Neil's Notebook: Final Games Critical in CCHA Race
 
 
 
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Feb. 13, 2012

By Neil Koepke, MSUSpartans.com staff writer

You would think that with only four games remaining in the regular season that Michigan State's final resting spot in the CCHA standings would be a bit more clear.

Well, think again. It's even more uncertain than it was two or three weeks ago.'

The Spartans, who have won three of their last four games and are tied for fifth place with Lake Superior State, could finish anywhere from first place to ninth place in the CCHA.

For sure, first place is a long shot. Ninth place is a possibility if the Spartans stop winning.

MSU's motto for the next two weeks should be "Just win, baby."

OK, so maybe they can't win all four games but a 3-1 run over the next two weekends - against Alaska on Friday and Saturday at Munn Arena and at Notre Dame on Feb. 24-25 - could be enough for a fourth or fifth-place and a first-round bye in the CCHA playoffs.

To get home ice in the second round, MSU would have to finish in fourth place or higher. It finishes fourth, it would host the fifth-place teams.

So, here's what the CCHA race looks like heading into the last two weeks of the season:

The Spartans (16-12-4 overall, 11-10-3-2 CCHA), coming off a 3-2 win and 3-2 overtime loss against Michigan, and LSSU share fifth place with 38 points apiece. They're one point behind fourth-place Ohio State, which has only two games left, three in back of third-place Michigan, four away from second-place Western Michigan and nine in back of first-place Ferris State, which is unbeaten in its last 12 games (9-0-3) and coming off a sweep of Notre Dame.

Meanwhile, the Spartans and Lakers are two points ahead of the three teams tied for seventh place - Notre Dame, Miami and Northern Michigan.

Only two spots in the standings are set - Alaska, with only two league games remaining, will finish 10th and Bowling Green is locked into 11th.

Eight of the top nine teams can still finish first, with only Ohio State out of contention because the Buckeyes have only two games left - next weekend in a home-and-home series against Miami.

 

 

The situation should come more into focus after this weekend, but most spots won't be determined until the last game is complete on Feb. 25.

In addition to the MSU-Alaska series, other games this weekend include No. 1 Ferris State playing host to No. 11 Bowling Green; No. 2 Western Michigan at No. 5 LSSU; No. 3 Michigan hosting No. 7 NMU, and the two teams tied for seventh-place, Miami and Notre Dame, meet in a two-game series in Oxford, Ohio.

So, with a sweep, the Spartans would climb five points ahead of idle Ohio State and pull ahead of one of the two teams playing each other - Miami or Notre Dame, and maybe gain ground on LSSU, which should have a difficult time sweeping WMU. And Northern Michigan, two points behind MSU, faces a difficult challenge at Michigan, the CCHA's second-hottest team behind Ferris State.

Here's the CCHA schedule on the final week of the season: MSU at Notre Dame; Ferris State vs. Western Michigan in a home-and-home series; Michigan at BGSU, Ohio State vs. Miami in a home-and-home series, and LSSU at NMU.

For the Spartans to contend for top five finish, a sweep of the Nanooks is almost a must, followed by a least a split at Notre Dame.

Ferris State, which holds a five-point lead on second-place Western Michigan, could clinch the regular-season championship this weekend with a sweep of Bowling Green and the Broncos getting five points or fewer from its series at LSSU. The Bulldogs have finished first in CCHA just one time - 2002-2003.

  • STARTING TIMES ALERT: The Spartans and Alaska open their series at 7 p.m. on Friday at Munn Arena, but Saturday's game starts at 8 p.m. As part of the state-wide "Hockey Day in Michigan,'' Fox Sports Detroit is carrying a college doubleheader - NMU at Michigan at 5 p.m. and Alaska at MSU at 8.

    Saturday is Senior Night at MSU and thre Spartan hockey program is asking all ticketholders to please consider being in their seats for the senior night ceremonies, which will begin about 7:45 p.m. Nine seniors will be introduced and take the traditional senior skate. The seniors include goalie Drew Palmisano, defensemen A.J. Sturges, Brock Shelgren, Matt Crandell and Tim Buttery and forwards Trevor Nill, Mike Merrifield, Brett Perlini and Daultan Leveille.

    On the final weekend of the season, MSU and Notre Dame will start their series at 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 24 and play at 7:30 p.m. in the season finale on Feb. 25. The first game will be televised by CBS College Sports and the second contest is set for Comcast Ch. 900.

  • DOUBLE DIGITS IN GOALS: Before the Michigan series, Michigan State had one player with 10 goals or more - Mike Merrifield, who had 11.

    With defenseman Torey Krug scoring two goals and freshman right wing Matt Berry adding one on Friday, and sophomore right wing Greg Wolfe scoring once on Saturday, the Spartans now have four double-digest goal scorers. Krug, Berry and Wolfe have 10 goals.

    Forwards Lee Reimer, Kevin Walrod and Brett Perlini are zeroing in on the 10-goal mark. The have eight goals apiece.

    Last season, MSU had three players with 10 goals or more - Perlini with 18 and Krug and Dustin Gazley with 11 apiece.

  • SPECIAL TEAMS THRIVING: Michigan State's penalty killing continues to thrive and its power play has suddenly come alive over the last two weekends against Ohio State and Michigan.

    The Spartans gave the Wolverines only four power plays - three on Friday in the 3-2 win at Munn Arena and only one on Saturday in the 3-2 overtime loss at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit - and didn't give up a goal.

    In the sweep of Ohio State, Feb. 3-4, MSU didn't give up a goal in 14 power-play opportunities.

    The power play was a factor in Columbus, going 1-for-3 and 2-for-6 in a sweep of the Buckeyes and it made a difference vs. the Wolverines. MSU went 2-for-6 on Friday and 1-for-2 on Saturday.

    The Spartans' have skated off 89.4 percent (110-123) of their opponents' power plays. That ranks tied for second nationally with Quinnipiac of the ECAC. Robert Morris of Atlantic Hockey continues to be No. 1 at 93 percent (120-of-129).

  • OVERTIME IS NO FUN: It's been more than four months since MSU went into overtime and came out a winner. That was in the second game of the season on Oct. 8 in the Ice Breaker Tournament in Grand Forks, N.D.

    The Spartans' Lee Reimer scored at 54 seconds of the extra period to give his team a 3-2 victory over Air Force - the first win of the Tom Anastos Era of Spartan hockey.

    Since then, MSU is 0-3-4 in overtimes and 1-3-4 on the season.

    The Spartans have lost a pair of 3-2 games to Michigan in OT and fell 2-1 to Miami. MSU has come out of the extra five-minute period with four ties - Minnesota, Michigan, Northern Michigan and Lake Superior State. In the CCHA ties, the Spartans topped Michigan and NMU and lost to LSSU in shootouts.