Who: Michigan vs Northern Michigan
Where: Joe Louis Arena
When: Tuesday, December 29th. 7:00pm.
This used to be my favorite series during the CCHA years. It was the kind of game that the records didn't matter. Northern always brought up their energy level to play Michigan and it was guaranteed to be a nasty, physical series between two programs that do not like each other.
After two and a half years the two programs will meet again in the GLI opener.
The Wildcats enter the series with a 6-6-6 record.
Offensively Northern ranks 43rd in the country scoring 2.39 goals per game and has the nation's 31st ranked power play. The Wildcats have a group of talented goal scorers led by Darren Nowick, the team leader with seven goals; Robbie Payne and John Siemer each have six, Dominik Shine has added five and Shane Sooth has four but the Wildcats lack scoring depth outside of those five and have been held under three goals in five of their last eight games.
On the blueline the Wildcats are led by senior Ryan Trenz and juniors Brock Maschmeyer and Barrett Kaib. They also have three freshman and a sophomore getting significant playing time.
This blueline has put up misleading numbers this season. They're only allowing 2.39 goals per game and kill penalties at an 83% rate but they allow a large number of shots to reach their goaltender. To this point, those shot totals have been covered up by outstanding play in net from freshman Atte Tolvanen.
Tolvanen has appeared in all but one of their games and boasts a .931 sv% and a 2.25 goals against despite facing an average of 32 shots per game this season. He has been spectacular in the crease earning WCHA Defensive Player of the Week honors, WCHA Rookie of the Month honors and has been named WCHA Rookie of the Week three different times.
Keys to the Game
This is going to be an intense game so it's important for the Wolverines to match the Wildcats' energy level but also to avoid going overboard. Only three Michigan players have been apart of this series: Boo Nieves, Justin Selman and Steve Racine.
Zach Werenski and Mike Downing are both out and Kevin Lohan hasn't played since October. That leaves five healthy but turnover prone defensemen against a team that will be trying to spark their offense with forechecking.
Michigan's #1 ranked offense enters the GLI at full strength after Kyle Connor's omission from the World Junior roster. They'll need to get out of the zone quickly and out into transition to keep their defensemen from getting hemmed in.
Special teams are always important and they'll be a deciding factor in this game.
Winner plays the winner of Tech/State on Wednesday.