Pause Spartans Title Chase
James V. Dowd
After sneaking up on Notre Dame with a series
split in early January and surprising Michigan with a pair
of ties at Yost Ice Arena earlier this month, Northern Michigan
was hardly off Michigan State's radar heading into last
weekend's series between the two teams in Marquette. But
even with the alert sounding in the Spartans' locker room,
the Wildcats fed on the energy exuded by their raucous supporters
and, to put it crudely, ran the defending national champions
out of the building, all but eliminating the Spartan seniors'
chance to win their first CCHA title.
Life of Brian: Northern Michigan goaltender Brian
Stewart stopped all but one of the 56 shots he faced
in the Wildcats' sweep of Michigan State last weekend.
All year long, the Spartans have been able
to rely on all-world goaltender Jeff Lerg to help them win
games they might not have otherwise won. But even one of
college hockey's top netminders will have an off night when
there is a lack of defensive support. And after seeing Lerg
give up three goals — all to Northern Michigan's Nick
Sirota — Michigan State coach Rick Comley was so frustrated
with the lack of defense that he elected to replace Lerg
with sophomore Bobby Jarosz, who saved all six shots he
faced in the final period of a 3-1 loss.
“It wasn't anything that Jeff did or
didn't do," Comley said after the game. “He was
kind of out there alone. I did it to try to get something
going in front of him. Credit goes to Bobby — whenever
he has to come in cold, he is up to the challenge and has
Though Lerg returned to the front of the cage
Saturday, Michigan State still couldn't muster up the offensive
support needed to come up with a victory to keep them within
striking distance in the title race, falling to the Wildcats
by a 3-0 margin.
“It’s not time for excuses,”
Comley told The State News. “It’s a
time for reality and reacting to it. That’s what it’s
"Everybody’s playing for something
right now. We just weren’t very sharp, we were sloppy
with the puck and Northern Michigan played extremely well.
(The weekend) left a bad taste with everybody. We kind of
got what we deserved.”
Heading into this weekend's home-and home
series against Western Michigan, the Spartans are in need
a strong performance to give them some momentum before facing
Michigan one week later.
“One thing we learned from last year
is that you never know when you are or are not in the tournament,”
MSU defenseman Daniel Vukovic said in an interview last
week. “We have to keep winning. A lot of teams are
playing really well right now, so we can't lose. If teams
win a few and we lose a few games, we won't get in.”
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
Oxford Comma: While their
green-and-white rivals floundered up in Marquette, Michigan
rebounded from a pair of disappointing weekends to take
three points from Miami in a series which might decide the
CCHA regular-season title.
“We know it's going to come down to
us, Miami and Michigan State, and there is no way you're
going to win the CCHA title if you don't beat the best team
in the league,” Michigan goaltender Billy Sauer said
prior the series.
With Friday's 4-2 victory and Saturday's 5-5
draw, the Wolverines overcame the one-point deficit in the
CCHA standings, and now sit with a one-point lead over the
After building a seemingly insurmountable
4-0 first-period lead against the RedHawks Friday, the Wolverines
left fans at Steve Cady Arena and a national television
audience in stunned silence. But Michigan almost blew the
lead, racking up five minor penalties, a 10-minute misconduct,
and a five-minute major penalty for checking from behind
that was accompanied by a game misconduct in the third period
And as if totaling 35 penalty minutes in the
final frame wasn't enough, the 10-minute misconduct and
the checking from behind penalties were assessed to blueliners
Mark Mitera and Scooter Vaughan, leaving Michigan with just
four defensemen in the final minutes of the game —
a shortage exacerbated by the dismissal of Kevin Quick from
the team one week prior.
Though the Wolverines now control their own
destiny with respect to the league 's regular-season title,
the team must cut down on costly mistakes such as the aforementioned
penalties and a penalty for too many men on the ice in overtime
of Saturday's games to give themselves a chance to win tight
games from here on out.
“It was pretty frustrating,” Sauer
said of Friday's third period. “Every time there was
a whistle I pretty much assumed it was a penalty. When you
have to kill that much it's frustrating. Your team can't
get anything going.”
Great Weekend Getaway
Michigan at Michigan St. (Fri)
Michigan St. at W. Michigan (Sat)
This series could have devastating effects
on the CCHA standings. A loss or two by the Spartans
would officially knock them out of the race for league
title. A loss or two by Western Michigan could keep
the Broncos in the league basement for good.
And while there is a large gap in recent
success of the programs, the teams have proven fairly
equal in recent match-ups, particularly at rowdy Lawson
Arena in Kalamazoo.
While you're there: One of Kalamazoo's
most unique attractions is the Air Zoo, or Kalamazoo
Air History Museum. It's is home to dozens of historical
aircraft and restoration experts who return retired
planes to working order. The museum is also home to
the largest indoor mural in the world, a 25,000-square
foot tribute to the history of flight.
Michigan's Nick Sirota earned his first career hat
trick last Friday — against Michigan State and
goaltender Jeff Lerg, no less.
Michigan earned three of four possible points against
Miami in Oxford, bad penalties almost cost them both
games. Sometimes a minor penalty is necessary to preserve
a victory, but the slew of careless penalties committed
by the Wolverines could come back to haunt them if
the pattern continues.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM
OF THE BAG
• As Michigan showed with its quick
start in Friday's game, scoring first has been an important
part of the team's success this year. In games when they
score first, the Wolverines are 20-0-2, compared to 3-3-1
in games when the opponent draws first blood.
• While Western Michigan fell further
into the CCHA basement after gaining just one point against
Lake Superior State last weekend, this weekend's series
against Michigan State might be a chance for the Broncos
to turn it around. WMU is 5-2-1 in the last eight meetings
between the teams.
• Ohio State freshman Sergio Somma seemingly
began his Buckeye career as a pure goal scorer, notching
five of them before he earned his first assist. But in recent
weeks, Somma has been setting up teammates, passing his
way to assists in five of his last six games, giving him
a season line of 7 goals and 8 helpers for 15 points —
as balanced a scoring line as you will find.
• Perhaps one key to Alaska's resurgence
is the team's experience. After last weekend's series at
Bowling Green, nine players on the Nanooks' roster have
skated in more than 100 career games, giving coach Doc DelCastillo
the most experienced team the program has had since joining
• If one needed a sign of just how important
the rabid support of Nebraska-Omaha can be to the performance
of the team, take note of Saturday's record crowd, which
cheered the Mavericks to a victory over Ohio State, ending
UNO's five-game home winless streak. A total of 10,598 people
watched the home team defeat the Buckeyes, 5-2.
• Bowling Green couldn't find a way
to slide more then one past Alaska netminder Wylie Rogers
during Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Nanooks, but it wasn't
for a lack of trying. The Falcons put together a whopping
46 shots, scoring only on a clever fake by Derek Whitmore,
who notched his 23rd marker of the season.
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. James V. Dowd can be reached