|WHAT||Michigan vs Northern Michigan, CCHA Championship Game|
|WHERE||Joe Louis Arena, Detroit|
|WHEN||Championship @ 7:35 PM.|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
The math is complicated—Michigan actually dropped in the pairwise after beating Miami—but the stakes are simple and immense: win and make the NCAA tournament as the worst matchup ever for some poor one seed. Lose and miss the tournament for the first time in twenty years.
Record. 20-11-8, 13-9-9 CCHA with three shootout wins, good for fourth place. They are locked into an NCAA tourney bid. Northern tied with Michigan for the CCHA's second best goal differential at +14. Their overall differential is +22; Michigan is currently +42 thanks to their tear through the CCHA playoffs, albeit in three extra games.
After scoring the the last first-round bye, Northern swept Alaska 4-3 and 5-1, then squeezed by Ferris in OT at the Joe. Northern's goal came a minute into OT, so it shouldn't affect their legs.
Northern's been on a tear since getting swept at UNO in late January. Since then they're 10-1-2 in a stretch of games that included four against Alaska, three against Ferris state, and two against Michigan. Michigan, FWIW, was Northern's only loss in that stretch.
Previous meetings. The teams split their only series of the year in late February, and that was at Yost. Friday was a 3-1 Northern win with a familiar script: Michigan outshot the Wildcats 39-21 but couldn't get anything except a first period Hagelin goal. Northern scored on two of its first five shots and that was enough.
The Saturday game was wild after a fairly calm first period that saw Greger Hanson score an unassisted goal on a terrible turnover from Kampfer. Michigan took the lead in the second, Northern tied it, and then Michigan took the lead again. In the third, Michigan blew the lead by yielding two goals in little over a minute; four minutes after that they would get goals from Chad Langlais and Greg Pateryn to retake the lead and close the scoring. Pateryn's goal was a JMFJ-esque swoop in from the point and a bizarre way for a stay-at-home defenseman to score the first goal of his career. Michigan outshot Northern 32-27.
FWIW, Michigan had four more power play opportunities over the two games. We will see this was not a coincidence.
First team All-CCHA forward and Hobey finalist Mark Olver (right) is the team's leading scorer with 19-29-48. He plays with a couple of sophomores. Andrew Cherniwchan has an 11-16-27 and Tyler Gron a 10-10-20. This leaves Northern a second dangerous line of double-digit scorers: Greger Hanson (16-22-38), Justin Florek (11-21-32) and Ray Kaunisto (17-14-31). On defense, Erik Gustafsson was the CCHA's best offensive defenseman. He has a 3-28-31 line.
Northern has two extremely strong lines, which will again prevent the Hagelin Solution from working perfectly, but after those two lines the dropoff is steep. There's one guy with 22 points on the season and then it's 12, 11, etc. Michigan can't afford to let the third and fourth lines put anything on the board. You can see the dropoff in the +/- numbers: the top two lines are all at least +8 and most are somewhere in the +12 to +18 range. The third and fourth lines are somewhere between +2 and –9. Michigan has three solid lines and should be able to make hay when Northern's first two units are on the bench.
Northern is just above average offensively despite the strong top two lines: their 3.08 goals per game is 22nd nationally. Michigan is up to 12th at 3.31.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Senior Brian Stewart is NMU's unquestioned starter. His backup has only played about six games worth of hockey. Stewart has a 2.41 GAA and a .926 save percentage that's fourth(!) nationally after Michigan knocked Cody Reichard from a .930 to a .924. Does everyone Michigan play have to have a crazy save percentage?
Defensively, Northern is experienced and boring past Gustafsson. Freshman Kyle Follmer and senior TJ Miller are +16 and +17, respectively; senior Alan Dorich is +7 despite rocking an 0-2-2 line. That's your top four. The third pairing is shaky.
Northern is 12th nationally in scoring defense at 2.51 per game; Michigan is 7th at 2.31. Shawn Hunwick's save percentage is up to .908.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||4.4||5.6|
|PP Ag / G||5.7||5.3|
Northern is a heavily penalized team that spends significantly more time in the box than their opponents do. A repeat of the Yost PP disparity seems likely, though if Shegos and Wilkins call the game like they did yesterday—think NHL circa 1995—there will be a lot of should-calls that get ignored.
However, despite the penalty disparity Northern has scored and yielded an equal number of goal on special teams: 35 for, 35 against. Opponents are shooting just .097 on power plays; Northern is shooting .172. Overall, Northern's kill is 17th nationally at 84.3% and their power play is 10th at 20.5%. Michigan's kill is 9th; their power play is 19th.
Northern actually leads the country in a funky stat College Hockey Stats tracks called "combined special teams" that adds up all your opportunities and counts your successes, but that stat slants heavily towards teams that spend a disproportionate share of their time killing penalties. If I had to hazard a guess I'd say Northern is amongst the worst teams in the country in that ratio.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Do whatever the hell it is you have been doing lately. Against Miami, Michigan did not spend 80% of its time in the opponent's end like they did in the first two rounds of the CCHA playoffs, but they did tilt the ice slightly in their favor against a team that was +61 in the CCHA this year. They deserved to beat Miami.
I mean no disrespect to a Northern team that is currently hotter than hell, but if Michigan can do that to a team that is definitely That Miami when it comes to hockey, most of this game will probably be played in the Northern end. Supporting evidence: Northern has been outshot on the year by a margin of about five per game. Michigan is outshooting opponents 34-23. That might not be enough for a win given the shooting/save percentages, but it's better than the alternative.
If Michigan can keep the turnovers down and keep clearing the dozen terrifying pucks that kick out into the slot, they will be in good shape. The overall goal differential here is big: despite the fact that Northern (13th) is only four slots back of Michigan (9th) in scoring margin, Michigan is +1.0 and Northern is +0.56.
Clone Carl Hagelin and put him on three lines. I'm pretty sure they did this after watching Miami turn the puck over in its own end time and again because of heavy Michigan forechecking. Michigan had its share of scary moments against the equally fast Redhawks, but I don't think Northern quite has the skating those guys do. Sans Michigan turnovers, their third and fourth lines are going to be hard pressed to do anything except get off the ice without giving up a goal.
Stay out of the box. Northern takes a lot of penalties and doesn't draw many but that power play is lethal. I think Michigan would prefer most of the game to be played five on five. This would make that 1995 NHL era refereeing a positive for Michigan.
The Big Picture
Win or go home.
MVictors returns from the Joe with a bevy of pictures and one Awesome Crappy Photoshop. Yost Built recaps the Miami game.