Michigan played its first official collegiate hockey game against Wisconsin on January 12, 1923. Nine national championships –the most by any Division 1 team– and thousands of Children of Yost later, and the hockey program has flourished over the last ten decades and shows no signs of slowing down. Now, remove the interim tag from Brandon Naurato to ensure continued success. I digress.
Tonight marks the first official game for the Wolverines since beating Michigan State 2-1 in early December. Last weekend, the Wolverines attained an exhibition victory over the United States National Team Development Program (USNTDP) 7-6, despite being without several players due to World Juniors participation.
But with the return of Adam Fantilli, Gavin Brindley, Rutger McGroarty, Dylan Duke, and Luke Hughes from World Juniors, the Wolverines can set their sights on the Big Ten and finally establishing some consistent winning as Ohio State has.
The Buckeyes are winners of five straight, including a two-game sweep over the Spartans last weekend in Columbus. Ohio State is a balanced team with three players (Davis Burnside, Joe Dunlap, and Cam Thiesing) sharing the goal-scoring lead with ten each, and two different players (Jake Wise and Stephen Halliday) sharing the points lead with 21 each.
Furthermore, 22 different Buckeyes have registered a point for Ohio State and 17 have scored a goal. This team gets reliable production across all four lines and is incredibly balanced defensively as well.
In net, Jakub Dobes has posted a .923 save percentage –second in the Big Ten– as is fresh off his second shutout of the season.
KEYS TO THE GAME
- Re-establish chemistry - Michigan’s top three centers (not including defenseman Seamus Casey despite his masterful performance last weekend), top left winger and physical net-front presence Dylan Duke, and top scoring blue liner Luke Hughes will all be returning tonight. While it’ll take a few shifts to get a feel for each other, the Wolverines must find a rhythm as quickly as possible against a team as deep and talented as the Buckeyes.
- Power play discipline - Ohio State is first nationally on the penalty kill (80/88, .909) and first in shorthanded goals with eight. Michigan must be careful with the puck at the blue line and avoid inopportune turnovers to spark Ohio State. That said, it’s time to get their best combination (in my opinion: Fantilli-Samo-Duker-Brother Seamus-Hughes) sorted out and rolling to start the second half of the season.
- Speed, speed, speed - Michigan is one of the fastest teams in the country and that is even without lightning-fast Frankie Nazar who is still sidelined due to injury. The Wolverines need to exploit their speed advantage through the neutral zone with players like Fantilli, Mackie Samoskevich, and Jackson Hallum, and then establish their forecheck. Aggressive speedsters can help cut down on costly neutral zone turnovers and allow the Wolverines to stretch opposing defenses.
WHEN: Friday, January 13, 6:30 PM; Saturday, January 14, 4:30 PM
WHERE: Yost Arena; Ann Arbor, MI
HOW TO WATCH: Game 1, BIG+; Game 2, Big Ten Network
HOW TO LISTEN: Varsity Podcast Network