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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.”

  • 81GRRBRONCO

    Great Article Paula. 

    WMU Fans for many years had to watch a team led by coaches that didn’t have Murrary’s attitude, and the WMU Administration didn’t care.  It’s great to see that change with Blashill and now Murray.

    Instead of being “thrilled” they got the Yost monkey off their back this weekend, the guys were “sick to their stomach” they didn’t win Saturday Nite.

    Great Series against two strong teams.   

    • Paula Weston

      Thanks, 81GRRBRONCO.  You’re right about the Broncos — no satisfaction from the split in Yost. 

    • Anonymous

      I couldn’t agree more.  I’ve been following Bronco hockey since my freshman year at WMU back in 1997 and this group has more character than all of the other teams that I’ve watched combined.  

      • streaker

        Kudos to the Broncos. Quality team, good coaching, credit to the CCHA. Enjoy the ride. Nice to see so many CCHA teams emerging from the ashes. 

  • I think the parity comes from the ability in each CCHA team to find the right balance in offense and defense every weekend. Some home advantages but it’s plain to see like in the ND vs NMU and WMU vs UM  matchup that standings mean less.  It will interesting to see how much injuries and hot goaltending will play a factor come March.

    • Paula Weston

      Neil, I agree and will add one more factor into that: sustained scoring. There are several hot hands early this season and teams finding the net — and certainly some of them are genuine while others may prove to be mere mortals — but the  sustained scoring against league-wide excellent defense will factor into it, too.  We’ll probably be seeing a regular-season title come down to the last weekend and more than a couple of coaches thinking, “If only we’d scored that one more goal against [fill in the blank] in January.” 

      And regarding the scoring, if we see certain teams continue to grip the stick too tightly when they are unable to score, frustration will take them out of games and out of the hunt completely.  

      It’s an interesting season.

  • Paul

    Since WMU has no more regular season games this year against U. of Michigan and both of the regular season games last year were in Ann Arbor, I expect both U. of M. games will be in Kalamazoo next year, unless we get 4 games with them.  After that we’ll be in different conferences, where I expect all games with the B1G schools will be home and away weekends.

    So, I think this past weekend was our last opportunity for possibly decades to win a sweep at Yost Arena.

    Lawson Arena will be packed this weekend for Michigan State.  Will you visit us Paula?

  • Anonymous

    When Michigan gets a shoot out win against NMU you call it a win, when NMU gets two shoot out wins against ND you call them ties, just saying.

  • Mark W.

    Yes, there is a lot of parity in college hockey these days.  If you look around at any college hockey team roster nearly all current college hockey players come out of the same feeder systems: OJHL, SJHL USHL EJHL, NAHL, CJHL, CCHL, ECHL and others–you get the picture.  Many of these college players have played against each other since they were in Bantam and Midget leagues and then Juniors.  They all have nearly the same skill levels (some are just a little better than others), which they bring to D-1 college hockey.  That’s why we see such good competition and close games from top to bottom much of the time.  I went to NMU back in the beginning of their hockey program in the late 70s.  What’s nice about NMU is, though they’re not always the best, they’re nearly always competitive.  That’s why they can hang with ND and UoM as they did recently.  And whereas NMU used to beat WMU more often than not, now WMU has turned they’re program around and risen to the top–that’s good to see.  I think this speaks to the development in the Junior hockey leagues, good recruiting, and good coaching at the college level, which all makes for much more parity throughout the CCHA and D-1 hockey in general. 

  • Anonymous

    I couldn’t agree anymore with 81GRRBRONCO.  I’ve been a die-hard Bronco hockey supporter since my freshman year at WMU back in 1997 and this group has more character than any of the other teams that I’ve followed combined.  

    On a side note, I just want to say that I’ve enjoyed the back-and-forth discussion with all of the Wolverine supporters on here this past week.  We have our differences, but (and this goes for all of the other fans on here, too) the comments on these blogs prove that we all have respect for the other programs in the league and that we are all knowledgeable about the game as we’re able to make valid, hockey-based arguments.  If anyone doesn’t believe me, just go to the comments section on any WCHA blog and read that hateful words that are thrown around (especially by the Minnesota and North Dakota followers).  Keep up the great work everyone and stay classy CCHA!