National Championship: U-M vs. UMD Preview

The Michigan ice hockey team takes aim at its' 10th National Championship in program history when the Wolverines meet the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs on Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center. GBW breaks down the title game.

Day: Saturday
Date: Apr. 9, 2011
Location: St. Paul, Minn.
Time: 6 p.m. CT

Nickname: Bulldogs
Conference: WCHA
Record: 25-10-6
Seed: 3

Key Players
F - Mike Connolly (28-26-54)
F - Jack Connolly (18-41-59)
F - Justin Fontaine (22-36-58)
D - Justin Faulk (8-25-33)
G - Kenny Reiter (2.32 GAA, .914 Save Percentage)

Nickname: Wolverines
Conference: CCHA (Regular Season Champions)
Record: 29-10-4
Seed: 2

Key Players
F - Carl Hagelin (18-31-49, +22)
F - Louie Caporusso (11-20-31, +18)
F - Matt Rust (5-20-25, +18)
D - Jon Merrill (7-18-25, +11)
G - Shawn Hunwick (2.19 GAA, .925 Save Percentage)

Minnesota-Duluth Offense vs. Michigan Defense
UMD Scoring: 3.41 GPG (11th Nationally)
UMD Shots per Game: 32.7
UMD Goals by Period: 47-54-33

U-M Scoring Defense: 2.20 GPG (5th Nationally)
U-M Shots Allowed Per Game: 29.1
U-M Goals Allowed By Period: 46-48-46

Summary: The Minnesota-Duluth offense will present similar challenges to that of Colorado College. The Bulldogs have a dynamite top line with the Connolly's and Justin Fontaine. What they don't have is a one-two-three punch seen by the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. As the home team Michigan will get the last change and should match up Jon Merrill and Chad Langlais throughout the contest.

Michigan Offense vs. North Dakota Defense
U-M Scoring: 3.35 GPG (16th Nationally)
U-M Shots per Game: 33.
U-M Goals by Period: 47-48-47

UMD Scoring Defense: 2.59 GPG (17th Nationally)
UMD Shots Allowed Per Game: 27.8
UMD Goals Allowed By Period: 39-34-31

Summary: Since the start of the NCAA Tournament the Michigan team has played defense first, then taken advantage of their offensive opportunities. North Dakota's defense kept the Wolverines bottled up and created turnovers at the blue line much of the night. The Bulldogs, though, aren't quite as stingy. U-M should get its chances. Now the question is whether U-M will bury them.

Special Teams
U-M Power Play: 18.1% (27th Nationally)
U-M Penalty Kill: 83.4% (19th Nationally)

UMD Power Play: 23.3% (7th Nationally)
UMD Penalty Kill: 82.2% (27th Nationally)

Summary: Minnesota-Duluth does a large portion of its damage while skating on the power play. In fact, it was special teams that propelled the Bulldogs past the Fighting Irish in the opener of the Frozen Four. Keeping out of the penalty box will go a long way towards clinching the Wolverines 10th championship. On the opposite side of the coin, the Bulldogs appear vulnerable on the penalty kill and, if the Wolverines can take advantage with a power-play goal or two, U-M should be in a good position.

Prediction: Michigan versus Minnesota-Duluth could play out in very similar fashion to the Wolverines match up with Colorado College in the Regional Final. The Bulldogs have a very strong top line, but Michigan's top defensive pair should be able to limit their chances. However, despite the fact that the Wolverines do match up favorably with the Bulldogs, my past two U-M predictions have been wrong. Sticking with that tradition, Minnesota-Duluth wins 4-3.

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