All season long, the Michigan hockey team has been on a
roller coaster that has included dominating wins and disappointing
losses. But the regular season is now history, and a loss in the
NCAA Tournament means you’re sent home.
The Wolverines will play a first-round game away from home
for the first time in three years, entering the Northeast Regional
after losing to Ohio State in the CCHA Championship. If Michigan
beats New Hampshire, it will play the winner of the Boston College
vs. Niagara game at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
The Michigan Daily’s hockey professors (a.k.a. the
hockey beat writers) are here to break down the matchups in
Prof. Michael Nisson on Michigan’s offense vs. New
If you simply look at where the teams rank in their respective
conferences, Michigan has a big advantage. The Wolverines led the
CCHA with a 3.61 goals-per-game average. In comparison, New
Hampshire’s defense gave up an average of 3.17 goals a game
in Hockey East play, which puts it at eighth in the conference.
Those stats are fine and dandy, but they fail to take into
account a very important factor that will be present in
Saturday’s game — New Hampshire’s advantage of
playing near home. Simply put, the Wildcats play better defense
when they have a home crowd cheering them on, while the
Wolverines’ offense struggles when it plays outside of Yost
Ice Arena. Looking at the entire season (including non-conference
games), New Hampshire only gave up 2.47 goals in every home game it
played, while Michigan averaged just 2.73 goals per game on the
ADVANTAGE: New Hampshire
Prof. Brian Schick on Michigan’s defense vs. New
The Wildcats have the ninth-highest scoring offense in the
nation, boasting 3.42 goals per game. Michigan hasn’t fared
too well this year against opponents who currently place in the top
10 in scoring — going 4-3 and allowing 3.7 goals per game in
those contests. The blueliners will also have to watch out for
senior forward Steve Saviano; Hockey East’s Player of the
Year led the conference in scoring and was third in the nation in
goals with 27. He is lethal with his shot selection, connecting on
20 percent of all shots on goal. New Hampshire also has three
players with 40-plus points on its roster.
Michigan will need to limit the shot selection of Saviano by
blocking as many shots as possible. Nebraska-Omaha was able to
frustrate Michigan’s forwards two weeks ago by blocking
everything thrown at net, and it nearly cost them. The same should
work for New Hampshire. The Wolverines can use their size on New
Hampshire’s top players to wear them down — four of
Michigan’s defensemen are bigger than New Hampshire’s
top three scorers.
Prof. Gennaro Filice on special teams:
This matchup should be a dandy, pitting two very explosive
powerplays against each other. When Michigan’s on the
man-advantage — which could happen a lot, as the Wolverines
are among the tops in the nation in powerplay opportunities with
235 — it features a trio of players with six goals each: T.J.
Hensick, Milan Gajic and Eric Nystrom. Also, Jeff Tambellini has
heated up in the last month, and his slapper from the point is one
of the country’s most dangerous. But, the Wolverines better
be careful with the puck while on the powerplay, as New
Hampshire’s Sean Collins has notched five shorthanded
New Hampshire is equally effective with the extra man.
Accumulating just 177 powerplays, the Wildcats haven’t had as
many chances as the Wolverines, but their percentage (.831) is very
similar to Michigan’s (.839). Saviano leads the New Hampshire
powerplay with nine goals. But, the Wildcats have struggled a bit
on the man-advantage in the last two games, failing to chalk up a
score in 10 chances.
Prof. Sharad Mattu on goaltending:
When asked how much pressure he would feel as the starting
goaltender facing the host school, Al Montoya just shook his head.
Having gone through the experience of last year’s regional at
Yost, he explained that the pressure is actually on the netminder
playing in front of his own fans — in this case, New
Hampshire’s Mike Ayers.
Last weekend, Montoya was solid in the CCHA Super 6, but was
unable to carry Michigan through it’s rough stretch against
Ohio State. This weekend, he’ll receive quite a bit of
jeering, but if anyone can handle it, it’s him. He’s
confident — perhaps cocky — and he won the World Junior
Championship in Finland, when fans for Canada were all over
Ayers’s stats came back to earth after his outstanding
junior campaign last year, and they don’t match up to
Montoya’s numbers, but he’s got the ability to stop any
offense that comes his way. Also, the support he’ll receive
could give him that extra boost.
Prof. Mattu’s Predictions for the weekend:
The last two times the professors made predictions, Prof.
Mattu hit the scores on the head both times, but was overruled by
his colleagues. After that, the other three conceded to his
superior prognostication abilities. So this time around, he took
Can the Wolverines pull it out? Of course. But expecting them to
win is a totally different matter. With the inconsistency
they’ve shown, it’s hard to imagine them putting
together four straight complete games.
PREDICTIONS: Michigan 4, New Hampshire 2
Boston College 4, Niagra 0
Boston College 3, Michigan 1
Northeast Regional teams at a glance:
1. Boston College Golden Eagles
Conference finish: 1st, Hockey East (17-4-3)
Daily’s Regional Title odds: 2-to-1
2. Michigan Wolverines
Conference finish: 1st, CCHA (18-8-2)
Daily’s Regional Title odds: 9-to-2
3. New Hampshire Wildcats
Conference finish: 4th, Hockey East (10-8-6)
Daily’s Regional Title odds: 3-to-1
4. Niagara Purple Eagles
Conference finish: 2nd, CHA (14-6)
Daily’s Regional Title odds: 25-to-1