There’s hockey played tonight – so it’s a good time for a supplemental blog to write up what I didn’t have time to write for this week’s column in addition to giving you my picks for the Ferris State-Ohio State series.
I was lucky enough last week to see the Friday Western Michigan-Michigan game in person, and I did watch the televised Saturday game. The hockey was fantastic, with real urgency through the whole weekend. It felt like good Division I hockey should feel like in late February. I’m happy to report, too, that the Broncos are for real.
The end of a streak
The Broncos were swept by Michigan, 6-3 and 5-4, marking the first time Western had failed to earn points in a single CCHA weekend this season and bringing their losing streak to three games – after their 14-game (8-0-6) unbeaten streak.
The 6-3 contest felt closer than the score because the Broncos just never quit. Ever.
“We’ve done a good job with that,” said WMU head coach Jeff Blashill. “We’ve done a good job of staying with it. We’ve got a group of guys that just keep working. We’ve been in that situation where we’ve been able to come back, so I think our guys have a belief. It’s obviously hard to do against a team as good as Michigan is, but guys do have the belief and that’s good.”
Blashill may be new to the WMU program this season, but there are plenty of players on the team who remember last year’s last-place finish. Blashill said that the team’s drive didn’t end when the streak did in a 3-1 loss to Miami Feb. 12.
“I didn’t think there was a letdown (afterward),” said Blashill. “We really didn’t talk about it. I didn’t hear our guys talk about it at all – we really didn’t. I’m happy for that, because that means that we continue to focus every single week on a new challenge and trying to see where we stack up. We’re still trying to find out where we stack up and how good a team we are.”
One of the most crucial players in that streak was senior goaltender Jerry Kuhn, and in the 6-3 loss to Michigan Feb. 18, Kuhn was pulled after Chris Brown gave the Wolverines a 4-0 lead at 3:42 in the second period. Sophomore Nick Pisellini came in and the Broncos scored twice within the next seven minutes, cutting UM’s lead in half. Blashill said that Kuhn wasn’t getting any help so he went for the change.
“Jerry played for so long. We hadn’t got Pise in there for so long. I just thought it was a time to get Jerry out and give him a rest and get Pise in there. Pise came in and did very, very well. I’m proud of the fact that he prepared himself for that opportunity.”
The Swede at the end – and the end of the Swede
The following night saw the Broncos score 43 seconds into the game and lead 3-2 after one. WMU carried a 4-3 lead until the 19:40 mark of the third period. That’s when Michigan senior Carl Hagelin scored to send the game to overtime.
With three seconds left in OT, Hagelin scored the game-winner.
“It’s as good as it gets – and at home,” said UM head coach Red Berenson. “Our crowd is so good and our players will never get to play in front of crowds like this, and the enthusiasm and all the little things that are going on in the crowd – it doesn’t get any better than this.”
One of the little things that’s been going on since shortly after Hagelin arrived is the display of a large Swedish flag in one of the corners of the student section. Saturday, the night Hagelin scored the tying and winning goals (talk about cementing your own legend, right?), the students in that section passed the flag around for as many people as possible to sign it, then gave it to Hagelin after the game. I’ve criticized the Michigan student section frequently for its endless obscenities, but the students deserve credit for this genuinely sweet gesture.
“I’m going to read all the notes that are on there and all the signatures,” said Hagelin. “They’ve been great support for me. It’s always great to step on the ice and see that flag and obviously the fact that I get to keep it is pretty emotional.”
Ferris State at Ohio State
Three points separate these teams; with 38 points, FSU is tied for sixth with Alaska – who is done with league play – while OSU sits in ninth place with 35 points. Lake Superior State is perched between the Bulldogs (and Nanooks) and Buckeyes, in eighth place with 37 points. Talk about down to the proverbial wire. With help around the league, each of these teams could finish as high as fourth place. If FSU sweeps, OSU finishes in 10th place; if the Buckeyes sweep, the Bulldogs finish in eighth. Last weekend, the FSU was swept in two games at home by Notre Dame, 3-2 and 5-2, while the Buckeyes took four points at home from Lake Superior State with a 1-1 tie and 5-2 win. The teams split a pair of games Oct. 22-23 in Big Rapids, a 2-1 FSU win and 5-3 OSU win. The Bulldogs hold a 5-3-2 edge in series dating back to 2007-08, including an 8-1 shellacking of the last season. I hate calling splits, but I think that’s what’s going to happen. Games are 7:05 p.m. tonight (Thursday) and Friday. FSU 3-2, OSU 4-2.
I’ll have the rest of the weekend’s picks tomorrow. I’m also
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