What a weekend of hockey in the CCHA! Two sweeps, two series that took three games, and the team that won the very first conference regular-season and playoff championships returns to participate in the last-ever battle for the Mason Cup.
It’ll be Michigan vs. Miami and Ohio State vs. Notre Dame March 23-24 in Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena. The semifinal games are slated for 1:05 p.m. and 4:35 p.m. Saturday, but I don’t believe the league has announced who’s playing at which time yet. Sunday’s title game is at 2:05 p.m.
So, kids, what did we learn from this weekend of hockey?
1. Michigan is a freight train.
As I said going into the weekend, if the Michigan team that had been playing for the previous three weeks showed up to play in Kalamazoo, the Broncos were doomed. Well, the Broncos were doomed. Friday’s game was tied 3-3 going into the third and Jacob Trouba’s second goal of the night won it for Michigan on the power play at 9:15. Saturday, though, was another story completely. That game was tied 1-1 going into the second, when the confident Wolverines exploded for four unanswered goals, two by Alex Guptill. Michigan won 4-3 Friday and 5-1 Saturday.
This has been a pattern for Michigan this past month, a more tentative game Friday and a solid game Saturday, even when the Saturday score isn’t quite so lopsided. The UM defense is mighty strong right now in front of freshman goaltender Steve Racine, who seems to improve with each game. (He’s from Western New York, though, so nothing good he does surprises me.)
I know that haters will hate, but Michigan’s pursuit of its 23rd consecutive NCAA bid as a No. 7 seed is a great story.
2. Notre Dame is scrappy.
The two games that the Fighting Irish played against the valiant Bowling Green Falcons couldn’t have been more different. Friday’s 1-0 overtime win was grinding, grueling and in some ways a little too careful. The Irish limited the Falcons’ shots against Steven Summerhays to 22 in the 1-0 win, and Brian Rust had the game-winning goal 1:22 into OT. Incidentally, including the three goals Rust scored in this series, the junior has netted 10 of his 15 goals for the season in the second half.
In Saturday’s 4-3 win, five of the seven goals scored between the two squads involved some sort of special teams play, including Rust’s successful penalty shot at 8:28 in the third. That’s because there were 32 minutes of penalties total in the feisty, scrappy game. The Irish gave up two power-play goals in the second period and Anders Lee’s game winner came with the man advantage midway through the third.
In both games, the Irish were tough, physical, and did what they needed to do to survive each one-goal game.
3. Those teams from Ohio are beatable.
We knew this already, of course; there isn’t a team in the CCHA that can’t be beaten on a given night. Both series in Ohio, though, went to a third game, while the series in Michigan and Indiana did not. It wasn’t surprising that the series in Columbus between Ferris State and Ohio State went to three games. The Bulldogs and Buckeyes exchanged a pair of 3-1 wins earlier this season, and a quick look at the recent history between the teams shows a couple of ties and a goal’s difference here and there. After dropping Friday’s game 4-2, the Buckeyes won 3-1 Saturday and 3-2 Sunday night.
It was surprising to see Miami drop its opening quarterfinal game to last-place Michigan State, 3-0 — that is, until you realize that the RedHawks have been shut out by opponents seven times this season. Miami is capable of stunningly good offense, but that offense is sometimes inconsistent. The offense arrived Saturday and stayed for Sunday’s contest, each game a 4-1 win for the RedHawks. Sophomore Austin Czarnik had the shorthanded, game-winning goal in the first period of Sunday’s game; Czarnik had three goals total for the weekend.
For the record, it was Ohio State that won the first-ever CCHA regular-season and playoff championships in 1972. The Buckeyes never did win another regular-season championship, but they did capture the Mason Cup in 2004.
Miami has captured the Mason Cup once, in 2011. Michigan has won the CCHA playoff championship nine times, most recently in 2010. Notre Dame has won the CCHA playoff championship twice, in 2007 and again in 2009.
This isn’t what I expected the field of the last-ever CCHA championship tournament to be, but I now expect that next weekend in Detroit, we’ll be treated to a fantastic weekend of hockey.