YES DO MORE THINGS THAT MAKE PEOPLE STAND UP IN FRONT OF YOUUUUU
So you’ve turned your calendar to March and watched some snow melt (finally), and your mind has naturally turned to brackets and the anxiety that goes hand-in-hand with single elimination contests. If you’ve thought about single elimination games that involve ice and rubber spheres instead of hardwood and rubber spheres then we’re on the same page.
At 3pm on Thursday Michigan plays Penn State, the lowest seeded team in the Big Ten Tournament and the team that has given Michigan more problems than first-ranked (in the nation) Minnesota. If Michigan wins, there’s a 96% chance they make the NCAA Tournament. If they lose, that drops to 40-50%. Pretty straightforward and terrifying.
If this is the first hockey game you’ve watched or just the first one you’ve watched this season then this guide’s for you. Think of this as a time investment. If you read it and Michigan wins on Thursday then you’re all set for the NCAA Tournament! If you read it and they don’t win then you must be some sort of human jinx, please don’t watch the basketball team.
Who to watch on offense:
#17 JT Compher, C, FR/#18 Andrew Copp, C, SO
I couldn’t split these two up and put one in the category below because they jointly set the tempo for Michigan. Both are going to forecheck hard enough to create offense, though they can create off the cycle as well. Both of these guys have the mindset of a third-line center with the hands and hockey IQ of a first-liner.
And if those guys aren’t on the ice?
#27 Alex Guptill, LW, JR
Put the puck on his stick and he’s a potential NHLer. Take the puck away from him and, uh, results may vary. He was a healthy scratch once this year essentially because he was putting in zero effort on the defensive end, but he’s since rebounded. He’s not going to win any awards for “best defensive forward,” but he has an incredible ability to move with the puck in tight spaces and keep it away from defenders.
Who to watch on defense:
#37 Mac Bennett, D, SR
This isn’t supposed to be a slight to the other defensemen but actually yeah, it’s kind of a slight to the other defensemen; Bennett is the only one that doesn’t make me nervous when he’s on the ice. He’s a senior, but more important is that he’s made strides in terms of playing a simpler, more balanced game. He’s a calming influence on a very, very young d-corps who knows when to rush the puck and how not to turn it over in the defensive zone as much as the other defensemen.
And if he isn’t on the ice?
#22 Andrew Sinelli, D, JR
He used to be a forward but the transition may be the best thing that’s ever happened to him during his time at Michigan. Sinelli will need to continue to work on little things like gap control, but he’s got the skating ability to hang with most anyone. He’s been really impressive since switching positions mid-season.
What about that guy who lets people use composite materials to throw pieces of rubber at him?
#35 Zach Nagelvoort, G, FR
Since Compher came in with considerable hype I’d say Nagelvoort is the real surprise contributor this season. He wasn’t supposed to be playing this season, but an injury to starter Steve Racine pushed him into the lineup and he hasn’t relinquished that spot since. Nagelvoort likes to handle the puck near his net and has a very good glove hand. His positioning is very good and he stays square to shooters. Hard to ask for more than that from a freshman.
What about the team, the team, the team?
Coin flip. Averaging 3.12 goals/game is good enough for 20th in the nation, but which offense shows up is anyone’s guess. They can hang six on anyone in the nation or they can score one, and they’ve done both against great and terrible competition respectively.
Coin flip. They’re giving up 2.56 goals/game, which again places them 20th in the nation. Some nights they look unstoppable (see last Saturday’s game against Minnesota) and some nights they look beyond confused (see the entire Great Lakes Invitational).
Michigan has scored on 26 of their 129 opportunities (20.16%). This places them 17th in the nation, with the caveat being that every team ahead of them has had more power play chances. They’ve looked better in recent weeks as Luke Moffat has emerged as a legitimate special teams scoring threat. Eight of his 13 goals have come on the power play, so watch for #9 when Michigan has the man advantage.
While it’s not the worst in the nation, it’s the team’s weak spot when considering that they’re ranked somewhere around 20th in the nation in all other team scoring categories. Michigan has killed 105 of 129 penalties (81.4%), which ties them for 35th nationally with American International, which is a school that I did not know existed until I just wrote it down.
Tl;dr. What do I really need to know?
Michigan has to beat Penn State if they want to make the NCAA Tournament and start The Streak™ over. We don’t know which version of Michigan will show up; it will either be the team that can beat anyone in the nation or it will be the team that gifted Penn State two of its three B1G wins.