University of Michigan Wolverines
2 seed vs. Nebraska-Omaha, West Regional (Scottrade Center, St. Louis, MO)
Friday, March 25, 2011
CCHA Regular Season Champions
At-large bid from the CCHA
Coach: Red Berenson
Most people around here know the story of the 2009-2010 Michigan hockey team. They were inexplicably bad, getting swept by MSU and Nebraska-Omaha, and just not looking very good. Then, in a late season game, goaltender Bryan Hogan went down with a groin injury. His backup, Shawn Hunwick, was a lightly recruited undersized kid ticketed for Division III Adrian when Hogan's former backup, Steve Jakiel, left the team. Hunwick, brother of NHLer Matt, walked on and hung around getting minimal playing time. He went in against the Irish, finished off Hogan's shutout, then let in 5 goals the next night. He wouldn't let in more than 3 the rest of the year. Hunwick led the 7th place Wolverines on a Cinderella run through the CCHA tournament to beat Miami in the championship and keep the NCAA tournament streak alive. Michigan beat Bemidji State in the opening round, but a quick whistle cost the Wolverines a trip to the Frozen Four.
Fast forward to 2010-2011. Hogan has recovered from his injury and is now splitting time with Hunwick -- Hunwick usually gets Fridays, Hogan on Saturdays. For some reason, Michigan on Saturdays is playing a lot better than Michigan on Fridays, and it's looking like Hogan is going to be the guy again. Everything is set, leading up to the biggest hockey game ever played, the Big Chill at the Big House. Hogan is named the starter...but then he injures his groin in warmups. Hunwick is called in. He stops everything Michigan State can throw at him and walks out with a 5-0 shutout in front of a Guinness-certified 104,073 paying customers.
Since that time, Michigan has been playing solid, if not great, hockey. Their only sweep of the season came at the hands of Miami down in Oxford, and they've swept 8 series of their own. They beat Colorado College to win the GLI again over the holidays in a wild 6-5 game, and they're 2-1 against Notre Dame this year, including their 4-2 win in the CCHA tournament third-place game after falling to Western in the semifinals. It feels like there haven't been a lot of highs this season, but not a lot of lows either. They don't have many bad losses, but they don't have a lot of good wins either. If you told me they would lose to UNO in the first round, I wouldn't be surprised. If you told me they made the Frozen Four...OK, maybe a little surprised, because BC is a terrifying team this time of year.
The 2010-2011 Wolverines don't have any 20+ goal scorers. In fact, they have only one with more than 15, senior Carl Hagelin (18-30--48), but they have 13 skaters with at least five, and the only Wolverines without goals are the goalies and lightly-used freshman defenseman Kevin Clare. Hagelin is also the leader in points and assists, with fellow senior Matt Rust (5-20--25) having some trouble scoring goals, but not having problems getting assists. Converted defenseman Scooter Vaughan has come out of nowhere to go from 2 career goals to 12 goals this season as a senior.
Other guys to watch: Sophomore wing Chris Brown doles out a lot of punishment and can be found crashing the net. Freshman defenseman Jon Merrill has immediately become an excellent two-way player. And watch Hagelin some more, just because his skating is unreal.
Bryan Hogan has returned from injury, but has only played a few minutes in net since then, so his .924 SV% and 2.08 GAA should be taken with a grain of salt. Hunwick was named CCHA goaltender of the year, posting a .921 SV% / 2.31 GAA and is the presumptive starter, barring injury.
Speaking of injuries, the Wolverines are dealing with some significant ones. Senior Louie "The Love Expert" Caporusso came back from a knee injury in time for the CCHA playoffs, but David Wohlberg, the team's second leading scorer after Hagelin, broke his collarbone against Bowling Green and is out for the season. Meanwhile, junior defenseman Brandon Burlon came down with a bad case of strep throat, then suffered a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics he was taking. This landed him in the hospital before the CCHA tournament and is still an ongoing problem, He's down with an "inflamed esophagus" and has reportedly lost 15 pounds and is definitely out for today's game, and I'd be shocked if we saw him on Saturday should the Wolverines win today.