After beating the WMU Broncos 6-1 and 5-1 over the weekend, the Wolverines now stand at 20-2-0 on the season. Let's put this in perspective a little bit:
Those 20 wins match or exceed the total of four teams that participated in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, another 4 had 21-22, and Miami had 23. After biting our nails down the stretch the last few seasons, it's pretty impressive that by the middle of January, the Wolverines have already likely punched their ticket to the Big Dance--or are very close to doing so.
Also in 2007, the #1 seeds had 25, 26, 30, and 31 wins. Michigan's and BC's 26 wins were the most by any team that didn't get a #1 seed.
The year before, the top seeds had 24, 25, 26, and 27 wins. Three teams got in with 20 wins or less, three more had 21-22 wins, and one had 23. There were, however, four 26 win teams that weren't given #1 seeds.
In 2005, the top seeds had 25, 26, 28, and 29 wins. Two teams made it in with 20 or less, two made it with 21-22, and 3 made it in with 23. Michigan's 30 wins were tops amongst teams not receiving a #1 seed.
So with at least 16 games left until tournament time (but likely at least 18), two more wins will give them as many as half of the 2007 field, and 7 more wins will give them more than half of the #1 seeds, plus every team that wasn't given top billing in their regional. 11 wins (and that's only a .611 winning percentage) virtually guarantees them a #1 seeding.
This year, the Wolverines hit the 20 win plateau on January 12th. The last four years, that mark was reached on February 2, March 11, January 29, and February 13. Pretty impressive, especially considering how powerful that team three years ago was.
On to thoughts about the WMU games:
I wasn't able to watch the Friday night game, so I'm sure I'll talk about it more in the media round-up, once I've had a chance to read other peoples' impressions. From the sounds of it though, there wasn't a whole lot of drama. With Rich Rodriguez in the house, dropping the ceremonial first puck and giving a valiant effort in Score-O, the Wolverines led 1-0 after one, scored two quick ones in the second before taking a 4-0 lead into the intermission, and despite giving up a goal seven seconds into the third period, came out of there with a 6-1 victory, outshooting WMU 44-22 in the process. That was probably the longest sentence I've ever written.
Stop me if you've heard this before: Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik each had 3 points in the game. Travis Turnbull, Chris Summers, and Matt Rust all contributed a pair of points. Billy Sauer had an off-night, allowing a goal and only stopping 21 shots.
Kevin Quick deserves a pat on the back as well, scoring his first career goal. He'd later add #2 on Saturday night.
And on a sad note, Mark Mitera was on the ice for an even-strength goal. I believe that was the first time since the season opener, which...I'm not even sure incredible is the right word for that.
The next night it was more of the same, only it didn't take as long for Michigan to start running a train all up in 'em. Kolarik scored 30 seconds into the game and added three more for the first hat trick + 1 Michigan has seen since Dwight Helminen did it a few years back against Ohio State.
After Kolarik put us up 2-0, the second coming on what looked like a kick-in, Western got back into the game with an absolute bullet from Nathan Ansell--some of those WMU defensemen can fire it! Michigan regained the two goal margin just 19 seconds later on a goal from Quick that Riley Gill quite simply can't give up. Kolarik's third of the night, which pretty much sealed the deal, also fell into that category. Chad just slapped the puck toward the net on a faceoff, rather than drawing it back, and it went in. Cool goal, but an awful one nonetheless.
Kolarik's fourth came on a beautiful pass from Brandon Naurato, who had a nice game with two assists and a couple other nice feeds.
For the record, Chris Frank finished the weekend -4. Ha.
Brian Hill did both games, and I wasn't overly impressed Saturday night. He called Tim Miller for elbowing on one of the prettiest hits you'll ever see--and on one of the dirtiest players in the CCHA to boot. There were a couple other plays that had me laughing, though I've forgotten what they were. Not the worst ref we've ever had, but he still caused me to say "This two-referee system is going to be an absolute disaster" on at least one occasion.
I thought Saturday was kind of a rough night for Langlais. He didn't do much in the way of offense and had a couple of bad giveaways, including one where he fell behind our net and the WMU player walked right out in front.
Matt Rust: So nice to have him back. He had a pair of assists Friday night, and may have saved a goal on Saturday with an absolutely gorgeous back-check to steal the puck from a Western player who would've been in all alone.
Sauer was very good again. Couldn't fault him on the WMU goal and he made 31 saves, including a few dandies.
The big downer of the weekend was a shoulder injury to Max Pacioretty. He didn't play Saturday night and I haven't heard how he's doing. Hopefully it's not serious, but I'm guessing Rivals/The Daily will have something for us sometime today on his status.
It's nice to have Caporusso and Rust back in the faceoff circle. They were a combined 39 and 26 on the weekend, which is 60% and very helpful to the cause.
The power play was definitely effective, going 4 for 10 on the weekend and 3 for 4 on Saturday night.
I also have to point out that even though Michigan was the more-talented team, obviously dominated the weekend (outscoring the Broncos 11-2 and outshooting them 82-54), and were playing a team -45 in power play opportunities so far this season, we were still -1 for the weekend. I can't figure it out.
In the CCHA, Nebraska-Omaha couldn't give us any help against Miami, so we remain tied with the Redhawks, but with two games in hand. Michigan State took 3 of 4 points from the Irish, so we lead the Irish by 3 points with 2 games in hand, and the Spartans by 4, with the same number of games played.
Now the schedule starts to pick up. In the last 14 games of the regular season, 8 are against the other three "elite" teams in the CCHA, including 6 of the next 8. Next up is Notre Dame, with a game at Yost and then one at The Palace of Auburn Hills. A Michigan sweep would pretty much bury the Irish, with Michigan up 7 points and having twelve games to play to ND's ten.