Who: #15 Michigan at #17 Michigan Tech
Where: MacInnes Student Ice Arena. Houghton, Michigan.
When: 10-31-14, 11-1-14. 7:00pm.
About Michigan Tech
Led by longtime Michigan assistant Mel Pearson, the Huskies have taken college hockey by storm with four road wins over Lake Superior State and Ferris State. Long considered the architect behind Michigan's dynamic offenses, Pearson has built a program at Michigan Tech that hasn't seen success in a very long time and is ready to take the next step.
The Wolverines have found their groove offensively led by the second line of Alex Kile, Dylan Larkin and Zach Hyman but the top line will be retooled after after a slow start. Berenson has ended JT Compher's experiment at wing and will move him back to center.
Tyler Motte has been a force on the third line playing with Nieves and could move up to play with Copp and Evan Allen is another player who has a skill set that fits what the Wolverines want on the top line but has languished as a checking winger.
Regardless of line combinations everything starts and ends with forechecking; creating offensive opportunities by forcing turnovers below the goal line and keeping Michigan Tech from getting out in transition.
On the blueline Michigan Tech doesn't return as much experience as you would expect from a unit that has played so well. The Huskies only have three upperclassmen; Jimmy Davis, Walker Hyland and Riley Sweeney, but have gotten solid production from underclassmen Cliff Watson, Chris Leibinger and Shane Hanna. Still the Huskies have allowed 25 shots a game to reach their net, an overlooked flaw to their game shadowed by excellent play in net.
In net Jamie Phillips replaced the departed Pheonix Copley and has been outstanding. The Winnipeg Jets draft pick has posted a .954 SV% and a 4-0-0 record, shutting out Ferris State last Friday and holding them to 1 goal Saturday in Big Rapids. Phillips is a giant in net at 6'3 who plays a strong positional game, but moves very well for a goalie of his size.
This will be a tough test for the Michigan forwards. The Wolverines will want to skate in transition, but they must get players to the net facing a goalie who covers pipe-to-pipe as well as Phillips does. Wide shots in transition without anyone driving the net won't cut it and Mel Pearson knows this is how to beat Michigan, having used similar gameplans against the Wolverines before pushing them down the boards and letting them settle into this style of game.
The Wolverine blueline has improved over the course of the young season but they still fall victim to opportunistic goals and let teams hang around. The top pairing of Mike Downing and Zach Werenski has been solid and Nolan De Jong has taken an impressive step forward pairing with Kevin Lohan. The third pairing has rotated Martin-Chiasson and Piazza-Serville with serviceable results but as a defensive unit they still have not put together a 60 minute effort this season and that has to change going on the road against an impressive MTU team.
The Huskies have built their program around the core of Tanner Kero, Alex Petan and Blake Pietila. Petan has led the Huskies in scoring the past two seasons and New Jersey draft pick Blake Pietila and Kero finished 2nd and 3rd last year.
After more than 20 years behind the bench with Red Berenson, it's no surprise Pearson has brought a high tempo game to Michigan Tech. The Huskies will look to get out in transition and push the pace facing a blueline that has struggled with their assignments against high tempo teams.
The Michigan blueline will be tested this weekend similar to what they saw against New Hampshire and BU. Without time to get forwards in the neutral zone like they did against UML, the Michigan defensemen will be handling the transition by themselves. Backchecking from the forwards will be key.
This is going to be a tough weekend. This is a series for the Michigan Tech program to make a statement that they can compete with any team in the country and I expect them to give the Wolverines everything they have. MacInnes Arena is going to be rocking and the Huskies will be pumped up. Michigan has to withstand the pressure early and score the first goal or be overwhelmed.