Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Michigan Hockey: Michigan Completes Improbable Sweep To CCHA Tourney Title

Posted at 4:00pm -- 3/23/2010

Michigan Completes Improbable Sweep To CCHA Tourney Title

Note: I apologize for the tardiness of this column due to illness.

Al Michaels had nothing on the Michigan Wolverines this past weekend. You remember Al Michaels, the ABC announcer with the infamous “Do you believe in miracles? YES!” call at the closing seconds of the 1980 Olympics USA win over the Soviet Union. Well, okay, if you haven’t- go look it up. Riding the tidal wave of confidence and solid goaltending from a little known walk-on, the Wolverines steamrolled the #1 team in the country (Miami) 5-2, and then proceeded to will themselves to a narrow 2-1 win over a very good NMU team for the CCHA Tourney title and a trip to the NCAA playoffs.

Miami came into Friday night’s tilt poised to take both the CCHA regular season and tournament titles. The Wolverines had other ideas, fueled by the memory of the sweep in November at the hands of the RedHawks. Miami carried a distinctive swagger and was the aggressor in the opening five minutes. Michigan withstood an early barrage, got their barometer steadied, and then went to work. Shawn Hunwick anchored the team’s confidence, turning aside all 8 shots he faced in the first period. The Wolverines were relentless in their ability to cut off Miami ’s attack in the neutral zone and counterattacked quickly. Finally, the Wolverines were rewarded at 8:50 of the opening period when Tristin Llewellyn fired a knuckling shot from the point that found its way past Miami goaltender Cody Reichard to give Michigan the momentum it needed. Carl Hagelin and Matt Rust did the yeoman’s work in the Miami zone to set up Llewellyn. Hunwick made the lead stand up, including making a diving stick save to keep Michigan on top.

The second period started just as it had ended, with Michigan forcing Miami to the outside and blocking many of their shots. Michigan got a huge break at the 5:13 mark when Miami was caught on a line change and coughed up the puck near the benches. AJ Treais tied up his man just inside the zone, freed the puck for Steve Kampfer, who had jumped into the rush, and started a 4x1 attack. Kampfer fed Treais, who then spotted a breaking Lee Moffie at the edge of the crease. He fed a perfect pass to Moffie, who slammed home a shot to give Michigan a 2-0 lead. The Wolverines held that lead until late into the period when, while playing 4x4 hockey, Miami converted a giveaway into a 2x1 break. The RedHawk’s Tommy Wingels wired a perfect shot over Hunwick’s shoulder after toe dragging past a sliding Chad Langlais. The teams went to the dressing rooms with the game still in doubt.

The Wolverines came out charging in the third period though, and scored three times in the first seven minutes. Kevin Lynch converted a pass at the side of the net on the PP at 2:49 to give Michigan a 3-1 advantage. Brian Lebler followed with a nifty tip of a Matt Rust shot at 5:34 to make it 4-1. Lynch struck again at 7:17 to put the game out of reach, as he converted a beautiful 3 on 2 rush to force Reichard from the game. Michigan gave up a late PPG to Miami, but skated off with a 5-2 win, holding one of the best offenses in the country to only five third period shots, and a total of 22 for the game. The Wolverines fired 28 shots at Reichard and Connor Knapp. Both teams were whistled for 6 penalties for 12 minutes and scored on 1 of their 5 PP chances.

Saturday night, the Wolverines were severely challenged by a talented Northern Michigan team, seeking a first Mason Cup victory. NMU had defeated Ferris State 5-4 in OT Friday, and was also playing with confidence. The first period was very physical as both teams tried to maintain a rugged and rapid pace. Neither team could muster any grade A chances and went to the locker rooms tied at 0-0. Michigan outshot NMU 15-7 in the period. The second period was more reminiscent of the typical Michigan game this season with a few turnovers and undisciplined penalties. Michigan’s Luke Glendening was whistled for a borderline five-minute HFB penalty and a game misconduct giving NMU a golden chance to take the lead.

I say this with obvious bias, but the call was marginal since, in my view, the NMU player turned his back on Glendening as he hit him. A minute later Michigan was called for another penalty, giving the Wildcats a full 5x3 for two minutes. But, as fate would have it, NMU took two penalties that cancelled the lengthy PP chances, and did not capitalize. Michigan did receive a late period power play chance and did cash in. Louie Caporusso came off the bench after Matt Rust broke his stick and received a nifty pass from Brandon Burlon. Caporusso took a stride and fired a seeing eye wrist shot that beat NMU netminder Brian Stewart stick side and off of the inside of the post to give Michigan the lead entering the third period. The goal came with: 20 left in the second period. Michigan held a 26-15 shot advantage at the end of two periods.

Michigan appeared a bit rattled early in the third period as NMU really pressed their forecheck hard. NMU’s leading goalscorer and CCHA player of the year, Darren Olver, broke in on Hunwick after a turnover and fired a high wrist shot that Hunwick barely got a piece of, but deflected it enough that it bounced wide of the net. Michigan countered soon after and drew a penalty. Caparusso struck again late into the power play, as he had just fired a rebound off of the cross bar, circled the net, called for a pass and deftly deflected a perfect Steve Kampfer shot-pass behind Stewart for a 2-0 lead at 8:53. Northern wasn’t done though, and two minutes later converted an A.J. Treais turnover in front of his net into their only goal of the night. Hunwick had little chance as the puck squirted between a mass of skates in the slot right onto Andrew Cherniwchan’s stick. The big forward shoveled a shot high glove side.

Michigan was content to roll four lines and keep NMU pinned deep into their zone. NMU had a late opportunity upon pulling Stewart for an extra attacker, but could not convert the tying goal. Michigan completed its six game conquest and took home the Mason Cup. Stewart stopped 33 of 35 shots, while Michigan limited NMU to 3 third period shots. Hunwick stopped 17 of the 18 shots he faced. Michigan was penalized 6 times for 23 minutes, while NMU was penalized 7 times for 14 minutes. Michigan converted 2 of 6 PP chances, where NMU was 0 for 5.

Michigan won its ninth CCHA Tournament title in seventeen seasons and the Wolverines earned their way into the NCAA tournament. They had redeemed themselves from a full season of disappointment, proving that they indeed had the talent and depth to challenge the other elite teams in the NCAA. This current group in winning a championship actually proved more than the 2008-09 team. The squad overcame injuries to the starting goaltender and Captain, and found a way to play past adversity.

Coach Berenson also gave the Michigan fans credit in supporting the team, even when things did not look promising. He applauded the support shown at Yost, at Munn Arena, and at JLA.

Four Michigan players took CCHA All-Tournament honors:

Steve Kampfer, who had a tremendous run in the playoffs, ended up with a +12 and was outstanding on both ends of the ice.

Carl Hagelin, who continued his offensive and special team’s prowess during the playoffs.

Louie Caporusso who caught lightning in a bottle, leading Michigan offensively down the stretch.

Shawn Hunwick who not only played solid hockey in goal, but outplayed three of the best goaltenders in the CCHA in the process: MSU’s Drew Palmisano, Miami’s Cody Reichard and NMU’s Brian Stewart.

Hunwick was also named CCHA Tourney MVP for his outstanding play- making a number of phenomenal stops in both games this weekend. He ended up only allowing nine goals in the past six games.

Hunwick, in classic humbling style, deflected the praise on to his teammates.

I will preview Michigan ’s Regional bracket in the NCAA tourney, and give breakdowns of the other regional seedings in my next report. Michigan will play in Ft. Wayne in the Midwest Regional and will face (the now defunct) CHA conference regular season champ, Bemidji State next Saturday night. Miami, the overall #1 seed in the tournament, will also be in the regional and will play CHA tournament champ Alabama-Huntsville in the opening game.

YOST Bits:

Michigan ended up with the 12th overall seed out of the 16 teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament. This will give them the lowest seeding amongst the other teams in that “band”-Yale, NMU and New Hampshire being the others. It made little difference in how the NCAA tournament committee decided on where to ship each team. Michigan was sent to the Midwest to boost attendance and was rewarded for their play down the stretch, even though the straight numbers suggested they draw a tougher regional.

Michigan remains a perfect 11-0 against Miami, NMU and Ferris State in the CCHA Championships at JLA. Miami has yet to beat Michigan three times in a season, with a possible fourth match-up looming in the NCAA playoffs.

Louie Caporusso tallied twice this past weekend, and leads Michigan in goal scoring with 20 goals on the season. Caporusso has now added 9-4-13 in his past seven games. Kevin Lynch blew open the tilt on Friday with his two goals. Defenseman Steve Kampfer added three assists to boost his numbers to 3-19-22.

Carl Hagelin’s logged three assists this past weekend to nudge his numbers to 17-28-45. Matt Rust also assisted on three goals to increase his totals to 13-25-38.

Kudos to my favorite target, Tristin Llewellyn, who not only opened the scoring for Michigan against Miami, but played rock solid defense, steady with the puck and only took one penalty in the two games. He was instrumental in breaking up several dangerous chances and deserved to be mentioned for his contributions during the playoffs. Matter of fact, the whole defensive squad was outstanding, with very few glaring turnovers or poor clears. Part of this is due to the increased emphasis on the forwards’ backchecking and forechecking, but for the most part, the defense helped Hunwick when needed and certainly contributed to the offense.

Yostmeister three star selections:


1. Michigan - Carl Hagelin - 3A

2. Michigan - Shawn Hunwick - stopped 20 shots and only allowed 2 goals

3. Michigan - Matt Rust-3A

Honorable Mention:
Tristin Llewellyn - huge first goal, and Steve Kampfer- 2A


1. Michigan - Louie Caporusso - 2G including the game winner

2. Michigan - Shawn Hunwick - stopped 17 of 18 shots

3. Michigan – Steve Kampfer - 1A and solid defensive play

Honorable Mention:
Carl Hagelin - 1A

Written by Yostmeister

Go Blue -- Wear Maize!

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