Puck Preview: Minnesota-Duluth, National Championship Game

Submitted by Brian on April 8th, 2011 at 4:01 PM

PLAYOFF TIME IS HOCKEY BEAR TIME

The Essentials  alaska-nanooks

WHAT Michigan vs Minnesota-Duluth
WHERE XCel Center, St. Paul, Minnesota
WHEN 7 PM
THE LINE Come on
TELEVISION ESPN
 

Minnesota-Duluth

Record. 25-10-6, 15-8-5 WCHA.  Duluth is necessarily less terrifying than North Dakota. They're approximately as terrifying as UNO: they finished a point behind the Mavericks in the WCHA and were +28 in goal differential (UNO was +35). Their nonconference performance was a bit better than UNO's, but other than a weird nonconference matchup with North Dakota the opponents were not strong. KRACH—which stopped updating before tournament results came in—has them 7th. Michigan is 6th. (North Dakota was an easy #1.)

The Bulldogs spent time earlier in the year at #1 but struggled late in their conference schedule. After a sweep of Michigan Tech in late January they finished the regular season 3-4-3; their best opponents were CC (one point) and UNO (split). In the WCHA playoffs they beat St. Cloud in the first round, then lost to Bemidji in the quarterfinals.

In the tournament they were fortunate to be the only non-AH/ECAC team in Yale's regional. They beat Union 2-0 despite getting outshot 32-26 by scoring two power play goals. Against Yale they jumped out to a 3-0 lead. After Yale got one back, Brian O'Neill, the goalscorer and Yale's best player, was kicked out of the game on a clean open-ice hit. UMD scored twice on the ensuing five-minute power play and that was all she wrote; Yale did add two PP goals of their own in the third. Yesterday they fell behind in the first period twice but bounced back quickly; their power play scored three more goals. An ND shortie closed the gap but not all the way.

If you're scoring at home, Duluth has two even strength goals in three NCAA tournament games. They've been outshot by 6, 7, and 13.

Previous meetings. None. How about…

Common opponents. Chart? Chart.

  Minnesota-Duluth Michigan
  Wins Losses Ties Wins Losses Ties
LSSU - - 6-6 7-2, 3-2    
Northern Michigan 3-2 - - 3-2, 5-0    
Notre Dame 4-3 - - 5-3, 4-2 1-3  
Wisconsin 2-0, 6-5, 3-2 2-3 -     4-4
Nebraska-Omaha 4-1 2-5 - 6-1, 3-2 2-4  
Minnesota 6-4 2-3 2-2, 2-2   1-3  
Colorado College - 4-5 3-3 6-5, 2-1    
North Dakota 3-2 0-5, 2-4 - 1-0(!)    

Duluth is 7-6-4 with a –1 goal differential; Michigan is 11-3-1 with a +19 goal differential. Woot? Well, here the schedule strength is not close at all since Michigan's only got the one game against North Dakota and four against meh CCHA teams like LSSU and Northern. On the other hand, Minnesota was pretty bad this year and Michigan only got one crack at them—they lost, but if they played four they might have done better than 1-1-2.

bulldogs0407_500pxmike-connolly

Yes, everyone on UMD dyed their hair blond.
Yes, this makes everyone look like eurotrash except the guys with beards.
Yes, the guys with beards just look amazing.
Clint Austin/Duluth News

Dangermen. Also way less terrifying than North Dakota's. Closer to CC's with a stronger second line and much worse depth. CC has six forwards with more than 20 points; four are on a PPG-ish pace. From Michigan's perspective, that's better than UND's six. Their top line is outstanding—brothers Mike (28-26-54) and Jack Connolly (18-41-59) team with Justin Fontaine (22-36-58) to create a line on par with CC's Schwartz/Schultz combo and not far off UND's Frattin/Malone/Trupp. Their even strength numbers are a bit less impressive, as 26 of the line's 68 goals came with an advantage. Scooter actually has more ES goals than Jack Connolly and Fontaine. That's not to say scoring on the PP lots is bad thing—it's just that they're two different phases. North Dakota's even strength scoring was far more intimidating.

The second line is pretty strong as well, with JT Brown's 16-20-36 leading the way and a couple others not far behind. After that scoring collapses. One guy has thirteen points and then it's a bunch of nothing—this should be a game in which Michigan's third and fourth lines dominate.

Defense and goalie and whatnot. Junior Kenny Reiter is a step back from UND's Aaron Dell but is better than the  goalies for either of Michigan's regional opponents. He has a slightly above average .914 save percentage. Tiny Jesus is up to .925 after blanking North Dakota.

University of Michigan's Chris Brown checks U.S. National Under-18's Justin Faulk in the third period at Yost Arena on Oct 3, 2009.  U-M won the exhibition opener, 4-2.  (Mark Bialek for AnnArbor.com)

Faulk has played Michigan before. Mark Bialik/AnnArbor.com.

The UMD defense has one ultra-star in freshman Justin Faulk, a second round pick of the Hurricanes in last year's draft. Faulk has 8-25-33 and is hyped up by many as the best freshman defenseman in the country. Jon Merrill might have something to say about that, but he's very good. The United States of Hockey scouts him:

As I mentioned, a big reason UMD’s power play works so well is because of the threat Faulk provides from the top of the point. Teams don’t want him to unleash his accurate and heavy shot without someone in his face. Due to that, there’s more room down low and on the half walls for the Connollys, Brown and Fontaine.

The other thing about Faulk, as friend of the blog Corey Pronman pointed out, is that he doesn’t shoot if he doesn’t have a lane and is far more than an offense-only defenseman. I think that’s why he’s probably the best pro prospect playing.

People in the NHL think he has "50 point upside."

Six of his eight goals are on the PP, and no other UMD defenseman has more than a few goals with token assists—they're a stay at home bunch. UMD radio guy Bruce Ciskie on the D corps:

UMD was hit with the mid-season departure of former Chicago first-rounder Dylan Olsen, who was going to be academically ineligible for the second half of the season. An injury to junior Brady Lamb made them quite thin for a time in February. They're better now, with senior captain Mike Montgomery and freshman sensation Justin Faulk (2010 second-round pick by Carolina) taking most of the big minutes. Lamb and sophomore Wade Bergman will see plenty of ice time. Sophomore Drew Olson needs to be more consistent, but he's been better while paired with fifth-year senior Trent Palm.

Sounds like the third pairing is a bit of an issue.

Special teams. Your power plays per game:

  Duluth Michigan
PP For / G 5.1 4.2
PP Ag / G 4.8 4.5

Duluth is slightly less likely to draw and more likely to commit an infraction. Michigan can't buy a call.

This is the same story as the previous two games: UMD, CC, and North Dakota are 7-8-9 in power play effectiveness, which means they're very very good and you are playing with fire every time you go to the box. The only power conference teams in front of that trio are BC and Miami. UMD's given up only three shorthanded goals compared to CC's 11 and UND's 7, so they're even a bit better than the numbers suggest.

Michigan's mediocre play earlier in the season gave way to an outstanding penalty kill in the tournament. North Dakota could hardly get set up on their five opportunities and CC was shut down. They're still languishing in the 20s; they're playing much, much better than that.

On the flipside it's a matchup between the #27 PP and the #27 PK that will be won or lost by the accuracy of Michigan point shots.

Michigan Vs Those Guys

matt-rust-osu

Erin Kirkland/Daily

Rust Annihilation Co. Again Michigan comes across a team vulnerable to the incredible shutdown line they've iced since the three-game slide at the three-quarters pole. With last change Michigan will throw Rust, Glendening, and Winnett out there against the Connollys and hope to outscore with their other three lines. (Yes, three. I take it all back, fourth line.) If Rust and company can do what they did to the Schwartzes Michigan is halfway home.

STAY OUT OF THE BOX. I realize this can be difficult when refs think your shoulder is your elbow and ignore boarding and charging from the other team, but seriously: UMD has two even strength goals in the tourney. That's not very many. While Michigan doesn't have many more they are a different sort of team. Michigan is 6th in goals allowed, UMD 17th. If Michigan keeps the penalties in check and kills them the way they did against UND they're three quarters of the way home, leaving…

Scooter, Caporusso, Moffatt, Treais, someone: score. Hagelin and Caporusso will draw the second UMD scoring line, leaving a bunch of mugs up against Michigan's third and fourth lines. With UMD's third defensive pairing also a little shaky, those lines need to be at least +1 collectively. We can't bank on the Annihilation Co actually outscoring the opposition's mad awesome line again.

How likely is this? At least somewhat. UMD's been significantly outshot in the tournament despite a wicked power play; if Michigan can play the game five on five they should have a territorial advantage. They bombed a team with a similar lack of depth in the regional final and only scored two because Joe Howe went Hunwick and Joe Howe's posts did too.

Burlon? I was surprised Burlon wasn't ready to go. Actually, I'm not sure he wasn't. It sounds like the reason he was scratched was Red wanting to leave the regionals lineup intact. That's very strange to me because Clare does not get a whole lot of run—certainly not as much as Burlon would—and there's at least one shift a game where the speed of these good WCHA teams clearly overwhelms his ability to get rid of the puck in an effective fashion. I'm guessing we'll see Clare out there again, but there's a case that you can hide Burlon against these iffy UMD lines, especially with last change. Having him out there for his offense seems like a benefit.

You can make the same case for Sparks over Rohrkemper but that's definitely not happening. /shakes fist

HUNWIIIIIIIIICK. From the North Dakota preview:

Hunwick has done it before this year and while my past self is inventing a time machine just so he can show up right after I type this to slap some sense into me, most win scenarios involve Hunwick setting up halfway to the blue line and stopping every first shot and then doing some crazy stuff you can't even believe is happening.

He probably won't have to do that in this game—shots figure to be at least even—but if he's on like that it's party time. He can't possibly be again, but this is hockey so yeah he could.

Pray like hell. Seriously, yo.

The Big Picture

Win or die.

Elsewhere

i just did one of these but in the meantime there has been a TWB post on Shawn Hunwick

Jon Merrill rang an almost-perfect shot off the crossbar, and with 13:26 remaining in the first period Ben Winnett — a player who had scored all of three goals this season — eventually corralled the rebound and buried it to give Michigan the all-important 1-0 lead. A North Dakota fan flashed his middle finger, one of those derogatory gestures meant to say, “Enjoy it while you can,” in expectation of the inevitable comeback. The Sioux battled back with increased intensity, turning up the pressure on the Wolverines and turning the game into one of those Hockey Games That Take Years Off Your Life. Watching North Dakota play, it was hard not to agree with Middle Finger Guy: This was far from over.

…and a torrent.

Comments

truferblue22

April 8th, 2011 at 10:43 PM ^

Agreed. I was breathing easier, but not easy....there was a rocket wrister from the top of the circle right after the center ice faceoff that went high and wide...i said to the girl i was with "i was terrified that was going in"....it was at that point i felt much better :)

m1jjb00

April 8th, 2011 at 4:39 PM ^

Average the +/- in common opponents to a per game basis per opponent and then sum to get rid of the bias of playing bad teams more.  MD is +.5; Michigan is +8.  Does it mean much?  I dunno, but it makes me feel good.

 

Number 7

April 8th, 2011 at 6:09 PM ^

A). 'Tiny Jesus'-- love it.

2) was at the Yale -Duluth game in Bridgeport Brian accurately describes. That top line is very, very good, as advertised, and especially so when functioning as a pp unit. But overall, Yale appered to have the edge in 5-on-5 play, at least in the first half of the game, before the Travesty.

iii) be prepared to start hating Faulk very quickly. He has got the requisite flowing 'blond' mullet, he goes out of his wy to make the extra hit (and got penalized, I think, 3 times for it against Yale). And he's good.

Clarence Beeks

April 8th, 2011 at 11:01 PM ^

Yep, Faulk is a good one.  Number one blue line prospect in Carolina's system.  Many in Ann Arbor may actually be familiar with him from his time at USNDT.  Brian stated that he's considered the best freshman defenseman in the NCAA this year, but he's actually one of the very best defensemen, regardless of class, in the NCAA this year.  That's not taking anything away from Merrill; they are both very good prospects.

HHW

April 8th, 2011 at 7:08 PM ^

Offhandedly referring to Hunwick as Tiny Jesus is the greatest single thing ever written by Brian Cook.  Ever.  I look forward to that reference in the years to come anytime we have, or play against, a dwarf in goal. 

quiqsilver

April 8th, 2011 at 7:09 PM ^

UMD's power play is clinical.  It's considerably scarier than even their ranking indicates, in my eyes.  They execute it at a higher level than UMD and marginally better than CC.  Their defensemen move the puck well and they cycle like mad.  Be ready for two minutes of terror.

JonSobel

April 8th, 2011 at 10:20 PM ^

UMD scores only on the power play, and our best play Throughout this tournament has been when short-handed.  CC had an absolute monster power play and couldn't get set up in our end for more than 15-20 seconds at a time.  North Dakota and UNO spent most of their power play time chasing the puck in their own end.

That said, any time you play with fire and take penalties, I don't care who it's against, it can hurt bad.

I think UMD should be the worried team.  Michigan's team defense and the way they've funneled opposing teams to low percentage areas of the ice as well as their fight when they get to the boards has been unmatched in this tournament.  If we can effectively shut down their top line (a la CC and ND and even UNO), where will their scoring come from?  If our biggest strength in special teams is matched against their strength, defense usually beats offense.

I said it on Thursday before the North Dakota game, and I'll say it now.  If Michigan continues to intensely pressure on the penalty kill, continues to block shots and clog up passing lanes forcing shots from low percentage areas, continues to control the play in the corners with hard work, and continues to clear the front of the net to safety areas, we should win.  This might seem like a lot, but this is the team's style of game this year.  This is the style they've been playing for a couple months now.

Clarence Beeks

April 8th, 2011 at 11:04 PM ^

While not 100% official, the officiating crew for this game is likely to be a Hockey East crew.  There are three crews that could officiate the game and two are from Hockey East and the other is a ECAC crew.

Soulfire21

April 9th, 2011 at 11:15 AM ^

Biggest issue I foresee is their power play (obviously).  We can't allow them 5 PP opportunities to our 1 as we did against North Dakota (I think it was 5 to 1, may've been 4).  If we can do that, should be a win for us.

Trebor

April 9th, 2011 at 2:02 PM ^

Just FYI, USCHO does keep their KRACH updated for tournament games: http://www.uscho.com/rankings/krach/d-i-men/

We're 3rd and UMD is 4th, but it's very close between the two teams. IMO, this game comes down to whether the Connolly line can be neutralized or not. Like the past 3 games, we don't have the top-level scoring (or depth) to get in a run and gun style game. Shut them down, keep the crowd out of it, and hopefully Hunwick gets to lift the trophy over his head at the end of the night.

Rocky

April 9th, 2011 at 3:04 PM ^

We are about to enter the greatest game of college hockey. Why is it that MGOBLOG still continues to post this annoying hockey bear video? First, the video is for another school. No, it is not Michigan. It is not even a school with a history of titles. Maybe this is a missed fact. Must we play 'little brother' and regurgitate another school's cheesy plug? What's next, posting that fanboy rubbish-clip "this is Sparta" from "300" during our football match vs. OSU? Secondly, the video is from the imagination of a 3-year old. Seriously, blowing up the earth to a cliché theme song like "Danger Zone"? Homer Simpson couldn't have envisioned a more sorry concept to be mocked.

So that said, GO BLUE! Let's bring home a tenth!

Rocky

April 9th, 2011 at 5:32 PM ^

OK, as avoid offending your avatar, what subtleties? The bear attacking a boat with a hockey stick seems unrelated to the game. Bombing MSU & OSU? Surely, this can't be the reason. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend, just another hockey team which tied a series with Michigan. Destroying the earth and coming back to play at the C-Center (on earth, or an alternate earth) is just a silly oversight. This only seems to support the notion that Homer Simpson, henceforth, the brains behind the unimaginative and far-fetched video, doesn't know squat. I'm really curious as to why we would ever want to see this clip again. Please enlighten us.

Feat of Clay

April 9th, 2011 at 6:49 PM ^

Lighten up, Francis.

The hockey bear video is meant to be cheesy and cliche.  I like the video all the more for the story behind it, which (IIRC) is that some firm saw UA-Fairbank's call for bids for a hype video, found the money offered to be ludicrously, unrealistically cheap-assed, and decided to just go for it.  They poured the hours into it and delivered an over-the-top cheesefest.  It mocks itself.

I like that we give the video its due. 

Now I will take my leave before you see fit to take a swipe at any more of the songs in the Kenny Loggins canon.