Michigan Hockey: Drought Hits Four after Badgers Sweep; Faces Improved MSU Next
What: #14/14 Michigan Wolverines (10-6-2) (2-2-0-0, 4th) Vs. Michigan State Spartans (8-10-3) (2-2-2-2, 3rd).
When: Thursday & Friday 1/23 & 1/24, 7:05 p.m. (Thurs) JLA-Detroit & 6:35 p.m. (Fri.) Munn Ice Arena, East Lansing.
TV/Radio: FSD (Thursday) BTN (Fri) & The Michigan Hockey IMG Radio Network (1050 a.m. Al Randall, Bill Trainor).
www.mgoblue.com for gametracker and streaming.
Wolverines Fighting Mid-Season Slump- loses to Badgers 5-2 and 3-1:
The Michigan hockey team cannot use the excuse that they are a “young team” anymore. Not at the halfway point of the season, and not after playing the rugged schedule that they negotiated so well prior to the GLI. But, a couple unsettling trends have emerged that are reflective in their results: they have stopped playing solid team defense and are definitely not scoring goals.
Both were evident in their last action at Wisconsin, a little less than two weeks ago. The Wolverines roared out of the locker room and dominated the first ten minutes or so in the first meeting (Fri), but had nothing to show for it thanks to Wisconsin’s stellar netminding assisted by Michigan’s lack of finishing. The Badgers received a gratuitous break when a 20 foot wrister by Michael Mersch was muffed by Zach Nagelvoort and popped into the net for an early-period 1-0 lead. Grant Besse followed that with another gift goal as he circled the Wolverine net and threw a shot off of a defender in the crease and past the stunned Nagelvoort for a 2-0 lead at the break. After a scoreless second period, the Badgers struck again as Jefferson Dahl- who had a 1-3-4 night- also had a shot ping-pong off his skate outside the crease and past Nagelvoort for a 3-0 lead. Michigan finally gained some life from an Andrew Copp rebound goal and then closed the gap to 3-2 with minutes left on a Luke Moffatt PP snipe. Wisconsin pulled away, though on an empty net tally and a laser by Mersch to complete his hat trick after some sloppy defensive coverage. It was a banner offensive night for the Badgers as Dahl with four points, Mersch added an assist for a four point night and defenseman Kevin Shulze added two assists. Nagelvoort stopped 25 of 29 shots and Rumpel 27 of 29 shots.
The following night wasn’t any better although Michigan responded with a better overall defensive effort. The Badgers took the all important lead first, though, on a seeing eye point shot that gave the home team a 1-0 lead. Luke Moffatt knotted the score with his second PP goal of the series. Wisconsin regained the lead after Michigan got pinned in their own end and couldn’t change. After a series of terrific stops, a rebound snuck out into the right faceoff circle and was buried by Wisconsin’s Chase Drake. The lead held up and the game was sealed late in the third period on a Joe Labate breakaway rush. The end of the game featured some sour words between the teams and several penalties were issued after a near brawl was broken up after the Badgers got chippy. Nagelvoort turned aside 34 shots in a fine effort, but was outdone by Wisconsin’s Rumpel who stopped 28 of 29 shots. The two teams will renew acquaintances on January 31st and February 1st at Yost Ice Arena.
Here comes Spartan Week. The annual JLA game is on deck (a Michigan home game on neutral ice) followed by another engagement in East Lansing. The Spartans are playing with much more confidence and already own a GLI consolation game victory over the Wolverines. MSU is 2-1-1-1 since the teams met, tying both Minnesota at home and OSU on the road and winning shootouts. They dropped the other games of those series, and then returned home to sweep Penn State last weekend.
The Spartan surge has been led by four seniors- Greg Wolfe (8-9-17), Defenseman Jake Chelios (2-13-15), Lee Reimer (4-10-14) and Dean Chelios (1-11-12). Freshman Mackenzie MacEachern (6-4-10) has been effective around the crease as has sophomore forward Michael Ferrantino (4-6-10). Three other freshmen follow with 9, 8 and 7 points respectively. Wolverine killer Matt Berry has been surging since returning from injury to post a 5-2-7 line. The key to the Spartan attack is actually their defense-particularly their goaltending. Sophomore Jake Hildebrand has the bulk of the starts and offers a 7-8-3 record with two shutouts (including Michigan and a 48 save performance vs. Penn State), a 2.20 GAA (20th) and a .929 save %. Back-up senior netminder Will Yanakeff is 1-2-0 with a 2.61 GAA and a .918 save %. The Spartans are sticky in their own end, blocking shots and have limited even the most potent offense (Minnesota) in the country to a handful of opportunities a few weeks ago.
The Spartans have pedestrian statistics, posting a 2.38 GPG offensive average (49th), a stout 2.33 GPG defensive average (12th). Their power play is poor (13.33%, 53rd) and their PK is slightly below average at 79.8% (40th). They are one of the best disciplined teams in the country, only averaging 9.00 PIM’s, 7th in the country. The Spartans focus on defense and do not allow many shots and even less rebounds.
In contrast, the Wolverines are trying desperately to find their defensive edge again. Worse yet, the offense have dried up to the point where the only solid contributors have been alternate captain Andrew Copp (10-6-16), freshman JT Compher (6-9-15) and senior PP specialist Luke Moffatt (7-7-14). Moffatt has scored all seven of his goals on the PP. The only blueliner that has been consistent is captain Mac Bennett (1-5-6). Even Bennett admits that he has been too loose with the puck in his own end which has cost the Wolverines dangerous opponent unearned chances. Fellow blueliners Brennan Serville, Nolan DeJong and Kevin Clare have been downright awful- to the point where junior Andrew Sinelli- a forward by trade- has been given more ice time and is regarded as Michigan’s anchor on the second pairing behind Bennett and Michael Downing. Mike Chiasson has mysteriously disappeared since he assisted on the GWG in the second OSU victory in Columbus and has only played in 7 games this season.
The offensive burden rests on Copp and company, but should have more production from junior Alex Guptill (6-7-13) who somehow has managed to keep his ice time while floating around and was foremost in the near brawl in Madison two weeks ago. Fellow junior Phil Di Giuseppe has had scoring chances generated from his great speed, but, like his other teammates, has had an issue finishing. The scoring is so scarce that the remainder of the roster sits in single digits in points.
Michigan enters the rivalry showdown averaging 2.78 GPG (29th) and gives up 2.39 GPG (T18th) after being in the top ten in the early season. The power play was top five also early on and helped secure tight non conference wins against formidable opponents has slumped back to a 21.43% conversion (15th). The PK has been a disappointment, yielding an 81.3% grading (T30th). Finally, the PIM’s are not bad- 10.94 MPG- 40th – but the timing in which the penalties have been taken has hurt Michigan.
Overall, this series will feature a team that is not only trying to put the pieces back together, but are seeking confidence. MSU on the other hand, is hungry to continue to build on their recent success and will not be an easy mark. At this point, a split may be optimistic, especially with the combined offensive struggles Michigan has with the style of play MSU has developed. Michigan’s biggest enemy according to Red Berenson has been the long stretches of inactivity that has plagued the schedule lately. It is tough to stay in a groove when there is so much time between games. Michigan will also return home in a week to end a six week, six game stretch away from Yost arena.
Michigan’s netminder Zach Nagelvoort (6-5-1, 2.06 GAA, .932 save %) is #15 in goals against average and #7 in the country in save %. Zach has had a rough patch since Michigan’s last good outing against Ferris State. Steve Racine (4-1-1, 2.81 GAA, .925 save %) may spell Nagelvoort depending on how practices has gone this week.
Michigan dropped to the #14 spot after the Wisconsin twin killing and maintained that spot this week. Minnesota held the #1 spot after downing Ohio State twice last weekend. Wisconsin moved up to 8th following their Michigan series.
Worse yet, Michigan is teetering in the pairwise rankings, dropping all the way down to the 15th spot- a 4th seed- that could be supplanted by other at large auto bids gained by teams that win their conference tournaments unexpectedly. Another poor weekend and the Wolverines will be on the outside looking in.
Lohan is targeting a return:
Freshman defender Kevin Lohan has not only returned to practice, but is now in a conditioning stint awaiting clearance from the doctors to full practice status. It may be optimistic, but the big defenseman may be cleared to play by the next home series against Wisconsin.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister
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