Monday, March 11, 2013

Michigan Sweeps First Round Series With NMU

Photo: Bill Rapai
After Friday night's 3-2 victory over The Northerns, a game in which Michigan jumped on top 3-0 in the first period and then had to hold on for dear life, Red Berenson said of his team, "They thought they were playing hard, but they weren't playing desperate and there is a difference."

Well if the message for Saturday's game was to play desperate, message received. Michigan flat out dominated the Wildcats on Saturday, winning 6-2 and firing 50 shots at poor Jared Coreau in the NMU net.

Michigan outshot the Wildcats 12-5 in the first period on Friday's contest and put in three special teams goals. Northern Michigan took a Too Many Men penalty five minutes into the game and it came back to bite them. Jon Merrill took a shot from the point that was tipped on the way through. It came out to Coreau's right where CJ Ludwig tried to clear. He inadvertently knocked it into his own net for a 1-0 lead, and yet another sign that the puck luck might be starting to favor the Maize and Blue.

Scott Macaulay took a hooking penalty midway through the period and Michigan would capitalize once again. AJ Treais's shot from the point skipped out to Coreau's right, where Kevin Lynch was waiting. He buried it to give Michigan a two goal advantage. That was Lynch's 8th of the year, but it wouldn't be his last of the night.

Jacob Trouba took a hooking penalty and Ludwig was trying to bring the puck up ice as the Wildcats were changing. He got tangled up with one of the players changing, and Lynch picked his pocket like Ludwig was Keith Appling. He raced in all alone, made a nifty little shot fake to freeze Coreau, pulled it across the crease, and lifted the puck into the net. The move was good enough that I was celebrating before the puck even went in. I mean, he deked his way to a completely empty net. Yet another big-game goal for Kevin Lynch, in a career full of them.

Walt Kyle's team didn't roll over, however. They came out in the second period and turned the tide on the Wolverines, outshooting them 14-6 and scoring a couple of goals to get back into the game. After a strong forecheck to recover a lost faceoff in the Michigan end, Wade Epp's shot from the point was tipped by Kory Kaunisto, and after a review for a potential high stick, the goal was awarded.

Their other goal was on a fairly innocent-looking play. The Wolverines got shifted a little too much toward the right side of the ice and it left Bennett alone with two guys in the middle of the ice. Vigier took the shot, Racine left a rebound, and it was Nowick pouncing on it before Bennett could get to him.

The Wildcats had several other chances in the period, but Racine kept them at bay. They nearly tied it on a wraparound where the Nowick brought it back into the slot. Racine tracked him through traffic and made a really nice stop.

The third was much more even. The best chance for either team was DeBlois winning a race for a puck and centering for Guptill, whose tip just missed. Selman also had a good chance denied by Coreau's right pad.

NMU pulled the goalie late, but didn't have any chances of any real significance, and Michigan was able to hang on for a 3-2 win. I wanted to give a tip of the cap to Szuma and Serville, who I thought both had good games. In the second period, Serville got his stick on a puck that was going to result in a really high-quality chance for NMU. In the first, Szuma made a very nice clear in traffic to prevent a grade-A chance as well. Serville sat Saturday night, so hopefully it was just the flu bug that was going around, and Red isn't reading this thinking I'm bats*** for thinking he made some nice plays on Friday.....

The power play was 2-for-3 and the PK killed off both NMU power plays, allowing just one shot in the process and scoring a goal of their own.

Copp was the #1 star Saturday night as Michigan cruised to the second round
Photo: Bill Rapai
The question was, would NMU come out Saturday with more of what they gave the Wolverines in the second and third period of game one? The answer was no. Michigan had a thoroughly dominating performance that was only frustrating because it made you wonder where that's been all season, when they were losing games to bad teams at home. They outshot NMU 50-20, including a 23-6 margin in the first period, and a 16-3 margin in the second. The power play was efficient again, going 2-for-4, with the fourth power play being a 25-second chance to close the game. The PK held the Wildcats to 4 shots on 3 power plays.

The Wildcats had an early power play, but Michigan bottled them up pretty good. The best opportunity was when one of the Michigan forwards blocked a shot at the point and tied up his man enough to spring Moffie on a partial breakaway. An NMU player caught up and forced a backhand shot.

Michigan jumped out to an early lead once again and this time it was Alex Guptill scoring his 12th of the season on kind of an odd play. Guptill was in the corner and tried to center the puck. Both Nieves and PDG skated by it tied up with their men. The puck sat in the middle of the ice until Guptill went and got it himself. He slid it 5-hole for a 1-0 lead.

Michigan's power play went to work and Nieves bombed a shot off the post. It looked like something you would have seen Trouba shoot. They had some sustained pressure, but NMU was able to kill it off. Michigan just missed finding PDG in the slot late in the power play.

Racine kept the Wildcats off the board with a great pad save on a tip by Higby in front of the net. Following that, a strong shift by Michigan led to goal #2. They had pressure down in the Wildcat end for a good 30-45 seconds, and several scoring chances. The Wildcats were nearly able to clear, but a diving effort by Trouba to keep the puck in paid off. DeBlois centered the puck for Trouba and he just blasted one home. God that kid has a bomb....

Trouba laughs when opposing goalies try to stop his Trouba-ombs! (Or he actually laughs when Seckel gets the gate.)
Photo: Bill Rapai
Northern scored a goal late in the period to head into intermission with a little momentum. When you get outshot and outplayed that badly and go in only down by a goal, you have to be feeling good. Sinelli tried to throw the puck behind the net and it took a funny bounce. Nowick brought the puck out front and had a couple of whacks at it and was able to get the second one to go.

Michigan made sure it didn't matter, however. They came out in the second and it was more of the same. The Wolverines went on the power play and PDG found Bennett at the point. With Moffatt cutting to the net and possibly screening the goalie a little bit, Bennett fired a shot home to make it 3-1.

Moffatt's stickhandling nearly led to another goal. There was a scramble in front of the net and a Wildcat defenseman had to cover the puck in the crease because Coreau somehow got shuffled off to the side and was absolutely nowhere to be found. Treais took the penalty shot and tried the same move he used to score on Motte in the shootout last week. Coreau stopped that one to keep it 3-1.

Nieves then brought it on a power move to the net. NMU grabbed him and was called for a penalty. He didn't break stride and got a darn good shot away. That one had me raising my eyebrows. Between that move and the shot he bombed off the post earlier....if he stays, and if he has a summer in the Michigan weight room, watch out next year. With that speed, that shot, and his size? He could easily be a 50-point scorer. He has 29 as a freshman, and has 15 points in his last 13 games. When I watch this team and think about guys that I see in the NHL, Trouba is the clear first choice, but I think Nieves is second on the list. I think the Rangers got another steal from the Michigan program, and I think the sky is the limit for Nieves. Don't forget, he was playing prep hockey last year, so this is the first time he's really faced this quality of competition as well.

Nieves's work in front led to another Michigan goal, this one by, who else, Andrew Copp. Copp dumped it in and Guptill tied up his man, which let Copp dig it out and send it back to the point. They swung it to Trouba who took a shot and Copp knocked in a rebound. It was 4-1 after 2 and shots were 39-9.

In the third, Treais won a draw and Moffatt ripped one home. Even though Moffatt seems to be kind of an "is what he is" guy at this point, which slight improvement in his point total from year to year, he has so many passes and plays that would make the highlight reel that it just feel like he could break out at some point, doesn't it? Maybe it never happens, but he's definitely got some offensive skill.

Andrew Copp prepares for his penalty shot. He would score to give Michigan a 5-1 lead
Photo: Bill Rapai
Copp was hooked on a breakaway and he drew a penalty shot as well. I sure don't remember ever seeing a Michigan team (or any team) receiving two penalty shots in a game before. Maybe they're just testing Bruce Madej to make sure his research skills aren't rusty! Copp scored on his. Coreau went for a poke-check and when he opened up, Copp slipped the puck between Coreau's legs for his 9th of the year.That puts Copp in a tie for 4th on the team in goals. Who had that in the preseason? I can't possibly say enough good things about him.

Racine made two good stops to keep the game 6-1, one on a little tip in front that he got down to block, and another spectacular save on a 2-on-1. The Wildcats would slip one past him with just about a minute to go in their season as Fullmer shot back to Racine's left as he slid right and just got it past his toe. Still, a 6-2 win for the Wolverines in dominating fashion, and they advance to the second round of the CCHA Tournament.

Their opponent will be: The Western Michigan Broncos. By seeding, Michigan appeared to be headed for South Bend to take on the Irish, who were 4-0 against Michigan this year, but Michigan State has upset Alaska out in Alaska and the Spartans will head to Miami. That sends Bowling Green to South Bend, and Michigan heads to Kalamazoo.

Michigan was 1-3 against Western this year, but held a 2-0 lead in one game at Lawson before falling 3-2. The other was a blowout while Michigan was in their "fragile" phase. Western also won 4-1 at Yost (3-1 with an empty-netter). It'll be a tough series (they were 13-2-3 at home this year), but Western has been pretty inconsistent lately. More on them later in the week, hopefully.

In the meantime, the Wolverines can enjoy yet another series sweep, and yet another series where it certainly looks like they belong amongst the group of 16 teams playing for the NCAA Championship. They've still got a ton of work to do, but they're playing well at the right time. To steal a stat that Al Randall mentioned Friday night, Michigan has now given up 2 or fewer goals on 12 occasions this season. They've done it in four straight and 6 of the last 10, however. They've also given up 3 or fewer in 10 of the last 13 and in six straight. That's a good sign as they face a WMU team that is certainly not a high-powered offense. The Broncos are just 51st in the country at 2.31 goals per game. They're good because they only give up 1.92 goals per game (3rd in the country). Michigan can't let WMU put a lot of pucks in the net, because Slubowski (9th in GAA, 26th in save percentage) isn't going to give you a whole lot.

1 comment:

Geoff Chiles said...


I had a NYR blogger e-mail me about Nieves, and I couldn't say enough good things about him.

Guppy and Copp are leading this team right now. They're playing hard, working hard on special teams, and creating space for one another. I really like them on the top line.