Michigan Hockey: Begins With Renewed Excitement & Plenty Of Questions -- Part II

Posted at 5:30am — 10/5/2012

Michigan Hockey: Begins With Renewed Excitement & Plenty Of Questions — Part II
(This is part II of a three part look at the upcoming U-M hockey team, the CCHA’s final season and a national perspective.)

In this segment I would like to analyze the team and take a peek at the conference.

Michigan, from a distance, is a very talented team that is stocked with depth. I previously mentioned that they lost talent in two key areas, though: goaltending and goal scoring.

Shawn Hunwick was the ultimate leader, not because of his demonstrative emotion, but because he performed at a high level. He single handedly stole a CCHA tournament title; led his team to the NCAA title game two seasons ago; and last season kept Michigan afloat when it began to unravel right before the holiday break. The bitter disappointment of being runner up in the 2012 CCHA tournament and the sudden exit from the 2012 NCAA tourney aside, Hunwick solidified a role for three seasons. Now it time for a fresh face to step up.

Jared Rutledge will probably be given the opportunity to take over. He is a highly regarded (“elite” has been mentioned) netminder that has experience against Division I schools while with the USNTDP. He doesn’t have the flash that previous Michigan recruits possessed (and eventually never brought to Yost), but he has the tools to settle in and lead this team. Predecessors like Turco, Blackburn, Montoya, Hogan, Sauer and even Hunwick had to endure some growing pains before succeeding. Interesting enough, the roster also is stocked with three other netminders eager to push for time. Adam Janecyk played admirably in a backup role for Hunwick last season in a home tie against LSSU. (He also struggled up at NMU after Hunwick was tossed out, but we’ll reflect on the positives, here.) Janny is a good team guy and has experience. Don’t count him out if Rutledge struggles.

Steve Racine is an unknown quantity at this point, considering his checkered success at the junior level. He’ll have to raise his consistency and his commitment in order to compete for playing time. Luke Dwyer had great credentials out of high school, but did not see action last season and is probably the odd man out.
Goaltending will be a question mark until proven otherwise.

The forward line lost Luke Glendening, David Wohlberg and Chris Brown. Glendening was a quiet, hard working Captain that was an iron horse on the ice. Wohlberg and Brown were efficient points makers that made up 2/3 of the team’s top line with Alex Guptill. Brown was a combination of size, grit and skill and commanded space on the ice. He is probably the biggest loss due to his premature departure.

March 17, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines forward Luke Moffatt (9) tries to score on Western Michigan Broncos goalie Frank Slubowski (1) as Matt Tennyson (7) defends in the third period at Joe Louis Arena. Western Michigan BroncosMandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

In lieu of that loss, returning forwards (Captain) AJ Treais, Phil DiGiuseppe and Guptill (CCHA ROTY) will be the go to offensive weapons. Much more will be expected from senior Kevin Lynch, who has been a major offensive disappointment (only 15 points last season) since his breakout freshman season. Luke Moffatt will also have added pressure to increase his point total from the meager 15 points he added. Zach Hyman came into the program with high offensive expectations that didn’t materialize in his first year. He was the top center on the team in face-off efficiency and continued to improve his game steadily into the second half, yet only scored twice. The remainder of the forwards –Lindsay Sparks for instance- will have to also increase their offense or be more consistent. Sparks literally disappeared after starting the first twelve games last season with five goals. Grinders like Derek DeBlois, Andrew Sinelli, Jeff Rohrkemper and Travis Lynch will lock down their checking roles and will not be counted on so much for their offense from the third and fourth lines. They will be competing for playing time with the incoming freshmen forwards.

This leaves a tremendous burden for offensive balance onto the freshmen- particularly Boo Nieves- who will be counted on to center one of the lines for Michigan. Daniel Milne, Andrew Copp and Justin Selman are steady two way players like Travis Lynch- where they will contribute offensively in spurts but will be counted on to provide size, special teams and defense.

The offense- IMO- will be a big question mark if secondary contributions from the 2nd-4th lines dry up.

The defense will be regarded as the strength of the team this season with two way, experienced players Mac Bennett, Lee Moffie and Jon Merrill returning. Not only will these three add to Michigan’s offensive thrust, but will continue to balance the stay at home types like Kevin Clare, Mike Chiasson and Brennan Serville. Preferred walk-on Mike Szuma saw very little game action and will probably remain in a reserve role barring injury.

June 22, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Jacob Trouba puts on a jersey and cap after being selected as the number nine overall draft pick to the Winnipeg Jets in the 2012 NHL Draft at CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-US PRESSWIRE

Add in super freshman Jacob Trouba to the mix and Michigan’s offense may just as well be as potent on the blue line as it is up front. Losing Greg Pateryn to graduation does diminish Michigan’s strength- in that Pateryn ate up a ton of ice time and was the best lock down defender in 2011-12. Merrill will have to get back to the defensive form he displayed as a freshman and be a bit more physical. If there is a weakness on the blueline, it is the crease clearing ability of the unit which displayed a very passive manner in front of their net last season- which often permitted opponents to maintain possession in the zone and eventually force the Wolverines to take unnecessary penalties. Big, grinding teams often cycled the Wolverines to death, wore them down and eventually scored because of the turnovers in the offensive zone. Better forward coverage will be needed, especially early on as the team’s chemistry comes together.

Sizing Up The CCHA’s Final Season

Here is a quick summary of how I see Michigan’s conference opponents this season (in the order I believe they will finish, with Michigan’s potential tucked in between 1-5):

1. WMU- The pre-eminent favorite due to the experience and talent they are returning. Three top defensemen, six top forwards including their senior captain, and their two headed goaltending monsters- Frank Slubowski and Nick Pisenelli. They enjoy the most depth and will be the “other” team with the target on their back this season.

2. Notre Dame- Five upper classmen in their defense, eight experienced forwards including the dangerous duo of Lee and Tynan. They also have two experienced goaltenders in Mike Johnson and Steve Summerhays. The Irish also cashed in on a terrific recruiting class.

3. Miami- Their strength lies in their three returning defenders and their dynamic sophomore forwards. They lost most of their scoring, but are bringing in a solid freshmen class, including two new goaltenders.

4. Ferris State- the Dawgs, NCAA runner-ups, bring back a core group of forwards and a dynamite sophomore goaltender, CJ Motte. Defensively, the blueline is an unknown right now due to graduation losses and that may prove to be their weakest link.

5. NMU- The defense looks big and experienced and the forward unit returns seven starters. Junior Jared Coreau is a big, rangy netminder. The Cats are physical and added size with their recruiting class. Could be the surprise of the conference if they can find a consistent offense.

6. MSU- the Spartans lost their best return eligible player to the NHL (Krug), but still has a solid core of defenders in front of junior goalie Al Yanakeff. Six upperclassmen dot the forward line. The freshmen class is highly regarded and will have to contribute right away.

7. LSSU- Seven upperclassmen support the offense, while three junior defensemen may not be enough support in front of superb junior goaltender Kevin Kapalka. They also added size.

8. BGSU- Andrew Hammond returns for his senior season in between the pipes. Seven upperclassmen return up front. The blueline may be the weak link, as only one senior returned. Still, the Falcons are much improved and put the CCHA on notice last playoff season.

9. Ohio- the Bucknuts will count on their two senior d-men, a career back-up senior goaltender Brady Hjelle and seven battle-tested forwards to try to recover from their epic second half collapse.

10. Alaska- the Nanooks lead the conference in bombastic video entrances for their team, but will hardly transform that to success on the ice. They do return their top four goal scorers, but will count on a senior goaltender Steve Thompson and build the defense around one senior d-man.

The media has Michigan winning the regular season and that the coaches have Michigan runner up to Notre Dame.

Michigan is ranked third in the newly released USCHO pre-season poll.

Next up: Michigan’s schedule, predictions and national observations.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister

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