Last season’s national champions, Massachusetts, will pose many challenges for the No. 6 Michigan hockey team in its upcoming series this weekend.
After a 0-0 tie with Michigan Tech in overtime on Dec. 29, the Wolverines return to Yost Ice Arena to start the second half of their season against the Minutemen. Loaded with young talent, Massachuesests was the No. 1 ranked team preseason but has since fallen to No. 10. With multiple players returning from the World Junior Championships, the Wolverines will also have more assets against a tough Minutemen squad.
Massachusetts started the season on a low note, getting swept by Minnesota State. The Mavericks are the only school both teams have played, with Michigan beating them, 3-2, in the Ice Breaker Tournament earlier this season.
“They’re going to play physical, hard and really well defensively,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said. “It’s not anything we haven’t seen. We’re gonna have to be patient, and we’re gonna have to be disciplined in how we play.”
The Minutemen lost key skaters over the offseason as defenseman Zac Jones and goaltender Filip Lindberg turned professional. Lindberg played 15 games for Massachusetts last season and recorded a strong .949 save percentage, the fourth best in NCAA Division 1 Hockey. Yet, the team also gained important attributes.
A player to watch is defenseman Scott Morrow, who leads the Minutemen with eight goals. Forward Bobby Trivigno isn’t far behind him with seven. Trivigno led Massachusetts with 34 points last season, including 11 goals and 23 assists in 29 games. Defenseman Ryan Ufko has had a breakout campaign, recording 11 assists.
Goaltender Matt Murray has been a mainstay in net. He earned 41 saves against Providence in November and has only allowed an average of 2.16 goals per game. After splitting time with Lindberg last season, he’s shown he has what it takes to lead his team between the pipes.
Michigan previously faced physical teams this season in matchups against Minnesota State, Western Michigan and Minnesota Duluth. Focusing on its own game and playing to its strengths will be vital.
Key players like sophomore defenseman Owen Power and sophomore forwards Matty Beniers and Kent Johnson returning to Ann Arbor can only help the team accomplish this.
“The most important thing going into this is that we dictate how the game can be played and to play our style,” Pearson said. “It’s easier said than done, but it’s a certain way we need to play and that’s the agenda we’re pushing.”
The Minutemen have only played one game since Dec. 8, with their recent series against Union College having been postponed. The Wolverines could capitalize on Massachusetts’ rust, as it too has a game under its belt since the winter break.
“They’ve been a successful program the past few years,” fifth-year senior forward Michael Pastujov said. “It’s gonna be a good test and we’ll have the full team back. We want to implement our game style that we want to play with our full roster.”
Sticking to its own game and playing through the physicality will be essential for Michigan. Although the Wolverines have shown an inability to handle scrappy play at times, a much needed break and full roster could be the recipe for a successful series.