From the first drop of the puck to the final horn, almost everything went perfectly for the Michigan hockey team en route to a 4-1 victory over Ohio State Sunday night at the Frozen Diamond Faceoff outdoor game in Cleveland.
As we have seen a few times this season, the Wolverines had it their way in the opening period, pretty much doing whatever they wanted with the puck. Their passing was sharp and creative and they were dangling around the defense. Ohio State looked like they were stuck in mud.
Michigan capitalized 7:31 into the contest when Kevin Clare fired a shot from the left point that was knocked down by Chris Brown in front. Brown corralled the puck , turned, and fired a shot through Buckeye goalie Cal Heeter’s five hole to give Michigan a 1-0 edge.
Five minutes later Mac Bennett fired a shot that Heeter kicked aside. Brown grabbed the rebound off to the side of the net and delivered a beautiful no look behind the back pass to Alex Guptill, who quickly fired the puck in the far top corner of the net to put the Wolverines up by a pair.
Bennett would get called for the game’s first penalty late in the opening stanza. The Wolverines killed off 1:09 of it to end the period. It looked like they were going to successfully kill the remainder at the start of the second period, but with one second left on the man-advantage Max McCormick picked up his own rebound and fed Chris Crane all alone in front while U-M goalie Shawn Hunwick was down for the easy tap in to make it a 2-1 game.
We’ve seen this happen several times this season where the Wolverines would dominate the first period then play the complete opposite the middle frame. Though Ohio State got a little jump in their skates following the goal, this time the Wolverines did not lose control.
After a pair of failed power plays for the Wolverines following the Buckeye goal, Derek DeBlois would capitalize on an Ohio State turnover in their own zone to put Michigan back ahead by two goals. The Buckeyes sent a pass around their end board that skipped over their defenseman’s stick in the corner. David Wohlberg picked it up along the half boards and quickly fed the puck to DeBlois in front of the net and he redirected it past Heeter at 9:47.
Then just 28 seconds later, Wohlberg skated in on the right, angled towards the net, and as he was battling with an OSU defender had the puck slip off the end of his stick towards the net. Heeter, expecting a shot, lifted up his pad just enough to allow the puck to slide underneath to give Michigan a 4-1 lead. That was all she wrote for Heeter, who was replaced by junior Brady Hjelle.
The Wolverines went right to work on Hjelle as the Buckeyes were called for an infraction shortly after Wohlberg’s goal and peppered the new OSU netminder during the power play, but he held his ground.
Michigan would carry the 4-1 lead to the third period, where they put it in cruise control. Ohio State’s best opportunity came with under a minute to play in regulation after the Wolverines took a pair of late penalties giving them a 5-on-3 advantage, but they couldn’t convert and that’s how the game would end.
Shawn Hunwick made 31 saves in net for the Wolverines.
ATTENDANCE…OR LACK OF: The announced attendance was 25,864, far from a sell out. Progressive Field’s capacity is a little over 43,000. When I contacted the Cleveland Indians’ fan service back on December 19 I was told 22,756 tickets had been sold. That means they sold a whopping 3,108 tickets in the final four weeks leading up to the game. Marketing? What’s that?
PAIRWISE JUMP: After sweeping the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan jumped in to a fifth place tie with Notre Dame in the PairWise Rankings, which is used to determine NCAA tournament seeding. Minnesota-Duluth remains #1, the Buckeyes hold on to #2, and Boston University and Boston College come in at #3 and #4 respectively. The CCHA has eight teams in the top 16 (Michigan State, Miami, and Denver are in a three way tie for 15th place). There’s still a few months to be played, but the CCHA is in a strong position to own nearly half of the NCAA tournament field.
CCHA RACE WIDE OPEN: Ohio State’s seemingly insurmountable lead in the CCHA is no more. The Buckeyes still sit atop the CCHA with 34 points, but Western Michigan is right behind with 33 points and two games in hand, putting them in the driver’s seat. Michigan currently sits in 3rd place with 29 points and Lake Superior State is in 4th place with 28 points. Notre Dame and Miami are tied for 5th place with 27 points, Ferris State is in 7th place with 26 points, and Michigan State and Northern Michigan are tied for 8th place with 25 points. The Irish, Bulldogs, and Spartans all have the advantage, however, in that they’ve only played 16 games while the other teams have played 18 games. Those two games are worth up to six points in the standings, which would put them ahead of Michigan. It’s going to be a tight race in the standings as we near the home stretch.
NHL WINTER CLASSIC TALKS CONTINUE: The Detroit News had an update with Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon on Michigan Stadium hosting the 2013 NHL Winter Classic. Brandon said talks continue despite ‘complications.’ Among the issues are January 1 is a holiday and Brandon is hoping folks out of town are at a Michigan football bowl game and obtaining a liquor license for the event. Brandon also said “that’s a total rumor” about any talk of the Great Lakes Invitational being held at Comerica Park and that he hasn’t been approached about the idea.