Major Juniors: Trio Sparks Michigan to NCAA Win
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
FORT WAYNE, Ind. They represent three different countries and are the draft choices of three different NHL teams. Combined, they have 363 games of playing experience wearing the Michigan hockey jersey.
And in Saturday's 5-1 first-round win over Bemidji State, the three juniors found their names scattered all over the scoresheet.
Carl Hagelin (Sodertalje, Sweden), Louie Caporusso (Woodbridge, Ontario), and Matt Rust (Bloomfield Hills, Michigan) tallied six points, with Hagelin leading the way with two goals and an assist.
"We're a really tight class," said Rust, who credited former Wolverines Chad Kolarik and Hobey winner Kevin Porter for setting examples when the current junior class members were freshmen on a 2008 Frozen Four team. "We're really close to each other, and I think it shows on the ice."
"I'm pretty proud of my classmates," added Caporusso, whose NHL rights belong to the Ottawa Senators. "They've been great. Matt, Carl, and I always try to be the best offensive players we can on the ice but also play defensively sound.
"Now we have Shawn [Hunwick] in net, so I guess you could say we're sort of like the nucleus. It's pretty cool."
Caporusso, in particular, has been red-hot of late, with 12 points in seven postseason games thus far for the Maize and Blue. His 21 goals lead the team, and among them are the game-winning tallies in last week's CCHA championship game and Saturday night's NCAA tournament win against Bemidji State.
"I don't know what it is," said Caporusso, a Hobey finalist a year ago. "Maybe I'm just shooting the puck a little bit more — playing with a little more confidence, getting a couple more bounces, staying positive on the bench. I think everyone finds their groove at some point in the season, and for me, it just happens to be now."
Rounding out the dynamic juniors — an international trio who, according to Caporusso, engaged in some "good-natured chirping" during the recent Olympics, watching the gold medal game at Rust's apartment — is Hagelin, who now has 50 points this season in 44 games and leads the team with 31 assists. Saturday, his two third period goals helped the Wolverines distance themselves from Bemidji State, who had cut the Michigan lead to one with less than 10 minutes to play.
On his first, Hagelin took advantage of a botched line change and played tic-tac-toe all the way down the slot with freshman right-winger Kevin Lynch.
"I actually thought their D was going to get the puck because he was so close to the puck," described Hagelin, a 2007 draft selection of the New York Rangers. "But they made a bad change, and I kept skating. Lynch was up there with me on the 2-on-1, and I felt like he was open right away. Then he passed it back to me, and I was kind of surprised. I had a tap-in goal."
Added Michigan head coach Red Berenson, "That was an important comeback goal that really kept the momentum on our side. Then the third period tilted our way."
And did it ever. Hagelin added another less than four minutes later, this time while the Wolverines were playing shorthanded. This time it was Rust providing the helper, collecting the puck at the Michigan blueline and sending the Swede in alone to convert on a shorthanded breakaway against Bemidji State goaltender Dan Bakala.
"We definitely try to make some opportunities off the penalty kill," said Rust, who was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2007. "Carl's got that speed, and if I can get the puck to him — we've tried that play a decent amount of times this season — I just try and let Carl get his speed going, and hopefully I can make that pass through there.
"It's probably worked three or four times [this season]. When's Carl's got his speed going, there's no-one who can stick with him."
The veteran Berenson, who has seen his team score the first goal in nine consecutive contests, has his own explanation for the offensive outbursts of his three most dynamic juniors.
"When you get confidence, and you get a little pressure and a sense of urgency, you can pick up the pace," said Berenson, who is now just a win away from his 700th coaching victory. "I think our team is really feeling that feeling. This is the time of year when we're playing for our season, and I think everyone's putting everything they've got on the ice."
Michigan has been playing that way for weeks now, coming from a No. 7 seed in the CCHA tournament, winning its first-round series, defeating rival Michigan State in the quarters, knocking off No. 1 Miami in the semis, winning at The Joe. Now it's just one win from the Frozen Four, as it dispatched of any dreams Bemidji State had of getting back there again.
Next up for Hagelin, Rust, Caporusso and the rest of the Wolverines: a rematch of their CCHA semifinal game with Miami, which Michigan won 5-2 a week ago, en route to its CCHA title.
"Last week's game just motivated [Miami]," said Berenson. "I told their coach yesterday, 'We did everything we could to help them get ready for this week.' And they did. They went home and they jump started. They had a great week of practice.
"They're the team to beat, they're the No. 1 seed, and we know we'll have our hands full tomorrow."