March 17, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Michigan Wolverines defender Lee Moffie (13) celebrates his goal in the third period against the Western Michigan Broncos at Joe Louis Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Michigan Hockey: Rit vs. Michigan — First Meeting Ever To Open 2012-2013


Posted at 5:45am — 10/11/2012

Michigan Hockey: Rit vs. Michigan — First Meeting Ever To Open 2012-2013

What: #3 Michigan Wolverines (24-13-4, 15-9-4-1 in 2011-12) 2nd in the CCHA vs. Rochester Institute of Technology (20-13-6, 14-7-6 in 2011-12) T-3rd in the AHA
Yost Ice Arena Thursday 10/11 @ 7:35 p.m. & Friday 10/12 @ 7:35 p.m. No T.V. Audio on WTKA (1050 a.m.) or on www.mgoblue.com

The Wolverine icers used their brief pre-season tussle with the University of Windsor on Tuesday night to fine tune lines (sans Alex Guptill), set-up defensive pairings (although Bennett and Moffie did not play), work on special teams and test out a trio of goaltenders in preparation for the regular season. Michigan woke up after a sluggish first period to rout the Lancers, 7-3 behind two Luke Moffatt and Derek DeBlois goals each.

The Wolverines, however, suffered injuries to Jon Merrill (head) and Justin Selman (leg) that could keep them out of the lineup for the opening pair of games again RIT. Coach Berenson was “concerned” about Merrill but did not offer anything else on his condition. Both players were heavily checked on the plays that caused the injuries.

The real test for Michigan now comes against an unheralded but very dangerous team from upstate New York. The RIT Tigers opened their preseason with a through thrashing of the University of Ottawa, 8-1 last weekend. The Tigers, two years removed from the NCAA’s Frozen Four at Ford Field, will make their first ever appearance at Yost and first ever match-up against U-M. RIT has been a division I program for a decade now and anchors the up and coming Atlantic Hockey Conference which features stalwarts Air Force, Niagara and Mercyhurst- all past NCAA tournament qualifiers and Michigan opponents.

Coach Wayne Wilson’s squad is re-loading after a solid season in 2011-12, even if the team fell short of winning the AHA and automatically qualifying for the NCAA playoffs (Air Force won the AHA tournament with a 4-0 victory over RIT and gave eventual National Champion Boston College everything they could handle in a 2-0 loss in the first round.)

Profiling The Tigers:
RIT will have to overcome the losses of several key components from last season, including their two Captains and a high profile netminder. Gone are their 2nd and 3rd leading scorers from 2011-12-forward Cameron Burt (8-23-31) and two way defenseman Chris Haltigin (5-16-21). Forward Taylor McReynolds (5-10-15) also departed. Perhaps their biggest loss is goaltender Shane Madalora (18-9-5, 1.93 GAA and .931 save %) who left the program for the pro ranks following his junior season. A trio of goaltenders will vy for the starting job in 2012-13.

The Tigers are a scrappy team that relies on solid defensive play and timely scoring. They keep things close and are comfortable in tight contests. If there is a concern, though, it is their offensive punch which lost a combined 81 points to graduation. Losing Madalora, their best defensive anchor, may be too much to overcome at least initially. (The AHA coaches have picked RIT to finish T-4th this season, and the USCHO beat reporter for the AHA is even more bullish, tagging the Tigers as a mid pack team.)

Offensively, the Tigers return a core group of talent led by leading points maker from last season, junior Michael Colavecchia (14-18-32). Unfortunately for RIT, Colavecchia will be out for a month following surgery to remove bone chips. That instantly places more pressure on the offense overall considering that it not only took away a top threat, but RIT’s top power play specialist. Colavecchia was ranked 29th in the country last season with 8 of his 14 goals on the man advantage.

The Tigers will have to pick up the slack collectively- with alternate captain and sophomore forward Matt Garbowsky (9-11-20), sophomore forward Brad McGowan (9-9-18) and polished junior defenseman Greg Noyes (6-14-20). Four seniors anchor down leadership including big senior forward and alternate captain Adam Hartley (6’3”, 195 lbs.) who tallied 7-8-15 last season. Captain Chris Saracino (2-7-9, 14 games) returns to the blue line after an injury shortened 2011-12. The junior class offers Adam Mitchell (6’3” 195 lbs.) who potted 16 points last year along with grinder Ben Lynch (3-9-12).

Seven freshmen enter the program including impact forwards Josh Mitchell, Dan Schuler, Andy Miller and Colgate transfer Anthony Hamburg (Minnesota Wild draftee) who spent most of last season with Omaha of the USHL. Big defenders Alexander Kuqali (6’2”, 225 lbs.), Rajan Sidhu (6’3” 195 lbs.) and Brad Shumway (6’1” 190 lbs.) will rotate on the blue line.

Goaltending, much like at Michigan, has not been a concern the last few seasons. This year however, the job is up for grabs amongst returners (junior) Josh Watson (1-1-1, 1.62 GAA, .940 save %), sophomore Jordan Ruby (1-3-0, 3.03 GAA, .904 save %) and incoming freshman Ken MacLean. Both Watson and Ruby have nonconference game experience against the likes of Union, Wisconsin and Merrimack. All three netminders are big: 6’1-2” and 180-195 lbs. Coach Wilson stated that all three will get a crack at the job prior to the conference season.

Numbers Anyone?
It’s early, so tale of the tape is not indicative of anything done this season. Certainly Michigan has the firepower to erupt especially at home. Peeking at last season, though, indicates a few carryover concerns for both RIT and Michigan. The Wolverines finished last season 10th in offense at 3.22 GPG. I can’t see where that will be marginally better early on considering their forward losses. Guptill (33 pts.), Treais (32 pts), DiGiuseppe (26 pts.), Moffatt (16 pts.) and Travis Lynch (15 pts.) are the top five returning points makers up front. The offense is clearly driven by the defense- with Moffie (32 pts.), Bennett (21 pts.) and Merrill (11 pts. In limited action) heavily contributing. Newcomer Boo Nieves is being counted on to make an instant splash, along with seniors Lindsay Sparks and Kevin Lynch and junior Derek DeBlois (6-8-14).

The Tigers have far more to worry about with two major goal scorers gone, another on the shelf and an average from last season in the bottom third of the nation. They will have to score by committee, which they are capable of doing.

Both teams will also be wary of their defense with new goaltenders. Michigan closed out 2011-12 5th in the nation at 2.17 GPG, while RIT was 8th at 2.21 GPG. The Tigers were a top ten PK team (84.7%) while also scoring 6 SHG’s (T9th) as Michigan improved during the season to finish 14th at 84.2%. RIT’s PP was a bit more potent than Michigan at 36th in the country with a 17.34% conversion. Michigan was abysmal at less than 15% for the season (48th). Conversely, the Wolverines were more disciplined than the Tigers, finishing with an average of 12.71 PIM’s per game (35th) while RIT was 9th worst in the country at 15.54 PIM’s per contest. On paper, Michigan still should take advantage offensively, while having a clear advantage on the blue line. Special teams will be a work in progress, so we’ll call it even. The x-factor will clearly be which goaltending tandem stands out. In my opinion, RIT’s goaltending needs to be sharper and carries a slight edge in experience over carryover junior Adam Janecyk (0-1-1, 3.17 GAA & .897 GAA.) Unproven freshmen Steve Racine and Jared Rutledge will see action during the nonconference season. (A goaltending decision for this series was yet to be determined at the time this article was published.) Michigan is typically buoyed by home ice and that emotional lift should benefit the home side. The Wolverines will have to focus on protecting their goaltender and limit quality shots.

Final Verdict:
Michigan wins a tight 3-2 opener and then again on Friday, 4-2. Look for Alex Guptill to lead the charge and fellow defensemen Lee Moffie, Jon Merrill (if healthy) and Jacob Trouba to lock down the blue line while contributing on special teams. There will be hiccups and the typical early season rhythm issues, but overall, Michigan’s talent should overcome them. On the other hand, RIT is eager to prove that they (and their conference) belong in national tournament discussions. Their freshmen are talented and their experienced leaders will keep the team poised in a difficult environment. RIT is well coached and is not going to be intimidated, considering that their program has taken on most of the heavy hitters in college hockey. This series will be a solid test for Berenson’s club and it will be no surprise if they struggle in both games.

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