Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Michigan 1, Michigan Tech 0 (2 ot)

Scooter Vaughan shot the puck. Despite the old saying that when you shoot on net, good things happen, I didn't think it was a particularly dangerous shot. Then Travis Turnbull tipped the puck. Somehow, in a microsecond, my brain registered the thought, "Holy crap, this is a great chance". The puck disappeared. Then, a flash of red behind the net. The arena exploded. And a decade plus of frustration in this tournament--this damn tournament--went away in an instant of pure joy.

I'm not like a lot of you who read this blog. Ten years ago, Comcast Local didn't exist. We didn't have CSTV. There was no thought of streaming college hockey games on the internet. I would watch the Wolverines any time they were on TV and I was aware of it. That'd be a couple times a year tops. We used to go down to the GLI, but I wouldn't swear to it that I ever saw Michigan win it.

But when I entered college, this team consumed me. Going to games at Yost is an incredible experience, and it quickly became the case that--rather than looking forward to parties on the weekend (which I did enjoy), I was looking forward to Michigan hockey games. And every Christmas break it was the same thing. We would lose 2, 3, 4, 5 players to the World Junior Championships, and the GLI would be chock full of fail.

I can't tell you how many times I've cussed this tournament out, because I was so sick of seeing our team losing at least one game every year since 1996. My first year of going to every game I was able was the Houghton/Boston massacre, when we lost badly in both games to Michigan Tech and Boston College.

So, needless to say, Michigan finally winning this thing meant an awful lot to me.

As for the game itself, what a classic! There are 0-0 games that are boring as hell, and then there are games like that. Both goalies making saves, lots of scoring chances (Get that NHL? It's not goals that make a game exciting, it's scoring chances....if you enlarge the nets I'm going to snap), end to end play, goalposts, breakaways in OT, and 38 or so players giving every ounce of themselves to win that hockey game.

What can you say about Billy Sauer? I don't know how this transformation happened, but this has the potential to go down as the greatest single-season improvement I have ever seen in an athlete. 87 saves, 0 goals allowed over the weekend? Speechless. He may have made the save of his career about halfway through the first overtime, going post-to-post to rob Kerr, who was in all alone. I think my heart actually stopped for a second on that one.

I have to give Michigan Tech all the credit in the world. That's a disciplined hockey team right there. They don't have the horses to out-gun a team on most nights, but they've got their system and they play it to perfection. They block shots, they get into passing lanes, they pack the middle and make you shoot from outside. It was pretty impressive.

Sitting behind the net in the end that we defended for 4 of the 5 periods allowed me to watch the defense a lot more than I usually do. Mark Mitera does so many things well. He's like this team's Nicklas Lidstrom (not that I want to compare the two). Always in position, plays a ton of minutes, steady, poised with the puck, never panics, makes a great first pass, and he makes it look pretty darn easy.

I though Vaughan played a really good game as well. Nothing fancy, just got the puck out of the zone in a game where we were sloppy in that area a lot of times.

Another guy that deserves a tap on the helmet is Anthony Ciraulo. They weren't rolling four lines, but they had Ciraulo out there in some key situations and he responded pretty well. There were a couple times when I was surprised to see him on the ice, but he rose to the occasion. It wouldn't shock me a bit to see him earning some extra opportunities to dress in the second half. I think he's gotten himself right into that mix with Naurato and Lebler.

Porter and Kolarik didn't score, but they were both all over the place. Porter had at least 2 breakaways, and Kolarik was able to use his speed to break down the defense and create some great chances of his own. On Porter's breakaway in the first overtime, I really thought the game was over. He tried to go upstairs, but wasn't able to raise it enough and Nolan made a great save.

So far this season, these guys have erased a lot of bad memories by beating Minnesota and winning the GLI. It really wouldn't shock me if this is the year that they make me forget about the debacle in Buffalo as well. This is a special hockey team and at this point they're playing the best hockey of anyone in the country. There's a long way to go, but at this point I see five real contenders, and we're one of them (Michigan, Miami, CC, Denver, NoDak). That's really all you can ask.

1 comment:

Brad said...

I was actually at the last GLI win (the 5-4 thriller over LSSU in 1996), wow does that seem like a long time ago. Of course, those were the days when I was in school and we just took it for granted that UM would win it. 9 in a row was pretty awesome and we were spoiled.

As for Sauer, I think a lot of credit has to go behind the scenes to Josh Blackburn. What a great move it was to bring him back into the program. I'd say Josh has a real future as a goalie coach with the way he's refined Sauer's game. Just phenomenal.