When the No. 5 Michigan hockey team comes out for warm-ups tonight against Bowling Green at Yost Ice Arena, it will see a mirror image of itself circa 2010.
Last season, the Wolverines had to win the CCHA Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the 20th consecutive year — a feat they accomplished to the surprise of almost everyone in the college hockey world. And in this year’s conference tournament, the 11th-seeded Falcons will have to pull off the same magical act if they are to become a part of the field of the 16.
After Bowling Green’s dramatic game-three overtime-clinching victory last Sunday night at Northern Michigan, the Falcons are riding a wave of momentum into Yost for the best-of-three second-round playoff series.
“Right now, they’re probably having the best experience they’ve had,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said after practice on Tuesday. “They’ve got more confidence than they’ve had in months.
“We’re catching a team now that can put the season behind them, and they can just go for it in the playoffs.”
Even though the Falcons finished in the basement of a few conference statistical categories during the regular season — power play (11th), scoring offense (11th) and defense (10th) — that can be thrown out the window come playoff time.
As any coach knows, by stringing together a few solid wins, he can have a team that can beat anyone on any given night.
“They’ve got nothing to lose,” Michigan assistant coach Mel Pearson said after practice on Tuesday.
When current first-year coach Chris Bergeron was hired last April, he brought a winning mindset to a Falcon program that was on the verge of collapse just two seasons ago.
As a former long-time assistant coach at Miami (Ohio), Bergeron hoped to change the culture at Bowling Green following a last-place finish in 2009 and second-to-last place finish prior to this season.
“It’s a very good hire and I have no doubt that Chris will help Bowling Green get back to the level they want to be at and are used to being at,” current Denver coach George Gwozdecky said following the Bergeron hire.
Bergeron didn’t change the team’s finish in one year — as the Falcons finished last in the CCHA with just three wins during the regular season. And the Wolverines (20-7-1-0 CCHA, 23-9-4 overall) are aware of the possible upsets that can occur in playoff hockey.
“They won a series, and now they’re a dangerous team,” Berenson said. “We understand that, and we got to get our team playing well.”
According to Pearson, that won’t come easy, though, as Bowling Green plays a “defensive-oriented” brand of hockey according to Pearson, a newly-adopted scheme from Bergeron.
“They’re going to play physical, but they’re going to play extremely hard without the puck,” Pearson added.
Bowling Green’s defensive plan lies around limiting those “Grade-A” scoring opportunities and playing tight-checking defense in its own zone, as Pearson stated.
Michigan will have to use its speed to get around opposing defenders and hope to draw penalty calls in the process.
But Michigan will have to survive against the Falcons (3-21-4-2, 10-25-4) without the services of senior forward Louie Caporusso, who suffered a lower-body injury in the first game against Northern Michigan two weeks ago. Junior forward David Wohlberg will continue to fill the void on the top line with senior Carl Hagelin and sophomore Chris Brown as he did in Marquette for the Wolverines.
“Wohlberg’s been a really good player even from his first year when he won Rookie of the Year,” Pearson said. “Last year, he had a little bit of a setback — was injured and was never really healthy. This year, he’s played very well. He’s a frontline player. Maybe he’s not been on our top line or our best line.
“He’s very capable and very talented. I think his size and skill will really add something to that line. He might even make it a better line — sorry Louie.”