Conference is top heavy at halfway point

Chayse Held and Chayse Held

The Central Collegiate Hockey Association is at the midpoint of the season and is once again one of the strongest conferences in the country with six teams in the latest Division I Men’s Poll. Here is a look at all 12 teams as they approach the crucial second half of the season.

1. No. 4 Miami (13-5-0, 9-3-0) – The defending regular-season champion Redhawks are at the top of the league standings at the halfway. Miami’s high-powered offense is led by upperclassmen Ryan Jones and Nathan Davis who share the conference lead in goals with 14. Miami also boasts the league’s second-ranked defense at 2.33 goals per game. Goalie Jeff Zatkoff has a stellar 2.26 goals against average. Miami swept BG in the teams’ two regular-season meetings this year. They’ll meet again in a Dec. 29 non-conference game at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.

2. No. 7 Michigan (12-5-0, 8-3-0) – The Wolverines have relied on the CCHA’s highest-scoring offense at 4.35 goals per game to put themselves two points out of first place. Their offensive onslaught is led by CCHA November player of the month Kevin Porter. Porter is currently fourth in the nation with 1.71 points per game. Michigan and BG will meet twice this year.

3. No. 5 Notre Dame (12-3-1, 7-2-1) – Relying on the nation’s best defense at 1.38 goals per game, Notre Dame is just three points behind Miami in the standings. Goaltender David Brown is second in the nation with a 1.45 goals against average and .95 save percentage to anchor the defensive-minded Irish. Notre Dame swept their first two meetings with BG in South Bend in early November and will travel to Bowling Green for another pair of games in the first weekend of February.

4. Ohio State (5-8-3, 5-5-2) – After suffering through a down year last year, the Buckeyes are back in the CCHA mix. Freshman goaltender Joseph Palmer has been solid in net with a 2.77 goals against average in conference play. OSU swept BG by the scores of 9-3 and 4-1 in Bowling Green earlier this season.

5. No. 20 Lake Superior State (10-5-1, 5-4-1) – LSSU is led by the CCHA’s top returning goaltender, Jeff Jakaitis, whose .949 save percentage is tied for second in the nation, trailing only Dan Rosen of Brown University. BG split with Lake Superior to earn the Falcons their only league win thus far.

6. No. 15 Michigan State Spartans (7-7-1, 5-5-1) – The Spartans find themselves in the middle of the pack in the CCHA after advancing to the round of eight in last year’s NCAA tournament. Forward Tim Kennedy who is currently 12th in scoring with 18 points leads MSU’s scoring attack. The Spartans and Falcons have a home-and-home series to finish the conference regular-season schedule.

7. No. 19 Alaska-Fairbanks (6-4-4, 4-3-3) – The Nanooks were picked to finish seventh in the CCHA this year and that is exactly where they find themselves at the midpoint in the season. Goaltender Chad Johnson is ranked 13th in the nation in goals against average at 2.18 and the UAF power play is third in the CCHA at 21 percent. UAF and BG will meet for two games this weekend in the Great Northwest and two more in Northwest Ohio in the last weekend of January.

8. Western Michigan (6-7-1, 5-7-1) – After finishing in 11th place last season, the Broncos find themselves tied with five other teams in CCHA with 11 points. Freshman forward Mark Letestu is sixth in the CCHA in scoring. WMU comes to the BG Ice Arena for two games against the Falcons Jan. 5-6.

9. Nebraska-Omaha (6-7-4, 5-6-1) – After two wins last weekend at BG, the Mavs find themselves in a four-way tie for the fifth spot in the CCHA. Defending CCHA player of the year, forward Ryan Parse, is fourth in the league in scoring with 18 points and has served time as a defensemen due to injuries. UNO will host BG Jan 12-13 to finish the season series.

10. Northern Michigan (7-8-2, 4-5-1) – A fourth-place finish last year has not translated into success for the Wildcats so far this season. Northern ranks second-to-last in overall team offense at 2.41 gpg, trailing only Bowling Green. NMU goaltender Bill Zaniboni has been solid, posting a 2.60 goals against average. The Wildcats and Falcons meet Jan. 19-20 in Marquette, Mich. for the teams’ only regular-season matches this season.

11. Ferris State (4-10-1, 2-8-1) – Special teams play has plagued the Bulldogs so far this season. Ferris State is 11th on the power play (.154) and eighth on the penalty kill (.809). Scoring has also been a problem for FSU. The Bulldogs host BG Feb. 16 through 17 for a pair of conference games.

12. Bowling Green (3-12-1, 1-9-0) – Stuck in an eight-game losing streak, the longest since the 1990-1991 BG squad lost 14 straight, the Falcons find themselves in last place. A lack of offensive production (1.60 goals per game in league play) and the league’s worst scoring defense (4.50 goals per game in league play) has haunted BG all year. With 18 conference games remaining, the Falcons will have to turn around their season quickly to make any noise in the CCHA this year.