Five Big Ten teams have already locked up NCAA Tournament bids. Two more, Penn State and Iowa, are fighting for what appears to be the Big Ten”s final spot.

Paul Wong
Even after forward Josh Langfeld injured his right knee in the Feb. 16 game against Michigan State, the senior made it through practice yesterday. But playing time this weekend is still uncertain.<br><br>Brad Quinn/Daily

One of the two must get in to do justice to the conference”s power ranking, but not both. Each has a nearly identical record (Penn State at 17-10, Iowa at 18-11) and they”ve split the season series, with the road team winning both.

I invoke the Kenyon Martin rule. Last season, Cincinnati was dropped from a No. 1 to a No. 2 seed because of Martin”s season-ending injury.

If Martin”s impending absence was able to hurt Cincinnati, then Luke Recker”s past absence and possible return can help Iowa. The Hawkeyes have played nine games without Recker, suffering a 2-7 slide during that time.

Recker may or may not be back for Big Tens. A more likely scenario puts him back in action the week after, for the first week of postseason play.

If that”s the case, the NCAA Tournament committee which claims Iowa athletic director Bob Bowlsby as a member, I might add should evaluate Iowa on a Recker-inclusive basis. With quality wins over Detroit, Illinois and Indiana, that should be enough to squeeze the Hawkeyes in.

Penn State hasn”t been missing a player the caliber of Recker. The Nittany Lions are playing the best they can which should position them for a run to the NIT championship game, as it almost always does.

I can see it now: The Crispins do the Big Apple. Brilliant.

Ref Blunders: It might have slipped by the students that left town early for Spring Break, but the Michigan hockey team”s 2-1 loss at Lake Superior on Feb. 22 provided further evidence of the weak officiating that plagues the CCHA.

Michigan has never been a team to draw favors from league refs, especially on the road. The Lake State game took this principle to ridiculousness when referee Brent Rutherford granted the Lakers a goal with 2:06 remaining in the third period of a 1-1 game.

Lake Superior”s Tyson Turgeon wristed a shot from the slot that hit the crossbar and bounced harmlessly away. The goal judge did not turn on his light neither Rutherford nor his linesmen ruled the shot a goal.

Michigan goalie Josh Blackburn eventually covered the puck. Rather than heading for the faceoff circle, Rutherford went to the phones. Following a conversation with the goal judge, he ruled the play a goal and skated to center ice. The Wolverines stood in shock.

The CCHA tries to hide its lack of quality officials, and for the most part is able to do so. It has two solid referees in Steve Piotrowski and Duke Shegos.

More often than not for big games, the league sends one of these two to uphold law and order on the ice. That way, a capacity crowd of 20,000 at the Joe Louis Arena isn”t outraged by poor officiating only a sparse gathering of 2,500 in Sault Ste. Marie is.

With the addition of Nebraska-Omaha in 1999-2000, the CCHA now has 12 teams. On a nightly basis, six referees need to be assigned. Before, in the 11-team league, only five conference games were being played on any given night, while one team took the night off.

Couple this with the retirement of Matt Shegos, one of the league”s best, and the CCHA is down two quality officials every night. (One extra game that needs to be officiated, one less good official.)

The league can cover itself well for big games with Piotrowski and Duke Shegos. But on a nightly basis, the Brent Rutherfords, Brian Aarons and Mark Wilkins of the CCHA rule the roost. And that leaves the league and its victims teams like the Wolverines in great peril.

Chris Duprey can be reached

at cduprey@umich.edu

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