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December 13, 2012

Western Michigan vs Michigan Hockey Preview

Michigan Wolverines

Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Home Arena: Yost Ice Arena (Capacity: 6,637)
Head Coach: Gordon "Red" Berenson (29th season, 757-360-79)
2011-12 Record: 24-13-4 (15-9-4-1, t-2nd in CCHA)
2012-13 Record: 5-8-2
2012-13 CCHA record: 3-6-2-2 (13 pts, 8th)

Last season: The Wolverines started last season with 4 straight wins in non-conference before only getting 2 points on the road against Northern Michigan. They would then sweep a then #7 Ferris State team before hitting the roughest portion of their season.

Over their next 9 games, Michigan would only win once, against then #6 Western Michigan in the 2nd game of that streak, and at home. In that span, they went 1-7-1, getting only 4 points in 7 league games. However, after winning an overtime game in Alaska, the Wolverines turned a point in their season, and started winning games at an astounding rate.

From early December, including that Alaska game, throughout the rest of the regular season, the Wolverines only lost 3 games, all on the road, won the Great Lakes Invitational by beating then #3 Boston College and rival Michigan State in OT, and went 14-3-2 overall. They would tie Western Michigan for the 2nd seed in the CCHA tournament, but won the tiebreaker.

After the 1st round results, the Wolverines dispatched Notre Dame easily before getting the surprise of the tournament, BGSU, in the CCHA Semi-Finals. The game would go into a classic double-OT before Michigan completed a comeback victory after being down 2-0 earlier in the game. Michigan would not do the same against Western Michigan in the CCHA Championship Game. Nevertheless, they drew the 2nd overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, but fell to Cornell in OT in the first round.
Summary: CCHA Runners-Up, 2nd overall seed, 1-2 vs WMU (1-1 in regular season)

This season: After being picked to finish in the top of the CCHA, the Wolverines have had a slow start out of the games in their first season without graduated goaltender Shawn Hunwick. After an OT loss to start the season, the Wolverines won 3 straight, including a win over then #3 Miami. However, things have been sour ever since with a 2-7-2 record, and wins only against Michigan State and Bowling Green, both at the bottom of the CCHA Standings currently.

Forwards: Scoring hasn't been a problem for the Wolverines, who are paced by the CCHA's 4th best scorer in A.J. Treais. Treais has 15 points in as many games, and is 2nd in the league in goals scored with 10. His .67 goals/game mark is the best in the league.

Treais also gets a lot of help from Alex Guptill and his 11 points (4-7-11). After Guptill, the Wolverines are fairly balanced, with decent contributions from Kevin Lynch, Cristoval "Boo" Nieves, Lindsay Sparks, and Phil Di Giuseppe. All four of them have either 9 or 8 points, and a total of 12 goals between them.

Defense: The Wolverines have two of the best scoring defensemen in Mac Bennett (4-8-12) and Jacob Trouba (4-6-10). Bennett is 2nd in the CCHA in defensive scoring as a junior while Trouba was the highest drafted collegiate in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, going 9th overall. While Bennett is fairly controlled (2 penalties for 4 minutes), Trouba is a monster, having been called for 11 penalties for 44 minutes including a game disqualification earlier this season in a game against Northern Michigan. Still, Trouba is very talented, and went in the top-10 in the NHL Draft for a reason.

However, the defense as a whole has been porous most of the season, allowing tons of scoring opportunities on some fresh goaltenders. The 3.53 goals/game given up is by far the worst in the conference.

Goaltending: As noted above, gone is Shawn Hunwick, who led the Wolverines in the pipes to a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finish in the CCHA Championship in his last 3 seasons. Enter Jared Rutledge and Steve Racine, both freshmen. While Rutledge is 18, he was highly touted as a good goaltender, but has been subpar so far this season. His 1-4-0 record is matched by his dismal 4.57 GAA and .847 save percentage. Racine is slightly better, but his numbers are still pretty sub-par as far as goaltenders are concerned, posting a 4-4-2 record but with a 2.92 GAA and a .885 save percentage.

Coaching: The Wolverines have one of the best head coaches in the history of college hockey in Red Berenson. Red is 5th all-time in wins, and has a great winning percentage to match it. After a successful pro career, including a 6 goal night (1 shy of the record), Berenson returned to his alma mater in 1984 and has not left since. However, he is not alone. Billy Powers and Brian Wiseman assist him behind the bench, with some help from volunteer coach Josh Blackburn, who is attempting to help the goaltenders make the adjustment to the college level.

Match-up versus the Broncos: Michigan's offense is very deadly. They rival Notre Dame in options, and when on, are extremely difficult to stop. With the emergence of the Bronco power-play, it helps to see that Michigan is killing 82% of their penalties. However, the Wolverines only go to the box roughly 13 minutes per game, and that is with Trouba's game DQ.

The Broncos will also have to deal with the home crowd in Yost. Yost is the 2nd largest arena in the conference, but has a reputation to be loud and difficult to play in. However, this is a Bronco team that has played in Yost 4 times the past 2 seasons, so this is nothing new to the Broncos.

The main key will be how the Bronco defense and Frank Slubowski shut down the Michigan offense. The Wolverine defense should yield some goals, but if the Michigan offense can match the mark, it could be a long weekend for Andy Murray's team. Michigan has had 2 weeks to prepare for this series, so they should be well rested and prepared for the Broncos, but also could have a little rust early on.

Prediction: While the Bronco power-play has been key to WMU's 5 game win streak, they will have to find more scoring outside of the special teams, while also shutting down the Michigan offensive attack. Western jumps early in the 1st game, but the Wolverines shake off the rust and show how good they are, and that they are still the team everyone thought they were in the pre-season. 3-2 WMU, 4-2 UM



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