This weekend's hockey slate will have a Big Ten feel to it as the Gophers will host Michigan on Friday night and Michigan State on Saturday. For those interested Mich and Mich St will be facing off against Wisconsin on the opposite nights.
Tonight your #1 ranked and one-loss Gophers take on a Michigan team sitting with an 8-6 record. Since it is well established that I know only little about Gopher hockey I think it should be absolutely clear that I know nothing about Michigan hockey. So I got a hold of Tim from the House that Yost Built to give us a little color on the Wolverines. Tim gave us some great info on what we can expect to see tonight.
Michigan has been maddeningly inconsistent this season. Sometimes they look like world-beaters and sometimes they look like they belong in the CHA instead of the CCHA. We're Western Michigan's only win in the conference and we've lost to last-place Northern Michigan as well.
The good news for Gopher-fans is that generally Michigan has sucked on Friday nights and been pretty good on Saturday nights, so you're getting us on the right night (though, with the way you guys have played (last Saturday aside) it probably doesn't matter anyway). They've only scored 10 goals in 6 Friday night games (and 8 of those were in two games: OSU and St. Lawrence). Billy Sauer is 2-5-0 on the year but they've only scored 10 goals in the 6 2/3 games that he's played. For Bryan Hogan, they've scored something like 31 goals in 7 1/3 games. It's been crazy.
Surprisingly the defense has been pretty good, even with Mark Mitera and Steve Kampfer out. Tristin Llewellyn has made a pretty big step forward in his sophomore season and Greg Pateryn has improved throughout the season. Chad Langlais has been great and Summers has been very good too. Our D had major problems with penalties in the early going, but they've gotten better.
The goaltending hasn't been stellar, but they've been pretty darn good. Sauer's numbers look horrible, but his record is bad because they're not scoring any goals for him, and his GAA/Save percentage is shot because of the PPG-fest against BU (without looking it up, I think 5 of BU's seven goals were on the PP and one of the two that wasn't came something like 1 second after a PP was over). Hogan has gotten a lot more support, but he's been really strong for the most part. Hogan has shown a penchant for making huge stops, but a lot of the goals he has allowed have been pretty weak. Sauer's been giving up some softies lately as well, but they've been good enough to keep us in games, even if we haven't scored enough to win a lot of em.
Both special teams units were an absolute disaster at the start of the season. We would've been better off declining penalties against our opponent and our PK couldn't kill anything off. BU slaughtered us via their PP and our two units combined were around 80% in the early going. But the PK has really gotten it together. They were wonderful against Miami's top ranked PP (Miami was 0 for 12 on the weekend, including a 5 minute major and two long 5 on 3s) and for the most part, they look like a Michigan PK again.
The PP has been better as well. They're only at 15% for the season, but being that they were down at 3% for a good long while, 15% is pretty good.
As far as players to watch: Aaron Palushaj and Louie Caporusso have both had breakout seasons. It's strange to say that about Palushaj because he was 2nd in the nation in assists last year, but he's turned into a player you have to pay attention to every time he's on the ice. He's the guy on our team that's most likely to make someone look stupid. The goal he scored against St. Lawrence (splitting the D, then shooting the puck over the goalie's shoulder as he was falling) is an early entry for "Goal of the Year".
Caporusso is shooting the puck more and it's paying off. He's got 12 goals in 14 games and seven of those are with the man advantage. He's been playing with Palushaj lately and they're a very dangerous combo. The problem is we haven't had a whole lot of offense apart from those two. Rust and Hagelin have cooled off after hot starts, though I've heard they'll be reunited this weekend, which should help.
The best of our freshmen has been David Wohlberg. He's not a huge offensive threat (though he did score 4 goals in 5 games) but he's solid as a rock defensively, a great penalty killer and very good on faceoffs. Robbie Czarnik can really skate, but he hasn't put it together offensively yet. I'm sure he'll get it going, because he is a good player, but he's been disappointing thus far.
A year ago we split with Michigan beating them early and geting beat soundly later in the year. After losing the Jug in football I'd love to see us drop a 5-nil game on the Wolverines. Assuming they still struggle on Friday night, assuming Kangas plays his usual self and assuming we continue to dominate power play and penalty kills I think we should be just fine.
Official TDG prediction guess
Mich - 1
Minn - 4
As far as Saturday's Michigan State game, I would not expect to see a preview tomorrow as I'll be focusing on the men's basketball game against NDSU. Mich St has lost five consecutive games and looks to be very beatable. A 2-0 weekend for the Gophers over the state of Michigan.