Weekend work-up, March 25, 2013: Adios, CCHA

How different the world looks this Monday morning, after a weekend in Detroit. Sure, that’s a truism all by itself, but after the final weekend of CCHA play, it’s a bit more specific.
I learned so much in 30 hours over two days that it’s difficult to choose what to write about here. One of the things I learned — or, rather, one of the lessons that was reinforced — was the genius of Jayson Moy, who nailed this year’s brackets again. That has little to do with what happened at Joe Louis Arena, though, and I feel compelled to limit my observations to the final weekend of CCHA play.
And here they are.
1. Michigan wasn’t running on borrowed time. The Wolverines simply ran into a better team.
I suspected that Michigan might run out of gas at some point during the NCAA tournament, maybe produce a collective hiccup against another strong team because the Wolverines’ success at the end of the 2012-13 season had fairly shallow roots. I’m not saying that Michigan wasn’t deep and talented; I’m saying that the idea of winning and working as a team was a fairly new concept to this specific group of Wolverines.
I’m sure that the argument can be made that this is exactly what Michigan did this weekend — finally falter — but I don’t think that’s the case at all. After beating Miami 6-2 in the semifinal game, the Wolverines were toe-to-toe against the Fighting Irish in the title game, finding ways to succeed for 40 minutes in spite of being outplayed by Notre Dame. UM was outshot 28-10 through the first 40 minutes, and even after Austin Wuthrich’s goal for ND 29 seconds into the third period put them behind, the Wolverines did what good teams do: they redoubled their efforts and worked tremendously hard, limiting the Irish to five shots while taking 11 themselves.
They never quit, committed few mistakes, and lost to a better team. Even after the game, as disappointed as the Wolverines were for all the reasons we understand now, there was no hanging of heads, no blaming anyone else, no bitterness — and huge respect for the Fighting Irish.
2. Miami may not have run into a better team, but the RedHawks exposed their biggest problem in their 6-2 semifinal loss to Michigan.
Yes, Miami ran into a hot, hot, hot team. On Sunday, though, the Fighting Irish played a Michigan team that was even hotter, thanks in part to Miami and the Irish won. What happened in Saturday’s game wasn’t an anomaly for Miami; it was one of two kinds of games the RedHawks have played all season.
The RedHawks scored four or more goals in 14 contests this season, all wins; in five of those games, they scored at least five goals. Yet Miami has just the 38th-best scoring offense in the country, averaging 2.38 goals per game. Why? Miami’s been shut out seven times this season and held to one goal in five games. One of those games in which the RedHawks scored just one goal was a win and two were ties. None of the shutouts resulted in tie games.
Miami’s played 37 games. The high-scoring and low-scoring contests together total 26 games. That’s a lot of the season when Miami has played either-or hockey, and that doesn’t include the eight games in which the RedHawks netted two goals.
Miami’s biggest weakness — inconsistency in its overall team defense — is something that can be put into the context of the RedHawks having such a young team. Miami has 11 freshmen and nine of them are regularly in the lineup, including starting goaltenders Ryan McKay and Jay Williams. Of Miami’s six sophomores, five play regularly. That could account for the bipolar nature of their season.
Having said that, if they stick to the score-four-goals script next weekend, they have a great chance of getting to Pittsburgh.
3. Notre Dame was friggin’ awesome.
I cannot remember when I saw such dominant, determined play from a CCHA team in a single weekend at Joe Louis Arena. As impressive as Notre Dame’s smothering defense was — and, trust me, it was — I was even more impressed with the team’s offense and the depth of that offense.
In each contest, the Irish allowed the first goal and then had to come from behind against a very, very, very good goaltender. In their 3-1 win over Ohio State, the Irish responded to the Buckeyes’ only goal — from Ryan Dzingel at 9:56 in the first — with a goal of their own less than a minute later from fourth line right winger Peter Schneider. T.J. Tynan’s game-winning goal at 3:50 in the third period came on the power play. The Irish had 43 shots on Ohio State’s Brady Hjelle, and although they only got two past him (the third goal was an empty netter), they persisted enough to win.
In their 3-1 win over Michigan, they likewise bombarded UM goaltender Steve Racine, who — like Hjelle — was excellent in net. Again, the Irish gave up the first goal, Derek DeBlois’ tally at 19:00 in the first. When Anders Lee scored at 10:34 in the second to tie the game, though, Notre Dame realized it could actually score against a goaltender Lee himself called “a wall.” Austin Wuthrich had the game-winner 29 second into the third in that game.
Five different players scored for Notre Dame. Jeff Costello had two goals, the final goal in each game.
Yes, Notre Dame’s eighth-best defense is impressive, but the tenacity of its offense was unbelievable in Joe Louis Arena. Notre Dame was a team that played as a team and never cracked, not once. They’d have to come through the same bracket as Miami, but their chance of going to the Frozen Four is also excellent.