I'm a pretty happy camper about this weekend. It wasn't the best hockey the Wolverines have played by any means, but against a pretty good hockey team, they were able to get a sweep, despite trailing late on the road, and blowing a 2-0 lead the following night.
The big story of the weekend: -5. 0 goals. 2 assists. 6 shots on goal. Those were the numbers for Derek Whitmore, the senior who came into the weekend ahead of Kevin Porter in terms of goals per game. And by and large, we did a great job on him. He was on the ice for all four Michigan goals on Friday night, and was invisible for most of the night on Saturday. Simply a great effort against one of the nation's best players.
The most exciting moment of the weekend came in the waning moments Saturday night. With Michigan clinging to a 3-2 lead, and the Falcons in a 6 on 4 situation, with the goalie on the bench, the puck was dumped in to goaltender Bryan Hogan. He went to play the puck, and there just happened to be nobody in the middle of the ice. Without a risk of icing, he was free to take a shot at the empty net. As soon as the puck bounced, it was clear he had it right on line. I yelled. I had never seen a goalie score before--Osgood's wasn't on tv. Closer, closer, and it juuuuuuuust missed. What a bummer!
Doubtlessly, we'll be seeing another article this week about how the Wolverines need to stay out of the penalty box. They didn't succeed this weekend. Bowling Green had fifteen man-advantages this weekend. To the penalty killers' credit, the Falcons only scored two on the power play. But even with a whistle-happy official, that's far too many infractions.
Matt Rust deserves a lot of credit for the win this weekend. He had the tying goal Friday night and got Michigan off to a fast start on Saturday with an unassisted, short-handed goal on a breakaway. He wasn't on the ice for any of BGSU's goals, which means his PK unit did their job against one of the best PP's in the country. And he was 20 out of 32 on faceoffs against a very good team on draws.
One more thing about faceoffs: I mentioned in the preview that John Mazzei was an incredible 66% on draws coming into this weekend. Friday night he won just 3 out of 18. He won just 5 on 13 the next night. Great work by our centers.
As a big-time proponent of Summers at forward, I was very happy to see him make another impact play up front, by scoring the game winning goal in his first game back as a forward. He banged in a rebound off a Turnbull shot, which hit the post, and gave the Wolverines a lead with just 1:23 left in Friday night's contest.
Another big positive from this weekend: Both our goaltenders played very, very well. Sauer made some huge stops in the third period Friday night, and made 27 saves in the 4-2 victory. The next night, Red came back with Bryan Hogan and he was able to repeat the magic from his first win. He made 20 stops and damn near scored a goal. Hogan left a few too many rebounds for my liking--one of which ended up in the back of the net--but it also appeared that the defense was ready for it, and they helped him out on a lot of occasions. We were credited with 15 blocked shots Saturday, but it seemed like more. At least two--one by Quick (where he redeemed himself for not holding the puck in at the line and getting beat down the ice), one by Turnbull--kept pucks out of the net (or at least robbed the Falcons of extremely good scoring chances). And when Hogan was called upon, he was able to make the stop. His best might have been off a Tim Miller giveaway, where he was able to stone a Falcon player on a two on one down low.
Again, this is not a goaltending controversy. Sauer has been amazing this season, but reportedly indicated to the coaches last weekend that he was getting fatigued. They obviously had high hopes for Hogan coming into this season, so it makes sense to get him some time and make sure there's a backup plan if Sauer gets hurt or starts to struggle. And with his performances, Hogan has earned himself some playing time. I don't expect to see him every weekend, but as long as he proves to be a trustworthy netminder, it wouldn't shock me to see him a couple of times a month. But Sauer is the guy, as long as he doesn't falter.
It's amazing that I've made it this long without talking about our top line. Their line (including the top power play unit) accounted for three goals on the weekend-including an empty netter. After we saw Kolarik unleashing some lasers last weekend, Porter showed that he's got a great shot as well. The goal he scored on Saturday night was an absolute bomb from the top of the circle.
Kevin Quick was -1 on the weekend, but on Saturday night (when he was even), I thought he made some really nice defensive plays. I mentioned the blocked shot earlier, but there was another two on one where he did a great job not only taking the pass-option away, but also keeping the puck carrier to the outside, which made it pretty easy for Bryan Hogan to hug the post and stop the shot.
And just as Quick was able to redeem himself for a questionable play at the offensive blueline by keeping the scoring chance out of the net, Chad Langlais had an equally great play. He gave the puck away at the Falcon blueline and Dan Sexton was off to the race. Langlais caught up to him and made an incredible play to poke the puck away from behind. Keep in mind that it's extremely difficult to break up a breakaway in college hockey, as you aren't allowed to knock the puck away and then take out the player's legs.
Steve Kampfer also deserves a call for setting up the game-winner on Saturday night. He made a really nice play to keep the puck in the zone, which led to Hagelin feeding Naurato, who uncorked his trademark shot. That one put the Wolverines up for good and to put salt in the wound, it came with just 6 seconds left in the second period.
I was really impressed with Hogan's puck-handling ability. It looked like he's pretty good in that area. And he didn't panic when he was in a couple of tricky situations behind the net.
So we go into a 20 day break at 16-2-0, 11-1-0 in the CCHA. The sweep, coupled with Miami getting shut out at home by Alaska, puts the Wolverines into first place by themselves in the conference--and quite possibly #1 in the nation once again. I don't think any of us could have seen the first half of the season playing out in this manner.
Over the break, I'll have a look back at the first half including player grades, statistical projections to give some context to what our guys are doing, as well as a look ahead to the second half of the regular season. Needless to say, everyone will be getting high marks. I honestly can't think of a single player that I would label as a disappointment. And it's been a long time since I've been able to say that. It speaks to the coaching and leadership on this team, as well as the work ethic of everyone on the roster.