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Minnesota Gophers Hockey: Previewing the Weekend Against the Michigan Wolverines

The Wolverines are under .500 this and year and I LOVE IT.

Minnesota Hockey v Northeastern Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

I’ve expressed my strongdislike for the Michigan Wolverines hockey team before, so it should be understood that I’m reveling in their futility. An overall record of 8-9-1 (conference 1-3-0) is what I consider best-case scenario for Michigan. They’re 1-3 against ranked opponents, and they lost to Penn State 11-2 on aggregate in their two games. They also impressively allowed 7 goals to Wisconsin in a single game.

So it’s been ugly for the Wolverines. Let’s a take a more in-depth look at their season so far.

Per USCHO, Michigan is ranked 29th in KRACH, having played the 16th most difficult schedule. By comparison, the Minnesota Golden Gophers are ranked 13th, having played the 23rd most difficult schedule. Their raw KRACH numbers say Minnesota should win almost 23 of games played between the two squads.

The Pairwise is similarly dreary for Michigan, where they’re ranked 35th and losing comparisons to teams like Dartmouth and Army. If the Gophers manage a sweep this weekend, it’s possible Michigan could fall out of the top 40.

As you would expect for a team that’s close to .500 , their goals scored per game and goas against per game are pretty close together: 2.67 GPG For and 2.83 against. A few really bad losses are going to skew that GAA, so I suspect the reality of their team is that those two numbers should be even more even than they are.

Let’s talk about some leaders, as there are new faces leading the way this year. Two freshman, Will Lockwood and Jake Slaker lead the team in scoring; they each have 13 points in 18 games. Gone are last year’s leading scorers Kyle Connor, JT Compher, Tyler Motte, and Zach Werenski.

Senior goalie Zach Nagelvoort only has six appearances. He’s posted a .923 save percentage against 181 shots.

The other two goalies on the roster are both freshman. In seven appearances, Hayden Lavigne has a .937 save percentage against 237 shots. Zach LaFontaine also has seven appearances and a .919 save percentage against 247 shots.

The stats show why goaltending by committee has been the approach this year, because they’ve all played pretty well. If you’re wondering who’s going to see the Mariucci ice this weekend, I have no idea. I would guess that it’s probably Nagelvoort’s turn to get a start because he’s a senior and they’re playing on the road against a good opponent. If I were Red Berenson, I would also probably start Lavigne in a game.

The Gophers have a significant advantage in terms of offense, so the weekend will probably hinge on how well Michigan plays in their own defensive zone. The Wolverine goalies are pretty good, so it will fall upon the defenders to limit the number of shots that reach the goal. We’ll find out how good they are at shot-blocking.

The key for the Gophers? Puck possession. All they need to do is execute their game plan and keep the puck in the offensive zone. Michigan allows approximately 37 shots on goal per game, so I don’t think the Gophers will struggle in keeping the puck and generating chances. If they can put 40-ish shots on goal each night, I think they’ll be just fine.

I think the big ice will be an advantage (as it usually is) against Michigan. Since the Wolverines generally struggle to keep shots off their goalies, the extra ice to defend will make it doubly difficult.