12 , 2003
Road to the Joe Revisited
Ferris State senior forward Chris Kunitz
boasts Hobey Baker credentials, with 65 points in
36 games and a whopping +40 plus-minus rating.
weekend tickets: Visit ticketmaster.com
Round Series Previews
7 Notre Dame at
No. 6 Miami
MIA: 20-15-3 (13-12-3)
ND: 15-15-6 (13-12-3)
Season series: Tied, 1-1-0
RedHawk Fact: A tale of two halves for Miami:
they were 12-3-1 in October and November, and have gone
Irish Fact: On Feb. 1, Notre Dame was in 10th
place in the CCHA with a 7-10-3 record. They went 6-2
in the league down the stretch to finish in a fifth-place
How Notre Dame Wins: Score first – the
Irish are 11-1-3 when they get the game's first goal.
Goaltender Morgan Cey can help by turning in a performance
like the one he gave in last year's first round playoff
series against UNO.
How Miami Wins: Score goals, said Captain Obvious.
Seriously, the RedHawks are 17-2-0 when they get three
or more goals in a game. Goalie David Burleigh runs
hot and cold, so an early dose of confidence could be
8 Western Michigan at
No. 5 Northern Michigan
NMU: 18-16-2 (14-13-1)
WMU: 15-19-2 (13-14-1)
Season series: NMU won, 2-0-0
Bronco Fact: Western Michigan hasn’t
won a first round playoff series since 1994. Only Ferris
State, which last made a trip to the Joe in 1993, has
endured a longer drought.
Wildcat Fact: The last first-year head coach
to win the CCHA playoff championship was Jeff Jackson,
who guided Upper Peninsula neighbor Lake Superior State
to the honor in 1991.
How Western Michigan Wins: They're not gifted
offensively, but they're physical. The Broncos need
an effective forecheck and lots of shots on goal –
30 has been their magic number. Dana Lattery sets the
tone; if he's off his game, his mates will follow suit.
How Northern Michigan Wins: Special teams will
be a factor, as the Wildcats are fairly solid on the
PP and PK. NMU will be in good shape if they can use
the larger ice sheet at home to their aid.
9 Alaska-Fairbanks at
No. 4 Michigan State
UAF: 15-12-7 (10-11-7)
Season series: MSU won, 2-0-0
Nanook Fact: Alaska-Fairbanks enters the postseason
with a nine-game unbeaten streak. They’re 6-0-3
during that span.
Spartan Fact: Michigan State, which is tied
for 16th in the latest Pairwise Rankings, last missed
the NCAA Tournament in 1993.
How Alaska-Fairbanks Wins: Stay out of the
penalty box and keep the potent MSU power play off the
ice and hope netminder Keith Bartusch is on one of those
How Michigan State Wins: Continue to spread
the wealth offensively, as the top eight forwards and
defensemen Brad Fast and John-Michael Liles have all
contributed as of late.
10 Nebraska-Omaha at
No. 3 Ohio State
OSU: 22-10-5 (16-8-4)
UNO: 9-17-2 (13-19-5)
Season series: Tied, 2-2-0
Maverick Fact: UNO is 0-9-2 in its
last 11 road contests and has been outscored 43-12 in
Buckeye Fact: Neither Ohio State, Michigan
or Michigan State has won the CCHA playoff championship
and sole possession of the Big Ten football title in
the same academic year.
How Nebraska-Omaha Wins: Scoring goals,
any way possible, would be a plus. Plan B would be a
return to form by goaltender Dan Ellis, keeping the
game close until the Mavs can get timely goals.
How Ohio State Wins: Jump out to first
period leads – UNO has been outscored in the opening
frame by nearly 2-to-1 this season – and remember
that Nationwide Arena is in Columbus. OSU is 15-3-2
at home this season.
11 Bowling Green at
No. 2 Michigan
U-M: 24-9-3 (18-7-3)
BGSU: 8-23-3 (5-20-3)
Season series: U-M won, 1-0-1
Falcon Fact: The last time the CCHA’s
second seed was bounced from the playoffs in the first
round was in 2000, when Bowling Green upset Miami.
Wolverine Fact: Michigan hosts a
first round playoff series for the 15th straight season.
U-M is 27-4-0 all-time at home in the opening round
of the league postseason.
How Bowling Green Wins: The Falcons
own the league’s most porous defense, so acrobatic
goaltenders Jordan Sigalet and/or Tyler Masters have
to frustrate U-M forwards with their unorthodox styles
and BGSU needs a top effort from its penalty-killing
How Michigan Wins: They’ll
get goals, but freshman netminder Al Montoya has to
play with more consistency and the team’s defensive
corps must assert itself.
12 Lake Superior State
at No. 1 Ferris State
FSU: 27-8-1 (22-5-1 CCHA)
LSSU: 6-26-4 (3-24-1)
Season series: FSU won, 2-0-0
Laker Fact: Second to last in the nation
in scoring, LSSU tallied 58 goals this season and was
held to two or fewer goals in 31 of 36 games.
Bulldog Fact: Ferris State’s
first place finish in the CCHA marked the first time
since the team finished in the top half of the league
standings since 1991.
How Lake Superior State Wins: Think
back to last season, when they stunned Michigan in the
first game of the best-of-three playoff series and gave
the Wolverines all they could handle.
How Ferris State Wins: Stick to their
system, score first to get the frenetic Ewigleben Arena
crowd into the game early and avoid injuries to Kunitz
Michigan State. Michigan. Michigan State.
For the better part of the last decade, the CCHA has been
about as predictable as the climax of a Scooby Doo cartoon.
That dominance not only manifested itself in the league
regular season – teams coached by either Red Berenson
or Ron Mason took top honors 13 times in 18 seasons between
1984-2002 – but also in the postseason,
as the Wolverines and Spartans have won eight of the last
So what to make of this season, then, when Ferris State
wins its first regular season crown and boasts the conference's
leading scorer and top goalie? Ohio State finishes third,
just the team's third upper-division finish since 1985?
MSU finishes fourth, its worst showing since 1993? Or that
there are more Spartan defensemen (two) than Michigan forwards
(one) among the CCHA's top-20 scorers.
Dylan said, the times, they are a-changin'. Maybe it was
Bob Daniels. Anyway, one season does not indicate a changing
of the guard, but it was certainly a breath of fresh air
for the CCHA and an indication that anything can
happen in this year's league tournament.
While one could logically put Michigan in this role given
their history and experience in the playoffs, it’s
hard to look past Ferris State. Bob Daniels’ team
has passed every challenge presented to them this season,
from maintaining their torrid start to not folding in the
heat of the race for the CCHA regular season title. This
team is more than just Chris Kunitz, folks – the Bulldogs
have talented running mates for Kunitz in Derek Nesbitt,
Jeff Legue and Phil Lewandowski, an underrated defensive
corps led by Troy Milam and Matt York and one of the top
three goaltenders in the league in Mike Brown.
They’re staring the end of a nine-year NCAA
Tournament streak in the eyes, and Michigan State knows
the only certain way to extend that run is to win the Mason
Cup. The Spartans are 13-5-1 since New Year’s Day,
enabling them to climb out of an 8-8-1 hole. The questions
surrounding MSU’s success in the CCHA Tournament:
the health of forward Jim Slater, the mindset of Jekyll-and-Hyde
goaltender Matt Migliaccio and the resiliency of defensemen
John-Michael Liles and Brad Fast. The senior duo must continue
to log 30+ minutes a game for State to take the postseason
championship. Can they do that in three straight games in
INCH's All-Conference Team
G - Mike Brown, Ferris State:
Gets the nod in a close race with Ohio State’s Mike
Betz. The deciding factors: Brown’s save percentage
(92.5%) is 22 points better than Betz’s (90.3%), and
he’s faced nearly double the shots.
D - John-Michael Liles, Michigan State: Poised
to become the first Spartan defenseman to lead the team
in points twice. Liles and Brad Fast carried MSU offensively
until the forwards got going.
D - Troy Milam, Ferris State: Steady night
in and night out, Milam is always on the ice for the Bulldogs.
He’s the Bulldogs’ glue guy. Michigan’s
Andy Burnes, by the way, deserves recognition for his work
in his own end; he’s the league’s top defensive
defenseman hands down.
F - Chris Kunitz, Ferris State: The league’s
most electrifying offensive player. He’ll skate around
you or fight through you to get to the net. No slouch on
F - Jeff Tambellini, Michigan: The rookie
is arguably the league’s best passer and his snap
shot – think Joe Sakic – is lethal. Just ask
CCHA defensemen and goalies about his skills.
F - R.J. Umberger, Ohio State: Umberger has
always had good offensive numbers, but the junior ratcheted
his play up a notch this season and his teammates followed
suit. He’s probably the CCHA underclassman most likely
to bolt for the professional ranks during the off-season.
Coach of the Year
It’s not too tough to figure out this one. Bob Daniels’
Ferris State team was picked to finish ninth by the CCHA
media in the league’s preseason poll. The Bulldogs
responded by winning nine of their first 10 games. They’re
also finishing the way they started, having posted victories
in 10 of their last 11 games. His systems are balanced on
both ends of the ice, and no team is tougher in front of
the net on either end.
Also deserving consideration: Michigan’s Red Berenson,
who rebuilds better than any coach not named Krzyzewski,
and Rick Comley at Michigan State, for preaching patience
during the team’s rough start and adapting his system
to take advantage of the Spartans’ strengths.
Player of the Year
Chris Kunitz may not win the Hobey Baker Award, but those
who’ve had the good fortune to see him play on multiple
occasions this year know there’s probably no one in
the country more important to his team. Much more than a
scorer, Kunitz is an integral part of the Ferris State penalty-killing
unit, a pretty good shot blocker and isn’t afraid
Freshman of the Year
Michigan haters – and estimates indicate there are
more than 10 of them – love watching Jeff Tambellini
play. You know that old sports marketing slogan. “You’ll
buy the whole seat, but you’ll only use the edge?”
That’s what it’s like when the dynamic Tambellini
gets the puck. The last time the Wolverines had a kid with
this much talent and moxie, he won the Hobey Baker Award
and a national championship (Brendan Morrison).
Tambellini stands above a strong crop of conference rookies
that includes teammate Al Montoya, Michigan State’s
David Booth, Ohio State’s Ryan Kesler, Vince Bellissimo
of Western Michigan and Miami’s Andy Greene.
players – both forwards – stand out in this
category. Miami junior Mike Kompon came into the year with
a total of 45 points. He’s scored that many this season
and he’s durable, having yet to miss a game in his
college career. Michigan sophomore Dwight Helminen also
deserves a nod. With 26 points, he pitched in when the Wolverines
were hamstrung by injuries and he’s a demon on the
penalty kill, as his CCHA-best three shorthanded goals illustrate.
Kompon and Helminen are the picks over Ohio State’s
Doug Andress and Mike Lalonde of Michigan State.