Here’s the field for the CCHA Championship Tournament at Joe Louis Arena:
No. 4 Bowling Green vs. No. 1 Michigan
No. 3 Miami vs. No. 2 Western Michigan
The Broncos and RedHawks will play the early game before Bowling Green upsets Michigan. I’m just stating the obvious, at this point (and anticipating commentary and email from those Wolverines fans without senses of humor).
What did I learn this weekend, aside from the fact that there really is no direct driving route between Flint, Mich., and Big Rapids? Let’s start with the obvious.
1. We need a new phrase for “Cinderella story” because that chestnut doesn’t even begin to cover Bowling Green’s playoff narrative.
Never before has the last-place CCHA team advanced to the championship tournament, and the Falcons did so by scorching two opponents on the road. Sunday night’s come-from-behind win was spectacular. Down three goals after the first period, the Falcons took over the game beginning in the second. Freshman Ryan Carpenter’s 10th goal of the season made it 3-1 after two and his classmate Dan DeSalvo scored the remaining three goals, two in the third and the OT winner at 2:38. DeSalvo had four goals in 17 regular-season games. He has 10 in the postseason.
And make no mistake about it: The Falcons dominated last night’s game from the second period on. They were not to be denied. There was no way they were going to lose. It was the single most remarkable thing I’ve witnessed in nearly two decades of covering college hockey.
2. We need a new word for “rebound” because Connor Knapp and the RedHawks are redefining what that means, too.
In the first half of the season, Miami was a team with every bit of talent and nothing to show for it. The RedHawks finished the first half in ninth place, and Knapp wasn’t even among the top 12 goaltenders in the conference — not the nation, but the conference — for goals-against or save percentage. At the end of December, the RedHawks’ offense was seventh in conference play, sixth overall in the CCHA; their overall team defense was ninth in the conference and Knapp’s save percentage was well below .900.
This past weekend, the RedHawks outscored the Spartans 10-1 and Miami has allowed just five goals in its last eight games, outscoring opponents 32-5 in that span. Knapp’s save percentage is now .943 — second in the nation, and think of how phenomenal he’s had to play to raise his save percentage to that point — and all five of his shutouts this season have come since Jan. 7.
3. We need to stop thinking that defense wins games, because it was more like a lack of offense that ended two seasons this past weekend.
After Michigan beat Notre Dame Saturday night, ND coach Jeff Jackson told me — and I’m paraphrasing — that at this point in the season, everyone who deserves to win advances and those who don’t, don’t. This is from a coach whose team looked really, really good in two losses. As talented as the Irish are and as good as sophomore goaltender Steven Summerhays was toward the end of the season, Notre Dame couldn’t score goals and therefore couldn’t advance. Offense was the same thing that thwarted a really good Lake Superior team, too, as it had all season; the Broncos outscored the Lakers 9-4 in two playoff games.
This is a lesson that CCHA teams are going to have to internalize in the NCAA tournament. This league has put on a quite a defensive show this season — tight games, incredible goaltending battles. When it comes to losing, though, 1-0 works just as well as 5-0. Teams have to score goals to win.