Baseball can have summer–and every bit of the glorious, pastoral mythology that goes along with it.
But hockey has faith. What’s stronger than faith?
Where were you in 1980? Where were you last weekend?
When you watch four teams take the ice for the CCHA semifinals Friday night at fabled Joe Louis Arena, you’ll see two teams who have been staples of CCHA post-season play for all of this decade. You’ll also see two teams that no one thought would get this far.
No one, that is, except for the players, coaches, and fans of those two teams–and even the fans of one of those teams are surprised.
No. 2 Michigan State had to beat a very tough Ferris State team–a Bulldog team whose belief almost carried them to The Joe–in order to advance to the semifinals.
No. 5 Michigan was challenged by–and nearly lost to–a team with a whole lot of faith, from a school where belief is what it’s all about. It took the Wolverines three games to beat Notre Dame, in a weekend series in which the Irish led for all of but 14 minutes.
No. 8 Ohio State has all the faith in the world. The hottest team in college hockey has believed in itself all along–even while the rest of the country has claimed that Yale or St. Cloud State are the stories of the season. The Buckeyes beat Lake Superior twice to get to The Joe.
Few people have believed that Northern Michigan could pull off what the Wildcats have done this season, a top-four finish and a trip to Detroit at the expense of the Miami RedHawks, who–perhaps–just didn’t believe enough.
Here’s the way it went:
Michigan State 3, Ferris State 1
Michigan State 2, Ferris State 1
Notre Dame 4, Michigan 2
Michigan 2, Notre Dame 1
Michigan 4, Notre Dame 3
Ohio State 2, Lake Superior 1
Ohio State 6, Lake Superior 0
Northern Michigan 3, Miami 1
Northern Michigan 8, Miami 2
Congratulations to the winners. And to those teams who stay home this weekend, congratulations as well. This has been one of the most interesting seasons in CCHA history, and every team had a hand in it.
Of course, some teams had more than just a hand in it. Some teams had faith.
Last week’s record in picks: 5-4 Overall record in picks: 128-81
That’s all, folks!
First Semifinal Northern Michigan (19-14-4, 17-12-3 CCHA) vs. No. 2 Michigan State (31-5-5, 23-5-4 CCHA) Friday, 5 p.m. ET, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI
The regular-season series between the Wildcats and the Spartans ended evenly. Northern Michigan is the only team in the CCHA against which the Spartans did not take the regular-season series.
"They tied us here, we beat them, and they beat us up there," quips Michigan State’s Ron Mason, "so this is kind of the determining game as to who’s going to win the season series. I think it’s a good matchup for us, and I think it’s going to be an excellent game."
The teams tied 1-1 in Munn on Jan. 9. Michigan State won 6-1 the following night, and Northern Michigan took the third game–the final game of the season–just two weeks ago, winning 5-1 on March 7.
Michigan State’s power play clicked in all three games against the Wildcats, more so in the first two games than in the third. In the weekend series at Munn, the Spartans scored power-play goals at the rate of fifty percent; their sole goal in the third game was a power-play goal.
The Wildcats, whose special teams are notably pathetic, scored twice on the power play against the Spartans in nine tries this season. In the tie game, the goal for each team came on the power play.
Mike York, Rustyn Dolyny, Sean Berens and Brad Hodgins have dominated the scoring for Michigan State in this series. For the season against the Wildcats, York and Dolyny had two goals and three assists, Berens had four goals–all in the second game–and Hodgins had four assists.
The Wildcats prefer to spread their scoring around. No one player dominated the offense against the Spartans, but Brad Frattaroli had the only Wildcat goal in the tie game, Trudeau had the only goal in the second game (shorthanded), and Tyler Barabonoff, Bryan Phillips, Rich Metro, J.P. Vigier and Buddy Smith each had goals in the third game.
Jeff White has three assists against the Spartans, the only Wildcat with three points against Michigan State this season.
In the first two games, Chad Alban was outstanding in net for Michigan State, saving 49 of 51 shots. Joe Blackburn was less successful in the third game, making 19 saves on 24 shots.
In two games against the Spartans, Duane Hoey was excellent in net for Northern Michigan. For the season, Hoey made 72 saves on 80 Spartan shots.
The reversal of fortune in the third game was as much the Wildcat depth as it was Blackburn in net for the Spartans, and Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley says that while his team puts that game into context, the win gives the Wildcats some optimism.
"We’re coming off a recent game with Michigan State when they obviously didn’t have as much at stake as we did in the hockey game, but we played very well in that game in a 5-1 win without Chad Alban. It certainly gives us some confidence going into the matchup on Friday night."
Three of the four coaches whose teams will play at The Joe this weekend talk about how surprising it is for their teams to make an appearance. When Northern Michigan head coach Rick Comley talks about his Wildcats, however, he makes it clear that the only ones surprised to see Northern Michigan in Detroit are those folks who live outside of Marquette.
"We’re excited about coming down to Joe Louis in our first year back in the CCHA. It’s been a decent year for us. We were not picked to do very well, but that’s because people didn’t know much about our program or the second half that we had last year.
"I think overall, [this is] pretty satisfying for us. [We had] pretty good play, obviously, in the first round of the playoffs. I think that getting an opportunity to come back to Joe Louis, to play Michigan State, is exciting not only for the hockey team but for our community and school as a whole."
Perhaps fans and press around the league are surprised by Northern Michigan’s success because they are, as Comley says, unfamiliar with the team’s performance last year. But there are other, more immediate reasons to have been skeptical this season about the Wildcats.
"If you’ve watched our stats all year," says Comley, "you’d see that we’re not a dynamic hockey team."
Of the four teams to make it to Detroit, Northern Michigan is the one with the fewest 20-point players in league play, and the team with the fewest players with 10 or more goals.
Only the three players on the top Wildcat line have 20 or more points in league play on the season; only two players have scored 10 or more goals in league play.
There’s no question that Buddy Smith (5-17–22), Roger Trudeau (13-11–24) and J.P. Vigier (9-11–20) lead this Northern team. But Comley says that the key to the Wildcats’ success has been the way in which many different players have contributed to the team’s overall play.
"It’s been different people on different nights. Fred Mattersdorfer has had a very solid year. Brad Frattaroli, who doesn’t get a lot of credit, has been a nice third-line center for us who we match up with other good players on different teams.
"Tyson Holly has had a nice solid year. Bryan Phillips has put some numbers up….It’s just been very balanced, and not relying on one particular line.
"Even though everybody talks about Buddy Smith, Roger Trudeau and J.P. Vigier as our key, we haven’t had them together a whole lot because of injuries, so other players have had to step up."
It was "kind of a balanced show by a lot of forwards," says Comley, and he’s right. Mattersdorfer, a rookie, had 11 goals and eight assists in league play. Frattaroli, who had success against the Spartans, had 11 league points; Holly (6-7–13) and Phillips (6-8–14) both contributed to the well-balanced Wildcat effort, as did White (4-10–14) and rookie Doug Schmidt (4-9–13).
"Defensively, a player like Curtis Sheptak has meant a lot to us. Rocky Welsing has had a very good year.
"Maybe the most important development is that Duane Hoey in goal has emerged as a very capable, solid, goaltender who’s put up pretty good stats."
Hoey was nearly a liability for the ‘Cats early in the season, with a first-half league save percentage that hovered around 86 percent. However, by the end of the season, Hoey posted some solid numbers: a league GAA of 2.93 and league save percentage of .883.
"I like the way we’re playing," says Comley. "I like our attitude right now. I like our approach, too."
Of the four coaches whose teams are heading to Detroit this weekend, Ron Mason is the one who can truly say, without any arrogance, that going to The Joe is no surprise.
"At the start of the year we were picked by the coaches and media to finish number one. I thought we had the ingredients to do it–with Chad Alban, our defense, Horcoff, York and Berens up front at center ice.
"I think we lived up to our regular-season pick but we know how hard it is this time of year to win games. Basically, it’s not how good you are, but how well you play in that specific game."
If any team has all the ingredients for success, it’s this Spartan squad. And success for Michigan State starts from the goal out.
"Chad Alban has had an outstanding year; he plays with a lot of confidence, and he does a lot of things that allow us to build a system around him."
Alban, a legitimate contender for the Hobey Baker award, has had the year of a lifetime. Not only is the senior leading the nation in GAA (1.54) and save percentage (.925), but his goals-against is more than a half a goal lower than that of the next closest goalie.
Alban finished the regular season with the best CCHA league GAA in league history (1.63) and the third-best save percentage (.922).
And for the way Alban plays the puck, it’s perfectly appropriate to say that he anchors the Spartan defense–the absolute, number-one best defense in the country.
"On defense, of course, Tyler Harlton’s our leader, but you can’t overlook Mike Weaver, you can’t overlook Chris Bogas, Jeff Kozakowski and certainly Brad Hodgins," says Mason.
"Those five guys have been steady all year long; they understand the game well, they’re experienced. It seems to me that when we need something, they’re right there to give it to us.
The Spartans are outshooting their opponents by an average of nearly 31 to 21 per game, and Michigan State has held its opponents to 23 shots or fewer in 30 of 41 overall games played this season. In many games, against many teams, the Spartans simply own the neutral zone.
Harlton is the finest defensive defenseman in the CCHA, and Weaver isn’t far behind. Harlton had one goal and 11 assists in league play–and that one goal was a game-winner. Harlton led the league in regular-season plus/minus, with a rating of plus 27. Incredibly, in overall play, Harlton was plus 37.
Somebody tell me why this kid wasn’t a unanimous pick for the All-CCHA first team.
Weaver plays a bit in Harlton’s shadow, so perhaps you don’t know that he had one goal and 14 assists in league play–and his solo goal was a game-winner–and that his league plus/minus was plus 25.
Somebody tell me why this kid didn’t even make the second All-CCHA squad?
Bogas (4-8–12), Kozakowski (14 assists), and Hodgins (1-13–14) are integral to the Spartan defensive game. Kozakowski and Hodgins are also key point men on the Michigan State power play.
It doesn’t seem fair to many people, but as loaded with defensive talent as Michigan State is, the Spartans also have it up front.
"You can do it on defense for so long, but you still have to have the offense to give you excitement," says Mason. "I think the nice thing about this year’s team is that we’ve been able to score goals, too, as well as play good on defense.
"Berens has had an unbelievable year, scoring-wise. He has thirty-five goals now.
"We’ve got the points out of Mike York. Horcoff’s been hurt a lot this year, so he hasn’t put up the numbers we would’ve liked. He is back healthy now, and we hope we’re going to hear from him in the playoffs."
Sean Berens finished the regular season with 26 league goals and 13 assists, good enough for fourth place in CCHA league scoring on the year. He was second in overall CCHA power-play scoring (13-10–23).
"I’m amazed at Sean Berens," says Mason, "at how many goals he has, because he’s missed games and not only that but he’s played a number of games where he wasn’t able to compete nearly at the level that he should have."
York came within six points of capturing the league scoring title, ending the regular season with 18 goals and 23 assists; nine of those goals were power-play goals.
Shawn Horcoff scored 10 goals in 20 league games; four of his goals were on the power play.
Rustyn Dolyny (17-17) and Kevin O’Keefe (10-13) were also 20-point men in regular-season league action.
Don’t forget that the Spartans did what they did this season with players constantly in and out of the lineup.
"I always say you can complain about injuries when you win; you can’t complain about them when you lose." says Mason.
"I’ve talked about a lot about injuries because we’ve had more this season in some respects than we’ve had any other year. Maybe that’s been the key to our team, getting goals from people that we’ve asked to perform."
Drop the Puck, Already!
The Wildcats lead the Spartans in the all-time series, 9-8-1. This will be the first-ever meeting between these two teams in CCHA playoff history.
The ‘Cats are 1-1-0 against the Spartans at Joe Louis, with a 4-1 win in the 1992 GLI, and a 5-1 loss in the 1983 GLI. Northern Michigan is 3-9-0 all-time at the JLA.
During their previous stint in the CCHA, the Wildcats captured the CCHA playoff title twice, in 1980 and 1981–both games played in Lakeview Arena. In each of those years, Northern made an appearance in the NCAA tournament.
Michigan State has won six of its last seven games in Joe Louis Arena (three of those against Michigan, for all of you Wolverine fans fond of calling the JLA "Yost Arena East").
The Spartans have advanced to The Joe in the CCHA playoffs 16 times in 17 years in the league. The Spartans are 10-4-0 all-time in the CCHA semifinal game.
Michigan State has the edge in special teams. The Spartans led the CCHA in both the power play and penalty killing, converting on 22.3 percent of power plays while killing penalties at the rate of 90.5 percent. The Spartans were held without a power-play goal in the series against Ferris State last weekend.
Over the last six games, the Wildcats have converted power-play opportunities at the rate of 21.4 percent. Since the beginning of the season–when Northern Michigan had no power-play goals in its first ten games–the ‘Cats have operated at 18.4 percent with the man-advantage.
Mason says, "Overall we’re pleased at this point. It’s very difficult, I think, to win a regular-season championship because it’s over six months, it’s over thirty games. We’re pretty excited about that here, but we respect what we have. We’re just looking forward to advancing."
Comley says, "We’re excited about being a part of the tournament, very excited about coming back to Joe Louis."
Logic says that the Spartans will advance to the title game.
PICK: Michigan State 4-2
Second Semifinal No. 8 Ohio State (24-11-2, 21-10-1 CCHA) vs. No. 5 Michigan (30-10-1, 24-7-1 CCHA) Friday, 8:30 p.m., Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI
Zero. Twenty-nine. Five.
That’s the Buckeye record against the Wolverines for the last 34 Ohio State-Michigan pairings. The last time Ohio State beat Michigan was in 1990–when the youngest current Buckeyes, Andre Signoretti and Vinnie Grant, were in fourth grade.
"You can basically throw those records out the door," says Ohio State head coach John Markell. "We’re in the present now, I don’t pay much attention to the past record."
Michigan is the only team to have swept the Buckeyes this season, winning 3-2 in overtime in Columbus in November, then 4-2and 6-0 in Ann Arbor the first weekend in January.
The first two outings were exciting, competitive, evenly-matched college hockey games. The third was a throwback to the Buckeye past when penalties took the Bucks out of every game.
Dale Rominski tied the first game to send it into overtime, and Geoff Koch scored with 31 seconds left to give the Wolverines a victory. Marty Turco was clearly the difference in that game, as Ohio State outshot Michigan 42-31.
In the second game, Jeff Maund was more the factor as Michigan outshot Ohio State 33-21. Ryan Root scored the tying goal for Ohio State in the third period, but when Sean Ritchlin scored the go-ahead goal at 16:40 in the third, you could feel the life seep out of the Bucks. The fourth Wolverine goal was an empty-netter.
Bill Muckalt had the winning goal for Michigan in the third game just a minute into the first period. Turco made 30 saves in the effort, and both Jeff Maund and Ray Aho had 13 saves–and three goals against–each.
Ohio State held Michigan to zero power-play goals for nine chances through the first two games, while scoring one on ten chances themselves. In the shutout, Michigan totaled three power-play goals on ten opportunities.
So what does this say about this season series? If you could erase game three, these two teams are fairly evenly matched.
"We did that to ourselves," says Markell. We competed the first night. Red Berenson is the one who’s always warned me not to get into a penalty situation, and we got into a penalty situation against a very explosive hockey club.
"One thing we had talked about the four days previous [to that game] was how not to get into a penalty situation, and we had some guys get very frustrated, and we got ourselves in trouble."
Says Michigan head coach Red Berenson of Ohio State, "We haven’t seen them since early in the second half of the season, so their recent record obviously tells us that they’re a much stronger team than they might have been in the first half of the season, and playing with a lot more confidence.
"Even though we won all three games against them, we don’t take that very seriously because we know they’re a much-improved team."
The back-to-back losses in Michigan capped a four-game losing streak for Ohio State, one that sandwiched the Christmas break. Coach Markell takes some of the blame for the slump.
"I made a bit of a judgment error. Some of the guys did not skate for two weeks, and we skated for three days. And then we went up to Michigan and tried to beat a very good hockey club on their home ice. It was noticeable that we were not in good shape; we were a step off."
But perhaps Ohio State should thank the Wolverines for the 6-0 spanking. Says Markell, "After that…our guys realized the commitment they were going to have to make to win in this league. They learned a hard lesson by what they had done. Mentally we became a stronger team."
The games in Yost were the last back-to-back losses of the Buckeye season, and the following Friday, Ohio State pummeled Lake Superior 7-0 at home, the first win of a nine-game unbeaten streak. "We understand why that happened," says Markell of the shutout in Ann Arbor. "Michigan’s a little bit different hockey team at this point, and so are we."
Of the four teams playing at The Joe this weekend, perhaps Ohio State is the biggest surprise.
The Buckeyes ended the season with a 13-1-1 run; they are 15-1-1 in their last 17 games, and 15-3-1 in 1998. Two of the three losses came at the hands of Michigan; the other was to Michigan State in Munn.
Ohio State also beat the Spartans in Columbus when Michigan State was the top team in the country. By the end of the season, the Buckeyes themselves had worked their way into the national polls.
"All year we’ve been fighting the respect factor throughout this league and throughout the nation," says Markell. "You see that in the national polls, where our record is every bit as good as Clarkson’s, and we went up there and beat them and tied them in their building–yet we’re ranked behind them in the coaches’ poll.
"It lights a fire under us. Michigan is a well-respected program, one we aspire to be like. We obviously are an underdog, and it’s going to help us in our endeavors here. But we also have to play hockey; we can’t get so nervous that…we can’t get the job done."
The Buckeyes perceive themselves as underdogs because no one in the country believes they are as good a team as they are. After Ohio State’s 6-0 shutout of Lake Superior in the second game of the first round of the playoffs, goaltender Jeff Maund pointed to the lack of recognition as something that spurred the Buckeyes on to victory.
Hugo Boisvert, the CCHA league scoring title winner, was the only Buckeye to receive first or second team All-CCHA honors, and he’s the first Buckeye in 14 years to be named to the All-CCHA first team. Buckeyes Eric Meloche and Chris Richards were snubbed, even though Meloche was a 20-goal scorer and among the top six in league scoring all season, and Richards finished tied for third in league scoring after a phenomenal second half.
Perhaps the coaches have yet to give the Buckeyes the respect that they honestly deserve because they don’t believe this team is for real. After all, Ohio State finished last season with an overall record of 12-25-2.
"We had an exciting year," says Markell. "It was a rebuilding year, where a lot of players came around and decided to play their games.
"At the beginning of the year, Wilkie [Western Michigan coach Bill Wilkinson] said to Michigan, ‘Welcome back to the CCHA.’ I’d like to think that maybe Ohio State has rejoined the CCHA this year."
Markell is quick to give credit to Casey Jones, his assistant in charge of recruiting, for the Buckeye turnaround. Also helping the Ohio State effort is a renewed commitment from the athletic department administration, including the promise of playing in a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility for the 1998-99 season.
"It’s been an exciting year from start to finish. We knew that we were going into a new building, much the same size that we’re going to be playing in this weekend. I think the slow buildup and the momentum throughout the year has really helped us as we see that building progress across the street."
Markell says that his team is "primarily dominated by sophomores and freshmen," but solid, mature upperclassmen have turned the Buckeyes into a team that’s tough to beat.
"We’ve had some standout years from a few kids–Boisvert, Meloche, Richards–but I think it came down to the older guys, the seniors and the juniors who really came in and played dominant roles in our program.
"They assumed roles as checkers [even] if they thought they were goal-scorers, and when they knew they were going to play on our hockey club as checkers, they did that to the best of their ability. That really helped teach our younger kids how to lead. And I think that was the most important part of our learning experience this year."
The first line of sophomores Hugo Boisvert (20-27–47) and Eric Meloche (20-15–35), and rookie Jean-Francois Dufour (7-14–21)–le trio Quebecois–put up incredible regular-season numbers for the Buckeyes.
But that line has overshadowed a powerful second line of three upperclassmen from Ontario who have helped to carry the Buckeyes through the second half of the season.
The Ontario Line–consisting of juniors Chris Richards (17-24–41) and Dan Cousineau (5-14–19), and senior Todd Compeau (10-6–16)–is responsible for 35 of OSU’s 106 regular-season goals (compared with the first line’s 47)–and the three didn’t play together until midseason.
Even more incredible is that Compeau wasn’t even on the team last season; he’d been dropped for violating team rules.
"Todd Compeau is the same age as some of our incoming freshmen," says Markell. "He came in a very young hockey player, in a situation where we were a little discombobulated three years ago. He kind of got caught up in the rush of coming to the university at a young age.
"He got off on the wrong foot, where he was academically not doing that well–doing it on the ice, but forgetting what to do off the ice. He couldn’t combine both."
As a result, Compeau returned to Ohio State this fall not knowing whether he had a spot on the roster. In December, he was moved to the Richards-Cousineau line, and the three have clicked ever since, providing a tough, defensive brand of offense, and leadership for the underclassmen.
In addition to the one-two punch of the Quebec line and the Ontario line, Ohio State has received help from players on every line, especially junior Neal Rech and senior Tyler McMillan.
Defensively, the Buckeyes are led by seniors Taj Schaffnit and Ryan Root; Root is also an offensive threat, with seven goals (five of them on the power play) and eight assists in league play.
Rookie defenseman Andre Signoretti is sixth on the team in scoring with 17 league points.
Like the rest of the teams heading to Detroit, Ohio State has a healthy balance, with nine players in double digits in league scoring.
But anyone who has seen OSU play this season knows that–like the Spartans and the Wolverines–the Buckeyes have excellence in net as well.
"I think the key to our whole season has the solidifying of our goaltending situation," says Markell. "Jeff Maund has had a stellar year, and we’ve relied quite a bit on him, especially in this playoff round. But he seems to accept the pressure, and play very well under that."
Among goalies who have played 1,000 or more minutes in net, Maund is third in league GAA (2.51) and second in league save percentage (.913). Since Jan. 9, Maund is 11-1-0, with a league GAA of 1.75. In his last five games, his GAA is 1.00.
He’s also the only goalie to have earned the CCHA’s Defensive Player of the Week honors three times this season, most recently last weekend in Ohio State’s games against Lake Superior, during which he posted a .985 save percentage and collected his third shutout of the season.
Not bad for a kid who was not unanimously named to the CCHA All-Rookie squad.
Markell says he’s proud of his team, especially his seniors who have had to make adjustments to a new coach and a new style of play. He’s also proud of the way his players have handled the team’s lack of recognition.
"We are a little bit of an underdog, but we also respect our opposition. We treat them fairly each and every game, and I think that’s why we’ve done so well in the league this year."
"Our season started pretty well with a young team that maybe surprised most of our followers, because we lost such a great class the previous year," says Michigan head coach Red Berenson.
Indeed, after The Michigan Nine departed, few people thought that Michigan would mature so quickly–or challenge for the regular-season title.
"We did have a good race for first place with Michigan State," says Berenson. "Obviously, they won the games head to head, and deserved to finish in first place.
"We feel fortunate, looking back, that we’ve had as good a season as we’ve had, with as young a team as we’ve had. We also feel proud of our top players; players like Turco and Muckalt have made the difference."
Like the Buckeyes, the Wolverines had a whole lot of young talent that needed–and got–the leadership of experienced upperclassmen. One of those more mature players is Matt Herr, the senior team captain who had to lead from the locker room until midseason.
"Our team has had some injuries. We went through the first half of the season without our captain, Matt Herr. Now he’s back, and we’re finally getting some lines in order that we feel are playoff ready."
In just 20 league games, Herr has contributed 11 goals and 12 assists.
Until this young team found its hockey legs, senior goaltender Marty Turco was the difference between winning and losing in many close games–including two of the three against Ohio State.
"What it’s all boiled down to is the fact that Marty Turco…has given our young defensemen a lot of confidence, and has been able to make up for some of their mistakes."
Turco finished the regular season with phenomenal numbers, second in the league in goals-against (2.06) and third in save percentage (.908).
While Turco was keeping the pucks from the net, senior Bill Muckalt was doing his best to score in those close ones.
"Up front, Billy Muckalt has led our forwards, and again has set a standard for work ethic and desire to succeed which I think has helped our younger players," says Berenson.
"Muckalt was a player who very seriously considered leaving this season and turning pro. When we all agreed that he was coming back, he got on a mission, and has really been one of the factors in our team’s success this year."
Muckalt finished second in league scoring, with 20 goals and 23 assists.
Like the Buckeyes, the Wolverines needed players to make their move this season for the sake of the team.
"We’ve got a lot of role players that have stepped up," says Berenson. "Bobby Hayes has become an elite player in this league, and he was a third- or fourth-line player last season. Bobby Hayes and Dale Rominski have really stepped up and helped our team."
Hayes was second in scoring for the Wolverines (16-17–33), while Rominski (9-8–17) became a formidable defensive forward.
"On defense, Mike Van Ryn and David Huntzicker have done a great job all season long, but when we got into this series [with Notre Dame] and we lost Peach, that put a little bit more responsibility on [Scott] Crawford and [Bob] Gassoff, who hadn’t played as much. Certainly, they had to play, and had to survive this series. They got a lot of ice time, and really stepped up.
"So on defense, our young kids really helped us. And up front, players like Mark Kosick and Josh Langfeld have had very strong freshmen seasons, and have continued to play well in the playoffs."
Defensively, CCHA All-Rookie defenseman Mike Van Ryn (3-7–10) has proven himself to be proficient on both sides of the puck. All-CCHA second team defenseman Bubba Berenzweig (4-7–11) has become a much better defensive player this season as well.
Rookies Kosick (10-18–28) and Langfeld (11-13–24) are just plain good players, finishing third and fourth respectively in league scoring for the Wolverines.
Two key defensemen were injured in the series against the Irish. With his third concussion since Christmas, Sean Peach is probably done for the year. Van Ryn also left the series with a concussion, but Berenson thinks the rookie will be back for The Joe.
Drop the Puck, Already!
Michigan leads the all-time series with Ohio State 44-18-7. The Wolverines are 6-0-0 against the Buckeyes in three postseason series, with Berenson coaching all six of those Michigan wins.
Ohio State is 18-39-4 all-time in the CCHA playoffs and 4-4-0 in Joe Louis Arena.
Markell is 3-6-0 all-time in the CCHA playoffs, and 0-2-0 against Michigan in post-season play. This is his first trip to the JLA as a head coach.
Michigan is 27-17-0 all-time in the CCHA playoffs, including a 9-5-0 record at The Joe. The Wolverines are 46-20-1 at the JLA all-time.
The seniors on this Michigan team have plenty of post-season success. In the past three years alone, Michigan is 17-4-0 in playoff hockey, including two CCHA tournament championships, three NCAA semifinal appearances and one NCAA national championship.
Of the four teams heading to The Joe, only Ohio State hasn’t played there during the last four years. The Buckeyes are making their first appearance at the JLA since 1987.
Ohio State won the very first CCHA postseason championship, in 1972, when current goaltending coach Bill McKenzie was in net. The Buckeyes have never received an invitation to the NCAA tournament.
The Wolverines have finished in first or second place in the CCHA regular season standings in every season since the 1990-91 season.
With their 24th win of the season, the Buckeyes doubled their total wins from last season. The 24 wins are the most by an OSU hockey team in 14 years and equals the fifth highest total in school history.
Berenson says that the Wolverines are a better team for having played a tough series against Notre Dame last weekend.
"It really helped our team. It really put our backs to the wall. Certainly, this was not an easy series. It was a tough weekend, and to have to play that third game in three nights after a desperation game Saturday that went nearly eighty minutes, I thought it was a great test of our team’s physical conditioning, as well as our mental conditioning.
"I feel very good about the fact that we came out of it in pretty good shape, and I think it really helped our young players.
"Certainly we feel fortunate to have won the series in three games."
Markell jokes that the Wolverines are playing on home ice at The Joe, but feels confident that his team won’t be overwhelmed by the new experience.
"All we’re going to ask our team to do is play their best. If we can do that, I think we can compete against Michigan. We’ve proven that this year when we do compete at our best, under good circumstances, we can compete with them."
Would you pick against a team with the highest win percentage (.912) in the nation since Jan. 9?
PICK: Ohio State 3-2
Championship First semifinal winner vs. second semifinal winner Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI
Pick: Michigan State 2-1