Friday, March 14, 2008

Michigan Hockey - Quest for the Mason Cup

Another season has wound down for the Wolverines, a season that was expected to result in one of the team's worst in the past two decades. This was the rebuilding year for a team that was going to use 12 freshman, start a goalie that had been at best inconsistent the previous two seasons, and feature a defense headed by Mark Mitera, Chris Summers, and a motley crew headed by Steve Kampfer. This was the season to go into the CCHA looking to be lucky enough to get that first round bye. This is the season Michigan exceeded all expectations and earned the CCHA's regular season title (not a small feat in a year that saw Miami, Sparty, and Notre Dame spend most of their own seasons in the top 10 in the nation). Now the CCHA tourney heads into its second weekend with 4 series that will be exciting for all who follow the CCHA and the Wolverines enjoying the #1 seed in the tournament. I'm going to give a breakdown of Michigan's series this weekend, predictions for the other 3 series, then a prediction for what to see the following weekend at the Joe. So let's get started with the Mavs and Wolverines series.
  • UNO @ Michigan - (Game 1: Fri, 7:35 PM at Yost; Game 2: Sat, 7:35 PM at Yost; Game 3: Sun, 7:35 PM at Yost [if necessary])
The boys in blue (and white and maize this weekend) get ready for a tougher than expected series with the Mavs from Nebraska-Omaha. UNO will look to be aggressive early and often with the Wolverines, as their goal will be to frustrate the Michigan players into dumb penalties that will put the Wolverines on the penalty kill. Why does this matter? The Wolverines have a PK % of 84.8%, which is respectable (given the average experience of the penalty killers), but the Mavericks come into the series leading the CCHA in PP%, scoring on a whopping 23.1% of their power play opportunities. The goal to this weekend for UNO will be to score 2-3 goals a game, with the majority coming from their PP unit, then hoping that the loss of Matt Rust and rust on Chad Kolarik's skates will slow the UM offense enough to make one of the first two games go their way, leading to a game 3, which is anyone's game, no matter the setting.
On the flip side, the Wolverines will enter this series looking to finally get back on the ice after a devastating bye week. Someone forgot to tell Coach Berenson and the boys that teams get healthier while on their bye, as both Scooter Vaughan (broken jaw from playfully wrestling with a teammate) and Matt Rust (hairline fracture in his fibula from knee-to-knee collision in practice with Eric Elmblad, walk-on replacement for Scooter) were lost for significant time. Good news is that Chad Kolarik, the Wolverines' second-leading scorer and right-hand man to Kevin Porter, will be back after missing the end of the regular season with a groin injury suffered against Lake State. The Wolverines will head into the series with what seems to be the following lines:
  1. Kolarik, Porter, Pacioretty
  2. Miller, Hagelin, Palushaj
  3. Winnett, Caporusso, Turnbull
  4. Lebler, Fardig, Naurato
Defensive Pairings:
  1. Mitera, Langlais
  2. Summers, Llewellyn
  3. Kampfer, Elmblad
While the majority of those pairings and lines have not had the time during the season to gain the chemistry needed for consistent strong performances, the Wolverines will definitely be on top of their games thanks to the leadership of Porter, the voice of Red in their heads, and the added relief of knowing that the top line is back together.
Game 1: As for the games themselves, while, in my opinion, there may be much ado about nothing when it comes to the Wolverines PK vs. UNO's PP, that will be a key factor in the games. Watch for the Wolverines to come out strong on Friday night, open an early 1-2 goal lead in the first period, play strong through the second, then after surrendering a PP goal in the third, shut the Mavs down the rest of the the way to claim an opening night victory while dumping in an EN goal late. Final Score: UM 4- UNO 2
Game 2:
Saturday night, the Wolverines will come out stoked and get plenty of early opportunities to take the lead, but the Mavericks will weather the storm and do some storming back of their own, adding a late PP goal to take a lead into the second period. The second period Saturday will be the most entertaining as this two offenses will throw their biggest haymakers, hoping to knock out the other as UNO will be in desperation mode to force game 3 and the Wolverines will be doing their darnedest to make sure the series ends that night. The third will result in a raucous Yost crowd willing their young team to another late game push, that will see captain Kevin Porter getting a game winner midway through and freshman Carl Hagelin adding another late on a breakaway as the Wolverines survive a shootout and move on. Final Score: UM 5 - UNO 3
  • Bowling Green @ Miami
Prediction: Game 1: MU 4 - BG 3; Game 2: MU 5 - BG 1
  • Northern Michigan @ Michigan State
Prediction: Game 1: MSU 2 - NMU 0; Game 2: NMU 3 - MSU 1; Game 3: MSU 3-NMU 2
  • Ferris State @ Notre Dame
Prediction: Game 1: FSU 5 - ND 2; Game 2: ND 3 - FSU 2; Game 3: ND 3-FSU 2

Yeah, yeah, I know, too scared to pick an upset, but that isn't the case this weekend for me. I just truly believe that Ferris State and Northern Michigan need to win in two if they expect to advance (not happening) and Miami and Bowling Green are rivals, so you know that Miami won't overlook the Falcons at all.

All of this leads us to a weekend at the Joe with UM-ND and Miami-MSU the semi-finals. Talk about some great games and some NCAA tourney altering games to boot.


Stu said...

nice call on the upset predictions with notre dame and michigan state!

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