Michigan Hockey: CCHA Tournament — Northern Michigan vs. Michigan — At Yost — Preview
Wolverine Icer’s Hot Streak Continues; Roll Into a 1st Round Yost Playoff Battle Vs. NMU
Michigan Wolverines (13-18-3, 10-15-3-3) 7th, 36 pts. CCHA vs. Northern Michigan University (15-17-4, 9-15-4-0) 10th, 31pts. CCHA (Best of three series) Friday & Saturday, (Sunday if necessary,) 3/8-10, 7:35 p.m. Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mi.
TV: TBD (Check local listings, probably on Comcast Local.) Follow the action with Al Randall and Bill Trainor on the IMG Sports Network (WTKA 1050 a.m.) or track their progress on www.mgoblue.com
For the streak to continue Michigan must win the CCHA Championship!
Don’t count these Wolverines out yet. Perhaps playing their best hockey of the entire season, Michigan’s 2012-13 home season will extend at least for one more weekend. Backed by a 46 save weekend from freshman goaltender Steven Racine and just enough offense, the Maize and Blue drilled Ferris State 4-1 Friday night and then came back with a gutty 1-1 overtime tie (and earned the extra shootout point.) The Wolverines scratched out five of six points that provided enough leverage to jump them into 7th place to end the regular season. As a result, and coupled with the other conference outcomes, Michigan will host a first round best of three series against the 10th place NMU Wildcats.
Friday night’s affair was methodical, as Michigan jumped all over the Bulldogs in the first five minutes of the game. Zach Hyman deflected a floating shot over the shoulder of Ferris netminder C.J. Motte two minutes into the contest to give Michigan a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes. Derek DeBlois pounded home a rebound to extend the lead early in the second stanza. Ferris caught a break when the Wolverines took consecutive penalties late in the period, and their PP cashed in on the second penalty’s delayed call to slice the lead to 2-1. Michigan survived the period as the second penalty carried over to the final period. The Wolverines caught a bit of a break as Ferris was buzzing early in the third period. The puck bounced past a defender and the Michigan’s Phil Di Giuseppe broke out with Luke Moffatt on an odd man rush. Moffatt received a pass in the slot, deked through the crease and jammed a backhander by Motte to give the Wolverines breathing room. Lee Moffie added another seeing eye marker from the high slot late in the game to end the scoring. Overall, the Wolverines played a very crisp game.
Saturday’s game featured a bit more drama, as the Bulldogs raised the level of their intensity and attacked Michigan right from the opening faceoff. Racine was called on to make several grade A stops early to keep Michigan from falling behind. The Wolverines appeared to be on their heels for the first ten minutes until the game settled down. Finally, Michigan cashed in while on the PP as Kevin Lynch accepted a beautiful feed in the slot, made Motte make the first move, and then buried a snap shot high over his glove. The game was chippy and several opportunities went by the wayside as both Motte and Racine matched saves.
Ferris Coach Bob Daniels called out his top line (Bonis-Thompson-Ouelette) after being a collective -12 on Friday night. The line was much better Saturday, but did not beat Racine. It took a fluky shot (from the Bulldog’s fourth line) that was just thrown at the net, hit a body in front and eluded Racine halfway through the game. That was it, though- and good thing as the Bulldogs dominated play the remainder of the second and perhaps most of the third period. Michigan fought off several PP chances and had to rotate five defenders after Jacob Trouba was issued an unsportsmanlike penalty and ten minute misconduct after getting tangled up with several Bulldogs. He was unavailable for almost half of the third period. The teams battled hard but could not dent the twine through regulation. In overtime, Michigan came close several times, but did not score. Ferris was forced to pull Motte with a minute and a half left in order to try to take three points which would have given them home ice in next week’s quarterfinal battle with Ohio State. The Wolverines had a chance to ice the game into the empty net but missed wide, where a strange circumstance took place. Ferris had their sixth attacker on the ice, won the puck behind the net and then sprung a Ferris player for a breakaway. The only problem was the player came off the bench as the 7th attacker which went undetected for the final: 30 of OT. The player- Travis Ouelette- was stoned by Racine to end the contest. Michigan’s AJ Treais was the lone goal scorer in the shootout, as Racine was again magnificent against the Bulldog’s top three offensive threats. Had Michigan lost the shootout they would have still earned a home ice berth, but would have been tied for 7th with LSSU. (They would have still won the tiebreaker, though.) They needed to either win or tie the game, which they achieved. Ferris was relegated to 5th place with the tie/shootout loss- giving them a first round bye, but a trip to Columbus next weekend for a best of three series at OSU.
Profiling The Wildcats:
“The Northerns” as our Al Randall calls the team from Marquette, is a big scrappy team that Michigan cannot afford to overlook. The Wolverines traveled north early in the season and fell behind by three goals in both contests. Michigan ended up earning a 4-4 tie after AJ Treais miraculously tied the game with less than a second left on the clock. The Maize and Blue ended up winning a shoot-out. The next night, Michigan trailed 3-0 and 4-1 before rallying to close the gap to 4-3. They couldn’t get the equalizer, though, and fell to the Wildcats. Steven Racine was in net both nights.
That weekend ignited a run for NMU, as they cruised to an impressive 6-2 nonconference record (all against WCHA rivals) , sweeping Wisconsin at home, splitting with former CCHA rival UNO in Omaha, beating Michigan Tech, sweeping NCAA qualifier SCSU in Minnesota, and then getting routed in Houghton by MTU. Once the CCHA season started though, the Wildcats suddenly lost their offense and suffered from inconsistent netminding by their junior goaltender Jared Coreau (15-17-4, 2.59 GAA & .921 Save %.) Coreau is still an outstanding goaltender- big, rangy and capable of shutting down a team if he gets hot.
The Wildcats offense is pretty much predicated around their top line led by senior forward Matt Thurber (6-26-32, 3 PPG’s), junior Reed Seckel (13-12-25, 59 PIM’s) and junior Erik Higby (9-12-21, 42 PIM’s, 3 PPG’s.) Unfortunately, Thurber will be lost for the remainder of the season after breaking his leg in practice earlier this week. This is a huge blow for a team that is only averaging a little over two goals per game. Junior Stephan Vigier (7-13-20, 4 PPG’s) will probably be elevated to the top line. Sophomore Ryan Daugherty (10-7-17, 48 PIM’s, 3 PPG’s) adds solid depth. NMU’s forwards have size and speed, but lack consistent finishing ability.
The defense is managed by a veteran corps consisting of senior Scott Macaulay (5-11-16), junior C.J. Ludwig (4-11-15, 51 PIM’s), sophomore Mitch Jones (3-10-13), senior Kyle Follmer (2-9-11, 44 PIM’s), senior Wade Epp (2-3-5) and freshman Ryan Trenz (0-2-2). They are all big, play with an edge and provide some special teams pop for the Cats.
This series will mark the sixth CCHA playoff meeting between the two schools, with Michigan winning a second round series in 2007 at Yost arena (in two games.) The Wolverines have a 5-0 record against the Cats at Joe Louis Arena either in the CCHA semi-finals or final. Friday will mark the 65th all time meeting with Michigan holding a 37-20-7 advantage, including a slim 16-11-2 record at Yost arena. The Cats are a porous 5-13-1 on the road, with only two of those wins against conference foes. Next season NMU will move back to the revamped WCHA conference which will include CCHA orphans Alaska, LSSU, BGSU and Ferris State.
Tale of the Tape: Is this real change or a mirage?
Michigan’s resurgence over the past few weeks (5-2-1) can be credited to a sounder execution of back checking, fore checking and overall puck possession. The Wolverines, for instance, dominated Ferris in the faceoff circle, winning over 20 more faceoffs (actually 40 of 65 draws) last Friday than their opponent. This translated to puck possession and less time defending in their own zone. It also serves their special teams, as it is easier to clear the defensive zone after winning the puck, and creating chances on the PP by keeping the puck in the opponent’s zone.
That said, Michigan climbed up to 54th this week overall defensively, yielding 3.44 GPG. Conversely, the Wildcats check in at 32nd, giving up 2.78 GPG. Most of that is due to the defensive style coach Walt Kyle implements, especially on the road. The Wolverines have only given up eight goals in the last four games which suggest that they are changing their style to fit the urgency of playing playoff style hockey. Offensively, Michigan is sitting at 18th with a 3.06 GPG average. NMU is at 2.39 GPG, good for 46th overall. Something will have to give this weekend- meaning that Michigan’s offense will continue to pressure their opponents while leaning on the sudden emergence of Steven Racine in net.
Michigan’s special teams are average, with a 16.67% PP conversion (T32nd) and an 83.3% PK (T24th.) The power-play was stymied last weekend, but the PK was spectacular, only yielding one goal. NMU’s special teams are suspect and could prove to be the edge Michigan is seeking in this series. The Cat PP is an anemic 14.18% (46th) and will be even less imposing without Thurber. Their PK sits at 79.4% (47th) and is slightly better on the road than at home, if that is any consolation in that. Discipline is another area that both teams are on different end of the spectrum. Michigan’s chippy series with FSU raised their average to 12.18 PIM’s (40th) but clearly do not match the 10th worst 14.94 PIM’s average the Cats drag in. They are overaggressive (three of their top forwards combined for 149 PIM’s and two of their top d-men have a combined 95 PIM’s) and will certainly have their patience tested at Yost. Coincidently, Michigan’s Jacob Trouba (who was suspended for a game after a vicious hit on a NMU forward in November) leads the Wolverines with 28 penalties for 86 minutes this season.
The Wolverines are playing better hockey, but still need to play a complete sixty minutes. They hit a wall last Saturday in a very physical game that was reminiscent of an earlier series at Yost where they challenged Notre Dame in two close games. The Wolverines lost both of those games due to late mental errors- and heavy fatigue. It’s time to dig deep since they are now reaping the reward they sowed the last few weeks. If they win the series- as they should at home- they will advance to a rugged best of three series presumably at Notre Dame. It’s win or go home time now, with the only prospect of going to the NCAA tournament is by winning the CCHA Championship.
The Cats can win this series because they appear to match up with Michigan’s personnel well. Their size will be an issue, but their aggressiveness will be their downfall, depending on how the officiating is called. (Last weekend the officials basically called everything on Friday, then let the game get out of hand by swallowing the whistle on Saturday. It was a classic clutch and grab affair with the occasional twisted call.) Racine, if he remains as good as he was last weekend, can provide the confidence for Michigan to play a tight checking, low scoring series. Michigan wins their final series at Yost this season to extend their season in 3 nerve wracking games. Keep in mind that during the Shawn Hunwick era, Michigan also ran the gauntlet as a 7th seed in the 2009-10 season, defeating BGSU, then sweeping MSU in East Lansing before defeating Miami and NMU at JLA for their ninth CCHA Playoff Title. They are the lowest seed to ever win the CCHA tournament title.
-Freshman Boo Nieves (8-18-26) was held off the board last weekend, but was named the CCHA Rookie of the Month for February. He is now tied with the emerging sophomore Alex Guptill (11-15-26) who added three helpers against the Bulldogs. Phil Di Giuseppe (8-16-24) also added an assist last weekend to hop into third. AJ Treais (11-12-23) is tied with Jacob Trouba (9-14-23). Senior Kevin Lynch (7-13-20) is 2-7-9 in his last ten games. Four Wolverines are tied with sixteen points including the underrated freshman Andrew Copp who is on a seven game point string.
-Michigan’s goal differential now stands at -13, as the Wolverines have yielded 117 goals compared to scoring 104 this season.
-Michigan is now 5-4-1 in their last ten games while NMU is 4-6-0.
-Freshman Steve Racine earned the ROTW honors after backstopping Michigan to a win and a shootout win. He improved his record to 7-5-3 with a 2.82 GAA and a .892 save %. RS sophomore Luke Dwyer, who has made two exhibition game appearances this season, dressed and Junior Adam Janecyk (3-7-0, 3.46 GAA and a .892 save %) backed up Racine. Freshman Jared Rutledge (3-6-0 with a 4.24 GAA and a .854 save %.) did not dress and was a healthy scratch both games. Senior Lindsay Sparks also was a healthy scratch both nights, where Luke Moffatt was replaced in the lineup with Senior Jeff Rohrkemper on Senior Night Saturday.
– Freshman phenom Jacob Trouba took the regular season defenseman scoring honors, with nine goals and 23 points. He was also tied with WMU’s freshman Kenny Morrison for rookie PPG’s with six.
Miami took home the final CCHA regular season trophy, edging Notre Dame (2nd), WMU (3rd) OSU (4th) and Ferris State (5th). They will all advance to the quarterfinals and await the winners of the first round series. Alaska (6th) will host MSU (11th), Michigan (7th) hosts NMU (10th) and LSSU (8th) will host BGSU (9th). Miami will host the lowest remaining seed, followed in order by ND, WMU etc.
Final CCHA Resting Place:
Paula Weston, CCHA reporter for USCHO, wrote a nice story on how the CCHA Offices will be dissolved after March 25th. Because the CCHA is technically a non-profit corporation, their assets have to be liquidated and a location must be established to hold documents as mandated by the government. BGSU, as a founding member of the conference in 1971, has volunteered to keep the records in a specially designed museum dedicated to the CCHA. The museum will house the replicas of the CCHA regular season and playoff trophies as well as other memorabilia found in the conference offices, which includes the living murals that depict each season the CCHA existed.
The National Scene:
Currently four teams from the CCHA qualify for the NCAA playoffs- #3 Miami, #10 WMU, #14 Notre Dame and #16 Alaska. Miami is the only program that is safe- and each school could be affected by the outcomes of the CCHA first round playoff series. This is due to the volatility of the formula used to factor how teams qualify, including RPI and TUC (teams under consideration). It is pretty clear that Alaska must advance at least to the CCHA final to have a chance to stay as a NCAA at large qualifier. Notre Dame will also need to advance to JLA and then win at least their semi-final game. WMU is in a similar position. Michigan could have a large role in the outcomes of these teams in two ways: first NMU is a huge TUC for Alaska, Notre Dame and WMU. If Michigan defeats NMU, they fall off as a TUC, which then impacts the other team’s TUC record negatively. Michigan could also play Notre Dame as the #2-#7 seed match up next weekend and knock them out of the CCHA tournament with an upset series win- which would probably also knock them out of the NCAA at large picture also. Alaska needs to get past MSU without dropping any of their games- and then somehow defeat WMU in K-zoo.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister
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