The Michigan hockey team may have swept Western Michigan in its only series meeting this season, but that doesn’t mean it was easy.
When the 12th-ranked Broncos invaded Yost Ice Arena a month ago, the Wolverines had to claw their way back in Saturday’s game. It was senior forward Carl Hagelin who won the series finale for No. 5 Michigan on senior night — scoring the game-tying goal with 40 seconds left in regulation before winning the game with just 2.9 seconds left in overtime.
“I don’t think there’s a big difference between the teams,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “When we played them here on Friday night (Feb. 18), we got the jump start. The puck went in for us. But really, the game of the weekend was the Saturday game, when they came out and really pushed back. They had that game in the bag until the last minute … They’ll be good. We just played them. We know them and they know us.”
And after sweeping the Broncos in mid-February, it was Western Michigan who helped the Wolverines (20-7-1-0 CCHA, 25-9-4 overall) secure their 11th regular season CCHA title by defeating then-leader Notre Dame in the final game of the season.
When these two squads meet at Joe Louis Arena in the later game of the CCHA Tournament semifinals Friday night, there will be more than a trip to the conference championship game on the line.
While the Wolverines are playing in their 22nd consecutive CCHA semifinal game, the Broncos haven’t won a semifinal game since 1986. Michigan is fighting for the last No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Western Michigan is hoping to secure its own NCAA Tournament bid with a win. And the Broncos are one of the last three teams in the NCAA Tournament, according to USCHO.com’s latest bracketology predictions.
“They’re a quick, sneaky team — I don’t know how to describe them any other way,” senior forward Louie Caporusso said. “They’re a much different team than the ones we’ve played in the last three years. We’re definitely not taking them lightly.”
The good news for the Wolverines is that Caporusso, who has 18 points in 18 games in his career at Joe Louis Arena, is back from a lower-body injury that kept him out of the final game of the regular season and in last weekend’s series against Bowling Green. Caporusso is playing with Hagelin and sophomore forward Chris Brown — a line that was red-hot, prior to Caporusso’s injury.
Though Caporusso will return this weekend, Michigan will be without its second-leading scorer. Junior forward David Wohlberg sustained a season-ending collarbone injury against Bowling Green last Friday.
And while the Wolverines have had to deal with injuries of late, the Broncos (10-9-9-5, 18-11-10) will see the return of freshman forward Shane Berschbach, who was third on the team in points before suffering a knee injury.
“I don’t know if there is any advantage to anyone,” Berenson said. “They’ve got one of their best forwards (Berschbach), he’s one of their top scorers. But he didn’t play that weekend. And he’s back now. Now we’re without Wally, so they’re a in a little better health than we are. It’s a big game at the Joe, and we’ve got to be ready for it, no matter who we play.”
The Wolverines completed their sweep of Bowling Green relatively easily — defeating the Falcons 5-1 on Friday and 4-1 on Saturday — while Western Michigan battled to win two-of-three from Ferris State.
But the mentality for both teams switches this weekend, as the best-of-three quarterfinal series’ are behind them and they turn up the intensity in a winner-moves-on semifinal matchup.
Notre Dame and Miami will play in the earlier semifinal tonight, with the winner advancing to the championship and the other to meet the loser of Michigan/Western Michigan on Saturday afternoon.
This will be the Wolverines’ fourth game at the Joe this season, but it will be the Broncos first. Skating under two banners adorning its name — the CCHA championship banner from last year and the Great Lakes Invitational banner from this season — Michigan hopes its familiarity and success in downtown Detroit will be an advantage.
“We like playing there, we can play there,” Berenson said. “We’ve had success there. But in the meantime, it still comes down to one game and having a good game. You know you’re going to play two games down there and you know you’re going to play Notre Dame or Miami no matter what. We’ve got to elevate our game.”