For the second time in three seasons, the Northeastern Huskies will be playing in the NCAA Tournament. And for the first time since 1988, they will be playing east of the Mississippi River, at a location accessible to their fans. The Tournament Committee moved a number of teams around all four regionals, prioritizing attempts to improve attendance over bracket integrity, a break from their logic last season. As a result, the Huskies will take on the Michigan Wolverines out of the Big Ten Conference, at the DCU Center in Worcester, MA.
Michigan Season Review: Michigan finished the Conference Tournament sitting eighth in the PairWise, one spot above Northeastern by a minuscule .0004 in their RPI. In the Big Ten Tournament, the Wolverines started well, beating Wisconsin in consecutive games at Yost Arena, scoring six and seven goals, respectively. They did, however, give up five and four goals each night, outlasting Wisconsin in a pair of high-scoring affairs. They met their ultimate Big Ten fate in the conference semifinals, losing 3-2 at Ohio State.
Overall this season, Michigan finished with a record of 20-14-3, slightlty worse overall than Northeastern’s record of 23-9-5. Michigan did most of their damage in their own building, racking up an impressive 13-5-1 record at Yost Arena, while earning a 7-9-2 record away from the friendly confines. Obviously with the regionals being played at a neutral site, this could neutralize a strength of Michigan, however their student section, the Children of Yost, are one of the best in college hockey and I expect they will travel well for this game.
The only common opponent for these two teams was Vermont, who Michigan played in early October. Michigan swept Vermont with scores of 4-1 and 3-2 in consecutive nights. The Huskies, as we know, swept Vermont in three games.
Against tournament teams, which includes three other Big Ten teams (Notre Dame, Penn State, Ohio State), the Wolverines had a record of 5-8; they did not have any out-of-conference games against other tournament teams. Of those five wins, two came in impressive fashion against Notre Dame (number two seed overall), three came against Penn State, and zero came against Ohio State.
Player Statistics: Similar to many of their counterparts in the Big Ten, the Wolverines feature a high-speed offense with less-than-stellar goaltending. In terms of points production, Michigan features two players who scored 40+ points- junior Cooper Marody leads the team with 46 points in 37 games (14 goals, 23 assists). Senior forward Tony Calderone has 40 points exactly, and leads the team with 23 goals scored. These two combined for 10 powerplay goals, nearly half of the powerplay goals scored by Michigan. Calderone also paces the team in shots on goal, with 123.
Third on their scoring list is defenseman Quinn Hughes, who is projected to be a top-10 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft. Hughes has recorded 28 points (24 assists), and provides Michigan their own version of Jeremy Davies in the way he can push the offense and take over the neutral and offensive zones. The Wolverines have four more players who recorded 20 or more points, and two other players who scored 10 goals or more (forward Jack Slater, forward Dexter Dancs). One player to keep an eye on from a pure talent perspective is freshman Josh Norris, a first round draft pick of San Jose last year. Norris totaled 22 points (8 goals) playing as one of the youngest players in the country, and he could be leaned upon for some secondary scoring if the top scorers are getting stonewalled by Cayden Primeau.
Opposing Primeau in net for Michigan is Hayden Lavigne, a 6-foot-3 sophomore from Quebec. He has manned the net for Michigan 30 times this season, and has a goals-against-average of 2.79 and overall save percentage of .910. That has been largely deflated by a miserable Michigan penalty kill (more in next section), as his even strength save percentage is .925 and his save percentage at close is .928. However, he has struggled recently, allowing three goals or more in each of his last five games, which included two against Arizona State, two against Wisconsin, and one against Ohio State. In those five games, his save percentage is .900 even (162 saves on 180 shots). If that kind of production continues against Northeastern, Lavigne will likely have a bad day at the office.
Team Statistics: When looking at team statistics, this is going to be a very good hockey game. Below is a table that compared each team in different areas, with their national ranking in parenthesis.
Northeastern vs Michigan
|| 50.5 (27th)
|| 50.3 (30th)
|| 49.0 (37th)
|| 51.3 (22nd)
|| 48.6 (37th)
|| 52.9 (16th)
|Shot Attempt Diff
|| 27.2% (3rd)
|| 18.1% (34th)
|| 82.2% (22nd)
|| 75.3% (57th)
|| 50% (34th)
|| 51.3% (18th)
|| 11.32 (35th)
|| 11.54 (30th)
Michigan is also the third-youngest team in the country, and are also one of the larger teams in the country. The statistics point to two keys to this game- Northeastern has the clear advantage in special teams, while Michigan appears to be the better team at even strength. Like many of the games the Huskies have played this season, getting time on the powerplay could be the difference in the game, and possibly the only source of offense they need. Looking at Michigan’s putrid penalty kill, NU’s Jerry Keefe, Adam Gaudette, and Co. must be salivating at the chances they will have.
Final Thoughts and Predictions: The last time Northeastern made it into the NCAA Tournament, it was on the heels of an incredible run that ended at the hands of the eventual national champion. This season, Northeastern earned their way to the tournament via their “full body of work,” as Coach Madigan likes to say. This season could already be declared a success, with the Beanpot title and the NCAA appearance. But this team is capable of so much more. Whatever happens next, this team, especially this class of seniors, has left a legacy on NU hockey. Here’s hoping there are a few more chapters still to be written in this season’s book.
Davis: NU wins, 5-3.
Downie: NU wins 4-3
Fallon: NU wins, 5-4