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Michigan Wolverines Hockey: Stonehill preview

The Wolverines officially return tonight against the lowly Skyhawks.

Michigan v Massachusetts-Amherst Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

The No. 15 Michigan Wolverines (8-7-3) officially return to the ice tonight. Following a gold medal at the World Juniors tournament for Rutger McGroarty, Frank Nazar, Gavin Brindley, and Seamus Casey, and a 5-1 exhibition victory over the U.S. NTDP last weekend, the Wolverines will resume play on their collegiate season this weekend against Stonehill.

The last time we saw the Wolverines, the team struggled with health, chemistry and frequent defensive lapses. Over Michigan’s final five games, the Wolverines went 2-2-1 in what was a microcosm of their entire season. However, some help is on the way.

Dynamic defenseman Ethan Edwards will be making his season debut tonight, and forwards Mark Estapa and Rutger McGroarty will be returning to the lineup for the first time since both sustaining injuries against Penn State on Nov. 17. All of them will provide a boost to the Wolverines, but especially McGroarty, who was the nation’s leading scorer at the time of his injury.

Despite his absence, McGroarty’s 18 points (6G, 12A) are still enough to hold a tie for third on the team with two of his Team USA teammates, Gavin Brindley (10G, 8A) and Frank Nazar (8G, 10A). Leading the way for the Wolverines is T.J. Hughes — no relation to Luke, Quinn or Jack — with 22 points (9G, 13A), closely followed by Dylan Duke with 20 points (8G, 12A).

On the blue line, Edwards’ return will provide some much-needed depth and skill to help ease the burden on burgeoning superstar Seamus Casey. Casey, the team’s leading scorer and the nation’s highest-scoring defenseman, has 23 points (4G, 19A) and has wowed with his electric playing style. Bringing some invaluable physicality and leadership to the team and blue line are team captain Jacob Truscott (2G, 8A) and transfer Marshall Warren (1G, 8A), who have been the most consistent defenders this season.

In net, Jake Barczewski has gone 7-6-3 while posting a .913 save percentage and 2.73 goals against average. Barzo has played better than his numbers suggest, but with injuries and untimely defensive lapses, he has been left out to dry on more than one occasion.

This Michigan team is arguably the best two-period team in college hockey. The Wolverines have seen leads slip away time and time again in the final frame, dampening their record, but with just a little more consistency, this team could string together a nice winning streak in the second half of the season just like has in the prior two seasons. Up first to spark this potential run is Michigan’s final non-conference opponent of the regular season, Stonehill.

Not to be crass or disrespectful, but the Skyhawks are terrible. Possibly the worst team in college hockey, Stonehill has yet to win or even tie a game this season en route to a 0-20 record. But as Arizona State found in a pair of tight one-goal victories, the Skyhawks will fight for an upset for 60 minutes.

Stonehill is led in scoring by forward Frank Ireland with 11 points (6G, 5A) and forward Henri Schreifels is not far behind with 10 points (6G, 4A). Defensively, Greg Japchen is the leading blue-liner with 10 points (3G, 7A) and the team’s top assist man.

In net, Dylan Meilun has started 17 games and posted a .881 save percentage and 4.89 goals against average.

The Wolverines have some work to do to secure an NCAA Tournament spot and the momentum should start tonight.

Game 1

When: Friday, Jan. 12, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI

How to watch: BIG+

How to listen: WXYT 1270 AM

Game 2

When: Saturday, Jan. 13, 7 p.m. ET

Where: Yost Ice Arena, Ann Arbor, MI

How to watch: BIG+

How to listen: WXYT 1270 AM