Michigan Hockey: CCHA Tournament — Michigan at Western Michigan — Preview
Michigan Hockey Declaws Wildcats; Moves On To The CCHA Qtrs At WMU
What: Michigan Wolverines (15-18-3) 7th seed, vs. Western Michigan University (19-9-8) 3rd seed, (Best of three series) Friday & Saturday, (Sunday if necessary,) 3/15-17, 6:35 p.m. Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, Mi.
TV: Friday-FSD Sat/Sun- no announced coverage. 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
The Wolverine icers have awoken apparently. Michigan, entering the first round of a do or die playoff run, played with a purpose this past weekend and outlasted the NMU Wildcats 3-2 Friday and dominated them 6-2 on Saturday. On Friday, the Wolverines busted out of the gate early posting three straight goals- a PP goal by Jon Merrill (which was actually pushed into an open net by a NMU defender), another PP goal by Kevin Lynch on a rebound, and then the game winning tally shorthanded off of Lynch’s stick. The final goal was actually created by a hustle play from walk-on sophomore defenseman Mike Szuma. The former Detroit Catholic Central high school star streaked across the Michigan defensive zone to knock the puck away from an oncoming NMU forward in order to clear the zone. Then, sensing confusion in the neutral zone, Lynch stripped the puck off of a startled NMU defenseman (while awaiting a line change) and broke in clear on Northern netminder Jared Coreau. The senior forward zipped across the crease from left to right causing Coreau to make the first move. Lynch outwaited him as Coreau flopped to the ice, and patiently lifted the puck over him from the bottom of the opposite faceoff circle to stake Michigan to a huge lead with less than two minutes left.
From that point forward though, Michigan fans became nervous. The Wildcats came back in the second stanza and posted two markers: one off of a deflected point shot five minutes into the period and the other on a blown defensive coverage late in the period. Michigan’s forwards were caught flatfooted as the play transitioned into their end and a rebound from an initial shot was backhanded in from an unguarded NMU forward. The Cats carried the play the remainder of the period and had chances in the third period, but were turned away. Steve Racine was solid again in net, stopping 26 of the 28 shots his way.
On Saturday night, Michigan did not suffer the same intensity letdown that nearly cost them the night before. They outskated and outhustled the Wildcats from the opening faceoff, pummeling Coreau with a total of 50 shots- including a 23-6 bulge after one period and a 39-9 advantage after two periods. The Wolverines scored twice in each stanza, building a 4-1 lead after forty minutes. Alex Guptill and Jacob Trouba scored in the first period before NMU replied in the last: 30 of the period. Mac Bennett and Andrew Copp added PP goals in the second, while Luke Moffatt and Copp finished off the Cats in the third- with Copp scoring on a penalty shot- the second attempt of the game for the Wolverines. Copp moved in slowly on Coreau before making a move and slipping the puck five hole for the Wolverine’s first penalty shot goal at Yost since Jason Ryznar scored in the early 2000’s. NMU added a late goal to complete the scoring. Racine was good when he had to be, knocking away 18 of 20 shots.
Michigan concluded the home portion of their schedule for the season, finishing 10-8-1. They move on to the CCHA Quarterfinals now which will see them matched up against the WMU Broncos this weekend in Kalamazoo. The winner of the best two of three series will move on to the semi-finals at Joe Louis Arena. Michigan must win the CCHA tournament championship to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Profiling The Broncos:
Western Michigan students aka “The Lawson Lunatics” are already chomping at the bit. Excitement is building on the campus in Kalamazoo as word of the pairing with Michigan was decided late this past Sunday evening after MSU defeated Alaska in their first round series. Confident Bronco fans are already chirping about how their (defending CCHA tournament champion) Broncos will derail Michigan’s NCAA record 22 straight appearances in the national tournament and will send them home from the CCHA tournament for the third straight season.
Not so fast my friends.
This is a different Michigan team that has found confidence, has found the net again and after a long search this season has discovered a goaltender that is playing really well. So… how do these Broncos stack up?
Well, fans know that Michigan and WMU have played four times this season with the Broncos splitting at Yost in December and then sweeping Michigan in January on home ice. The Broncos are an opportunistic team that relies on solid defense, timely scoring and superb goaltending. They fell five points short of Miami in the CCHA, but played both they and Notre Dame- the two teams above them- dead even 2-2-2 on the season. In other words- they are a tough team to climb over especially on home ice where WMU was 13-2-3 this season.
Seven seniors dot the roster with another five juniors ready to step in to carry the torch next season. Western- one of the teams that Michigan used to abuse on a regular basis- is very thirsty. They have successfully turned their program around on the strength of several strong classes and leadership offered by former coach Jeff Blashill and current coach Andy Murray. Murray was a defensive minded coach in the NHL and has carried this over to the Bronco program. Western was this writer’s pick to win the CCHA this season based on their experience and talent. (Miami has 13 freshmen including three on the CCHA All-Rookie Team- it was highly unexpected.) Notre Dame was a solid ‘1A’ choice, but does not have the same defensive depth or goaltending. The Irish managed to finish two points ahead of WMU for second place and does have a more potent offense.
So, what about this talent? WMU is not going to finesse any opponent. They attack relentlessly, using a steady fore-check and a punishing defense led by 1st Team All-CCHA junior Captain Dan DeKeyser (2-13-15) , 2nd Team All-CCHA senior Captain Luke Witkowski (2-8-10), junior Dennis Brown (3-14-17, +4, 3 PPG’s), sophomore Jordan Oesterle (3-6-9, +9) and CCHA All Rookie selection Kenney Morrison (7-12-19, 6 PPG’s.) The offense is steady but not imposing- but comes from senior Captain Dane Walters (12-12-24, +5, 6 PPG’s), junior Chase Balisy (10-14-24, +2, 6 PPG’s), junior Shane Berschbach (4-14-18, +1), redshirt senior Mike Leone (6-11-17, +5) and redshirt junior Mike Cichy (4-13-17, 3 PPG’s.)
The biggest plus for the Broncos is their outstanding netminder sophomore Frank Slubowski (19-9-8, 1.85 GAA, .922 save %.) Slubowski was named All-CCHA 2nd Team and is ninth in the country in goals against average. He is pretty much the workhorse on the squad, with freshman Lucas Hapner seeing very little mop up time this season. Senior Nick Pisellini, who had a win against Michigan at Yost in 2010-11, is still listed on the roster but has not recorded any playing time this season.
Western thrives off of the raucous environment at Lawson and saw the Wolverines jump out to a 2-0 lead on the Friday night game there earlier this season. The Broncos eventually tied it before the first period was over and then added a late second period goal to win the contest. Expect to see at least two similar games to that one-with hopefully the same blueprint for Michigan. WMU is a different team playing from behind, but demonstrated the ability to create offense when they are challenged. Steven Racine- Michigan’s goaltending hope in the playoffs- has only played in the opening game at Yost against WMU (in December) and was not up to par in that game, as the Broncos raced off to a big lead and coasted. The Broncos have found the going tough down the stretch though, only winning three of their last ten games (3-3-4) dating back to the late January / early February Michigan series.
Tale of the Tape: Hard To Match Up This Weekend
If given the choice, especially in the playoffs, coaches would rather trot out a lineup that will shut down opponents and scratch out offense versus trying to push a high tempo, high octane offense and *hope* that their defense and goaltending is enough to overcome mistakes. This is the dilemma that Michigan Coach Red Berenson is facing- although he usually has the best of both of those worlds.
On offense, Michigan has enough balance both up front and on the blue line to produce the NCAA’s 15th best 3.14 goals per game. Conversely, WMU is only yielding 1.92 GPG, good for 3rd overall. I am still not convinced that Michigan can score consistently against the top caliber defenses in the NCAA, especially with a goaltender that gives up very little. Advantage: Broncos.
On defense Michigan has improved ever so slightly, only yielding 3.36 GPG (T52nd.) Recently the Wolverines are only giving up two or less goals during their ten game 7-2-1 stretch. The Broncos on the other hand are only averaging 2.31 goals GPG, or T51st in the nation. Home ice does boost this (at least on paper) so I am only going to call this even. If Racine shines, Michigan can steal a game and give themselves a chance in the series.
The special team’s battle will feature two of the top rookies in the country: Michigan’s Jacob Trouba and WMU’s Kenney Morrison. Both are deadly on the power play, potting six PPG’s each this season-tied for fifth overall for rookies in the NCAA. The Broncos rely on Walters and Balisy for their offense, so the key will be to keep them off the board. Still, Western is only clicking 17.78% of the time (27th) while Michigan has vastly improved to 18.5% (23rd.) Alex Guptill and Phil DiGiuseppe have been the most potent forwards during Michigan’s power play time. The flip side to this equation is the penalty kill, where the Broncos hold a sizeable advantage. They are T10th in the country with an 85.9% kill rate, where Michigan is still a bit leaky at 83.9% (T21st.) Michigan does have an offensive edge while shorthanded, scoring six goals, while WMU has added two goals both by Chase Balisy. Based on the overall information though, the special team’s advantage slightly tilts towards the Broncos.
Michigan will have to stay out of the penalty box to give their offense the chance to score goals- while keeping WMU off of the board. The Wolverines are 42nd in PIM’s (11.78 MPG) while the Broncos are bit more aggressive at 12.44 MPG (33rd). Considering the disparity in penalty killing versus power play potency, it is a tradeoff that the Broncos will take to prevent a 5×5 opportunity.
Bottom Line: The Wolverines need to strike fast to put the Broncos and their Lawson Loonies on their heels. I like their chances to secure the first game with the current momentum they have. If they drop the Friday game, they will have to play two perfect games in a rink that has only seen WMU lose three times this season. Overall, the talent level up front favors Michigan, but the overall depth favors WMU, especially on the blue line and in net. Michigan will battle like champions but will fall in three games to end their season.
-Freshman Boo Nieves (8-21-29) added three assists against NMU to share the points lead. He is now tied with sophomore Alex Guptill (12-17-29, +1) who added a goal and two helpers against the Cats. Phil Di Giuseppe (8-18-26) added two assists last weekend to tie AJ Treais (11-15-26) for third. Treais had three assists in his final appearance at Yost arena. He also failed to score on a penalty shot awarded in the third period Saturday. Freshman Jacob Trouba (10-15-25) tallied a goal and an assist. Senior Kevin Lynch (9-13-22) scored twice last Friday to go out in style and was named first star-he was a dominant force all weekend. He now is 4-7-11 in his last twelve games. Freshman Andrew Copp (9-9-18, +4) had another outstanding two game set- scored twice on Saturday and was named first star in that game. Copp has now scored in eight of his past nine games and was dynamite in the faceoff circle. Three Wolverines are tied with seventeen points including junior Derek DeBlois (9-8-17, +4) who leads the Wolverines with two shorthanded goals.
-Michigan’s goal differential now stands at -9, as the Wolverines have yielded 121 goals compared to scoring 113 this season. Their only deficit is in the second period (-9) and in OT (-1). They are even in the first period and +2 in the third period.
-Michigan is now 7-2-1 in their last ten games while WMU is 3-3-4.
-Freshman Steve Racine earned both victories over the weekend to improve his record to 9-5-3 with a 2.73 GAA and a .894 save %. RS sophomore Luke Dwyer, who has made two exhibition game appearances this season, did not dress. Junior Adam Janecyk (3-7-0, 3.46 GAA and a .892 save %) backed up Racine along with freshman Jared Rutledge (3-6-0 with a 4.24 GAA and a .854 save %.) Senior Lindsay Sparks was a healthy scratch both nights, as was senior Jeff Rohrkemper. Sophomore defensemen Brennan Serville and Mike Chiasson each sat out one game. Junior defender Kevin Clare is out for the season with an injury. Some of the team was battling a virus, including Boo Nieves, who looked absolutely ashen gray after the game Saturday.
– Freshman defenseman Jacob Trouba was named to the CCHA All Rookie Team. Trouba leads all CCHA defensemen with ten goals and 25 points, fifteenth in the NCAA. He joins WMU’s Kenney Morrison, Miami’s Riley Barber, Matt Caito and Ryan McKay as well as Notre Dame’s Mario Lucia and Alaska’s Tyler Morley. Boo Nieves was also given an Honorable Mention nod for the All-CCHA Rookie Team. Congratulations to both Jacob and Boo!
– Trouba was also named 1st Team All-CCHA this season and junior defenseman Mac Bennett was given an Honorable Mention. Congratulations, Jacob and Mac!
– Sophomore Mike Szuma (+3) and Junior Jon Merrill (+2) also join Alex Guptill (+1), Andrew Copp (+4) and Derek DeBlois (+4) as the plus-minus leaders on the team.
#1 seed Miami will host the upstart #11 seed MSU Spartans in Oxford, Oh. #2 Notre Dame will take on the upset minded #9 BGSU Falcons and #4 OSU will greet #5 Ferris State this weekend.
The National Scene
Currently three teams from the CCHA qualify for the NCAA playoffs- #3 Miami, #10 WMU and #15 Notre Dame. Miami is the only program that is safe if they get tripped up in the CCHA playoffs. WMU is considered tied for the 10th spot in the PWR with two other schools and could be in trouble if other conference tournament upsets occur coupled with their own upset against Michigan. Notre Dame absolutely has to win in two games or could drop out of the top 16 slots. This is also subject to upsets and the events in the other conferences that will affect their PWR rating. No other CCHA schools will qualify for the NCAA tournament unless they win the auto bid given to the CCHA tourney champion.
Streaks On The Line
Michigan is staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, no doubt. They are seeking to extend their NCAA record 22 straight years in the NCAA tournament- a feat that even the ‘vaunted’ WCHA teams can’t brag about. Better yet, Coach Berenson is trying to extend a string of 25 consecutive seasons that his program has finished above the .500 mark. He has not suffered a subpar season since 1986-87 when his program finished at 14-25-1. Michigan will have to sweep WMU, win the CCHA Championship and then win their first round game in the NCAA playoffs to stay above the .500 mark. It has been a remarkable run for a coach that has also brought 767 wins, 2 National Championships, 11 Frozen Four appearances (including a runner up appearance in 2011), 11 regular season CCHA titles, 9 CCHA playoff titles and 15 GLI Tournament titles home to Yost arena. This season will conclude his 29th year behind the bench at Michigan (all in the CCHA). It would mark only the 6th season that Michigan would finish with a subpar record while in the CCHA- with four of those seasons under Berenson’s guidance. Michigan has been a member of the CCHA since 1981-82 (32 seasons). The CCHA was formed in 1971. Michigan previously competed in the WCHA prior to membership. Berenson only needs 17 more victories to pass Rick Comley and move into 4th place all time in NCAA Division I coaching wins. Only Jack Parker (BU) (who is retiring this season), Ron Mason and Jerry York (BC) are ahead of Berenson.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister
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