With Michigan and Notre Dame falling out of the once-impenetrable top four and Michigan State bouncing back in, Ferris State has quietly snuck in the back door and, considering its two games in hand, could be within in striking distance of Miami at the top of the league. Bulldog coach Bob Daniels was hoping for an offensive outburst that never came last year, but the pucks have begun to find the back of the net more often in Big Rapids at the opponent’s end of the ice while staying out of the Ferris State goal consistently. The Bulldogs boast the league’s best offense at 3.44 goals per game while maintaining the second-best defense in the league and nation at 1.72 goals against per contest.
Anchoring the offensive outburst for Ferris State has been senior Blair Riley who is finally showing the sparks that have Daniels suggesting that Riley should garner some serious consideration from NHL clubs as an undrafted free agent next summer. Riley (14-7—21) has teamed up with linemates Cody Chupp and Casey Haines in a simple fashion—going to the net. Riley, Chupp and Haines know they’re not the fastest or most agile skaters in the league, but they make an effort to create pressure down low and knock in rebounds when they come loose.
WHAT HAPPENED TO …
There have been several disappointing teams in the early stages of the current season, but the most curious has to be the woes of Michigan. Throughout Red Berenson’s years in Ann Arbor, the team always seems to find playmakers and offensive leaders, but no one has emerged from the pack thus far. For the Wolverines to bounce back in the latter half of the season, they’ll need Louie Caporusso, Carl Hagelin, or a teammate to take the team on their back and build some momentum.
BEST NEW FACE
Alaska boasted one of the best defensive teams in recent memory last year, but failed to find any kind of offensive groove throughout the year. Once freshman Andy Taranto arrived on campus, things began to change. Taranto’s team-leading 22 points, which is also good for second in the conference scoring race, have helped spark Alaska to a 3.00 goals scored per game average—more than a point better than last years 1.89 mark. Taranto’s best effort of the first half was a three-goal weekend against Northern Michigan that netted him CCHA Freshman of the Week honors for Nov. 30.
Bowling Green’s first points of the year came with a bit of a sour taste after the Falcons earned a shootout victory over Nebraska-Omaha while using an ineligible player in the shootout. While the two points stood, it was Bowling Green’s 3-1 win over Alaska two weeks later on Nov. 13 that stands out as the biggest upset of the first half. The three points Bowling Green took from the Nanooks put some distance between Alaska and the teams ahead of them in the standings, and stole some of the breathing room that Alaska would have enjoyed over Lake Superior State and Notre Dame teams currently nipping at its heels.
TOUGHEST ROAD OUT
Things haven’t panned out as expected for Ohio State, who many thought would come of age this year, but the good news is that at least some of the struggles can be attributed to a tough first-half schedule. The Buckeyes have played two games each against the two teams in the current INCH Power Rankings—Miami and Denver—and they have seen top-10 teams North Dakota and Bemidji State as well. Ohio State also traveled to Ferris State and Notre Dame for weekend series.
The schedule doesn’t get all that much kinder with road games at Michigan State and Miami still on tap as well as a home series against Ferris State at the end of January. Needless to say, the scheduling gods weren’t smiling on Columbus when this year’s slate was assembled.
TOUGHEST ROAD IN
Notre Dame gained some momentum with a win over Michigan this past weekend, but it could be a long road to a first-round bye that the Irish hope to compete for—literally.
From Jan. 16 through Feb. 25, Notre Dame plays eight of 10 games on the road, including contests at Michigan State, Lake Superior State, Western Michigan, Bowling Green and Michigan. No, those aren’t the most intimidating names in the CCHA this year, but that volume of road games will take a toll on any team. Also, don’t forget that the Irish start the second half at their own Shillelagh Tournament in suburban Chicago Jan. 2-3, where they will open against Colgate and would likely see North Dakota in the championship game if they can knock off the Raiders.
BIGGEST QUESTION ANSWERED
Michigan State has shown that last year’s disastrous season was only a blip on the radar. After the perfect storm ravaged hockey in East Lansing last year, the Spartans have bounced back nicely and currently occupy the second spot in the CCHA standings.
With Corey Tropp leading the way offensively with help from freshman Derek Grant and junior Andrew Rowe, and a reliable defense corps led by Jeff Petry, the transition from the unforgettable Jeff Lerg era to the age of Drew Palmisano and Bobby Jarosz has been relatively seamless. With 17 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, there will be some bumps in the road, but the Spartans have convinced outsiders that they won’t be falling back to the bottom half of the league any time soon.
BIGGEST QUESTION REMAINING
How will the changes in the way points are awarded affect the race for the regular-season title, home ice advantage in the playoffs, and first-round byes? Miami has a solid lead atop the table, but it starts to get a little crowded once you get past the RedHawks.
Ferris State sits one point behind Michigan State with two games in hand, and just three points—a single victory under the new system—separates a disappointing Notre Dame team in sixth place and Alaska, hoping to secure a first-round bye, in fourth. A jump up can seem much easier and seem to come much more quickly with three points, and a slide over several games can be psychologically exacerbated by opponents gaining three on a night where you lose.
INCH’s FIRST HALF ALL-CCHA TEAM
G-Cody Reichard, Miami: Reichard bounced back from the immense disappointment of last year’s national championship game with consistently outstanding performances throughout the first half of the season.
D-Zach Redmond, Ferris State: Redmond, an Atlanta Thrashers’ draft pick, has earned high marks since entering the league and continues to anchor a solid Ferris State defense with 20 blocked shots and a plus-minus rating of plus-7. The junior isn’t a slouch on the offensive side of the game either, notching 15 points in 18 games.
D-Jeff Petry, Michigan State: Petry, one of the Spartans’ captains, has played a major role in Michigan State’s success as one of the league’s most reliable defenders (+3) and adding in 16 points on two goals and 14 assists.
F-Corey Tropp, Michigan State: Coming off a suspension that ended his sophomore year in January, it was hard to know what to expect of Tropp this year, but the junior has been a catalyst for Michigan State’s revival, leading the nation with 16 goals—four of which were game-winners—and 27 points.
F-Blair Riley, Ferris State: Riley has finally brought together his game the way coach Bob Daniels had hoped he would throughout his career. The senior has a great grasp of his strengths and weaknesses, using that self-awareness to fashion a 14-goal, seven-assist performance in the first half.
F-Mark Olver, Northern Michigan: Olver is one of the most exciting players in the CCHA and he hasn’t disappointed during the first half of this year. The junior has shown the ability to score and set teammates up while compiling a 10-11—21 line and plus-minus rating of plus-5.