Michigan Hockey: Michigan at Ohio State — Preview
Wolverine Icers Playing Their Way Out Of A NCAA Appearance; Take On Bucks Sunday
#13 Michigan (15-10-4, 7-6-2-1, 3rd) vs. Ohio State (15-10-4. 5-6-4-3, 4th)
1:05 p.m. Sunday 3/2, Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Oh.
TV: FSD, also on the Michigan Radio Network 1050 a.m. WTKA (Al Randall, Bill Trainor)
Michigan’s hockey program is facing a crossroads of sorts as the inaugural B1G Ten season winds down.
The Wolverines have struggled since the December break and are precariously close to falling out of consideration for a NCAA at-large position. Frustrated fans have seen Michigan split last weekend with upstart Penn State, including a shocking Friday night 5-4 OT loss in which Michigan scored a goal with two minutes left to break a tie only to give up a game tying goal with four seconds left. The game winner was preceded by a bad turnover off of a promising rush into the Lion’s end. The Wolverines responded the following night with a crisp, clinical 5-2 win, limiting the Lion’s to less than 25 shots, a season low for PSU.
This past Friday night at Yost, Michigan came out extremely flat and managed a 2-2 tie with Ohio State only because of the heroics of Buckeye killer Alex Guptill who scored the second of his two goals with less than five minutes left. It was an underwhelming performance by a team that is showing little consistency and an ever growing turnover trend. To add even more pain, the Buckeyes secured the extra point in the shootout and pulled within two points of the Wolverines for third place.
The teams will meet again Sunday in what has to be a game with a general desperation theme. Michigan has gone a subpar 5-8-3 since the teams met in December (a Wolverine sweep) which also includes this past Friday’s tie. It broke a Michigan six game winning streak against the Buckeyes, who haven’t beaten the Wolverines since sweeping them at Yost two seasons ago. Michigan returned the favor in Columbus, then swept the season series last season. These are teams going in opposite directions, though, as the Buckeyes are 7-4-4 since the 5-4 loss to Michigan in Columbus on 12/2. OSU has clawed their way to three shootout wins along the way, collecting valuable B1G Ten points.
Currently the Wolverines are tied for 15th in the pairwise rankings that mimic the NCAA top 16 selections for the national tournament. It is a precarious spot since teams that are not in the top 16 could upset their way into the tournament by winning their conference tournament, bumping other teams “on the bubble”.
Ohio State is one of those teams on the outside looking in, currently T20th in the PWR. Ohio State has the 9th best offense in the country at 3.34 GPG, outdistancing Michigan’s struggling 25th best offense (2.90 GPG.) Both teams are yielding about the same average defensively, (Michigan 18th, 2.55 GPG / OSU T22nd, 2.62 GPG) and are pretty average with their penalty killing (Michigan 82.5%, 29th/Bucks 82%, 31st.) OSU’s power play, though, is 9th (22.05%) versus Michigan’s declining PP (17.86% 29th.) This wasn’t more evident than in Friday’s meeting, where Michigan was 0-6 on the PP vs. OSU’s 1-3 effort. Both teams average about the same in penalty minutes and sit 39th and 40th respectively out of the 59 D1 teams in PIM’s.
The Buckeye resurgence has been highlighted by the superb play of their two lead netminders (OSU has had a revolving door of goaltenders this season) both freshmen. Matt Tompkins (6-5-2, 2.59 GAA, .915 save %) was excellent at Yost, knocking away 35 shots in the tie. Christian Frey (6-2-2. 2.10 GAA, .934 save %) may get a look today, although it appears that Tompkins is the #1 choice.
OSU is led by a cadre of juniors: Ryan Dzingel (17-21-38), Max McCormick (11-15-26), Tanner Fritz (5-20-25 and Nick Oddo (7-17-24) are all gifted offensive forwards. Senior Alex Szczechura (8-13-21) scored Friday and well as freshman Nick Shilkey (10-10-20). The defense is manned by freshman Drew Brevig (2-11-13), junior Justin DaSilva (4-6-10) and senior captain Curtis Gedig (1-5-6).
Look for the Buckeyes to initiate the same aggressive forecheck to force turnovers against the tentative Michigan blueline and also look for their defense to come down low to force the play inside the Michigan zone. Michigan will try to counteract that by springing stretch passes behind the OSU defense. Both teams are extremely quick and will generate offense- with OSU’s finishing ability a little stronger these days. Michigan jumped to a 4-0 lead at the Schottenstein Center in December, only to see the Bucks come all the way back to force a 4-4 tie. Captain Mac Bennett, who is out injured in this series, scored the game winner with less than two minutes left.
The Wolverines appear to be pressing in all aspects, and will have to re-focus on their defensive game to take away any points in Columbus. Both Mac Bennett (injured versus Penn State) and Andrew Sinelli (injured Friday) will be absent, thinning the defense considerably.
Freshman JT Compher (11-17-28) leads the offense, but has been snakebit as of late. Junior alternate captain Andrew Copp (13-11-24) has also been quiet, placing more scoring pressure on junior Alex Guptill (11-10-21), junior Phil Di Giuseppe (8-9-17), senior Luke Moffatt (8-9-17) and senior Derek DeBlois (4-13-17). Guptill was sat in last Saturday’s win over PSU because of his effort the previous night. Freshman Tyler Motte (9-6-15) and Zach Hyman (5-9-14) have cooled down after impressive games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Minnesota in the past month. Motte is a healthy scratch on Sunday.
The goaltending is the real x-factor, as freshman Zach Nagelvoort (10-7-3, 2.24 GAA, .927 save %) has been inconsistent. Sophomore Steve Racine (5-3-1, 2.96 GAA, .914 save %) has had a couple spot starts, including last Saturday’s PSU win and a pair of losses in Minnesota. Nagelvoort turned aside 24 shots on Friday and appeared sharp but will not start on Sunday. Racine gets the nod.
Look for the Wolverines to try to protect their defense and take advantage of OSU’s aggressive, activating defense. Anything but a win will damage any hopes for the NCAA tourney. A loss will also surrender 3rd place to the Buckeyes.
Freshman forward Alex Kile shook off the effects of a vicious check by OSU’s Gedig on Friday. The check caught Kile high (and it appeared to include head contact) yet no call came from the officials. Alex Guptill scored the tying goal on the play to at least sooth some of the howling Michigan faithful. The play may be
reviewed by the B1G Ten this week and Gedig is expected to play Sunday.
Ohio State is unranked, as are MSU and PSU. Minnesota is #2 and should move up to #1 after Notre Dame’s upset win over BC on Saturday night. Wisconsin is idle and sits at #6 in the country. Michigan is at #13 and will probably remain there with a victory on Sunday.
Michigan will finish the season with a home and home series with MSU before entertaining Minnesota in what could be a make it or break it series as far as NCAA at large positioning for the Wolverines. It will be difficult to assume that any end of season slide can be remedied in the B1G ten tournament. At this point, Michigan would be seeded vs #6 Penn State in the first round. A win would then have them meet #2 Wisconsin and a victory would probably secure a meeting with #1 seed Minnesota in the final for a chance at securing a B1G Ten Conference tourney title and an auto bid to the NCAA tournament. The tournament is being played in the Gopher’s back yard in St. Paul, which is also hosting the NCAA West regional this year- a most likely #1 seed location for Minnesota.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister
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