Michigan Hockey — Western Michigan Broncos vs. Michigan Wolverines — CCHA Finals — Preview
#3 Wolverines Move On To CCHA Championship Game
#3 Michigan (24-11-4) vs. #14 Western Michigan (20-13-6)
7:35 p.m. Saturday 3/17 Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
#7 Miami (23-13-2) vs. Bowling Green (14-24-5)
3:35 p.m. Saturday (Consolation game)
TV: The Championship game will be shown on FSD+
What’s at stake: Michigan is challenging for their 10th CCHA tournament championship in 16 championship game appearances (out of 23 straight CCHA semi-final appearances) and has sewn up a #1 NCAA regional seed regardless of their result. WMU is seeking its first CCHA tournament banner since 1986 and an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney. A loss would put their NCAA tournament fate on the outcomes of other conference tournament action although they will most likely obtain an at large berth.
Rewinding Friday’s Action:
Miami and WMU squared off in the early tilt and the Broncos used the strength of three PP goals and a SG goal to cruise past the Red Hawks 6-2. WMU built on a 2-1 first period lead and never looked back, extending their lead at one point to 4-1. Two third period tallies finished off the Hawks, sandwiched between a short handed goal for Miami.
In the nightcap, Michigan came out listless and without a great deal of emotion and BGSU took advantage of it. In the end, though, Michigan got a late goal to tie and then won it in 2OT, 3-2.
The Falcons PP went to work and scored to give them the early advantage after one period. The Wolverines were not crisp and were forced into numerous turnovers and other mistakes by the aggressive Falcon attack. BG extended its lead to 2-0 after a Michigan defensive zone turnover in the second period. Brennan Serville coughed the puck up while breaking out behind his net and the Falcon forward (Rodriguez) lasered a perfect shot over Hunwick. Michigan began to increase their intensity after that, narrowly missing on a couple chances and being thwarted by BG net-minder Andrew Hammond. Michigan finally broke through on a seeing eye bouncer that Jon Merrill threw at the net with: 10 left in the period. It was a momentum changing goal and gave Michigan life entering the 3rd period.
Michigan played desperately in the final stanza, but just couldn’t solve Hammond. BG had settled into a defensive shell and was satisfied to just dump the puck into the U-M zone. The Wolverines finally got the break they needed by applying a heavy forecheck that forced a defensive zone turnover. The play cycled behind the net where Derek DeBlois blindly centered a perfect pass to an incoming David Wohlberg (who just came off of the bench on a change) and Wohlberg buried it to forge a tie with 2:45 left.
In the first overtime period, both teams had glorious chances to end the game. BG hit the post on one rush, where Michigan’s Chris Brown and Kevin Lynch rang the post on the other end. The game opened up which actually helped Michigan. The teams fought to another draw though, leading to double OT.
Michigan never let the puck leave the BG end in the second OT. They pinned BG deep and forced two in zone turnovers. AJ Treais gathered the second, weaved around a defender, skated cross crease as Hammond followed him. His shot ricocheted off of a defender in the crease as Hammond lay outside of the net. Several players battled for it before Luke Moffatt collected it and shoveled a shot into the cage to win it inside of the second minute. Hammond and his team were devastated, as they probably outplayed the Wolverines for most of regulation. Hammond turned aside 50+ shots while Shawn Hunwick fought the puck most of the night in turning away 32 shots.
Scouting the Broncos:
The Western Michigan Broncos tied the Wolverines for 2nd place in the CCHA standings this season (four points behind Ferris State) and also split an earlier two game series at Yost arena. Michigan dropped the first game 3-2 on an early third period Bronco goal, and then outlasted Western 5-2 in the second game, which featured three late third period goals to determine the margin.
The biggest asset the Broncos bring, aside from confidence, is their experience- five seniors and ten juniors dot the lineup. They play a style that is best described as “in your face”, focusing on defensive responsibilities and turning transition turnovers into offense. Matter of fact, the Broncos have turned it up a notch in the last month, scoring 18 goals in their past four games while only allowing 7 goals against good defensive teams like Lake State, Ferris and Miami. Their last loss was one month ago in a 3-2 road setback to Lake State. The offense is well balanced, with sophomore Chase Balisy (12-23-35) leading the scoring. Fellow sophomore Shane Berschbach (10-20-30) follows, with a pair of juniors- Dane Walters (15-12-27) and defense-man Matt Tennyson (11-13-24) providing secondary scoring. Senior leadership is provided by Greg Squires (8-11-19), Ian Slater (6-8-14), Derek Roehl (5-9-14) and JJ Crew (4-6-10).
The real secret, like I always mention about Michigan’s opponents, is on their blue-line and goal-tending.
WMU boasts the CCHA Defensive Defenseman of the Year in sophomore Dan DeKeyser (5-11-16.) Junior Luke Witkowski (2-11-13) is a lock down type and garners support from underrated sophomore Dennis Brown (2-20-22) and freshman Garrett Haar (1-7-8).
Goal-tending is mostly manned by freshman Frank Slubowski (16-10-4, 2.03 GAA & .909 save %.) Slubowski is big, rangy and steady. He will not steal games yet, but is very sound and handles rebounds very well.
In summary, WMU is as good as any team in the conference and is capable of running Michigan out of the building if allowed to. It will be important to gain the lead on this team and play mistake free after that.
Tale Of The Tape
Michigan gave up a rare PPG (in the only chance the Flacons were given) against BG on Friday- rare in that the Wolverines have not been prone to giving up PPG’s against poor special teams. Conversely, they were denied three of their own PP chances and continue to struggle. The Broncos on the other hand, are a much better at their special teams and proved it against Miami.
The Wolverines maintained their 10th position at 3.28 GF per game. WMU is 31st at 2.82 GPG but is much more dangerous than that when on the PP. Defensively, Michigan moved up to 3rd in the nation at 2.13 GPG, where the Broncos are T-4th at 2.23 GPG. Michigan checks in on the PP at a miserable 15.3 % (45nd) while WMU is a sizzling 20.8% (16th). Michigan’s PK dropped after last night and sits 11th (84.7%) while the Broncos sit 8th at an impressive 85% kill rate. WMU is a disciplined team, only gathering 11.4 minutes in penalties per game (average) which is 49th. Michigan is at 13.8 MPG and is 36th. Based on what I witnessed in the game last night (and depending on who the officials are), neither team will likely be drawn into careless penalties. The officials allowed both teams to decide the outcome in the Michigan game, where special team opportunities were more abundant in the WMU-Miami game.
Charting The Wolverines:
Michigan’s offense pulled the game out against BGSU, not because of their talent as much as it was the decision to outwork the Falcons. They will be tasked to do the same thing in the championship game against a better rested team. Once again it was top goalscorer David Wohlberg who provided the heroics to get the Wolverines to OT- yet it was the work of the fourth line that set the play up. It was also Jon Merrill’s first playoff goal of his career that launched the momentum change. And it was third liner Luke Moffatt that won the game with his mucky crease crashing effort in double OT. This balance, assisted by AJ Treais and uber offensive defenseman Lee Moffie- gives Michigan great flexibility to mix lines and produce.
The go to guys against the Broncos have been Kevin Lynch (4-6-10, 7 games), Greg Pateryn (1-7-8, 9 games), Wohlberg (4-0-4, 9 games) and Lindsay Sparks (2-4-6, 6 games). Sparks has not been in the lineup yet during the playoffs. I am hunching that he may get a go against the Broncos in lieu of 4th liner Jeff Rohrkemper who played on Friday.
Alex Guptill added a point against BG and leads U-M with 16-17-33. Wohlberg is 16-17-33 after his goal. Lee Moffie leads the blue liners and tallied an assist to move to 6-25-31. AJ Treais added an assist on the GWG and also moved to 15-15-30. Luke Glendening added an assist on Friday to move to 9-10-19. Brown (29 points) and DeGiuseppe (25) points were also dangerous against BG, but had nothing to show for their work.
Shawn Hunwick is 24-10-3 with a 1.95 GAA and a .934 save %. His career stats are troubling against WMU, though. He is 3-2 against the Broncos with a 3.60 GAA and a .877 save %. He surrendered five goals in last season’s CCHA semifinal bout against WMU and was in net for this season’s split that saw WMU score five more times in two games. Hunwick was not sharp on Friday and will need to lead his team and inspire them to buckle down against the Broncos.
The Wolverines can use exhaustion and fatigue as an excuse in this game, but won’t. Luke Moffatt summarized it best in the press conference by stating that their off season conditioning and experience will prepare them for this game. It will be a matter of skill, will and execution that will secure another banner. Fatigue can also temper a team’s nerves and force them to play a simpler game. So, there are positives that can be taken from it. Another OT game will not be good, though, and WMU will stay close, if not lead in this game. They are physical and will use that as an advantage. Michigan needs to calmly execute their defensive breakouts and limit turnovers and penalties. The offensive chances should come, although WMU blocks a good number of shots.
I think that WMU may be the more desperate team and has more to lose, although a banner is always a great accomplishment. Another effort like the one against BGSU will find Michigan on the losing end. More focus and desire will be required from the beginning, and, if possible, some puck luck.
In the end, though, I think Michigan may settle for second again. I have no real rationale other than how the teams match up. Michigan is playing perilous hockey right now in that their play is more reflective of last November than the 17-3-2 run they have been on since December 3rd. I think a wake up call is needed before the NCAA tournament begins and I think WMU will deliver it.
-Michigan has locked up 2nd in the Pairwise rankings (meaning they would be a #1 seed in the NCAA tourney). Their destination is most likely Green Bay with a small chance they could be placed in Minneapolis. The tournament selection show is at 12:00 Noon Sunday on ESPNU. (FYI: just another slight to hockey by the powers at ESPN.) It will be the Wolverines 22nd consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament.
-Michigan has a 5-0-0 record this season at JLA and is 6-0-4 in OT. WMU is 1-0 at JLA and are 3-0-6 in OT this season. The 2OT win was their second of the playoffs and their six OT wins ties the single season mark held by the 1997-98 national championship team.
-Red Berenson won his 750 game of his career last weekend against Notre Dame and continues to march toward Michigan hockey immortality.
-Michigan is 1-2 against WMU (at JLA) in the CCHA championships, including last season’s 5-2 drubbing in the semifinals. The Wolverines are 18-4 in their last 22 games downtown.
-Shawn Hunwick, Greg Pateryn, David Wohlberg and Captain Luke Glendening will play their final game on JLA ice as a Michigan Wolverine Saturday. It also marks their final appearance in front of what should be a partisan Michigan crowd.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister
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