After struggling with some serious team chemistry issues last year and then falling victim to the graduation and early departures of some highly regarded pieces over the summer, Notre Dame was going to be under a lot of pressure to right the ship as its new arena is built and the program has more visibility after its Frozen Four run a few years back. Coach Jeff Jackson’s Fighting Irish have responded brilliantly, sitting atop the conference standings at the halfway point of the season. Freshman T.J. Tynan has emerged as a top-tier scoring threat and goaltender Mike Johnson has become a steady, if not spectacular, anchor in net.
It’s not hard to believe that Miami’s Carter Camper sits atop the conference scoring race, but his astronomical numbers through 18 games are a little tougher to have predicted. The senior has amassed a 13-22—35 line, just one point shy of averaging two points per game, and has elevated the players around him, giving the RedHawks four of the top five point-scoring lines in the CCHA. Camper was a good bet to be one of the league’s best players, but he’s looking like he may finish the campaign with the best numbers this league has seen in a decade (or two).
WHAT HAPPENED TO … ?
Michigan State’s offense has disappeared off the face of the planet over the first few months of the season. It was going to be tough for the Spartans to completely overcome the losses of Corey Tropp, Andrew Rowe and Jeff Petry, but their struggles go beyond the usual drop-off from attrition to the professional ranks. Through 12 conference games, Michigan State has scored just 23 goals, more than one goal per game less than it averaged during the 2009-10 season. Coach Rick Comley tried moving Jake Chelios up front for the Big Chill game against Michigan last weekend to no avail. The Chelios move was just one in a series of adjustments as Comley heas searched for goals all fall long, and the veteran bench boss joked that maybe Santa would bring his team some goals for Christmas.
BEST NEW FACE
Although he fell out of the first round in last summer’s NHL Entry Draft, Michigan defenseman Jon Merrill was known as a big-time player before arriving at Yost Ice Arena and has certainly lived up to the billing in his first semester of college hockey. The rookie leads all CCHA blueliners with 11 points in 13 conference games, maintains a plus-6 rating in 19 total games, and he stole the show with two first-period goals in last weekend’s Big Chill at the Big House.
Western Michigan’s first year head coach Jeff Blashill got a nice gift from his team when they beat his former boss Enrico Blasi’s Miami squad, but it was another Miami series that takes the cake as the biggest upset of the first half. Blashill’s alma mater, Ferris State, hosted the RedHawks Nov. 5 and 6 and the Bulldogs came away with a win and a shootout victory to earn five points. That put Ferris into the second tier of the conference and prevented Miami from breaking away from Michigan and Notre Dame like it did last year.
TOUGHEST ROAD OUT
On top of dealing with injuries and illness with some of its top players, Lake Superior State was dealt a tough hand by the schedule makers in the first half of the season. The Lakers are a very respectable 5-2-3 at home, but just 1-7-1 on the road (they lost their only neutral site game against Clarkson in Denver). While it’s easy to label them as a bad road team, a look at their road schedule tells the whole story. Their lone victory away from home was in a split at the ever-tough Lawson Ice Arena at Western Michigan last weekend, and the other six losses were one at Denver, one at Miami, and two at both Michigan and Notre Dame.
TOUGHEST ROAD IN
Miami at Notre Dame Jan. 28 -29
Michigan at Miami Feb. 4-5
The two biggest series of the second half take place on back-to-back weekends when Miami visits South Bend Jan. 28-29 and Michigan heads to Oxford the following weekend. The team that comes out standing tallest after these series will likely go on to win the conference title, provided all three take care of business in what are otherwise fairly forgiving second-half schedules.
BIGGEST QUESTION ANSWERED
Other than the fact that Notre Dame, Michigan and Miami have risen to the top and Michigan State has faltered on offense, there aren’t many questions that have been answered in the CCHA. There are some intriguing storylines—including new head coaches, revised playoff and home-ice structure—that will make the second half interesting.
BIGGEST QUESTION REMAINING
Miami, Michigan, and Alaska represent a fairly clear-cut cream of the crop in the CCHA. Who will take charge of the middle of the pack? To be fair, Notre Dame has taken Alaska’s place in the top three INCH put forth at the beginning of this season, but the middle of the pack in the CCHA race is as murky as predicted. Alaska, Northern Michigan, and Ferris State all have 23 points with Ferris State playing one extra league game thus far. Ohio State, Western Michigan—both with a game in hand—and Lake Superior State are just a weekend sweep away from joining the Nanooks, Wildcats, and Bulldogs in that tie. It stands to reason that Alaska could break free but, then again, one could say the same about a Northern Michigan club known for second-half surges under Walt Kyle.
INCH’s FIRST HALF ALL-CCHA TEAM
G–Pat Nagle, Ferris State: Nagle has been the best in a league filled with strong, veteran goaltenders. The senior leads the CCHA in save percentage and is second in goals against average.
D–Torey Krug, Michigan State: The Spartans are struggling to score goals, but where would they be without Krug? The sophomore captain has a 5-10—15 line in 18 games, and that’s from the back end.
D–Zach Redmond, Ferris State: The senior has been one of the league’s steadiest blueliners over the past few seasons, and this year is no different. Redmond has 12 points and a plus-3 rating.
F–Carter Camper, Miami: Camper is blowing away just about everyone except for teammate Andy Miele in the conference scoring race; he’s currently the nation’s top scorer.
F–Carl Hagelin, Michigan: Hagelin remains one of the CCHA’s elite forwards. He’s unquestionably one of the leaders on a strong Michigan team and plays a great all-around game.
F–Sergio Somma, Ohio State: Somma leads the CCHA with five power-play goals, and his 10-8—18 line puts him on pace for his best season ever. With coach Mark Osiecki trying to install a new system and attitude, Somma has kept the offense on track.