State Tries to Buck Inconsistencies
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
SEEN AND HEARD IN THE CCHA
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
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
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
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.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM
OF THE BAG
• 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
• 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