This weekend the Michigan hockey team is forming a posse and heading out west to play in the Maverick Stampede tournament in Omaha. Michigan will face Hockey East preseason favorite Providence in tonight”s game. In its second game of the event tomorrow, Michigan will either face WCHA cellar-dweller Minnesota-Duluth or CCHA rival Nebraska-Omaha.
Providence, ranked No. 5 in the nation, has a fast style that typifies East Coast college hockey.
The success of Michigan will depend on Mike Cammalleri, its John Wayne, to carry the offense. Cammalleri with his quick shot and pinpoint accuracy can force teams to play Michigan honest, keeping its defensemen back.
In last week”s Michigan-Michigan State game, Cammalleri had two goals against Hobey Baker Award winning backstop Ryan Miller. This performance added to his growing reputation as the best offensive player in college hockey this year.
Cammalleri missed practice the week before the “Cold War” and took the early part of this week off to rest his hip. With him back in the lineup, Michigan is a much more threatening team with a first line that is both fast and physical.
Another key for Michigan this weekend will be the play of its blueline. Mike Komisarek will continue to be a force for the Wolverines, but it is unclear with whom he will be paired.
The 6-foot-4 defenseman has lined up with three other defenders this season senior Jay Vancik and freshmen Brandon Rodgers and Reilly Olson.
Komisarek teamed with Olson in Tuesday”s U.S. National Development Program exhibition game, and both seemed to thrive. Olson netted his first goal of the season on a slap shot from the point while making smart plays on the defensive end.
Providence is an offensive juggernaut and will play at Michigan”s pace. Its run-and-gun offense will open things up on the ice.
The Friars finished second in Hockey East behind eventual national champion Boston College last season, scoring 3.17 goals per game in conference play.
The Friars also return 12 forwards from last season”s team and five of their top scoring forwards. Among them is Devin Rask, who had more than 50 points last year.
Also shoring up Providence is All-American goalie Nolan Schaefer, who had a 2.47 goals against average to go along with a .915 save percentage last season.
But a depleted blueline will hurt the Friars and Schaefer”s stellar numbers. After losing their top two defenders from last season (Matt Libby and Jay Leach), Providence has a huge void to fill.
“Jay and Matt played an awful lot of hockey for us last year,” Providence coach Paul Pooley said. “They kind of led the way, so guys have to step up their year. We don”t have a choice.”
Pooley stressed the need for his team to play intelligent defense and create odd-man rushes off of opponents” mistakes while avoiding those same mistakes on its own end.
“I think we need to continue emphasizing defense as a team and create some good offense from playing good team defense,” Pooley said. “If we don”t do that, then it is going to be a wide-open hockey game and we are going to get in a shoot out.”