I was at the Ann Arbor half of the College Hockey Showcase this past weekend, so I figured I'd share a few thoughts there.
Friday- Michigan 6 Minnesota 0
The big story line here was how poorly Minnesota played, but what got kind of lost was that Michigan didn't play that great either. They certainly weren't "lose to Bowling Green" bad, but I don't think they would have had much success against a top-ranked team.
It's a shame because at the start of the decade, the annual Michigan-Minnesota contest was really a measuring stick game, usually between two of the top teams in the country, and the speed and intensity was playoff-level. This year's game was probably the slowest Michigan-Minnesota game I've seen.
The first period was pretty strange. It started with Matt Shegos calling a delay of game penalty because Michigan had two centers thrown out of the face-off circle 23 seconds. In my entire life, I've never seen two consecutive players thrown out of a face-off circle. I guess now I know why it's so rare, since that could be one of the softest penalties possible. I like the theory that Shegos had a bet that he could work that into a game.
Adding to the strangeness, through 19 minutes of the first period, Alex Kangas had been rock solid for Minnesota while Dave Wohlberg had played pretty poorly for Michigan, and the reward for each was Wohlberg scoring just before the end of the period on a ridiculously soft goal. Bryan Hogan was extremely consistent in the other goal. Jordan Schroeder was making gritty defensive plays on the penalty kill. I half-expected to look over at the Minnesota bench and see John Hill reading Proust or drawing up calculus equations on the whiteboard.
Not to take away from Minnesota's total ineptness on Friday, but a few bounces going their way could have changed things. It's probably wouldn't have changed the outcome, but it could have saved them some embarrassment. The Gophers hit goalpipes pretty solidly right before Wohlberg's goal, and right before Michigan's third goal, which really opened things up. After the third goal, Minnesota basically gave up, minus the final minute when they tried to avoid the shutout, which they could not do.
Minnesota definitely has the talent to be a good team. There's way too many draft picks and talent not to be. At the same time, I don't think they have what it takes to be a great team. There's some simple solutions like playing David Fischer and Brian Schack less, or not putting Kevin Wehrs on the powerplay, but they need 120 minutes of icetime from defensemen a night, and that's got to come from somewhere.
Saturday Michigan 3 Wisconsin 2
First off, I'm like some sort of weird Badger groupie, having now attended four of Wisconsin's six road games so far this year. That's got to be some sort of non-family member record.
Anyway, this was a pretty good game. Michigan had to play better against Wisconsin, and they responded to the challenge. Wisconsin played pretty well, but Michigan did a great job of capitalizing on the few chances they got, and Bryan Hogan was rock solid again, and kept the Badgers from being able to tie the game. Wisconsin was Wisconsin. Solid defense, grinding things out along the boards in the offensive zone. They just made one mistake on a powerplay and that ended up being the difference.
Michigan is still 11th in the CCHA standings, but this weekend seemed like it could jumpstart them. They've got some games in hand, and with a possible 6 points per weekend series, they could make up a lot of ground quickly if they continue to play like they did this past weekend.
A couple other notes...
Usually, this weekend is a good itime to start thinking about which players will be gone for the World Juniors. But it looks like these teams won't be losing a lot this year. Jordan Schroeder is a gimme. Wisconsin's Derek Stepan is a gimme. I'd say Michigan's Chris Brown almost has to be on there too. After that, there's only a couple of "maybes". I'd advocated for David Wohlberg to be an addition after his play last year, but he didn't do a lot for me this weekend. I could take him or leave him. Jake Gardiner is probably almost a lock too. I haven't been overly impressed(or unimpressed) with him so far, but I think he's still in the shadow of McDonagh and Smith right now. Aaron Ness has played well at times this year, but he, along with the rest of his team, didn't look that great against Michigan.
Brandon Burlon maybe has an outside shot at Team Canada, but it's doubtful, given Canada's depth. He's a player with all the skills, that I could really see taking off in this second half of the year if he starts trying to force the issue a little more.
Bryan Hogan was obviously the player of the weekend. Maybe it's coincidence, but the only real winner out of the Jack Campbell saga last week was Hogan, who is now almost guaranteed to start every meaningful game for the rest of his career at Michigan. Maybe there was a little bit of weight off his shoulders this weekend.
Like I said, I've seen a lot of Wisconsin and it's always fun to watch Blake Geoffrion. Nobody battles harder or does the little things as well as he does. Saturday maybe wasn't his best game, since I believe he was the center on Michigan's short-handed goal, but he also picked up a goal of his own, and was just a terror to Michigan all night.