Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hockey Weekend in (or near) Michigan

Michigan had a pair of games this weekend in the CCHA. Having watched both of them, one on Comcast Local and the second live and in person, allow me a brief recap.

Friday Night: @Bowling Green 3, Michigan 2

Friday night's away tilt against the Falcons of Bowling Green was the kind of game that, in retrospect, was a perfect Admiral Ackbar game. It was, in fact, a trap. Michigan was riding a six game winning streak into the game and was playing the worst team in the CCHA this season. Experts will tell you that you have to get up for every road game, and statistically, the home team will hold serve in most cases, but if Michigan wanted any chance of unseating Notre Dame in the top spot, they had to have this one.

Michigan jumped out early, like 74 seconds in, on Chad Kolarik's 15th of the season, another shortie no less, but the scrappy Falcons rallied to make it a 1-1 tie after 20. The pace was solid, but I felt that Michigan was just sort of laying back, waiting for Bowling Green to remember who they were, and the flurry of Michigan goals would commence.

In the second, Michigan made it 2-1 on a goal from Rohlfs, with assists from Hensick and Porter. It was the kind of thing we have come to expect from the top line, and I must make a little mea culpa on this: I still think of TJ Hensick as a that freshman puckhog who would rather shoot than pass, or really do anything but pass, but clearly, when you lead the NCAA in assists, well, the joke is no longer accurate, just funny as an ironic call back. It would be 2-1 after 40, but I still felt like Michigan needed to be doing something more, because they should be destroying this BG team (who apparently have a new logo, of which I was not aware until the Comcast Local graphic used it.)

Michigan looked, in my opinion, a little lethargic in the third as they were just trying to hold the lead, and playing not to lose for 20 minutes rarely works. Sure enough, BG scored to tie it up, and Michigan could never find the gear to get that third goal.

And then they did something utterly silly...Jack Johnson broke his stick with under 90 second left and went to the bench looking for a new stick. Unfortunately, someone, I think it may have been Turnbull, jumped on instead of someone just handing Johnson, you know, your best defenseman a new stick, and Michigan was called for a too many men on the ice penalty. It would not have been a major problem until Bowling Green decided to make Michigan pay, getting a goal with 35 seconds left to steal a 3-2 win.

Really frustrating, especially because Michigan State, who is also still lurking around the top of the CCHA, salvaged a 2-1 overtime win against Ferris up at Munn. This setup...

Hockey Day in Michigan (Saturday Night): Michigan 3, Michigan State 3 (at Joe Louis Arena, Detroit)

The Michigan/Michigan State game at the Joe is an annual tradition and usually has a solid split of Sparties and the Maize and Blue faithful alike. I was joining the proceedings for another go round, but sadly, my ticket purchase would have been great in the sense of the seats in general, but we were also stuck in the middle of the Michigan State section, so we felt more than a little overpowered, especially by the Spartan Brass. (It's worth noting that the Spartan Brass "cheat" since they have an electric bass, so not only are they not all Brass, they also are using electricity.)

There was a good flow to this game early on, and you could feel Michigan was clearly up for the game. They had a lot of great chances early, but sadly, too many of them were right on Jeff Lerg. It looked like it was going to be one of those nights, especially since Michigan State put a pair past Billy Sauer in just 64 seconds time. It looked like State was going to win the day, because they were converting their chances when Michigan wasn't. The second period looked to be more of the same, especially when Abdelkader got his second of the night on the shortie (Michigan, we love short handed goals so much, we'll happily give them up as well!) and you couldn't blame Michigan fans if they were convinced that this would be a lost weekend.

But wait, a ray of hope, less than a minute after the shortie! Chris Summers...(Wait, CHRIS SUMMERS???) a feed from Kampfer and, boom, Michigan's right back into it. Based on my impression, that goal really lit a fire under Michigan. They seemed to tighten up on their defensive responsibilities and were playing harder at both ends of the rink. That said, they were still down a pair after 40 minutes. It was also one of those things was when you looked at the shot board, and you realized that Michigan was outshooting the Sparties by 15.

The third period saw Michigan really turning it on in the period split power play, but Lerg continued to really stand up (see, I passed on the obvious short joke here) and stop Michigan, until Chris Summers...(Wait, CHRIS SUMMERS, again???) got his second of the evening just 101 seconds into the third period. The entire mood of the building shifted at that point. The Spartan fans got much more uptight, but so did Michigan fans, because you wondered if the maize and blue could come all the way back. The energy level picked up in the stands, but on the ice, it was definitely noticed that, with about 10 minutes to go, Michigan State looked absolutely gassed (the shots bear this out, Michigan holding a 17-3 lead on that front in the third.)

For all of Michigan's intensity, all was seeming lost, you don't get points for effort. You do get points for putting the puck in the back of the net. All of the sudden, that is exactly what happened. Andrew Cogliano made an exceptional effort (thanks to a pass by Chris Summers...(Wait, CHRIS SUMMERS, again, really???)...and beat Lerg to knot the affair at three.

The overtime was uneventful, but one really got the impression that if it had been five minutes longer, Michigan could have taken it because Michigan State looked ready to go home. They were being forced off the puck with relative ease and were playing a great deal of dump and chase. Michigan looked to still have plenty of legs left, on the other hand. In the end, a 3-3 tie and Michigan salvages a point from this weekend.

I think the Saturday night game was, in many ways, a microcosm of the season for Michigan. A less than organized or interested first half met with a much higher level of intensity and skill in the second half. The question is, how will these last few games play out and how will Michigan go into March? Only time will tell.

No comments: