Notre Dame looks destined to run away from the league.
Yesterday, we looked at where the WCHA stood in terms of power rankings at the break. Today, we'll take a look at the CCHA. After a crazy start to the season with every team smashed together in the middle, teams have started to separate out a bit. Here's how I have the league's 12 teams ranked:
1. Notre Dame (Preseason Prediction: (1st coaches/3rd media)
Technically the Irish are tied with Miami for first place in the league with 30 points, but Notre Dame has three games in hand, and with the Irish winning at over a 90% clip in the league, Miami really isn't close as they look.
Nobody ever questioned Notre Dame's talent, it was just a matter of how they would utilize it, and so far, they've looked like far and away the best team in the league. Pretty much everything has clicked so far for the Irish, from their forwards, to their defense, to Steve Summerhays in goal.
2. Miami (Preseason Prediction: (4th coaches/5th media)
Riley Barber and Austin Czarnik have really carried the RedHawks offensively, but their defense deserves a ton of credit for their success. Miami came into the year with two freshmen goalies and both have been excellent. Maybe you could say Miami hit the jackpot with two excellent goalies, but a strong team defense is really helping them out.
It's going to be tough for Miami to catch Notre Dame in the second half, even if they somehow swept their home-and-home series with the Irish late in the year. Western Michigan is likely the only team below them that can challenge them, so it seems pretty likely Miami will get that first round bye and host a playoff series in the second round.
3. Western Michigan (Preseason Prediction: (3rd coaches/2nd media)
The Broncos came into the break pretty hot, winning six straight games before falling to MIchigan last Saturday night.
The big advantage the Broncos have over a team like Miami is that they don't rely on just one or two big scorers to get things done. Nobody on Western Michigan's team is averaging a point per game, but they've got pretty balanced scoring throughout their lineup, including some nice contributions from the blueline, and they don't give up many goals.
4. Ohio State(Preseason Prediction: (6th coaches/7th media)
The Buckeyes have been buoyed by the best goalie in the league, and perhaps the front-runner for CCHA player of the year in Brady Hjelle. His overall numbers are good, but his in-conference are out of the this world: 0.79 goals against and .972 save percentage. He gives the Buckeyes a chance to win every night.
In the grand scheme, Ohio State is going to have a tough time catching either of the big three, and thanks to some non-conference struggles, an NCAA tourney at-large bid looks unlikely as well. The second half of the season for the Buckeyes will likely be about hanging on to that fourth overall spot in the league, where they can host a second round playoff series, and then make it to the Joe where hopefully Hjelle gives them a chance to catch lightning in a bottle and pull off a pair of upsets.
5. Ferris State (Preseason Prediction: (5th coaches/4th media)
The Bulldogs weren't going to be as good as last year's team, but they've done a nice job of not completely falling off the map.
The start to the second half of the season will be crucial for the Bulldogs. They've got three games against Michigan State, a team that beat them right before the break, and then a pair of tough series against the two best teams in the league in Notre Dame and Western Michigan, before the schedule lightens up a bit.
6. Lake Superior (Preseason Prediction: 11th coaches/10th media)
The Lakers have quietly been one of the biggest surprises in the league. They were picked to finish near the bottom of the league by most everyone, and I'd bet if you told people that the Lakers would be without goalie Kevin Kapalka for much of the first half of the season, most people would have picked the Lakers to be worse than last. But transfer goalie Kevin Murdock has been outstanding in net, bested only by Brady Hjelle's out of this world numbers, and has carried the Lakers to a .500 record in the league despite an offense that is only scoring 2.20 goals per game.
7. Alaska(Preseason Prediction: 10th coaches/11th media)
The Nanooks have also been much stronger than many people expected, thanks to a fast start, but they really struggled heading into the break. Their last win was November 16th against Western Michigan, eight games ago.
Sophomore Trevor Campbell has quietly turned into one of the best defenseman in the league, and senior Andy Taranto reached the hallowed 100 career point mark, and sit just one goal shy of 50 career goals.
8. Michigan(Preseason Prediction: 2nd coaches/1st media)
It seems hard to believe that 50 members of the media picked Michigan to win the league this year. This season has pretty much been an unmitigated disaster for the Wolverines. Finding a replacement for Shawn Hunwick has proven much more difficult than expected, and the few times the goal tending has played well, there hasn't been any offensive production to match.
The bad news for the Wolverines is that their second half schedule is much tougher than the schedule they struggled with in the first half. The Wolverines are winless in six games away from Yost Arena this year, and have eight road games, including series at Western Michigan and Notre Dame. Michigan has traditionally been a stronger second half team, but it's hard to see them turning things around enough to make this year anything but a disappointment.
9. Michigan State (Preseason Prediction: 7th coaches/6th media)
The Spartans are clearly a team in the process of rebuilding. They're led by a great top line with two sophomores and a freshman, an excellent freshman defenseman in John Draeger, and freshman goalie Jake Hildebrand has been a very pleasant surprise, but the rest of the lineup just doesn't have the depth to compete with the upper echelon of the league.
12. Northern Michigan (Preseason Prediction: 9th coaches/8th media)
The season got off to a great start with a sweep against Wisconsin, and a split in Omaha, but while the Wildcats have been very good out of conference, they've really struggled in the CCHA for some reason. Some of their non-conference results suggest that maybe could do better in conference play in the second half of the season,
11. Bowling Green (Preseason Prediction: 8th coaches/9th media)
It's been a tough go for the Falcons, but aside from a 6-1 loss to Michigan State, they haven't really been blown out of any games. They're a step behind in terms of talent, but they are a group of fighters that will make the opposition work for their points every night.