By Matt Mackinder/Michigan Beat Writer
At the beginning of the season, Michigan wasn't expected to do much in the CCHA this season.
Neither was Northern Michigan.
Yet both made it to the semifinals of the CCHA tournament and will meet in the second semifinal tomorrow night at 8:30 p.m. Joe Louis Arena. Miami and Notre Dame play in the first game at 4:30 p.m.
The Wolverines are a perennial CCHA contender and NCAA tournament qualifier. NMU, well, not so much. But that hasn't deterred Wildcats head coach Walt Kyle from realizing where his team stands on the eve of the semifinals.
"It's not any kind of reward, it's the opportunity to play Michigan," Kyle said. "They're a very good team and they've kind of had their way with us over the last couple years. It's going to be a good challenge. They're a very good team and it will be a difficult matchup.
"We're really pleased to be here. Anytime you get an opportunity to play for a league championship, you have to cherish the moment and we're really happy to have this opportunity."
Northern Michigan upset defending national champion Michigan State last weekend in East Lansing by winning the last two games in the best-of-three series, including the clincher in dramatic overtime fashion.
The Wolverines had their way with Nebraska-Omaha in a 10-1 win Friday night and then eked out a 2-1 win Saturday night in Ann Arbor.
"As far as Northern, I don't think anyone's playing any better hockey in our league than Northern Michigan since we saw them with those hard-fought ties (Feb. 1-2)," Michigan head coach Red Berenson said. "They swept Michigan State (Feb. 8-9) and they went on a run. They're as good as anyone. We're looking forward to the game.
"It will be anyone's game."
SEASON SERIES SNAPSHOT
Oct. 19 - Michigan 3 at Northern Michigan 1
Oct. 20 - Michigan 4 at Northern Michigan 3
Feb. 1 - at Michigan 3, Northern Michigan 3
Feb. 2 - at Michigan 3, Northern Michigan 3
WHO TO WATCH
Michigan - senior captain Kevin Porter (28-28--56), senior Chad Kolarik (27-19--46), freshman Aaron Palushaj (8-29--37), freshman Max Pacioretty (14-20--34), junior Mark Mitera (2-17--19), junior goalie Billy Sauer (26-4-3, 1.93 GAA, .926 SV%)
Northern Michigan - freshman Mark Olver (20-17--37), junior Nick Sirota (18-17--35), senior Matt Siddall (16-16--32), freshman Erik Gustafsson (0-27--27), freshman Phil Fox (13-5--18), sophomore goalie Brian Stewart (15-14-4, 2.54 GAA, .919 SV%)
MiCHO prediction: Michigan 4, Northern Michigan 2