Game on. After a strange regular season in which the Wolverines won the CCHA regular season title despite struggles on offense and special teams, it's time to play for keeps. Michigan doesn't come in with a whole lot of momentum on their side. They were rolling through the later part of the regular season, but after eight straight wins their play fell apart at the Joe.
Michigan took third place in the CCHA Tournament, but looked awful against Western Michigan and, despite the W, didn't look a whole lot better against Notre Dame, getting outshot 44-23 and needing a career game out of Shawn Hunwick to at least head into the NCAAs on a winning note.
That said, outside of the downer of a game against Western, the Wolverines have found some offense late in the season. They've scored 4+ goals in six of the last ten games and have 3+ in eight of the last ten.
Nebraska-Omaha isn't coming in to the NCAA Tournament on a particularly high note either. They hosted Bemidji State in the first round of the WCHA Tournament and were swept out. The Beavers kind of owned them this season, going 5-0-1 against the Mavericks. Omaha has gone 1-4-0 in their last five and 3-5-0 in their last eight.
Earlier in the season the teams met at Yost. UNO won the first game by a 4-2 margin. Michigan--as was typical at the beginning of the season--responding to a poor outing on Friday by beating the Mavericks 6-1 on Saturday. They chased John Faulkner in that contest after scoring 3 on 18 shots. Wohlberg, Hagelin, Vaughan (2), Glendening and Winnett scored for the Wolverines.
The night before, UNO jumped out to a 4-0 lead through two periods. The Wolverines scored a pair of goals a minute apart to make it a little interesting, but despite coming very close, couldn't put another shot past Faulkner. Lynch and Wohlberg had the goals in that game. Hunwick stopped 22 of 26 in the loss and it didn't sound like he played particularly well.
The Wolverines will be short-handed this weekend as David Wohlberg was lost for the season after having collarbone surgery. Also, we'll be down a defenseman. Brandon Burlon did not make the trip to St. Louis after having an allergic reaction to medication he was given to treat a case of strep throat. Reports were that he's lost 15 pounds. Those are two big losses. Wohlberg was second on the team with 15 goals and Burlon is tied for first amongst defensemen with a +14 rating.
Kevin Clare will once again play in Burlon's place. Despite struggling at times this year, Clare did manage a +11 rating in 14 games, despite only picking up a single point. He's not the offensive threat that Burlon is, but seems to have settled down. Red was quite complimentary toward him this week.
Mike Spath reported that the Wolverines will unveil some new lines this week. Winnett will play on the second line with Rust and Glendening. Lynch will center Vaughan and Treais on the third line.
Nebraska-Omaha, the third place team in the WCHA during the regular season, has eight players with 10+ goals. Michigan will dress only three. They also have 5 30+ point scorers and 9 20+ point scorers. Michigan has 1 (though he has 48 points and UNO's leading scorer has 34) and 8, respectively. Despite that, Michigan ranks 12th in offense (3.42 gpg) to Nebraska-Omaha's 17th (3.32 gpg).
Matt Ambroz leads the way with a 17-17--34 line. Six of his goals have come with the man advantage. Joey Martin has 11-23--34 and Rich Purslow is having his best year as a senior with a 12-20--32 line. Eric Olimb leads the way amongst blueliners with 3-24--27 (his 13 power play points lead the team). Bryce Aneloski also scores a half-point per game back on defense.
In net it's been all John Faulkner. He's played all but 142 minutes this season. For the year, he is 20-14-2 with a 2.55/.908. Omaha is 14th in the country in team defense. Michigan is 8th and gives up about a quarter of a goal per game less than UNO.
Faulkner was a microcosm of Nebraska-Omaha's inconsistency. He was 6-6-0 against tournament teams, splitting series against Michigan, North Dakota, CC, North Dakota again, DU, and Minnesota-Duluth. He gave up 35 goals in those 12 games. Minnesota-State, Michigan Tech, and Alabama-Huntsville were the only series all season where he gave up 2-or-fewer goals in both games. He had shutouts against North Dakota and Colorado College, but gave up 6 and 5 goals in the other game of the weekend. He's very capable of being great, and he's very capable of being chased. We saw both ends of the spectrum earlier in the year. Friday night, he stopped 34 of 36 shots. The next night, he lasted just over 23 minutes before getting the hook.
The Mavericks ice three very potent lines. Their second and third lines are completely made up of 20+ point scorers. When you've got Broadhurst-Hudson-Purslow as your third line, that's pretty good. Martin (34 points) centers Searfoss (9 goals and 13 points) and Ambroz (34 points) on the top line.
Despite a pretty good offense, the Maverick power play is middle of the pack. They rank 34th with a 17.6% success rate with the man advantage. Michigan has scored three more power play goals on nine additional opportunities to rank 24th at 18.5%.
Their PK is 20th at 83.4%, but they have scored 5 short-handed goals on the season. Michigan's PK is 25th at 82.4% with 8 shorties. So we're one percent better on the power play, they're one percent better on the PK. Michigan is +4 on special teams. The Mavericks are +3. Not really an advantage for either team.
Omaha puts a lot of shots on net. They outshot their opponent in all but four of their losses, and average 36.2 shots per game, 8.5 more than their opponents. Michigan averages 33 shots per game.
The Wolverines have an edge in the faceoff dot. They're 54.1% on the season, which I have to believe would be pretty far up the national ranks. Omaha is just a tick below even at 49.4%. Caporusso (57.7%) and Rust (56.4%) are the two best regulars in the game. Omaha does have a good one, though. Brock Montpetit is 55.8% on the season.
Omaha has won three of the last four meetings between the teams after losing eight in a row.
MHNet has thoughts on the West Regional and makes a fair point that we shouldn't give BC a bye to the second round (they have CC in Round One) and NoDak a bye to the Frozen Four (with a potential matchup against Denver in the second round).
The Hoover Street Rag has their typically excellent breakdown of every team in the tournament. The West Regional hasn't been done yet, so here's a link to the list as a whole. Check it tomorrow before the game. You'll be glad you did.
Go Blue M Wolverine has part one of their ridiculously-detailed preview.
MHNet talked with Honeybaked's coach about Evan Allen. He loves Allen's shot. Called it "an NHL shot".
There was also a tidbit about John Gibson in Unverified Voracity today. The United State of Hockey was quite impressed, saying that he "looks like a pro goalie".
While Michigan stumbled at Joe Louis, they've played pretty good hockey since getting thrashed by the RedHawks in Miami. Omaha has been inconsistent the entire season and have faltered on the way in to the tournament. There's no advantage for either team on special teams. Omaha has more 10+ scorers, but Michigan has more overall depth. In the end, I think Shawn Hunwick is the difference and Michigan squeaks by, despite being outshot in what ends up being a stressful game to watch.
For the four regions, I'll take:
BC over Michigan
NoDak over Denver
Miami over Notre Dame
Minnesota-Duluth over Yale
Hope I'm wrong...I usually am when I fill out brackets.
The game will air on Comcast Local, ESPN3.com, and Altitude live. ESPNU will have the game on tape delay. Both Dish Network and DirecTV carry Altitude as a part of their sports package.