Friday, April 8, 2011

Making something out of nothing

When the AP college hockey beat writer sat down to write his game column on last night's victory over North Dakota, he set up his laptop, took a sip of his extra large coffee, and thought to himself, Wow that Hunwick kid really played out of his mind tonight. "...and goalie Kevin Hunwick..." he wrote, moving on to the more important parts of his article. In some ways, this summarizes a Michigan hockey team that has 13 NHL draftees on it and won the CCHA. This team is less Kevin Porter and TJ Hensick and more Zach Novak and Jordan Kovacs: scrappy kids that, despite the odds and some physical deficiencies, find a way to get shit done. Make no mistake, North Dakota is better than Michigan, that much was obvious to anyone watching the game. But as is the case with single-elimination hockey tournaments, parity is supreme and anyone can win, even if it takes every bit of a 5'7" former walk-on to do so.

Last night's game can only really be described as terrifying. From the drop of the puck, it was clear that Michigan was in over their heads. Not only was North Dakota faster, they were also more physical, bigger, and smarter with the puck. Everything about last night was bad until Ben Winnett controlled a puck that had mockingly rang the crossbar and threw it into the net. The team celebrated like they had just won the Stanley Cup because, well, that's what it felt like. Against increasingly unlikely odds, Michigan took the lead against a team that on almost any other night would've pounded them into submission.

From that point on, Michigan mounted the bare minimum of offensive chances. Three shots in the second period and none of them memorable. In fact, I can't  remember a single good offensive chance Michigan had in the final two periods that didn't sail over the net on a 2-on-2 or result in a harmless clear. In the meantime, North Dakota was doubling Michigan's shot total and appeared to be the juggernaut they were advertised as. Except the puck never found the back of the net and now, Barry Melrose is shocked.

The weird thing is, it felt like Michigan played decent defense. A lot of North Dakota's shots were from the sideboards. Not only are these easy to stop, but they allowed the undersized, aggressive Hunwick to easily funnel rebounds into the corners instead of in front of the net. And when a puck was bouncing out front, Michigan was almost always able to clear it without a second shot getting to Hunwick.

In spite of everything, Michigan has moved on to the national championship game to face off against Minnesota Duluth. They'll need a similar effort from everyone involved if they're going to pull off the improbable, but when have you ever doubted that Zach Novak and Jordan Kovacs and Shawn Hunwick wouldn't give you their best effort every game?

  • The ice. One thing working in Michigan's favor (sort of) was a choppy ice surface. And I mean really choppy. Between the other Frozen Four game played just a few hours earlier and the conversion of the rink from an indoor soccer field just a few days prior, the ice temperature appeared way too high, making for a soft, sloppy surface. The puck wouldn't settle down for either team, but that worked to Michigan's benefit. I venture to say that if they played when ND/Minnesota Duluth played, that it would've been a very different outcome.
  • Referees. This was a poorly refereed game. Michigan received penalty after penalty for things that were, ya know, not penalties. The elbowing call on Matt Rust was inexplicable. But the worst call of the night was giving Kevin Lynch a diving call on an obvious interference. Giving the players matching minors there was the worst call of the night, and made me yell expletives at my TV. And I like my TV, I don't want to talk to it that way. The only call that went Michigan's way was a terrible offsides call that came on the heels of one of Michigan's four dominant penalty kills. Despite the linesman standing just a few feet away from the puck and staring intently at it, he decided to blow the whistle on what was clearly an onsides play.
  • Speaking of penalty kills, we have it. North Dakota couldn't get anything going on the power play and could barely get the puck in the zone. A real testament to Michigan's defense.
  • Open net goals are good for your blood pressure.


Jeff said...

wooooooooooooooooo - MetsMaize

Anonymous said...

I hate ESPN as much as anyone, but their college hockey beat writer isn't to blame - that's an Associated Press wire story.

Chris Gaerig said...

Yeah, I saw that when I went to SI. I was coming here to make the correction but alas, I've been found out.

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