DETROIT In order for Michigan to win its sixth CCHA regular season title, it will have to overcome its own inexperience, along with a conference packed full of teams that believe this is their year to break into the elite.
“Every time we were down below, we always thought we could beat the teams up top,” said Ohio State coach John Markell, whose Buckeyes were picked to finish fourth by the media. “If they have a bad night, it”s usually a one-goal game. If you catch them on the right night, you”re going to beat them. It”s a hard league to stay at the top of.”
“I don”t think there is a weak team in the conference,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “It”s a tough league there are no easy games. It”s harder now because everyone knows Michigan is back with the pack.”
Last season, the Wolverines were plagued by inconsistency in conference play, leaving them third in the final regular season standings. With the youth of this year”s team, the road back to the top will be tough for Michigan.
“We lost some games last year that we shouldn”t have lost games we were in, games that were winnable,” Berenson said. “You have to be on your game. You also have to stay healthy. I can”t tell you we”re going to stay on top of the CCHA. My goal is that we start off strong, and even finish stronger.”
Spartans anointed: Michigan State, last season”s CCHA regular season and tournament champion, is predicted to repeat that feat again this season with Hobey Baker Award winning goaltender Ryan Miller returning for his junior season. The Spartans also return seven defensemen from a hard-nosed group that assisted Miller in shutting out the Wolverines twice last season.
Time for reflection: The beginning of a new season is normally characterized by immense anticipation and excitement. Yesterday, at CCHA Media Day, the atmosphere took on a more somber tone.
Monday, college hockey lost one of its legendary coaches, Shawn Walsh of the University of Maine, to cancer. Walsh”s hockey roots go back to the CCHA, where he played at Bowling Green and coached on Ron Mason”s staff at Michigan State.
Combined with the recent tragedies that have hit the United States, Walsh”s passing brought about a time of reflection for many CCHA coaches.
“I”ve had a lot of time to reflect about what has gone on,” said Western Michigan coach Jim Culhane, whose team is scheduled to face Maine in October. “My heart goes out to Shawn and his family, and the rest of our country.”
“It”s very sobering to be struck as we”ve been struck,” Northern Michigan coach Rick Comley said. “It reinforces to me how lucky I am.”
Open house: The CCHA traditionally features an ten team playoff, with four first-round, best-of-three series. This season, all 12 teams will receive a playoff berth, which means six teams will host first-round series.
“I understand why we”re doing it, and it will definitely help some programs, and hopefully it will be good for our league,” Berenson said. “But I”ve never been in favor of everyone making the playoffs. If we”re going to play the season, I”d rather teams get eliminated.”