Monday, March 27, 2006

Thud

Michigan 1 North Dakota 5

The improbable had happened. Holy Cross topped Minnesota in overtime. And it wasn't like Holy Cross hung around on flukey goals and hot goaltending. No. They played even with one of the heavy favorites for the NCAA hockey crown, and beat them. Minnesota was out.

So there it was. Michigan's arch nemisis was gone from the tournament. The team we haven't been able to beat in years. History. Now all we had to do was get to the next level and a team that didn't have our number awaited. All of a sudden you could see light at the end of the tunnel. Faint. But definitely there.

It was kind of like looking across the street and seeing a fresh hundred dollar bill just laying there on the ground. You're not sure at first if its real, so you stop and look again. Then you realize it's real and you head across the street to pick it up.

Then, if you're Michigan, you get hit by a bus.

The bus in question was the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. North Dakota absolutely steam rolled the Wolverines in route to a 5-1 Sioux victory. Michigan came out fast, but they failed to create any legitimate scoring chances. You could tell they were pressing for that first goal. Trying too hard to do too much. Trying to take a very hostile crowd out of the game early.

Then came the inevitable screw up that led to a goal. Two Michigan players collided with each other on the defensive side of the center line allowing UND to break the zone. Out manned, Mitera took a holding penalty three and a half minutes into the game. UND scored off a beautiful pass, and a defensive breakdown, with about thirty seconds left on the penalty. Then things got shaky.

Ruden gave up another power play goal two and a half later on a shot that he probably should've had. Coming in on a two on two, T.J. Oshie put a snap shot on net from just above the left faceoff circle while being defended. Some will say he was screened, but Ruden was off his angle and all of a sudden we were down two goals. Michigan had nothing going on the power play either, coming up empty on two power plays and negating a third with a penalty. The first period ended with Michigan down two goals.

While I wasn't happy about the outcome of the first, I figured down two, home ice for the bad guys, not really that bad a period. Could've, should've been worse. We're still in it!

Wrong.

Three minutes in Michigan gave up a short handed goal. Bad power play offense. Mental mistakes. Two on one. Wrister over the shoulder. Another goal Ruden probably should've had. At that point we were down three, and my buddy and I were revising our Milwaukee plans. Then, Michigan finally got on the board . Kolarik finally beat UND's goaltender Jordan Parise with a nifty give and go wrist shot. Our hopes raised for a second.

Unfortunately, that was as long as our "euphoria" lasted. UND controlled the rest of the period. When Michigan got shots on net they were generally from a distance or at a horrible angle. UND's defense and backchecking didn't allow the Maize and Blue any room to work. When we finally did get a break, Parise slammed the door on our fingers. Then, almost as if we knew if was coming, UND scored on a goal mouth scramble/rebound situation to go back up three with 5 left in the second period.

We kinda knew it was over at that point. But we stayed for the third and watched UND dismantle UM anyway. For most of the third period the Sioux held onto the puck without much resistance. At about the 12 minute mark I leaned over to by buddy and said "they'll score again at the five minute mark just to piss us off." Bingo. With a little more than five to go, a slapper beat Ruden to add insult to injury.

It was an ugly game to watch if you were a Michigan fan. While UND allowed the Wolverines some space to wheel in the neutral zone, once Michigan gained the line they clamped down. What further frustrated the Wolervines' chances was their complete inability to make a decent pass in the offensive zone. There were too many attempts by Michigan's forwards to do it all themselves. Passing seemed to be a last ditch attempt rather than a sound principle of a coherent offense.

What hurt the worst was the total ineptitude on the power play. 1 for 6 on the powerplay while giving up a shortie is bad news. Red didn't seem to happy about the effort either. He told the Detroit News "We had to come up with an upset effort, and it didn't happen." While he was calculated in his post game comments, reading between the lines he wasn't happy with the way Michigan played.

No, it didn't. And so ends another Michigan sports season. Well short of expectations. Well short of their talent and in this case, coaching. But in this season of infinite disappointment for football, basketball and hockey, what could be more appropriate.

Now the North Dakota bus heads towards Milwaukee and what's left of Michigan limps home. If you're a Michigan grad or fan between North Dakota and Milwaukee, when you cross the street, make sure you look both ways.

Game Notes:

Yost Built, as always, has a great wrap up on the game. He also points out that Jack Johnson, in taking a roughing penalty late in the third, became Michigan's all time single season leader in penalty minutes. Way to go Jack! Somewhere Chris Tamer is crying.

The Ann Arbor News takes a brief look at the game and the outlook for next year. Goaltending and defense will be the keys. But Sauer's only competition is non-scholarship recruit Steve Jakiel. So we'll have to wait and see how they progress.

USCHO.com pointed out some disturbing CCHA facts in its game wrap-up. First, Michigan State was the only CCHA team to win a game in the first round. Second, in the three CCHA losses, those teams lost by 3 or more goals (UNO lost by 7). Third, this was the first time since 1993-1994 that Michigan didn't win an opening round game. Like I said before, in the season(s) from hell, what could be more appropriate?

Michigan State's overtime loss to Maine in the regional finals means that yet another year will pass without a CCHA team in the Frozen Four. Oh well. At least its not another WCHA love fest.

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