I watched all four games at the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit this weekend, which was a great opportunity to see some games outside the WCHA for a change. Here were my thoughts:
Harvard came out strong in the first game, and probably outplayed Michigan State for large stretches of the game, but they were unable to finish off many opportunities. Jeff Lerg gets a lot of that credit, but some of it was also just Harvard's inability to finish. Harvard took a checking from behind majr midway through the second with the score tied at 2. MSU scored on the powerplay to take the lead and Harvard never really seemed competitive with them after that. I had a crap angle for determining if that hit was worthy of the 5 minute major. It looked like the player wasn't even facing the boards when he got hit, but still ended up hitting his head into the boards. Harvard didn't really do much after that, and MSU cruised to a 5-2 win.
Harvard did a nice job of forcing MSU's defenseman into some bad turnovers in their own end that led to challenges, but they could never finish those opportunities.
The second game wasn't much of a game. Michigan pretty much controlled things throughout. They only managed the one goal in the first, and if Tech had scored a flukey goal to tie it, it could have been a game, but Michigan opened things up in the second and scored 3 goals to take a 4-0 lead into the third. Tech scored a powerplay goal with about a minute left to avoid the shutout. I'm not quite sure how Tech got a powerplay out of that when they were trying to goon it up at the end, but whatever.
Kevin Porter picked up two great assists on Michigan's first two goals, and overall, just played a solid game. Billy Sauer played a very good game in net as well. He wasn't challenged too much, but was solid when he had to be.
Tech did not impress me at all. Minnesota is likely to win the national title, and the WCHA will probably get at least one other team in the Frozen Four, and we'll hear about how dominant the conference is, but the bottom of the WCHA is pretty brutal. Tech and Anchorage are both tied for 5th because everyone below them has been that bad, not because they're playing well.
Harvard completely dominated the first 40 minutes of the hockey game, and built a 3-0 lead going into the third. They tried to sit on their lead and Tech dominated the third period to close the gap to 3-2, but just barely missed out on tying the game.
Harvard has three pretty good freshmen in Doug Rogers, Chad Morin, and Alex Biega. Rogers particularly impressed me with his weekend. I'm a little surprised that Harvard's record is as bad as it is in the ECACHL.
Michigan State pretty much dominated the championship game. They scored three powerplay goals, and a short-handed goal to win 4-1. Their powerplay was excellent all weekend. Michigan didn't seem to come out with much jump.
The thing that frustrated me most about Michigan was their unwillingness to dump the puck into the zone. Michigan was basically skating with three checking lines, and MSU's defense has the tendency to be unreliable in their own zone. Why not dump the puck in and try to force turnovers? Granted, Michigan's top line was Hensick/Porter/Turnbull was the only line that generated much offense, but I still thought they made MSU's defenseman look better than they were.
I'd also wish Michigan would change up their powerplay a little more. They like to put the wings down really low and try to make a quick pass across the crease to the backdoor. It actually worked on Michigan's one goal, but I'd rather see them set their wings up higher around the face-off dot and have them blast shots from there, similar to what MSU did on their first two goals. I think that's a more effective use of a guy like Brandon Naurato on the powerplay. With the wings down that low, there's just not that many places to shoot from on the powerplay.
Billy Sauer played another pretty good game for Michigan, which is a good sign. He didn't stop 90% of his shots, but didn't give up any bad goals, and made some nice saves to keep the score a little closer early on. His counterpart, Jeff Lerg was fantastic. He made a couple saves that he shouldn't have that really changed the momentum of the game.
Overall it was a fun weekend of hockey, even though the quality of the teams involved wasn't spectacular. Congrats to Michigan State on winning the title. It is nice that the champion this year will be around to defend their title next year.