Flash back to nearly two years ago. On March 23, 2004, then-No. 6 Michigan faced off against then-No. 12 Ohio State in the CCHA Super Six Finals.
The Buckeyes, who were the decided underdogs, jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first period and never looked back, holding on despite a third-period Wolverine surge to win 4-2.
Now take a trip down memory lane to last season’s CCHA Championship, where then-No. 4 Michigan faced then-No. 10 Ohio State. Two goals from senior Milan Gajic propelled the Wolverines to a hard fought 4-3 win.
Those two battles are not lost on No. 6 Michigan (10-6-3 CCHA, 15-9-3 overall) heading into this weekend’s huge series with the Buckeyes.
“(Last year) that was a war. And the year before that, that was a war too,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said.
Unlike intra-state rival Michigan State – who the Wolverines face at least four times a season – this weekend’s games are the only two meetings between Michigan and Ohio State this season. Despite the infrequency of meetings, the two teams do not get along.
“We hate these guys as a school and as a rival,” said senior goalie Noah Ruden in anticipation of Friday night’s game at Yost Ice Arena. “There’s certainly some bad blood there.”
But the rivalry isn’t the only important factor in this weekend’s set. There are also numerous postseason ramifications that come into play.
Following Tuesday night’s 7-3 win over Western Michigan, the Wolverines sit in a tie with Lake Superior State for second place in the CCHA. But Michigan is just one point ahead of Michigan State and Northern Michigan.
Ohio State (9-9-2, 13-11-4) currently occupies sixth place in the CCHA, just three points behind the Wolverines. When all is said and done this weekend, both Michigan and Ohio State can be as high as second or as low as eighth.
“When we play (Ohio State), it is always serious,” Berenson said. “I know they are going to be trying to prove something, and I know we are going to be trying to prove something,”
The Buckeyes were the unanimous preseason pick to win the CCHA, but they faltered in the beginning of the season, going 2-5-1 in their first eight games. Since then, they’ve been a solid 11-6-3, and claimed a win over CCHA-leader Miami (OH). They rely on a veteran-laden team that combines quality defense and solid goaltending. They have allowed just 1.86 goals per game so far this season.
“Their record has to be thrown out the window, because they have had some quality wins,” Ruden said. “We have to be ready for a defensive game. Ohio State is going to take care of its own zone first.”
On the other hand, Michigan is the youngest team in the CCHA. The Wolverines got off to a blazing 9-1-1 start this season, but since then, they have been a mediocre 7-8-2. Michigan offense is its strength – it averages a robust 3.92 goals per game.
The goalies could be a key to this weekend. Goals will be at a premium because of Ohio State’s strong defense. The Buckeyes have fifth-year senior Dave Caruso in net, but the pipes have been a revolving door for the Wolverines. Freshman Billy Sauer has started the last three games, but after surrendering eight goals over the last two games, his status is far from certain.
“(The Buckeyes) are a strong senior-laden team with a lot of depth,” Berenson said. “And if they keep their goals against down, they are going to win a lot of games.”