Friday, February 01, 2008

10 Things to Know About Northern Michigan

I'm kind of bummed. Here I thought I was going to have a preview that I could go Mike Holmgren on and just mail it in. We're playing a team we've already played this year, the preview is easy...include what I said before, change some numbers, talk about the games we played earlier in the year, done. No digging through stats, looking at rosters, etc. But we played them before I started writing the "10 Things" feature, so I guess I've got some work to do.

So here are 10 things to know about the NMU Wildcats:

1) We swept them up in Marquette 3-1 and 4-3. The Saturday night game featured NMU inexplicably switching goalies midway through the third period, Michigan taking a 5-minute major late in regulation, blowing a lead with under a minute to go, and then Chad Kolarik scoring short-handed to prevent the game from even making it to OT. Steve McInchak went buck with the whistle--6 1/2 minutes was the longest span without a call in the Saturday game. On Friday night, Michigan came from 1-0 down late in the second period to net two PPGs and a tally by Carl Hagelin. The defense held NMU to something like 14 shots. Our power play was strong, going 4/14 on the weekend. We gave up 2 PPGs, both on Saturday. NMU kind of smoked us on faceoffs.

2) As The Wolverine indicates, NMU is 7-5-0 in conference since that 0-6-0 start against Michigan, MSU and Miami (they lost the 7th conference game to WMU as well, but split the weekend) to rise to 8th in the CCHA. Despite struggling at home (3-8-1) they're 6-6-0 on the road. Perhaps they aren't a team built to play on the big ice?

3) NMU has played three goalies this year. Derek Janzen has only started one game (a loss at MSU) since he was yanked against Michigan and one of his relief efforts involved giving up four goals on eight shots. I doubt we'll see him. Freshman Reid Ellingson hasn't put up great numbers, but he's handled himself well on several occasions, giving up just three to Miami, and five goals combined in two games against LSSU and one against BGSU. He's 4-4-0 on the year, including a loss to WMU where he gave up 3 goals on 4 shots. Walt Kyle praised Brian Stewart for his play against Michigan in the Friday game earlier in the season and he's gotten the bulk of the work. He's 6-10-1 with a 2.83, .902. Not awful. My guess is we'll see him tonight, and if he plays well, he starts tomorrow. If not, we see Ellingson.

4) They're a young team. 9 of the top 11 scorers are either freshmen or sophomores. They're led, however, by junior Nick Sirota with 12-10--22 in 25 games. Olver (remix) is the closest thing they've got to a point a game player, with 19 points in 21 games, which is good for 11th in the country amongst freshmen. They also have the son of ex-NHLer Garth Butcher, Matt, who is having a nice season at forward.

5) NMU is one of the teams we've had a distinct PP advantage over the past few years. We're +23 in PPOs over the past 14 games, and there have been just two occasions where we've had less PPOs than them. That's perhaps skewed somewhat, because we had Piotrowski for 9 of the 14 games and all of the games at Yost. In the five games he didn't do (four by McInchak, one by Shegos), we're merely +3.

6) Michigan has dominated NMU (PDF link) as of late, winning 9 of the last 11, but NMU has fared pretty well at Yost, winning 10 of the 23 games that have been played there in the series.

7) NMU's offense hasn't been very potent this year, ranking just 46th in the NCAA and 8th in the CCHA at 2.35 goals per game (2.56 in conference). The defense is 37th in the country at 2.92 goals per game.

8) That 46th rank on offense matches their PP ranking, scoring on just 13.3% of their PPs. The NMU PK has been atrocious at just 72.9% (and below 70% in conference) which is 57th in the country. Just Alabama-Huntsville and LSSU have worse penalty kills. They have managed six shorties, of which Sirota has three. Michigan has a big special teams advantage in this matchup. If those units are on, we should win without much trouble.

9) Porter and Kolarik have both scored a point a game or better against the Wildcats in their careers to lead the Wolverines (Palushaj, Caporusso and Hagelin have also scored a ppg or better in their young careers against NMU). Naurato has 3 goals and five points in six games, and Timmy Miller has 6 points in 9 games, so maybe this is the week he gets off the schnide. Despite the troubles early in his career with, well, pretty much everyone, NMU has been a team that Sauer has owned. He boasts a 7-1-0 mark with a 2.02 goals against and a .918 save percentage.

10) Since we last saw them, they split with WMU and BGSU, swept LSSU, split with Alaska and Tech, lost to Dartmouth, beat Sacred Heart, split with ND and Ferris, got swept by Wayne State, and got smoked by the NTDP. Things like the split against ND, the way they made things tough on us, and their conference record as of late make me feel they're a dangerous team. But then I see the sweep at the hands of Wayne State and I'm not as worried. This is a team we should take four points from. It's a classic trap weekend, in between MSU and Miami, but I have confidence they'll have the team ready to go.

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