Posted at 6:00am -- 9/29/2011 GBMWolverine: Michigan Hockey -- Returns -- F..."/> Posted at 6:00am -- 9/29/2011 GBMWolverine: Michigan Hockey -- Returns -- F..."/>

GBMWolverine: Michigan Hockey — Returns — Future NCAA Landscape Has Major Changes — Part II


Posted at 6:00am — 9/29/2011

GBMWolverine: Michigan Hockey — Returns — Future NCAA Landscape Has Major Changes — Part II

(This is part II of a two part look at the upcoming U-M hockey team and the changes that have taken place since last Spring.)

The Wolverines will open the season on October 1st with an exhibition game against The University of Ontario Institute of Technology. They follow that up with an exhibition against the under 18 USNDT on Monday 10/3. The season officially begins on Tuesday 10/4 at Yost against Niagara.

The remainder of the schedule can be viewed at:
MGoBlue — Hockey page

A quick peek at the schedule shows that the Wolverines will play a rather light non-conference schedule this season, with the first three games at home against Atlantic conference foes Niagara and Bentley. The ECAC visits Yost next with St. Lawrence in for a Thursday night tilt. Michigan will not meet another non-conference foe until the Thanksgiving weekend when Hockey East’s up and coming Northeastern team comes to Yost on Friday, 11/25 and a strong Union squad from the ECAC visits on Sunday 11/27. Union is coming off of a NCAA berth and battled Yale last season for conference supremacy. These games replace the now defunct College Hockey Showcase with Minnesota and Wisconsin. Michigan finishes the non-conference portion of their schedule against Hockey East’s Boston College at the GLI and then will either face Mel Pearson’s MTU team or Tom Anastos’ MSU Spartans.

The conference season is highlighted by four meetings with hated rival Ohio State, with one of those games being held outdoors in Cleveland, dubbed “The Frozen Diamond Faceoff”. The game will be played at the Cleveland Indians’ Progressive Field on Sunday, January 15th, 2012. The Wolverines will also face CCHA power Miami, Ohio four times, NMU four times and MSU four times as part of their cluster arrangement. Michigan will travel to Notre Dame, Alaska and BGSU for two game sets. Ferris State, WMU and LSSU come into Yost for two games each.

Overall, the schedule features thirteen home games and seven road games in the first part of the season and wraps up the second half with six home dates, four neutral site games and six away tilts for a thirty six game schedule. The Wolverines will play a total of ten games against NCAA tournament opponents from last season and will not play any WCHA teams outside of a possible match up with Michigan Tech. The schedule is not easy, but doesn’t become difficult until the Wolverines face their first real test on 11/4-5 against WMU.

What To Expect:

The Wolverines lost an extreme amount of talent and experience last Spring. Yes, they do return a core group of experienced players, yet many of them must take a giant leap in production to make up for the offense, defense, special teams and face-off capabilities that graduated. The freshmen, especially Hyman, will have to contribute early. My first blush view is to expect Michigan to play more of a grinding defensive style while picking their spots to push the high pace tempo that a Berenson team is traditionally known for. I look for many close games against teams that Michigan would usually skate away from, and drop games against the better teams on the schedule. Still, 18-20 wins is anticipated while competing for a CCHA home ice first round playoff position. Anything better than this, especially with the talent that Miami, Notre Dame and WMU is returning, will be icing on the cake. Big picture- Michigan is going to struggle to gain an at-large NCAA tournament bid this season. The schedule is not potent enough where signature wins will increase their PWR and RPI enough which might make them a bubble team. If they take care of business against lesser teams in the conference and split their high profile games, they should secure both of these goals. A conference regular season and/or playoff title, though, is going to take a tremendous contribution up and down the lineup. Not impossible, but highly improbable.

Overall, the CCHA race, according to the media, has Miami at not only the top spot in the conference, but in the nation as well. Notre Dame is ranked third in the country and is my choice for the conference title. WMU is ranked 8th in the pre-season poll while Michigan follows at 9th. Michigan will play eight games against teams ranked in the pre-season top ten this season.

On the national level, the WCHA will still hold the esteem of the college hockey world as the most competitive and talented league in the country. Three teams (CC, North Dakota and Denver) are in the top ten pre-season rankings (the CCHA actually has four) but boasts the defending National Champion and other strong teams. BC, BU and Yale round out the top ten schools in the preseason rankings.

Changes Everywhere:

Off season changes not only affected the CCHA, but NCAA hockey in general. Michigan State’s head coach Rick Comley retired and former CCHA commissioner Tom Anastos- a MSU graduate- assumed the duties. In Kalamazoo, first year head coach Jeff Blashill left his position to join the Detroit Red Wings staff. Former NHL coach Andy Murray was hired to take over the Broncos. These are significant changes for two programs going in opposite directions. It will be interesting to see how both teams are affected by the changes.

On the national scale, The Big Ten Conference announced that Penn State will now field a division I hockey team opening the door for the forming of the Big Ten Hockey Conference which will begin play in 2013-14. Michigan, OSU, MSU, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Penn State will move from their respective conferences to their new league in two seasons. Soon after, many of the WCHA higher profile teams decided to follow the money trail also and banded together to form the National Collegiate Hockey Conference which will begin play in the same timeframe. North Dakota, Denver, UNO, CC, Minnesota Duluth and SCSU from the WCHA will move to this league while Miami, Ohio and WMU will move from the CCHA. The dominos have not all fallen yet, though- as the remnants of the CCHA and WCHA are working together to revamp a new WCHA conference. As of this time the conference will roll in NMU, Ferris State, LSSU and Alaska from the CCHA and keep holdovers Bemidji State, Alaska-Anchorage, Minnesota State and Michigan Tech. Bowling Green has been given an October 1st deadline to submit their intentions and Notre Dame is being Notre Dame: reviewing their best options for entrance into either the NCHC or one of the east coast conferences to better align their overall athletic interests. My guess is they’ll remain an independent and join homeless Alabama-Huntsville in that status.

The silver lining to the movement may be an opportunity for other fledgling programs to jump to Division I status and expand college hockey’s footprint. The downside is, hockey is still an expensive regional sport that doesn’t generate the same TV revenue that basketball and football does- and makes for a difficult sell for universities to subsidize.

In the meantime, the war with the Canadian Major Junior Leagues have heated up with more rhetoric being thrown at each other about the benefits of US college hockey versus the CHL. The real loser has been US hockey which has seen more of the high end talent remain in Canada but has now also seen a good deal of foreign and US talent choosing to play in the CHL. Michigan has lost, for instance, two top end American goaltenders in the past two recruiting classes to last minute decisions to jump to the CHL. Kids are now using the college route as a means for leveraging more signing bonuses, trading rights and other perks from CHL teams. This trend will continue until the NHL, college hockey, USA hockey and the CHL can come to some common ground.

Buckle up folks, the changes will keep coming. But, for now, let’s look forward to another addition of Michigan Hockey with Red Berenson beginning his 28th season behind the bench.

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Written by GBMWolverine Staff — YostMeister

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