Oxford, Ohio (Feb. 26) - With 106 wins, a CCHA regular season title, a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament and an appearance in the NCAA title game in the bag, LAST season's Miami seniors were the most decorated of any class in school history. However, THIS season's senior class, including Jarod Palmer, Gary Steffes, Brandon Smith and Dane Hetland have an opportunity to surpass those accomplishments. Consider they already have a second CCHA regular season title to their credit, they possess the CCHA's top tournament seeding, another #1 NCAA tournament seed is a possibility as is the opportunity to capture the school's first-ever Mason Cup, awarded to the winner of the CCHA tournament, and perhaps, a second Frozen Four appearance. Additionally, this senior class' win total of 104 makes them the second winningest in school history. And, with (likely) at least five games remaining, they have an opportunity to leave Oxford as the school's most successful class ever. Incidentally, NEXT year's senior class which has driven much of the success of the past two years is already at 80 wins meaning they too will have an opportunity to rewrite the Miami hockey record books and could complete their time at Miami with an unprecedented four players in the career 100-point club.
With the first-round of the CCHA tournament starting next weekend, this is the last weekend of regular season play and, aside from the top spot, the league is tightly packed from second through tenth place. In fact, first-round byes and first-round home ice slots are still up for grabs.
Here's a quick rundown of the weekend's action.
Miami v. Ohio State
Miami's 4-2 loss last Saturday vs. UNO saw the RedHawks 23-game league unbeaten streak end as well as its school record 11 game overall unbeaten streak. With the loss and Denver's sweep of WCHA bottom-feeder Michigan Tech, the pollsters saw fit to move the Pioneers ahead of Miami in all three media polls. While Miami will continue to play for the #1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, the Buckeyes are clinging to the final first round home ice playoff spot which they possess by three points over ninth place Lake Superior. Should the Lakers sweep the Wildcats, they could easily pass Ohio State should they struggle this weekend against the RedHawks.
Update: Miami scored SIX second period goals to overwhelm the Buckeyes 6-2 on senior night. Six different RedHawks scored goals including a goal and an assist for senior Jarod Palmer in his final regular season game at Steve Cady Arena. Sophomore Cody Reichard made 33 saves to improve to 17-2-3 on the season. The teams will conclude the regular season tonight at 8pm from Value City Arena where Ohio State will need at least a point to assure themselves of having home ice next weekend when the CCHA playoffs begin. The Buckeyes got a break when Northern Michigan defeated Lake Superior in OT meaning the Lakers are still three points behind Ohio State for the final home ice slot. But, should the Buckeyes lose and the Lakers win tonight, Lake Superior will take the tiebreaker and host Ohio State next weekend.
Ferris State v. Western Michigan
The Bulldogs find themselves in a tie for second place with Michigan State in the league standings and face a difficult challenge in last place Western Michigan. Last week, the Broncos announced that head coach Jim Culhane would not return to the WMU bench next season meaning you can undoubtedly expect them to play hard for Culhane during final weekend as head coach. With a second place finish, Ferris State would have its highest league finish since winning the CCHA regular season title in 2002-03.
Update: Ferris State secured a first round playoff bye with a shootout victory over the Broncos. It was the fourth shootout win for Ferris State this season. The Bulldogs are currently 14th in the Pairwise rankings that largely determine the NCAA tournament field,
Michigan State v. Bowling Green
Like Ferris State, the Spartans have an opportunity to lock up the #2 seed in the CCHA tournament which would enable them to avoid a matchup with Miami until the CCHA Championship game in Detroit. While MSU won't see a big boost in the Pairwise this weekend, their NCAA hopes are hanging by a thread so two wins this weekend are an absolute must.
Update: Michigan State secured a first round bye and moved into sole possession of second place with a 5-2 win over Bowling Green. MSU is currently tied for 11th in the Pairwise rankings.
Northern Michigan v. Lake Superior State
The aforementioned Lakers are hoping they can sneak into eighth place in the league and steal the final first round home ice playoff spot from Ohio State. However, NMU has an opportunity still to claim a first round bye so this series between the two "U-P" rivals takes on additional importance this weekend.
Update: NMU can clinch the fourth and final first round playoff bye with two points tonight against Lake Superior. The Wildcats defeated the Lakers 2-1 in OT last night.
Michigan v. Notre Dame
These two teams played Thursday with Michigan earning a 4-0 win at Yost Ice Arena. Junior goaltender Bryan Hogan left the game with an apparent groin injury early in the first period, but seldom-used junior Shawn Hunwick picked up the slack and carried the Wolverines to the shutout.
Update: After Friday's games, Michigan sits in seventh place in the CCHA just two points behind Northern Michigan for the final first round bye. If Michigan defeats Notre Dame in South Bend tonight and NMU takes one point or less against Lake Superior, Michigan will earn the fourth position.
UNO and Alaska
Both teams will play non-conference series against Bemidji State and Alaska-Anchorage, respectively. UNO can enhance their NCAA tournament resume with a sweep of the Beavers while Alaska can continue to affirm their place in the top 16 of the Pairwise.
Update: Bemidji State defeated UNO 3-1 and Alaska defeated archrival Alaska-Anchorage 7-4 last night. Currently, UNO sits 20th in the Pairwise and out of the NCAA tournament field of 16. Alaska is currently tied for 11th.