So much for a relaxing start to 2018.
The Michigan hockey team will take on Bowling Green to open the Great Lakes Invitational on Monday, with either Michigan State or Michigan Tech awaiting it Tuesday.
After the Great Lakes Invitational wraps up, the Wolverines have just two days to regroup for two games this weekend. Their opponents? None other than No. 3 Notre Dame.
And as if this week’s schedule wasn’t daunting enough beforehand, Michigan will take the ice without three of its biggest contributors. Sophomore forward Will Lockwood, freshman forward Josh Norris and freshman defenseman Quinn Hughes were all selected to the United States national team for the World Junior Championships last month, which is currently taking place in Buffalo, N.Y. and runs through Jan. 5.
The Wolverines (7-7-2 overall, 3-5-2 Big Ten) will undoubtedly miss the trio competing at the World Juniors, which has recorded nine goals and 20 assists this season. And while Michigan is still likely to rely heavily on its top line of seniors — Tony Calderone and Dexter Dancs and junior Cooper Marody — the chance presented by Norris, Lockwood and Hughes’ absence could be valuable for many of Michigan’s reserves and younger players.
“I know my sophomore year I think we lost four guys and ended up winning,” Calderone said on Inside Michigan Hockey last week. “So it’s an opportunity for guys who don’t get to play much and it’s exciting for them.”
Bowling Green (8-6-6, 7-2-5 WCHA) is the last non-conference opponent and one of only two unranked teams the Wolverines will face prior to the final week of the regular season, but that doesn’t mean it can be overlooked. Powered by a stingy defense that doesn’t give away opportunities, the Falcons rank seventh in the country in shots allowed and surrender just 2.55 goals per game. In October, they recorded a split in a home-and-home set against Michigan State — the same result as Michigan.
The Wolverines’ series against the Spartans started off well enough, as they recorded their first shutout of the season in a 4-0 win at Yost Ice Arena. But the tables turned one night later, as Michigan State blew them out, 5-0, in East Lansing.
The Spartans’ main strength is a trio of forwards that can compete with any in the Big Ten. Mitchell Lewandowski, Taro Hirose and Patrick Khorodenko have combined for 56 points on the season. But like Michigan, Michigan State has often struggled to generate offense when its first line isn’t on the ice.
The Great Lakes Invitational could also feature Michigan coach Mel Pearson’s first meeting with his former team, Michigan Tech (9-7-5, 7-6-5 WCHA), who Pearson guided to 118 wins and two NCAA Tournament berths in his six-year tenure.
In another first, this year’s Great Lakes Invitational will be the first played at the new Little Caesars Arena, after 37 previous editions of the tournament at Joe Louis Arena.
“I had the opportunity to play at the Olympia, obviously coached and played at Joe Louis, and now we’re going to Little Caesars,” Pearson said on Inside Michigan Hockey last week. “So I’m really looking forward to it, it’s a great building.”
While the Wolverines won’t get much rest this week, they should have plenty of rest saved up, as their last game was Dec. 8 at Michigan State. After an up-and-down first half, the winter break gave Michigan a chance to recalibrate as it prepares to run the gauntlet of the Big Ten.
“We’ve tried to make it a mini training camp and we’re trying to go over all our systems and get everything in place,” Pearson said. “We haven’t played for quite a while, so it’s like retraining them just make sure that we understand how we need to play and making sure we get the repetitions in.”