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Michigan hockey returns home for two-game series against UMass this weekend

The Wolverines and Minutemen face each other for the first time ever this weekend.

Duel In The D: Michigan v Michigan State Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

The No. 6 Michigan Wolverines’ hockey team returns to Yost Ice Arena this week — and welcomes back all six of their players that were missing from the World Juniors — to take on the No. 10 UMass Minutemen.

The big guns return

Michigan gets back it’s six big horses as Owen Power, Matty Beniers, Kent Johnson, Luke Hughes and Mackie Samsmokevich all return from the World Junior Championships. Offensively, the Wolverines get some much needed firepower returning with four of the six players listed being in the top five for teams points and in the top 20 nationally. I wouldn’t expect Michigan to have another scoreless tie like it did last weekend. Expect to see their impact offensively felt right away.

Know The Opponent: UMass

UMass comes into this game ranked No. 10 in USCHO poll. The Minutemen have only played three games in the last three weeks due to COVID-19 protocols. They have won all three of those games though, winning this past Monday night against Merrimack 4-3.

They currently sit in second place in the Hockey East standings and have seven players who have already been drafted by NHL teams from previous years. This is one of the few teams that can match up with the number of players already drafted.

Defense Is Offense

Of those seven players drafted, four of them are on the back end and two of them are in the top four in the team points lead. Freshman Scott Morrow is one of those two and leads the team with 18 points in 16 games to go with his team-leading eight goals.

This UMass team is young like the Wolverines, with seven freshmen and a mixture of sophomores and upperclassmen. The Minutemen are pretty well balanced in terms of guys in their specific class, Bobby Trivigno, Ryan Ufko, Reed Lebster and Anthony Del Gazio make up their top five scorers with each having at least 10 points or more. Scoring depth and balance has been a big reason why UMass is having the good start it did. Generally, teams like that make it tough to game plan for and line match with.

Having four defensemen drafted, it’s no surprise UMass is seventh in the nation in goals allowed (38) with senior goalie Matt Murray giving up 2.25 goals a game to go with a .925 save percentage. That sits at sixth best among all goalies across the NCAA.

UMass has above average special teams, ranking 23rd in power play with a 20.7% conversion rate. It’s penalty kill is tied for 35th, killing off 83.3% of shorthanded situations.

How Michigan Can Win

Teams built like UMass with depth, scoring and good defense has given Michigan trouble early on in the year (Minnesota, Notre Dame). It’s going to come down to Michigan’s willingness to play simple hockey offensively and willingness to pay attention to details on the defensive side.

I get it; when you are this good offensively it’s hard to not fall in love with just scoring six goals a game and be okay with giving up five on the other end. I think if the Wolverines take the effort and goaltending performance they had against Michigan Tech last weekend combined with the usual offensive output they have with the return of the big guns up front, this is probably the best team in college hockey. But can they put it all together?

First time for everything

This is the first time ever Michigan and UMass will play each other. You can catch a 5 p.m. puck drop Saturday on Big Ten Network and 4 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.