Hockey: Playoff scenarios uncertain
Sam Werner | Wednesday, January 30, 2008
After an exhibition matchup this weekend against the U.S. Under-18 National Team, the Irish will have only eight games left to solidify their CCHA playoff position. All 12 teams in the conference make the CCHA tournament. The top four teams in the conference get a first-round bye, and the teams are reseeded after each round. Here’s a look at each team, along with its prospects for the CCHA tournament.
Miami (Ohio), 34 pts.
The RedHawks (17-3-0 CCHA) regained the national No. 1 ranking, as well as first place in the CCHA this weekend, beating Alaska twice and receiving help from previous No. 1 Michigan, who failed to defeat Michigan State last weekend.
Miami has won seven straight, outscoring opponents 35-9 over that span. Junior goaltender Jeff Zatkoff has played himself into Hobey Baker contention, leading the CCHA with a 1.50 goals against average and a .937 save percentage.
Though Miami currently has a three-point lead on Michigan, it has played two more games than the Wolverines. The RedHawks are idle until they face off for two games at home against Michigan on Feb. 8 and 9, a series that will be critical in CCHA playoff positioning.
Michigan, 31 pts.
After a 10-game winning streak culminating in a two-game sweep of Notre Dame on Jan. 18 and 19, Michigan (15-2-1 CCHA) looked to have a clear path to a CCHA title, but a loss and tie against Michigan State this weekend may cause some concern for the Maize and Blue.
Seniors Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik make up the highest scoring duo in the country, combing for 72 total points on the season, while netminder Billy Sauer has posted a 1.68 GAA.
While Michigan is still the favorite to win the CCHA, it has by far the toughest remaining schedule of any contender, with two games at Miami and a road/neutral series against the Spartans on Feb. 22 and 23.
Michigan State, 29 pts.
The Spartans (13-2-3) went a long way toward helping their CCHA title hopes with four points against Michigan this weekend. Michigan State must continue to rely on its blistering power play, which has scored on 26.9 percent of its chances in CCHA play so far this season – over three percent more than any other team in the CCHA. Junior Tim Kennedy has netted 13 goals overall, seven of them coming with the man advantage.
Because the Spartans have two games at hand on the leading RedHawks, a good result this weekend against Nebraska-Omaha could propel them into second place in the CCHA. The late-season rematch against the rival Wolverines looms in the future and will certainly have a large effect on both team’s title hopes.
Notre Dame, 27 pts.
The Irish (13-6-1) rebounded from a 2-5-1 Christmas break slump with 6-1 and 4-1 wins over Bowling Green this weekend and seem almost assured of a top-four seed because of their easy remaining schedule.
To avoid any upsets, though, Notre Dame must add life to a power play that has scored on only 14.2 percent of its chances in CCHA play this season, 10th in the conference.
But with the top three teams playing each other a total of six times, somebody ahead of Notre Dame is bound to drop points, and with a little bit of luck, the Irish can slide into the top spot.
Nebraska-Omaha, 19 pts.
With Notre Dame seemingly back on track, the Mavericks’ (8-9-3) hopes of gaining a top-four seed and first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs took a serious hit.
UNO must now hope to hold on to a tenuous one-point lead over Bowling Green, with the Falcons having played two fewer games. A Feb. 15 and 16 matchup between the two teams will likely determine the No. 5 seed in the conference tournament.
Bowling Green, 18 pts.
The Falcons (9-9-0) hope to rebound from two losses to Notre Dame in their next four games against bottom-dwellers Alaska and Ohio State. Bowling Green still has a shot at a top-four seed; a sweep this weekend would bring the Falcons within five points of the Irish. The Falcons still need help, though, to get a first-round bye.
Ferris State, 16 pts.
With two games at hand against current fifth-place UNO, the Bulldogs (7-9-2) still have a strong chance to move up in the standings. It would take their best hockey of the season, though, with two games each against Notre Dame, Michigan and Miami.
Northern Michigan, 14 pts.
The Wildcats (7-11-0) will have to rebound from losing four of their last five if they want to improve their playoff positioning, but it will be no easy task with two games each against Michigan and Michigan State.
Alaska, 13 pts.
Given Northern Michigan’s difficult schedule, the Nanooks (5-12-3) have a definite chance to improve their standing for the playoffs. A Feb. 15 and 16 trip to Notre Dame is the only overly difficult game remaining on their schedule.
Ohio State, 9 pts.
Lake Superior State, 7 pts.
Western Michigan, 7 pts.
Recent poor play, combined with difficult remaining schedules, give little hope to the Buckeyes (4-13-1), Lakers (2-13-3) and Broncos (3-14-1). Though anything can happen in the remaining games, first-round playoff exits appear likely.