Michigan Hockey 'In The Conversation' Heading Into Rivalry Weekend
Staff of WolverineDigest.com
The nadir for the 2019-2020 Michigan hockey team came on New Year’s Eve. The Wolverines surrendered three goals in the final period of a 4-2 loss to Michigan Tech that dropped their overall record to 7-11-2.
Since the turn of the New Year, however, the Wolverines have been scorching, with a 6-1-1 stretch boosting them closer to the NCAA Tournament (though still 25th in the Pairwise, nine spots out of the NCAA field).
“We’re in the conversation and that’s all you can ask for, especially with the start that we got off to,” said Michigan head coach Mel Pearson on ‘Inside the Huddle with Michael Spath this week.’
“We’ve clawed our way back, not only in the Big Ten conversation for the championship, but for the NCAA Tournament.
"The old cliche ‘it’s one game at a time,’ but we did bring up the standings this past Monday to our team, just to give our freshmen an idea of how things work in the Big Ten. Every game we play is worth three points. Right now we’re six points out of first place, but that’s two games. If we win two games, that gives us six points, and we’d be right there.”
Penn State sits in first place in the conference with 33 points while Ohio State, Minnesota and Michigan State are tied for second with 31 points. Michigan is in sixth, with 27 points, but has a Big Ten best 20 points since Jan. 1, sweeping 2 of its 4 foes, while taking 5 of 6 points in State College Jan. 17-18.
Michigan has a chance to make up ground this coming weekend, facing in-state rival Michigan State Friday in East Lansing and Monday at Little Caeser’s Arena in Detroit. Should Michigan win both games, it would wake up on Tuesday ahead of the Spartans and Buckeyes (OSU is off this weekend); Minnesota travels to Notre Dame.
Depending on what happens with Penn State playing Wisconsin, the Wolverines could soar even higher.
“It’s going to be an exciting finish to the Big Ten Conference,” Pearson said. “We have to win as many games as we can to stay in the conversation for the NCAA Tournament.”
In fact, a 4-2 mark in their final six games guarantees the Wolverines nothing. Splitting with MSU and at Minnesota in the final series of the regular season with a home sweep of Notre Dame in between, and U-M would still be 24th in the Pairwise. Even taking 5 of 6, the next four and a split in Minneapolis would put Michigan 16th (without taking into consideration how the rest of the county performs). In other words, there is a lot still to be done.
The good news: Michigan is hot. Winning with both defense and offense. U-M ranks eighth nationally in allowing just 2.21 goals per game defensively with sophomore goalie Strauss Mann fifth in the nation in save percentage (.932). Offensively, the Maize and Blue still rank 30th nationally with 2.79 goals per game, but have averaged 4.1 goals since Jan. 1 and are coming off a weekend in which they tallied 13 goals in 8-4 and 5-3 wins.
For the weekend to be a success, it starts with ending a five-game winless streak in East Lansing (0-3-2), last beating the Spartans at Munn Ice Arena in 2015-16. The two rivals will then take 48 hours before a President's Day showdown in Detroit Monday night.
Tonight's game can be seen on Big Ten Network at 6pm while Monday's 7pm contest will be shown on Fox Sports Detroit.