19 , 2003
State senior defenseman John-Michael Liles leads NCAA rearguards
in scoring with 48 points in 38 games.
weekend tickets: Visit ticketmaster.com
1 Ferris State
27-8-1 overall (22-5-1 CCHA)
Bulldog note: The Bulldogs have allowed more than
two goals just three times during their current 11-game winning
streak. The 11 straight victories matches a school record.
How FSU wins: The team that hasn’t
been to the Joe in nearly a decade needs to play like they’ve
been there before, especially if they meet MSU Friday. The
Bulldogs are the league’s most-penalized team –
they’d be smart to stay out of the box. Those are minor
chinks in Ferris’ armor. As long as the Bulldogs play
their roles and don’t try to do too much, they should
be in Saturday’s final.
Wolverine note: Coach Red Berenson’s squad
is making its 14th straight trip to Joe Louis Arena for the
next round of the CCHA tournament.
How U-M wins: As good as the youngsters are,
this team’s hopes hinge on the leadership of senior
forwards Jed Ortmeyer and John Shouneyia and the defensive
presence of junior rearguard Andy Burnes. The Wolverines are
solid on the power play and have the CCHA’s best penalty
kill. They don’t need goalie Al Montoya to win games…but
can he keep from losing them?
3 Ohio State
Buckeye note: The
three seed hasn’t won the CCHA playoff championship
since 1993, when Lake Superior State turned the trick en route
to a second-place showing in the NCAA tournament.
How OSU wins: The Bucks will be tough to stop if
they rack up a shot disparity similar to what they did against
UNO, outshooting the Maverics by a 97-38 margin. Mike Betz
has fallen asleep in similar situations in the past, however.
It’s important that he’s sharp. Rallying from
multi-goal deficits isn’t OSU’s forte.
4 Michigan State
Spartan note: The MSU offense has been like a Chicago
mayoral election: they score early and often. During the team’s
current 5-1-0 run, the Spartans have scored 34 goals, including
13 in the first period.
How MSU wins: Building an early lead would help the
confidence of netminder Matt Migliaccio, who hasn’t
played well in previous visits to Joe Louis Arena this season.
State will be tough to stop if they continue to spread the
wealth offensively – nine different players scored goals
in last weekend’s sweep of Alaska-Fairbanks, none from
defensemen John-Michael Liles and Brad Fast.
5 Northern Michigan
Wildcat note: Last year’s CCHA semifinals
featured then-NMU coach Rick Comley against Michigan State
and Ron Mason, the man he would replace behind the Spartan
bench. This year, coach Walt Kyle, in his first season as
bench boss in Marquette, meets his predecessor Thursday
How NMU wins: They can score with anyone, but need
big efforts from Chris Gobert, Mike Stutzel and Bryce Cockburn
to have a chance. Craig Kowalski is as experienced as any
goaltender in the field. He needs to minimize his stick-handling
gaffes, which occur with alarming regularity.
7 Notre Dame
Irish note: In six career CCHA first-round
playoff series starts – all on the road – Notre
Dame sophomore goaltender Morgan Cey has a 1.61 GAA and a
94.8% save pct.
How ND wins: Follow the postseason pattern
they’ve established in their last two first-round series,
which is combining a solid effort from Cey with timely goals
late in the game or in OT. Ohio State may score more “fortunate”
goals than any team in the league – rebounds, weird
bounces – so Evan Nielsen and friends need to take of
business in their own end.
State's leading scorer for the second straight year. He's a first-team
All-CCHA selection. He's the conference's choice as Offensive
Defenseman of the Year. He's a probable finalist for the Hobey
Baker Memorial Award and a lock for All-America honors.
John-Michael Liles is also a key to the Spartans' chances of winning
the Mason Cup as CCHA Super Six champions and guiding the team
to another NCAA Tournament appearance. Inside College Hockey caught
up with the Zionsville, Ind., native following the Spartans' first-round
playoff sweep of Alaska-Fairbanks last weekend.
College Hockey: A couple weeks ago, Rick Comley said you've improved
defensively this season. How has your game grown?
John-Michael Liles: Coming into this year, there
were certain aspects of my game that I wanted to work on and defense
was one of them. To move on to the next level, you've got to learn
how to play in your own end. Coach Comley kept preaching that,
for us to be a good offensive team, you've got to be strong in
your own end and build from there. I've taken that to heart, and
I think a lot of guys have taken that to heart. It's been a great
thing for our team because we've been pretty strong defensively
and we've generated some goals.
Is there a stigma attached to being
classified as an offensive defenseman?
I don't necessarily think that's always true. You
look around not only the CCHA, but college hockey in general...myself
and Fasty (defensive partner Brad Fast) are very good offensively
as well as defensively, and you hear so much about (Tom) Preissing
at Colorado College. He's got a lot of points and at the same
time, they say he's excellent in his own end. You can put up points
without being bad in your own end. It's just a matter of seeing
the play and jumping in at the right time.
Do you and Fast feel the pressure to not only play well, but really
set the tone for the rest of the team?
At the beginning of the year, I think we put a lot of pressure
on ourselves to do that. It really didn't translate very well
in terms of team hockey. We were definitely trying to do too much
and I think that Duncan (Keith) and (Evan) Shaw leaving might
have been a blessing in disguise because our minutes went up so
much that we really couldn't try to do as much. We're picking
our spots better and that's turning into more points for both
of us and just better play all around.
So would you consider the loss of Keith and Shaw a turning point?
There was an adjustment period to Coach Comley. It worked both
ways – not only us to him, but him to us. Right around that
first game at Lake Superior State was when we really caught on
and really came together as a team. We got pretty bad up there
that first game and I think that was the point were we said, 'Hey,
enough is enough. It's time to come together and be a team.' From
then on, we really haven't looked back.
Hockey players and coaches usually have a "one-game-at-a-time"
mentality. But you guys know you have to string together some
wins to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Does it change your approach?
It's tough. It's similar to college basketball.
You know you're on the bubble, and every game is a must-win and
you've got to do everything you can to help the team win. When
you look at it like that – you're on the bubble and every
game is a must-win – then it's easier to focus on one game
at a time because, hey, this could be our last shot. I think that
makes it somewhat easier. We've been playing playoff hockey for
quite some time now...not in the playoffs per se, but that's our
mentality because we're right there on the bubble.
Michigan State has been a perennial qualifier for the NCAA Tournament.
Has it dawned on you that your team might not make it this year?
It was right about Christmas time where somebody
stepped up – and I'm not exactly sure who it was –
and said 'If you were a senior, would you want to go out as a
.500 hockey team?' I think a lot of the younger guys took that
to heart. It's a maturing process. We've got a lot of young guys
on the team and they'll get so much better as the years go on,
but I think they took some great strides in maturing and understanding
exactly what it takes and try to help us go out on top. That's
what we're battling for right now. If you would've asked anybody
at the beginning of the year if we would be on the bubble for
the NCAA Tournament with the field expanding to 16 teams, I don't
think anybody would've thought that. It's been tough, but I think
it's making us better players and better people.
Where's your playoff beard?
My playoff beard...it takes me about four weeks
to grow one. This (a smattering of patchy stubble) is probably
about four or five days right here, and it's pretty poor.
Who's got the worst playoff beard on the team?
The worst? I think there are guys who can't grow
facial hair. I don't think Brock (Radunske) can grow anything.
He gets like three long whiskers coming out the bottom and that's
about it. There are some guys that are so young that I don't even
know if they've had the chance to start growing facial hair. I
don't even know if they shave.