Michigan hockey team learned its lesson, won't look past Bowling Green in CCHA semifinal
The entire final week of the regular season, players on the Michigan hockey team insisted they weren't looking past Bowling Green.
"You've gotta win the games you're supposed to win," said coach Red Berenson.
"They're a good team. It's really important for our team to stay focused," said captain Luke Glendening.
Everyone said the right things, but when the lights turned on, Michigan wasn't at its best and Bowling Green won the first game of the series and gave the Wolverines all they could handle in the series finale.
Despite their insistence that they weren't looking past last-place Bowling Green, which to that point had a total of four wins in CCHA play, after the fact, players admitted that's exactly what happened.
"I thought we walked into that weekend thinking, 'There’s going to be two games that are going to be somewhat easy. We’re going to roll out with two wins,' and we just got away with the second one,” said senior forward David Wohlberg. "That (loss) really opened our eyes to how good of a team they were.”
As Michigan now prepares to face Bowling Green in the semifinals of the CCHA playoffs Friday night at Joe Louis Arena (8:05 p.m., FSD-Plus), players insist they won't make the same mistake twice.
“They’re playing in the CCHA semifinals, I don’t know how you could overlook them," said goaltender Shaw Hunwick. "They’re playing really well.”
It may not be a matter of overlooking the Falcons that is the issue. The fact is they're playing well.
Bowling Green eliminated both Northern Michigan and regular-season champion Ferris State in three-game series, giving the Falcons almost as many wins in the past two weekends (4) as they had during the entire 28-game conference schedule (5).
In a conference call on Tuesday, Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron said his team started building momentum when it recorded back-to-back ties against Ohio State in early January, and won shootouts in both.
"For a team that was struggling for positive things, they acted as wins for us," Bergeron said. "They've done a nice job of being resilient together."
But Bowling Green may have tipped its hand too soon. Michigan freshman forward Alex Guptill said being humbled by Bowling Green in the last week of the regular season is already paying dividends.
"I don’t think we do as well in the Notre Dame series if we don’t lose that game against Bowling Green,” Guptill said. “It was a wake up call and we know we have to be ready.”
Western Michigan plays Miami (Ohio) in the other semifinal at 4:35 p.m. Friday. Consolation and championship games will be played Saturday.
Traditionally, the highest seed in the CCHA semifinals has played in the early game of Friday's semifinals at Joe Louis Arena, the logic being that the top team gets the advantage of a longer rest before Saturday night's final.
That changed a few years ago when the CCHA changed the bylaws and reserved the right to determine which teams would play at what times, regardless of seeding.
For the second year in a row, despite being the top seed, Michigan will play in the late game on Friday, presumably for the larger audience both on television and in the arena. Berenson and the players said they prefer the early game, but understand the logic.
"I think (the CCHA) realized they’d have certain teams play at certain times for the crowd," Berenson said. "It seems to be us (in the late game) more so than not."
Berenson has been emphasizing blocked shots in practice because he knows how important they can be during tight games and because he believes it's a morale booster, as well.
"If you want to get respect from your teammates, block shots every night for them," Berenson said, pointing out that Greg Pateryn took a hard shot in the arm that missed the padding. "The next day he was fine. Was it worth it? You ask him if it was worth it? He’ll say 'yes sir.'
When preaching to the team about the importance of blocked shots, Berenson tells stories of his former St. Louis Blues teammate, Al Arbour. Berenson played in the NHL in an era with much thinner padding and no helmets. Arbour, who wore glasses when he played, never hesitated to take a puck, from even the NHL's best.
"Bobby Hull had the best shot in the league. He would rear back and he would rip it. And Al Arbour would go down with the glasses and he would block that shot," Berenson recalled. "Between periods they would take his shin pads off and they’d stitch him up in the shins, then they’d put more cotton on it. He’d go back in and Hull would go down and we’d all be on the bench flinching for (Arbour) and he’d block that shot (again).
"Nobody would ever say a wrong word about Al Arbour," Berenson said.