Michigan Hockey: Begins With Renewed Excitement & Plenty Of Questions — Part III
(This is part III 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 schedule, make some loose predictions and give a general opinion on the national scene.
I have already covered Michigan’s roster, previewed the incoming freshmen, and looked at how the conference stacks up. Let’s look at who Michigan is playing this season and what games stand out:
Michigan opens the season at Yost on October 9th with an exhibition game against the University of Windsor. Two nights later it begins for real as Rochester Institute of Technology (from the Atlantic Hockey Association) makes their first ever appearance at Yost and marks the first ever meeting between the schools. The teams will square off for two games- with RIT being a perennial power in their conference. Bentley, another AHA school, comes in for a single game on 10/19. The Wolverines take a break from non-conference action until November 24th, when they travel to Madison Square Garden to take on host Cornell for a Thanksgiving weekend battle. The Maize and Blue will then move downtown on December 27th-28th for the GLI tournament which is being held outdoors at Comerica Park this season. Michigan will take on Michigan Tech and will play either WMU or MSU the following day. The Wolverines conclude the non-conference portion of the schedule by hosting the USNTDP for an exhibition tilt on 1/4/13 to open the second half of the season.
At first blush, this is a nondescript out of conference schedule. Michigan should not take RIT lightly, as they have proven on the national stage the past few seasons. They will be challenging games, especially for a team that is adding so many new pieces.
Bentley is less imposing, but gave Michigan fits last season at Yost. These will be good teams to open with and break in a new goaltender. Michigan is eager to take on Cornell- the team that eliminated them last spring from NCAA contention- and even the score. It should be quite an event in NYC, considering that Cornell will again be in the mix for the ECAC championship. Michigan Tech is improving under former Michigan coach Mel Pearson and the novelty of another pair of outdoor games will also be different for the freshmen. WMU and MSU are rivals and will add a little spice to the event. The downside is that Michigan is already playing both teams four times during the regular season, so the games might not be that compelling.
Michigan opens the conference season at home on 10/26-27 against Miami University. This will be the final regular season conference meeting between the teams and will be a huge weekend. Miami will be moving to the NCHC with WMU next season. The Wolverines play their first road series up in Marquette vs. NMU on 11/2-3. The Northerns, as Michigan hockey radio voice Al Randall describes them, will also be entertaining Michigan for the final time in conference. They will be moving to the revamped WCHA along with Ferris State, BGSU, LSSU and Alaska. This will be a very physical and difficult road test for Michigan on the Olympic size sheet. The following week Michigan returns home to face MSU in the first part of a home and home series. The Wolverines will then fit in three home games prior to Thanksgiving: another huge rivalry weekend against Notre Dame and then a midweek (Wed.) game on 11/21 versus BGSU.
The Maize and Blue visit Ferris for their final time on 11/30 & 12/1. The first half closes against WMU at Yost on 12/14-15.
The second half starts in earnest with a Tuesday night game (1/8/13) at Yost vs. BGSU. Alaska visits for their final time on 1/11-12. The Wolverines then embark in a crucial four game road swing at LSSU and WMU to close out January. In February, Michigan hosts MSU at Yost and at JLA. Michigan then moves down to South Bend to take on the Irish for a pair of games. ND will call Hockey East their new home next season. Michigan concludes a stretch of eight out of their last ten games on the road when they visit the Buckeyes on 2/22-23. The Wolverines conclude the regular season at Yost with a weekend battle with Ferris State on 3/1-2.
The schedule is not easy with difficult road and home scuffles at what is regarded the top two teams in the league other than Michigan. Michigan avoids the long trip to Alaska this season, but travels to both Upper Peninsula venues as well as to Columbus. A scheduling oddity posts both BG games during the mid week. Overall, Michigan will cluster four games against WMU, ND, Ferris and MSU this season.
Based on Michigan’s schedule, their PWR rating should be strong depending on how well they take care of business. I firmly believe WMU is going to win the regular season and compete strongly on the national level, with Michigan, ND, Ferris and Miami vying for the other first round home ice playoff byes. NMU is a tough team to figure and MSU will be better than some may predict. The remainder of the conference will scrap and claw similar to the logjam in the conference race last season, with the only exception being Alaska. As a whole, the CCHA appears to be stronger and will feature some of the best goaltending in the country.
The NCAA and the CCHA did tweak a few things entering into the season. Gone are the defensive zone hand passes to another teammate. The play will be whistled dead. The CCHA also moved the tournament championship game to a Sunday, pre-empting the NCAA tournament selection show until Sunday night. The CCHA also eliminated the third place game, which may impact teams battling to make the national tournament.
The National Scene
Michigan’s nc schedule, other than their game with Cornell, will not allow them to gauge what they have against some of the national heavies during the regular season. Minnesota and BC are expected to dominate the early polls, as both teams are stacked with talent, size and speed. North Dakota will also battle for national dominance, returning a load of offensive talent and a seasoned netminder. Union will again be poised for a run through the ECAC and to the Frozen Four (which will be held in Pittsburgh this season.) U-Mass Lowell and BU will try to slow down BC in Hockey East, where Denver, Wisconsin and Minnesota Duluth will chase UND and Minnesota.
It is hard to say where Michigan does fit against some of these teams. The best measure may be how they do in conference against WMU, Notre Dame, Miami and Ferris- who bring as much talent or potential as most of the other conference teams I mentioned. The competition nationally will be tight, as there are few teams that can be seen as having that much more talent than another prominent program- unlike BC’s amazing run through the national tournament last season. There will be dark horses emerge as well, which makes the season interesting. In the end, though, Michigan will have a tall task to continue their consecutive string in the NCAA tournament. The talent is there- maybe not as prominent as some of the WCHA or HEA teams- but that did not matter last season. I do not buy into the rankings/polls that heavily, either, so the USA Today poll has no basis for ranking Michigan 3rd in the country to me- especially with all of the question marks. In two weeks we will have a better idea, though, which is where all the fun lies. Enjoy the season. I’ll be here to report it to you from my newly minted seat in sec 24 at Yost Arena.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister
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