Michigan Hockey: Michigan at Ohio State — Wolverine Hockey Swept By Irish; Meet Archrival OSU In Columbus Next — Preview

Posted at 7:15am — 2/22/2013

Michigan Hockey: Michigan at Ohio State — Wolverine Hockey Swept By Irish; Meet Archrival OSU In Columbus Next — Preview

What: Michigan Wolverines (10-18-2, 7-15-2-2) 10th, 25 pts. CCHA vs. Ohio State (13-12-7, 12-7-5-1) T4th, 42pts. CCHA Friday & Saturday, 2/22-2/23, 6:35 p.m./7:05 p.m. Value City Arena, Columbus, Oh.
TV: Friday-BTN (DirecTV CH. 610); Saturday-Comcast Local (Ch.900). 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

Two weekends ago the Wolverines were feeling pretty good about themselves going into their series with Notre Dame. After all, they had just come off of a sweep of their in-state rivals which gave them some emotional lift. Unfortunately, that good will came crashing down after the Irish shredded the Wolverines 7-4 and 6-4. Michigan’s downtrodden goaltending was exposed again, as was the porous defense that has plagued the team all season. Defensive gap control, lack of a decent forecheck or backcheck and consistent loss of puck possession doomed the Wolverines. Jared Rutledge was tagged both nights with the losses giving the coaching staff little clue who will take command of the goaltending situation once the CCHA playoffs begin in three weeks.

There were some bright spots to report, though- Michigan’s Derek DeBlois (7-5-12) and Andrew Copp (6-6-12) continued to contribute offensively, as both netted shorthanded efforts in the Friday night game. On Saturday, the powerplay unit notched three goals and looked dangerous all weekend. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough as the lack of goaltending and defensive coverage allowed the Irish to fire at will. The Wolverines returned to Ann Arbor for a break in their schedule last week before preparing for their last regular season road trip this weekend against the Buckeyes.

Profiling The Buckeyes:
Ohio State has quietly produced an average season by most hockey standards. Their record is deceiving, considering their awful 1-5-2 non-conference record-which happened to include #1 Quinnipiac and #7 Minnesota-Duluth. But, dig a little deeper and the astute fan will notice that this team has gotten stronger as the season has continued, enough to propel the Buckeyes into a top five position in the CCHA race. The secret- as Coach Mark Osiecki points out- is in the consistent defensive play and goaltending that his team has focused on. Offensively, though, the Bucks are formidable when given the opportunity. A trio of sophomores lead the charge, with Ryan Dzingel (13-17-30), Tanner Fritz (7-20-27) and Max McCormick (9-12-21) anchoring the majority of the output. Dzingel has scored three GWG’s and has combined with McCormick for seven PPG’s this season. Junior Alex Szczechura (10-9-19) has enjoyed a solid season as well- but after that the Buckeyes are a potpourri of muckers and grinders that have scored key goals all season-even though the balance of the roster is struggling to top ten points apiece so far.

Defensively, seniors Devon Krogh (2-5-7) and Brandon Martell (0-3-3) lock it down for the Buckeyes on the blueline. Junior Curtis Gedig (2-7-9) adds a bit more offense on special teams. Only five seniors will be graduating, but, like Michigan found out this season, replacing a dynamic goaltender is sometimes tough to do. Senior Brady Hjelle (pronounced “jelly”) has been the key factor in this year’s Buckeye success. Hjelle is 11-9-6 with a 1.79 GAA and a .941 save %- one of the best in the country and tops in the CCHA. Freshman Collin Olson has been an admirable 2-3-1 with a 3.15 GAA and a .900 save %.

Overall, the Buckeyes won’t dazzle you, and in some cases will look downright average. They will keep things tight unless they break out offensively, something even the most challenged offensive team has done against the Wolverines this season. More importantly, they will have the occasional letdown game- not that seeing Maize and Blue will do that mind you- but it is a possibility even with the Bucks nervously trying to stay in a first round conference tournament bye position. Home ice was not a big advantage for Ohio State earlier this season, but has become one as of late. Being on the road has been a huge disadvantage for the Wolverines-who have only won one true road contest this season. Michigan enjoys a 70-33-11 overall record against the Buckeyes, including a 31-16-5 mark in Columbus. Michigan is 6-4 versus the Bucks in their last ten games. Last season both teams swept each other on visitor ice-including Michigan’s 4-1 win in the Frozen Diamond Classic, the last outdoor game Michigan played which was held in Cleveland.

Tale of the Tape: Can It Get Any Worse For Michigan Defensively?
Michigan has proven so far this season that when their offense gets going, it can come from different parts of the lineup. Unfortunately, it also seems to be at the expense of defensive play- something that probably keeps teams in games much more than an occasional burst of offensive firepower. In the Wolverine’s case, it was a bit of too little, too late two weekends ago. The Maize and Blue check in as the 24th best offense in the country scoring 2.93 goals per game on average. They rank 2nd in scoring in the CCHA. The Buckeyes on the other hand, are ranked 44th in the country at 2.34 GPG average and in the CCHA they are ranked (T) 5th. The main difference is Michigan has spread their scoring further down the roster, where OSU depends on their top four forwards for half of the roster’s total points (97). The Buckeyes remaining roster (20) of other players have combined for 104 points. The simple solution is to shut down their top two lines- as well as their PP-and typically you’ll beat the Bucks.

The problem with that theory is Michigan isn’t shutting down anyone- including the opposition’s fourth line grinders. The Wolverines slipped even further into the defensive abyss, posting a 3.63 GPG against average, which is 57th- third worst in the NCAA (only ahead of Alabama-Huntsville and a horrid one win Sacred Heart team) and dead last in the CCHA. The Buckeyes have a huge advantage here, as they bring the 7th best average in the country at 2.22, good for 2nd overall in the CCHA. This mismatch is accentuated even further by the goaltending dichotomy between the two teams. Neither team has a huge advantage on the powerplay, with Michigan checking in at (T) 31st in the country at a 16.7% conversion, 4th in the CCHA, while Ohio State is 51st at 13.64 % and 7th in the conference. The Buckeyes do have an excellent PK, though- ranked 9th in the country at 86% (3rd in the CCHA), while Michigan is (T) 30th in the NCAA (8th in the conference) at 82.4%. I’d consider both areas equal in comparison, although the Buckeyes will probably hold a slight edge at home where they draw more penalties from opponents. Neither team holds an overall advantage in PIM’s, where Michigan takes on average 11.9 minutes per game (44th) and the Bucks take an even 12 minutes per game (40th). Michigan’s disadvantage comes when you skew the numbers on the road versus at home- where each category is significantly worse than their average. Given this fact, the Wolverines are not in a favorable position to earn points unless some key defensive areas improve. Similarly, the Buckeyes have outscored opponents 4-2 in their last eight games and are converting a sizzling 25% of their PP chances.

Bottom Line:
The Wolverines are entering this weekend playing for pride- and maybe a chance for a first round CCHA tourney home ice series, if they can sweep their rivals. The Bucks, as I mentioned earlier, are playing for a first round CCHA tourney bye and finish their regular season at instate rival and CCHA leader Miami. They can secure 5th place with any combination of three points, and will probably try to do it at Michigan’s expense, considering this is senior weekend. The Bucks also have a longshot opportunity at an at-large bid for the NCAA tourney. Most likely, though, they will have to win the CCHA tourney to qualify.

I wouldn’t rule out Michigan taking some points, but anything more than that will be a bonus, considering their leaky defense and goaltending combined with OSU’s goaltending and defensive advantages.

Yostbits:
-Freshman Boo Nieves (8-15-23) continues his fine campaign and leads the team in scoring. AJ Treais (11-9-20) is next, followed by freshman defender Jacob Trouba (8-12-20), sophomore Phil Di Giuseppe (6-14-20) and sophomore Alex Guptill (8-11-19). Trouba added three assists against the Irish two weeks ago, where Nieves added three points.
-Michigan’s goal differential now stands at -19, as the Wolverines have yielded 109 goals compared to scoring 88 this season.
-Ohio State brings a home record of 6-3-4 into this weekend, but is 4-0-2 in their last six games at home, not dropping a game at home since the new year began. The Bucks are 5-1-2 in their last eight games, including last week’s 1-0-1 mark against WMU. The Wolverines are seeking to improve on their 1-8-2-2 road record and are 2-6 in their last eight games.
-Ohio State is celebrating their 100th year of athletics this season in the Big Ten and has declared Friday night’s game as their centennial game. They will honor their five seniors on Saturday night during a pre-game ceremony.
-Goaltender Jared Rutledge struggled against Notre Dame and dropped to 3-6-0 with a 4.24 GAA and a .854 save %. Adam Janecyk (3-7-0, 3.46 GAA, .892 save %) was Rutledge’s back-up two weekends ago and mopped up Saturday night. Steven Racine (4-5-2, 3.11 GAA, .880 save %) did not dress. Lindsay Sparks, Jeff Rohrkemper and Kevin Clare (out for the season) were not in the lineup.
-Walk-on goaltender Luke Dwyer will dress this weekend in Columbus. No other news on who will start in net. At this stage, Coach Berenson is at a loss as to who will start the final four games in goal and in the first round of the CCHA playoffs.
-Michigan Coach Red Berenson is experiencing his worst season since 1985-86 when, in second season behind the Michigan bench, his team finished the year 12-26-0.

Speaking Of Playoffs:
Miami, WMU, ND, Ferris and OSU will battle for the top five spots in the CCHA and will most likely secure a first round bye in the CCHA tourney.
Here is a quick projection on how the bottom six will finish in the CCHA and how they will start the first round of the playoffs:
6. Alaska 37 points. MSU (2) Ceiling: 43pts. Floor: 37pts. The Nanooks will probably not overtake OSU for 5th unless the Bucks are held pointless in their remaining four games. They are in the best position to finish 6th. Chances are, this means a return visit to Alaska for MSU (for the best 2 of 3 CCHA first round games) IF they finish last in the conference. Michigan or NMU could also slip to last, though. The Nooks will finish the regular season in their annual series against archrival U-Alaska Anchorage.
7. BGSU 31 points. NMU (2) @ND (2) Ceiling: 43pts. Floor: 31pts. The Falcons will probably move up from their current spot (8th) and finish 7th. The chances of overtaking Alaska are slim. They will probably host the 10th place finisher, which currently is Michigan, but could be NMU.
8. LSSU 32 points. Miami (2) @NMU (2) Ceiling: 44pts. Floor: 32pts. The Lakers still have a crack at 5th, depending on what the Bucks and Nanooks do. They will most likely fall short due to their schedule. They would still host a first round CCHA series (if they finish 8th) against the 9th place team, which could be Michigan or NMU.
9. NMU 26 points. @BG (2) LSSU (2) Ceiling: 38pts. Floor: 26pts. The Wildcats are scratching for a chance to host a first round CCHA series, but will have to face one of the hotter teams in the league (BG) and then return home for a series against UP rival, LSSU. A combination of events could see them climb as high as 6th (remote) or sink into last place. Destiny is in their hands as far as maximizing their point total against teams directly above them. Even a flip-flop into 8th will allow them to host a first round series, although their home playoff fortunes over the years have not been kind.
10. Michigan 25 points. @OSU (2) FSU (2) Ceiling: 37pts. Floor: 25pts. The Wolverines also could vault into a higher finish if they take all of their points and get some help. Unfortunately, Michigan’s schedule is probably the second most difficult of any of the bottom six teams. Both OSU and FSU are fighting for a higher seeding in the top five, especially since a second round series would have the 4th place team hosting the 5th place team-which happens to be both of these teams. Michigan fans will have to face the reality that the Wolverines will probably begin their miracle quest for a CCHA championship on the road for the entire conference playoffs. Most likely they will begin this journey at BGSU or LSSU. The Wolverines have not played at BG this season, splitting two home games with the Falcons. They also split a road series with the Lakers, their only road win to date. It hasn’t been ruled out yet that Michigan could finish last and potentially face a journey to Alaska for the first round CCHA playoffs.
11. MSU 22 points. @Alaska (2) WMU (2) Ceiling: 34pts. Floor: 22pts. The Spartans are not only taking the difficult journey to Alaska this weekend, but are staring at a repeat trip in two weeks- depending on what they do to finish the season. It doesn’t help that Alaska is fighting for a chance to still finish fifth-albeit remote- and skip the first round altogether. Then, State would have to return home and play a series against in-state rival WMU who may very well be battling for first in the CCHA. The odds of MSU finishing last are strong. They would then travel for every series they would play in their final CCHA playoffs.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister

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Topics: #GoBlue, Basketball, Big Ten Conference, CCHA, Coach Red Berenson, Fighting Irish, Football, Go Blue, Hockey, Notre Dame, Ohio State Buckeyes

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