By John Lachmann
WHO: Miami RedHawks (24-10-5) vs. Michigan Wolverines (17-18-3).
NOTE: If Miami wins, it would face the winner of the Ohio State-Notre Dame semifinal in the championship game.
WHAT: CCHA semifinal, single elimination.
WHERE: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
WHEN: Saturday—4:35 p.m. The final will be at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
TV: FS Detroit+ (DirecTV Ch. 664); MSG Network Alternate (DirecTV Ch. 636); Root Sports Alternate (DirecTV Ch. 652-1); FS Arizona (DirecTV Ch. 686).
MIAMI RADIO: Saturday's game and Sunday's if necessary—WMOH-AM (1450), Hamilton, Ohio; WKBV-AM (1490), Richmond, Ind.
NOTES: A month ago, it looked like a near certainty that Michigan's 22-year NCAA Tournament streak was going to end.
The Wolverines still need to beat Miami and win the final on Sunday since they no chance at an at-large bid, but they are in a much better situation than they were a month ago.
Michigan has gone 7-0-1 in its last eight games, including a sweep at Western Michigan last weekend and obviously needs this game a lot more than the RedHawks, who are a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.
That's how bad the Wolverines were most of this season: They're unbeaten in their last eight and are still a game below .500. Goaltending has been a major issue for Michigan, which has surrendered 10 more goals than any team in the CCHA and twice as many as Miami.
All three of U-M's goalies have played at least 10 games, and freshman Steve Racine has emerged from the group as the least bad goalie of the corps. He has earned the decision in each game during Michigan's eight-game streak, during which the team has allowed 16 goals.
Racine has lowered his goals-against average to 2.66, but his save percentage is still a mercurial .895 for the season.
Junior Jon Merrill is also playing at a high level on the Wolverines' blue line, another reason for the team's late surge. Merrill suffered cracked vertebrae during Michigan's exhibition vs. Windsor, and the New Jersey Devils draftee missed the first 19 games of the season.
Merrill has a pair of goals and seven assists, but Winnipeg's ninth overall pick from the 2012, freshman Jacob Trouba, is the Wolverines' star among its defense corps. Trouba has 12 goals – seven on the power play – and 15 assists for 27 points, tops among CCHA blueliners.
Michigan has three other drafted defensemen. Junior Mac Bennett (Montréal) has six goals and 12 assists, senior Lee Moffie (San Jose) has recorded 11 points on three goals and eight helpers, and sophomore Brennan Serville (Winnipeg), who has 1-1-2.
Sophomore Mike Chiasson, son of the late NHL defenseman Steve Chiasson, has played 30 games on defense with two goals and three assists.
Among forwards, sophomore Dallas Stars draft pick Alex Guptill leads the team in scoring with 14 goals and 19 assists, and he has easily been the hottest Wolverine. Guptill is 7-9-16 during his current nine-game point streak.
Senior A.J. Treais has 11 goals and 18 assists, including six helpers in the past four games, tied with freshman New York Rangers pick Cristoval Nieves (8-21-29) in points.
Sophomore Carolina Hurricanes selection Phil Di Giuseppe is fourth in points with 28 on nine markers and 19 assists, and he is having an outstanding second half with six goals and 11 assists in his last 16 games.
Michigan is last in the conference in goals allowed but is first in scoring, while Miami is fourth in scoring and first in defense.
RedHawks sophomore forward Austin Czarnik scored three goals last weekend to break a 10-game streak without a goal. Sophomore forward Cody Murphy also recorded three points last weekend (1-2-3).
Miami scored shorthanded goals in back-to-back games last weekend and actually had more SHGs than power play goals in the series.
Of course, Miami freshman goalie Ryan McKay leads the NCAA in GAA at 1.20 and save percentage (.954).
This game may not be dire for the RedHawks like it is for Michigan, but Miami should have no trouble getting motivated for the game.
Dirty hits by the Wolverines have caused several RedHawks' injuries, most recently sophomore forward Jimmy Mullin, who was kneed last season in Ann Arbor (freshman goalie Ryan McKay injured there this season but it was a freak accident).
Plus, many in the media are not-so-quietly rooting for the Wolverines, including a CCHA blogger who picked Ohio State vs. Michigan in the championship game in his or her weekly steamer.
Coaches love to use fodder like this to play the no respect card to their teams, although Miami coach Enrico Blasi shouldn't have to pump his team up for this game.
The crowd should definitely favor the Wolverines, as U-M's campus is less than an hour away and Michigan always brings large numbers of fans.
Inexplicably, Miami has taken flack for the breakup of the CCHA, when the three Big (Ten, 11, 12, Six?) teams announced they were forming their own league well before any countermove by the RedHawks.
But Miami has played in front of huge crowds in Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and in front of hostile crowds in Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor this season, so nervousness should not be a problem. Oh yeah, and there was that game in Chicago a few fans showed up for.
Miami split in Ann Arbor earlier this season, but the RedHawks are 0-5 in the CCHA Tournament all-time vs. the Wolverines. Two of those losses came in this round, the last of which was in 2008.