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Neil's Notebook: Competitive CCHA is Tight in Standings

Jan. 16, 2012

By Neil Koepke, staff writer

Things are so competitive and tight in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association these days, it's tough to move up the standings even when you win and tie and earn an extra point with a shootout win.

Michigan State started the weekend in eighth place and despite earning five of six points against Northern Michigan with a 5--5 tie and shootout win on Friday and a 2-1 victory on Saturday, the Spartans came out of the weekend still in eighth place.

However, only four separate third-place Michigan, with 29 points, and the Spartans, who have 25. The Spartans are three points behind behind Lake Superior State (28), two in back of Notre Dame and Miami and trail Ferris State by one point.

MSU (12-9-3, 7-7-2-2 CCHA) has two games in hand on U-M, LSSU, and Miami. With 12 games remaining, the Spartans still have a good chance of finishing in the top four and earning a first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs and hosting a second-round series. A fifth-place finish means a first-round bye but a road series at the fourth-place team in the second round.

Ohio State, despite getting swept by Michigan, 4-0 on Friday and 4-1 on Sunday in the Frozen Diamond Faceoff in Cleveland, remains in first place with 34 points. Western Michigan stunned Notre Dame twice and climbed into sole possession of second place with 33 points and has two games in hand on the Buckeyes.

MSU did gain some ground on the weekend. It picked up two points on Lake Superior State and Miami and one point on Ferris State. The Lakers and Miami split a series in Sault Ste. Marie while the Bulldogs tied (losing the shootout) and defeated Alaska to come away with four of a possible six points.

Just to make things interesting, MSU plays LSSU and FSU in its next two series.

The Lakers play the Spartans at 7 p.m. this Friday and Saturday at Munn Arena, capping a six-game home stretch. MSU takes to the road for two straight series - at Ferris State, Jan. 27-28, and at Ohio State, Feb. 3-4.



The Spartans were feeling good about Saturday's down-to-the-wire 2-1 victory over NMU, but were still disappointed in not getting a sweep.

"We have to be more hungry. We had a great opportunity to get six points and unfortunately we couldn't pull through,'' MSU junior defenseman and captain Torey Krug said. "But that was my fault. It's in the past.''

Coach Tom Anastos felt pretty much the same way.

"Walking across the ice on the way up here (to the postgame press conference), I was thinking `we were 30 seconds away (from getting a sweep)','' said Anastos, referring to his team losing a 5-4 lead with 26 seconds left in the third period in the series opener on Friday. "But we look ahead.''

LAKERS UP NEXT: For the third straight weekend, the Spartans will play a team that's big, strong and likes to play physical and boasts a top-level goaltender - just like Miami and Northern Michigan from the past two weeks.

The Lakers (13-10-3, 8-8-2-2 CCHA) got off to a great start and other than a three-game losing streak in December, they've been fairly consistent all season.

LSSU swept MSU, 5-4 and 3-2, in Sault St. Marie in mid-October.

This month, the Lakers lost and tied (winning the shootout) at Michigan two weeks ago and split with Miami last weekend, losing 2-1 and winning 4-3.

After watching MSU take aim at Miami's Connor Knapp (6-foot-6) and NMU's Jared Coreau (6-5), Spartans fans will get to see another challenging matchup - MSU trying to solve LSSU sophomore goalie Kevin Kapalka. who has a 2.49 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.

LSSU has the third-best power play in the CCHA overall games (19.6 percent) and is tied with MSU and NMU for the top penalty killing at 91 percent. In fact, the Spartans and Lakers have the same number - 81 successful kills in 91 opportunities.

STATS UPDATE: Sophomore center Lee Reimer continues to lead the Spartans in scoring with eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points. Linemate Greg Wolfe is second with seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points.

Senior Mike Merrifield has taken over the team lead in goals with nine, one more than Reimer. After missing four games with an upper-body injury, Merrifield played both NMU games and scored a goal in Friday's 5-5 tie.

Sophomore goaltender Will Yanakeff boosted his record to 7-4-0 with Saturday's narrow win over NMU. Senior Drew Palmisano has a 5-5-3 record. Both goalies have similar stats - Yanakeff has a 2.47 goals-against average while Palmisano's is 2.68. Both goalies have save percentages of .919.

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