This is a season through the looking glass, isn’t it?
I’ve been saying all along that Michigan State doesn’t look like a second-to-last place team. It’s hard to argue against parity when the 10th-place team beats the ranked third-place team and the seventh-place team knocks the first-place team out of the top spot, in the same night.
That MSU outscored Miami 7-4 and Ohio State beat Notre Dame 6-1 made me feel as though I were living in some sort of time warp Friday night.
And then the RedHawks shut out the Spartans Saturday, and everything felt normal again. In fact, most of the Spartans who talked after Friday’s game – including Brett Perlini, who had the empty-net goal – joked that they hoped MSU hadn’t used up all its goals in one night.
After this past weekend, the traditional CCHA tiers have become more defined, no easy thing this season.
The Wolverines need to send the Buckeyes a muffin basket to thank them for Friday’s results, because keeping Notre Dame to three points in Columbus combined with Michigan’s home sweep of Alaska make UM the top team in the league – where they have a fair chance of remaining, given that they have a game in hand on both second-place Notre Dame and third-place Miami. The Wolverines and Fighting Irish split a pair of games earlier this season, but Miami and Michigan haven’t yet played.
In sweeping the Nanooks in two close games, the Wolverines didn’t feel as though they’d played their best hockey. Goaltender Shawn Hunwick registered his third shutout of the season in Friday’s 2-0 win.
The Wolverines and Nanooks gave fans a terrific game on Saturday. Hunwick again had to stand up during that one, especially during a late, extended five-on-three Alaska advantage. After the game, Carl Hagelin talked about the importance of helping Hunwick a better effort Saturday, and Scooter Vaughan made it pretty clear that the Wolverines are looking to the final stretch in the next few weeks.
I came away from Saturday’s game thinking that Alaska deserved better. They are, as Berenson said Saturday, for real. Their record doesn’t do them justice. Scott Greenham was outstanding in net, and the Alaska defense blocked more shots than I’ve seen blocked in a regular-season game in years.
After the Fighting Irish lost to the Buckeyes Friday, Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson expressed specific concern about his players. “Our team right now is a little bit fragile,” said Jackson. “We’ve given up crazy goals in the last couple weeks and months.”
The Irish, playing without captain and goal-scorer Calle Ridderwall, recovered enough to win 4-1 on Saturday. Freshman Anders Lee netted two in that one.
After losing to MSU 7-4 Friday, Miami head coach Enrico Blasi redefined angry, from what I – and anyone else within 50 feet – heard outside the Miami locker room. I didn’t get specifics, but I got the message.
Apparently, so did the RedHawks, who shut out the Spartans 4-0 the following night.
I covered the Friday game, which was fascinating. Miami outperformed Michigan State in every single way except for goal scoring. Perhaps a better way to put that is that Drew Palmisano played incredibly well – especially since he didn’t know he was starting until warm-ups that night – and Miami goaltenders Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp played less well.
Palmisano looked relieved after the game. It was his first start the Spartans lost 4-0 to the Wolverines Jan. 8.
If the first-place team in the league has 43 points, the second-place team 41, and the third-place team 36, there’s no question that 29 points is a delineating point – and three teams in the league are tied with 29 points each, Ferris State, Northern Michigan and Western Michigan. Ohio State has 28 and Alaska has 27.
I’d say that pretty much defines “middle.”
The Bulldogs lost two close games to the Wildcats in Marquette, signaling FSU’s downward mobility and NMU’s continued climb.
Apparently, Red Berenson wasn’t the only coach not completely pleased with how his team played in a two-game sweep. “I don’t necessarily like the way we won it tonight,” NMU head coach Walt Kyle told the Marquette Mining Journal, but we found a way for big players to make big plays.”
Wildcats Andrew Cherniwchan, Justin Florek and Wade Epp scored in Saturday’s 3-1 win, and Reid Ellingson had 63 saves on the weekend. Florek had a goal in Friday’s 2-1 game, and Jared Brown had the over-time game-winner Friday. The Bulldogs have now lost four in a row.
Western Michigan split points evenly with Lake Superior State in Sault Ste. Marie, but in an unconventional way. The teams tied both nights, with the Broncos taking the extra shootout point after Friday’s 2-2 game, and the Lakers doing so after Saturday’s 4-4 decision.
With the ties, WMU extends the nation’s current longest unbeaten streak to nine games, (5-0-4), although the last three of those games were ties.
For the fifth-place Buckeyes, Cal Heeter (2.32 GAA, .920 SV%) continues to provide steady goaltending, and on nights when OSU can score – like Friday – the Buckeyes are tough to beat.
The Nanooks, now in sixth place, look so much better than their numbers. I can’t say enough about the team defense and the play of Scott Greenham. With one win in four games against the top two teams in the league, this was a tough road trip for Alaska.
If 27 through 29 points define the middle, it’s hard to make a case for 22 points as the starting place for the bottom tier, but that’s the way it’s looking this week. That’s what the Lakers have after their split points at home with Western Michigan. The Spartans trail them by two points. If there were more time remaining in the second half, this may not be a fair place to begin the lower tier.
Then there’s Bowling Green. The Falcons have just eight points in conference play and they’re averaging two goals per game; they’ve scored one goal per game in their four contests in this calendar year. BGSU didn’t play this past weekend, and I’m not being mean-spirited by saying that it wouldn’t have made a difference in the standings if they had. It’s math.
Chris Bergeron inherited a very, very challenging situation in Bowling Green.
How did I do?
Exactly as I did the week before: five wins, three losses, two ties.
Last week: 5-3-2 (.600)
Season to date: 83-48-23 (.614)
Well, I called the Irish and Buckeyes to split, but I called the wins on opposite nights. I also called MSU to split with Miami and got that right, thankfully.