Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Michigan Hockey: Splits With Northern Michigan

Posted at 8:00am -- 2/23/2010

Michigan Hockey Splits With NMU, Teeters On Playoff Bye

Faithful column readers know that first and foremost, I love Michigan and I especially love Michigan hockey. But this season has tested even the hardiest fan, especially with the lofty preseason expectations this team once had. I harkened back to past seasons when Michigan teams would re-group and make a long run to close out the regular season. I at least expect a full effort from a Berenson coached team: be it by period, by game or better. Frankly, I haven’t seen it this season, at least consistently, and it was no different this past weekend.

I could sense it the minute I witnessed warm-ups on Friday night that our young men were not mentally prepared. There was little excitement- more like anxiety, and it quickly spread to the patrons at Yost arena. The place was dead… which was eerie considering the magnitude of the weekend. As Friday dawned, Michigan could still sneak into a fourth place finish, a first-round bye and regroup for a run in the CCHA playoffs.

The game that followed was exactly what I feared- a jittery Michigan squad trying desperately to create offense, nervously turning pucks over, and finally succumbing to a lone goaltending mistake.

Things started out favorably, with Michigan taking charge and forcing several NMU penalties early in the game. But what could have been an advantage turned out to only frustrate the Wolverines. They were held scoreless, and after an overaggressive goaltender interference call on Brian Lebler, it took exactly seven seconds for the #1 PP in the league to score. Michigan lost the defensive zone faceoff, and Wildcat sniper Gregor Hanson pitch-forked a slow, bouncing backhander from a perpendicular angle towards Brian Hogan. Hogan, anticipating a pass instead of a shot, failed to close his pads and it slipped behind him. A minute and a half later, four Wolverines were guilty of chasing after a Wildcat puck-handler just inside the Michigan zone, leaving Chris Summers helpless with two other Wildcats parked in front of Hogan. The puck was weakly fired towards the net where it was deftly tipped in. Game over.

The Wolverines showed little sign of life after that, and were only lifted by a gift goal offered up in the form of a Carl Hagelin pass that deflected off of a NMU defenseman and past goaltender Brian Stewart at about the 17:00 mark of the first period. The teams headed off after twenty minutes at 2-1.

The second period remained scoreless, as did the third, although Michigan had many opportunities in the form of powerplays- eight for the game, three just in the first stanza. NMU was content to pack in their players in front of Stewart and not give Michigan any shooting lanes. The Wolverines piled 39 shots on goal, but many of them were from acute angles or well out towards the point. Still, it was just a one-goal game until the final minutes when, just after another failed powerplay, Michigan pulled Hogan and promptly turned the puck over at center ice. The NMU forward (Jared Brown) completed his three- point night with an empty net goal. Stewart, who did make some outstanding saves during the frequent powerplay chances, ended up with 38 saves. Hogan, who rebounded from that awful goal, also held his team in, stopping a shorthanded breakaway and ended up with 18 saves. But, the damage was done to the delicate mental makeup of the team after that first goal. It sucked the energy out of the team, and the players couldn’t generate any sustained effort.

Nothing was worse than to see the reaction of some of these kids after the game, and in talking to them, realizing how fragile the team chemistry is right now. Berenson was very careful to point out that NMU played a perfect road game, which they did, and his own team didn’t play that bad. The Wolverines needed to re-group and come out Saturday with more energy, which, for the most part, they did.

The second game of the series was more of a playoff type game, filled with up and down action and a little more emotion than Friday night. The Cats got on the board first again, but this time it was courtesy of a lazy little turnover in the Michigan defensive zone by Steve Kampfer. He served up a perfectly banked pass from behind his net to a forechecking Gregor Hanson who whistled a wrist shot past Hogan at 10:17.

NMU carried a 1-0 lead into the second period, where Michigan came out with a bit more purpose. Finally after producing a half a minute of pressure in the Wildcat end, Luke Glendening followed up a hard Louie Caporusso feed and pin-balled a pass from the corner meant for a breaking David Wohlberg off of a defenseman’s skate and over Stewart to tie the game.

Ten seconds later, freshman Kevin Lynch charged into the NMU offensive zone, beat both defensemen, deked Stewart and tucked a shot just under his outstretched pad to give Michigan a 2-1 lead. A minute and forty seconds later, NMU struck back as their size pinned Michigan deep in the defensive zone. Justin Florek, standing all alone in front of Hogan, slid a pass from linemate Mark Olver past Hogan at 9:52.

Michigan took advantage of two of their six PP chances, including Ben Winnett’s laser from the left circle over Stewart to give the Wolverines a 3-2 lead to end the third period.

The third period was a roller-coaster ride, filled with a combination of solid Michigan effort, and, at least at the beginning and end of the period, ragged Michigan defensive play. NMU, sensing that they could successfully force turnovers in the Michigan defensive zone, pounded the Wolverines by forcing the defense to play dump-ins. It finally paid off after a long battle behind the net was won by NMU- and the resulting play saw a pinching Erik Gustafsson deposit a perfect behind the net pass past Hogan to tie the game at the 3:32 mark. Just over a minute later, while forechecking, Jared Brown sent an innocent shot from the corner towards Hogan who was late getting to the post. The puck found a seam between his pad and the post and deflected in to give the Cats a stunning 4-3 comeback lead. About four minutes later Michigan put together a fine passing display while on the powerplay. Louie Caporusso kept the play alive holding in a clearing attempt, and then fed Brian Lebler in the corner. He feathered a perfect cross-ice pass to a pinching Chad Langlais who beat Stewart to tie the game at 4-4.

Exactly one minute later, at 9:42, defenseman Greg Pateryn carried the play deep into the right corner, deked a checker, broke sharply towards the net and went from forehand to backhand while flicking a quick shot at Stewart. He appeared to be handcuffed and the puck rolled up his pad and behind him. The play was reviewed and the goal counted to give Pateryn his first career goal- a goal that also happened to stand up as the game winning tally.

Northern carried the play for the last nine minutes, and came close several times, including during a late PP chance where Hogan made several key stops. NMU pulled Stewart with 1:26 left and pressured Michigan relentlessly. They were finally able to free up their leading points man, Olver, with :50 to go, and he clanked a shot from around the hashes off the crossbar- with a half empty net- which eventually got cleared. Michigan barely survived, but took an important three points they had to get.

Michigan, now in 7th place, trails 6th place NMU by 2 points, 5th place UNO, (who beat Miami in Oxford), by 4 points, 4th place Alaska, winners over LSSU this weekend, by 5 points, and 3rd place FSU and 2nd place MSU by 6 points. Both UNO and Alaska have completed their conference schedule and will be in non-league action next weekend.

Michigan will host similarly struggling Notre Dame on Thursday before ending their regular season down in South Bend on Saturday. NMU will host LSSU for two games in Marquette in a series that will ultimately affect Michigan ’s conference position- that is if the Blue can take care of their own business with Notre Dame. Michigan can finish fourth, and with the first round bye, if they sweep Notre Dame and NMU finishes with a combination of four points or less next weekend, otherwise the Cats can take fourth spot. If NMU falters, Michigan will still need a combination of five points out of these meetings with Notre Dame to overtake Alaska for fourth position, and hold off NMU.

If Michigan finishes fifth or lower, they will open up the first round of the CCHA conference playoffs at Yost against an undetermined opponent- potentially LSSU or Notre Dame if the standings remain as they are today.

YOST Bits:

Michigan’s Louie Caporusso contributed three assists on Saturday, giving him 11-17-28 on the year. Carl Hagelin added a goal and an assist this weekend as did Luke Glendening. Matt Rust had two assists for the weekend.

Michigan held the top PP in the league to 1 out of 10 chances this past weekend, while going 2-14 on the PP themselves.

Kevin Lynch’s goal in the Saturday game was one of the fastest goals in the history of Michigan hockey- occurring just ten seconds after Luke Glendening’s tally.

Yostmeister three star selections:


1. NMU - Jared Brown - 1G and 2A on the night

2. NMU - Brian Stewart - 38 saves on the night, including a few key saves during a second period PP.

3. Michigan - Carl Hagelin - 1G and one of the few players on either team that stood out every shift


1. Michigan - Louie Caporusso - three big assists on the night, and won key faceoffs.

2. Michigan - Kevin Lynch - highlight reel goal to spark a second period surge as well as solid defensive play all evening.

3. Michigan - Greg Pateryn - 1st goal of his career and a GWG to boot.

Written by Yostmeister

Go Blue -- Wear Maize!

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