It hasn’t been a black and white season for the Michigan hockey team, to say the least.
If one weekend the power play couldn’t convert on its handful of scoring chances, the following series the goaltending was suspect. If the team was fighting neck-and-neck during the course of a game, leave it to someone to take an ill-advised penalty and cost the team a win. And all bets are off if the Wolverines could string together a few weekends of solid defensive hockey.
Through 33 games, the Wolverines have compiled a sub-par 17-15-1 overall record, just good enough for seventh in the CCHA. And with four games remaining in conference play, it’s desperation time for a team that had lofty expectations. One weekend they look like a team that could play with anyone in the country. Other weekends, well, they look like a team poised to finish in the bottom tier of the CCHA.
And despite the five-game losing streak in mid-November, the loss to RPI (who?) in the first round of the GLI and two series sweeps more than the last two years combined, the Wolverines still have the opportunity to gain a first-round bye in the CCHA Tournament and make the NCAA field of 16 for the 20th-straight year.
Is it far-fetched for an underperforming team? Eh, probably. But could it potentially happen? Yes. Would I be surprised if it did, in fact, occur? No.
I’ve been scratching my head for the last few months trying to decipher what went wrong with this Red Berenson team that had so much promise.
It returned a core group of players, led by senior captain Chris Summers, junior forwards Louie Caporusso and Carl Hagelin along with goaltender Bryan Hogan. And after finishing in second place at the end of the previous regular season, the likelihood of contending for a regular season title for the second time in three years looked that much better.
After Michigan finished the first half of the season with a 10-10 record and a third-place finish at the Great Lakes Invitational, a conference title was out of the question.
But over the next 11 days, Michigan will square-off against Northern Michigan — currently situated in fifth place — and Notre Dame, which sits in 10th. And three of those contests are in the friendly confines of Yost Ice Arena, with the final game of the season in South Bend. The Wolverines are 7-0-1 since Thanksgiving in front of the Michigan faithful and couldn’t be in a better position to clinch a top-four position in the CCHA.
So, Michigan can forget about its past failures, its handful of upsets and inability to rise to the top of the CCHA.
Because, with two sweeps or even three wins, the Wolverines would finish in the top four. You’re probably thinking, ‘Well, that sounds a lot easier said than done.’ And while you’re right to an extent, Michigan has the tools necessary to reach the NCAA Tournament.
It’s led by one of the most respected and revered coaches in all of Division I college hockey, whose two National Championships and 10 Frozen Four appearances speak volumes about his coaching. Caporusso, a Hobey Baker Award finalist last year, looks like he has found his stride down the stretch, scoring four goals in as many games.
And if Hogan can play up to his potential, there’s no telling how far this team could go.
How’s that for black and white?
Following his return from South Bend next week, Burns will be in Fort Wayne watching the Mad Ants in a D-League Basketball affair. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.