LIVE COVERAGE: Wanted to plug this first. If you can't catch tonight's game, I will be live blogging the contest on Michigan Hockey Net and simulcasting it here at Maize n' Brew. Now then...
The rivalry on ice isn't as big as the rivalry on the football field, but this weekend's Michigan-Ohio State hockey games are big for both teams as the CCHA regular season winds down.
Following a sweep of Nebraska-Omaha at Yost last week, Michigan (17-7-0-0 CCHA, 23-9-0 Overall) leap frogged Notre Dame to move up to #2 in the latest PairWise Rankings, which is used to determine pairings for the NCAA tournament. This is significant because whoever finishes higher between Michigan and Notre Dame will most likely be placed in the Midwest Regional at Grand Rapids.
The Wolverines will be looking to keep their advantage on Notre Dame in the all important poll as they travel to Columbus this weekend to face the Buckeyes. Michigan swept Ohio State (11-9-4-3 CCHA, 18-10-4 Overall) back at the end of October, but it's more than about revenge this weekend for the Buckeyes. It's about CCHA tourney positioning, where OSU is in fifth place and two points behind Alaska for a first round bye, and more importantly keeping their own NCAA hopes alive.
The Buckeyes are currently ranked 16th in the PairWise Rankings, which would have them on the outside looking in. While 16 teams do make the tournament, six teams are autobids and two are those are from conferences whose teams are almost never ranked that high, so when you factor in their bids taking up the last two spots, OSU would be one of the last two teams cut.
Right now the CCHA only has three teams locked in--Michigan, Notre Dame, and Miami, who is ranked 6th in the PWR. Three teams in the Top 6, so the league is very top heavy. Right above Ohio State in the PWR are four teams from the WCHA, and I'm sure there's more than a few fans out there hoping the Buckeyes can move up to knock a few of them out.
As much as any Michigan fan loves to see OSU suffer, for for conference sake it would be great for them to slip into the tourney, though hopefully not at our expense.
LAST WEEK: Ohio State has had a season similar to Nebraska-Omaha last week. They had a great first half of the season and went on a 14-1-0 streak from November to mid-January. But since then they have stumbled, going 2-4-3-2 since January 17, including a shootout loss and regulation loss at CCHA bottom dweller Michigan State last weekend.
Michigan, on the other hand, has gone 14-2-0 since the beginning of December, though that's not to say they haven't been without their flaws. Last weekend against Nebraska-Omaha was a prime example of that. Despite blowing out the Mavs, 8-3, Friday night, anyone who saw the game knows it was closer than the scoreboard would indicate. Michigan jumped out to a 3-0 lead before allowing the Mavs to close the gap to 4-3 a few minutes into the third period. That's when Michigan woke up and decided to play hockey again and rolled off four unanswered goals. But UNO certainly had plenty of great scoring opportunities and the game easily could have gone the other way.
Saturday night was the same deal and this time senior Billy Sauer was in net filling in for Bryan Hogan, who was sick. Michigan suffered during a penalty-filled opening stanza, which saw Tim Miller receive a major penalty for kneeing and the Mavs got not one, but two full two-minute power plays during the period. I won't dwell on the officiating other than to say some calls were right and some were horrible. That's been the story every week, so why keep beating a dead horse? UNO jumped out to a 2-0 lead as a result and U-M is fortunate that's all the damage they did.
Once the Wolverines started to settle down in the second period, they started to find their groove and chip away. Travis Turnbull and Brian Lebler scored 1:40 apart to tie the game. In the third period, Luke Glendening scored with 4:28 left off a beautiful feed from Louie Caporusso to give U-M the lead, then the freshman added an empty net goal to seal the game. Glendening was named the CCHA Rookie of the Week for his efforts.
It was a nice comeback victory and even more satisfying because Sauer was in net. U-M has struggled all season scoring with Billy in net and the four goals they scored are the most they've scored in front of him since October 31 when they defeated Ohio State, 4-3.
THE WEEKEND: If Michigan can stay out of the penalty box, a sweep is certainly possible given the way the Buckeyes have faltered of late, though a split is more realistic.
Games in Columbus have a way of being unpredictable. The last time U-M played there in 2007 the games ended up being a pair of wild back-and-forth affairs which saw the Wolverines take the opener, 4-3, on a late third period goal by Brandon Naurato, then drop a 6-5 decision the following night, which saw U-M blow a pair of two goal leads, battle back to tie, then lose on a late third period goal by Mathieu Beaudoin with 1:30 left.
TEE-VEE: Friday night's game will be broadcast on The Big Ten Network starting at 7 p.m. Saturday's game can be seen on CBS College Sports with an 8 p.m. start time.