EAST LANSING — Call it a shellacking, a woodshed beating or just pure domination, the Michigan hockey team beat Michigan State in every facet of the game in its CCHA quarterfinal sweep of the Spartans this past weekend.
Coming into the playoff series against No. 2 seed Michigan State, the Wolverines were hands-down the underdog.
They had finished seventh in the final conference standings, and after their first-round sweep of Lake Superior State last weekend, the Michigan had a date with its intrastate rival for a tough best-of-three series, not only against one of the conference’s best teams, but also at Munn Ice Arena.
And I’ll be honest, I didn’t expect a series win for the Maize and Blue — and most people would probably agree with me on this one. Despite Shawn Hunwick leading the Wolverines to three wins in four games, they still didn’t have their true number-one starter in Bryan Hogan, and were also without their top defenseman and senior captain, Chris Summers. Not to mention they had beaten the Spartans only once in four tries this season.
If Michigan was going to clinch a trip to Detroit, it would be by a slim margin, maybe an overtime win in the third and deciding game in East Lansing — or so I thought.
For much of the season, the Wolverines have disappointed, but in their 5-1 and 5-3 wins against Michigan State, they proved why they’re one of the best teams in the country when they can string together a complete game — or for this weekend’s sake, two. And that’s why they can make a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the 20th straight year.
For 115 of 120 minutes of game time this weekend, Michigan smacked around Michigan State and dictated the tempo of play from the get-go. From the opening minutes on Friday night, you had a sense that the Wolverines didn’t think of themselves as an underdog on the road, in a semi-hostile environment and with a lose-and-go home scenario pending.
Michigan jumped on the Spartans early and often, nabbing three goals in the opening period Friday, and really never allowed Michigan State to gain any momentum for the rest of the weekend. It forechecked the hell out of the Spartans, putting them on their heels and forcing turnover after turnover.
Aside from the final five minutes of play in Saturday’s first period, during which the Spartans tallied three power play goals, the Wolverines played as close to mistake-free hockey as possible, something Michigan coach Red Berenson said would put the Wolverines in pretty good shape.
Michigan received contributions from its top performers in juniors Carl Hagelin, Louie Caporusso, and Matt Rust — the trio totaled seven points in the weekend series. The Wolverines also got secondary scoring from sophomore David Wohlberg and freshman Chris Brown, who combined to net three goals.
And although you may think the 5-3 win on Saturday was a close game, it really wasn’t — it was Michigan’s game to lose. At the end of the second period on Saturday night, Michigan had outshot Michigan State 16-1 in the frame, possessing the puck in the Spartan end for most of the period.
I could go and on about why this was the Wolverines’ most complete effort of the season, but I think you get the picture. Michigan laid the hammer to Michigan State, and if the Wolverines can play next weekend at Joe Louis Arena like they played at Munn Ice Arena this weekend, there’s no telling the limits of this team.
At the end of the game, the Comcast camera crew zoomed in on Spartan junior captain Jeff Petry. The disgusted look on his face as he went down the line to shake hands with the Wolverines summed up the series for Michigan State.
Was he disappointed with how the Spartans played? I’m guessing, yeah. Was he worried his season could be over so soon? Maybe.
Should he be surprised his team was dominated up and down the ice all weekend by the Wolverines?
Not one bit.
Burns can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org