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Friday, March 28, 2008

Things to know as Michigan prepares to take on Niagara (7:30, ESPNU, if you're in AA best bet probably the Arena).

It might get messy. Mike Spath has some dispiriting news about the team's preparation:

Been a bad week of practice, largely because guys have come down with the 24-hour flu. Porter missed yesterday's skate and Red said the execution and effort was terrible. Scooter also has a bum shoulder. Everybody should be good to go for the weekend, but you're just forewarned.

Grudge. Mark Hartigan might be a little bitter about the infamous Molly game:
Told the Huskies were in the same regional as top-ranked Michigan this year, Hartigan bristled.

"Shocker," he said. "When we were in St. Cloud, we were rated higher than Michigan and were supposed to play Michigan at a neutral site, and it was at the Yost Arena."

The Huskies lost, 4-2, to the Wolverines, and Hartigan apparently hasn't gotten over it.

"Last college team I played against," he said. "I hope they lose, 8-0."

Hartigan's wrong, by the way. Michigan was the #4 seed; St. Cloud was #5. Top-seeded Denver might have a complaint.

How to win. Niagara has the #3 scoring offense in the country, though those numbers came against a schedule KRACH ranks 49th of 59 teams. As explored earlier, Niagara's results against teams from the Big 3.5 were middling at best, representative of a team that would finish somewhere in the middle of the CCHA.

By the second Yost regional the NCAA tournament had expanded to 16 teams and allowed a CHA autobid for the first time; in the first game CC took on CHA champ Wayne State. Wayne lined five guys up across the blue line and iced the puck 20 times a period, but managed to stay in the game by getting a couple power play goals. I mention it because 1) Michigan is #10 in penalty minutes and 2) Niagara is #3 in power play efficiency at over 23%.

Staying out of the penalty box is always a good way to win a hockey game; here its importance is magnified.

Danger men. Ted Cook is Niagara's big gun, though he's taken a significant step backwards from a Hobey finalist 2007 when he scored 32 goals and had 42 points. This year he's fallen off to 18, 12 of which are on the power play. It bears repeating: Niagara's best offensive player has scored seven goals at even strength this year. STAY OUT THE BOX.

Cook's also a blogger; in related news I might play never-ever hockey this fall. Suck on that, Ted!

Cook's got three years of big production that mark him as the #1 opposition forward but is actually getting out-pointed this year by the guys I presume are his two linemates: Vince Rocco has 14-31-45 and Matt Caruna has 16-22-38. (Side note: Niagara has some great names. Rocco is one, then there's an Egor and a guy named ...

... Chris Moran.)

It's hard to tell how much bonafide offensive talent the Purple Eagles have with that wonky schedule. Their GFA takes a hit if you only consider Big 3.5 games but remains respectable: 28 in 9 games or 3.1 per, significantly down from 3.53 but still hypothetically good for 13th in the country. Two wins over Quinnipiac both saw five goals scored; two against Cornell saw a shutout and then three. GAA increases slightly from their overall average of 2.58 (24th nationally) to 2.77 (hypothetically 35th).

I reiterate: Niagara is a team Michigan should beat but absolutely can lose to.

Elsewhere. Audio from MLive. HSR on Michigan's regional (DUDE! MacGuyver went to St. Cloud!). Yost Built has a ton of content, starting with ten things to know about Niagara.



Are you there? It's me, Brian. Look. I know things between you and Michigan haven't been so good lately -- I'm sure all those safeties deserved your divine wrath -- but could we maybe see to it that Michigan doesn't get humiliatingly dispatched by Niagara tonight? I can take a second round loss, I think. But I have to warn you that if Michigan goes out in the first round again, I'm going to have to start believing in Ryan Seacrest.

Brian @ MGoBlog

PS: Love what you're doing with Notre Dame. Fabulous work.