Preview: No. 1 Michigan hosts Lake Superior State
Following an emotional three-point weekend at Miami, and with a two-game series with Michigan State on the horizon, it might be easy for Michigan to overlook visiting Lake Superior State. But with the Lakers 3-0-2 in their last five, that would be a bad idea …
"We may have played well up there [sweeping LSSU Nov. 16-17], but that doesn't mean anything when they come down here," head coach Red Berenson said.
"Every week you have concerns. Whether it's too much of a build-up or not enough. I think our team is focused and hopefully we'll put our best foot forward. These games are going to be tough games, whether you're playing Lake State or Michigan State."
U-M vows it learned a valuable lesson two weeks ago against Northern Michigan when the Wolverines settled for a pair of 3-3 ties with the Wildcats. Had Michigan swept NMU like expected, it would be three points up on Miami (Ohio) for the CCHA race right now. Instead, the Maize and Blue hold a slim one-point lead over the Redhawks with six games remaining.
"Everyone knows every game from here out is a must-win because we're trying to win first place," sophomore defenseman Steve Kampfer said. "Right now, we have the upper hand and we need to keep that going through this weekend. We can't overlook Lake State. We had two tough games up there against them and have to expect the same this weekend."
In the first four months of the season, Lake Superior was, arguably, the conference's worst team. The Lakers were 1-12-3 in league play as they prepared to host Ohio State Jan. 25-26. Following a 4-3 loss to the Buckeyes, LSSU rebounded for a 6-5 overtime victory. Since then, Lake Superior has bested and tied Ferris State and bested and tied Western Michigan. The Lakers are allowing just 2.00 goals against in their past four contests.
"They're a different team three months later," Berenson said. "I think when we played up there, there was some question marks about their goalie and now you look at their team the last five games and they're unbeaten and the goals against have come down and they're scoring some goals. And according to their coach, this is the best he's felt about his team all year."
Berenson has reason to feel good about his team's play, however. The Wolverines, following an 0-1-3 stretch, knocked off Miami 4-2 Feb. 8 and led 5-3 before settling for a 5-5 tie with the Redhawks Feb. 9. Senior forward Kevin Porter and his linemates Max Pacioretty and Chad Kolarik are once again leading the way, recording 11 points last weekend.
For Porter, every weekend series is another chance to prove he should be the Hobey Baker Award winner. MgoBlue.com has launched a page, including video, dedicated to Porter, who leads the nation with 25 goals and 45 points.
"I'm not on the voting committee, but if I had a vote, he'd get my vote," Berenson said.
"We still list him as No. 2 to [Boston College forward] Nathan Gerbe, but it's really a 1A and 1B situation," InsideCollegeHockey.com editor Mike Eidelbes said. "There is nobody even close to the two of them.
"Porter has a little bit of an advantage because Michigan is probably the better team and could be more in the national spotlight in March, but without Gerbe, Boston College is a .500 team. Really it's too close to call right now. I think if you asked 10 people who the best player is, you could get five for Porter and five for Gerbe. But I do think one of those two will win it."
What & When: Lake Superior State at No. 1 Michigan Friday and Saturday night … Tonight's game is at 8:05 p.m. and can be seen live on CSTV or heard on 1050 AM in An Arbor … Saturday's game begins at 7:35 p.m. and will be carried by Fox Sports Detroit and 1050 AM Ann Arbor.
Who's Hot For Michigan: Michigan's top line scored six goals and had five assists last weekend … Pacioretty (5-3-8) and Kolarik (2-5-7) are each riding team-high five-game point streaks … Porter has points in four straight games, scoring three times and adding three assists … Junior Travis Turnbull has two goals and an assist in his past four games.
Who's Hot For Lake Superior State: Forward Zac MacVoy, a former Wolverine, leads LSSU with eight goals and 10 assists for a team-best 18 points … Goaltender Brian Mahoney-Wilson is 4-8-3 overall with a 3.13 goals against average and a .895 save percentage.
What To Watch For: Michigan has already clinched a top-four finish in the CCHA standings and therefore will receive a first-round bye in the conference playoffs while hosting quarterfinal action March 14-16 … U-M is unbeaten in its last five (1-0-4) … The Wolverines are seeking their 11th and 12th wins of the year at Yost Ice Arena and boast a mark of 10-2-2.