Michigan Hockey: Minnesota vs. Michigan — Preview
It’s NCAA Do Or Die Time This Weekend For Michigan Hockey
What: #13 Michigan Wolverines (17-11-4) (9-7-2-1, 3rd) Vs. #1 Minnesota Golden Gophers (24-4-6 (13-2-3, 1st)
When: Friday 3/14 6:30 p.m. & Saturday 3/15 7:00 p.m. Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, Mi.
TV/Radio: ESPN News (Friday), BTN (Saturday) & The Michigan Hockey IMG Radio Network (1050 a.m. Al Randall, Bill Trainor) www.mgoblue.com for gametracker and streaming.
There is no more room for error for the Michigan Hockey team. They have used up their grace during a very inconsistent second half that has seen them inexplicitly drop four games (two apiece) to the B1G Ten bottom feeders, Penn State and Michigan State. The latest- a 4-3 setback last Saturday night in East Lansing could have possibly been the punch that staggered the squad’s NCAA playoff chances.
Now, I don’t want to discredit either of the Nittany Lions or the Spartans’ programs, but the Wolverines have more talent and simply got outworked in those losses. The fact is, though, Michigan NEEDED to sweep series against both of those teams in the past couple of weeks and ended up splitting them with one of those losses coming at Yost arena. Last Friday the Wolverines absolutely caned MSU 7-1 at Yost in a game that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. The next night, after charging out to a 3-1 lead, Michigan mailed in the remaining forty minutes and lost, 4-3. It was a frustrating and devastating defeat that echoed last year’s historic campaign culminating in ending the NCAA 22 year playoff string.
A win could have produced momentum going into this weekend’s showdown with #1 Minnesota and a chance to still hold firm to an at-large position in the NCAA playoffs. Instead, the Wolverines limp into their home ice series sitting T13th in the PWR, virtually on the outside looking in. Minnesota could deliciously provide the knockout punches to their rivals, not only securing their first B1G Ten regular season title with two points, but could permanently damage any hope for a NCAA berth for
Michigan- setting up the same scenario as last season where the Maize and Blue had to win the CCHA tournament to extend their season. The prospects would be slim considering that Michigan, which will finish 3rd in the conference regardless of what Ohio State does this weekend against Penn State, will play PSU in the 1st round of the B1G Ten tourney next weekend in St.Paul, Minnesota. IF they advance, they will meet the second seeded Wisconsin Badgers (who still have an outside shot at unseating #1 Minnesota this weekend.) If Michigan is fortunate enough to win both games, they will play a 3rd game vs the winner of the 4/5 vs. Minnesota winner in the Final.
The implications are simple: Michigan must upset the Gophers this weekend to make next weekend matter for NCAA reasons. Otherwise, the Wolverines may be playing game to game in order to extend the season next weekend. Lose early in the tourney and the season will be done.
They are #1 in the country, barely outvoting the surging BC Eagles. They hold a 130-117-15 all time mark against Michigan, including a decisive sweep in Minneapolis earlier this season. Their four losses came against Wisconsin (2) Notre Dame and Minnesota-Duluth, which happened to be their sole home loss (outside of shootout losses) this season.
The Gophers are explosive offensively and are the 6th best offense in the country averaging 3.53 GPG. They roll four strong lines that feature six forwards with 20 or more points and two defensemen that fit the same category. Junior Kyle Rau paces the offense (10-22-32) followed by fellow juniors Sam Warning (12-19-31) and Travis Boyd (9-16-25). Senior Nate Condon (7-12-19) rounds out the upperclassmen that are leading the offense. A trio of freshmen, Taylor Cammarata (9-12-21), Justin Kloos (11-15-26) and Hudson Fasching (12-15-27) are some of the top freshmen point earners in the country.
Defensively, Minnesota does it on both ends of the ice, featuring the #1 defense in the country (1.88 GPG) supported by a blueline that has produced 22-60-82 this season. Sophomore Mike Reilly (8-20-28) is a one man wrecking crew on the power play and is joined by junior Ben Marshall (3-14-17.) Speaking of the power play, Minnesota is ranked 18th, converting at a 19.74% clip.
The real force behind the defense is sophomore goaltender Adam Wilcox (22-4-6, 1.91 GAA, .934 save %, three shutouts, 7th in the country). Wilcox is backed up by seldom used senior Michael Shibrowski (2-0-0, 0.83 GAA, .968 save %, one shutout.) Wilcox is one of the key factors behind the penalty kill which is a nominal 25th in the country at an 82.9% kill rate. The good news for the Gophers, though, is that they don’t take many penalties, anchoring near the top (54th) in PIM’s at 9.26 per game.
The Gophers are big, strong and skate extremely well. Although they sometimes are overaggressive offensively, their defense is mobile enough to recover, especially playing on their bigger home ice surface. They have proven, even in their losses/ties that they are dangerous enough to never be out of a game and no team can sleep on them over 60 minutes. They will try to put Michigan away on Friday in order to cruise into the B1G Ten tournament rested.
-Michigan defender and captain Mac Bennett was still out with an upper body injury and may be ready to join the lineup this weekend.
-The Wolverines offense is led by top freshman JT Compher (11-18-29), Andrew Copp (13-13-26), Alex Guptill (11-13-24), Phil DiGiuseppe (11-11-22), Luke Moffatt (11-11-22), Derek DeBlois (6-14-20) and Boo Nieves (3-17-20). Tyler Motte and Zach Hyman are tied at 15 points each. Michigan’s offense is 20th in the country averaging 3.06 GPG.
-Michigan’s defense is also 20th in the country at 2.56 GPG. Unlike Minnesota, the Wolverines blueline has only produced 8-42-50 this season if you include forward/defenseman Andrew Sinelli’s 4-1-5. Sinelli had a career night last Friday against MSU, netting a natural hat trick in the 7-1 rout.
-The Wolverines goaltending tandem of Zach Nagelvoort (10-7-3, 2.24 GAA, .927 save%, 19th in the country) and Steve Racine (7-4-1, 2.91 GAA, .912 save %) has been inconsistent in the second half of the season. Last weekend Racine got both starts and was solid Friday before faltering in the latter half of the game Saturday.
-Michigan’s special teams are 16th (PP) at 20% efficiency and T35th (PK) 81.3%. The penalty kill has improved from earlier this season, but is still giving up goals at key moments of the games. The Wolverines are 43rd in PIM’s taking 10.78 MPG, but melted down in the last meeting with the Gophers.
-Poll watch: Michigan sits at the #13 spot after taking three of six points from MSU. Minnesota stayed in the #1 spot with a win and a tie at OSU. The Badgers remained at #6 after sweeping PSU on the road in a tight series.
– Michigan will say goodbye to their graduating seniors on Saturday night. Good luck to Mac Bennett, Derek DeBlois, Luke Moffatt and Kevin Clare. The Maize and Blue are 6-0-1 in their last seven senior nights.
-The Wolverines last beat a #1 ranked team at Yost arena on March 28th, 1998 when they upset North Dakota in the Western Regional (prior to the expansion to 16 teams and four regional sites) and went on the win the national championship by defeating UNH and BC in Boston.
I want to take a moment to thank all of the Michigan fans for their support and kind words this season. It is a joy to cover the Wolverines hockey program. Your readership and comments are the motivation to continue to offer this writer’s take on the program.
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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister
Go Blue — Wear Maize!