If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the CCHA this season, it’s that league play in any given weekend is unpredictable.
This week, no one knows that better than I.
Last week: 2-5-2 (.333)
Season to date: 85-53-25 (.598)
Ouch. I knew the Lakers and Falcons would split, but I thought each team would win on the nights opposite they did. I also didn’t count on the win-it-for-the-coach factor in Saturday’s Michigan State-Michigan game – which was one of the best games I’ve seen this season.
There are some interesting things afoot in the league, to be sure. Two teams, Western Michigan and Alaska, captured six points each this weekend to help their positions considerably – and each needed to, given the landscape they’re facing in the final month of regulation play. The Broncos are now in sole possession of fourth place, a spot they shared with Northern Michigan and Ferris State entering this weekend, and the Nanooks lifted themselves from eighth to fifth.
Notre Dame and Michigan swapped spots at the top again, and Miami holds steady in third place. The Wolverines have two games in hand on both the Fighting Irish and the RedHawks.
Given the amount of time left this season, there’s probably little two of the three teams at the bottom of the standings – Michigan State and Lake Superior State – can do to improve their lot by the end of February, and it’s clear that last-place Bowling Green will likely remain there, given the number of games remaining.
Miami vs. Notre Dame tie twice, 5-5 and 2-2. The RedHawks took the shootout point Friday, the Fighting Irish Saturday. The usual suspects had multi-goal weekends: Reilly Smith (3) for Miami, T.J. Tynan (2) and Anders Lee (2) for the Irish. Tynan had the tying goal Friday; Smith had the tying goal Saturday. Four goalies played: Miami’s Connor Knapp (24 saves) and ND’s Mike Johnson (23) Friday; Miami’s Cody Reichard (24) and ND’s Steven Summerhays (13) Saturday. Three points for Miami kept the RedHawks in the top-tier mix, and three points for Notre Dame put the Irish one point ahead of the Michigan in the CCHA standings.
Michigan State 2, Michigan 1. This single game at Joe Louis Arena Saturday night drew 17,577 fans. The place was packed – certainly the largest crowd I’ve seen at JLA for a regular-season college hockey game. The teams did not disappoint. The Brothers Chelios – playing together on a line for the first time at MSU – connected for the first goal at 19:07 in the second, and Louie Caporusso answered with a highlight-reel goal – feeding himself the puck through a defender’s legs, falling to the ice, sprawling through the crease, scoring on the backhand – 34 seconds later. Spartan Joey Sheen – who sat out the 2009-10 season as a healthy scratch – scored the game-winner at 12:26 in the third. UM’s Shawn Hunwick (28 saves) and MSU’s Will Yanakeff (34) were outstanding. Eighteen total penalty minutes. Perhaps the last time Rick Comley and Red Berenson will coach face off. Other than the fact that I called UM to win, a perfect night of hockey.
Western Michigan sweeps Northern Michigan, 5-2 and 6-1. Nothing says, “We’re here!” louder than outscoring a tough opponent 11-3 at home, extending your nation-leading unbeaten streak to 11 (7-0-4). With the sweep, the Broncos are in fourth place just four points behind Miami. Ten different Broncos scored goals, with only Ryan Watson registering a two-goal weekend. Jerry Kuhn faced only 18 shots on Saturday and made 38 saves total on the weekend for WMU. For the Wildcats, Reid Ellingson had 21 saves in the 5-2 loss and Jared Coreau stopped 44 in Saturday’s game. With no points, NMU was downwardly mobile, dropping to seventh place from fourth. Given that the Broncos face all three teams ahead of them in the standings in three of their four remaining regular-season series, these points were critical to WMU.
Alaska sweeps Ohio State, 1-0 (OT) and 6-2. The Nanooks did themselves many favors with six points in this weekend sweep. UAF has just six regular-season games remaining, since Fairbanks and Anchorage will face off in the final weekend of the season for Alaska’s Governor’s Cup. It took Nanook Andy Taranto just 20 seconds into overtime in Friday’s game to score on a power play that came just 11 seconds into the extra minutes. In Saturday’s game, five different Nanooks scored, with Cody Kunyk netting two. Scott Greenham stopped 65-of-67 in the two games, and for the first time this season, someone other than Cal Heeter saw time in the Ohio State net. Heeter made 29 saves on 30 shots in the overtime loss, but was replaced by sophomore Jeff Michael after Heeter gave up five goals on 33 shots through the 17:55 mark of the second period Saturday. Michaels allowed one goal on seven shots in his first collegiate action. The wins put Alaska in fifth place, two points (33) behind Western. The Buckeyes entered the weekend in seventh place and drop one to eighth.
Lake Superior and Bowling Green split: LSSU 4-2, BGSU 2-1. Neither team gains any ground on the weekend with three points each, but Saturday’s win does reward the Falcons for their hard work for the first time this calendar year, halting a five-game losing streak. Four different Falcons scored in the two games, with James McIntosh earning the game-winner in the Saturday game, his sixth goal of the season. Five different Lakers scored; Domenic Mondardo notched two, including the only goal in the loss, bringing his season total to 10. Kevin Kapalka made 38 saves in the LSSU net for the weekend. Nick Eno started the Friday game for the Falcons but was replaced by Andrew Hammond in the second after giving up three goals. Hammond earned Saturday’s win, his fourth of the season, and stopped 39-of-41 on the weekend.
After this weekend’s play, Michigan is tied for eight in the PWR. Notre Dame and Western Michigan are tied for 10th. If the season were to end today, Miami – tied for 18th in the PWR – would be out.