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'M' looks to reverse last year's early exit in the NCAA Tournament, continue hot streak against Bemidji State

Said Alsalah/Daily
Junior Louie Caporusso plays against Windsor early this season. Buy this photo

BY MARK BURNS
Daily Sports Editor
Published March 25, 2010

Its student enrollment hovers around 5,000 and all of its sports except for men’s and women’s ice hockey compete at the Division-II level. So, to say Bemidji State University is a school few people recognize would probably be accurate — before last year, that is.

In last season’s NCAA Tournament, the Beavers defeated No. 1 seed Notre Dame and Cornell before advancing to the Frozen Four, where Miami (Ohio) eventually ousted the heavy underdog.

But Bemidji State — one of four teams that currently play in College Hockey America, a conference that will disband after this year — finally brought its program into the national spotlight after playing at the Division-I level for just over a decade.

For tomorrow's matchup, the Michigan hockey team drew the Beavers’ card in the first round of the tournament in Fort Wayne, Ind. The Wolverines, after winning the CCHA Tournament last weekend in Detroit, received the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region with the Beavers grabbing the No. 2 seed. The winner will face either Miami or Alabama-Huntsville on Sunday.

Coming into tomorrow’s matchup against the Beavers, Michigan is on a six-game winning streak, having tore through the end of its season with backup goalie Shawn Hunwick in net after losing starter Bryan Hogan to a groin injury on Feb. 25. That, combined with the loss of senior defenseman Chris Summers two weeks later was thought by many at first to spell doom for the Wolverines.

“We’ve gotten into a rhythm here,” junior center Louie Caporusso said. “I think it’s the first time we’ve got a consistent feeling before every weekend, and hopefully we can continue that.”

The Wolverines will certainly have their work cut out for them as they square off against Dan Bakala, a goaltender similiar in stats and hype to Air Force's Andrew Volkening, an unknown netminder who shut out Michigan and backstopped the Falcons to an upset in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament.

But according to Caporusso, the formula for avoiding an early exit like last year is simply “shooting the puck on net with a purpose.”

“If we give him a lot of confidence and start building him up in our head, then it’s only going to make it harder on us,” Caporusso said. “I find if you brainwash yourself to believe that they don’t have a good goalie, you’re better off putting the puck in the net.”

Michigan coach Red Berenson expanded on Caporusso's assertion, saying that it all boils down to heart and dedication in the three-to-five foot range around the crease. Berenson has said time and time again that his team needs to get those dirty goals, scramble for rebounds, throw traffic in front of Bakala and, ultimately, make its scoring chances count.

But while the Wolverines have had their fair share of offensive success in the six-game playoff stretch thus far — scoring 28 goals in six games — extra emphasis has been put on the defensive front through the second half of the season.

“We have to stay focused on the things we have been doing well,” sophomore forward Luke Glendening said. “The positive team talk, playing hard defense, that’s important and that’s what our momentum comes from.”

Additionally, Michigan has successfully been able to roll three lines, and sometimes four, throughout the playoff run. That quality could be a difference-maker against the Beavers, who trail the Wolverines when it comes to overall talent and skill.

“They've got a line with 50 goals on it,” Berenson said. “We don’t have anything like that. I think all of our lines are going to have to be rock solid against their team. They come at you hard with four lines, and you’ll see pressure we haven’t seen this year.”


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