The CCHA Tournament is already underway, with two teams
already sent packing last night. Ohio State and Notre Dame needed
overtime before the Buckeyes pulled out a 6-5 win. Ohio State will
play Miami tomorrow. Northern Michigan shocked everyone by scoring
two quick goals against Michigan State, and the Wildcats held on
for a 2-1 win.

Michigan will take on Northern Michigan this afternoon at
4:05 p.m. at Joe Louis Arena, and the Wolverines look to win their
third consecutive Mason Cup. With the Super Six in full swing, the
Michigan Daily’s hockey professors (a.k.a.. the hockey beat
writers) are here to break down the matchups in tonight’s
game.

Prof. Michael Nisson on Michigan’s offense vs. Northern
Michigan’s defense:

At first glance, this seems like a big-time mismatch. The
Wolverines lead the CCHA in goals per game a with 3.61 average,
while Northern Michigan gives up an average of 2.82 goals per
contest. In addition, the Wildcats have allowed five or more goals
eight times throughout the season, including once against Michigan
when the teams last played in October.

But after its 2-1 victory yesterday over Michigan State —
which ranks second in the conference offensively in goals per game
— Northern Michigan looks a bit more formidable. Throw in the
fact that Michigan struggled for most of the weekend against
Nebraska-Omaha and you might even say the Wildcats have an
advantage.

However, this is the playoffs, and the Wolverines always seem to
be able to turn it on when they need to. That makes their offense a
hard unit to bet against.

Advantage: Michigan

Prof. Brian Schick on Michigan’s defense vs. Northern
Michigan’s offense:

Last time these two teams met, Northern Michigan scored just two
goals, both coming on Oct. 26’s 5-2 Michigan win. Offense has
been a bit of a problem for the Wildcats this season, as they are
10th in the CCHA in goals per game — averaging a paltry 2.36.
Also, two of their top four scorers are defensemen. Freshman Darin
Oliver leads all scorers with 13 goals, and he’s the only
player to crack double digits in goals this season.

Michigan’s defense is highlighted by All-CCHA defenseman
Matt Hunwick, and All-CCHA snub Andy Burnes, perhaps the best
defensive pairing in the conference. The Wolverine ‘D’
is second-best in goals-against in the CCHA, allowing just 2.36
goals per game. Conventional wisdom says that Northern Michigan
will score exactly 2.36 tonight, so it’s up to
Michigan’s forwards to score three goals to advance.

Advantage: Michigan

Prof. Gennaro Filice on special teams:

This is the tightest matchup of the weekend — ’bout
as tough to call as Maize-N-Blue vs. Zingerman’s for that
post-class, 4 p.m. “lunch.” The top-seeded Wolverines
enter this weekend ranked as the No. 2 powerplay unit in the CCHA.
But, the Wildcats perfectly counter Michigan with the
conference’s No. 2 penalty kill. In their last five games,
the Wolverines have scored just twice on 29 powerplays. During the
teams’ weekend series back in October — which Michigan
swept — the Wolverines scored four powerplay goals.

The Wildcats’ powerplay has been average all year, and
they entered the weekend as the CCHA’s seventh-most effective
team with the man-advantage — again, perfectly countering
Michigan’s No. 7 penalty kill unit. Like the Wolverines,
Northern Michigan has struggled on the powerplay in its last five
games, lighting the lamp just once in 17 tries.

Slight advantage: Michigan

Prof. Sharad Mattu on goaltending:

Everyone knows who Al Montoya is and how valuable he is to the
Wolverines, but that’s certainly not the case with Tuomas
Tarkki. Until March 6, when Craig Kowalski injured his groin,
Tarkki had hardly gotten any opportunities to shine. But, on the
big stage, he’s made himself known. First, he closed out the
regular season with a win over Ferris State. Then, he carried the
team through its grueling trip to Fairbanks with a shocking
two-game sweep. But he still wasn’t done. He stopped 35 shots
yesterday against Michigan State to keep the Wildcats alive.

But four games still pales in comparison to Montoya’s
season. He won the World Juniors over Winter Break, allows just
2.27 goals a game and even helps the offensive attack with his
puck-handling skills (though this professor thinks he’s a tad
too aggressive).

Montoya hasn’t been at his best lately, but may be ready
to have a stretch similar to one he had in January when he allowed
just six goals in seven games. When the Wolverines were down 2-1 to
Nebraska-Omaha in Sunday’s deciding game, another goal
could’ve been the dagger, but Montoya took care of
business.

EDGE: MICHIGAN

Prediction: Michigan 3, Northern Michigan 1

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