Puck Preview: Western Michigan
|WHAT||WMU @ Michigan|
|WHERE||Yost Ice Arena
Ann Arbor, MI
|WHEN||7:35 PM Fri/Sat|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||Friday: Comcast Local
(Friday replay: noon
Sat on NHL Network)
hey, baby, what do you say we go back to my place and become not terrible at hockey?
Record. 15-7-10, 9-6-9 CCHA. The Broncos fired Jim Culhane in the offseason and, like Notre Dame after firing Dave Poulin, immediately got a lot better after canning their long-term incompetent. After years and years of hanging out in the basement with Bowling Green with one of the nation's worst goals against average, the tie-happy Broncos are in a tier by themselves after conference leaders Michigan, Notre Dame, and Miami. They're the only team other than those three to have a positive goal differential in conference(+9). They're fourth in conference, three points clear of Ferris and six clear of the massive pack of basically .500 teams.
Of course, that might have something to do with the Broncos insanely back-loaded schedule: their last three weekends are against Michigan, Miami, and Notre Dame with five of six on the road. Last weekend was the Miami series, in which Western got a tie and a loss.
Previous meetings. No meetings this year. If you're looking for a gauge of how they've done against Michigan-esque competition, WMU swept ECAC power Union, split an earlier home and home with Notre Dame, and is 0-2-2 against Miami. They are dangerous.
Dangermen. There isn't a ton of danger on the roster, but senior center Max Campbell has 13-12-25 against just four penalties and freshman Chase Balisy has 11-16-27 against just four. After those guys it's an array of players with seven or fewer goals.
Unlike Michigan's last few opponents, Western does have a threat from the blueline in sophomore D Matt Tennyson. Tennyson has 7-9-16 and will be someone to look out for on the power play, where he's scored six of his goals. That leads the team.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. The fruits of firing Jim Culhane in one handy table, this detailing the career of starting goaltender Jerry Kuhn:
Kuhn is a 24-year old who has scuffled along doing not much over the course of his career as Riley Gill's backup.Gill was talented, but by the end of the year he'd been covered in enough rubber to [ANALOGY REDACTED] as WMU slid towards an eight-win season. This year Kuhn started on the bench behind Nick Pisellini, a Quinnipiac transfer, until he struggled and got injured, allowing Kuhn to Hunwick his way into the starting lineup.
So here's the thing about WMU: Pisinelli has a horrible .899 save percentage. Gill had a very good .923. Pisinelli's GAA is a half-goal better than Gill's was last year. Kuhn's 2.09 is on pace to set an all-time record for WMU as the Broncos—of all teams!—have cracked the top ten in scoring defense despite getting half of their goaltending from last year's version of Bryan Hogan. Jeff Blashill should be a slam-dunk CCHA coach of the year*.
Also you should regard the Bronco defense corps with respect no matter how alien this is. Their best guy is sophomore Luke Witkowski, a Lightning draftee (sixth round) who leads the team in +/- with +12 and penalty minutes with 46 (all minors). He's a big thumping stay-at-home sort who keeps a live bass in his room and has an outstanding hockey mullet. Watch to see if WMU tries to match him up with anyone in particular.
*[Culhane's best-ever CCHA finish in 11 years: fifth. Winning seasons: three. Last year: 8-20-8, 4-17-4 CCHA]
Special teams. This is another Blashill miracle:
|PP For / G||4.7||4.3|
|PP Ag / G||4.2||4.5|
Western never has an advantage in power plays. Unfortunately for the Broncos they're not doing much with that advantage. They've got the 42nd-ranked power play—actually worse than Michigan's—and their penalty kill is slightly below average. The two teams are tied at 81.2 percent. This looks like a push, with Michigan's slightly less depressing power play cancelling out Western's probability of getting more PP time.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Prepare for more of the same. This looks like another grind it out weekend where the newly assembled checking-plus-Scooter-domination line matches up against the team's top threats and hopefully allows the two scoring lines to outpace Western's second and third lines. Earlier in the year Balisy and Campbell weren't on the same line, but I can't find anything recent and assume that they're on the same one now. If not, the Hagelin line will probably match up with WMU's secondary scoring line.
Outscore with Moffatt/Wohlberg/Treais. They've been playing pretty well and they'll be up against bottom-six guys from Western. Michigan's main advantage is this line on the ice five-on-five.
DEFLECTIONS TO GLORY. What the bold said.
The Big Picture
The top of the CCHA is mired in a three-way tie for ninth in the Pairwise that Notre Dame wins on tiebreakers. Michigan can split their final four and enter the CCHA playoffs still in the at-large zone but it'll be scary if they do so. Winning three will at least see them tread water, and they'll enter the CCHA tourney a solid two seed if they get all four.
In other games, you should root hard for Ohio State and Lake Superior, both of whom are just below the new, stupid TUC cliff. Problem: they play each other this weekend. Lake Superior follows that up with Miami. OSU gets Ferris State. Since getting Lake State over the hump seems impossible, hold your nose and root for the Buckeyes. Getting that 3-1 record back in Michigan's TUC calculations would be big. Also root against MSU this weekend as they take on Alaska—Michigan does not want the Spartans sweeping their final four and entering the CCHA tourney with a shot at a .500 RPI. MSU closes with awful BGSU and will get to the magic number by winning their final four games.
The "usual root against anyone in Michigan's proximity" also applies: UNH, ND, UNO, UMD, Wisconsin, etc.