Michigan Hockey: Western Michigan at Michigan — Preview
Michigan Hockey Returns To Home Ice For Final First Half Series Versus #7 WMU
What: Michigan Wolverines (5-8-2) (3-6-2-2) 8th CCHA vs. #7 Western Michigan Broncos (10-3-1, 7-2-1-1) 3rd CCHA.
Friday & Saturday, 12/14-12/15, 7:35 p.m. Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, Mi.
TV: Friday CBS Sports Network (DirecTV 610 & Comcast 255).
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
Wolverines Return To Action After A Much Needed Break
Michigan Hockey welcomes in the WMU Broncos on Friday for a weekend series between the two in-state rivals. The Wolverines were off last weekend, hopefully ready to rebound as the first half of the season winds down. Team members scattered for a few days of rest and studying after returning to campus December 1st following another disappointing weekend road trip to Ferris State. The Maize and Blue got outclassed on Friday, 11/30 (5-0) and then frittered away an early 3-1 first period lead the next night and settled for a 3-3 tie (while winning the shootout to gain two points.) The task will not be any easier against what is probably the most experienced team in the CCHA.
Profiling The Broncos:
The Renaissance in Kalamazoo is not completely finished, although WMU has tasted their first morsels of conference success in close to thirty years. Last season’s run to the CCHA tournament crown and automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs was merely the appetizer for a success starved program that was close to being shuttered several years ago by school administrators. The architect, former coach Jeff Blashill, moved on to the NHL after reviving the program. In July, 2011 former NHL coach Andy Murray took over the reins- and assumed a boatload of young talent.
Murray did not rest on his laurels from his inaugural season, though. He has groomed the Broncos into a tough, grinding bunch that relies on timing scoring, physical play and outstanding attention to his defensive system. Western fields an eight member senior class that is led by right wing (captain) Dane Walters (6-6-12) who leads the team with four PPG’s and is tied for the team lead with two GWG’s. Fellow senior forwards Mike Cichy (2-6-8, 2PPG’s, 1 GWG), Mike Leone (2-2-4, 1PPG, 1 GWG), Ben Warda (0-3-3) and Trevor Elias (2-1-3, 2 GWG’s) all have contributed on both ends of the ice this season. Junior Chase Balisy (6-5-11, 2 SHG’s, 3 PPG’s & 2 GWG’s) is probably WMU’s purest offensive threat. Classmate Shane Berschbach (2-7-9, 1PPG) is a physical threat as well as an offensive contributor. The backline features senior ironman Luke Witkowski (0-3-3) as well as a pair of tough minded juniors in Dan Brown (0-9-9) and (soon to be) NHL bound Danny DeKeyser (2-5-7, 1 PPG). The rotation has talented sophomore’s Garrett Haar (3-3-6, 1 PPG & 1 GWG) and Jordan Oesterle (1-3-4) to help groom freshman sharpshooter Kenney Morrison (4-5-9, 3 PPG’s.)
Goaltending is completely in the hands of sophomore netminder Frank (“The Big”) Slubowski (10-3-1, 2.05 GAA, .912 Save %, 2 shutouts.) Slubowski holds down the 16th best GAA in the country and is a tall, rangy butterfly style netminder. The Bronco’s don’t give up many scoring chances and Slubowski doesn’t give many rebounds back. Teams pay a price to get to the net and earn their chances. The Broncos rely on a quick transition game for their offense, but focus mainly on their defensive responsibilities. Their schedule has not been daunting (St. Lawrence and Canisius at home for their nonconference tilts, with MSU approaching at the GLI) yet they have managed to stay a perfect 9-0 record at home (5-0 in conference including a sweep over NMU and a win versus BGSU) while maintaining a 2-2-1-1 road record (splits at Notre Dame and Alaska and a tie/SO win against BGSU). Last weekend, the Broncos swept #19 Ferris State in two tight checking, hard fought contests in K-zoo.Tale of the Tape: It’s Not Pretty, Folks
Michigan’s road woes at Ferris exposed the same defensive lapses that have haunted them all season. The fact that the offense has evaporated only emphasizes the poor defensive statistics. The Wolverines are 17th in the nation in scoring (3.13 GPG) but are yielding 3.53 GPG (T54th/59 programs.) Trouble is, Michigan’s offensive production is about one goal less against the ranked teams that they have played this season (while also being shut out once) while they have yielded the same (actually slightly over) inflated goals against average.
The news doesn’t get any better: WMU isn’t an offensive juggernaut, but does spread out its production across three of its four lines- and gets good production from their blue line. The Broncos average 2.43 GPG (39th), but also give up a microscopic 2.07 GPG (10th.) They relish tight games and, like Notre Dame, get stronger as the game progresses. Fall behind and they will squeeze you into mistakes. Take the lead and they don’t panic. They have enough talent to push the offense and maintain adequate defensive posture until they need to gamble late in the game.
The area that WMU really stands out is in their power play production. The Broncos convert at an 8th best 22.97% rate, suggesting that if you put them on the PP, they become lethal. Michigan, on the other hand, is slogging along at 41st with a 14.06% PP conversion after starting the season at a 20% conversion rate. Conversely, the unit has also yielded three shorthanded goals and has only tallied one while down a man. WMU’s penalty killing unit is slightly above average at 84.7% (19th) while Michigan sits at a nominal 82% (T37th.) Clearly WMU’s special teams are performing much better coming into this series.
Michigan’s penalty minutes are starting to mount in cadence with the amount of mistakes they are making- either forced or unforced. Their 12.87 MPG average is 32nd (or slightly below average.) The Broncos maintain a physical game, yet are near the bottom of the NCAA in penalties (52nd) averaging 10.29 MPG.
The bottom line is, Michigan has to play a disciplined, patient game against a team that is patterned much like the Irish. The Broncos will dump and chase, physically grind down the opponent along the boards and capitalize on mistakes for their offensive chances. The defense is big and mobile, offering few scoring chances on one end, while contributing to the offense on the other. This is not a good match up for Michigan, and it may play out the same way as ND’s sweep several weeks ago that started Michigan’s tailspin. Nonetheless, Michigan showed that it could play with the Irish and simply failed on their scoring chances, while yielding goals on the mistakes they made. It can do the same with WMU and must garner a lead to keep any home ice momentum. The season is slipping fast and two more home losses will bury the Wolverines before the Christmas break. If this team has any pride, it will unleash their best effort this weekend. A bonus would be getting the balanced scoring that some of the forwards- both young and experienced- were being counted on to provide coming into the season.
Friday: Michigan 3-2 Saturday: WMU 4-2.
-AJ Treais (10-5-15, -4) is 6th in the NCAA in goals and is the points leader for the Wolverines. Mac Bennett leads the team in +/- with a +6 to go with his 4-8-12.
– Goaltending update: Steve Racine (4-4-2, 2.93 GAA, .885 save %) was in goal for Michigan’s tie against the Bulldogs. Jared Rutledge (1-4-0, 4.58 GAA, .847 save %) surrendered five goals in his last start and continues to flounder. He did not dress the following night and was replaced on the bench by junior back up Adam Janecyk.
– The naughty list: Michigan forward Phil DiGiuseppe (1-7-8, -7) has gone from being a freshman candidate for the Canadian World Junior Team to forgotten in one season. His defensive struggles aside, PDG is still generating opportunities on the offensive end. Hopefully the chances will start to go in for the sturdy forward and his defensive game improves.
-“Red” Listed: Several members of the team are beginning to feel the coach’s wrath, starting with sophomore forward Alex Guptill (4-7-11, 0) who was left behind in Ann Arbor two weeks ago for less than acceptable effort on and off the ice according to Berenson. Forward Luke Moffatt (0-6-6, -3) was also scratched the week before, returned, but defenseman Kevin Clare (no points, -7) was scratched. Unofficially, Clare has been bothered by a lingering injury and has not been effective most of this season. Defenseman Mike Chiasson (2-1-3, -4) also has struggled on the blue line the past few weeks.
-The Wolverines have yet to win a game away from Yost this season, going 0-4-2, (0-3-2-2) so far.
-Michigan has now scored 46 goals compared to giving up 53 this season, while allowing three shorthanded goals, and being outscored 18-12 in the second period. They have also surrendered three goals in one period in six different games this season.
-Michigan is 2-2-1-1 against teams below them in the standings, while sporting a 1-4-1-1 record against teams above them in the standings.
-The Maize and Blue will play 14 of their remaining 17 conference games versus teams currently ahead of them in the standings.
– 9 of Michigan’s first 15 games have been against ranked opponents, while (possibly) 9 of their remaining 19 regular season games will be against ranked teams. The Wolverines will potentially play #7 WMU five times this season if they meet in the GLI. They will also meet #3 Notre Dame in South Bend two more times and #19 Ferris State twice at Yost to conclude the regular season. They split with #5 Miami earlier this season, while going 0-3-1-1 against Notre Dame and Ferris State.
-Michigan will conclude the 2012 calendar year at the GLI tournament starting with a semi-final game on 12/29 against Michigan Tech and a date against either MSU or WMU the following day. Michigan will open up the 2013 portion of the schedule at home against the USNTDP (exhibition) on Friday 1/4/13 before welcoming in BGSU (Tuesday, 1/10) and Alaska for a weekend series on 1/11-12/13 all at Yost arena.
I would like to wish our GBMWolverine readers a Happy Hanukkah, a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister
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