Last weekend, we saw this young team beat a highly ranked opponent (BC) and hang tough against another quality opponent in a hostile environment. Tonight was another step in the maturing process, as they were able to battle back from a late second period 1-0 deficit to beat Northern Michigan on the road 3-1.
Despite some early struggles, going o'fer on their first 5 power plays, the Wolverines finally got going with 2 Kevin Porter PPGs, each from Kolarik and Palushaj. Carl Hagelin said "Bork bork bork!" and netted the insurance goal late in the third period with a vicious wrist shot.
In addition to the top line getting some production tonight, the most promising thing that I notice is that it appears we were really solid defensively once again. After 22 shots on goal in each of the first two games, the Wolverines held the Wildcats to 14 tonight, including just 2 in the second period. That's 58 shots on goal in 3 games. By contrast, I believe we gave up 52 shots on goal against Minnesota alone last year. If there's one remedy for what's usually shaky goaltending, it's playing strong team defense and not letting the other team get all that many scoring chances.
It sounds as if Sauer had no chance on the first goal, which was a failed clearing attempt from a couple of our players. The NMU player held it in and fed it to a guy who was wide open in the slot, due to our team getting a little anxious breaking out. And apart from that, he stopped the other 13 shots they asked him to, including a couple of big saves in the third period and three good saves at the start of the game. He definitely knows how to play against NMU (6-1-0, 1.88, .926).
The penalty kill remained strong, they're now 12 for 12 on the season, which is impressive given the teams we've played and the youth on some of our units.
The other bit of good news is that the third period was our best period, once it became a four-line game once again. Some of the guys who don't play on the specialty teams were lacking in ice time due to the amount of penalties in the game (McInchak of course).
In the ongoing battles for ice-time as the 12th forward and 6th defenseman, Brian Lebler got the nod over Brandon Naurato tonight while Scooter Vaughan was the defenseman sitting out tonight, allowing both Llewellyn and Quick to play. Also, according to MHNet, Winnett was elevated to the second line, playing with Rust and Miller. Palushaj dropped down to the line with Fardig and Lebler. He remained on the top PP unit, however, and netted two assists on the night. MHNet was impressed with Mark Mitera's play tonight, and Chad Kolarik was as well...the newest Alternate Captain singled out Mitera in his MGoBlue interview as being outstanding tonight.
I really like that it seems we're spreading out the offense somewhat. Against BC, it was Caporusso's line. Against Minnesota it was mainly Rust's line. Tonight, the top power play unit (which is basically the top line) got it done. We had 7 guys with 3+ shots on goal, but no one had more than 4 (and the only guy with that many was Kampfer). If we can continue to have 3 legit scoring lines, it's going to make this a very tough team to match lines against.
Faceoff Watch: Kolarik was actually the main man in the circle tonight, winning all 7 of his draws. I'm a bit surprised that Rust has struggled somewhat in the earlygoing of his Michigan career (9 of 20 tonight, just under 50% for the year), but he's still better than most of the guys we've had in the recent past.
Hopefully they can complete the sweep tomorrow night, and get off to a nice start in CCHA play.
One other thing of note tonight: The Boston College/North Dakota game, which was nationally televised on CSTV, was canceled after the second period due to poor ice conditions, fog, and power outages. Because the game went 2 periods, the NCAA considers it an official game and it'll go into the books as a 0-0 tie, which is what the score was after 2. What makes this interesting is that this is the third straight season that Boston College has had a home game called off.
Last year, their game against Boston University was canceled for the same reason. Coincidentally, that game was also going to be televised on CSTV. Two season ago, they lost an exhibition game against St. Thomas for a similar reason.
It really surprises me that they haven't found a fix for this yet. It's an embarrassment to their program to have problems like this so frequently, especially when BU is playing in a brand spanking new arena not too far away. It also doesn't help that it's happened back-to-back years during national TV games. I'm sure CSTV isn't going to be in any hurry to get back there. This is one of the marquee teams in college hockey. They shouldn't have home games canceled three years running due to poor ice. I feel bad for their fans. They were robbed of what would've likely been a great finish in a game against the #1 team in the country.
Lastly, tomorrow's game will be broadcast on the internet at B2LiveTV.com for the cost of $6, which I don't think is too bad for what is said to be a pretty good video feed synced with the radio play-by-play. I may not purchase it tomorrow since our game will be opposite Michigan football, the ALMS race, and the Red Wings game, but our games at UNO, Ferris State, and LSSU should also be broadcast on the site. $6 is a little steep for me to buy it to watch recruits play, but they also offer the video services for USHL and NAHL games. I'd love it if Michigan eventually partnered with them. It may not be worth it for the school since we have so many TV games, but I'd be more than willing to pay to see any extra games, particularly since the season pass for each team that uses this service is only $50.