Before this season began, everyone in college hockey knew that Notre Dame was the league’s top team, that Miami was among the best in the country and that Alaska would reside in the CCHA’s top tier.
After Week 5, we’re beginning to see a slightly different landscape emerge — and a very interesting one at that. Here are three things that struck me from this most recent weekend of play.
As a league, the CCHA is a little defensive. It’s hard to know whether early season statistics can be read as anomalies or realistic patterns beginning to emerge. This one, I think, is more indicative of the truth than not: Nine of the top 20 defenses in the country belong to CCHA teams at this point, fueled by a return to the league’s tradition of formidable goaltending. Four programs — Lake Superior, Michigan, Ohio State and Western Michigan — are tied for sixth in the country, allowing 2.00 goals per game. Two of those teams (LSSU, OSU) were picked in the preseason to be solid bottom-tier teams. As the season progresses, we may see some very good defensive teams losing games because they can’t yet put the whole game together, teams that are better than their records.
Parity is more than just a favorite talking point. This weekend provided the perfect opportunity for several CCHA teams to gain a little ground on league-leading Lake Superior State. Everyone in conference action had games in hand on the Lakers, who played Bemidji State — and no one could get the job done. Western could have surpassed Lake State but split with Michigan. Notre Dame could have tied the Lakers but tied twice with Northern. Michigan could have pulled within one point. The only two teams to gain any real ground are the two that swept; Ferris State jumped from sixth to a close third with a sweep of Bowling Green, and Miami jumped from last to eighth with a sweep of Alaska. For decades, coaches have been preaching the gospel of parity in the CCHA and I’ve been cautioning that equal doesn’t always mean equally good. This season, however, this league may prove to be very good seven or eight teams deep — and the bottom teams will prove to be no one anyone else wants to play come playoff time.
Losing sucks. Don’t take my word for it. Take the word of someone who knows more about playing the game than most of us ever will, WMU coach Andy Murray, whose Broncos suffered their first loss of the season Saturday against Michigan. “These people that say you learn from losing are wrong,” said Murray. “You only learn about the good habits when you win. This one sucks right now, to be honest with you.”