February 21, 2008
Ohio State Tries to Buck Inconsistencies

By James V. Dowd

It's been far from the dream season Ohio State was hoping for after opening the season by winning the Lefty McFadden Invitational championship, but the history books aren't quite set in stone — that is, if the Buckeyes have anything to say about it.

CCHA Notebook

Can I Help to Cheer You?: Ohio State senior forward Tommy Goebel scored with less than one second remaining in regulation to lead the Buckeyes to a 3-2 win over Northern Michigan last Saturday.

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After knocking off Mercyhurst and Wisconsin — who had beaten Notre Dame one night earlier — Ohio State seemed primed to rebound from a string of disappointing seasons and battle for a top-four spot in the conference and the first-round playoff bye which comes with it. However, the Buckeyes endured an 11-game winless streak that started one game after winning the Lefty. That, coupled with the team's continued inconsistencies, have the Buckeyes on the brink of playing on the road throughout the conference playoffs.

But despite all of the shadows cast throughout this season, Ohio State looks to strong points from this past weekend's split against Northern Michigan at Value City Arena in Columbus for encouragement.

After dropping Friday's series opener, 2-0, the Buckeyes bounced back Saturday, notching a 3-2 victory. The win gives OSU the smallest of hopes for home series in the first round of the CCHA playoffs. But even that hope is slim, as it relies on four Northern Michigan losses, four Ohio State wins, and a trip to the third step in the CCHA's comprehensive tie-breaking procedure.

Looking back on last weekend's games against the Wildcats, Ohio State coach John Markell was pleased to skate away with a victory on Senior Night. But as thrilling as the game was — Tommy Goebel, a senior, of course, notched the winning goal with less than 1 second remaining — Markell was more encouraged by Friday's performance.

“I looked at the tape of Saturday night's game and we made some mistakes,” Markell said at a press conference Wednesday. “The game we lost, we didn't play as well as we did Friday night. It's how you're playing at the end of the year, and obviously if you're healthy.”

In Friday's contest, the Buckeyes compiled an impressive 46 shots while allowing up only 26, but couldn't find a way to get the puck past Wildcats' goaltender Brian Stewart. Creating that many scoring opportunities is encouraging for Markell as his team prepares to face a methodical Notre Dame team hungry to protect its first-round bye.

“[Notre Dame is] a very good team — system-oriented,” Markell said. “They can sustain a heavy attack as far as cycling the puck. So we will have to pay attention to that and work to nullify that. They're a good defensive team, they're a good offensive team, and they've got a good goalie. It's going to take a heck of an effort to take some points out of there this weekend.”


State Your Case: It seems like a recurring theme, but Michigan State heads into this weekend's series against Michigan still clinging to hopes of winning its first CCHA regular-season title since 2001.

The Spartans dominated Western Michigan in a home-and-home sweep last weekend, with the senior class notching its first career win in Kalamazoo.

“We don't really need much help getting up for Michigan,” senior forward Chris Mueller said after Saturday's game in Kalamazoo. “But as far as feeling good about ourselves and showing what it takes to win in a place like (Lawson Arena), this is really going to help us in the long run.”

A sweep against the Wolverines this weekend would bring MSU within one point of their fiercest rivals in the league standings, and could create a scenario with three teams (Michigan, Michigan State, and Miami) separated by a single point headed into final weekend of regular season.

Michigan State's success against the Wolverines will rely heavily on the play of junior netminder Jeff Lerg, who has played some of the best hockey of his career since the holiday break. Lerg, who has played more minutes than any goalie in the nation, has allowed just 1.81 goals per game since Jan. 1, and allowed less than a goal per game over a six-game stretch against Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Michigan at the tail end of January.

Another focal point for the Spartans will be keeping their cool during the passionate rivalry matchup. Having played a chippy Western Michigan team last weekend, the Spartans proved that they can maintain their composure when the physical nature of the game is turned up.

“After three years, we've figured out that you can't get into penalty trouble here because the crowd will get all over you,” Mueller said. “[The Broncos] feed off of their crowd here, and they're a different team here than they are on the road. The mindset was to get the crowd out of it, get an early goal, and stay out of the box.”

“There were some stretches in the game where they started pinching everybody and hitting like crazy so we thought, 'Here we go again,'" MSU coach Rick Comley said. We kept telling the guys to chip it and keep it simple. So they never really threatened much and Jeff made a couple of good saves.”

Great Weekend Getaway
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Michigan at Michigan State (Fri.)
Michigan vs. Michigan State at Detroit (Sat.)

The annual meeting between Michigan and Michigan State at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit has become one of the most exciting events for both teams, with large, passionate crowds, dueling pep bands, and a high level of play.

The Spartans will be looking to exercise Joe Louis ghosts after an embarrassing performance during the Great Lakes Invitational in December, and the Wolverines are aiming to lock up the CCHA title.
Friday's game in East Lansing will be equally exciting. The Spartans are attempting to break Munn Ice Arena's single-game attendance record

While you're there: After Saturday's game at the Joe, head over to Greektown, one of Detroit's most popular neighborhoods. The area features excellent restaurants and watering holes, as well as the Greektown Casino. And if you're taste is less Mediterranean, Mexican Village is an equally worthy post-game dining spot.

Stick Salute

This week's salute goes to Ferris State for not being intimidated by a Miami team coming into their building angry after a tough series against Michigan. The Bulldogs held strong and knocked off the RedHawks twice, making the last two weeks of the regular season even more interesting.

Bench Minor

This week's minor penalty is issued to Western Michigan, whose senior class dropped its first home game to Michigan State during their tenure in Kalamazoo. The Broncos have struggled to find positives in recent weeks; beating the Spartans at Lawson Arena may have provided the momentum to finish the season strong.


• Should Nebraska-Omaha hold onto its right to host a first-round playoff series in two weeks, the CCHA will face an interesting dilemma with respect to scheduling and/or location of the games. The best-of-three series is slated to begin Friday, March 7 — the same night that Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban are scheduled to play the Qwest Center.

According to the Omaha World-Herald, the league will have to look into playing the games on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday (if necessary). The series could also be moved to the Civic Auditorium, which would require installation of a new ice sheet and a video review system.

• It might not sound impressive that Michigan's Kevin Porter moved into 25th place on the program's all-time scoring list by notching his career goal no. 77 at Miami two weeks ago, but it should certainly be a point of pride knowing that he is poised to overtake his head coach, Red Berenson, in the history books should he notch two more goals this year.

Other players ahead of him on the all-time list include current NHLers John Madden (Devils), Brendan Morrison (Canucks) and Mike Knuble (Flyers).

• Ferris State had already found its way onto any sensible coach's radar after taking three points from Notre Dame in South Bend earlier this month, but last weekend's sweep of a shockingly struggling Miami team catapulted the Bulldogs into the CCHA spotlight. The losses left Miami five points behind Michigan in the league table, and allowed Michigan State to jump into a second-place tie with RedHawks.

If the Bulldogs haven't had enough of playing spoiler, they might just have a chance to revive Miami's rapidly thinning title hopes when they skate against Michigan in a home-and-home series to end the regular season.

• Northern Michigan tries to preserve its home ice berth for the first round of the league playoffs. The Wildcats, who face Nebraska-Omaha and Lake Superior State over the next two weekends, hope to build off strong performances against Michigan, Michigan State and Ohio State over the last three weeks.

That recent six-game stretch (during which NMU was 3-1-2) is indicative of the success the team has enjoyed over the second half of this season. Since starting 0-7 in league play, the Wildcats have gone 10-5-2 against CCHA foes..

• Miami's Ryan Jones leads the nation in goals, but Bowling Green forward Derek Whitmore scored two goals against Nebraska-Omaha last weekend, leaving him just one goal behind Jones. Whitmore, however, has played in three fewer games than Jones, giving him the edge in goals per game. With 26 goals in 29 games, Whitmore is lighting the lamp an incredible .896 times per game.

• Kevin Porter has garnered praise all year long for his goal scoring, but it was fellow senior Chad Kolarik stealing the show this past weekend, scoring 4 goals in Friday's 4-2 victory over Lake Superior. Those 4 goals moved Kolarik into fourth on the national scoring list, just one behind his linemate.

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