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Friday, February 11, 2005

CCHA title within reach as OSU enters homestretch
Friday, February 11, 2005
Michael Arace
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Three weeks ago, Michigan came to Value City Arena and salvaged a split with the Ohio State men’s hockey team. It seemed like so much more than a split.

Michigan romped to a 6-3 victory in the Saturday game and danced out of Columbus with a five-point lead over the Buckeyes in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association standings. Michigan looked like a lock to win the league’s regular-season title. A lead-pipe cinch.

"We were a long shot then," OSU captain JB Bittner said.

During the last two weeks, Michigan has gone 1-1-2 against Northern Michigan and Michigan State. Meanwhile, Ohio State has gone 4-0. Suddenly, the CCHA race is down to two teams. Bring on the stretch.

"Now," Bittner said, "we’re a little closer to our goal."

The Buckeyes (20-7-3, 17-4-1) are one point behind the Wolverines (20-7-3, 17-3-2) with four weeks, and six games, remaining in the regular season. The Buckeyes are ranked No. 7 in the nation and the Wolverines No. 6.

College hockey is entering the first of three stages of mounting excitement. The second stage is the conference tournaments, the third is the NCAAs. What is upon the sport now is the initial stage, the jockeying.

Some teams are trying to win their respective leagues and/or improve their lot with the NCAA selection committee. Other teams are trying to avert losing home ice in their conference tournaments and/or position themselves for one last grasp at the NCAAs. It’s scratch vs. claw.

And that is exactly what is in the offing this weekend, when Ohio State plays host to Bowling Green.

"We’re focusing on getting as many wins as we can because of our situation in the power rankings," Ohio State coach John Markell said.

In the PairWise rankings, which attempt to mimic the rating system for the NCAA Tournament, Ohio State is 11 th. Bowling Green (13-9-4, 10-7-3) is tied for 24 th. Sixteen teams make the tournament.

"If we can beat Bowling Green, which has a winning record, it means points in the league and points in the power rankings," Markell said. "It’s a very important weekend. And I’m not scared to talk about it in that way."

After two against Bowling Green, the Buckeyes play on the road at Michigan State next week. They take a week off before finishing their season with a home-and-home against Miami University on March 4-5.

Michigan is at Nebraska-Omaha, a difficult place to play, this weekend. The Wolverines finish the season with two at Notre Dame followed by a home-and-home with Bowling Green.

Bowling Green, fifth in the CCHA, is fighting for home-ice advantage in the first round of the league tournament.

It’s the beginning of the end game and each weekend is loaded with meaning. Focusing gets easier. The Buckeyes want to catch Michigan and the path is straight.

"We know we have to string together a bunch of wins. That’s our main focus," Bittner said. "If Michigan ends up dropping games, great; if not, we end up shoring up our spot in the (NCAA) Tournament."

Ohio State defenseman Johan Kroll said, "We’re right there. It’s all about how we play. When our team shows up and all the guys are on board, we’re tough to beat. We control what we can and let the results kind of work themselves out."

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From the U_Wire

OSU men's hockey shoots for conference lead
By Adam Jardy, The Lantern
February 11, 2005

(U-WIRE) COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Two weeks ago it looked like the Michigan Wolverines had the Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular season championship all but won. The Wolverines were enjoying a five-point lead in the standings over the second-place Buckeyes.

It is amazing how quickly things can change. After Michigan blew two games against rival Michigan State and the Buckeyes swept Lake Superior State last weekend, the Buckeyes have inched to within one point of the conference lead.

"It's in the back of our mind all the time," sophomore forward Matt Beaudoin said. "Any point you can give us, we'll take."

This weekend, the No. 7 Buckeyes (20-7-3 overall, 17-4-1 CCHA) take on in-state rival Bowling Green (13-9-4 overall, 10-7-3 CCHA) at the Schottenstein Center. OSU is enjoying a seven-game winning streak against the Falcons.

Victories against the Falcons might not be such a great thing, however. OSU is currently ranked 11th in the Periwise rankings, which help predict who will make the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season. The Falcons are a team considered on the cusp of the rankings, and defeating them could weaken OSU's strength of schedule. However, losing to the Falcons would harm the Buckeyes' ranking more.

"Every game from here on out is important for the Periwise rankings," junior forward Rod Pelley said. "We have to put a stretch of unbeaten games together because the rankings are so tight. If we lose even one game to a team that's on the bubble -- that's going to hurt us."

The Falcons are led by senior goaltender Jordan Sigalet, who has a .922 save percentage in 23 games, despite announcing earlier this season he suffers from multiple sclerosis. Offensively, BGSU is led by freshman forwards Jonathan Matsumoto and Derek Whitmore, who have 11 goals each.

The Buckeyes came dangerously close to dropping a road contest last Saturday, but managed to pull out a victory and earn their seventh in-conference sweep of the season. OSU trailed the Lakers 2-1 heading into the third period, but junior forward Dan Knapp tied the game at two with 1:43 left in the third period. The score remained tied until sophomore forward Bryce Anderson connected on the first of overtime, giving the Buckeyes a 3-2 victory.

"It was huge," junior defenseman Nate Guenin said. "That's a long bus ride, and if we had lost that game it would have been a longer bus ride. Even if we had tied it wouldn't have been as fun. Any time you win like that in overtime is an awesome feeling."

The night before was a different story with the same ending. OSU jumped out to a 2-0 lead midway through the second period and held on for a 3-1 victory. The Buckeye offense was led by junior forward Rod Pelley, who scored twice and now has 18 goals on the season.

"We're just finding ways to win hockey games," he said. "We may not have been putting together 60 minutes every night, but [now] we're finding ways and that shows our character as a team."

Pelley has 11 power-play goals on the season, besting Beaudoin by one for the team and conference lead.

"Sometimes in practice our lines compete against each other to see who can score the most goals," Pelley said. "It's just for fun. It doesn't matter who is scoring goals on our team as long as we're winning the hockey games."

The victory last Saturday gave OSU its 20th victory of the season. The Buckeyes have now won 20 or more games in each of the last four years -- the first time in the history of the program.

"That's why I came to Ohio State," Guenin said. I saw it was a program on the rise."

Caruso has been solid since being pulled during the second game of the Michigan series after allowing five goals. The backstopper is enjoying a four-game winning streak and has compiled a .938 save percentage and a 1.50 GAA.

"When he plays with an edge, he plays better," Pelley said of his teammate. "If you get him going a bit, and he takes it personal, it's almost like he plays better. After he got pulled in front of a big crowd, maybe that motivated him to be more focused."

Several Buckeyes have won individual awards since OSU last played at the Schottenstein Center. Junior defenseman Nate Guenin was named CCHA Defenseman of the Week for his efforts against Lake Superior State last weekend. The week before, the CCHA named junior goalie Dave Caruso goalie of the week and sophomore forward Matt Beaudoin offensive player of the week, while freshman forward Tom Fritsche was named INCH Rookie of the Week.

"I'm pretty happy, but it's because of my linemates and my teammates," Beaudoin said of his awards. "I was in a good place at good moments, and I got lucky to score all those goals. It's just teamwork."

But the largest individual honor belonged to Beaudoin, who was also named the CCHA Player of the Month for his efforts during the month of January. As the Buckeyes skated to a 6-2 record, Beaudoin tallied 14 points and nine goals. The native of Rock Forest, Quebec has recorded 15 goals this season -- a career high.

"I have a bigger role this year in the power play," he said. "I have to bring it more than last year."

The team knows it needs to concentrate on the moment and try not to think too much about the big picture, Guenin said.

"If we take care of winning, the Pairwise will fall into place," he said. "We can't sit there every day and worry about where we are. We have to focus on the task at hand, and that is Bowling Green on Friday and Saturday night."

Updated on Friday, Feb 11, 2005 8:00 pm EST

Big weekend for the Puck Bucks
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OSU up 2-0 at the end of the 1st period. Michigan faces off at 8:05.

OSU up 3-0 with 5 minutes gone in the 2nd period.

OSU up 3-1 with approx 7 minutes left in period 2.

Buckeyes hold BG scoreless with a BG 2 man advantage in the closing minutes of period 2. OSU up 3-1 at the end of period 2.

Nebraska-Omaha leading Michigan 2-0 at the end of period 1.

OSU up 3-2 with 11:20 to play in the game.
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Buckeyes hold BG scoreless in 7 out of 8 power pplays tonight, the latest BG powerplay ending with 5 minutes to play. OSU up 3-2 with an OSU powerplay coming up.

OSU pplay now a 2 man advantage with 3 minutes left in the game. 3rd largest crowd of teh season - 11,520 announced attendance.

Buckeyes held scoreless during pplay. 40 seconds left. OSU up 3-2.

OSU wins 3-2.
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Michigan wins 4-3

Michigan rallied in Nebraska for a 4-3 win tonight. David Moss scored the game winning goal with under three minutes to play in the game.

Michigan is in action against last place ND next weekend for a home and home. Ohio State is @ Michigan State twice.
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