Hockey's a funny game sometimes. Michigan looked like poop on a stick for two solid weeks and then hangs four goals on the number one team in the country during a six-minute span in the first period. That was a great performance out of the Maize and Blue. Through two periods, I was willing to call it the best defensive performance I've seen out of a Michigan hockey team. Ever. They held the high-powered Miami offense to eight shots on goal in the first two periods combined.
Mark Mitera, who struggled badly last Friday, was incredible tonight. He didn't let anyone get near the Michigan net for most of the game, but especially in the first period when the game was still in doubt.
Chad Kolarik had a pair of assists, but was at his best in our own end, blocking shots and doing a very nice job of killing penalties. And there were a lot. Kevin Porter, Louie Caporusso, Carl Hagelin...pretty much everyone deserves credit for their defensive play tonight. Summers, Kampfer, Vaughan, Langlais, Llewellyn...all great work tonight. As I said above, that was as solid of an all-around game as I've seen in a long time. Miami did absolutely nothing against this team 5 on 5. They had 10 shots the entire game that didn't come on the power play and maybe one was a good scoring chance.
Porter had the kind of hockey game that reminds you why he's the best player in the country. A goal on a partial breakaway, he was the #2 star on the night, and he was solid as hell defensively. It's really not fair that a guy as gifted as he is on the offensive end can be that solid in his own end too. There's no way they can screw him out of the Hobey...right? Leading scorer in the country, one of the absolute best defensive forwards in the country, and the best player on what is arguably the best team.
Travis Turnbull has turned into one hell of a hockey player. He's having the kind of year that I expected out of Tim Miller. He's always doing good things out there, it doesn't matter which end of the ice the puck is at. He's never going to get the headlines--apart from when he wins the GLI--but he's a key cog on this team.
The book on Aaron Palushaj coming in was that he is a very craft player in tight quarters, and he showed why once again tonight. He got left alone in front of the net, stopped the pass with his skate, and then quick-as-a-cat snapped off a shot into the corner of the net.
The story of the game was obviously the huge first period, but the Michigan defense was spectacular. Miami's got some damn good forwards, but Michigan contained them and did it while playing their own game. I can't even begin to capture how well the defensemen played tonight. All six of them deserve a pat on the back.
And, as tends to be the case when he does our games, I have to bitch about Matt Shegos. How the league continues to let him do games of this magnitude, I'll never know. He was brutal tonight and he was brutal both ways. Depending on my mood, I may do a "Upon Further Review" of this weekend's games during the week, but I'd be really curious to see how many of these so-called penalties were actually legit. Off the top of my head:
-The checking from behind call against Lebler and the charging call against Jones (I believe, there was also one on Steffes around that time) the player clearly turned his back at the last second.
-The five-minute major on Vaughan I also thought the guy turned, but I could see calling that one a two minute penalty.
-The charge against Lebler was an absolute crap call that could have completely turned the game. The defenseman hit him, the goalie was well out of his crease, and Lebler barely hit him and Zatkoff flopped in a way that Hasek would've made Hasek proud. Then we ignore Sauer getting slashed at well after the puck was covered, but that's cool.
-The late hook against Llewellyn was questionable as well. And Mitera better have said something pretty bad to draw a ten-minute misconduct at that stage of the game.
Oh there were more. I'm just having a hard time differentiating between the hooks and holds. He did make one call that was absolutely outstanding however. Miami had a 5 on 3 and Chad Kolarik had lost his stick. He went to grab it and Andy Miele knocked it away from him. That was going to lead to a RedHawk having a wide open shooting lane, but Shegos made the call. I about dropped dead of shock.
I guess my opinion is that you've got the #1 and #2 teams in the country. They're great offensively, they're great defensively. Let the players decide the game. The knee to knee stuff, which got called twice, absolutely. But by and large, let the players play. There's a reason that our games with MSU typically have the least amount of power plays awarded. The refs generally realize that it's two talented teams and you have to let them decide the hockey game.
The weird thing is that Shegos typically does let the players decide it. Over the past five years, he's called less penalties in our games than any other ref that we've had more than a couple times. But I think at one point he started reffing the score and trying to keep control of the game, and he almost allowed Miami to get back into the contest because of it. To be fair, Michigan took a couple of bonehead penalties, most notably Miller's checking-from-behind infraction but there were a couple of abysmal calls.
Reading Red's post-game quotes, he wasn't thrilled with Shegos either.
Sauer was good when he had to be. Hard to fault him on either goal. The first was a lucky bounce of Jones's face/chest and the second was a breakdown by the defense and a great individual effort. I'd have to look at the tape to make sure it was on net, but if it was, Sauer's stop in the opening minute of the game was huge. If Miami scores there, the crowd goes bezerk and it's very probably a different hockey game.
The only real downers of the night were that Michigan's power play wasn't great (1-9 with just six shots on goal) and we let Miami get back into the game late, which gives them some confidence heading into tomorrow. But if Michigan plays that well defensively again, they'll get another W. There's no team in the country that could hang with the Wolverines when they play like that.
The "Whew" moment of the night came when Steve Kampfer returned to the ice after looking to be in some serious pain. We'd have a major issue if any of the defensemen were lost for a significant period of time. Kevin Quick, you're really an idiot.
For Miami, I was really impressed with the speed of Ryan Jones. There were a few times that he just left our guy in the dust, and Michigan is a fast team. I thought Miele had some nice opportunities--they called his name an awful lot. Though he took that really bad interference penalty when they had a 5 on 3. And how pretty was that goal by Palmer? He went right through three of the four guys we had on the ice--that'd be Kolarik, Hagelin, and either Llewellyn or Summers. Gorgeous goal.
As a happy bonus to our win, Michigan State and Notre Dame lost tonight (as well as Miami, obviously) so it was as good of a night in the points department as it could have been. If we get a W tomorrow night, simply splitting against MSU should give us the CCHA title.
One last point: What did Miami do on faceoffs without Nathan Davis all year? There were 70 draws in the game tonight and he took 35 of them. Rust got shelled on faceoffs tonight (5 of 20).
I'm really looking forward to tomorrow night's game. It's important for Michigan to not be remotely satisfied with two points. They can put themselves firmly in the driver's seat for the CCHA title as well as the #1 overall seed with a win tomorrow. If they come out with the same effort and intensity, especially in the defensive end, they can make this a four-point weekend. I fully expect to take Miami's best shot in the first period tomorrow and it'll be key to get off to a good start.