DETROIT — Speed kills.
And for the Michigan hockey team in its 2-1 victory over Northern Michigan, team speed was certainly present throughout the CCHA Finals, according to Northern Michigan coach Walt Kyle.
“Their speed gave us big problems,” Kyle said. “They got pucks behind us, they forechecked … they had great back pressure, stole the puck from us numerous times coming up ice, and we failed to get pucks in the zone and generate a forecheck.”
In recent years, the Wildcats have had big, strong players with a knack for throwing their weight around, attempting to knock opposing teams off the puck. But what they boast in size, they lack in foot speed. It may have been one of the deciding factors in Michigan’s win to clinch the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Wolverines’ speed and quick decision-making allowed them to cycle the puck down low in the Northern Michigan end for 35 to 40 seconds at a time. The sustained offensive pressure helped Michigan gain a 35-18 shot advantage on the night and wore down the Wildcats’ five-man unit on the ice.
As a result, Michigan saw the bulk of the scoring opportunities throughout the contest, and similar to the previous night against the RedHawks, it made the best of its chances around the net.
“We knew it would be a tough game after getting by Miami last night,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said in Saturday’s postgame press conference. “The game could have gone either way, and they had some isolated chances. But we put our chances in.”
Captain crunch: In Michigan’s CCHA semifinal game against Miami (OH), senior captain Chris Summers could be spotted three sections over from the Joe Louis Arena press box sitting alone in the upper bowl.
His body language painted the picture — a senior defenseman and the Wolverines’ captain, who stayed for his fourth season, out with an injury and unable to make any contributions on the ice.
“It was a huge blow for us,” said senior defenseman Steve Kampfer, who has stepped up in a leadership role and logged more minutes since Summers’s absence. “He’s our best defenseman game in and game out.
“When he went down, there was just more mental preparation from myself … and everyone down the line. We had to step up and make up for our captain.”
The Wolverines lost Summers to a lower body injury on March 6, and he hasn’t seen game time since. But that might change this upcoming Saturday in Michigan’s NCAA first-round matchup against Bemidji State. The Milan native skated at the Joe last Saturday before the team’s game against the Wildcats and Berenson said he would probably be back for next weekend’s game (or games) in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Taking home some hardware: Four Wolverines — Kampfer, junior forwards Louie Caporusso and Carl Hagelin and goaltender Shawn Hunwick — took home CCHA All-Tournament Team honors, with Hunwick being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Caporusso, who scored Michigan’s two goals in Saturday’s win, has 21 points in his last 17 games and doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
The Ottawa Senator draft pick was aided by Hunwick’s stellar play as well. He has tallied a 7-1 record in net this year since Bryan Hogan suffered a groin injury in late February.
Hunwick played in by far the most important game of his career on Saturday — with a win-or-go-home scenario on his shoulders, not to mention a 19-year NCAA Tournament streak. He maintained his composure on the ice and made all of the stops he needed to make in order to keep the Wolverines in contention.
“I just tried to treat it like any other game,” Hunwick said. “You just got to take it in five-minute segments, that’s all you want to do. … You can’t worry about the 60-minute game, it’s just too long.”