Puck Preview: North Dakota, Frozen Four
PLAYOFF TIME IS HOCKEY BEAR TIME
|WHAT||Thursday: Michigan vs North Dakota
Saturday: Michigan vs Notre Dame, UMD, or grudging acceptance
|WHERE||XCel Center, St. Paul, Minnesota|
|WHEN||Thu: 8:30 PM.
Sat: hypothetically 9 PM
Record. 32-8-3, 21-6-1 WCHA. Yeeeeaaaargh. NoDak's dominating run through the WCHA ended in regular season and playoff championships and the underlying numbers are almost more impressive. The Sioux had a +50(!) goal differential in 28 conference games and were +86(!) overall.
North Dakota hasn't lost since January 28th and hasn't even tied since February 18th. In their last 15 games they are 14-0-1 and most of those games have been hammerings. A large chunk of that is due to playing Michigan Tech four times (total goals: 28-4) in a weak section of their schedule, but like holy balls. Two weeks ago they were the sole one seed to come out of the regionals and they did it without drama, annihilating RPI 6-0 and Denver 6-1.
They are an easy favorite to win the title, but Michigan has weighted plinko on their side this time.
Previous meetings. None. How about…
Common opponents. Chart? Chart.
|Nebraska-Omaha||6-5, 4-2||0-1, 4-8||6-1, 3-2||2-4|
|Notre Dame||6-3||2-2||5-3, 4-2||1-3|
|Colorado College||6-0, 4-3||2-4||6-5, 2-1|
That's less alarming than it could have been. UND is 9-4-1 with a +8 GD. Michigan is 8-3-1 with a +9 GD. Schedule strength is crose enough. These are all good opponents (and Minnesota), suggesting that maybe when it comes to the top of the schedule the teams perform similarly. Too bad that suggestion gets way less powerful when you throw in games versus teams like Miami and Denver in.
Matt Frattin is so tired of having to do this every game
Dangermen. Like UNO, North Dakota has three solid lines of scorers. Like Colorado College, the top line is lethal. This is not a very good combination if you are going up against them. Hobey lock Matt Frattin leads the nation in goals with 36 and added 24 assists. Who's up for queefcore-scored highlights? You are:
Meanwhile, Jason Gregoire missed around a dozen games and still checks in with 25-18-43. Corban Knight, Evan Trupp, Danny Kristo and Brad Malone are all essentially PPG scorers, and then there's Brett Hextall (yes that Hextall) and his 13-16-29. If you ordered the rosters on a PPG basis you'd run through two full lines of Sioux before reaching the second Wolverine*.
These guys come in all shapes and sizes. Malone is a prototypical power forward with 108 penalty minutes who does most of his work in and around the crease; Trupp is one of those little buggers listed at 5'9". Mostly they're big, though. Rare is the North Dakota player under six foot and most are heavy for hockey players. They score lots, too.
*[This is a tiny bit pessimistic since Gregoire and Kristo both missed a big chunk of the season, allowing some of the other guys more time in high leverage situations (read: power play) to put up points. But not very.]
Defense and goalie and whatnot. After a couple of opponents whose goalies were less statistically impressive than Shawn Hunwick they run up against one for whom that is emphatically not the case. Sophomore Aaron Dell is in the top ten in save percentage with a .924. Hunwick's .922 is hot on his heels, FWIW, but it was nice going up against a couple of tourney teams and thinking "it's more likely their guy implodes than ours."
As for the defense, they are Chay Genoway, Jake Marto and huge. Geonway is basically Chad Langlais surrounded by snipers, a 5'9"—four FAKES out of five, there—defenseman able with the puck. He's got 31 assists on the season, good for eighth nationally. Marto is their version of Merrill. He's around 6'0", has 8-11-19 (five of those even strength), and took just three minor penalties the whole year. The other four guys are all at least 6'2" with freshman Derek Forbort topping out a 6'5". They're not offensive threats, but they don't have to be.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||5.2||4.2|
|PP Ag / G||4.7||4.4|
Despite a well-deserved rep for being dicks, North Dakota doesn't rack up penalty minutes quite like Red's old teams that had so much talent they didn't have to care. They do take more than their share of minors but kill 86% of them—fifth—and have eleven shorties. Since they've only given up 28 PPGs… yeah, they do not care about going to the box.
That talent allows them to draw a ton of penalties—they are second nationally in opportunities behind only Colorado College. Their power play is very, very good, too. It is just ahead of CC's at 23.3%, so if you thought watching the Schwartzes ping-pong the puck around was terrifying you're in for more of the same when Michigan is shorthanded.
Michigan remains mediocre in both phases but the penalty kill has dragged itself up from the mid-30s to 22nd in recent weeks.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
No pressure, and by no pressure we mean turn this coal into a diamond or we kill your dog
Burlon readiness check: harsh. Michigan's main advantage relative to 90% of college hockey is the ability to throw out any defense pairing against a top line and have confidence they will not get bombed. That was not the case last weekend when Kevin Clare was forced into the lineup by Brandon Burlon's allergic reaction; in the two weeks since Burlon has regained most of the weight he dramatically lost* and has been practicing on the regular. Given how leery Red was of putting Clare out even against CC's mediocre-at-best second and third lines, there's no chance he doesn't go with Burlon even if he's not saying so publicly.
So… how are you feeling, Brandon? Strong and good? Yes? Ready to live up to Red's declaration it's like "nothing ever happened"? We ask because there's no shallow end here. If anyone's going to be sheltered it will be Lee Moffie and even he is going to have a hard time escaping some very dangerous players. Burlon is going to have to do heavy lifting right away. If he's trying to check Malone in the crease it might not go so well.
*[80% of that was water but whateva.]
Enjoy your front-row seats, fourth line. I think we might see Moffatt on the power play some and Michigan will throw them out there every once in a while, but the fourth line is going to be vapor.
Scooter! Vaughn's moment of brilliance ended up being decisive and it will take something like it to take what looks like a loss and turn it into a win. Maybe from Scooter, maybe from someone else, but scrappy gritty Novakgoals aren't going to get it done against North Dakota. There might be some, but without someone stepping up and saying "Hobey this, Frattin" the prognosis is grim. Another breakaway that ends without even the threat of a goal would not be so good.
Of course, Michigan could just let Moffie shoot from the point at every opportunity and watch it pinball around, catch the post, and deflect in. That works too.
Carl/Rust. Michigan's other big advantage is they can ice a truly shut-down checking line and back that up with Carl Hagelin. I think they can keep it relatively even when those guys are out there—the problem is going to be the third line—and that should keep it within the range where bouncing pucks matter. Shut North Dakota down as long as possible, put something past Dell, and watch the pressure ratchet up until it shatters glass.
STAY OUT OF THE BOX. Stay out of the box. No box. Srs.
Steal it. Hunwick has done it before this year and while my past self is inventing a time machine just so he can show up right after I type this to slap some sense into me, most win scenarios involve Hunwick setting up halfway to the blue line and stopping every first shot and then doing some crazy stuff you can't even believe is happening.
Believe in the plinko. The NCAA tournament is stupid and unfair and a disaster and this year that's the way we like it.
Pray like hell. Seriously, yo.
The Big Picture
Win or die.
“[The Fighting Sioux] roll three pretty strong lines, so I think their depth is their biggest strength,” said Blais, who guided North Dakota to two national championships during his 10-year tenure from 1994 to 2004. “But they might be more talented [than Michigan] because of players like Frattin and Genoway that can make a difference in a game.”
Everything you could want from the North Dakota perspective. Comparison:
- Profile of Red Berenson in the News: 1000 words.
- Profile of Brendan Morrison in the Daily: 2400 words. No pictures by "Danger Nesbitt" this time but some archived stuff from the Daily in a slide show.
They're both good pieces but since the length and care taken in the Daily article is no exception—this happens like all the time—it's a good example of why it seems like the best sports section covering Michigan, period. The students are all trying to get clips that will get them jobs that will probably never let them write anything as good as the thing they did when they were writing to impress potential employers, because who has the money for that? Also the Daily kids obviously care. That's not something you can say about everyone. Or even most people. Also also, the Daily pieces seem specifically written for the web what with their multimedia aspects and newshole-crippling length.
Michigan Hockey Net digs up good old times against the Sioux:
7) They have the #2 offense and the #3 defense in the country. That ranks them second in scoring margin (+2.00 goals per game) behind only Yale, which doesn't really count since we all know the ECAC sucks.