January 17, 2008
Road Games A-OK With UNO

By James V. Dowd

With all twelve teams making the annual CCHA playoffs, those who fall short of the top four spots in the league standings – those spots earning the four respective teams a first-round bye in the tournament – sticking in spots five through eight is a point of importance for the remaining teams. Sitting in the that second tier provides programs with the chance to host a first-round series on their home ice, which is, typically and especially in the rabidly competitive CCHA environment, an important advantage.

CCHA Notebook

Senior forward Bryan Marshall is Nebraska-Omaha's leading scorer with 34 points and just one of four Mavs to have played in all 24 games so far this season.

National TV Schedule

But for the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks, who currently have a tentative, one-point hold on the fifth-place standings, home sweet home isn't always so kind. With a pair of decisive losses to Miami last weekend, the Mavericks fell to just 4-7-3 at home on the year, with just 2 of those wins coming in league play.

Seeing as they're a respectable 5-5-0 on the road, one has to wonder whether it would help them to drop down past the four teams within three standings points of them into an opening-round road system.

Not so fast.

The fans at Omaha's Qwest Center are some of the most passionate in the CCHA, and senior Bryan Marshall knows that he and his teammates need to take advantage of their fervor.

"I feel bad for all these people that came out. They were just waiting to explode," Marshall said to the Omaha World-Herald. "As a team, we feel more disappointed that we're not giving them anything to cheer about than anything. We're trying, but we're just coming up short. I don't know what else to say."

As the team continues to fight for playoff positioning, they head to the road for the next four games, traveling to Fairbanks for a set with Alaska before traveling to Michigan State for another pair.
But after that, four of the team's last six league games are in Omaha, and coach Mike Kemp is hoping that will be a turnaround point.

"The fact we've had a dismal home season is very disappointing, obviously," Kemp said to the World-Herald. "The rule of thumb is you have to have success at home, and hopefully you can split on the road. We haven't done that. We've actually been a better road team by comparison."

An added incentive for success in that final homestand is that the visitors include Ohio State and Bowling Green, will also be competing for those valuable home-ice slots and a Maverick victory could be a knockout blow.


Late Goal Gets Irish a Point: They waited until the very last moment, but Notre Dame found a piece of its traditional magic last Saturday night, earning a tie and holding their ground against Michigan State in a 1-1 tie with the Spartans in South Bend.

After losing 3-1 to the Spartans on Friday night, the Fighting Irish were at risk of falling behind Michigan State – which has played two less games, thus a loss would have been a critical negative turning point for the Irish.

The two teams battled through a scoreless first period, and remained deadlocked into the middle stages of the second. But when Notre Dame forward Mark VanGuilder failed to clear the puck out of his own zone, Michigan State's Nick Sucharski picked it up and slipped a shot by Jordan Pearce from the point.

Notre Dame, which has gone 0-for-30 on the power play in its last six games, failed to capitalize on five chances with a man advantage, and couldn't find the back of the net, despite a 19-10 lead in shots after two periods.

"We're a little snake bit right now," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said after the game. "It happens to the best of teams and the best of players. Everyone is asking what's wrong with the power play. It's boiling down to individual things. We're getting our chances and just not finishing. Plus we faced a great goaltender."

Finally, with less than a minute left in regulation, the constant pressure on Jeff Lerg paid off and sophomore Ryan Thang found the back of the net for a tying goal.

After a chippy overtime period, the Irish walked away with the point for a tie and third place still in hand. The Irish will be hard-pressed to hold onto that spot this weekend, as they face off against Michigan in Ann Arbor on Friday and at the Palace of Auburn Hills in the northern suburbs on Detroit on Saturday. Michigan State travels to Ohio State.

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Notre Dame at Michigan (Fri.)
Notre Dame vs. Michigan (Sat.)

These games will have a strong impact on the CCHA title race, with the potential to bring Michigan back to the field or knock Notre Dame out of it. Michigan may be looking for revenge for the Irish's victory in South Bend in December 2006 which essentially put the Wolverines out of contention, and the CCHA title game later last season when the Irish beat Michigan 2-1.

While you're there: If you're one for shopping, the massive Great Lakes Crossing shopping mall is just one exit past the Palace – home of the Detroit Pistons. The mall has 180 stores, and those who aren't interested in shopping can visit the Rainforest Cafe, a 25-screen movie theatre, or simply just people watch.

Stick Salute

This week's salute goes out to Lake Superior State for finally notching their first CCHA victory of the season, and in convincing fashion nonetheless. The Lakers are hoping momentum from the win will help spur a turnaround and help them fly into the playoffs rather than limp. The win even took the Lakers past Western Michigan, out of the league basement.

Bench Minor

Although already mentioned, this week's minor goes to Notre Dame's power play which has gone scoreless in its last 30 attempts. If the Irish hope to stay in the league race, they need drastic improvement in this area.


• As the previously floundering Ohio State Buckeyes look to pick up some momentum in a seven-game homestand, they look to continue a recent trend of relative success against Michigan State. The teams have split the last 10 meetings, including their last meeting in Columbus during the 2005-06 season. History is on Michigan State's side though, as they hold a 12-26-5 all-time record in Columbus.

• If you're looking for signs that Michigan State might be coming to life, look to goaltender Jeff Lerg, who won his second-consecutive CCHA goaltender of the week award. Lerg stopped 64 out of the 66 shots that he faced last weekend, keeping the Spartans right on Notre Dame's heels.

• There were some big skates to fill when Jeff Jakaitis left Sault Ste. Marie, and the Lakers' Brian Mahoney-Wilson has finally begun to step into them. Mahoney-Wilson stopped 28 out of 29 shots in the Lakers' first league win of the year, a 4-1 triumph at home against Bowling Green. Mahoney-Wilson also stopped 36 shots against Michigan State in a tie one week prior.

• During Friday night's Michigan-Western Michigan tilt, the Wolverines had a special guest dropping the ceremonial first puck. New head football coach Rich Rodriguez, sporting a hockey jersey of his own, dropped the puck and took in the game from the Yost Ice Arena stands.

• In the final regular-season series between Detroit-based Wayne State, which will drop its program at the conclusion of this season, and a CCHA team, the Northern Michigan Wildcats left the visiting Warriors with a good taste in their mouth. The Wildcats fell 4-1 on Friday night and 3-2 Saturday night.

• While Michigan's Kevin Porter has taken most of the national accolades and Hobey Baker attention, linemate Chad Kolarik continued to make his for similar accolades. Kolarik notched a goal and three assists on Friday night, and a whopping 4 goals in Saturday's victory.

• Notre Dame and Michigan will play Saturday's contest at The Palace in Auburn Hills, Mich. These two teams met in The Palace four times in the 1990s, with Michigan winning all four of those games.

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