This post is brought to you by Charter Communications
This is a new one. I don't think I've ever blogged from 20,000 feet before!
Anyway, the Wolverines kicked off their season on Tuesday against the Purple Eagles from Niagara. There was some apprehension heading into the game with the way the exhibition season had gone, but Michigan jumped on the board just over a minute into the game.
Zach Hyman made a beautiful centering pass from the side of the next that either Chris Brown or Lindsay Sparks could have put in. Initially the goal was credited to Sparks (his first of 3 on the night), but it was later changed to Brown.
With the Wolverines shorthanded in the middle of the first period, Shawn Hunwick's clearing attempt hit off a Niagara player and bounced over to Travis Lynch. Lynch went end-to-end with it, spinning around and shooting when a defenseman stepped up. The puck got through the goaltending for Lynch's first of his Michigan career.
With the game still 2-0, Shawn Hunwick absolutely robbed Iuorio on a cross-ice pass following a Wohlberg turnover at the blueline. That was the turning point in the game. Michigan would add three goals before the end of the second period to turn a fairly close game into a rout.
Sparks made an early-season entry in the "Michigan Goal of the Year" category as he jumped up to take an errant pass away before streaking down the left wing and then faking a forehand shot before pulling it to his backhand and putting it top-shelf. Great move and a better shot. He got that thing up in the air quick.
Sparks would add another a minute later. Alex Guptill used his big body to fend off Kevin Ryan. He slid it back to Clare at the point. He gave it back to Guptill, who fed Sparks. Lindsay's shot hit off Matt Williams (actually, I'm not so sure that Lynch's shot didn't do the same) and deflected into the net.
Three minutes later, Sparks would add his third point of the night. He got the puck to Hyman, who threw a picture-perfect pass off the sideboards to spring Chris Brown. Brown brought the puck in and uncorked a ridiculous wrist-shot from the faceoff dot, beating Carsen Chubak over his blocker. That thing was a frigging laser.
Adam Janecyk saw the first extended playing time of his career in the third period, as Shawn Hunwick came out of yet another game with a shutout in tact. Janecyk made 3 or 4 really nice saves to preserve the shutout. He was officially credited with 8 saves in 9 minutes.
Overall it probably wasn't the prettiest game Michigan has ever played. The Wolverines gave up a whopping 38 shots on goal and gave the Purple Eagles 6 power plays, but it was a pretty good performance overall.
I was really, really impressed with the play of a lot of our freshmen.
Travis Lynch was one of the best players on the ice the entire night. In addition to his goal, he saw a ton of time on the penalty kill and was the only Wolverine to win more than 50% of his faceoffs (uh-oh), going 11/18 on the night.
Hyman had two beautiful passes to set up goals. Di Giuseppe didn't get on the scoresheet, but I thought he was pretty active out there. He had a lot of puck touches and did some good things. They set him up in front of the net on a few occasions, and they were trying to set up the little "screen the goalie, send the pass down low, the screener pivots around and looks for a centering pass" play to him a couple of times.
I thought Mike Chiasson had a really solid game on the blueline as well. He made a great stick check to break up a Niagara opportunity, and he had the look of a guy that isn't going to want to come out of the lineup.
Guptill had an assist and led the team with 5 shots on goal. He saw a bunch of time out on the PK as well. We need penalty killers and it seemed like they were more than willing to give a bunch of guys chances to play out there. I thought a lot of the freshmen looked really good in that role.
Kevin Clare had a gorgeous breakup of a Niagara rush. He chased the guy down, dove, and knocked the puck away without even making the slightest contact with the Purple Eagle. It was nice seeing Brown get on the scoresheet twice early in the season after the way he struggled out of the gate last year. He's going to be critical to Michigan's success this year. Treais and Moffatt had some chances as well. (Moffatt also ended up with 5 shots on goal.)
All in all, a pretty successful first game! The new scoreboard is fantastic. They have some kinks to work out with replays and whatnot, but I'm sure more of the effort has been focused into getting the football scoreboard up and running. It didn't seem like any pucks came close to hitting it this game, though I know at least one got it in exhibition play. Man it felt good to be back at Yost.
Now the Wolverines welcome Bentley into Ann Arbor for a weekend series. The Falcons come out of Atlantic Hockey, where they were picked to finish 10th in the preseason poll. Six of their top eight scorers and all six defensemen return from a team that finished 10-18-6 a year ago. The highlight of their season was a 2-1 win over Northeastern fairly early on. They fell 6-3 to Sacred Heart in the first round of the AHA Tournament.
Sophomore Brett Gensler was their leading goal scorer last year and is their top-returning points man. He had 13-11--24 last year. They have a trio of junior forwards that had 15-18 points last year. They didn't get much offense out of the defense. Mike Switzer and Ryan Kayfes each had 3 goals and 12-13 points, but the rest of the D combined for 4-19--23 on the year, or less than we'd expect out of Jon Merrill in a full year. Freshman defenseman Matt Maher did put up 40 points in the BCHL a year ago, which led all defensemen.
In net, Joe Calvi is gone. He was in net for 16 decisions a year ago. In his place are senior Kyle Rank (4-5-2, 3.46/.904) and sophomore Brandom Komm (1-5-1, 3.16, .890).
Bentley had far-and-away the worst power play in the country last year, at only 8.4%. They scored 13 PPGs, but gave up 7 SHGs. Dustin Cloutier, who had 4 of the 13 goals, graduated. The PK was pretty solid, though. Middle of the pack.
No reason not to get two Ws this weekend.
In other news, it was announced that the Wolverines will be hosting the 2013 NCAA West Regional. They'll be playing at Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids. Since the NCAA would rather punish Ohio State than let Michigan host at Yost again, it seems U of M decided to bid out a different arena. This works. You're still in friendly confines, and you're guaranteed to not have to go play another team in their home arena. I'd rather be at Yost, because the atmosphere was unreal, but it's better to host in Grand Rapids than see what the NCAA comes up with for the bracket.