We’re getting down to it and the league is becoming less predictable – for me at least, apparently.
Last week: 2-7-1 (.250)
Season to date: 87-60-21 (.580)
With three weekends left in the regular season, every series this week is bound to be hotly contested. Every team plays this weekend; Ferris State welcomes Alabama-Huntsville for a nonconference series. All games are Friday-Saturday. Start times are noted.
I’m covering Northern Michigan at Michigan State on Friday and helping out at Yost on Saturday, where Bob Miller will be covering Ohio State at Michigan. As always, feel free to abuse me via Twitter: @paulacweston.
BGSU at ND. In their last four games, the Falcons are 1-2-1 – and that constitutes a hot streak for BG this season, especially considering the extra point captured against the steadiest team in the nation, Western Michigan, in Kalamazoo last weekend. The Fighting Irish were too busy playing outside at Merrifield Park in Mishawaka, Ind., to play games that counted last weekend. (j/k, as the kids say) In fact, ND had last weekend off but the Irish held their annual outdoor practice Feb. 4, interacting with their adoring local public and spreading the good news about ND hockey. Prior to playing outside, the Irish split a weekend in Oxford, tying the RedHawks twice with each team capturing an extra shootout point. Notre Dame is 6-2-2 against Bowling Green in the last 10 meetings, but these teams split a pair earlier this season (Nov. 5-6) in BG, a weekend in which the Irish allowed three goals per game. ND trails first-place Miami by one point, with series in hand over the RedHawks. Friday 7:35 p.m. Saturday 7:05 p.m. ND 3-2, 3-2.
NMU at MSU. Last weekend, the Wildcats dropped two in a row and watched as the Lakers hoisted the Cappo Cup for the second straight season. In fact, NMU has lost four consecutive games and the Wildcats have not manifested their usual second-half bounce, having gone 2-6-0 in CCHA play since the start of the calendar year – and averaging a goal per game in those six losses. The Spartans are 2-2-0 in their last four games, having split with Ohio State on the road last weekend. MSU is 18-8-2 all-time against NMU in Munn Arena, but the overall games are pretty evenly split between the Wildcats and Spartans – 14-12-1 in favor of NMU – since Walt Kyle became NMU’s head coach. The teams split a pair of games in Marquette last season. Northern has an 8-5-0 edge over Michigan State in the last three seasons, including four CCHA playoff victories, the most recent coming at the end of the 2008-09 season. Friday 7:05 p.m. Saturday 5:05 p.m. MSU 4-2, NMU 4-3.
OSU at UM. Here’s an underappreciated hockey rivalry, to be sure. The loathing the students on these teams feel for each other’s schools because of the gridiron rivalry certainly spills over into every encounter on the ice. In Yost, it’s especially fun and the fans are occasionally – that is to say, rarely – creative in non-profane ways when the Buckeyes are in town. But I digress. The Buckeyes split a pair at home against Michigan State last weekend, while the Wolverines were schooled by the RedHawks just down the road in Oxford. That latter tidbit is very bad news for Ohio State. Very. Bad. News. There is no one the Wolverines would rather take out their frustrations on than the Buckeyes following a weekend that saw UM knocked to third in the standings by the team that was then in third place itself. UM is now two points behind Miami in league standings and – like the Irish – the Wolverines have two games in hand over the RedHawks. The Buckeyes are in that funky middle mix with a bunch of other CCHA teams. The teams are 3-3-0 in their last six games, all of which were played in Columbus. The last time they met in Yost (Oct. 31-Nov. 1, 2008), Michigan swept. 7:35 p.m. both nights. UM 3-2, 4-2.
UAF at LSSU. Sixth-place Alaska is two points ahead of Lake Superior, and the Lakers are tied with the Buckeyes for seventh place. LSSU has two games in hand over UAF, making this series even more interesting. What else makes this series interesting? The respective second-halves each team is having. The Nanooks are 3-6-1 in league play since the beginning of January; the Lakers are 3-2-3, grinding it out for every point they can. Last weekend, Alaska dropped two at home to Ferris State, while Lake Superior swept NMU at home and successfully defended the Cappo Cup. Last season, the Nanooks were 3-1-0 against the Lakers, splitting the series in Sault Ste. Marie. This is another hot goalie match-up: UAF’s Scott Greenham (2.02 GAA, .925 SV%), one of the steadiest goaltenders in the country, faces LSSU’s Kevin Kapalka (2.22, .922), this week’s CCHA Goaltender of the Week – but a goalie still seeking consistency. 7:05 p.m. both nights. LSSU 4-3, UAF 3-2.
WMU at Miami. It’s certain that Western Michigan’s head coach Jeff Blashill will get a warm welcome from the crowd in Steve Cady Arena – before the assembled turn all of their thoughts and energies on crushing the Broncos. At the start of the season, even with the turnover in coaching in Kalamazoo, few could have predicted how much this series would matter. The first-place RedHawks are exactly six points ahead of the fourth-place Broncos, and WMU has two games in hand on Miami. WMU also faces Notre Dame and Michigan to end the season, so the pressure on the Broncos’ 13-game unbeaten streak (8-0-5) is enormous. Last weekend, the RedHawks realized their full potential with a two-game sweep of Michigan – including a 3-0 shutout – in the comfort of Steve Cady Arena. The Broncos tied and defeated visiting Bowling Green and now head to a place where they’ve never won; WMU is 0-4-0 in Steve Cady Arena. Miami went 3-0-1 against Western last season and is 7-0-1 against the Broncos in the last three seasons. I don’t know which streak to pick against: WMU’s current unbeaten streak or Miami’s clear domination of the Broncos. I’ll split the difference – and I can’t believe I’m picking against either of these teams. 7:35 p.m. both nights. WMU 4-2, Miami 5-2.
UAH at FSU. Last weekend, the Bulldogs traveled to Fairbanks and captured six points from the Nanooks – no easy thing to do, and it was the first time that FSU swept UAF since the 2002-03 season. And it was the first victory for the Bulldogs in Fairbanks in 10 games. Senior goaltender Pat Nagle needs just one win to move into second place on FSU’s all-time career wins list with 42 victories (which is 15 more wins than current WMU head coach Jeff Blashill had in that position, if you’re keeping track at home). Nagle had 60 saves last weekend against the Nanooks, as FSU won 2-1 and 3-2. The Chargers snapped a five-game losing streak with a gritty, improbable win against Nebraska-Omaha last Saturday to split the road series with the Mavericks. Sebastian Geoffrion had the game-winner in OT and with his 58 saves, Clarke Saunders was USCHO’s first star this week. That win was one of four this season for UAH (4-24-2), the team without a home. Matt Baxter (9-11-2) and Keenan Desmet (8-10-18) lead the Chargers in scoring. FSU is 5-2-0 against UAH all-time, and leads 4-0-0 at home against the Chargers. 7:05 p.m. both nights. FSU 3-2, 4-2.