Going into the postseason, the Michigan hockey team is just an innocent bystander.
Well, at least for one week.
The Wolverines head into the CCHA Tournament with a first-round bye after clinching their first conference regular-season championship since 2005. And the extra time off couldn’t have come at a better time.
With senior alternate captain Chad Kolarik still rehabbing a hamstring injury, a need for a defensive reexamination and various other kinks to work out, the Wolverines desperately needed a free week to prepare for tournament play.
The week off will give Michigan a chance to check out what teams it might see in the quarterfinal round. So, as the Wolverines break down their potential second-round opponents, so will we.
No. 8 seed Nebraska-Omaha (11-13-4 CCHA, 15-16-4 overall)
The CCHA Tournament reseeds after each round, so the Mavericks are the highest seed Michigan can possibly face in the next round, and this team could definitely give the Wolverines problems.
Nebraska-Omaha is an opportunistic team that has converted 25 percent of its power play chances this season. If the Mavericks watch the tape of Michigan’s split weekend with Ferris State, they could exploit the deficiencies in the Wolverine penalty kill. The Bulldogs, who score far less frequently than Nebraska-Omaha with the man-advantage, used crisp passing and quick puck movement to notch five power-play goals in two games.
The only way the Mavericks will square off with Michigan is if the home team wins every first-round series.
No. 9 seed Alaska (8-16-4, 8-19-5)
Despite the usual adjustment period that comes with a new coach and lengthy trips all year, the Nanooks come into this year’s CCHA Tournament two seeds higher than last year.
Alaska must be pleased with a No. 9 seed after its dismal start to the season. Nanook coach Doc DelCastillo had to wait nine games to record his first win, with tough losses to rival Alaska-Anchorage, Michigan and Michigan State. But once the schedule lightened up a bit, the Nanooks gelled.
While the majority of Alaska’s wins have come against conference bottom-dwellers Ohio State and Western Michigan, it has upset some middle-of-the-pack teams like Ferris State and Northern Michigan. If Nebraska-Omaha is too complacent going into its first-round matchup with the Nanooks, Alaska could be the team moving on to the quarterfinals.
No. 10 seed Lake Superior State (7-15-16, 9-18-7)
The Lakers are a stingy bunch. What they lack in speed, skill and athleticism, they make up for in size, power and physicality. Lake Superior State recruits big, tough players, and its slower-paced style has given Michigan trouble in the past.
Of the four games the two teams played this year, the Lakers have taken a first-period lead in three, eliminating the Wolverines’ speed advantage by trapping them against the boards and grinding out the clock.
But the best team Lake Superior State has beaten this year is No. 5 seed Ferris State. The Lakers just don’t have enough offensive talent to make much noise in this year’s tournament.
No. 11 seed Ohio State (7-18-3, 11-23-4)
This has been a tough year for the Buckeyes. The biggest – and possibly only – bright spot so far this year was a Nov. 30 upset win over Michigan in Ann Arbor, a week after the Wolverines won the College Hockey Showcase title.
The offense has been almost nonexistent in conference play, notching just over two goals per game. And that doesn’t bode well for Ohio State, considering its first-round opponent, Northern Michigan, boasts a defense that has hit its stride in the last few weeks.
It’ll be a tall task for the Buckeyes to find their way into the quarterfinals.
No. 12 seed Western Michigan (4-22-2, 8-25-3)
To put it lightly, the Broncos haven’t had the most inspiring season. Dead-last CCHA Tournament seeding aside, Western Michigan is statistically one of the worst teams in the conference.
The Broncos have lit the lamp just 76 times this year, good for a whopping 2.11 goals per game. Their offensive woes have drastically hindered their chances in games – 24 times this year Western Michigan’s opponent scored first, and the Broncos haven’t won any of those contests.
The defense isn’t putting up impressive numbers either. The Western Michigan blueliners have allowed more than 3.5 goals per game in conference games, giving up five or more goals six times.
The Broncos limp into post-season play with one win in its last nine games. Don’t expect them to turn any heads in the tournament.