It's been a long time since I last traveled to Michigan's Yost Arena to see a hockey game, as I did on the weekend, and it was about as much fun as I remembered.
The road trip weekend with longtime friends Geoff, Brian and Sparky was a blast, as the energy in Yost Arena makes it a must-see for hockey fans.
I remembered thinking that it was really cool to have a band playing Hail to the Victors during the game the last time I was at Yost (to see the Western Michigan Broncos upset the powerhouse Wolverines in the early 1990s) and it still seemed that way now as the combination of the band and student section kept things lively throughout and was rip-roaring during the third period.
Some other notes from the game:
- College hockey, at least on this night, seems to stifle creativity. A lot. Notre Dame controlled the play early with a lot of strong forechecking and boardwork down low and held a 3-0 lead through two periods, but then they spent the entire third period dumping the puck in and making wholesale line changes, giving Michigan a free breakout many times and allowing the Wolverines to get back to within 3-2 with more than 11 minutes remaining.
Only after numerous goalmouth scrambles in the final minutes did the No.1-ranked Irish hang on for the victory. This all coming one night after No. 8 Michigan upended Notre Dame, 2-1, in South Bend.
Of course, as a fan I can complain about stifled creativity, but as the top-ranked team in the country, Notre Dame can worry about wins more than entertainment value.
- When Notre Dame was stretching the ice and controlling the puck effectively in the second period, Fighting Irish junior Ryan Thang was hooked on a breakaway, resulting in a penalty shot. The third-round pick of Nashville in 2007 made an okay move to his forehand, but there was still an element of surprise among us when the puck ended up in the back of the net.
- Notre Dame's leading scorer, Christian Hanson, is an undrafted senior who goes 6-foot-3, 202 pounds and he's a decent skater, but he was stymied on several chances when he broke in following several stretch passes from the Irish D.
- The best player on the ice for Michigan (and maybe overall) was Blues prospect Aaron Palushaj (a second-round pick in 2007), who registered a goal and an assist and was one of the few players to show some offensive creativity.
- Michigan's leading goal-scorer, sophomore winger Louie Caporusso (a third-round pick of the Senators in 2007) showed good puck skills, but not the most hockey sense, getting rid of the puck quickly when he could have been more patient and then holding onto it when he should have long since either passed or shot.
- Coyotes first-rounder Chris Summers was a nice looking player; good speed and puck skills and the one guy on the Michigan blueline who seemed to be a threat jumping into the offensive zone.
- Fighting Irish sophomore Calle Ridderwall, from Sweden, had an effective game, picking up a goal and an assist, as did freshman linemate Billy Maday.
- Notre Dame junior Kevin Deeth is listed at 5-foot-7, but that appears to be generous. Nevertheless, he was a very effective player and showed that he can move in and out of tight spaces.
- Notre Dame's top-scoring defenceman, junior Brett Blatchford, got plenty of ice time as a mobile, puck-mover, but he looked like he could have been exploited if the Wolverines were to make a concerted effort on putting the puck into his corner because Blatchford was overpowered several times.
- Notre Dame's steadiest defenceman was probably Ian Cole -- an Ann Arbor native -- who was a first-round pick of the Blues in 2007. He's not flashy, but played a solid, safe and physical game on this night.
- Kyle Lawson is another Notre Dame defenceman drafted into the NHL (seventh round by Carolina in 2005) and while he's mobile and smart with the puck, for my tastes he spent too much time politicking when he was on the ice, talking with officials over every little thing and raising his arm when he thought calls should have been made.
- Notre Dame's Ted Ruth, a second-round pick of the Capitals in 2007 who was traded to Columbus in the Sergei Fedorov trade last year, didn't stand out but, as a guy with eight points in 65 career games and paired with Blatchford, he's much more the stay-at-home type.
In the end, it was a fun night of watching a tightly-contested hockey game. For any of my complaints about the style of play, there is no denying that the players are busting their butts and it's always rewarding to the fan when the guys on the ice are giving their all.
After braving the brutal Michigan weather (actually, it was practically balmy, but that was supposedly the reason for a cab not showing up at our hotel), we ended the night at Ann Arbor's Bar Louie, where I got to see Andrew Bynum crushing the hopes of my fantasy hoops teams over and over again before we shut things down.
The next question is, where do we go next?
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Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@ctv.ca