playoffs in the CCHA, CHA and WCHA start next week…in
theory. The reality is that the majority of teams are
treating this weekend as if they’re fighting for their
postseason lives. If they’re not battling for a home-ice
berth in the first round of the conference tournament –
or in Niagara’s case, something potentially more significant
– they’re jockeying for position in the league
standings, which could spell the difference in having the
last line change in a semifinal game. Take
a close look at the three teams below. Each holds its playoff
destiny in its own hands, albeit under entirely different
Michigan: The Wildcats, currently in a four-way
tie for fifth in the CCHA standings, need one win to secure
a home series for the first round of the playoffs. The rub:
this weekend’s opponent, Notre Dame, is in a similar
situation. Three points would be optimal for the Irish,
but they can still host with a split and some help.
just trying to win every game we play, as are our opponents,
I’m sure,” NMU coach Walt Kyle told Marquette’s
Mining Journal. “It’s not a matter
of who we’re playing or what they’re doing.
We just have to focus our efforts in making sure we’re
at the top of our game.”
the Wildcats have been consistently inconsistent –
since Dec. 1, they’ve not won more than three in a
row, but haven’t lost more than three straight –
they are at home this weekend. Northern is 11-3-1 at the
Berry Events Center this season.
The Purple Eagles may have more at stake than any team in
the nation when it comes to playoff position. All they need
is one point to get a lock on second place in the CHA standings
– and the accompanying berth in the playoff semifinals.
taking it like our first playoff games,” said coach
Dave Burkholder, whose club is 8-3-3 in its last 14 games.
“It’s been the goal of every team in our league
to make sure you’re first or second, because I don’t
think a team is going to win three games in a row out in
only is second place at stake, but with Niagara facing regular-season
champion Alabama-Huntsville this weekend, the series could
serve as a pre-cursor of things to come next week.
us to take care of business at home would be huge for our
young team heading into the playoffs,” Burkholder
Not unlike Northern Michigan, Minnesota-Duluth needs one
win against visiting Michigan Tech this weekend to secure
a first-round playoff series at the DECC. For the Bulldogs,
however, it would mark a step forward for the program, which
hasn’t hosted a postseason game since 1998.
just want to keep playing well and build confidence as we
head into the playoff,” third-year head coach Scott
Sandelin said. “We’ve gained some confidence,
we’ve grown up a little bit by winning some tight
games and battling back to earn some points in games.
those things are certainly building blocks when you have
a young team. For most of our guys, this is a new experience
and it’s kind of exciting. Hopefully, it’s something
we can build on not only for the remainder of this year,
but years to come.”
and the ensuing home-ice advantage would also create an
intriguing situation for UMD, as the team could possibly
be matched against an opponent that ranks below them in
the WCHA standings but above them in the Pairwise Rankings.
Not that it’s a bad thing; in fact, two wins against
Tech this weekend and a sweep against a first-round foe
such as Denver, North Dakota or St. Cloud State would propel
the Bulldogs, ranked 19th in the latest PWR, closer to an
probably have to work a little bit harder than some of those
other teams to win,” Sandelin said. “But we’ve
been able to do that and we’ve found ways to win and
– more importantly – we’ve been able to
get points every weekend. That’s why we’re in
the position we’re in.”
time last season, Michigan State's Brian Maloney was on
a roll. He entered the 2002 CCHA playoffs as the Spartans'
leader in goals and assists and his team was challenging
for a first-round bye in the NCAA Tournament.
you hit a certain point of the season where you're
red hot, and I think they're red hot right now."
– Denver coach George Gwozdecky, on Minnesota,
which rallied from three-goal deficits both nights
to take three of four points from the visiting Pioneers.
can't score goals and I can't stop the puck. We can
at least try to bring good players into our program
and mold them into good teams." – Michigan
coach Red Berenson, following his 500th career victory,
a 5-4 win against Michigan State in Detroit Saturday.
wrong with this picture? Wisconsin is leading the Big
Ten in hoops and ranks eighth in the WCHA in hockey?"
- Denver Post columnist Jim Armstrong.
The Badgers have since won the Big Ten regular season
first postseason contest, the unthinkable happened. During
the second period of a win against Bowling Green, the rugged
winger from Bassano, Alta., caught an edge and slammed awkwardly
into the boards behind the Falcons' net. He broke two ribs
and bruised his kidney, ending his season prematurely. The
Spartans weren't the same team without him, and they limped
through losses to Michigan in the CCHA Super Six championship
game and Colorado College in the first round of the NCAA
never had a serious injury before, so I thought I could
get back into it right away and get all my training done
in a month," Maloney said. "But it took longer
indeed. In fact, through 21 games this season Maloney, who
was expected to be the focal point of the MSU offense this
season, had two goals and seven assists. While he admits
that he may have been tentative because of the injury –
"I think that affected me more than I thought it was
going to," he says – Maloney also dealt with
two significant changes. One was the adjustment to the systems
installed by new coach Rick Comley, the other was the loss
of Adam Hall, his running mate for three seasons who now
plays with the Nashville Predators. It didn't help that
the Spartans struggled out of the gate.
frustrating because you feel...you're the leading goal scorer
coming back and the puck's not going in the net for you,"
Maloney explains. "Obviously, if you're blowing teams
out of the water or winning every night it wouldn't be a
problem. But our team was losing, and I wasn't doing anything
to help us out."
good news for MSU fans is that Maloney is starting to hit
his stride. He's been especially effective during the last
month or so, with at least one point in eight of the Spartans'
last 10 games and 11 goals and six assists in his last 13
contests. Maloney's play picked up when the 6-foot-1, 207-pound
senior moved to the right wing on a line with sophomores
Brock Radunske (6-4, 203) and Lee Falardeau (6-4, 211) to
form one of the most physical units in the CCHA.
able to control the puck in the corners and it's hard for
the defensemen to contain us," says Maloney. "We
know our role. We're not going to take the puck end-to-end
and make flashy plays and putting the crowd on the edge
of their seats. Our role is to get the puck deep, wear down
the defensemen and hopefully put the puck in the net."
he's back in a groove and playing at a level close to where
he was at this time last year, he still feels he has some
unfinished business to tend to in the postseason. That's
good, because State most likely needs to win the CCHA playoff
championship in order to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
year at this time, I was playing well," Maloney recalls.
"I was looking forward to carrying that into the playoffs,
and then I had my injury. It was frustrating to watch the
team go down earlier than you think they should've. We've
got a young team. I'm gonna play my heart out and see how
far I can get these guys this year."
State Benevolence: Thanks to the folks at
Nationwide Arena, Ohio State has a place to host its CCHA
first-round playoff series.
The Buckeyes, who can't play at Value City Arena next weekend
because of the Ohio high school girls basketball tournament,
will skate instead at the home of the Columbus Blue Jackets
in a best-of-three series that begins Friday (March 14.)
The first game is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET Friday, with
game two set to face off at 1:05 p.m. Saturday afternoon.
The time for a deciding game Sunday has not been determined,
but it would be played at Value City Arena.
Great Weekend Getaways
Michigan at Ohio State: While Ferris
State has all but locked up the CCHA regular season
championship, this series is of huge importance as
far as playoff positioning is concerned. The Wolverines
lead the Buckeyes by three points in the league standings,
and the league’s second place team gets a) a
first-round date with Bowling Green, as opposed to
facing Nebraska-Omaha in a best-of-three series and
b) a bye into the Super Six semifinals, should they
survive the opening round.
you’re there: Get a true sense of Ohio State
athletic history by stopping by the Buckeye Hall of
Fame Café, home of a pretty solid memorabilia
display, a great game room and a fantastic ice cream
“Buckeye”. Also, the Varsity Club, located
a short walk from Value City Arena, is a great post-game
destination. It’s right across the street from
the OSU Ice Rink, which is a must-see just for the
fact that it’s impossible to fathom that a Division
I program played in such a facility.
Minnesota vs. St. Cloud State (home-and-home):
The Gophers are striving for a second-place finish
in the WCHA standings and harbor hopes for a top seed
in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies, meanwhile, could
finish anywhere from fourth to seventh in the league,
depending on the outcome of this weekend’s games.
Think Minnesota wouldn’t get any satisfaction
by sending SCSU on the road for the first round of
Dame at Northern Michigan: Two of the
four teams in the four-way tie for fifth in the CCHA
standings meet Friday and Saturday in Marquette. The
Fighting Irish have won five of six after enduring
a nine-game winless streak. The Wildcats, not surprisingly,
are very good at home - 11-3-1 this season following
their split with Ohio State at the Berry Events Center.
To the surprise of no one, the WCHA has elected to keep
the Final Five tournament in St. Paul through 2006. The
Xcel Energy Center has hosted the event in each of the last
two seasons, and set attendance records both years.
definitely can see it going past that,” WCHA tournament
manager and assistant commissioner Carol LaBelle told Bruce
Brothers of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “I
think we’ve found our home.”
Xcel Energy Center is the fourth venue to host the Final
Five. It’s been played at the St. Paul Civic Center
(where the Xcel Center now stands), Milwaukee’s Bradley
Center and the Target Center in Minneapolis in the past.
Paul is a logical site for the tournament; not only is the
Xcel Center a fantastic venue, but it’s an easy drive
for fans from more than half of the league’s schools
and a short flight – less than two hours – from
Colorado Springs and Denver.
Victory for the WCHA?: A proposed
regional sports network for the Upper Midwest could significantly
increase the number of college hockey games on television
to a Feb. 28 column by Kevin Allenspach of the St. Cloud
Times, Victory Sports – an endeavor of the
Minnesota Twins – is scheduled to debut in October,
and is discussing the possibility of televising St. Cloud
State, Minnesota-Duluth and North Dakota athletics. The
network has already reached an agreement with Minnesota
State, Mankato to broadcast some of the Mavericks' contests.
speculates that, if Victory can sign agreements with the
aforementioned schools, the outlet could choose games to
televise on a weekend-by-weekend basis, almost in a "game
of the week" format.
base is going to be local and regional sports," senior
vice-president of Twins Sports, Inc., Mark Sharockman told
Allenspach. "We'll cover all or parts of five states:
Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa and Wisconsin.
There are five WCHA schools in that footprint."
Sports Net North owns the broadcast rights to both Minnesota
and Wisconsin hockey.
of the Weird: Since sweeping Lake Superior
State in December, Nebraska-Omaha is 0-8-2 on the road and
has been outscored 40-12...On Senior Night at Notre Dame
Saturday, coach Dave Poulin started all six of the team's
veterans. That meant goaltender Tony Zasowski got his first
start in more than a month and forward Jake Wiegand played
defense for the first shift. Notre Dame won 5-2...Alaska-Fairbanks
is 7-0-0 in games decided by one goal, and they've scored
the last goal in six of their seven ties this season...Bemidji
State went to overtime for the 14th time this season last
weekend vs. Niagara. The Beavers are the first team in NCAA
history to go into OT 14 times in one season...Findlay needs
one point against Wayne State this weekend to secure fifth
place in the CHA standings. If that happens, it would be
the first time the Oilers avoid the basement in the league
standings since joining the CHA...Winless streaks of note
in the WCHA: North Dakota is winless in its last seven,
the school's longest such stretch since going 11 games without
a victory in 1974-75. Meanwhile, Alaska Anchorage, with
12 straight losses, has matched the school's longest losing
streak first set in 2000-01...Five WCHA teams have surpassed
their conference point totals from last season – Colorado
College, MSU-Mankato, Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan Tech and
Sports Television: The fledgling television
network is making good on its promise to college hockey
by carrying Friday’s Michigan-Ohio State game live.
CSTV officially launches April 7, but is presenting selected
events over the next few weeks in anticipation of that date.
and Michigan Tech: Saturday’s game in
Green Bay attracted 8,744 fans to the Resch Center, who
witnessed a 9-5 Badger victory. Certainly, the beautiful
new facility – which opened this year – should
host its share of college hockey games and perhaps an NCAA
regional in the near future.
WCHA goaltending: There were 82 goals scored
in the WCHA last weekend. Check out some of the scores:
9-5, 8-5, 8-1, 9-6, 7-0. Can’t anyone in this league
stop a puck?
Sid Hartman: The longtime Minneapolis
Star Tribune columnist suggested that since small
WCHA schools such as Michigan Tech and Minnesota-Duluth
only have one Division I sport, hockey, it enables them
to focus their energies in that area and gives them an advantage
over bigger schools such as Minnesota and Wisconsin. It’s
kind of like how the Cloquet Pine Knot does a better
job with sports reporting than the Star Tribune
because they don’t have as many teams to cover.
WEEK'S NHL TRANSACTIONS
Boston Bruins: Assigned forward Andy Hilbert
(Michigan) to Providence of the American Hockey League.
Blue Jackets: Recalled defenseman Duvie Wescott
(St. Cloud State) from Syracuse of the American Hockey Leauge.
Dallas Stars: Recalled forward
David Oliver (Michigan) from Utah of the American Hockey
Ottawa Senators: Assigned forward Josh Langfeld
(Michigan) to Binghamton of the American Hockey League.
Jose Sharks: Recalled defenseman Jesse Fibiger
(Minnesota-Duluth) and forward Ryan Kraft (Minnesota) from
Cleveland of the American Hockey League.
LEAUGE TRANSACTION OF THE WEEK
River Otters (United Hockey League): Acquired forwards
Jeff Antonovich (Minnesota-Duluth; I know, one game, but
it counts) and Erik Wendell (Minnesota) from the Rockford
Icehogs for forward Joey Bastien.