CCHA Quarterfinal Preview
by Courtney Lewis/CHN Reporter
None of the teams that made it through the CCHA’s first round were tested too much last week. All four series were two-game sweeps, and seven of the eight games were decided by more than two goals. Things are likely to get a lot tougher for those four teams this week, when they match up with the top four seeds in the conference. The winners of the second-round best-of-3 series will vie for the championship at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
No. 7 Michigan at No. 2 Michigan State
Michigan State coach Rick Comley doesn’t like first-round byes and said he might we concerned about his team coming off of one if not for one thing — the Spartans face the Wolverines.
“I think the fact that it’s Michigan, the edge will be created because of the two teams playing each other,” Comley said.
“It’s a nice week for a coach in the sense that you know they’re going to be ready to go mentally. So now it’s just touching base on things.”
The last postseason clash between the two rivals was in the semifinals in 2006, and they haven’t played a 2-of-3 series since 1987.
Michigan needs to win the series — and the championship — to prolong its season, and Comley said he thinks winning this series would be enough to get the Spartans into the NCAA tournament.
The Spartans haven’t had two wins in a single weekend since the first semester. They went 2-2-2 in February and ended the regular season with a win and a tie against Bowling Green.
Corey Tropp leads the CCHA with 20 goals and is second in points with 42. The resurgent Spartans have relied on a lot of their younger players this season, including sophomore Drew Palmisano in net.
Michigan got here via 5-2 and 6-0 wins over Lake Superior. Backup goalie Shawn Hunwick, pushed into the starting role because of an injury suffered by Bryan Hogan, improved his career record to 3-1 and made 28 saves in Saturday’s shutout.
“I thought he played very well,” Comley said, noting that he watched video of Michigan’s first-round series. “He’s reacted I think in a very positive way, and I think they’ve played very well in front of him.”
Leading scorers Carl Hagelin and Louie Caporusso combined for seven points last weekend.
In their most recent meeting, at the Joe, the Wolverines took a 3-0 lead over the Spartans, saw that turn into a 4-3 deficit, and then scored twice in the last five minutes to win it 5-4. But Michigan State won the night before and swept a weekend series in November.
No. 5 Alaska at No. 4 Northern Michigan
The Wildcats, who wrapped up the regular season with a sweep of Lake Superior, lost just once in their final 10 games.
They started that stretch with a 2-2 tie and a 3-2 win against Alaska at the end of January. The weekend series in Fairbanks in November was even closer — a 3-3 tie followed by a 4-4 draw. The Nanooks won shootouts after the first two ties, while the Wildcats got the shootout victory Jan. 29.
With 46 points, Mark Olver is 13 ahead of his nearest Northern Michigan teammate — and four clear of anyone else in the conference. Goalie Brian Stewart has a 2.39 GAA and a .926 save percentage
Alaska beat Western Michigan 4-0 and 4-1 last week to extend its unbeaten streak to 10 games. The 8-0-2 stretch, which started Feb. 5, is the longest current unbeaten streak in the country.
Freshman Andy Taranto (41 points) and senior Dion Knelsen (40) are the team’s scoring leaders. They had two points each last weekend.
Northern is looking to reach the semifinals for the third straight year, while Alaska is trying to get their for the second consecutive season.
No. 6 Nebraska-Omaha at No. 3 Ferris State
These teams will face off in the playoffs for the second straight year. Last season, the Mavericks won their first-round series in two games.
A year later, both teams have changed.
The Bulldogs won just 12 games last season but turned things around early this season. After a red-hot first half, they hit some speed bumps in the second semester. They won just twice in their last 10 games.
Ferris State skated to a pair of ties with Western Michigan before enjoying a bye last week.
In Dean Blais’ first year at the helm, Nebraska-Omaha started the season with an unbeaten month and finished pretty well, too. Its strong February showing included splits with Miami and Bemidji State.
Nebraska-Omaha beat Bowling Green 6-1 both nights last week to reach the quarterfinals. Eddie Del Grosso, Jeric Agosta and John Kemp had three points apiece in Saturday’s game.
The Bulldogs prevailed against the Mavericks 2-0 and 3-1 in December.
No. 8 Ohio State at No. 1 Miami
The RedHawks have lost just five games all season, the most recent on Feb. 20 against Nebraska-Omaha. They were unbeaten in the 11 games before that setback and followed it with a 6-2 home win over Ohio State and a 0-0 tie in Columbus.
That scoreless game was uncharacteristic for Miami, which tallied a combined 39 goals in its other seven games in February and had not been shut out all season.
Sophomore goalies Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp shared the netminding duties against the Buckeyes two weeks ago, as they have much of the season. They’re first and second, respectively, in the CCHA in GAA, and Reichard is tops in save percentage.
Ohio State has also used two goaltenders this season, but coach John Markell went with junior Dustin Carlson in both games last week. Notre Dame fired 84 shots at Carlson over two contests but beat him just three times.
The Buckeyes earned 3-1 and 8-2 wins against the Irish. Mathieu Picard netted two goals in the first game, while Hunter Bishop powered the offense Saturday with a hat trick and two assists.
Ohio State recorded consecutive regulation wins for the first time since January.
The Buckeyes picked up a shootout win in the 0-0 season finale against Miami. The RedHawks swept Ohio State 6-0 and 4-2 in December.
"We hadn't beaten them yet this year, so that last game of the regular season, it definitely reminds us that they are beatable on certain terms," OSU forward Hunter Bishop said. "So we just need to focus on what we did right on that night to get the win, and we'll be looking to execute the same plan this weekend."
"It's in Miami, everyone knows what their fans are like, so taking their fans out of the game early is going to be one of our main focus points. But they're a highly offensive team, and they're dangerous when they get on the power play, so to minimize our penalties and pay attention to our defensive zone is going to be critical."