Looking at the numbers, one could say that the past two seasons have been a step backwards for Louie Caporusso.
As a sophomore on a Michigan team that won 30 games and earned the top seed in the East Regional, the native of Woodbridge, Ontario, scored 24 goals and handed out 25 assists, and was named one of ten finalists for the 2009 Hobey Baker Award. The 30 points he has in his senior season (11g, 19a) are the second-lowest total of his career.
However, as he heads into the final weekend of his college hockey career, the Wolverines assistant captain is exactly where he wants to be: preparing to play the University of North Dakota on Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in the second semifinal of the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
Next to that, what’s a few more points?
“I’ve grown as a hockey player since I’ve been here at Michigan,” Caporusso said. “Sometimes people look at points – I know that’s usually the main thing people look at when they want to see how good someone is – but I know that I’ve developed as a hockey player whether my points have stayed the same, gone down or gone up.”
Having developed into a leader for this Michigan team Caporusso is heading into the second Frozen Four of his college career, as he scored 12 goals and handed out nine assists on the 2007-08 Michigan team that won the CCHA regular-season and playoff championships before advancing to the 2008 NCAA Frozen Four in Denver.
“It’s nice to be at another Frozen Four,” Caporusso said. “It was a great experience being there freshman year. I think we took a lot from that year. It was unfortunate that we didn’t make it the following two years, but we’re glad to be back there again.”
Michigan has certainly had its share of star-driven teams over the years, with player like Brendan Morrison, Marty Turco, Mike Cammalleri, John Madden, Eric Nystrom and Kevin Porter starring on Michigan teams that went to the Frozen Four, then moving on to professional success in the NHL. This year’s Michigan team certainly has its share of future pros – 13 of the 2010-11 Wolverines have been drafted by NHL teams – but this year’s Michigan team has gotten to the Frozen Four on the strength of a balanced attack, with 17 different players recording double-digit point totals to make the Wolverines the nation’s No. 13 team in scoring offense (3.38 goals/game).
“I think this team’s been an above-average team led by its seniors,” said Wolverines head coach Red Berenson. “We haven’t had the prolific scoring as some of our best teams in the past. Our best team had seven 20-goal scorers. We don’t have one 20-goal scorer on this team. It’s a different kind of team. We used to be known for our offense, and we’re still trying to be that team, but we don’t have quite the depth of offensive skill that we used to have, but we’re in the games. We’ve had to battle to find ways to win games.”
The most important way is defense. Michigan is one of the nation’s strongest defensive teams, allowing 2.26 goals per game. Senior goaltender Shawn Hunwick is in the top 20 nationally in both goals-against average (2.26) and save percentage (.922), and raised his game in St. Louis at the NCAA West Regional, allowing just three goals for a GAA of 1.47 while stopping 94.1 percent of the shots he faced in wins against Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado College. That’s going to be key against a North Dakota team that scored 12 goals in two games en route to winning the Midwest Regional.
|MORE FROZEN FOUR|
|• Michigan back in Frozen Four|
|• Minn.-Duluth right at home|
|• North Dakota’s grizzled vet|
|• Irish ahead of schedule?|
|• Interactive Bracket|
|• Frozen Four Radio Affiliates|
|• Shop: Frozen Four Gear|
“They’ve got the edge in special teams,” Berenson said, “and they’ve got the edge in offensive skill. We’ve got to play our game. We’ve seen three other No. 1 seeds go down, and this is the last one standing. They’re as good as it gets, and they’ve had that kind of a season.”
To bring that season to an end, Michigan will look to its seniors for one more win on top of the 116 they’ve amassed so far. While Caporusso and Carl Hagelin (18g, 30a) would seem to be the key players, Caporusso sees the entire senior class as the key players.
“I think we’ve all contributed a lot to the team this year,” Caporusso said. “A guy like Matt Rust; here’s a senior who’s pretty much done everything he’s been asked to do but doesn’t get credited for it. It’s guys like that who have been the glue for the team this year. It’s been the whole senior class, not just me and Carl, that’s for sure.”
Now, that whole senior class is preparing to head out onto the ice at least one more time. Whether they’ll be able to get themselves another game on Saturday for the NCAA Championship remains to be seen, but even though the Fighting Sioux are heavily favored, Berenson isn’t sweating as he prepares his Wolverines.
“I think we’re like every other team,” Berenson said. “You look at your opponent, you respect your opponent. All you can do is prepare for it. Do we have a chance? Everybody has a chance.”