Now that was a weekend of CCHA hockey. Two intense rivalries, four definitive series.
Arguably the biggest story of the weekend in D-I hockey, period. The Buckeyes swept the RedHawks for the first time since 2004, and in doing so became the first team to shut out Miami since Feb. 27, 2010, when the Buckeyes and RedHawks tied 0-0. Friday’s 1-0 decision was followed by Saturday’s stunning come-from-behind 5-2 win, a score inflated by two empty-net goals in the final minute-and-a-half, but still impressive with all five of OSU’s goals netted in the third period. The Buckeyes trailed 2-0 after two.
People outside of Ohio don’t understand the intensity of this rivalry. For players and fans, this is what MSU-UM is to those in Michigan or BU-BC to those in Boston. I’m not exaggerating. The rivalry has been fed in recent years by the number of times the programs have met while paired as travel partners, as well as the relative difference in fortunes between the programs – Miami has experienced a sustained level of success while OSU has struggled – plus the proximity of two programs competing for the same recruits in a comparatively isolated area of the CCHA.
OSU head coach Mark Osiecki, new to the Buckeye program this year, doesn’t seem to understand this yet. “Another step” is how Osiecki characterized the sweep.
Enrico Blasi, Miami head coach, knew immediately after the game what the weekend meant. “This is always a big game for us,” said Blasi, “so of course it stings a bit.”
Senior Sergio Somma had the only goal in the shutout and classmate John Albert had the game-winner at 9:55 in the third in the win. Somma is tied for second nationally in power-play goals (8). Sophomore Brandon Martell’s first career goal was a big one; he tied the second game at 5:24. Cal Heeter had 63 saves in the series – 40 in his third career shut out.
What does this show us about the CCHA? Well, it’s about the goaltending more than ever this season. Connor Knapp (.903 SV%) and Cody Reichard (.897) split time in the Miami net, and the numbers for this genuinely talented duo are significantly down from where they were a year ago.
They’re not alone, of course. The only guy who plays the bulk of his team’s minutes in the top 10 nationally this season among save percentages is Ferris State’s Pat Nagle (.930), who was rewarded with two wins this weekend. More on him later.
This story is as good as it gets, too – as Friday’s 4-3 overtime MSU win in East Lansing was the best game I’ve seen this season. The game was so good, in fact, that I was openly hoping for overtime in the third, just so it wouldn’t end. I got my wish.
The story of that game through 14:09 in the third belonged to MSU sophomore captain Torey Krug, who recorded the first hat trick of his life with an even-strength goal in the first and two five-on-three markers in the third period, giving the Spartans a 3-1 lead.
But – this being a MSU-UM, and given the disparity between these teams this season – the Wolverines came back. Luke Moffatt scored at 17:02 in the third, and with 13 seconds left in regulation, David Wohlberg tied it up.
It was clear in overtime that the Spartans were not to be denied. Daultan Leveille had the game-winner at 1:54, and MSU reacted as though it had won the Stanley Cup – and why not? In the three previous times these teams had met, the Wolverines had blanked the Spartans, 5-0, in front of more than 100,000 people, and UM ended MSU’s 2009-10 season when the Wolverines swept the Spartans in Munn Arena in the second round of the CCHA playoffs.
Leave it to UM head coach Red Berenson to put the contest in perspective. “Good for them,” said Berenson. “Good home win for Michigan State, and it’s a bad road loss for Michigan.”
The Wolverines shut out the Spartans the following night, winning 4-0 in Ann Arbor. It was 1-0 going into the third, but the combination of Shawn Hunwick’s acrobatic netminding and MSU’s reserves depleted from the previous night prevented the Spartans from doing what the Buckeyes had done. Carl Hagelin had the game-winning goal in the first, and in fact he opened the scoring for UM in both games and finished the weekend with three goals. Hunwick stopped 28 shots and earned his second shutout against the Spartans in three games.
The league-leading Fighting Irish made a real statement in Marquette, outscoring Northern Michigan 11-2 in two games, with eight different players scoring in Friday’s 8-1 rout. Senior goaltender Mike Johnson only faced 42 shots in the two games.
The Bulldogs swept the Falcons on the road and made a statement of their own, outscoring BGSU 7-2, limiting the Falcons to a goal in each game. In both games, FSU trailed 1-0 before scoring consecutive unanswered goals in the third period of each contest to win. Pat Nagle only had to make 31 saves in the two-game set.
The Broncos made a statement as well, earning five points in Fairbanks with Friday’s 2-2 tie and shootout point and Saturday’s 2-0 shutout win. Senior Jerry Kuhn was in net for both games, making 60 saves in the two games. Saturday’s win was Kuhn’s first career shutout in his 43rd career game and his ninth decision of the season.
The weekend’s action did some shuffling in the CCHA standings. Notre Dame remains in first place, but with 35 points, the Irish are now a crucial four points ahead of second-place Michigan – crucial because the Wolverines have a game in hand on the Irish.
The new third-place team is Ferris State, six points behind ND while the RedHawks drop to fourth to round out the league’s top tier.
The middling teams are Alaska (24 points), Northern Michigan and Ohio State (23) and Western Michigan (22). Lake Superior (17), who sat out the weekend, Michigan State (13) and Bowling Green (8) are the bottom three. Not one of those teams is playing like a bottom-feeder.
It was a rough weekend for me, thanks to my inability to foresee the OSU sweep and WMU’s fortunes in Fairbanks. I went 5-4-1, and I’m now 73-42-19 on the season.