Top to bottom in the CCHA, any team can beat any other on any given night.
It’s a sentiment reiterated time and time again by Michigan coach Red Berenson, especially when Michigan upcoming opponent is statistically lower on the conference totem pole.
The nation’s top-ranked team, Miami (Ohio), was upset by conference bottom-dweller Alaska in December. Notre Dame suffered an embarrassing conference loss when it fell to Ferris State in October.
This weekend, it was the Wolverines’ turn to underperform against a less-than-stellar conference foe, tying Northern Michigan, 3-3, in both games of last weekend’s series at Yost Ice Arena.
The Wildcats, the ninth-place team in the CCHA standings, came into the weekend having won just one conference series all season. They had nothing to lose.
On the other hand, Michigan had to focus on not looking past Northern Michigan – a series sandwiched between an emotional weekend against Michigan State and a marquee matchup with Miami.
“How do you get ready for this team when you’ve got Miami next week?” Berenson said. “You say it enough, and pretty soon the players are believing it. I don’t think they were as respectful as they should’ve been.”
Nowhere was the Wolverines’ lack of respect for the Wildcats more apparent than Friday night’s first period. Michigan turned in an uninspired 20 minutes, falling behind 1-0 and taking the usually spirited Yost crowd out of the game.
Although Michigan fought back to take a short-lived lead in the second frame, it never truly gained momentum. The Wildcats’ rough-’em-up style – 85 combined penalty minutes were called over two games – kept the flow of the game choppy, preventing the Wolverines from finding an offensive rhythm.
“I think we were more disappointed with the effort we put out,” freshman Max Pacioretty said of Friday’s tie. “We came out slow, and it really showed that we weren’t prepared to play after a hard weekend like last weekend.”
Net games: Junior goaltender Billy Sauer sat for the third time this season Saturday. Taking his place between the pipes was freshman Bryan Hogan, who turned in his first non-winning performance of the season. Hogan had wins over Ohio State and Bowling Green in December.
Hogan looked solid at times, but couldn’t rotate quick enough on two Wildcat slapshot goals. In the second period, Northern Michigan forward Ray Kaunisto took a slapshot from behind the Michigan blueline. Hogan appeared to save it with his leg pad, but a bad angle allowed the puck to deflect off his body and into the net.
“He battled,” Berenson said. “That was a tough goal to give up that early. Both these games were tough games for our goalies to play because they didn’t see a lot of shots.”
Down the stretch: With just eight games remaining in the regular season, the CCHA Tournament bracket is starting to come into focus. The Wolverines need just four points in their final four weeks to clinch a first-round bye.
Four points is more than possible with weekend series against Lake Superior State and Ferris State still to come.