Michigan Hockey: Michigan Wolverines vs. Ferris State Bulldogs -- Preview

Posted at 5:45am — 11/30/2012

Michigan Hockey: Michigan Wolverines vs. Ferris State Bulldogs — Preview

Wolverine Icers Travel To #17 Ferris State For Critical Weekend Series

What: Michigan Wolverines (5-7-1) (3-5-1) T-7th CCHA vs. Ferris State Bulldogs (6-4-2, 5-3-0) T-2nd CCHA. Friday & Saturday, 11/30-12/1, 7:05 p.m. Ewigleben Arena, Big Rapids, Mi. TV: None. Follow the action with Al Randall and Bill Trainor on the IMG Sports Network (WTKA 1050 a.m.) or track their progress on www.mgoblue.com

What In The World Is Wrong On State Street?
Following the Michigan Wolverine hockey program the last few years is similar to watching the Bill Murray classic movie “Groundhog Day”, where the lead character wakes up to the same mundane events day after day. Similarly, it seems that the Maize and Blue have found themselves stumbling around in the first part of the season only to have some miracle run in them that either secures a CCHA title or an at large spot in the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines are in the same position this season and the hole they are digging is getting progressively deeper.

The problem is, there is less optimism on behalf of the media pundits and fans that Michigan will right this ship. Unlike past seasons where a lack of cohesion, injuries and a little bit of bad luck has hampered the Wolverine’s efforts, this season’s woes don’t appear to be a temporary blip on the radar screen. True, Michigan has been without one of their top defensemen for the first part of the season. It’s a valid reason to point at the sudden failure of a unit that once was thought of as the strength of the 2012-13 team. But, not all of it can be attributed to Jon Merrill’s injury.

For instance, last Wednesday, in front of a sleepy home crowd (partly due to the students being on holiday break), the Wolverines mustered up enough of an effort to outlast Bowling Green, 3-1. They fell behind late in the first period on (say it with me…) another defensive zone breakdown by a forward that allowed a BG defender to fire home a point shot with: 03 left in the period. Michigan roared out in the second period and dominated play (which they pretty much did all night without finishing) and scored three goals on the backs of seniors Kevin Lynch and AJ Treais along with sophomores Alex Guptill and Phil DiGiuseppe. Michigan obviously did enough to out-talent the hapless Falcons, but certainly exposed enough sloppiness to offer concern to the knowledgeable fan: an effort like that may have resulted in a loss most nights against anyone else.

Michigan fans didn’t have to wait too long for that. On Saturday night at the fabled Madison Square Garden, in front of 18,000+spectators, the team thoroughly got embarrassed against #10 Cornell. The Wolverines wasted little time taking multiple foolish penalties and eventually falling behind in the first period. They responded a bit better in the second stanza, but- whether it was ECAC officiating or their own doing, the Wolverines unraveled and the Big Red opened up a can on them. Michigan fell behind by multiple goals (as they have in EVERY away game this season) and was outplayed in every aspect of the game. The final result- a 5-1 arm shiver to the head of Michigan Nation, was the capper to a day that had already seen the football team melt down in the 2nd half against Ohio. Mac Bennett, Michigan’s most consistent player this season, scored the lone goal in the third period long after the verdict was decided. Steve Racine was the victim of more horrendous defensive coverage and also added to his own miseries with less than stellar goaltending.

So, the question now begs… what is going on? This was the preseason #3 team in the country coming in. The talent is not as much of a question as is their chemistry, although, as mentioned, Merrill’s injury (which appears to not be healing in the time frame first thought) limits the blue line depth. The offense, which once was leading the NCAA, has suddenly run into stingier teams and has disappeared. Meanwhile, the defensive play has now crumbled into one of the worst in college hockey. I was always taught that to defend takes more energy and will, but doesn’t necessarily take more skill. Michigan’s inconsistency is not only from game to game, but from shift to shift now. It’s maddening and good teams are taking advantage of it.

The goaltending has been so porous that Coach Berenson has opened up the job to any of the four netminders on the squad to take. Nothing deflates a team’s psyche more than giving up poor goals. It’s tough to win at this level without confidence in net and neither of the incoming freshmen goalies has risen above their own team’s play to snatch hold of the job.

Another element that is now creeping in is the mental toughness of this team. It seems that a small bit of adversity suddenly leads to pressing and frustration. Good teams learn to play over it- especially on the road. This points a finger, with good reason, at team leadership.

Last, the team now is drifting into making questionable judgment decisions on the ice, which exponentially leads to penalties and mental errors. Michigan took 12 minutes in penalties against Cornell- with 8 of those in the first half of the game. They were manhandled and responded poorly. To compound matters, their special teams play has been average and slipping. These use to be hallmarks of a Berenson coached team.

The bottom line is, there is no Shawn Hunwick on the bench to pull this team out of the fire. There will not be a repeat of the miracle run of 2009 to the CCHA playoff title, or a sudden hot streak down the stretch to secure a college hockey best 23nd straight NCAA berth. No, not the way this team is derailing. Something fundamental has to change- and has to be accomplished by every member on the roster. The clock is ticking, especially with the way the schedule aligns. Michigan will play four more conference games before the second half starts, with two games each at home and on the road-and all four are against ranked teams. After the annual GLI tournament, Michigan will enjoy three home games and then finish the season with nine of the remaining twelve games on the road. Eight of those twelve games are against ranked teams.

It begins this weekend against the defending CCHA regular season champ and NCAA runner up, Ferris State. The Bulldogs are licking their chops, considering that Michigan has won the last five meetings and is 18-1-1 in their last twenty against FSU. Michigan holds an overall 67-28-1 mark all time. If Michigan has any chance of making a run in the CCHA, or challenge for an NCAA at-large berth, it has to begin with this series. There is no more wiggle room. The depth has suddenly become suspect on the blue line, and the forwards now are being shuffled a bit on a game to game basis to find a spark. Let’s hope that the coaching triad finds the right combination to get back to Michigan style hockey performance.

Profiling The Bulldogs:
Ferris State’s rise in the conference and at the national level comes to one’s surprise. Bob Daniels has had NHL talent stream through Big Rapids in the past, but seemed to have found the right blend of “under the radar” type talent to compliment his core headliners. Daniels has always built his teams from the net outward, depending on a big, strong defense and defensive minded, gritty forwards. The 2012-13 edition is no different, although his squad is missing some key ingredients from last year’s championship team. Gone are several of his top offensive producing forwards and defenders. The returning core, though, is very talented starting with CJ Motte, a local Michigan product that mans the net. Motte, a sophomore, has started all twelve games for the Bulldogs and has been sharp, posting a 6-4-2 record (1 shutout) with a 2.20 GAA and a .928 save %. He is backstopped by two reserves that have only seen a combined twenty minutes of action this season. Ferris also has four seniors, all forwards, leading their team. Sharpshooter Matt Kirzinger injured his wrist in the preseason and has yet to see action. Kyle Bonis has stepped up and is leading the team (6-5-11, +5) in offense and +/- rating. Fellow linemate Travis Ouelette (3-5-8, +4) plays along side of Bonis. Eric Alexander has seen limited action (7 GP), but has not been shy in the physical department, racking up 25 minutes in penalties. Junior forwards Cory Kane (4-5-9), Garrett Thompson (3-3-6, +3), Andy Huff (4-1-5, +2) and Justin DeMartino (3-4-7, +2, 26 PIM’s) all provide scoring depth to compliment the top line. The sophomore and freshmen forward talent are not as consistent yet, but have melded in to the Bulldog system and have contributed 14 points. On defense, junior Scott Czarnowczan is still recovering from a serious knee injury suffered in the National Championship game against BC last April, and just returned to action two weeks ago against BGSU, posting three assists and a +3 rating. He anchors a very young defense consisting of sophomores Travis White (0-3-3, +4), Simon Denis (2-6-8, +3) and Jason Binkley (0-6-6, 20PIM’s). The freshmen defenders include Conner Schmidt (2-2-4, +2) Brandon Anselmini (2-3-5) and Sean O’Rourke. Overall, the new look Dawgs are more balanced offensively without sidestepping their traditional defensive posture.

Dec. 10, 2011; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish right wing Bryan Rust attempts a shot on goal as Ferris State Bulldogs center Matthew Kirzinger (20) and goaltender CJ Motte (30) defend in the second period at the Compton Family Ice Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-US PRESSWIRE

Ferris has played eight conference games and split series with Miami and Alaska (at home) and with LSSU in the Soo while sweeping BG on the Falcons’ home ice. Their nonconference schedule saw them dropping a game at RPI and then tying the Engineers. They returned home to tie and blow out Mercyhurst. Outside of Miami, Michigan poses the biggest challenge of speed and offense that the Bulldogs have faced this season.

Tale of the Tape: This is NOT a Recording
Michigan’s theme through 13 games this season is clearly lack of defense and lack of finishing, period. The offense has gone dormant, only scoring eight goals in their last five games, while posting a 1-4 record. Michigan carries in a 3.38 GPG average (10th) into the weekend, dropping from 4th last week. Ferris is clicking at a 3.00 GPG (T-17th) and has leaned heavily on a potent power play. Michigan’s bugaboo continues to be their defensive struggles, yielding 3.46 GPG (52nd). The Wolverines now have given up one more goal than they have scored (45-44) and have been blown out in two of their four recent losses, surrendering 20 goals in their past five games. Ferris, on the other hand, is T-20th in defense, averaging 2.50 GPG. Both teams feature average PK percentages, with Michigan killing 82.7% of their chances (30th) while Ferris is slightly better at 85% (T-22nd). The Bulldog’s clear advantage is when they are placed on the power play where they are converting 25.6% of their chances (5th) while Michigan is 35th and dropping, down to a 16.1% conversion. The Bulldogs have been a rather rambunctious team in the past and have played a bit edgy so far this season. They average 14.8 PIM’s per game (T-15th) while the Wolverines average 13.00 PIM’s per game (27th.) Both teams tend to leave discipline by the road side when they meet.

Conclusion: Ferris State is trending better than the Wolverines at this juncture. Michigan is a mess mentally and they are ripe to be picked, especially on the road. It will take some outstanding team play to overcome their ills, particularly in net. Stranger things have happened, especially at Michigan. It’s not time to abandon the bandwagon just yet. There is too much talent on this team and over half a season left. It took a road trip last season to get the boys going. Let’s see if lightning can strike again. Michigan splits or better if they stay out of the box and discover their offense again. Otherwise, they could go home empty handed and pretty much will be looking on the outside at any CCHA regular season title and possibly a NCAA bid.
Friday: Ferris 3-1 Saturday: Michigan 5-4 (OT).

-AJ Treais (9-5-14, -4) is tied for 1st in the NCAA in goals. Mac Bennett leads the team in +/- with a +6 to go with his 4-7-11, which coincidently ties Alex Guptill for second on the team in points. Jacob Trouba has added 4-6-10, -1 with 44 PIM’s this season.
– Goaltending woes: Steve Racine (4-4-1, 2.94 GAA, .878 save %) started both games last week and yielded six goals. Jared Rutledge (1-3-0, 4.46 GAA, .855 save %) may get a start this weekend. Adam Janecyk may also be in the running for his first start since spelling the injured Shawn Hunwick in a home game against LSSU last year.
– Michigan has the dubious distinction of being dead last in the CCHA in defense, yielding 3.33 GPG in league play. Defenseman Kevin Clare (-6), Phil DiGiuseppe (1-7-8, -5) and Luke Moffatt (0-5-5, -4) continue to struggle on both ends of the ice, while Treais (-4) struggles to keep the puck out of his own net while on the ice.
-Michigan has dropped out of the USCHO polls for the first time since last November when a similar string of Thanksgiving holiday losses put the team on the NCAA tournament endangered list.
-Those fans traveling to Yost should be happy to hear that Stadium Blvd is open again after a yearlong project that built a new bridge over State Street.
-Michigan’s next home series is December 14-15 versus WMU. Saturday will be the last home game of the year and fans are asked to bring an unwrapped teddy bear for the annual Teddy Bear toss.
-Michigan is off the schedule next weekend, hopefully in order to re-charge them for a second half run.
-Kudos to Michigan Hockey Media Relations (Rob Tillotson) for inquiring as to why Comcast mistakenly showed on their schedule that the Cornell game was going to be picked up on FSD+. Comcast indicated that a mistake may have occurred and that programming on FSD+ was already determined (NCAA football).

Looking to the future:
Coach Red Berenson announced that Michigan has signed seven recruits for 2013-14 to LOI’s last week. They include forwards Evan Allen (USNDT), Bryson Cianfrone (Cedar Rapids, USHL), J.T. Compher (USNDT), Alex Kile (Green Bay, USHL) and Tyler Motte (USNDT). Motte is the younger brother of Ferris State’s sophomore netminder C.J. Motte.
Berenson also locked in blueliners Nolan DeJong (Victoria, BCHL) and Michael Downing from Dubuque of the USHL.
Congratulations, guys and good luck at Michigan.

The seven member class will step in for departing seniors A.J. Treais, Lee Moffie, Kevin Lynch, Jeff Rohrkemper and Lindsay Sparks as well as a roster spot unfilled when 2012 recruit Connor Carrick backed out of his commitment last summer.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister

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