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October 09, 2008 - Image 15

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6C - Faceoff 2008 - Thursday, October 9, 2008

NOTRE DAME

Thursday, October 9, 2008- Faceoff 2008 - 3C
MICHIGAN HOCKEY'S BURNING QUESTIONS

CCHA PREVIEW
By Michael Eisenstein, Gjon Juncaj and Chris Meszaros
Daily Sports Writers

After a disappointing fourth-place finish in the CCHA playoffs, the
Fighting Irish surprised everyone by making the NCAA Tournament -
and going all the way to the National Championship game. Making the
run even more spectacular was that Notre Dame was without injured scor-
ing leader Erik Condra, an early favorite for CCHA Player of the Year this season.
The Fighting Irish lose a couple of key players from the offensive and defensive units, but
the backbone of the team is back and positioned to follow up its first Frozen Four appearance
with a national championship run this year.
Though Condra is garnering most of the attention going into the season, senior goalie
Jordan Pearce will likely dictate how far Notre Dame advances in the postseason. Pearce
boasted a 1.80 goals-against average in CCHA play last year and carried the team when the
offense was depleted. Make no mistake about it, this is a Frozen Four team.'
MIAMI (OHIO)
A year after trading blows with Michigan atop the national and CCHA
rankings, the RedHawks face some big questions. Who's going to replace
Hobey Baker finalist Ryan Jones and his 49 points? Who's going to step
up on defense in place of former blue-line leader Alec Martinez? And most importantly,
who's going to take over between the pipes for Jeff Zatkoff, who averaged just 1.72 goals
against last year?
Miami should have the depth on offense with sophomore Carter Camper (41 points last
season), senior Justin Mercier (40 points) and junior Jarod Palmer (35 points) all returning.
On defense, alternate captain Kevin Roeder will have to carry a much younger unit in place
of Martinez.
But the big question mark is in goal, where freshmen Cody Reichard and Connor Knapp
will split time to start the season. The success of Reichard, last year's NAHL MVP, and Con-
nor, a 6-foot-5 behemoth, will dictate whether the RedHawks maintain their presence at the
top of the conference or whether they slip down a few notches.
MICHIGAN STATE
A discouraging 8-7 finish and second-round exit to Notre Dame in last
season's NCAA Tournament make the Spartans one the CCHA's biggest
preseason question marks. Second-team All-American goalie Jeff Lerg is
back for his senior campaign after posting a sterling 2.22 goals-against average and a .926
save percentage last season. He'll be the backbone of a team that lost four of its five leading
scorers from last year.
Michigan State is inexperienced, welcoming a class of 11 freshmen this year. Only three re-
turning Spartans tallied more than 10 goals last season. That means Lerg, the team captain,
will have to stand on his head in several games during the first semester as his teammates
try to establish an offensive rhythm. But he'll have some help on the blue line. Sophomore
Jeff Petry, a member of last year's CCHA All-Rookie team, and senior assistant captain Bran-
don Gentile will lead the defense.
FERRIS STATE
It's all about the number four for Ferris State this season. Last year, they
finished four spots ahead of where they were predicted to finish in pre-
season CCHA polls. They return four 20-point forwards, and their primary
goal this season is to become a top-four team in the conference.
Last season, the Bulldogs rode a second-half hot streak to a fifth-place conference finish.
In the CCHA playoffs, they were one game away (they lost 2-1 to Notre Dame in game three)
from making a trip to the Joe for the semifinals.
This year, the expectations are much higher with an experienced offensive unit, spear-
headed by 30-point junior forward Cody Chupp and a core of proven goal scorers.
The main concern for Ferris State is goaltending. Former Bulldog Mitch O'Keefe started
60 percent of the Bulldogs' games last season and boasted a .920 save percentage. But if
sophomore Pat Nagle, who started the other games, can carry the entire goaltending load
this year, we'll probably see Ferris State at the Joe in March.

MICHIGAN

AW90-1

The expectations are obviously high
for the Wolverines, the defending CCHA
regular season and playoff champions. The
biggest question will be whether 11 sophomore players can
step up and fill the void left by the graduation of Kevin Porter
and Chad Kolarik and the loss of Max Pacioretty, who bolted
for professional hockey. But unlike last year, no one knows who
will rise to the occasion and step into the spotlight at Yost Ice
Arena.
Despite many unknowns for the Wolverines, two things are
clear. Michigan's strength will be its defense, which is an-
chored by senior captain Mark Mitera. The other strength is in
goal. But Billy Sauer struggled in big games in his career. Will
he be able to overcome his big-game jitters and lead Michigan
to the promised land, or will the Wolverines be shell-shocked
out of another NCAA tournament game?

NORTHERN MICHIGAN

The Wildcats are the chic pick for the
conference's surprise team after ending
last season on an impressive 11-6-3 run.
Northern Michigan finished its season.
with upset wins over Michigan State and Notre Dame in the
CCHA playoffs. The Wildcats have depth, losing just three
players from last year's 20-20-4 team. Whether the Wildcats
can make a legitimate push for their first NCAA Tournament
bid since 1998-99 will largely depend on the progress of four
players.
Sophomore forward Mark Olver earned CCHA All-Rookie
honors after notching 21 goals and 17 assists in a stellar fresh-
man year. Classmate Phil Fox scored 13 goals and could be a key -
contributor on the power-play unit that converted at a measly
14 percent clip last season. Senior forward Nick Sirota is a well-
balanced offensive threat who tallied 18 goals and 18 assists
last season. Junior goalie Brian Stewart had a mediocre record
but a promising 2.62 goals-against average. If he can build on
that, the Wildcats will be near the top of the standings from
wire to wire.
OHIO STATE
The Buckeyes are one of the wild card -" .
teams this year, having slowly moved up
from their perch within the CCHA base-
ment over the last couple seasons. Ohio State has just three
upperclassmen on the team. One of the three is junior goalie
Joseph Palmer, who had a 3.12 goals against average last
season.
The biggest hockey story out of Columbus this year is the
freshmen class. Forward Zach Dalpe, who heads the new
group, is projected by many to make the CCHA All-Rookie
team. If the freshman class pans out and Palmer plays better
than he did last year, the Buckeyes could turn some heads
this season. But if the team continues to struggle despite the
infusion of new talent, it may likely be the end of head coach
John Markell's career in Columbus.

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