For either Notre Dame or Ohio State, the 2011-12 season ends this weekend — an unimaginable thought a few months ago when, at one point, Ohio State was the No. 1 team in the country. And Notre Dame looked determined to return to the Frozen Four, where the Irish fell short just last April.
But none of that matters now, as the series between the Fighting Irish and Buckeyes highlights the first round of the CCHA playoffs, which begin tonight. Check in with the CHN blog for predictions and commentary about all the conference playoff action over the next several weeks, as we gear up for the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa, FL (April 5-7).
Ohio State at Notre Dame
Notre Dame didn’t score more than two goals in a game during the entire month of February — a span of eight games. But Ohio State has won just once in 2012 and seems unrecognizable from its late 2011 form, when Cal Heeter, Ryan Dzingel, and co. swept Michigan in late November and sat atop the CCHA standings. It’s tough to pick one of two severely slumping teams, but given Notre Dame’s flashes of brilliance this season (wins against Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, BU, BC, and more), I’d give the edge to Jeff Jackson’s group. Prediction: Notre Dame in 3.
Bowling Green at Northern Michigan
Northern Michigan is led by a core group of upperclassmen — seniors Tyler Gron and Justin Florek have a combined 69 points entering Friday night. But don’t expect the Wildcats to overlook the Falcons — Bowling Green knocked off Michigan a week ago during an emotional home weekend in which BG students set multiple attendance records. Falcons junior goaltender Andrew Hammond has demonstrated an ability to steal games, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he manages one this weekend. Prediction: Northern Michigan in 3.
Alaska at Lake Superior
The Nanooks and Lakers played a weekend series just three weeks ago in Fairbanks, splitting a pair of closely contested games. I’d expect the same this weekend, especially with the goaltending likely to be on display (Scott Greenham for Alaska, Kevin Kapalka for Lake Superior). Lake Superior — the higher of the two seeds — comes in having won just once in its last five games. Last weekend, the Lakers gave up 11 goals to Northern Michigan, and the offense has struggled down the stretch as well. Both are troubling signs for Laker fans. Prediction: Alaska in 3.
Ferris State, Michigan, Western Michigan, Miami, and Michigan State have the weekend off, with the top three seeds awaiting their quarterfinal opponents. Miami and Michigan State know they will face off next weekend — the RedHawks swept the Buckeyes on the final weekend to earn a first-round bye, while the Spartans finished the season on a 6-2 run.