After a disaster of a first-half, the Wolverines come back from the Christmas break looking to get back to the program's usual winning ways. A shutout win over Western Michigan to close the semester was a nice start. Now they'll take on Michigan Tech and either Michigan State or those same Broncos in the 48th Great Lakes Invitational.
The tournament was originally supposed to take place yesterday and today at Comerica Park, but because this is a lockout year in the NHL it was moved back indoors to the familiar confines of Joe Louis Arena and shifted to the current Saturday/Sunday format.
Michigan's first opponent is the Michigan Tech Huskies, and this will be the first time that Red Berenson has gone head-to-head against longtime assistant coach Mel Pearson, now the head man for the Huskies, as well as Assistant Coaches Steve Shields and Bill Muckalt.
In his first year, Pearson took the Huskies to just their second 15-win season since 98-99 with a 16-19-4 record, more wins than the previous three seasons combined. This year hasn't gone nearly as well, though. They currently sit at 4-10-3, bad for 11th in winning percentage in the WCHA. They do have a win over Minnesota to their credit. The other three have come against Bemidji State (2) and LSSU.
The Huskies are winless in their last seven contests. In their most recent action, they lost 6-1 and 4-1 at home against North Dakota. They've also only scored 7 goals in their last five games.
They're led in goals by sophomore Blake Pietila's 10. Pietila, however, is playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Russia and will miss the GLI. To even things up, Michigan will be missing Jacob Trouba for the same reason. The Huskies' next leading goal-scorer is Dennis Rix with five. Both freshman Alex Petan and sophomore David Johnstone have 13 points on the season (4-9--13 lines) to lead the team. Petan has gone scoreless in his last five games, but Johnstone has been on fire. He has 10 points in his last eight games. All of Jujhar Khaira's 3 goals have come on the power play. Steven Seigo has 4 goals and 8 points on the blueline. They don't get a lot of offense out of the rest of them.
In net, they haven't been so dissimilar to Michigan. Freshman Pheonix (sic) Copley is 1-6-0 with a 4.36/.851 (this is the part where you say "Oh hell, those numbers are better than Rutledge's" and start cursing John Gibson and the bank account of the Kitchener Rangers*) and Jamie Phillips is 0-1. Senior Kevin Genoe is 3-3-3 with a 3.28/.902. Copley has only played one game since early November and has given up 3+ goals in every game he's played this year. Phillips's start was on 12/4, but it's been mostly Genoe over the last two months. I'm guessing we'll see Genoe because, yeah.
The Wolverines have won 10 in a row and 18 of 19 against Michigan Tech. All of the GLI games will air on either Fox Sports Detroit or FSD+.
On Sunday, the Wolverines will draw either the 5-10-2 Spartans or the 11-4-1 WMU Broncos, in a rematch of a really entertaining series at Yost from a couple of weeks ago. I'm not expert, but it seems like we're going to need all the PWR help we can get, so it'd be a nice boost to get wins over Michigan Tech (WCHA opponent) and Western Michigan (RPI, record against TUC), even if realistically the Wolverines are probably going to need to win the CCHA Tournament to make the NCAAs unless they get on a mega-run.
In other news, Mike Spath reported that Jon Merrill is skating with the team, and could return as soon as next weekend, pending the outcome of a doctor visit on 1/2. Again, that would be huge for Michigan's chances of getting this thing turned around. The defense has been part of the problem and adding one of the best defensemen in the country certainly helps with that.
Trouba is over in Russia at the World Junior Championships. Team USA is 1-1-0 after dropping a 2-1 decision to the host team today. Trouba has goals in both games, and was named Team USA's most outstanding player after today's game.
There have also been a couple of recruiting tidbits bandied about. Spath mentioned that the team is evaluating options in net for the future. As he said, it's too late for 2013 and they'd have to get cracking to find someone for 2014, but the play in net has been too poor and too inconsistent to chance it that one of the two will be the long-term answer. I still think it's too early to give up on either Racine or Rutledge (though I firmly think that Janecyk should be given every chance to steal the job). We saw how bad Sauer was when he started out and he was a pretty darn good goalie by the end of his time at Michigan. Some improved team defense combined with a couple of good outings in a row would probably do wonders. The problem is that they probably waited too long for them to play their way out of it and the margin for error is completely gone. Berenson has indicated that it isn't a given that Janecyk will get the start (he wanted to see something in practice today) but I'd be shocked if he's not between the pipes given how the season has gone for the freshmen and how Janecyk fared in his last start.
The other tidbit is that Keith Tkachuk and his son Matthew were at Yost visiting. Spath thinks there's maybe a 30-40% chance they land him.
*Because who likes people with money? I'm certainly not implying that the Rangers paid Gibson or did anything untoward in getting him to come play for them. Don't sue me, bro.