It was Senior Night at Yost and the seniors came to play. Billy Sauer got a shutout in what may very well be his final appearance in a Michigan uniform, Mark Mitera and Brandon Naurato had goals in their final regular season games at Yost, and Mitera, Turnbull, and Fardig all had assists as the Wolverines upended Ferris State 4-0.
Combine that with a 6-1 win last night and a Miami loss to OSU Friday, and the Wolverines came back to tie the RedHawks for second place in the standings, winning the tie-breaker based on not having any phony-baloney shootout wins. Remarkably, the Wolverines made it through the entire 36 game regular season without playing an overtime contest.
Michigan will sit out the first round of the CCHA Playoffs, and will play the second-worst team (by points) remaining in the field. We cannot play Notre Dame, Miami, Alaska, Ohio State, Northern Michigan, or Bowling Green, which means our second round opponent will either be Western Michigan, LSSU, FYS, UNO, or Ferris. I would consider it very unlikely that we would face FYS in the second round (they'd have to beat Northern and BGSU would have to beat OSU). Likewise, I think it's unlikely we'll play LSSU (since either FYS or BGSU would have to win their series in addition to LSSU beating Western, which wouldn't be a huge shocker). So it'll more than likely be Ferris, UNO, or Western Michigan.
How big was OSU's loss to Miami tonight? Instead of getting a first round bye in the CCHA Playoffs and then hosting the second round, they now have to play in the first round and if they win, they'll have to travel to Fairbanks for round two. Ouch.
One very underrated reason that it's great we jumped ahead of Miami? In addition to gaining home ice advantage in the CCHA Semifinals (if we make it), taking second place means that it's impossible for us to see NMU in the second round. I would consider them to be the team I'd least like to face amongst the 5-12 teams. They're 11-3-2-1 in their last 16 contests.
The best sight this weekend had to be Mark Mitera making his return after missing nearly the entire season with a knee injury sustained in the first period of the opening game. The Wolverines have their captain back and, more importantly, they have arguably their best player back on the ice. Maybe he's rusty, but it's two weeks until the CCHA Playoffs start, and darn near a month until the NCAA Tournament. The chances of us having a full-speed Mark Mitera by that point seem very good.
The next best thing? Billy Sauer pitching a shutout on Senior Night. How can you not feel good about something like that? And how bout the revamped defense corps allowing 14 shots tonight? Our defense corps is as good as any team in the country now.
The Wolverines have gone 17-3 since that 9-7 start (and it would probably be 19-1 with competent officiating). They've gone from 7th place in the CCHA to 2nd, and very likely will be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Amazing what having healthy defensemen can do, huh?
The CCHA first round matchups are as follows:
12 BGSU at 5 OSU
11 FYS at 6 NMU
10 LSSU at 7 WMU
9 FSU at 8 UNO
I think that Ferris/UNO series is a perfect example of why maybe every team shouldn't get to play post-season hockey. Get this: Those teams have combined for four wins (at least in regulation) since the start of 2009. Four. Out of 32 games played. Omaha hasn't won a game since January 9. And they're hosting.
Another interesting fact: Alaska averaged 1.93 goals per game in conference play and earned a first round bye as the 4th place team. Jordan Pearce will probably get CCHA Goaltender of the Year, but how do you not give it to Ocho Cinco? ND allowed one more goal than Alaska, but they were the #8 scoring offense in the country. Alaska is 53rd. That's pressure when your team is popping in less than 2 a night. It's a lot easier to play goal when they're scoring a goal and a half more per game. Image Michigan playing the way they played in front of Sauer all year and landing themselves a first round bye. That's what Chad Johnson did this year.
And congrats to Billy Sauer and Bryan Hogan for tying with UA for the CCHA version of the Jennings Trophy. Both teams allowed 51 goals on the season in conference play, edging out ND who gave up 52.
Michigan had just four double-digit goal scorers in the regular season, but still has the 6th highest scoring offense in the country.
After 22 goals and just 11 assists in his first 30 games, Caporusso has turned into quite the setup guy. He has a goal and nine assists over his past six.
Aaron Palushaj (35 points) and Louie Caporusso (34) were edged out for the CCHA scoring crown by Patrick Galivan of WMU, who had 36. Caporusso was also second in the goal-scoring race, to Carter Camper. Palushaj had the most assists by a wide margin (29-22).
Tim Miller and Travis Turnbull were both ejected Saturday night for apparently jawing too much at the end of the period. Neither were DQ'ed so they'll be eligible to play in our first playoff game. The funny thing is that neither player has missed a game in his Michigan career. If they had both been DQ'ed, they both would've had their consecutive games streak snapped by getting DQ'ed on Senior Night.
Michigan now sits tied with Denver for third in the PWR ranking (Denver would win the tiebreaker). Check out the whacked out teams that would get 2-seeds if the tournament started today: Northeastern, Vermont, Yale, and UNH. Wow. Colorado College, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Boston College are still on the outside looking in.
Edit: One last thing. A few posts back, I stated that Jeff Lerg was set to become the all-time NCAA saves king. That's untrue. He took over 1st in CCHA history tonight and is 2nd all-time in the NCAA, but Robbie Moore from Michigan still holds the crown, and not even FYS can inflate his shot total enough to give him 450 saves over the rest of the season.
MVictors has some really great photos of the game, and of Gordie Howe, who was in attendance.