockey could have a profound benefit
on the sport's visibility. With that in mind, it looks
as though the Irish are here to stay as Jeff Jackson
has once again molded a team that has an eye on competing
for titles. The Irish might not be running away with
the league as they were this time last season, but
they found themselves in first place for one weekend
and have a balanced approach that should keep them
in the thick of the race as season progresses.
BIGGEST QUESTIONS REMAINING
How good is Michigan State?
The defending national champions find themselves sitting
in fourth place in the CCHA at the break, but with
two games in hand, MSU could easily get right back
in the mix. Obviously, the season got off on the wrong
foot when the Spartans were routed by North Dakota.
But since then, the team’s only two losses came
against a very strong Miami squad. State faces a tough
second half with four games against Michigan and two
with Notre Dame — they've not fared well against
ranked opponents so far this season. That must change
if MSU harbors any aspirations of winning the conference's
First Half All-CCHA Team
who leads the league in goals against average
and save percentage, keeps his team in the game
every single night.
does it all — he's an extremely reliable
defender with a +11 plus-minus rating and leads
conference defensemen in scoring.
less for his offense than former teammates Jack
Johnson and Matt Hunwick, Mitera shows that staying
at home is OK. too, as evidenced by his +14 plus-minus
continues to find the back of the net at key times,
and creates offense when the Irish need it most.
been overshadowed by Scott Parse and Bill Thomas
in the past, Marshall has emerge as a star in
his own right and sits atop the league’s
|If the vote was today,
Porter — the nation’s leading scorer
— would likely win the Hobey Baker Award.
of sources were utilized in the compilation of this
report. James V. Dowd can be reached at email@example.com.