The powers that be…
No. 1 Michigan
19-5-4 CCHA, 24-10-5 overall (1st place)
USCHO poll: 9 Pairwise Ranking: 10
Key wins: Alaska-Fairbanks (3), Nebraska-Omaha (3) and Western Michigan (3)
Bad losses: Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota, Bowling Green and Lake Superior
Why the Wolverines can win: Two words: Mike Cammalleri. The junior forward recovered from mono to score 6-4-10 in his first five games back on the ice. He has shown the ability to take a game over countless times this season. In Michigan’s last two games against Michigan State, Cammalleri was unable to play. In those games – a 1-1 tie and a 3-1 loss – Michigan needed the spark of a proven playmaker who has the confidence to break the Spartans’ Hobey-Baker Award winning goalie Ryan Miller. Cammalleri scores a lot of points with his individual ability, but also makes every player on the ice much more explosive when he is out there with them.
No. 2 Michigan State
18-6-4 CCHA, 26-7-5 overall (2nd place)
USCHO poll: 5 Pairwise Ranking: 5
Key wins: Alaska-Fairbanks, at Northern Michigan (2), Western Michigan and Michigan
Bad losses: North Dakota, Notre Dame and Ferris State
Why the Spartans can win: Michigan State has owned Michigan, and the rest of the CCHA for that matter. It’s no secret. The Wolverines have not won in six games against their arch-rival, and if goalie Ryan Miller has anything to say about it, the streak will continue. Traditionally a defensive minded team, the Spartans have been much more explosive offensively this season. Freshman Jim Slater has added a creative dimension to coach Ron Mason’s team, and the emergence of defenseman John-Michael Liles, who leads the team in scoring, has strengthened the Spartans’ powerplay. The key to beating Michigan State will be scoring on Miller early to break his seemingly unbreakable confidence.
Moving on up…
No. 3 Northern Michigan
16-10-2 CCHA, 25-11-2 overall (3rd place)
USCHO poll: 11 Pairwise Ranking: 12
Key wins: Michigan (2), Alaska-Fairbanks (2), Cornell and Maine
Bad losses: Ohio State (2), Michigan Tech, Bowling Green and Notre Dame (2)
Why the Wildcats can win:
Northern Michigan introduced itself to the world of college hockey on the weekend of Oct. 26-27, when it swept Michigan at Yost Ice Arena. Goaltender Craig Kowalski has four shutouts this season and can take over a game all by himself. The Wildcats went through a tough stretch in the middle of their season, but recovered in the last month, putting themselves in position for a NCAA Tournament bid. Senior center Chad Theuer (16-37-53) is their most explosive offensive player, but he will need to have a big weekend to lead his team to the championship.
No. 4. Alaska-Fairbanks
15-10-3 CCHA, 22-11-3 overall (4th place)
USCHO poll: 12 Pairwise Ranking: 11
Key wins: Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska-Omaha (3 and Western Michigan (2)
Bad losses: Lake Superior, Ferris State (2) and Alaska-Anchorage
Why the Nanooks can win:
When Alaska-Fairbanks’ coach Guy Gadowsky stormed out of the CCHA’s Media Day in Detroit because of his team’s predicted last-place finish, it was obvious that his Nanooks would have something to prove. The Nanooks are led by a balanced offensive attack that features nine players with 20 or more points. Gadowsky has been playing two goaltenders (junior Lance Mayes and sophomore Preston McKay) off and on this season. Alaska-Fairbanks swept Ohio State, which it will play today to advance to the semifinals.
Living on a prayer…
No. 7 Ohio State
12-12-4 CCHA, 19-15-4 overall (T-7th place)
USCHO poll: 15 Pairwise Ranking: 18
Key wins: Nebraska-Omaha, Northern Michigan (2), Cornell and Western Michigan (4)
Bad losses: Bowling Green, Miami (2), Ferris State (2) and Yale
Why the Buckeyes can win:
Coach John Markell’s team entered this season with high expectations and was supposed to be a contender for the CCHA title. Things haven’t gone as planned, as the Buckeyes couldn’t get their record above .500. But Ohio State does have the talent to compete with the league’s best. Super sophomores R.J. Umberger, Dave Steckel, Paul Caponigri and Daymen Bencharski each have more than 20 points for the season. Goaltender Mike Betz has been a consistent backstop all season, giving up 2.56 goals per game.
No. 8 Notre Dame
12-12-4 CCHA, 16-16-5 overall (T-7th place)
USCHO poll: N/A Pairwise Ranking: 22
Key wins: Northern Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska-Omaha (2)
Bad losses: Union (2), Bowling Green, Miami
Why the Fighting Irish can win:
The Cinderella slipper is in coach Dave Poulin’s closet. But does it fit? Poulin feels his team is playing its best hockey of the season, winning seven of eight on its current run. The Fighting Irish are surging behind an improved defensive effort, as the young core on the blueline has grown up a lot since the beginning of the season. Notre Dame is as explosive as any team in the Super 6. Connor Dunlop and David Inman each has more than 30 points in CCHA play. The Fighting Irish split their four games this season with Northern Michigan, their opponent in the play-in round.