Michigan hockey team focused solely on Miami (Ohio), not on NCAA Tournament chances
Michigan's hockey reality speaks for itself.
The Wolverines, who have made a record 19 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, won't extend their streak to 20 unless they leave Joe Louis Arena this weekend with a Central Collegiate Hockey Association Tournament title.
But Michigan's tournament chances haven't been a discussed by coach Red Berenson, who wouldn't allow his team to focus on anything but trying to get out of East Lansing last week with its postseason goals still intact.
With the Spartans now out of the way, the attention shifts now to top-seeded Miami (Ohio), which will enter Friday's 8 p.m. semifinal in Detroit as the favorite to advance to Saturday's championship game.
"All we talked about was getting to Joe Louis and all we talked about was finding a way to beat Michigan State," Berenson said Monday. "This week, we'll start talking about Joe Louis and our opponent Friday night. That's it.
"I've always said if you have a good season in the CCHA and if you have a good finish in the CCHA playoffs, you'll end up where you deserve. Or you'll end up where you deserve ... we're still the 7th-place team. We haven't won anything, but we have a chance to win something."
Despite jumping into a tie for the 16th spot in the PairWise rankings, the fact the Atlantic Hockey Association champ gets an automatic bid for the 16th spot means Michigan would be on the outside looking in without a tournament title.
The Wolverines first challenge is a tall order: A Miami team that spent much of the season as the country's No. 1 team and that now holds the No. 2 spot.
Ohio State took the RedHawks (26-6-7) to three games last weekend, but they are the league's top-scoring team and have allowed a CCHA-low 70 goals this season. Miami is 2-0 against the Wolverines this season, having won 3-1 and 5-1 in November at Yost Ice Arena.
"It's do or die - we put ourselves in a position where we have to win in order to keep going," freshman forward Chris Brown said. "We don't want to stop. We want the season to go as far as it can possibly go and we want to win a national championship. If we win (against Miami), we move on, if we don't, we're done.
"You have one game to put it all on the line."
Miami coach Enrico Blasi said Tuesday that he expects to be facing a much different team than the one the RedHawks saw last time.
"We're not putting much stock in what we saw before," Blasi said in a conference call with reporters. "We know they're playing with a lot more confidence. It's going to be a war."
Same old, same old
The Wolverines are 5-1 with walk-on goalie Shawn Hunwick in net and have allowed only 1.5 goals since the junior stepped in for injured Bryan Hogan.
As much Hunwick's teammates have appeared to rally around him, Berenson maintains that his team hasn't changed the way it has played despite making the switch in who is minding the net.
"We're trying to play the way we were before Hogan got hurt," Berenson said. "The coaching hasn't changed, our systems haven't changed, our practices haven't changed - I think it's been a seamless change, really."
Berenson said Hunwick will again start Friday against Miami despite the fact Hogan returned to the ice Monday for the first time since being injured.
"He got us to Joe Louis and he'll take us as far as he can," Berenson said.
If anything, Berenson believes that Michigan's chemistry became more evident on Feb. 25 when Hunwick was inserted in the first period of the Wolverines' 4-0 win over Notre Dame.
The only hiccup came in Hunwick's first career start on Feb. 26 when the Irish used an explosive second period to register a 5-3 win. Hunwick quickly put that behind him and has now strung together four straight playoff wins over Lake Superior State and No. 2-seed Michigan State.
Against the Spartans, Hunwick - who had played 18 minutes this season before taking over for Hogan - did not give up a 5-on-5 goal, giving him plenty of confidence heading into this weekend's CCHA semifinals in Detroit.
"If you asked me three years ago, a month ago, two weeks ago if I would have been sweeping Michigan State at State, I might have said you're crazy," Hunwick said after Saturday's 5-3 series-clinching win. "But it just feels good."
The CCHA will host its annual award ceremony Thursday at the Fox Theater in Detroit. Brown is one of three finalists for the CCM Rookie of the Year while teammate Matt Rust will contend for the league's top defensive forward honor. Brown has tallied 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists), ranking him fourth among Michigan's players in scoring. Rust, meanwhile, leads the Wolverines with a +16 plus-minus rating while also topping Michigan with two short-handed goals.
The awards banquet begins at 7:30 p.m. and will be preceded by a social hour starting at 6. Banquet tickets are $15 and can be purchased by calling the CCHA at (248) 888-0600 or at the door the day of the event.
Hogan, who made 41 straight starts before sustaining a groin injury, is getting closer and closer to being healthy and could be ready by this weekend if Berenson needs him. Senior captain Chris Summers' status remains in question after missing the Michigan State series with a leg injury. Berenson has a long-standing policy if players don't skate during the week, they won't place over the weekend.
Despite Summers' absence, Michigan's defense was stellar as Greg Pateryn and Chad Langlais, who Berenson said played inspired hockey, providing physical play and leadership in Summers' place.
Jeff Arnold covers Michigan hockey for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or 734-623-2554. Follow him at Twitter @jeffreyparnold.