2003-04 CCHA Mid-Season Review
Losses to Western
Michigan in the last series prior to the holiday break took some
of the luster off their first-half showing, but Notre Dame
is one point out of first place in the CCHA standings thanks to
a balanced offensive attack, a veteran defensive corps and spectacular
goaltending from freshman David Brown, who's filled in nicely in
the absence of incumbent Morgan Cey.
power forward Rob Globke, among the league leaders in goals (10)
and tied for fourth nationally with three game-winning goals, has
traditionally been prone to long stretches of ineffective play.
If he can maintain a steady pace – and fellow forwards Brett
McLean, Aaron Gill and Mike Walsh follow – the Irish will
finish among the CCHA's top four. Notre Dame has a favorable schedule
after Christmas, with series vs. Michigan and at Miami the only
games against plus-.500 league foes. With games against Cornell
and either Maine or Ohio State at the Everblades Classic and a January
series at Wisconsin, the Irish can improve its standing in the eyes
of the NCAA Tournament selection committee with a couple quality
Dame freshman David Brown has filled in nicely for injured incumbent
It seems like
a cop-out to continually fall back on Notre Dame's David
Brown, but where would the Fighting Irish be without him?
Sure, his numbers were hurt by the debacle at Western Michigan,
but he still boasts a sparkling 6-3-2 record, a 2.42 goals against
average and a .919 save percentage. His second career shutout –
a 27-save effort against Boston College at Chestnut Hill –
helped the team gain the confidence to reel off a 8-1-2 stretch.
HAPPENED TO …
waltz to the 2004 Frozen Four? Given the cache of talent
coach Red Berenson brought back from last year's team and the top
flight recruits welcomed to the fold this fall, more than one expert
pegged the Wolverines as Boston-bound. Michigan is a respectable
11-6-1 thus far, but this team should have a far better record.
Across-the-board mediocrity. The Wolverines – used to being
at or near the top of every major statistical team ranking in the
CCHA – are no higher than fourth in any category and are seventh
in the league in scoring offense. Forward Jeff Tambellini represents
a microcosm of Michigan's season thus far. A preseason Hobey Baker
Award candidate, the sophomore hasn't scored a point since Nov.
8. They probably have the league's best talent; unfortunately, they
also own the conference's poorest work ethic.
the best new faces are ones you rarely see – those of the
CCHA's outstanding freshman goaltenders. As of Dec. 15,
four of the league's leaders in GAA are rookies – Lake Superior
State's Jeff Jakaitis (1.89), Dominic Vicari of Michigan State (2.36),
Miami's Brandon Crawford-West (2.37) and Notre Dame's Brown (2.42).
Crawford-West splits time with fellow newcomer Steve Hartley (2.63
GAA), while 18-year-old Chris Holt has emerged as the workhorse
in goal for Nebraska-Omaha. Brown has garnered most of the headlines,
and deservedly so, but Vicari will prove to be the best of the bunch.
State opened the season by squandering a two-goal lead
in the third period, allowing three unanswered scores en route to
an embarrassing 4-3 loss to Findlay
in the first round of the Ice Breaker Tournament at Munn Ice Arena.
The defeat was roughly akin to the Garfield balloon in the Macy's
Thanksgiving Day Parade deflating in the pre-event staging area.
Of course, just to prove the loss to Findlay wasn't a fluke, the
Spartans dropped a 3-2 overtime decision to visiting Wayne State
about a month later. Miami, don't think you're off the hook for
sleepwalking through a 2-0 loss to Air Force at the Nye Frontier
Classic in Anchorage.
Betz and Ohio State haven't been slowed by a brutal first-half
schedule that included 11 games against ranked opponents.
State coach John Markell must be a graduate of the Tom
Izzo School of Scheduling. Of the 18 games the Buckeyes have played
thus far, 11 have been against teams appearing in INCH's
latest Power Rankings – Denver, Miami (three times), Notre
Dame (twice), Michigan State (twice), Michigan (twice) and Cornell.
That list doesn't include a visit from Atlantic Hockey preseason
favorite Mercyhurst, a trip to a solid ECAC foe in Colgate and a
tough road series against Northern Michigan. In fact, only one OSU
opponent – Bowling Green – during the season's first
half currently owns a sub-.500 record. The Bucks' slate lightens
up a little following the break, but not before the team plays games
against Maine and either Cornell or Notre Dame at the Everblades
Classic and welcomes Quinnipiac to Columbus for a single contest
before travelling to Ann Arbor for two games against Michigan.
a deep group of forwards, a versatile, experienced defensive corps
and two emerging young goalies, Miami is arguably
the most complete team in the CCHA. They'll need to be, given their
schedule the rest of the way. The RedHawks get New Hampshire and
either Minnesota or Princeton at the Dodge Holiday Classic in Minneapolis
this weekend. After an 18-day hiatus, Miami heads to Northern Michigan
for two games. The home stretch is brutal – road series with
Michigan State and Michigan, home sets with Western Michigan and
Notre Dame and a home-and-home affair with Ohio State.
to pick the conference's best series over the next two-and-a-half
months is like trying to determine which Portland Trail Blazer will
be the next to run afoul of the law. Anyway, since we're playing
with house money, we'll stake a claim to the home-and-home
set between Ohio State and Miami during the last weekend
of the regular season. There's a possibility the CCHA regular-season
title could be on the line. Close second: Michigan visits Notre
Dame Feb. 27-28, the only meetings between the two teams this year.
Ohio State survive the losses of Ryan Kesler and R.J. Umberger?
the offseason departures of forwards Ryan Kesler and R.J. Umberger,
both first-round picks of the Vancouver Canucks, Ohio State was
left with a good – but not great – group of returnees
and a team that could challenge for an NCAA Tournament berth. But
a CCHA title seemed to be a long shot at best.
hear it from any Buckeye now, but read between the lines and one
can safely assume the losses – especially that of Umberger
– is a classic case of addition by subtraction or, better
Ewing Theory posited by ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons. Instead
of deferring to Umberger, as senior forward Dave Steckel said was
the case last season, the Buckeyes have been getting it done with
a scoring-by-committee approach. Seven skaters have 10 or more points
through 18 games and goalie Mike Betz puts OSU in position to win
there a Frozen Four-caliber team in the CCHA?
With Michigan failing to live up to preseason expectations thus
far, serious doubts linger.
have the talent and the experience to make such a run. Whether they
have the desire is another story. Of the conference's other 11 teams,
only Miami, Notre Dame and Ohio State appear to have the pieces
in place to forge deep into the NCAA Tournament. Of course, none
of the three have extensive playoff experience, and two of the three
currently rely on freshman goaltenders. The remaining squads have
at least one fatal flaw which make postseason success seem iffy
the level of play in the CCHA this season is not what it was in
years past. Early defections to the professional ranks hurt –
there's a decided lack of dynamic scorers – and has led to
a dearth of veteran-laden teams.
First Half All-CCHA Team
a hair over Ohio State's Mike Betz. No player in the CCHA has
meant more to his team through the first half of the season.
Buckeyes' version of Adrian Aucoin, he's tied for third among
NCAA blueliners with 10 assists and boasts an impressive +19
Oystrick, Northern Michigan
sophomore has averaged nearly a point a game and has emerged
as a leader on NMU's young (four sophomores, four freshmen)
for the NCAA lead in scoring with 26 points in 18 games and
a key member of the RedHawks' high-octane power play.
Miami's Mike Kompon or OSU's Paul Caponigri in the spot and
you'll get no arguments. Lattery, however, is a terrific, unheralded
two-way player with 22 points in 16 games.
faithful may be only hockey fans not hoping for a resolution
to NHL labor strife if it means keeping Slater, an Atlanta Thrashers'
prospect, around for his senior season.
this to a friend
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