When the No. 4 Michigan hockey team takes on No. 1 Miami this weekend, it won’t be as concerned with the number in front of the RedHawks’ name as it is with the numbers on the backs of the jerseys.
When the puck drops, the Wolverine defense will be focusing on numbers 9 and 11. Juniors Tommy Wingels and Carter Camper lead the potent Miami offensive attack this season, with both averaging a point per game.
Michigan coach Red Berenson said that shutting them down, along with their linemate Curtis McKenzie, could make the difference in the game. It changed the outcome last year.
In the two games the Wolverines lost last year, the duo combined for four points. But when Miami came to Yost in early January, Camper and Wingels didn’t score a point in Michigan’s two blowout wins.
“They have to worry about Rust and Hagelin and Caporusso and Wohlberg and Brown and so on, just like we have to worry about their best players,” Berenson said. “I think you’ll see them matched up. Head-to-head, our top lines will play against their top lines.”
Top two-way forwards such as juniors Carl Hagelin and Matt Rust and sophomore David Wohlberg remain on Michigan’s top two lines, and are sure to be the guys assigned to Wingels and Camper for most of the game.
Shutting down the RedHawks’ first line and the rest of the 19th-ranked scoring offense is nothing new for the Wolverines. They gave up just five goals to Miami in just four games a year ago.
Michigan worked on defensive zone coverage in practice all week, hoping to recreate last season’s results. The only defenseman from last year not on the unit that shut down the RedHawks last year is junior Scooter Vaughan, who is playing forward this season.
Because the defensive zone was the one area the Wolverines struggled with last weekend against Lake Superior State, where they allowed 63 shots in two games, the forwards in particular will have to work harder in their own end tonight if they want to stop the Redhawks (3-1-0 CCHA, 6-1-1 overall).
“We have to make sure the defensive zone is number one on our priority list,” junior forward Louie Caporusso said. “Until we actually get down to business and bear down in the defensive zone, not get mesmerized by the puck and make sure we have our man and we compete just as hard in our defensive zone than in the offensive zone, then I think we’ll be OK.”
The only sure thing heading into the series is that the intensity will be at the highest it has been this season. The Wolverines are used to physicality after playing hard checking teams like Boston University and Lake Superior State.
But aggressive play has a side effect, and penalties and the power play are where Miami’s dynamic duo may have the most success.
If the Wolverines (2-0-0, 4-2-0) continue to take almost 17 penalty minutes per game, the RedHawks’ extra-man attack will have a chance to repeat their performance last weekend, in which they scored four out of the team’s six goals.
“There’s going to be players trying to win races and win battles and so there is going to be penalties that are going to be accidental,” Berenson said. “But if you get into a penalty-filled game, I don’t know who’s got the advantage. Their power play could be better than ours, and it will be a real test for our goalkeeping and our penalty killing if their power play gets to be a factor.”