January 31, 2008
Palace Party Stuck in Neutral

By James V. Dowd

Someone had to stop Michigan eventually. It wasn't Notre Dame, whom the Wolverines disposed of on consecutive nights two weeks ago, and the Armageddon matchup at Miami Feb. 8-9 was yet to be played. One's best guess would have to be that the perpetrators would be clad in a frustratingly familiar shade of green and white.

CCHA Notebook

Senior captain Bryan Lerg scored the lone goal in Michigan State's 1-0 win at Michigan last Friday and added an assist in Saturday's 2-2 draw against the Wolverines.

National TV Schedule

Entering the weekend with the best start in school history and a 10-game win streak, the Wolverines met their match at Yost Ice Arena Friday in the form of Michigan State, who have quietly kept pace with more heralded Miami and Michigan in the CCHA title race. Since closing out 2007 with an ugly performance at the Great Lakes Invitational, the Spartans went 5-0-3 in January, ending the month with a 1-0 win in Ann Arbor Friday and a 2-2 tie in East Lansing the following night.

All year long, opponents have known that in order to have a chance of taming Michigan, they must shut down, or at least manage, senior linemates Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik. The Spartans were the first team to have a great deal of success in doing so. In the two games against the defending national champions, Porter and Kolarik managed just a single assist — by Kolarik on the first goal of Saturday's tie — between the two of them.

“I think any team looking at us would have to say that we can stop any top line in the nation,” Michigan State defenseman Daniel Vukovic said after Saturday's game. “You're stopping two Hobey Baker candidates with Kolarik and Porter. They might have had a point here or there, but it wasn't like they dominated the game and had tons of scoring chances.”

The Spartans have shown a knack for flicking the switch at the right time of the year, most notably their NCAA tournament run last year. Over the next three weeks, the Spartans appear poised to extend their unbeaten streak. MSU hosts Nebraska-Omaha this weekend, travels to Northern Michigan next weekend, and plays a home-and-home series with Western Michigan after that. Still, coach Rick Comley knows his team must continue to improve.

“We need to keep getting better,” Comley said after the tie. “We aren't yet where we need to be. Right now, we are trying to inch out every point.”

As for their chances in the race for the CCHA regular-season title? Don't count the Spartans out just yet.

“I don't see us out of the race at all,” senior forward Bryan Lerg said Saturday. “We play a lot of other great teams coming up — Nebraska comes in here next weekend. I think we just need to keep going, and keep plugging away one game at a time.”


Late Goal Gets Irish a Point: One of the most pleasant surprises in the CCHA this season has been the play of Bowling Green, who sit in sixth place just one point behind fifth-place Nebraska-Omaha entering the final month of regular-season play.

After being crushed by Notre Dame on consecutive nights last weekend, however, the Falcons must rebound quickly if they hope to host a first-round playoff series. The schedule leaves much of Bowling Green's fate in its own hands, as the Falcons skate against the teams on either side of them in the league standings (UNO and Ferris State) and two teams chasing them from afar (Alaska and Ohio State) before finishing with Michigan State.

The Falcons fell behind early in both games against the Irish. Friday, Bowling Green gave up the first five goals before scoring their only marker in a 6-1 loss. And Saturday, BGSU trailed by two after two periods at home, yet managed to cut the Notre Dame lead to one only to allow a pair of backbreaking goals en route to a 4-1 defeat.

“We had a lot in our favor,” Bowling Green coach Scott Paluch said of Saturday's game. “But the emotion of the game got the better of us. We didn't handle it well. We got undisciplined at a real key part of the game.”

Great Weekend Getaway
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Western Michigan at Alaska (Fri.-Sat.)
Only a few brave souls will have the time or a warm enough coat to make this trip, but the series should provide for some interesting viewing. These teams are jockeying for position in the tight race for home-ice advantage in the first round of the league playoffs, and both play a strong, physical style, which can make for exciting hockey. The Broncos snapped a nine-game winless streak with a win and tie against Ferris State last weekend. The Nanooks, who were pummeled by Miami last weekend, come into this series with a five-game winless streak.

While you're there: The high temperature in Fairbanks this weekend will be minus-9. Not surprisingly, a favorite spot for teams visiting the northernmost outpost in college hockey is the indoor University of Alaska Museum of the North. The museum gives visitors insight into local culture and history, and a perspective on the issues the region will face in the near and distant future. It's an extremely worthwhile stop for those who make it up to Fairbanks any weekend.

Stick Salute

Western Michigan's Jeff Pierce scored a pair of goals during the Broncos' 3-3 draw against Ferris State Saturday. Before his two-goal outbreak, Pierce — who was expected to be a major contributor on offense this year after scoring 12 goals last season — had gone 17 consecutive games without a goal. He started the season with three goals in WMU's first 8 games.

Bench Minor

Michigan gave up three important points, two of them on their home ice, and in turn gave a hated rival a boost back into the league race. The loss also propelled Miami into the top spot in the CCHA standings and the national polls. The Wolverines may need two wins in Oxford next weekend if they don't want to see their epic start go to waste.


• Although Alaska was overpowered by Miami this past weekend, the Nanooks continued a season-long trend in out-shot blocking their opponents, notching 20 to Miami's 15 on Saturday and amassing a 19-8 margin on Friday. In its 20 CCHA contests, Alaska has out-blocked opponents in 16 of those games with a total margin of 346-241.

This advantage, however, has had little correlation with the outcome of games. The Nanooks have a 1-2-1 (.375) record in games in which they blocked fewer shots than their opponents, and a 4-10-2 (.313) mark in games where they have out-blocked the competition.

• Notre Dame's fortunes turned last weekend against Bowling Green, and the Irish power play might be responsible. After failing to score a power-play goal in 40 straight tries spanning nearly nine complete games, the Irish power play found the back of the net four times in 11 chances against the Falcons.

• Should Bowling Green manage a split in its home-and-home series with Ohio State this weekend, the Falcons will have amassed 10 wins in CCHA play for just the third time in the last 10 seasons and will have doubled their league win total from a year ago.

• With Saturday night's overtime win against Ohio State, Lake Superior State kept itself from falling into sole occupancy of the league basement — the Lakers and Wstern Michigan are currently tied for 11th place.

A great deal of credit must go to sophomore forward Zac MacVoy. The Michigan transfer notched four points on the weekend, including the game-winning goal in Saturday's overtime affair.

• If you're planning on heading to Oxford for next weekend's series between Miami and Michigan, the most anticipated CCHA series of the season, you better find your tickets fast. The game is a sellout, and the secondary ticket market is booming. As of late Thursday night, the price for a pair of tickets on eBay ranged from a low of $90 to a high of $305. Face value for a pair of RedHawks hockey ducats: $34

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