"The face of the operation is Briatore (referred to exclusively in the film by his colleagues and angry, chanting detractors as "Flavio"), an anthropomorphic radish who spends most of his time at QPR plotting to fire all of the managers."
3/28/2010 – Michigan 5, Bemidji State 1 – 26-17-1
3/29/2010 – Michigan 2, Miami 3 (2 OT) – 26-18-1, season over
Indiana's state motto is "The Crossroads of America," which promises nothing more than the ability to leave it. As you do so the towns radiating northward from Fort Wayne on I-69 have ill-omened names like Angola and Waterloo and make you wish you had a heinous ex-girlfriend named Ashley or a bone to pick with Auburn, color or university, doesn't matter. There, the flat American expanse of a pitch-black highway makes prime brooding habitat. Nearby zings of color and denuded trees that make their presence known by obscuring something flashing red in the distance provide momentary focal points that slip past, their steady movement drawing the primitive sections of your intelligence and slightly distracting you from the reason you're staring grimly at a Big Lots that closed hours ago. The recent past recedes at 80 miles an hour, except five miles into Michigan where there is a cop. Fragments of your heart throw ropy pseudopods to each other and pull, slower than that. But steady.
Because 1997-98 was the year my teams had fantastic success and I had idiotic ideas, the first two Michigan hockey games I saw were a 4-0 win over New Hampshire in a national semifinal and a national championship game featuring an overtime winner from Josh Langfeld. I thought it was pretty cool, but that was all. I'd meant to get season tickets but it had slipped my mind. That year I also watched the Rose Bowl at my then-girlfriend's house. At one point her mom mentioned a Washington State touchdown would win her a quarter in squares. The GF and a mutual friend sort of tittered in a corner about things unrelated to the game. I was just a freshman. I'd go to a Rose Bowl later.
The next year I took up a residence in the Yost student section that ended only this year, six seasons after I graduated for the second and final time. Every season since there has been that crushing moment when the puck goes in the wrong goal and it's all over. Though it's hard to distinguish between levels of terror emanating from the reptilian sections of your brain, it seems to me these days the most knee-buckling moments of the sporting year come when the hockey team is playing in the NCAA tournament.
There's something different there. Each football season defines itself, and by the end it usually seems you got approximately what you deserve. A single-elimination hockey tournament after 40 games is the closest sports comes to Russian roulette. In hockey, the way you die is always a thunderbolt. And so I think the most painful part of every sports year for me is that horrible instant when the red light goes on and your whole self just deflates. I keep thinking the word "crushing," unrelated to anything else. Just an adjective, floating on the mile markers.
But the alternative to knee-buckling terror was just to not be here at all, for March to be a unbroken expanse of asphalt in the middle of nowhere. To get here is something after a 10-10 start and that ignominious road sweep at UNO that ended any hope of an at-large bid or even a bye in the CCHA tourney. I had been planning a series on what went so horribly wrong with the three major sports and was just waiting for hockey to make an undignified exit, probably at the hands of Michigan State, before embarking on it. They were just another flailing team caught in Michigan's winter of discontent, no different from a football team that can't punch it in from the one against Illinois or a basketball team that can't even turn a top-15 preseason ranking into an NIT bid.
As Michigan walked into Munn three weeks ago all 2009-10 offered was the same thing Indiana does: eventually, it ends. Now, at least, there is some redemption and schadenfreude and plain old inspiring victory, things Michigan fans needed reminding about. When it comes to the history books, this team will be one that picked itself up off the mat without its captain and starting goalie and was a heartbeat away from a Frozen Four. As it is, they picked up a banner and extended Michigan's tournament streak to twenty years.
By the end, they were Michigan hockey again. After fading badly towards the end of the third period they found their legs and terrorized Miami in overtime, launching twenty (official) shots to their six. They were struck down by bloody fortune and did not deserve their fate. They are like their compatriots before them, and will be remembered for a heroic stand. They died like Vikings.
Fifteen minutes past Angola, Indiana keeps its promise and releases you. Here, too, ends this year. Now we bury it and move on with some little hope thanks to a tiny goaltender and some feverish backchecking that point towards better days.
Obviously, this John Gravallese guy robbed Michigan of the game thanks to his galaxy-spanning incompetence. The irony of waving off a Michigan goal because you called a high-sticking penalty when 1) it's overtime and you aren't calling anything short of attempted murder and 2) amongst the zillion calls you missed in regulation were two blindingly obvious high sticking calls perpetrated by Michigan players—we clearly heard both in row 18—is head-exploding. For the wave-off to occur because you "lost sight of the puck" when zero players on the ice are reacting like the goalie has it—the goalie wasn't even down—after you allowed a Miami goal that Hunwick had pinned under his pad for a second or two is just despair inducing. At that moment my righteous anger broke and I awaited the inevitable end.
The reaction of a potentially apocryphal HE ref who knows this guy has appeared on the message board: "it happens" To which I say: look at Shawn Hunwick above and say that. "It happens" is the reaction of a failure of a person. As WolverineBoston puts it: "refs aren't humans." During the interminable replay that we knew was pointless, and the interminable (and totally impermissible) replay following that to determine whether a faceoff should be in Miami's zone or the neutral zone, we joked that they were making the refs watch the goal over and over again so they'd feel terrible. But I bet Gravallese doesn't even care.
I mentioned this after the Bemidji game, but it would be one thing if this guy was making a mockery of hockey in a the dispassionate manner of a badly malfunctioning robot. It's entirely another for him to make every call as if he is using the Hammer Of Thor to Dispense Justice To Wrongdoers. His children secretly hate him.
If you need the rule, it's been dug up here. Maybe they should change it to something less ambiguous, like getting the puck out of your zone if the opponent brings it in. No one really cares if a play is accidentally blown dead at center ice, but the ambiguity of what counts for possession is can be disastrous in the attacking zone. Forcing the team that took the penalty to clear the zone is 100% clear.
- Did we miss Ariel Bond taking a season-defining photo of the football team? She nailed the basketball season and that item above just about obviates the need for me to put all these words beneath it.
- I liked Fort Wayne's arena a lot but if they're going to have future NCAA tournaments there they need to make a change. Unlike every arena I've ever been to, at Fort Wayne the benches are on the same side of the red line, which means when one team has a short change the other has a long one. (Michigan State has benches on the opposite sides of the ice but they're also on opposite sides of the red line.) The home team gets two short and one long; the road team two long and one short. Okay, I guess, not really anything you can do about it and the higher seed did earn that privilege. But once you get to overtime you need to start alternating. Michigan was facing a long change for four of five periods in that game.
- It's not like Robbie Czarnik was great or anything while at Michigan, but seeing Jeff Rohrkemper limited to three or four shifts after the first period made me pine for a guy Michigan could throw out there as a functional fourth-line forward. After a couple early shifts from the fourth line that went poorly, Michigan abandoned them entirely in favor of occasional shifts from Scooter to give someone on the top three lines a breather; Winnett saw a shift here and there at even strength and played his usual inexplicable amount on special teams. They would have been better off dressing Moffie if that's as much as they were going to play Rohrkemper. (By the way, Czarnik is currently averaging over a PPG at Plymouth, further evidence that there's a considerable gap between NCAA and CHL hockey. Every Michigan player to leave for the CHL has seen his scoring explode as the competition level deflates. My favorite example is Jason Bailey, who had a 0-0-0 and was -11 in 19 games at M his sophomore year and scored half a PPG in 70 OHL games.)
- Shawn Hunwick finished the year 8-3 with a 1.82 GAA and a .918 save percentage against a tougher than average schedule, and late in his audition that was not an effect of his team shielding him from any and all scoring chances. The goalie competition is on for next year, and I'm guessing they'll add a freshman they can redshirt if they can find a guy they like.
- I actually screamed out "CARL" at one point in the overtime. I never use first names. I think I have a problem.
- The open thread on the game logged 1271 posts and 24k views; I am 100% positive the first is a record for MGoBlog 3.0.
- More on individuals a bit later; I'll take a look at next year soon.
If you're looking for some punishment, the Daily has comprehensive coverage with a game story, column suggesting that the team's late-season run is something to hold on to, a piece on the missed(-ish) opportunities in the first overtime that spelled doom, and a piece on the "questionable, disappointing" no-goal call. Too bad they misspelled "outrageous" and "soul-crushing." Also there is a flickr set.
*(not a typo, and no, I'm not apologizing)
Bork. Daily photostream.
Currently in Fort Wayne and about to go explore the wonders of central Indiana—as indicated by my mysterious tweet, the War Memorial Coliseum is hosting the Indiana Alpaca Invitational next weekend, which I would totally go to if it was in Jackson.
Bork! Good thing the enormous Swedish flag made it out here. It would have been a shame not to have it during the few minutes in the third when Hagelin took over and turned the game from terror incarnate into a pleasant victory. It was retroactively weird to watch Hagelin wind up on his own blue line and think "this can be a breakaway" when two Beaver defensemen were a good twenty feet in front of him, but that's exactly what happened. There were a couple other shifts when he was just flying all over the ice. He's equaled Ortmeyer in my book.
Apparently he's a lock to come back next year, which is good. Not getting a senior year out of him would be heartbreaking.
Ice conditions: wack. Apparently the Miami players laid into the ice quality at their postgame press conference and in the stands you could tell something was wrong by the number of people plain falling over. At first these were mostly UAH players and given the rest of their play it was within the realm of possibility that their skating just included a lot of falling over, but when a bunch of Miami players got in on it that was proof enough. In the second game it seemed a little better but not much.
Refereeing: thoroughly wack. My favorite was the crosschecking call when a BSU guy was on a partial break and no one on Michigan could have cross-checked the guy if they had go go gadget arms, but the chintzy roughing penalties paired with an uncalled boarding on BSU that could have been five were second. Third was Hagelin getting two for getting hit after the whistle. He's Swedish, man.
This John Gravallese guy is one of those refs who makes his calls like he's bringing Truth and Justice to hockey. Just make the calls like a robot, thanks. This goes double when the calls in question are questionable to outrageous.
Hunwick: !!!. I thought "that's a goal" like four times in that game and Hunwick made three saves (the other whistled over the net), most of them impressively agile reactions to rebounds or passes. That was an excellent game, and not "for a walk-on." There was even a significant reduction in the number of shots kicked into the slot to linger and terrify.
Turnovers: guh. I didn't really mind Llewellyn's penalty since it seemed to be one of those that get called for hitting a guy too hard, but he was the culprit on a couple of late-game turnovers that would be considerably worse if they happened against Carter Camper. Burlon was the other guy who seemed to struggle. He let a BSU guy wide on their first real scoring chance and Hunwick had to make two quick saves in succession. No one should ever get around a guy who skates like Burlon.
Miami: flat? I don't know. They dominated according to shots and play but they didn't score an even-strength goal against a bad team, only got their second PP goal because of some hilariously bad play from the UAH goalie, and didn't seem to have a huge territorial advantage at 5x5 after the first ten minutes. Miami resistance in the neutral zone was minimal in the second and third during the brief stretches UAH wasn't killing a stupid penalty. Maybe that was a strategic move… but their performance didn't make me think the CCHA semi was a fluke.
Not that I expect 5-1, Temporarily Benevolent Michigan Walk-on Tolerating God. I'm just saying that I don't expect the ice to be slanted much either way and this is way more of a coinflip than you'd think given the season-long metrics on both teams.
NCAA: lol. There are video boards at the arena. They never show replays of anything.
Fitness? The Miami game was at least close enough that the Redhawks couldn't take the third period off, but I'm slightly worried that all those penalty kills will take their toll. At points late in the second Michigan looked really tired and the fourth line took considerably more shifts than I expected in a game with an extra 2:30 of commercials every period. A lot of people were complaining about fourth lines being nonexistent with the extensive TV timeouts, but Michigan's took a regular shift. Diabolical plot to be fresher today or penalty-kill-induced damage mitigation?
Atmosphere: meh. I really like the War Memorial Coliseum, as it's one of those buildings where the seats go straight up and the sight lines are great, but announced attendance yesterday was 4k. I can't wait to see the dozens of people who make the trek out to St. Louis next year.
It's time to go to home sites for top seeds. As I was flicking through the channels on Friday to see what ESPN2 was televising instead of NMU-SCSU in overtime, I struck upon a Division II women's basketball game between Emporia State and Fort Lewis. It was packed out. It was in a 2,300 seat arena. It had way better atmosphere than frickin' Albany. The Frozen Four can fill an NHL building. The regionals obviously can't.
The NCAA should got to a system where schools submit bids at whatever arenas they want as long as they meet certain standards and the top seed in each regional to submit a bid that meets approval gets it. This avoids the "what if Huntsville gets a one-seed" problem.
Please win tonight. K thx.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Bemidji State
NCAA First Round
Michigan vs Miami/UAH
Hypothetical NCAA Second Round
|WHERE||Fort Wayne, Indiana|
|WHEN||Saturday, March 27th 7:30 PM
Hypothetically, Sunday March 28th 8 PM.
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||Saturday: ESPN360, Fox Sports North, Comcast Local
The Bemidji State Beavers were the darlings of last year's Opposite Day NCAA tournament, the 16th seed who knocked off national #1 Notre Dame and thumped Cornell to make the Frozen Four. Air Force's upset streak stopped at one game and thus did not occasion a series of "what's Bemidji State" articles. (This literally happened.) Also people are aware of what Air Force is. My favorite: the New York Times article entitled "Bemidji State Awakens From Incongruous Dream." College hockey as brought to you by Michele Gondry.
Put that from your mind. Those games were not flukes. The combined score of those games was 9-2 Bemidji. Further indication of that: they used that regional as a springboard to a season that is by far the best in school history and is only the second time a team outside a major conference has acquired an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament*. Remember how Michigan's loss to Air Force acted as a harbinger for this season? Yeah, that's Bemidji State. They are Cinderella no more.
Record. 23-9-4, 14-3-1 CHA. Who cares about the CHA, though? It's more telling to look at Bemidji's 14 nonconference games against WCHA and CCHA opponents as a hodgepodge conference schedule. Those opponents ranked from best to worst according to KRACH:
|KRACH||Team||Game 1||Game 2|
|7||Minnesota-Duluth||W 4-1||W 5-4 (ot)|
|8||Northern Michigan||T 3-3||W 5-0|
|12||Minnesota||L 1-4||W 6-2|
|19||Nebraska Omaha||W 3-1||L 2-3|
|23||Ohio State||L 1-2||--|
|25||Minnesota State||L 1-5||L 2-3|
|37||Western Michigan||T 0-0||W 3-0|
That's a weighted average of 17.2. The CCHA's conference average is 21.1. In those games, the Beavers were 7-5-2 and had a goal differential of +9. Extrapolated over a 28-game season, BSU's goal differential against a CCHA-ish schedule would be +18—better than Michigan's by four. They'd be 14-10-4. If shootouts are a 50-50 proposition they'd land 48 points, which would tie them with Northern Michigan for fourth in the league.
Don't be fooled by the conference affiliation. Bemidji's body of work is better than Michigan's this year and they earned their at-large bid without assistance from Pairwise oddities.
My longstanding bitch about KRACH is that it weights schedule strength way too heavily**—if it was used to determine the NCAA tournament, 18-19-4 Minnesota would be a three seed—and therefore is too enthusiastic about the WCHA teams Bemidji played this year, but even at worst Bemidji's nonconference schedule is about on par with the average CCHA team's. BSU played the first, fourth, sixth, eighth, and twelfth place teams in the CCHA and the fourth, seventh, and eighth-place teams in the WCHA. That's a great spread if we're going to make up a Hypothetical CCHA Bemidji State (HCCHABSU), which we totally are.
College Hockey Stats conveniently separates conference stats on its team pages, so I'll take a look at BSU's overall stats and then the HCCHABSU alternate universe. The latter includes the 14 games charted above plus BSU's conference tournament games and a season-opening sweep of Air Force (total goals there: 10-4). Air Force was a good Atlantic Hockey team but didn't win any of their six nonconference games.
Those four games should drag those schedule numbers down a bit and be a close approximation of BSU's performance as a CCHA team. We'll prioritize those 18 games on the assumption they're a more realistic picture of BSU's ability than 18 games against UAH, Robert Morris, and Niagara.
Recent form. Patchy. In their last six games they're 2-2-2, splitting at Nebraska-Omaha (something Michigan could not do) and getting a win and a tie at Alabama-Huntsville before their disappointing CHA tournament, which featured an opening-round loss against Niagara and a third-place game tie against a Robert Morris team that sucked against teams not named Miami and had zero to play for. (Bemidji was playing for seeding.) Even before that disappointing weekend, BSU coach Tom Serratore was fretting about his team's play:
“When you start looking at wins/losses over the regular season – you don’t just think so much about that you won, but how you won. We talked about it with the team this week – when was the last time we put two really good back-to-back games together? Maybe it was at Western Michigan in January.
“We’re aware of that, and also aware that now is the time to really step it up. It’s the same formula – pay attention to detail, play with intensity; establish the forecheck; put pressure on the defense; get good goaltending and special teams play.”
In that CHA tourney fail, shots did favor the Beavers. BSU outshot Niagara 36-25 in the semi and 36-32 in the third place game. Against Robert Morris, starting goalie Dan "Scott" Bakala got chased five minutes into the third after giving up three goals in a two-minute span.
FWIW, The three weeks before the recent 2-2-2 stretch were a sweep of Niagara and two consecutive splits against Robert Morris.
Dangermen. I've searched high and low for something more illuminating than pure stats on the Beavers, but there is no BSU blog and the only newspaper coverage consists of local gamers devoid of analysis. USCHO's forum remains as pointless as it usually is, so stats will have to do.
Junior Matt Read, pictured above scoring BSU's only goal in their national semifinal against Miami, is the guy at the top of the heap with a 19-21-40 line in 36 games. Junior Ian Lowe actually bested Read in goals with 20, but only had ten assists. First-team All CHA defenseman Brad Hunt had a 7-26-33 line and is by far their most active defender. No other D had more than one goal and none cracked ten points. Look for him on the power play.
Outside of conference play, BSU averaged 3.11 goals per game. Read was still the top scorer with 17 points, just one shy of a PPG. Everyone's points suffer but it doesn't appear that there's anyone who loses more than you would expect. Their guys are their guys.
The Hagelin Solution is likely to be deployed against Read, Lowe, and Jordan George; BSU's second line has some pop but is averaging .5 PPG or less in the Hypothetical CCHA portion of the schedule. As it was against Northern Michigan, Michigan's third line of Lebler-Treais-Brown should have a significant advantage over Bemidji's third and fourth liners.
Goalie and defense and whatnot. Bakala (above) has an impressive .919 save percentage (11th nationally) and a 2.27 GAA. He's got a freshman backup who saw about seven games' worth of time this year, but Michigan figures to have chased Bakala if we see him. The good news: Hypothetical CCHA Dan "Scott" Bakala's save percentage is only .906. That would be 48th nationally.
Shawn Hunwick doesn't have enough games to qualify for the stats, but his current .912 is around 30th nationally. This marks one of the first times this year the opponent's goaltender will enter the game with save percentage lower than Michigan's. Hypothetically.
On defense, Hunt and Ryan Adams are the top pair; Hunt is the guy with all the points but Adams's +23 leads defensemen. Hunt is six back. Junior Dan MacIntyre and freshman Jake Areshenko are the second pairing; both are +11 overall. HCCHA versions average a +6, so they're not gits outside of the CHA. Both are extreme stay-at-home types, though: between them they have nine points. McIntyre's six came in just 17 games, FWIW.
Meanwhile, Michigan should get senior captain Chris Summers back:
The Milan native skated at the Joe last Saturday before the team’s game against the Wildcats and Berenson said he would probably be back for next weekend’s game (or games) in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Excellent jinx avoidance by the Daily there. Elsewhere, AnnArbor.com makes Summers' return seem considerably more doubtful; Mike Spath says he "should" be back. The ayes have it. With Tristin Llewellyn earning the coaches' trust over the second half of the season, Summers's return should send freshman Lee Moffie to the press box.
Michigan's defense has cut down on the dumb penalties and turnovers during Michigan's blazing finish, but they remain susceptible to forechecking pressure and can leave the team caught in its own zone. Bemidji might have one or two lines capable of applying this pressure—it's impossible to tell given the information out there—but it's doubtful they can hem Michigan in for long stretches.
Special teams. Power play opportunities per game:
|PP For / G||4.6||5.6|
|PP Ag / G||4.9||5.3|
(Above numbers HCCHABSU; overall numbers are basically identical.)
Overall, Bemidji State finds itself 25th nationally on the power play at 19%. HCCHABSU, however, is 40th at 16.9%. Same story on the penalty kill: BSU drops from 12th (84.8%) to 35th (80.3%). Meanwhile, Michigan's been dropping on the penalty kill but rising on the power play. The kill has fallen to 8th nationally from a high of third and now sits at 86.5 percent. The Caporusso-enlivened powerplay is up to 17th at 19.6 percent.
All these numbers are encouraging: Michigan converts and kills better than Bemidji and is in the black when it comes to power play opportunities; BSU, hypothetical or not, is in the red. This is a significant advantage for Michigan.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Do whatever the hell it is you have been doing lately. This is what they have been doing lately:
“Their speed gave us big problems,” Kyle said. “They got pucks behind us, they forechecked … they had great back pressure, stole the puck from us numerous times coming up ice, and we failed to get pucks in the zone and generate a forecheck.”
Essentially, they have cloned Carl Hagelin and put him on three lines. Michigan's speed from lines one to four is causing neutral and defensive zone turnovers galore, preventing organized breakouts from the opposition, and keeping the action largely confined to the opponent's side of the ice. Even a team as good as Miami ended their recent game with Michigan on the short end in shots and (eyeballing it) attack time; Lake State, Michigan State, and Northern Michigan could barely generate an offensive rush.
If Michigan can pull that trick off against Bemidji—and they've just done in four consecutive games against opponents either as good or better than them—they will again be staring at a major advantage in shots and attack time. This usually results in a win.
For God's sake, score or something. This has been less of an issue lately with Louie Caporusso's re-emergence, but you and I and everyone who's watched this team is petrified that the final shots will read 35-12 and the scoreboard will betray us. Hell, until Caporusso leapt off the bench with under a minute left in the second period of the CCHA Championship game, I was expecting to lose that game 1-0 with a 3-1 advantage in shots on goal.
Michigan's low shooting percentage is a real thing to fear. Their best player (Hagelin) is currently chugging along at 11% and there's a guy on the second line (Glendening) with a 7%. First liner Kevin Lynch is also sporting an ugly 8% conversion rate. Michigan is short a sniper and a half this year. Converting that presumed territorial dominance into goals is by no means guaranteed.
Camp out in your own crease and watch it like a hawk. I agree 100% with BWS's assessment of Hunwick's primary flaw:
there's a pretty obvious fundamental flaw in the way he handles rebounds, and it's not something that works itself out with more playing time. Hunwick attacks shots. Given his size, he might have to. He can't sit back in the net and direct rebounds the way larger goalies can. This is not to say that coming out and challenging shots is wrong (in fact, it's one of the strongest parts of his game), but Hunwick has to exert himself so much--stretching to make a save, moving quickly to cover the corners, etc.--that steering rebounds to the corners and out of danger is something he seems unable to do.
Michigan has remedied this by collapsing on the slot and frantically clearing everything, but eventually kicking every somewhat dangerous shot out into the slot is going to burn you. I don't think Hunwick can do anything about this unless he grows a half-foot in the next few days. They'll have to continue to play panicked and hope the rebounds land on their sticks, not the opponents'.
It's worked so far.
Fort Wayne's arena hosts all manner of events—the D-League's Mad Ants call it home!—and has a reputation for erratic ice conditions. Slow ice would neutralize Michigan's blazing speed and would probably be bad. So this is good news:
After months of planning, coliseum staff started preparing the arena immediately after Sunday's Mad Ants game was completed. The floorboards were removed, the hockey boards put back up and then two Zamboni machines started shaving down the ice to a 1/2 -inch level. The Komets' advertising was removed, the remaining ice was painted white and new NCAA logos were placed. Then hoses were used to start building new ice.
While General Manager Randy Brown and his staff hosted a conference call with NCAA officials Monday afternoon to discuss hotels and travel plans for the teams, the Zambonis returned to work on specific spots and add the final few layers. The Komets and recreational hockey leagues will break in the ice this week before Friday's tournament practices start at 11:30 a.m.
“We want to have the Komets and some other uses skating on it so it is well broken in by the time we get to our practice sessions on Friday,” Brown said. “The worst thing you can do is have green ice, new ice. We don't want to have that.”
This should mean good ice for the teams.
A Regrettable Thing I Have To Say Of A Prediction-Type Variety
Bemidji made the Frozen Four last year and Michigan went out at the hands of Air Force, and Bemidji's body of work is indeed stronger than Michigan's, all things considered. HOWEVA, I must regretfully inform readers that as I have researched Bemidji State's season I have become increasingly confident that Michigan should win.
This is all based on the assumption that Michigan will play like they played the last six to ten games of their season, which is basically how they played the rest of the year plus a ton of defensive responsibility and Louie Caporusso sniping. Michigan should have a major advantage in shots and chances, but that's proven to be insufficient time and again this year. The difference has been Michigan's almost total dominance the last few games. They've leap past their crappy shooting percentage and crappy save percentage by making the ice so lopsided it doesn't matter. Do that and they're 80% of the way to a Miami rematch. Play an even game and they're 40-60 dogs.
Sadly, I'm thinking the former. Please don't throw me into the fiery furnace if it doesn't happen.
Entirely Hypothetical And Not At All God-Taunting Section About Potential Second Game
Please ignore the section behind the curtain, Temporarily Benevolent Michigan Walk-On Tolerating God
If Michigan does get by Bemidji State, the bracket sets up in a convenient fashion for previewers: Michigan's second opponent will either be CCHA league champion Miami—previewed thoroughly on Friday around these parts—or Alabama-Huntsville.
If it's Huntsville, this is what you need to know: Huntsville is a bad CHA team that has just pulled off the bar-none greatest upset in NCAA hockey tournament history. Michigan should thwack them mercilessly. You should make friends with a Miami fan so that five years from now, when he's all but forgotten it, you can subtly bring it up and watch bits of his brain splatter across a three-county area.
In the exceedingly likely event of a Miami win, they are almost the exact same team that was so terrifying on Friday:
The ferocity with which Miami pwned the CCHA has to be approaching record territory. They had 70 points, 20 more than second-place Michigan State. Their conference goal differential was +61. Michigan and Northern tied for second in that category at +14. This may be the best CCHA team since Brendan Morrison and company.
The only thing that's different is a 1-1 record and –2 goal differential against Michigan and Ferris State that makes them slightly less terrifying. And the possibility that nominal backup goalie Connor Knapp starts. Knapp got the start against Ferris in the CCHA consolation game and held the Bulldogs to one goal… on 13 shots. That's not exactly standing on your head but it is the second week in a row Knapp has come on in relief of Cody Reichard after Reichard gave up five goals. In the most recent case it's hard to blame him for any of Michigan's goals save one (the Lebler tip that went five-hole) and even that's a tough deflection to handle. I don't think it matters much who plays; both are amongst the national leaders in save percentage.
If there is a second-round Michigan-Miami matchup, don't let the CCHA semifinal fool you. It will be a war. In the last matchup Michigan had a fitness edge with Miami's previous series going three games and featuring some overtime play while Michigan skated maybe a game and a half against a fairly pathetic effort from Michigan State. In this hypothetical matchup, Miami will have slightly more rest since they play early and probably won't have to expend too much energy in the third. Michigan now has confidence from outplaying Miami in two of three matchups this year, but they still lost two of those games and it's not like MU fluked its way to a +61 goal differential.
Home crowd or not, Michigan remains an underdog against the Redhawks—albeit a slighter one than they were at the Joe.
*Niagara was the first way back in 2000, the second year they even existed. They won the CHA but the conference hadn't been around long enough to get an automatic bid. Amazingly, they qualified via the PWR into a twelve-team tournament and beat HE champ UNH in the first round.
**I know that KRACH is recursive and internally consistent and therefore correct by definition, but that doesn't mean it correctly weights the amount of randomness in hockey. When you get highly segregated clusters of information, you can considerably overrate the strength of the links between the two. Any rating system that deigns to assert that nine of the sixteen teams in a hypothetically national tourney should be from a ten-team WCHA is wrong.
There are versions of KRACH that add fictional results against teams that don't exist that significantly reduce this effect. Anyway, if KRACH was really about who the best team was it would take goal differential into account. Poster quakk, who KRACHed college football last year, might jump in with some arguments about this.