Maize and Blue-liners
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
ST. LOUIS Less than 24 hours after St. Louis Blues draft pick Jaden Schwartz and the Colorado College Tigers erupted for eight goals against the defending national champions, the story was much different Saturday night with a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four on the line.
Michigan held CC to 23 shots and just one late third-period goal, effectively smothering the Tigers' offensive firepower en route to a 2-1 win. With the victory, the Wolverines earn their 24th Frozen Four appearance in program history — and their first since 2008.
Michigan head coach Red Berenson will make his 11th career Frozen Four appearance, and not surprisingly, the veteran coach took notice of the Tigers' 8-4 victory against Boston College.
Said Berenson, "For that team to score eight goals against arguably the best team in the country, it put the fear of God in our team. We might have played a little bit better defensively out of respect for their team."
While the Tigers were systematically dismantling BC's defense the night before, the Michigan blueliners were resting in their hotel — but they knew exactly what was happening back at the Scottrade Center.
"All the players watched the game since it was on TV," said Berenson. "When you watch a game like that, you really get a sense of respect for the other team that maybe you wouldn't have had otherwise. The way that game went, it was remarkable. The only thing I felt down deep — and I've been around a long time — is that when you score goals like that one night, then you can't buy one the next night, and that's kind of what happened tonight."
The Wolverines assistant coaches also went through extensive video preparation with the defense, focusing on the Tigers' power play, which came into Saturday tied for sixth-best in the nation.
Saturday, the Michigan penalty killing units held Colorado College to one power-play goal in seven chances — far below the Tigers' season success rate of over 23 percent.
"The PK did a phenomenal job," said Wolverines senior blueliner Chad Langlais. "[Our coaching staff] does a phenomenal job picking out what we need to defend against."
Added Colorado College head coach Scott Owens, "I thought that we had trouble penetrating, getting through them. They were sound. They were able to get the pairs and line matchups they wanted, and I thought that had some effect. There were probably 30 minutes in the middle of the game where we couldn't get much going."
During Michigan's run to the Frozen Four — now winning 11 of its last 12 games — much focus has been on the Wolverines' offense. After all, paced by senior Carl Hagelin, Michigan is averaging almost 3.5 goals per game and has deadly firepower on every line.
And the offense has been a calling card of Michigan for years — 17 Wolverines have reached double digits in points this season, while eight have at least 20 points.
But the defense is no slouch either, and in fact has, perhaps more than any other season in Michigan's 21 straight NCAA appearances, been vital to the team's ability to win. And the group proved it Saturday night in St. Louis. The Wolverines rank sixth in the nation in team defense and led the CCHA in defense during the regular season.
Goaltender Shawn Hunwick earned the CCHA's award for top goaltender after leading the conference in goals-against average (1.95) and save percentage (.931). Saturday, he was less than three minutes away from his fourth career shutout before Colorado College sophomore Rylan Schwartz found the scoresheet and cut the Michigan lead in half.
Nevertheless, it was as close as the Tigers would get. Michigan outshot Colorado College 43-22, and now, Hunwick and the defense in front of him have the opportunity to showcase their talent in St. Paul, Minn., at the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four, where they will face either North Dakota or Denver.
Four of the six Michigan defensemen in the lineup in Saturday's West Regional final have been drafted by the NHL, including sophomore Lee Moffie (San Jose Sharks), who after assisting on Scooter Vaughan's goal to open the scoring, tallied the Wolverines' second goal against CC — the eventual game-winner.
Moffie's goal came on a shot from the right point during a 5-on-3 power play in the first period.
"We've been working on our power play a lot in practice," said Moffie. "The puck was kind of scrambling around. I think I got kind of lucky. I was shooting far side and luckily it went in."
The Michigan defense has totaled over 100 combined points this season, with a Wolverines blueliner scoring in 21 of 42 games.
Moffie, a multitalented athlete who once played as a quarterback in high school, leads the team in goals (8), having now scored three power play goals since the postseason began.
"He's got the hot stick right now," said Langlais, the Wolverines' all-time leader in games played with 171 — and counting. "He's got one of the best shots I've ever seen."
During a lengthy penalty parade late in the first period against CC, the Michigan penalty killers were asked to come up with big play after big play to keep the Tigers off the scoreboard. As everyone saw a night earlier, the Tigers take advantage of momentum well.
Saturday, they had no opportunity to do that. Notably, twice during the late stages of the first period, Hunwick stopped point-blank shots by Colorado College junior forward Nick Dineen.
"This is an opportunity to play in the Frozen Four," said Hunwick. "It's not October anymore, so it's pretty easy to stay in the game. Once they got on the power play, I really had to be sharp."
Now, Hunwick, Moffie, Langlais, and the rest of the defensive corps can rest — at least for 10 days, until the Frozen Four.
"It means a lot to get back there," said Wolverines senior forward Scooter Vaughan, a former defenseman himself.
"I think we're going to do something special."
Anjeli Prabhu contributed to this article.