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College Hockey:
Weekend work-up, March 19, 2012: Congratulations, Broncos!

The 2012 CCHA championship tournament is in the books — and it was fantastic. Congratulations to the Western Michigan Broncos, the 2011-12 CCHA Mason Cup winners!

Seriously, this field of teams was amazing and every game was entertaining in its own right. The first two periods of the title game between WMU and Michigan were boring, but when the Wolverines woke up in the third and made a game of it, the title contest was exciting.

The best game, of course, was the double-overtime semifinal between Bowling Green and Michigan on Friday night. That game and the third game between BGSU and Ferris State in the playoffs a week ago were the two best college hockey games I’ve seen in years; the first overtime in Friday’s game between the Falcons and Wolverines may have been the single most exciting period of college hockey that I’ve ever seen.

We learned many things this weekend. These are the three that stick with me.

1. When the Broncos are determined and play a whole game, they are unbeatable. That’s not an exaggeration, at least as far as the CCHA is concerned. Their top line of Shane Berschbach, Chase Balisy and Dane Walters is playing as good as any in the country right now and there are other forwards — J.J. Crew and Greg Squires come immediately to mind — who embody the cliche of taking play to the next level. The WMU defense is tight and freshman goaltender Frank Slubowski is for real. Collectively, they made Miami look weak — and especially exploited the RedHawks’ defense. Theirs was a perfect all-around, two-game performance.

2. Bowling Green will be a team to deal with for a long, long time. The Falcons were extraordinary throughout the playoffs and were a breath away from a chance to play for the Mason Cup. Toward the end of the first OT Friday night and in that first minute of the second, the six games BGSU had to play leading into the weekend finally caught up with them; they were gassed. Although they lost on Saturday, they did not roll over. With no offense meant to Slubowski, I’m still perplexed that junior goaltender Andrew Hammond — who made 84 saves in two games — wasn’t named to the all-tournament team. BGSU may be the best stick-handling team I’ve seen in years. The Falcons are young, talented and well coached. And they’ll be back.

3. The RedHawks and Wolverines are very talented … and very beatable. Miami may be the most talented team in the league, top to bottom, and yet they looked like high schoolers in front of their own net against the Broncos. Senior goaltender Connor Knapp — who carried Miami in the second half — was left completely unprotected in the semifinal game against Western Michigan. The RedHawks came out strong in the third-place game, but in the NCAA tournament, no one is given a second chance. That goes for the Wolverines, who were barely present in the first two periods of the title game but caught a second wind on Kevin Clare’s shorthanded goal. Granted, Michigan was hurting from the long, late game the night before — even though no one would say so — but no one can be absent even for a single period in the NCAA tournament. Somehow, the RedHawks and Wolverines need to internalize that before taking the ice in Bridgeport and Green Bay next weekend.

There were several other things I learned last weekend, like how much I enjoyed the parity in the league this season — to the point where I was sad when the title game was over — and how much fun it is to see teams that have been away from the tournament for a while return to Detroit. I was reminded by how poorly the CCHA tournament can draw and how much I like the people who work at JLA.

One thing that I knew all along is something that bares repeating: USCHO’s Jayson Moy is extraordinary. He nailed the brackets in his final prediction for the tournament in Saturday’s Bracketology blog.

Thank you to Bob Miller and Matt Nye who covered the tournament with me. Bob is the USCHO Arena Reporter in Ann Arbor; Matt covers Bowling Green hockey for the BG News.

Thank you, too, to all of you who joined us for live blogging during the CCHA tournament. I didn’t get the chance to say goodnight when the title game ended. There will be live blogging from all four regionals and the Frozen Four.

Last week’s column was the last of the season, but we’ll have regional previews this week and I’ll blog with picks on Friday.

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