What a weekend of hockey! What did we learn?
1. Be wary of those last-place teams.
At the end of the 2011-12 season, the last-place Bowling Green Falcons beat Northern Michigan on the road in the first round of the CCHA playoffs and Ferris State on the road in the second. This year, last-place Michigan State went to Fairbanks and beat Alaska in three games to advance to the CCHA quarterfinal round next weekend. The Spartans won 2-1 in overtime Friday, lost 4-1 Saturday and won 4-3 Sunday. Five of MSU’s last seven games were against the Nanooks, since the two teams met in Fairbanks Feb. 22-23.
The Spartans have two excellent goaltenders at their disposal as they continue in the playoffs. Junior Will Yanakeff played Friday and Saturday and freshman Jake Hildebrand played Sunday night. Each netminder earned a win.
Michigan State travels to Oxford, Ohio, next weekend to take on the CCHA regular-season champion Miami RedHawks.
2. Be wary of those Bowling Green Falcons.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned in post-season this year and the last, it’s that when a CCHA playoff series goes to three games and the Falcons are involved, don’t bet against BG. Last year, the Falcons took both the Wildcats and the Bulldogs to three games — each time on the road — and ended their season in Joe Louis Arena. This year, Bowling Green went to Sault Ste. Marie in the first round and positively hammered Lake Superior State. The Lakers won Friday’s game 2-0, but the Falcons won the Saturday and Sunday contests by a collective score of 13-3 which includes Sunday’s 7-0 shutout.
Eight different Falcons scored in the weekend, including Latvian defenseman Ralfs Freibergs, a freshman who netted his first career goal in his sixth career game Sunday night.
The Falcons will play Notre Dame on the road next weekend in the second round of the CCHA playoffs.
3. Be wary of the Michigan Wolverines — be very wary of the Michigan Wolverines.
This Michigan team that looked for most of the season as though it was incapable of playing Division I hockey has finally figured out a few things. One thing that the Wolverines know now is that they have decent goaltending. In their two-game, first-round sweep of Northern Michigan in Ann Arbor, the Wolverines had every confidence in freshman goaltender Steve Racine because they could have; he was solid in every way. Another thing the Wolverines now know is how hard they have to work to win a playoff game. UM led NMU 3-0 at the end of the first period in Friday’s game and had to work every inch of that ice in the second two periods to secure a 3-2 win.
The most important thing that the Wolverines learned, though, is that they are capable of taking a game when they want it — and they wanted Saturday’s contest from the first drop of the puck. The outcome of that 6-2 win was never in doubt. When Michigan heads to Kalamazoo next weekend to play the Broncos in CCHA quarterfinal action, the Wolverines will be far greater than the sum of their seventh-place CCHA finish.