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Hockey: Irish atop CCHA standings

Allan Joseph | Thursday, January 20, 2011

With only 10 conference matchups remaining, No. 8 Notre Dame finds itself atop the CCHA, clear of No. 6 Michigan by a single point. With an upcoming road trip to Ohio State and a crucial two-game series with No. 12 Miami (Ohio) looming after that, the Irish (15-8-3/12-5-1-1 CCHA) are locked in the heat of a tight homestretch battle for the league crown.

“You can’t have a weekend where you just don’t get points,” Irish coach Jeff Jackson said. “You have to try to survive the road weekends.”

Notre Dame also hosts Bowling Green and travels to Ferris State before closing the season with a home-and-home series against No. 17 Western Michigan. Jackson has been impressed by how tight each of the league games have been.

Below is a look at the three teams chasing the Irish in the CCHA race. Notre Dame currently has 38 points.

No. 6 Michigan (15-6-4/12-4-1-0 CCHA), 37 points.

The Wolverines find themselves just one point shy of the CCHA lead but face a daunting schedule that will force them to fight to keep pace with the Irish. Notably, Michigan faces rival Michigan State in Detroit, Mich. before traveling to Miami and hosting Ohio State and Western Michigan. The Wolverines are led by sophomore defenseman Lee Moffie, a two-way player who anchors a stout defense and pushes forward in the transition game to help create break-away opportunities.

No. 12 Miami of Ohio (13-8-3/10-6-2-1 CCHA), 33 points.

Despite sitting five points behind Notre Dame, the traditional RedHawk powerhouse is in firm control of its destiny, with six consecutive games against the three ranked CCHA teams ahead after traveling to Michigan State. If the RedHawks can find a way to sweep the Irish and Wolverines, Miami will earn the league title, barring any slip-ups against Western Michigan or Lake Superior. The RedHawks split an earlier series at home with the Irish and have yet to face Michigan this year, whom they will face in the friendly confines of Goggin Ice Arena.

Ferris State (11-10-4/8-8-3-2 CCHA), 29 points.

Though the Bulldogs fall outside the league’s clearly

established top-three teams, their upcoming schedule gives them an opportunity to quickly ascend the rankings if the league leaders beat up on each other during the tail end of the conference slate. Ferris State’s toughest remaining games will be when they host the Irish in mid-February. If the Bulldogs can pull off an upset or two and avoid tripping up on a road trip to Northern Michigan, Alaska or Ohio State, they may find themselves near the top of the league standings with just a little bit of help.

Even though Western Michigan is ranked in the top-25 in the country, they currently sit sixth in the conference behind Alaska with only 26 points. The Broncos (12-6-6/6-5-5-3 CCHA) have been hurt by a mediocre conference performance and will almost certainly not be in the running for the league title. Ohio State, Northern Michigan, Lake Superior, Michigan State and Bowling Green round out the rest of the league and will not threaten the Irish or any of the other teams contending for the CCHA crown.

One thing is sure, however — the final weeks of the season promise to be competitive and pressure-filled, a test for which the freshman-laden Irish squad will have to prepare.

“You could have any one of eight teams, nine teams, potentially finish in the top four or five in the standings,” Jackson said. “It’s that close, and I think it’ll be that close right to the final game.”

The Irish continue their quest for a conference title this weekend with a two-game series at Ohio State.