3 things to watch: No. 5 Michigan hockey team vs. No. 20 Northern Michigan
In all likelihood, the Michigan hockey team will host a series during the CCHA playoffs, but it is still a mathematical possibility that they will not.
In that sense, this weekend's series versus Northern Michigan may be the last time Michigan plays at Yost Ice Arena this season.
Here are three things to watch for when the fifth-ranked Wolverines take on No. 20 Northern Michigan Friday (7:35 p.m., BTN) and Saturday (5:05 p.m., FSD):
There is an emphasis on the penalty kill and the power play nearly every week. Why should this week be any different?
Northern Michigan is a highly penalized team, fourth in the nation, which means Michigan’s power play unit see a lot action this weekend.
The Wolverines haven't been stellar on the power play (46th in the nation with a 15.6 conversion rate), but seemed to figure it out when they scored five power play goals in four games in recent series against Notre Dame and Miami.
Last weekend against Michigan State, however, the Wolverines were 0-for-4 and very unimpressive with an extra skater. Though the Spartans are third in the nation on the penalty kill, it won’t get much easier against Northern, which is seventh in the nation when down a man.
“I think the biggest thing it comes down to is work ethic,” Michigan defenseman Greg Pateryn said of special teams play.
The other element of special teams is, of course, Michigan’s penalty kill, which followed up a 26-straight penalty kill streak by allowing Michigan State to score on 3 of 4 opportunities at one point last weekend.
If the recently struggling Michigan penalty kill unit shows up, it could be a problem if the thriving Northern power play from last weekend does as well. Northern converted on 3 of 7 power play opportunities in a sweep of Bowling Green and is 24th in the nation on the season.
Of course that was against last-place Bowling Green, but still, the unit had to put the puck in the net, which can’t be discounted.
Michigan coach Red Berenson was blunt in his assessment of how special teams might affect this weekend’s series.
“It usually decides the weekend, special teams,” Berenson said.
AnnArbor.com file photo
Saturday night will be senior night for Michigan. If you plan on attending, you have to get there earlier than normal anyway -- puck drops at 5:05 p.m. as opposed to the normal 7:35 p.m. start time -- but really early if you want to be there as homage is paid to the four seniors skating: Pateryn, Luke Glendening, David Wohlberg and Shawn Hunwick.
Of course, it isn’t likely to be the last time those four skate at Yost. The only possible scenarios in which Saturday is Michigan’s last home game is if the Wolverines manage to finish in fifth or ninth place in the CCCHA standings. (Side note: Yes, with two weekends left in league play, it is still possible for Michigan to finish anywhere between first and ninth place in the league standings, which is ridiculous.)
Still Saturday should be special for players.
“To think there’s only the last couple games out here, it’s kind of weird to think about that we were just freshman a couple of years ago,” Pateryn said.
“It’ll be awesome, really just a culmination of my four years here,” Wohlberg said. “That’s obviously not going to be my last game, but it will be one of my last games here at Yost and I just want to take it all in and play the best I can.”
The most dangerous weapon in hockey is a hot goalie, and the Wolverines may be running into one this weekend in Northern’s Jared Coreau.
Coreau had 31 saves in a shutout win over Bowling Green on Saturday, his first shutout of the season. Coreau also had 32 saves in a 4-2 win the night before, with both goals against coming after the Wildcats had built a 3-0 lead.
It may have been the confidence boost Coreau needed to get him back to player he was in December, when he was CCHA Goaltender of the month with a 3-1 record, a 1.35 goals against average and .956 save percentage. Maybe more importantly, away from the one who was benched after giving up four goals in a 6-0 loss to Miami on Jan. 28. He currently leads the CCHA in save percentage (.935) and is third in goals-against average (2.03).
Then again, it could have just been the fact that it was against Bowling Green.