to the floor
Thinkin' of the roar
Gotta get us to the show
line was lifted from the Phantom Planet song “California”,
better known as the theme for Fox’s teen drama The O.C.
The lyrics offer a perfect description of the intensity and energy
that drive postseason hockey. But the soap opera aspects of the
popular TV show are applicable to this season’s CCHA playoffs
in that all of the characters are flawed.
Michigan is the league’s
Big Man on Campus showing chinks in his armor. Miami is the kid
trying to prove all the preconceived notions about him are untrue.
Michigan State is the former homecoming queen attempting to rebound
from a fall from grace. Alaska-Fairbanks is the mysterious outsider.
Notre Dame is girl who finds trouble in every episode only to
scratch and claw her way through such difficulties.
You get the
picture. Maybe every episode of the CCHA playoffs won’t
be as, uhh, visually appealing as the average installment of The
O.C. But like any good drama, the storyline will be full
of unexpected twists and turns.
claim Michigan did not back its way into the CCHA regular season
title, others swear they heard a noise emanating from the Wolverines’
locker room at Joe Louis Arena last Saturday that sounded eerily
similar to a dump truck in reverse after the team learned Ohio
State knocked off Miami, keeping the RedHawks from taking the
crown. There’s no truth to the rumor, however, that the
Wolverines will face away from the camera when their postseason
team photo is taken.
12 Nebraska-Omaha at
No. 1 Michigan
UNO: 7-24-5 (5-19-4)
UM: 23-11-2 (18-8-2)
Season series: UM won, 1-0-1
Maverick Fact: UNO is 2-12-2 since Jan. 1. A 7-4
win over visiting Alaska-Fairbanks Feb. 28 snapped an 11-game
winless streak. The Mavs also have just one road win this
season, a 4-1 decision over Ferris State in November.
Wolverine Fact: Michigan, which has won 14 straight
CCHA first-round playoff series, owns a 4-0-0 all-time record
against Nebraska-Omaha at Yost Ice Arena.
How Nebraska-Omaha Wins: By remembering that 12th-place
Lake Superior State gave the Wolverines a scare at home
two years ago by winning the first game of a best-of-three
playoff series and, like the ’69 New York Mets, keeping
in mind that “you gotta believe.” It still won’t
How Michigan Wins: Wipe the memories of the last
two weekends away and start with a clean slate. Scoring
an early goal – and whipping the Yost crowd into a
frenzy right away – will also help rebuild confidence.
Keeping Al Montoya healthy is a primary concern.
11 Lake Superior State at
No. 2 Miami
LSSU: 9-18-7 (7-16-5)
MIA: 20-12-4 (17-8-3)
Season series: Miami won, 2-0
Laker Fact: Lake Superior State is undefeated in
four meetings with Miami in the CCHA playoffs. Of course,
the last of those games occurred in 1995. The Lakers were
a much different team then. RedHawk Fact: Miami enters the weekend
with an eight-game home unbeaten streak against Lake Superior
State. The RedHawks are 7-0-1 since losing to the Lakers
in Oxford on March 2, 1996.
How Lake Superior State Wins: The Lakers need sparkling
performances from freshman goalie Jeff Jakaitis, must neutralize
the RedHawks’ potent power play and keep the pace
of the game at a deliberate tempo that favors their style
How Miami Wins: The tempo is the most important
factor in this series. Miami has the horses to win a wide-open
affair with the Lakers. They’ve also got to establish
dominance on the power play – the RedHawks’
attack works best when they get traffic in front of the
opposing goalie and let their defensemen bomb from the point,
then let the forwards crash the net.
10 Ferris State at
No. 3 Michigan State
FSU: 15-18-3 (10-17-1)
MSU: 21-15-2 (17-9-2)
Season series: Michigan State won, 2-0
Bulldog Fact: Three players – Brett Smith,
Jeff Legue and Derek Nesbitt – accounted for more
than 32 percent of Ferris State’s points during the
regular season and more than one-third of the team’s
Spartan Fact: The weekend series marks the sixth
meeting between Michigan State and Ferris State in the first
round of the CCHA playoffs. The Spartans swept the Bulldogs
in each of the five previous occasions.
How Ferris State Wins: It’s easy to forget
that the Bulldogs boast more playoff experience than the
Spartans thanks to last year’s magical season in Big
Rapids. Goalie Mike Brown has to rediscover the game that
made him the CCHA’s top netminder a year ago. Additional
sources of offensive production would help, too –
FSU has scored no more than two goals in each of its last
seven games. No wonder the Bulldogs are 1-6-0 during that
How Michigan State Wins: With last weekend’s
sweep of Michigan fresh in their minds, it’s crucial
the Spartans avoid the letdowns that have followed big wins
early in the season. Michigan State has more talent than
Ferris State, but mental lapses have doomed them in the
past. Rick Comley has to get his team to focus on this weekend
and not look back to the Michigan series or ahead to the
9 Bowling Green at
No. 4 Ohio State
BGSU: 11-16-9 (9-13-6)
OSU: 21-16-0 (16-12-0)
Season series: Ohio State won, 2-0
Falcon Fact: The last time Bowling Green entered
the CCHA playoffs as the ninth seed was 2001, when the Falcons
upset No. 2 seed Miami and beat Northern Michigan in the
play-in game to advance to the conference semifinals at
Joe Louis Arena.
Buckeye Fact: Ohio State has made back-to-back
trips to the CCHA Super Six. Only once in school history
have the Buckeyes advanced to Joe Louis Arena in three straight
How Bowling Green Wins: Help goalie Jordan Sigalet,
who faced an average of 33 shots per game during the regular
season. Holding the Buckeyes to fewer than 30 shots means
fewer scoring opportunities and allows Sigalet to be an
even greater factor.
How Ohio State Wins: Senior Mike Betz, who’s
apparently the guy in goal for the Buckeyes, is a solid
netminder but isn’t likely to steal a game. So it’s
important for Ohio State to keep the pressure on Sigalet.
It would also behoove OSU to stay out of the penalty box
– the Bucks averaged nearly 20 PIMs per game during
the regular season.
8 Western Michigan at
No. 5 Notre Dame
WMU: 16-16-4 (12-13-3)
ND: 18-12-4 (14-11-3)
Season series: Western Michigan won, 2-0
Bronco Fact: As we noted last year, Western Michigan
hasn’t advanced to Joe Louis Arena in a decade, the
longest current drought in the CCHA. The last time the Broncos
won a first-round playoff series was in 1994, when WMU bounced
Irish Fact: Notre Dame has made the March trip
to Joe Louis Arena three times in the last four seasons,
but the Irish have lost their first game in Detroit on each
occasion. In fact, Notre Dame has won only one non-first
round CCHA playoff game in its history. It occurred in 1982,
when the Dave Poulin-led Irish bounced top-seeded Bowling
Green in the league semifinals before bowing to Michigan
State in the title game.
How Western Michigan Wins: The Broncos thrive on
chaos and are most successful when they’re able to
get their opponents to forget their responsibilities –
especially on defense – and chase them around the
ice. Their defense and goaltending are both below average,
so the more WMU has the puck, the better off they are.
How Notre Dame Wins: Talk about a dichotomy in
styles. The Irish are a no-frills team that wins with great
goaltending, potent special teams play and offensive contributions
from a variety of sources. They’re a smart, disciplined
bunch that doesn’t get rattled easily. As long as
they can maintain their composure and not be lured into
Western Michigan’s brand of play, Poulin’s guys
should be fine.
7 Northern Michigan at
No. 6 Alaska-Fairbanks
NMU: 18-14-4 (13-13-2)
UAF: 16-17-1 (14-13-1)
Season series: Alaska-Fairbanks won, 2-0
Wildcat Fact: Northern Michigan’s two losses
at Alaska-Fairbanks in January were the first losses to the
Nanooks in school history. The Wildcats entered the season
with a 13-0-3 all-time record against the Nanooks.
Nanook Fact: Alaska-Fairbanks is hosting its second
first-round playoff series in three years. The Nanooks advanced
to the Super Six two years ago after bouncing Ferris State
from postseason play with two wins at the Carlson Center.
How Northern Michigan Wins: By scoring three or more
goals. The Wildcats are 14-1-2 this year when they amass 3+
goals in a game. NMU is a young team, but goalie Craig Kowalski
is a veteran who’s been through the paces before. It’ll
be important to keep things even until the greenhorns settle
How Alaska-Fairbanks Wins: The Nanooks have one of
the greatest advantages in college hockey in that traveling
from anywhere to Fairbanks is a long, exhausting trip, which
makes the odds of the home team winning the first game of
a series at the Carlson Center that much greater. UAF will
score goals, but coach Guy Gadowsky has to decide which netminder
– Preston McKay or Keith Bartusch – is best suited
for the playoffs.
the last two weekends of the season, during which Michigan recorded
three losses and a tie against two teams that were battling for
their NCAA Tournament lives, the Wolverines owned the rest of
the CCHA during the second half of the season. Particularly impressive
were two convincing sweeps against Ohio State and Miami, teams
that were poised to earn stamps of legitimacy with strong showings
against Red Berenson’s squad.
league’s regular season champ is the safe pick. It’s
also the smart pick for a few reasons. One is that the Wolverines
boast unparalleled depth, especially up front. Second is that
Michigan has played at a high level even though their two marquee
forwards – junior Eric Nystrom and sophomore Jeff Tambellini
– haven’t met preseason expectations. Third is that
sophomore Al Montoya is the league’s only established big-game
goaltender, as evidenced by his play at this winter’s World
Junior Championships, and he hasn’t had to steal a game
for the Wolverines this season.
if Montoya’s wonky hamstring gives way, all bets are off.
Just as there
are a number of reasons to make Michigan the conference playoff
favorite, there are as many to not get behind Michigan
State, the Wolverines’ archrival and the third seed in the
CCHA tournament. Scoring punch becomes scarce beyond the top line
of Jim Slater, Mike Lalonde and Tom Goebel. The team’s top
offensive defenseman, A.J. Thelen, can be shaky at times in his
own end. Finally, the Spartans have a proclivity for taking ill-advised
penalties at inopportune times.
Keeping all that in
mind, Michigan State enters the postseason on a roll. The Spartans
are 6-1-1 since February. Slater, Lalonde and Goebel have been
as good as any line in the nation since Goebel returned from a
mid-season bout with mononucleosis. What’s more, juniors
Slater and Lalonde seem to have assumed the leadership voice that
plagued the team early on. MSU’s penalty kill, one of the
country’s poorest during the first part of the year, has
improved dramatically – the Spartans rank a respectable
sixth in the CCHA in that category. Freshman goalie Dominic Vicari
is playing with a lot of confidence, as evidenced by three shutouts
in his last four starts.
If the top
two seeds qualify for the CCHA Super Six, the Spartans will have
to win three games to capture the Mason Cup. That’s a tall
order for any team, but expect Michigan State to advance far enough
to secure an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament.
– David Brown, Notre Dame Expected to be a solid
complement to junior Morgan Cey once the incumbent returned from
an injury, Brown sparked the Fighting Irish’s early-season
success with three shutouts in October including a 1-0 win over
Boston College. He was also a key to his team’s recent sweep
of Michigan – arguably the most important series win in
Notre Dame hockey history. It was very difficult to choose Brown
ahead of Bowling Green’s Jordan Sigalet.
– Andy Greene, Miami
Followed up a 23-point rookie campaign with 21 points this season.
The sophomore is a versatile, two-way rearguard who plays bigger
than his listed 5-11, 182 pounds. He was also an assistant captain
for the RedHawks this year, a testament to his impact off the
– Neil Komadoski, Notre Dame Other guys in the
leauge had better offensive numbers. But every time I watched
the Fighting Irish either in person or on television, Komadoski
made something happen. A classic minute muncher, he’s a
fantastic quarterback for the CCHA’s top-ranked power play
and a steady penalty killer. A heady, well-rounded player.
– Jim Slater, Michigan State
The CCHA’s leading scorer with 45 points in the regular
season. The Spartans aren’t completely bereft of offensive
talent, but Slater has to be a difference maker just about every
night in order for them to have a chance to win. Supremely confident,
he has the ability to jump-start his mates by scoring a big goal,
setting up a linemate for a score or delivering a thundering hit.
– T.J. Hensick, Michigan
No, I wasn’t sure putting two freshmen on the all-conference
team was a good idea. That being said, Hensick is the best passer
in the league and his 30 assists tied for second nationally in
that category. Some of the feeds he makes are unreal – his
teammates know it’s coming, the opponent knows it’s
coming, everyone in the arena knows it’s coming, and the
puck still reaches its intended target.
– Derek Edwardson, Miami
The numbers he put up during the regular season – 17 goals
and 26 assists for 43 points – aren’t far off of those
recorded by fellow RedHawk seniors Mike Kompon (41 points) and
Greg Hogeboom (39 points). The fact that he did it on a line with
freshmen Matt Christie and Marty Guerin, both 30-point scorers,
sets him apart from Kompon and Hogeboom. A breakdown of Edwardson’s
goals illustrate his versatility – five power play markers,
three shorthanded goals and three game-winners.
OF THE YEAR
How do you
gauge a coach’s job performance if everyone in the league
peformed as expected? If you check our CCHA preseason preview,
you’ll notice that – outside of picking Ferris State
to finish second – the rest of the conference pretty much
fell in to line true to form.
Miami has a fine collection
of talent with a balanced mix of youth and experience and depth
at both forward and defense. Consistency, however, has not been
a hallmark of the RedHawks in recent years. In fact, in each of
the last two seasons, up-and-down play short-circuited the team’s
seemed to be headed in the same direction when they opened the
season with a 3-5-2 mark that included an 8-3 win against Michigan
and a 2-0 loss to Air Force. Instead of panicking, coach Enrico
Blasi got his team back to the basics and gave the new faces time
to mesh with the veterans.
Now, the RedHawks
are a virtual lock for their first NCAA Tournament berth in seven
years. Miami took over first place in the league standings in
early December and, thanks to a 15-4-2 run, stayed there until
mid-February. Michigan swept the RedHawks in convincing fashion
in Ann Arbor to take over the top spot in the conference and while
most assumed the team had finally run out of gas, Miami perservered
and had a shot at winning the CCHA title on the last day of the
OF THE YEAR
The problem with parity
is that, while the game becomes much more fun for everyone, the
lack of a dominant team and/or player makes weeding out candidates
for year-end honors a mind-numbing experience. The end result
is that I stare at the screen on my laptop agonizing over a decision
until my retinas burn.
In my opinion, the
Player of the Year should be the guy who means the most to his
team, not necessarily the best player on the best team or the
person with the best numbers. Still, there’s got to be a
certain degree of team success as part of the equation, which
is the reason Bowling Green’s amazing Jordan Sigalet won’t
get the nod even though he deserves recognition.
Jim Slater of Michigan
State led the CCHA with 17-28–45 in 38 regular season games,
but the versatility that makes him one of the 10 best players
in the college game is why he’s the choice here. Obviously,
the junior centerman is a gifted scorer and has the ability to
create his own offensive opportunities by either eluding defenders
or using his strength to power to the net. He’s an above
average skater and arguably the league’s strongest player.
as one of the CCHA’s best defensive forwards, Slater logs
plenty of time on the Spartans’ top penalty killing unit
and is on the ice for every crucial situation. The Lapeer, Mich.,
native and Atlanta Thrashers prospect is also MSU’s top
pivot and expected to win his share of important draws during
the course of a game.
OF THE YEAR
Take a close look at
the CCHA’s rookie crop this season. No other conference
boasts the quality and depth of young talent across the board.
Every coach counted on at least one freshman to play a key role
– if not the key role – in his team’s success.
In fact, one could make a legitimate case for any of ten players
for the label of the league’s top freshman. Notre Dame netminder
David Brown is the choice here for two reasons.
First, Brown (13-6-3,
2.12 GAA, .930 sv%) raised his level of play when the Fighting
Irish needed him most. With incumbent Morgan Cey sidelined early
in the season with a knee problem, the Stoney Creek, Ont., native
rebounded from a loss in his first career start to reel off an
eight-game unbeaten streak. And when Cey struggled with consistency
upon returning to the lineup, Brown proved his mettle by posting
a 7-2-1 mark in his last 10 starts.
Second, even though
the Irish ranked eighth in the CCHA in scoring offense at 2.71
goals per game, Brown gave his team a chance to win every night
by allowing two or fewer goals in 15 of his 22 starts and nine
of his last 10 appearances.
T.J. Hensick, who finished the regular season tied for second
nationally with 30 assists, is a close second in this category.
Watching him set up linemate Milan Gajic on the power play is
a thing of beauty.
Mike Lalonde entered the season fresh off a 31-point sophomore
campaign, so it’s not as if he was an unknown quantity prior
to the year. And he certainly benefits from riding shotgun with
Jim Slater as evidenced by his CCHA-leading 21 goals.
Three things about
Lalonde’s game stand out, however, and make him the choice
for this honor. First, he never takes a shift off. Second, he’s
as consistent as the sun rising in the East; only once this season
did he go more than back-to-back games without recording a point.
Perhaps most important – and a result of combining the first
two factors, no doubt – is that he seems to have developed
a Jed Ortmeyer-like aura where good things happen for the Spartans
when he’s on the ice.
Slater wears the “C”, there’s no question Lalonde
is MSU’s emotional leader as well as its conscience. Not
bad for a kid who was a little-known player in the BCHL and a
late addition to then-coach Ron Mason’s last recruiting