February 7, 2008
It's Here: The O-Town Showdown

By James V. Dowd

The dates have been circled on many calendars for a long time, and the time has finally arrived –— the most important match-up of the year (well, the regular season, anway.) When Michigan takes the ice at Miami's Steve Cady Arena for the first time since the facility opened last season, the intensity level both on the ice and in the stands will match the anticipation.

CCHA Notebook

Keeping up with the Joneses: Nobody has slowed forward Ryan Jones and his Miami teammates this season. Can Michigan accomplish the feat?

National TV Schedule

“People are paying quite a bit for tickets on eBay,” Michigan junior netminder Billy Sauer said. “It gets you excited, there will probably be a packed house when we step on the ice for warm-ups. It will be a lot of fun, the crowd will definitely be on us, and me in particular as the goalie, but that's why you play college hockey.”

While some of the luster might have been lost with Michigan's struggles of the past two weeks (the Wolverines were 0-1-3 against Michigan State and Northern Michigan), the teams still occupy the No. 1 and 2 spots in the league standings and the national polls.

The Wolverines, disappointed with their recent performances, have concentrated on building the intensity in practice, making sure they will be up to speed with a Miami squad that boasts the nation's most prolific offense and staunchest defense (Michigan is second in both categories.)

“[Team captain Kevin Porter] and I were talking, and think we just need to get back to our old habits in practice,” said Chad Kolarik, the Wolverines' alternate captain. “We have to skate hard, and hit everything on the ice during practice, even if it's our own team.”

According to Sauer, Kolarik has done just that in trying to inspire his teammates.

“He's been one of the biggest parts in that,” Sauer said when asked if he has seen the difference this week, “Playing the body in practice — not laying people out, but hitting hard. It might piss them off at first, but then it kind of lights a fire under them.”

If the increased intensity pays off and the Wolverines manage to take four points from the RedHawks, a feat no team has achieved in Oxford since Lake Superior State swept Miami out of the playoffs last season, Michigan would open up a valuable three-point lead in the standings with three weeks left in the regular season. If the RedHawks sweep, it'd take a miracle for Michigan to overcome a five-point deficit in three weeks, especially with two games against Michigan State.

Speaking of the Spartans, they will certainly be keeping tabs on the games this weekend. A Miami-Michigan split would give them a chance to jump into the championship fray. The possibility has a Michigan State senior class that has won everything — the Great Lakes Invitational, the CCHA tournament, and the national championship — except for the CCHA regular-season title licking their chops.

“It's definitely an exciting time,” Michigan State defenseman Daniel Vuckovic said. “If Michigan and Miami beat up on each other and we can take four points from Northern Michigan, we'll be right there.”


Hidden Hobey: Before high-scoring forwards Bill Thomas and Scott Parse put Nebraska-Omaha on the college hockey map, the hometown of Warren Buffett and the College World Series was one of the last places voters might look for a Hobey Baker Award candidate. But the pair ascended to the top of the CCHA scoring chart, Parse had Mavericks' fans chanting for his consideration for the award, and the Mavericks' program grew in stature on a national level.

With Thomas now skating for the Phoneix Coyotes and Parse playing for the AHL's Manchester Monarchs, many Hobey watchers took their eyes off of Omaha, forgetting the third member of what was one of college hockey's most prolific triumvirates. But despite the absence of his former linemates and most of the national attention, Mavericks' captain Bryan Marshall has put together his best season yet, begging the question, just how good would Parse and Thomas have been without Marshall?

Through last weekend, Marshall (12-29—41) sat just one point behind Michigan's Kevin Porter (23-19—42), often named as one of the favorites for the Hobey Baker Award, in both the CCHA and NCAA points races. Yet Marshall's name rarely comes up in conversations when the topic turns to who might be the nation's most valuable player. Although he admits he follows the race for Hobey, he isn't particularly surprised or overly disappointed when his name is often left out of discussion.

“A lot of [the players named as contenders for the Hobey Baker] play at top-10 schools,” Marshall said. “If I was at a top-10 school I might be surprised, but I'm not surprised at all.”

When asked just how he is maintaining such gaudy numbers without the help of his former teammates, Marshall points out that while his numbers were definitely inflated playing with players of that caliber, he also spent plenty of time spreading the wealth with other teammates.

“My freshman year, I didn't play with [Thomas and Parse at all] and my sophomore year I played half of the season without them,” Marshall said. “Last year, I played with [Parse] 60 percent of the time, but another 40 percent without him.”

Although his new linemates aren't as celebrated as his former ones, Marshall praises Mick Lawrence and Brandon Scero.

“If you look at my numbers, [Lawrence and Scero] are responsible for the success that I'm having,” Marshall said. “Everything Mick Lawrence shoots is going in. Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don't, but they're going in these days.”

Praying for a Whiteout: Alaska has one thing on its mind as it heads into this weekend's series against Bowling Green: bringing home playoff hockey to Fairbanks for the first time since 2004, one season before this year's seniors put on blue and gold sweaters for the first time.

“It would be amazing,” said Nanooks' defenseman T.J. Campbell, this week's CCHA defenseman of the week. “The senior class hasn't gotten to experience it yet, but we've heard so much about 'The Whiteout' at the Carlson Center. We've had some (playoff) success these past few years on the road, but right now home ice is our biggest goal.”

So what exactly does he mean by “The Whiteout”?

When the Nanooks earn the right to host a playoff series at the Carlson Center, local fans come out and pack the building, all wearing white shirts and creating the illusion of a blizzard in the stands. The effect would certainly intimidate opponents — the Nanooks are 1-1 in home playoff series since joining the league — and has a lasting effect on locals, even those who aren't closely tied to the game.

“I even hear non-hockey people talk about it,” goaltender Wylie Rogers, a Fairbanks native, said. “I've never seen it, but I've heard big things. It's been too long.”

In order to bring this dream to fruition, the seniors are working to maintain the team's cohesiveness — the key to their resurgence in the second half of the year. After facing Bowling Green this weekend, the Nanooks complete the regular season with a home series against Notre Dame and a trip to Lake Superior State, giving them a chance to directly take some points from teams they are competing against for a home playoff berth

“It's a fortunate situation for us that we can control our own destiny,” Rogers said. “The big thing will be having every guy concentrate on the little things. We've only had success when all the guys were together.”

Great Weekend Getaway
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Michigan at Miami (Fri.-Sat.)
No. 1 and No. 2 in the land. Need I say more? Fans have been waiting for this matchup which, despite Michigan's recent struggles, should be one of the most important series in CCHA history.

Week after week, we point to Miami's unstoppable offense, impenetrable defense and stalwart goalteding. Now, the RedHawks finally meet a team that has put up comparable numbers. Only 120 (well, maybe 130) minutes of hockey will tell us which of these teams deserves top billing.

If you weren't able to score tickets to this titanic matchup (note: it feels great to say that about a regular-season college hockey game), make sure to tune in to Friday's game on CSTV and Saturday's on Fox Sports Detroit.

While you're there: Wake up Saturday and recover from the bliss of seeing college hockey at its best with breakfast at the Bagel and Deli Cafe, just a half block from Miami's campus. Famous for steamed bagel sandwiches and subs, the restaurant has more than 80 creatively named sandwiches including the "Tonya Harding Club" and "The Hangover Helper."

Stick Salute

Congratulations to Bowling Green's Jacob Cepis, who won his second CCHA rookie of the week award after helping the Falcons to a 4-2 win over in-state rival Ohio State Friday. In the victory, Cepis scored two goals and added an assist, giving him 23 points on the year – good enough for second best on an improving BGSU squad.

Bench Minor

At one of the most important stages of a season, Michigan freshman Kevin Quick was dismissed from the Wolverines team last week. Details of his offense were not released, but coach Red Berenson described his indiscretion as “a total violation of our team trust and rules.”


• Presently, there are five players in the nation who have scored 20 or more goals this season. Four of them come from CCHA, and a fifth right on the cusp of that milestone.

Michigan's Kevin Porter leads the way with 23 goals, while Miami's Ryan Jones has 22, Bowling Green's Derek Whitmore has found the back of the net 21 times and RedHawk Justin Mercier has lit the lamp on 20 occasions. Wolverines' forward Chad Kolarik hopes to break into the club this weekend, as he heads into the Miami series with 19 goals.

• One of the key reasons Michigan State has been able to stay in the race for the CCHA title has been their play on the road. Heading into the final two-game road trip of the season, only one of the Spartans' six losses has come on the road — a 6-0 thrashing at North Dakota which marked the start (and low point) of the season.

While Marquette, home of Northern Michigan, is a tough place to play, Michigan State has reasons to be optimistic. Despite last weekend's overtime loss to Nebraska-Omaha, the Spartans are playing their best hockey of the year, and swept the Wildcats in East Lansing in late October.

• This week's CCHA goaltender of the week, Alaska's Wylie Rogers, was certainly worthy of the honor. He has carried the team on his back in each of the Nanooks' seven victories this season, including last weekend's sweep of Western Michigan. Rogers has compiled an astronomical .957 save percentage and allowed a paltry 1.55 goals per game in those wins. In the series against the Broncos, Rogers stopped 75 of the 79 shots he saw.

• Ohio State freshman Peter Boyd made the most of his first career multi-goal game, scoring twice in just over two minutes to give the Buckeyes a lead and an insurance goal late in the third period of Saturday's win against Bowling Green in Columbus. On the season, Boyd has scored seven goals, tied for second best on the team, and certainly knows how to pick his spots — he leads the team with four game-winners.

• After watching Brian Mahoney-Wilson hold down the fort for Lake Superior State, Pat Inglis got his first start in four games in Saturday's 1-1 tie against Ferris State. Inglis made 36 saves and hometown hero Jason Blain notched his first goal of the season to earn the point for the Lakers. The tie combined with Friday's 3-2 victory over the Bulldogs, marked LSSU's first three-point weekend of the season.

• Western Michigan is definitely becoming familiar with the saying, “close, but no cigar.” After losing a pair of 3-2 contests in Alaska last weekend, the Broncos ran their total of one-goal losses this season to eight. Friday game was particularly disappointing as Western Michigan lost a one-goal lead and dropped the game in overtime — the Broncos' fifth-extra frame defeat of the season.

• Northern Michigan's Nick Sirota is hoping that his game-tying goal in Saturday's 3-3 draw against Michigan at Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor will jump start his offense. The goal, which was Sirota's team-leading 13th this season, was his first since Dec. 1. At that point he had notched 12 goals in the Wildcats' first 16 games before enduring an 11-game goalless streak.

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