There are still a few games to be played in the CCHA both in and out of conference before Christmas, but it's more or less the midway point of the season, so I figured I'd take a look at where each team is so far.
1. Notre Dame, 14 games played, 24 points
Notre Dame was my preseason pick to win the CCHA, and after a bit of a slow start, losing to Denver, and then getting swept by Miami, they haven't lost a point in CCHA play. One of the most impressive aspects of their dominance is how balanced their scoring has been. Christian Hanson leads the team with 23 points, and he's on pace to eclipse the 33 points he scored in his three previous seasons at Notre Dame. They're so deep that they've got some pretty good freshmen in Pat Gaul and Eric Ringel that aren't even seeing the ice right now.
The schedule gets marginally tougher in the second half of the season for the Irish with series against Alaska, at Omaha, and a home and home with Michigan, but there's no reason to think they should roll through the second half of this season.
2. Miami, 14 games played, 23 points
The Redhawks have been nearly as good as Notre Dame so far this year, trailing the Irish by just one shootout victory in the standings. The success of Miami's season was going to be dependent on the success of their freshman goalies, and so far, both Connor Knapp and Cody Reichard have been outstanding. Both have GAAs below 1.8 and save percentages above .920, which is outstanding.
The Redhawks sophomore class has really picked up the slack from Miami's outgoing senior class of last year. Carter Camper is tied for the lead in national scoring with 26 points, while Pat Cannone has 20, Tommy Wingels has 14, and Andy Miele has 14. Success this year aside, none of those four seem to outstanding pro prospects, meaning this group is likely here to stay for another two years, and Miami is here to stay as a power among the CCHA.
3. Nebraska-Omaha, 14 games played, 19 points
The Mavericks are pleasant surprise #1 in the CCHA this year. Coach Mike Kemp needed a top five finish to save his job, and so far, his team looks to be on pace to do that. The Mavericks always seem to have a couple seniors come out of nowhere to put up a ton of points, and this year, that role has fallen to Dan Charleston and Tomas Klempa, with 17 and 16 points respectively. Eddie Del Grosso is having a great year at the blueline, averaging over a point per game, with 10 of his 18 points coming at even strength.
The biggest story for the Mavericks this year, however, has been the emergence of their goaltending. After a carousel of poor goaltending ever since Chris Holt left the team for the pros, senior Jerad Kaufmann and junior Jeremie Dupont have both finally developed to the point that they are solid college goaltenders. Neither goalie has had a save percentage above .900 for a season prior to this year, and both are sporting percentages above .930 this year.
The Mavericks are on the NCAA tournament bubble right now, but their schedule gets much tougher in the second half of the year. They've got a non-conference game against Princeton, two against Minnesota State, and league series with Miami and Notre Dame(at home) and Michigan, Ferris State, and Alaska(on the road).
4. Alaska, 12 games played, 17 points
Alaska is pleasant surprise #2 in the CCHA this year. Just about everyone picked them to finish near the bottom of the league. I thought they'd be better than that, but I didn't expect them to be this good.
Defense has been the key for the Nanooks. They're only 8th in the conference in scoring, but senior Chad Johnson has been a darkhorse Hobey candidate with his amazing play in goal, and the Nanooks have the stingiest defense in the league. Freshman Scott Greenham has posted shutouts in his two starts this year--against bad Atlantic Hockey opponents, but still--and he can't see the ice for a conference game because Johnson has been so good.
They play a fairly big home series against Western Michigan this weekend. Alaska has historically been successful against Western and Western has been historically been unsuccessful against everybody, so if the Nanooks can get four points, they could jump up to third in the league, just behind the new Big Two.
The Nanooks are just barely inside the NCAA tournament right now, thanks in large part to a tie against Northeastern in their first game of the season(Who had that one circled as a key game?). The Nanooks aren't known for a second half slide the same way Anchorage is, but it will be interesting to watch. After a playing at Notre Dame on January 10th, the Nanooks alternate between playing at home and in Real America every weekend, save one bye week, until their season closing series with Anchorage.
5. Michigan, 12 games played, 14 points
For one of the first times since Red Berenson took over coaching at Michigan, there is a genuine goaltending controversy. Billy Sauer and Bryan Hogan have nearly identical numbers, 2.63/2.23 GAA .903/.909 SV%, but Hogan leads the conference in winning percentage with a 9-1-0 record, while Sauer is tied for 15th with a 2-6-0 record. Michigan has had some pretty terrible efforts this year where they could not put the puck into the net, and Sauer seems to have been in net for all of them. Whether it is coincidence or not, it looks like Hogan will be receiving the majority of the starts from now on.
Michigan's sophomore class has picked up some of the slack after Michigan lost their entire top line over the summer. Louie Caporusso has gotten off to a great start with 12 goals. Michigan's losses on defense have been well documented, but things are starting to look up. Mark Mitera likely won't be back, but freshman Brandon Burlon is starting to come into his own, and Steve Kampfer could return to the ice as early as Michigan's series against Miami. Contributions from those two offensive defenseman, along with allowing Chris Summers to move back to forward, could give Michigan's offense a huge boost in the second half. Catching Notre Dame or Miami seems unlikely, but the Wolverines could very likely pass Alaska and Omaha to earn a first round bye in the CCHA tournament, and extend their record NCAA tournament streak.
5. Ohio State, 12 games played, 14 points
I think a lot of people wrote off Ohio State after a dismal 2-5-1 start, but they've won 9 of their last 10 games.
That success has been the result of some talented youngsters. Goalie Joe Palmer has been a pretty big disappointment for the Buckeyes, but sophomore Dustin Carlson has emerged as the starter, and has put together a great season. Senior Corey Elkins leads the team in scoring, but after that, the next 13(!) highest scorers are either freshmen or sophomores. In particular, their large and talented sophomore class is really starting to develop and could be a force to be reckoned with in the second half.
Head coach John Markell was reportedly on pretty thin ice after last season, but this year could end up saving his job. If the Buckeyes can survive a tough schedule in the last couple weekends of the season, they have an outside shot at making the NCAA tournament.
5. Ferris State, 14 games played, 14 points
Ferris State is a team that always seems to be flying in stealth mode. They don't have many big name players that draw your attention. They're tough to get a read on because their results are all over the board--they lost a home game to Canisius, but took 3 points at Miami.
That stealth mode would be great if at the end of the year, Ferris found a way to make it to the Joe for the CCHA tournament, and sneak their way into the NCAA tournament as a 3 or 4 seed. But instead, they make the second round of the playoffs and give their opponent a hell of a series, before bowing out before anyone can really take notice. They look to be on a similar path this year.
8. Lake Superior, 14 games played, 12 points
Being in 8th place isn't spectacular by any means, but given what Lake Superior has to work with, it's also not that bad. Nathan Perkovich has had a little quieter year, but his slack has been picked up by Zac MacVoy, Troy Schwab, and Fred Cassiani.
The Lakers probably don't have the talent to move much higher than 8th, but they have a chance at earning home ice in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
9. Bowling Green, 12 games played, 9 points
Bowling Green is a team that seems like it should be higher than 9th in the league. They've got one of the better top lines in the league with Dan Sexton, David Solway, and Brandon Svendsen.
There's been two problems for BG so far though. The first is in goal. Jimmy Spratt has a save percentage of .881 so far this year, which is pretty much what he has averaged for his career. Nick Eno is a promising young goalie, but he's been hampered by injury this year and unable to play. Second is the schedule. A third of BG's league games have been losses to Notre Dame. They've got pretty good looking splits with Alaska and Nebraska-Omaha, so they can beat good teams. Their second half schedule isn't easy, but they should be better than they were in the first half.
9. Northern Michigan, 14 games played, 9 points
Northern is sort of the mirror image of Alaska. Everyone seemed to pick them to finish pretty high in the league. I thought they'd be lower than projected, but I didn't expect them to be this low. In fact, they'd be tied for last place if it wasn't for the shootout.
So what has gone wrong? It looks like the offense has really let Northern down this year. At 1.71 goals per league game, they're 11th in the league in offense. Nick Sirota and Mark Olver both averaged nearly a point per game last season, and they're scoring about half of that this season.
There's still talent on this roster, but they still have to play at Notre Dame and at Miami, so it's going to be difficult for them to make up a lot of ground in the second half of the season, though they could be a difficult playoff matchup for whomever draws them.
11. Michigan State, 12 games played, 8 points
I can understand Michigan State having a down year after all the talent they lost after last season, but this is just embarrassing. A program with the history and name recognition of a Michigan State should never been in 11th place and scoring 1.5 goals per conference game.
MSU has a ton of young talent, and I think they'll be a little better in the second half, but it's looking like it will be too little, too late.
The big question for the rest of the season is what will be Rick Comley's future at Michigan State. Comley is two years removed from a national title, but aside from that surprising national title run, his results have been decidedly average--which incidentally, is the exact same way you'd describe his career at Northern Michigan. Comley has had a very long, distinguished career, but this offseason may be the time for him to step down gracefully and for MSU to move in another direction.
12. Western Michigan, 12 games played, 7 points
Oy. It's going to be a lot harder to justify pulling down the "Why hasn't Jim Culhane been fired yet?" article off the web like the Kalamazoo Gazette had to do last year. There's just not a lot of positives here.