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Michigan hockey faces tough challenge in two-game series against Western Michigan

The Wolverines will welcome the Broncos for the first game of a home-and-home series.

NCAA Hockey: Frozen Four-North Dakota vs Michigan Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 4 ranked Michigan Wolverines (5-1) regained their momentum after a weekend sweep over the Lake Superior State Lakers. This week, Michigan football isn’t the only team welcoming a rival. The Wolverines welcome the No. 16/17 ranked Western Michigan Broncos (5-2) on the ice for a home-and-home weekend series.

Western Michigan will be a tough matchup for the Wolverines because of its stout defensive play led by last week’s NCHC’s players of the week: defenseman Cedric Fielder and goalie Cameron Rowe.

Fielder has taken a massive leap for a Broncos team that lost their top four point scorers from a team that reached the regional final of the NCAA Tournament last year. Fielder now has five points on the year following his first and second career goals in a 4-0 shutout of Notre Dame last Saturday.

In net, Rowe is one of the best netminders in the country. Currently, Rowe is ranked No. 8 in goals against average (1.66) and No. 13 in save percentage (.928). The Broncos as a whole rank fourth nationally in scoring defense, allowing just 1.86 goals per game (GPG), making them the best defensive team BY FAR the Wolverines have faced to date.

But also, the Wolverines will be BY FAR the best offensive team the Broncos have faced. Michigan is tied for the best scoring offense in hockey (5.17 GPG), almost double the best scoring team WMU has faced so far this season.

Michigan is led by the nation’s leading scorer Adam Fantilli (5 G, 10 A) who is four points clear of second place. Michigan’s entire first line is ranked in the top 10 in scoring. Mackie Samoskevich (5 G, 5 A, 10 PTS) is tied for third and Dylan Duke (4 G, 5 A, 9 PTS) is tied for fourth.

The Wolverines currently have eight players with five or more points, and one of them are named Luke Hughes. To the naked eye, it would appear Hughes is struggling, but actually his two-way play has improved this season. Hughes leads the Wolverines with 10 blocked shots and his +7 is third on the team.

Keys to the games

  • Protect home ice. The Wolverines are 3-1 at Yost this season, with the only loss being the controversial, penalty-filled second game against Boston University. Western Michigan is undefeated at home this season and it is imperative Michigan take game one to avoid the pressure and likelihood of a sweep in Kalamazoo.
  • Win the faceoff battle. Adam Fantilli has won the sixth-most faceoffs of anyone in the country, but the Wolverines have no one else ranked inside the top-50. Western Michigan has two players (Max Sasson, Tim Washe) to throw at Fantilli, so a No. 2 has to emerge for Michigan to ease his burden in the circle.
  • Get Seamus Casey back on track. After scoring in the first three games of the season, Casey has been held scoreless in the last three. His offensive presence on the blue line is not something the Wolverines can survive without.
  • Special teams. Statistically, the Broncos are better on the power play and better at killing penalties than the Wolverines. In a stylistic match-up that could limit Michigan offensively, the Wolverines cannot lose the special teams battles to Western Michigan.

Game 1

WHEN: 7 p.m., Friday, Oct. 28

WHERE: Yost Arena, Ann Arbor, MI

WATCH: Big Ten Network

LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network


WHEN: 6 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 29

WHERE: Lawson Arena, Kalamazoo, MI


LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network