Who: #14 Michigan at #7 UMass-Lowell
Where: Tsongas Center. Lowell, Massachusetts
When: 10-24-14, 7:00pm NESN
Norm Bazin returns to Lowell for his 4th season behind the bench after guiding the River Hawks to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Under Bazin the River Hawks immediately went from a Hockey East doormat to a powerhouse program, combining strong defensive play with a grinding cycle game.
After a rough weekend against New Hampshire, the Wolverines hit the road against an older back end with a lot of new faces. Four defensemen and goaltenders Connor Hellebuyck and Doug Carr have departed from last season's team and Bazin has replaced them with a group of older, but inexperienced defensemen led by four year players Zack Kamrass and Jake Suter, with UMass transfer Kevin Boyle in net.
The outcome of this weekend will largely be decided by Michigan's top line of Dexter Dancs, Andrew Copp and JT Compher, who haven't found the scoresheet yet. The secondary scoring options outside of Larkin, Motte and Hyman haven't been consistent enough in the offensive zone to win a game if the Top-6 aren't scoring and the power play has been awful, going 0-for-9 so far. They'll need to get down around Boyle's crease, get guys to the net and take advantage of every opportunity they come across.
The Wolverine forwards made life too easy for Adam Clark last weekend by falling into old habits, shooting from the boards in transition and getting away from the physical style around the net. On the road against a Top-10 team, if they fall into the same patterns it's going to be a long night.
New Hampshire rocked the Wolverines with tempo last weekend at Yost. Tonight will be a new challenge for the Michigan blueline facing a River Hawk team that favors a possession game, with an active death-by-cycle style of play. The Michigan defensemen will have to win battles in front of the net and on the boards, while the forwards will play an important defensive role trying to keep the active UML defensemen from cycling into the play.
This favors a defensive unit that has never had a problem against slower tempo offensive zone pressure. Transition and special teams have been a major weakness, but when the Wolverines have been able to slow the pace and keep everything simple for Racine and Nagelvoort they have done well.
The new defensive pairings worked well last weekend so they should stay the same. Mike Downing and Zach Werenski have locked down the top pairing, Kevin Lohan is solid on the second and Cutler Martin has brought stability to the third pair.
Special teams and puck possession will be the deciding factor in this game. While the River Hawks are a strong possession team, they aren't great on special teams. Unfortunately Michigan is horrible in both of those categories; they haven't scored a power play goal, they've allowed two power play goals against and have given up two shorthanded goals.
For the Wolverines to get a win over a Top-10 team on the road, these are the two matchups they have to win.