March 13, 2013 - 5:56pm
BY MATT SLOVIN
With the Michigan hockey team set to square off against Western Michigan this weekend, I chatted with Bronco beat writer David Drew of the Kalamazoo Gazette. He sheds light on the keys to the weekend for Western Michigan and what it will take to beat the Broncos, and also offers a prediction for the series.
The Michigan Daily: What, in your mind, are the keys to the weekend for Western Michigan?
Drew: The Broncos have to score first. They don’t have the kind of offense Michigan does. Western Michigan is much better at protecting leads than playing from behind. Within the game, the Broncos could really use some power play scoring to spark their subpar even strength offense. In terms of a specific line, Western Michigan needs Chase Balisy, Dane Walters and Shane Berschbach to produce.
TMD: What's been the reason behind the recent success of the penalty-kill unit?
Drew: The Broncos have actually been consistently good all season in both aspects of special teams. Western Michigan is known for its defense and that really shines through on the penalty kill. Senior Trevor Elias can singlehandedly kill off the final 30 seconds of an opposing power play with his ability to chase down the puck when it’s cleared and keep it pinned against the boards. I think special teams will be a huge factor in this series and there’s no doubt Western Michigan has to contain Michigan’s surging power play.
TMD: Does Frank Slubowski have the potential to steal the weekend, almost singlehandedly?
Drew: Frank has made big strides from last year and he has shown the ability to keep Western Michigan in games when losing – look no further than a 1-0 loss to Michigan State in the regular season finale. Slubowski does not regularly face more than 30-35 shots every game. He has the ability to elevate his game at important times, but the Western Michigan defense is very good in front of him and does a nice job of supporting Slubowski.
TMD: How has Andy Murray and the team reacted to playing Michigan? Is there a sense of excitement or are they lamenting catching the Wolverines when they're hot?
Drew: Murray said on Monday he woke up that morning and got excited when he saw his team would be facing Michigan. The players are also embracing it, and I don’t think they’re saying it just because it’s on the record. In the last two postseasons, Western Michigan has shown it plays good hockey with a big challenge in front of it. I think this matchup will be the best series in the CCHA Tournament this weekend. Whichever teams wins this series is going to be playing great hockey when it gets to Joe Louis Arena because it’s going to take great hockey to beat either team.
TMD: What's your prediction for the series?
Drew: I see this series going to Sunday and I think Western Michigan wins it with a big factor being the home ice advantage. Lawson Arena is a small venue and really gets rocking when the team is playing. Western Michigan also plays on a smaller sheet of ice at home and keeping Michigan’s very talented roster from getting good spacing, especially on the power play, will be big. I have a feeling whoever wins Friday’s game will win the series because it’s hard to say Western Michigan’s struggles in Saturday games won’t continue.