Prolific Offenses Meet In Michigan, Denver
BOSTON — Michigan head coach Mel Pearson had one simple message for his players at the end of Wednesday's practice at TD Garden.
"Focus on the start," said senior forward Mike Pastujov.
Both Michigan and Denver will look to start fast Thursday night in the national semifinal. Denver also wants to limit the emotional swings which could be inevitable when playing a team like Michigan.
"We're trying to stay even-keeled, stay in the moment," said Denver coach David Carle. "I think the games last weekend, although they were low scoring, they were not emotional. There weren't momentum swings or emotional swings in it. I thought we did a nice job of staying level headed for the most part."
The Wolverines and Pioneers are loaded with talent. They're two of the highest-scoring teams in the country. Both rosters are filled with early-round NHL picks. Michigan's resume is well documented and the Wolverines are the No. 1 overall seed, just as they were predicted to be by many in the preseason.
Denver's offense is led by Bobby Brink, Cole Guttman, and Carter Savoie. Denver has seven drafted forwards and Michigan will enter the game with eight drafted forwards.
As much has been written about the prolific offenses on both sides, both teams talked about being OK with a low-scoring game, even if David Carle joked about "going for a 9-8 game."
"The best thing about our team is we can play any type of game," said Michigan captain Jimmy Lambert. "We've shown that all year long. We've played teams that play both styles of game and we've beat those teams. I think no matter what is in front of us, we're ready for it. The type of game I want to see tomorrow is a 1-0 or 2-0 game."
"We played a lot of teams, a lot of different styles," Pastujov added. "We matched up against all of them pretty well. Whether it's 9-8 - good luck on getting eight on us - or 2-0, I think we'll be ready for the occasion."
Denver's players appeared well aware of Michigan's skill and ability to strike.
"They're very offensive minded. I think that's going to be a challenge for us," said Denver's Justin Lee. "I think we're ready for it."
"Obviously they have a lot of top-end players, a lot of high draft picks," added Denver forward Cole Guttman. "They're a very skilled team so we're going to have to be very defensively sound. I think we're a skilled team, too, so we can go back at them in the same way they're going to come at us. We're going to have to play a full 60 minutes like we've been playing in playoff hockey."
Erik Portillo (Michigan) and Magnus Chrona (Denver) is the expected goaltending matchup.
"It's going to be a great game," said Pearson. "I said this week, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 7-6 game, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 2-1 game. Denver played two tough games last weekend. They're a real good team. It's like looking in the mirror a little bit. They can score, get up and down the rink, they can beat you in so many ways, but they can play good, hard-nosed defense. We just want to play our best game. That's the bottom line. We just want to bring our best tomorrow and make sure we play to our identity, who we are. We won a lot of hockey games playing the style we play. That's how we're going to go after it tomorrow."
Minnesota, MSU Draw On Last Year's Regional Meeting
Minnesota State knocked Minnesota out of the NCAA Tournament last year, 4-0, in the Loveland regional. The Mavericks limited the Gophers to just nine shots through two periods in that game and stopped them from doing anything offensively for almost the entire 60 minutes.
It's still a fresh wound for Minnesota. And, it's something the Gophers are determined to not let happen again.
"We were so close a year ago and Mankato knocked us off," said Minnesota coach Bob Motzko. "That leaves a burning hole that we can draw on. What happened in that game? We can draw off of that. The only thing is Mankato can draw off of it too. That sets up for one heck of a battle tomorrow night."
Motzko probably would have liked to burn the film of that game. He did watch it, he admitted, but not all of it. He lasted about 10 minutes, saw the Gophers allow two goals, and then that was enough.
"They were dumb mistakes on our part," Motzko said. "I didn't need to see any more after that because we aren't playing that way right now. When we got down in that game, we got discouraged. Minnesota State can do that to you. It's important in the first period for us to come out strong.
"That's an old, grizzled, veteran hockey team. They're going to play hard. Look at the tape, we have to be up for the fight. We need to bring that fight in the first period. They're going to smack us in the mouth and we need to get our smacks back. We didn't do it last year. We got down last year and then we got discouraged. Let's hope we learned from it."
Mankato wants to pick up where they left off last year. They want to dictate the pace and style of the game from early on in the first period.
"I'm expecting two teams that are going to go out and try and get to their own game as quick as they can," said Hastings. "For us, we've got to go out and try to make sure — playing a team with the amount of draft picks that they have, the talent they have — we don't want to create their offense for them. Puck management is going to be very important to us.
"Each game kind of takes on its own identity. We're going to try to get out and get to our game as quick as possible. Try to make sure we keep them off the power-play as much as we can while we're chasing our game."
The puck drops between Minnesota and Minnesota State at 8 p.m. Minnesota State has won six of the last seven meetings between the programs dating back to 2015.