The Grand Finale
Final CCHA Regular Season Weekend Ever Holds Intrigue
by Avash Kalra/Senior Writer
In less than a month, Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena will host the CCHA’s final championship weekend, concluding the conference’s 42nd and final season before all its teams disperse to various conferences (Big Ten, WCHA, NCHC, Hockey East) next season.
As the playoffs loom, all 11 teams have something to play for this weekend, the final weekend of the regular season. The top five teams in the CCHA standings will receive first round playoff-byes, while seeds 6-8 will host seeds 9-11 in best-of- three first-round series. And as we head into the final weekend, playoff positioning and scoring titles are among the storylines to watch. Here’s a closer team-by-team look, first at the various possibilities for teams jockeying for playoff position. Of note, the tiebreaking system in the CCHA is as follows: (1) conference wins, (2) head-to-head winning percentage, (3) head-to-head goals scored, (4) winning percentage against remaining teams in the league, (5) coin flip.
1. Miami, amidst its eighth consecutive 20-win season, sits in first place in the CCHA and third place in the Pairwise. While NCAA playoff positioning is another story, the RedHawks don’t have to do much to ensure a regular season title and the No. 1 overall seed for the CCHA tournament. Miami will win the regular season title this weekend if it earns one point out of a possible six in a home series against Ohio State. If Miami only earns one point while Western Michigan sweeps Michigan State, both the RedHawks and Broncos finish with 57 points – but Miami wins the tiebreaker after outscoring Western Michigan 4-2 during their head-to-head matchups this season.
2. Western Michigan sits in second and can finish first if it sweeps Michigan State this weekend AND if Ohio State sweeps Miami. The Broncos, who have one more point than third-place Notre Dame, can finish as low as third if the Irish have a better weekend against Bowling Green than the Broncos do against the Spartans. If Western Michigan and Notre Dame finish tied in the standings, Notre Dame will win the first tiebreaker (more conference wins).
3. Notre Dame can finish anywhere between first and third, but winning the regular season title will be a tall order. There’s only one scenario in which that would occur: Notre Dame sweeps Bowling Green, Ohio State sweeps Miami, and Western Michigan doesn’t sweep Michigan State. In that scenario, Notre Dame and Miami would finish tied for first, with the Irish winning the tiebreaker (more conference wins). Incidentally, one storyline to watch heading into the playoffs is whether the Irish can play better in the second period of its games. Only Michigan has allowed more goals in any given period than Notre Dame has allowed in the second period alone (30), an alarming statistic given that the Irish have only allowed 13 goals in the first period all year – with no team in the league having a stingier period in terms of goals-allowed.
4-5. Ferris State and Ohio State will finish fourth/fifth in some order. Right now, the teams are tied with 42 points. If they remain tied this weekend – as Ferris State plays at Michigan while Ohio State visits Miami – Ferris State wins the tiebreaker (more conference wins).
6. Alaska, idle this weekend in CCHA play as the Nanooks play the WCHA’s Alaska-Anchorage, will likely finish the regular season as the No. 6 seed. The only way the Nanooks fall to No. 7 is if Bowling Green sweeps Notre Dame on the road. In that scenario, the Falcons and Nanooks would both finish with a 12-3-3 CCHA record. The second tiebreaker comes into effect, since Bowling Green was 1-0-1 against Alaska this season.
7-10. Right now, spots 7-10 are occupied by Bowling Green, Lake Superior, Michigan, and Northern Michigan. Those four teams are separated by just five points, and its within this section of the standings that the intrigue lies heading into the final weekend, with the No. 7 and No. 8 spots set to host playoff series against the No. 10 and No. 9 spots, respectively. Bowling Green, led by leading scorer Ryan Carpenter, can finish anywhere from 6-9, while Lake Superior, Northern Michigan, and Michigan can all finish anywhere from 7-11. There are too many possibilities to outline, but it boils down to this: Bowling Green and Lake Superior – currently on pace to host first round series – have the most to lose, while Michigan and Northern Michigan have the most to gain. The series to watch is Northern Michigan hosting Lake Superior – the second weekend series of the season for these two teams, following the Lakers’ sweep of the Wildcats earlier in the year.
If Northern Michigan earns five points in the series, that would catapult the Wildcats from the No. 10 spot to the No. 8 spot, and they would host a playoff series as long as Michigan doesn’t win twice this weekend. The Wildcats and Lakers are two of the top three most-penalized teams in CCHA play this season, so the key to the weekend may rest on who stays out of the penalty box.
Michigan, meanwhile, despite a 6-2 record in February that should be worrying most teams in the CCHA, could finish at No. 11 if it gets swept AND Michigan State sweeps Western Michigan AND Northern Michigan earns at least two points against Lake Superior. Needless to say, avoiding the No. 11 seed is important this season, as the lowest seed in the tournament is likely destined to travel to Alaska for a first round series.
11. Michigan State is the current cellar-dweller in what has been a disappointing season in East Lansing – and therefore on pace to travel to Alaska for the first round. The best the Spartans can hope for is 10th place, so they’ll play on the road in the first round no matter what. The Spartans host Western Michigan this weekend.
The Ohio State/Miami series holds not only implications for playoff seeding, but the CCHA point-scoring champion will be determined in this all-Ohio series as well. Currently, Ohio State sophomore forward Tanner Fritz has 30 points in league play thanks to nine points in his last three games, outpacing Miami’s Riley Barber (28) and Austin Czarnik (25), as well as teammate Ryan Dzingel (27).
The CCHA goal-scoring race is even tighter, with Ferris State’s Kyle Bonis and Lake Superior’s Domenic Monardo tied with 14 goals in league play this season. Trailing that duo are Notre Dame’s Anders Lee (13), Bowling Green’s Ryan Carpenter (12), and Alaska’s Andy Taranto (12) – though Taranto can’t win this title, since the Nanooks have completed their 28-game CCHA schedule already. Barber and Notre Dame’s Bryan Rust (both with 11) have an outside chance at catching Bonis and Monardo.
Finally, Michigan’s Jacob Trouba, the highest college player drafted by the NHL last summer, enters the final weekend leading all defensemen in point scoring, with 18. Trailing Trouba are Bowling Green’s Robert Shea, who has 17 points, and a trio of blueliners stuck at 16 – Western Michigan’s Kenney Morrison, Miami’s Matthew Caito, and Ferris State’s Jason Binkley.
While the scoring titles are up for grabs, Miami’s outstanding freshman goaltender Ryan McKay has already wrapped up the league’s top marks for goaltending categories. No matter what happens this weekend, McKay – currently with a 1.19 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in league play – will end the regular season as the CCHA’s top goaltender in winning percentage, goals-against, and save percentage. Similarly, classmate Riley Barber, with 28 points as a rookie, will likely finish the regular season as the league’s top freshman scorer, since the next closest rookie is Michigan’s Cristoval Nieves, who has 22 points.