There’s more hockey to be played at Yost Ice Arena this season.
The Wolverines edged the Ferris State Bulldogs 2-1 in a wild shootout Saturday night to complete the weekend sweep, have won four in a row, and will await Northern Michigan’s arrival to Ann Arbor next Friday night.
A few postgame quotes for your enjoyment, followed by my analysis of an edge-of-your-seat, back-and-forth game that was as good as any I’ve ever taken in at the old barn.
Coach Berenson on the game…“Racine was the difference in the game. Good for him, good for our team, good for our seniors. You never know about players. That’s what I keep learning. You should never give up on someone. I tell players, ‘Never give up on yourself when things aren’t going well.’ Is it luck? It is, but that’s good. We needed a game like that tonight. Ferris threw everything at us. We needed it, they needed it. We’ll see what happens when you have a hot goalie like this. We’re a team that has something to prove; you can’t forget about what else has happened this season. I like our chances, it’s one series at a time. Our goal is to get to Joe Louis to give ourselves a chance. There were so many turning points in the game tonight. I thought we responded well. Good for AJ to get the winner in the shootout; he’s done well in shootouts. We played a shorter bench to account for all that. Little bit of confidence and stability has helped the PP along, that’s a key.”
AJ on scoring the game-winning goal, the emotions of Senior Night compared to previous Senior Nights, and Steve Racine’s play…“I’m not going to lie, it’s been a while since I’ve put a puck in the net. Seems like I’ve scored even though it’s in a shootout, and and it feels like an actual goal. These are real emotional, exciting games. That goal I scored last year against Northern is probably the most memorable goal of my life. To do it for my class feels even better. I don’t think anyone wants to play us right now; we’re peaking at the right time, even though I thought we could’ve played a lot better than we did tonight. If we keep playing like we have, who knows. Seeing Steve play so well just gives you more confidence, just like playing in front of Shawn last year. You got confidence in the goalie, you don’t have to worry about who’s in net, or your responsibilities, and you expect him to make the right saves. He stood on his head for us there, and that’s what we need. We’ve been struggling to find who our ace is, and he’s proven he can be the guy. If he keeps it up, we have a chance.”
Yost Ice Arena has been the stage for some dramatic, impactful series over the years. The Cornell series’ in 1990 and 1991; Bobby Hayes scoring against the Sioux in 1998; the “Molly” game in 2002; Carl scoring twice to single-handedly beat Western two years ago. But rarely has it ever seen a regular season series with Ferris that contained such theatrics, storylines, and juicy twists-and-turns that would make any hockey fan giddy with excitement. The Wolverines came into this weekend needing to sweep Ferris State to keep their hopes of hosting a first-round playoff series at home alive. Senior Night ended in a joyous celebration at Yost that was strikingly reminiscient of 2011 and 2012: Michigan needing extra time to vanquish a persistent foe. AJ buried a goal with the game on the line just like he did last year, and the with the help of Steve Racine (who must be brimming with confidence right now), the quiet and subdued young man with the ‘C’ on his chest who leads by example did just that. He led. There is more hockey to play at home. Michigan is not dead yet.
- The story of the first period was special teams, but perhaps an even bigger story was the renewed commitment to team defense exhibited by Michigan. The Wolverines stifled a Ferris State power play-unit that had been clicking at nearly 20%. They kept pucks along the boards, got sticks in shooting lanes, and denied the Bulldogs easy opportunities to set up the umbrella and get set up. Not once did Michigan look out of position on the penalty kill, as they stayed “home” and refused to let Ferris dictate the pace of the play. They finished the night 0-4 with the man advantage, and 1-5 on the weekend. After the flurry of power play opportunities for both teams died down, AJ Treais showed why he’s the captain, and why he’s a complete, two-way player by locking down the opposing team’s best forwards. Late in the 1st, after Kevin Lynch’s bullet over Motte’s catching glove put Michigan up 1-0, AJ lifted the stick, albeit partially, potentially altering Ferris’ view of a wide-open net. Rohrkemper, playing on Senior Night, displayed his awareness by breaking up a late-developing 2-on-1. Lee Moffie continually tied up his man; Brennan Serville had a few key shot blocks. Very impressed with our overall defense, it’s light years ahead of what’s it been. They’re aware, the timing is down on blocking shots, stick placement is low and tight. Everything is in-sync for Michigan defensively right now, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
- Red always says that at this time of year, your seniors need to be your best players. He’s got to be happy with what he’s seeing. Centering the top line (almost unbelievable considering Copp started the season with little fanfare), the Skyline product fired 3 SOG’s, and chipped in an assist, continually skating, working hard in corners, and finding his wingers open. He’s played better than those who are high NHL draft picks; it just goes to show you that “hard work,” supposedly a sports cliche, is in fact very real, and if you’re not working hard, Andrew Copp will beat the effort out of you. One of the beneficiaries of that is Alex Guptill, the silky-smooth sophomore who shoots the puck hard, and can skate his way out of a phonebooth. He shot the rubber four times tonight, and also collected an assist . Kevin Lynch’s goal on the PP would never have happened if Guppy did not keep that play alive by drawing an extra defender, and shuffling the puck over to a streaking Lynch. Finally, the captain. Say what you will about his “slump,” but AJ Treais is possesses all those things that makes leaders great. He may not say a lot, but he backchecks, encourages his teammates, and also buries goals. Goals in shootouts that determine whether or not you play again at home.
- Michigan is currently riding a hot goaltender, and they are also on the verge of seeing their legendary NCAA Tournament streak of 22 years come to an end. Sound familiar? If you were around in 2010 and saw Michigan sweep the Spartans out of Munn and win the CCHA Tournament like I did, you’re currently having visions of the team lifting the Mason (Berenson) Cup over their heads at Joe Louis. There’s a ways to go before that becomes a reality. What is truly the story of this game, this weekend, and the last four games is the emergence of freshman Steve Racine in net. The young New Yorker with the flashy glove hand stopped, snatched, and swiped anything that came near him, squeezing the life out of a Ferris squad that has scored nearly 2.5 GPG, showcased a lethal power play, and featured one of the CCHA’s scoring leaders, Kyle Bonis. Racine’s pads moved like the flippers on a pinball machine, and his glove hand was quick. HUGE, HUGE weekend in net. He looked like a brick wall back there. Pucks that hit him in the Block M stayed there, and rebounds were nonexistent. Lateral movement is crisp, he’s improved on covering wraparounds and going post-to-post. There was a sequence late in the game, where he was out of position, and the team was diving in front, sacrificing their bodies, getting sticks in the way until Racine got back. Racine stopped the Bulldogs on multiple breakaway attempts in regulation, and then proceeded to stone them three consecutive times in the shootout. Confidence is everything for a goaltender, and the team who plays in front of him. CCHA schools must be terrified of playing Michigan and their netminder. He was outstanding, and with a confidence like this, the sky’s the limit. Look out, CCHA Tournament.
The environment inside Yost tonight, even without the students, reminded me of a CCHA Tournament game. It was loud, no one left their seat, and it was a classic battle of two teams throwing everything they had at one another. Tension was palpable, and it was so much fun to cover.
The team is ready. They have their mojo back. Watch out, CCHA. You’ve awoken a sleeping giant.
Go Blue, and Thank You Seniors,