"Northwestern fans can be both heartened and disheartened by the loss to Minnesota just like how nineteenth-century resurrectionists were heartened when they pried a heart from a freshly-buried corpse and then disheartened it when they sold it to a disreputable anatomist."
"The experience he has from last year is starting to show," Jazz forward Gordon Hayward said. "He’s making shots, and he made some gutsy plays against Portland. He’s got a confidence about him that he can get the job done."
Conference play has come, and Big Ten teams can safely retreat to their thunderdomes to clobber each other in peace, insulated from the braying mockery of the national media. There is still upheaval. Michigan has fallen apart. Dave Brandon and Brady Hoke have been confined to the Touliers Palace.
Record. 14-10-6, 9-9-6 CCHA. The Northerns, as Al Randall bizarrely calls them, are yet another basically .500 CCHA team. Even at this late juncture six of the eleven teams are within a game of .500. Northern has the worst goal differential of any of them at –5, FWIW.
NMU has been successful out of conference, going 5-1 against WCHA opponents St. Cloud State, Wisconsin, and Michigan Tech. That has seen them through to the good side of the tournament bubble. Yeah, the bubble: even though Northern is currently tied for ninth in the PWR the margins down there are incredibly slim and a Michigan sweep this weekend could bonk them out of the tourney entirely, if temporarily.
Previous meetings. Remember this?
Yeah… that. Shawn Hunwick got booted from the Friday night game for that. You can see why he was pissed:
This started the year-long Gongshow campaign in Hunwick's crease and as a result Michigan got only a tie out of the weekend, losing 5-3 in the punch game and eking out a 3-3 tie Saturday. On Friday Michigan fell behind 3-1; after Hyman and Travis Lynch tied it up Janecyk let in a soft one to let the game slip away. Shots were 32-27 Northern. Michigan outshot Northern 28-26 the next night.
Topping my list would be big 6-foot-4 senior forward Justin Florek. He was a beast last time around against the Wolverines, who struggled to defend him in front of the net, especially on the power play. Florek has 15 goals and 13 assists in 30 games. Eight of his goals have come with the man advantage. He only had one goal against Michigan earlier this season, but he was responsible for a pair of redirects in front of the net on the power play led to rebound goals. I expect to see U-M defenseman Jon Merrill matched up with his line. That’ll definitely be the match up to watch on the power play.
Tyler Gron had 14-19-33 as well. Matt Thurber appears to be the other member of that line with an 8-15-23 line; past that there's an NMU version of Treias in sophomore Stephan Vigier (11-9-20) and a couple guys with seven goals before the dropoff into grinder territory.
Defense? I'm splitting defense and goalie because they are different things and putting a question mark after defense because let's be honest: it is impossible to scout college hockey opponents since they're never on television and honestly I don't know if I could figure anything meaningful out from a game or two anyway. Defensemen are especially vulnerable to misrepresentation.
So. Junior Kyle Follmer is the only NMU defenseman to make an impact offensively with 3-19-22. As a team, NMU is 21st in goals allowed per game but the guy in net has a huge impact on that, as we'll see…
Goalie. You may have noticed Jared Coreau's name pop up when this blog discusses how statistically impressive Shawn Hunwick is. That's generally to dismiss his candidacy for big-time awards because he's platooning, but a .935 save percentage is impressive even so. Paul notes that Coreau seems to have asserted himself as the man after starting the last three games. With senior Reid Ellington sporting a .905 and giving up almost an additional goal per game it's not hard to see why. The Wildcats are in crunch time and it's time to ride the hot guy.
This is how big a difference there has been between the two goalies: extrapolate Coreau's 2.03 GAA to a team GAA and NMU would be second nationally in goals allowed. Ellington's 2.92 would be 37th. As always, NCAA goalie sample sizes are extremely small, but they're all we've got.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
PP For / G
PP Ag / G
The above table hasn't been much help of late. Gongshow is gonna gongshow and Red has now uncharacteristically complained about the officiating for two straight weeks. But, yeah, Northern takes a ton of penalties and doesn't draw many.
When on special teams, the NMU power play is decent, converting at just under 20% and fielding only one shorthanded goal. Michigan is still languishing just over 15%. Northern is 7th nationally on the kill; while NMU can expect to be shorthanded more often than M they perform better on special teams; this can be considered a wash.
Michigan vs Those Guys
Don't have Hunwick freak out and nail some guy but good. This is self explanatory, but it would be nice if a Gongshow ref actually called contact on Hunwick.
Keep your cool in general. This series was ugly four months ago. The Hunwick thing came paired with a couple of fighting DQs and a Northern guy got a contact-to-the-head DQ Saturday night. Pair that with Michigan's Miami dustup and increasing frustration with Gongshow refereeing you can see the outlines of an ugly, penalty-filled series short on 5-on-5 play.
This would be a bad thing. Not only does NMU play better on special teams than Michigan does but they give up a ton of shots relative to the opponent (they're –202 in CCHA play). The bulk of that disparity is 5x5—1.1 power plays per game does not make that big of a difference. If Michigan can play some of the remarkably penalty-free games they've turned in thus far they'll be in good shape.
Third line: make something pay off. The Sparks-Moffatt-Hyman line seems like it should be putting some pucks in the net but hasn't in a long, long time. AJ Treais can't keep his smoking hot shooting up forever. Unless Travis Lynch is going to start scoring against teams not named Michigan State, at some point Michigan is going to need these guys to step up.
First line: get your mojo back. Sans Brown the top line got smoked on Friday vs State and they didn't score on Saturday, which was the seemingly first time since its invention that it had not. As a huge driver of Michigan's success in the post-swoon era it will be reassuring if they get back on track.
The Big Picture
The CCHA title is likely gone. If Ferris biffs their layup against BGSU this weekend the door cracks open. That's not likely. That out of the way, Michigan can certainly aim for second and will strive to finish in the top four to get the bye and second-round home series. A split would likely assure the latter, again assuming Michigan doesn't totally blow their BGSU layup.
As far as the Pairwise goes, it's like I've been saying for a long time: Michigan can tread water with a split but to make headway they will have to do better than that. Splitting hurts slightly and will see them continue to hang out in the 2-seed band they currently occupy. Sweeping likely takes them past a team or two—they would definitely pass Ferris, for one, by becoming the #1 team in RPI. Probably, anyway. It's hard to predict exactly what will happen.