For those following CCHA hockey, the most exciting time of the year is at hand. The playoffs have begun, and this weekend the bottom six teams will face off to narrow down to three teams that will join the top five. Northern Michigan(6), Alaska(7) and Ohio State (8) will be hosting Michigan State(9), Lake Superior State(10) and Bowling Green(11).
Waiting for them in the top five are University of Michigan (1), Notre Dame (2), Miami of Ohio (3), Western Michigan (4) and Ferris State (5). The only certainty in these matchups is that Western Michigan will host Ferris State. For Ferris State Coach Bob Daniels, this is an exciting matchup. "On paper, there are no two teams closer." he expressed.
In an 8 team bracket, the matchup between fourth and fifth place is often the first glimpse of the real playoff feeling. There is no real mismatch, and more often than not the positioning is very close. In this case, only one point separates the two teams. In other words, this is the game to watch next weekend.
When asked what the team does during this off week, Coach Daniels responded, "we skate and workout to keep our conditioning." The players have the added task of mid-terms to think of, and next week begins Spring Break. While many students are heading off to enjoy the sunshine, these hardworking young men will be doing what they love the most. They will be playing hockey.
"Just before the playoffs, the locker room will get quiet", said Daniels. His team, with an incredible commitment to defense, will prepare for elimination hockey. "They realize that the next game could be their last, and they don't want to stop playing yet." I jokingly suggested that it was a good thing they only had to travel to Kalamazoo and not Alaska. "We'd be on the plane now if we had drawn that pick" the coach laughed. In all seriousness, Bob Daniels has remarked about the great opportunity that is presented for students to be able to travel to Alaska to play.
As the season winds down, the question on the mind of many fans is this, "Is it harder to lose at the beginning of a series or to make it all the way to the end and come short?" Coach Daniels has a very simple answer. "You want to make it far, that sits easier when you look back. If you get knocked out, you never want it to be because of a bad performance by any individual. You want to be able to see that the opposing team did something incredible in order to win." In other words, you want to be sure that you did everything you could to win.
Best of luck to all of our Michigan teams as they compete for the ability to play in the CCHA tournament at Jou Louis Arena starting March 18th. Keep reading as this column will seek to bring some insight on college hockey in our great state as the season comes to an end.