||Michigan @ NMU
||Berry Events Center
||7:35 PM Fri/Sat
||College hockey lines, junkie?
||Online streaming only ($7)
Record. 14-15-5, 12-11-3 CCHA. Northern Michigan is miraculously fifth in the league despite having a –20 goal differential. They're +0 (-0?) in their nonconference schedule. Math thus requires a bunch of humiliating blowouts and indeed Northern's schedule features a 9-1 loss to Miami, an 8-1 loss to Notre Dame, a 6-1 loss to Western Michigan, and several other large margins of defeat coupled with narrow victories.
In six games against the league's upper tier (Miami and Notre Dame) the Wildcats are 1-5. There were the two massive blowouts plus a 4-0 loss to Miami, 5-2 and 3-1 losses to Notre Dame, and a single 3-2 win against the Irish in which Northern was outshot 53-15(!).
The Wildcats come in hot… sort of. The good: they've gone 3-0-1 in their last four and those were all on the road. The bad: they were against the worst two teams in the league and they come out of their series against awful BGSU with a tie and a 3-2 win. They'd lost their last four before that.
FWIW, it's spring break this weekend so the crowd will be relatively muted.
Dangermen. According to NMU head coach Kyle Walt via some guy on USCHO, NMU leading scorer Tyler Gron will miss his second consecutive weekend. That hurts, as he was on a PPG pace and the next guy is well back of that. In his absence Northern's main threats are juniors Justin Florek (12-14-26) and Andrew Cherniwchan (7-13-20) and seniors Phil Fox (11-7-18) and Greger Hanson (5-15-20).
This is not exactly going up against Miami here. NMU is 46th in scoring even and is missing their top guy. Chances are goals will come off of Michigan mistakes, of which there will be a few.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Junior Reid Ellingson and freshman Jared Coreau have split time. Ellingson gets about two-thirds of it and has a significantly better GAA and save percentage, so chances are Michigan sees him both nights unless Northern gets bombed Friday.
Northern's defense corps is young. They've got two seniors taking a regular shift and then it's sophomores and freshmen. NMU is better defensively than they are offensively but they're still giving up exactly three goals per game.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G
|PP Ag / G
That's a huge gap for NMU, one that helps explain that goal differential. NMU gets penalties from all over but they're concentrated in the defense: only senior Andrew Fernandez has fewer than 35 PIMs and freshman CJ Ludwig has 78. It may even be worse than the PP numbers suggest since by the looks of it Northern is taking a lot of penalties longer than two minutes.
As to what happens when the specialty units get on the ice, NMU's power play is pretty effective at 18.8 percent (21st), but their penalty kill is very bad: they're 50th of 58th at 78.7 percent. They take a ton of penalties and don't kill them well, which is a recipe for getting bombed by Miami and their #5 PP.
Meanwhile, Michigan is mediocre at both, slightly worse than NMU on the on the power play but better killing penalties and less likely to end up with a deficit in power plays.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Don't give up two pure breakaways against a 5'7" goalie. Just sayin'. More to the point: like Michigan's series against Alaska earlier in the year it looks like this opponent isn't going to generate much you don't give them. No hockey team can go a game without making mistakes that lead to scoring issues but Michigan's had more issues than they're comfortable with lately; reducing those is kind of important.
Get a bounce-back from Hunwick. A rough outing here and there happens to the best; a second consecutive would be an ominous sign as Michigan hits the playoffs.
Demote everyone to fourth-line center. Then they'll be Kevin Lynch and imbued with super powers.
Let the Sparks fly. Hurr durr hurr! But seriously folks, Sparks has verve. He has panache. He has extra savior faire. I know defense and all that but frankly before Lynch blew up that fourth line has been a liability that gets stuck in its zone more often than not.
BONUS: "The Northerns." If you're listening to this on the radio be sure to listen for one of the most bizarre verbal ticks you'll ever hear: PBP guy Al Randall will call Michigan's opponent this weekend "The Northerns." It never fails to amuse and slightly alarm.
The Big Picture
The CCHA is simple. Michigan wins the league if they get one more point than Notre Dame does this weekend. They have a home and home with a reeling Western Michigan team. ND will get the Broncos' best shot: despite their four-game losing streak WMU is still hanging on to the last at-large bid*.
As far as the Pairwise, it is a fickle beast and Michigan will probably lose ground no matter what this weekend. You want the following results:
- Denver to lose to Nebraska-Omaha
- Nebraska-Omaha to lose to Denver
- Minnesota-Duluth to lose to CC
- Boston College to lose to UMass
- Ferris State to beat OSU
- OSU to beat Ferris State
Ferris and OSU skated to 2-2 tie yesterday so you probably want OSU to win the remaining game.
Obviously some of those are direct contradictions; even with a sweep there are several sets of results that will see Michigan give back the ground it somewhat illicitly staked thanks to OSU getting into the TUC category. Looking at the comparisons, it's going to be hard for Michigan to stay in front of UNO if they sweep, so you probably want splits in both the DU/UNO and OSU/Ferris series and now we're proscribing very specific sets of results and you can see why Michigan's probably locked into about where they are now even if they end the year on a ten-game win streak.
Losing is bad for many reasons, one of which is that losing to NMU will give them a good shot at being a TUC at the end of the year with a record Michigan would rather not have featured, but it also doesn't matter a whole lot because Michigan's almost certainly going to be a two or three. What does matter is the conference race—the winner gets to avoid Miami in the league semifinal.
*[assuming that no one outside the top 16 snags an autobid, which is a dodgy assumption.]
Michigan Hockey Net will be at the games and needs some liveblog help; Yost Built previews the weekend. MHN also talked to Tyler Motte's coach:
On Motte’s character: “He was voted captain by the boys and basically that’s a result of not only his hard work on the ice but off the ice. He’s just a pure leader. There’s not much bad I can talk about Tyler.”
Motte will try to make the NTDP team in March.