I don’t know what the weather was like this week in your part of the world, but here in Flint, Mich., we got a real winter storm, part of what the meteorologists are calling an “inland hurricane.” When I was growing up in Syracuse, N.Y., we just called it “winter.” I hope you are all safe and looking forward to some potentially season-changing hockey this weekend.
Last week I fell under .500, leaving me feeling a little like Dr. Zachary Smith.
Last week: 2-5-2 (.333)
Season to date: 85-53-25 (.598)
Here are my picks for games this week. It’s a full slate of CCHA action, with Notre Dame watching – probably anxiously – from the sidelines. Start times are noted.
I’m not in any rink this weekend, a rarity for this time of year, but I’ll be watching the Michigan-Miami and Michigan State-Ohio State series Friday, as well as Michigan-Miami Saturday. Run into me virtually on Twitter: @paulacweston.
BGSU at WMU. Much will be made about this match between first-year head coaches Chris Bergeron and Jeff Blashill, who both served as assistants under Enrico Blasi at Miami. The most important thing about this series, however, is the points on the line – for Western Michigan. The Broncos, who take the country’s best 11-game (7-0-4) unbeaten streak into this weekend, are in fourth place and face all three teams ahead of them in the standings for the remainder of the season – and only those teams. Getting points out of Michigan, Notre Dame and Miami will be especially tough when those three teams are keen to take the regular-season title. For the last-place Falcons, an unlikely six-point weekend wouldn’t even them with 11th-place Michigan State, so they’re playing for all the other reasons tough competitors play. There’s a lot of hockey left, too, so statistically BGSU has a chance to climb out of the cellar. Last season, BGSU tied and defeated WMU at home (Jan. 22-23), but the Broncos beat the Falcons when they last met in Lawson Arena (Feb. 27-28, 2009). 7:35 p.m. both nights. WMU 3-2, 4-2.
FSU at UAF. The Bulldogs trail the fifth-place Nanooks by one point in the CCHA standings, and the teams have played the same number of games, so this is a head-to-head match for position – and you can bet that each team is eyeing fourth-place Western Michigan, given the Broncos’ final three series. Ferris State last played a Thursday night game (Jan. 27), a 2-1 win over Michigan State. Alaska swept Ohio State in two home games last weekend. In this series, two of the best and most consistent goaltenders in the CCHA square off, FSU’s Pat Nagle (1.96 GAA, .922 SV%) and UAF’s Scott Greenham (1.98 GAA, .927 SV%). The teams split a pair of games earlier this season in Big Rapids (Dec. 3-4), with the Bulldogs taking the Friday game and the Nanooks winning in OT on Saturday. That Friday victory was the first for FSU over UAF since the Bulldogs beat the Nanooks Jan. 2, 2004, also in Big Rapids. Alaska is 13-1-2 against Ferris State from that weekend in 2004 through this season, and the last time FSU won in Fairbanks was Nov. 2002, when they swept. I can’t bet against Greenham, especially when Ferris State has the 54th-best offense in the country. 7:05 p.m. AT both nights. UAF 2-1, 3-2.
LSSU at NMU. There’s hardware and the pride of the Upper Peninsula on the line this weekend as these two rivals meet for the second time this season. The Cappo Cup is decided on total goals, and the defending champion Lakers are behind in this year’s series, 5-4, having split with the Wildcats at home Nov. 5-6. More recently, the Lakers split in Bowling Green last weekend (4-2, 2-1), while the Wildcats lost two on the road to Western Michigan, outscored 11-3 in two contests. In seventh place with 29 points, the Wildcats are four points ahead of ninth-place Lake Superior and yet tantalizingly close to sixth-place Ferris State (32), fifth-place Alaska (33) and even fourth-place Western Michigan (35). NMU also has two games in hand on FSU and UAF. The Wildcats appear to have a problem finishing what they start, outscoring opponents 24-21 in first periods this season but being outscored 37-21 in third periods. The last time the Wildcats lost to the Lakers at home was Dec. 2, 2006. 7:35 p.m. both nights. NMU 3-2, 3-2.
MSU at OSU. Last weekend, the Spartans played their best game of the season and beat Michigan, 2-1, in front of nearly 18,000 fans in Joe Louis Arena. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, went to Alaska and lost a heart-breaking overtime game, 1-0, allowing the game-winner 20 seconds into OT on Friday before losing 6-2 Saturday. Talk about a long trip home. The Saturday loss gave OSU sophomore goaltender Jeff Michael (who?) his first collegiate playing time, as Cal Heeter – who had played every single minute of the Buckeyes’ season – left after allowing five goals. In eighth place with 28 points, OSU is five points and two places ahead of MSU; the Buckeyes are a point behind NMU, four behind FSU, five behind UAF, so like most of the other series this weekend, this is a big one. These teams are 3-3-0 in their last six games and split a pair in East Lansing earlier this season (Nov. 12-13), with the Buckeyes winning 4-3 in overtime and Spartan Drew Palmisano earning his third career shutout, 4-0, the following night. Watch for Will Yanakeff in net, though – and he’s fun to watch. Former Buckeye Paul Caponigri will be calling the game with Dan Kelly for the Big Ten Network Friday night. 7:35 p.m. Friday, 7:05 p.m. Saturday. OSU 4-2, MSU 3-1.
UM at Miami. As big as are the other series this week, this one is perhaps the biggest – especially as it can redefine the top tier in the league. Right now, Notre Dame is in first place with 44 points, Michigan in second with 43 and Miami in third with 39. The Fighting Irish are idle this weekend and the Wolverines have two games in hand on both the Irish and the RedHawks … and I am stuck in Flint this weekend and haven’t seen a game in Steve Cady Arena in three seasons! But I digress. Last weekend, all three teams at the top combined to decide, well, very little. Notre Dame and Miami split six points evenly with two ties (5-5, 2-2) and an extra shootout point for each, while Michigan lost a single game to Michigan State. The RedHawks under head coach Enrico Blasi are 9-21-1 against Michigan, but in recent regular-season games dating back to 2007-08, Miami has a 4-3-1 edge, and the RedHawks swept the Wolverines in Oxford Nov. 21-22, 2008. That is not, as every fan of each team knows, the whole story. It was Miami that ended Michigan’s incredible post-season run in 2009-10 with a 3-2 win in double overtime in the NCAA Midwest Regional final. Alden Hirschfeld had the game-winner in that one, and Connor Knapp made an amazing 55 saves – and nothing less than an effort like that would have stopped the steam-rolling Wolverines at that point. UM defeated Miami in the CCHA semifinal game in JLA last year and beat the RedHawks for the CCHA title in 2008. A lot of history here and a good rivalry. UM hasn’t lost two in a row this season. 7:35 p.m. Friday, 5:05 p.m. Saturday. UM 3-2, Miami 4-2.