Michigan Hockey Prepares For CCHA Playoff's

With basketball season at its peak and spring football practice about to get underway, it's very easy to forget about the 'other' major Michigan sport, Hockey. With the regular season crown already in hand, the Wolverines are looking to increase their stranglehold on the CCHA by winning their third consecutive tournament title.

The road starts tonight for #7 Michigan (23-11-2), as they take on the Nebraska-Omaha Mavericks (7-24-5) at Yost Ice Arena at 7:35 in the first game of a best of 3 series. The two clubs met twice during the regular season, both times in Nebraska, where Michigan posted a 1-0-1 record, defeating the Mavericks 2-1 on December 12th and tying them 3-3 the following night.

Michigan, led by first team All-CCHA forward T.J. Hensick and second team defenders Al Montoya (goalie) and Brandon Rogers (defenseman), bring a very powerful offense into this weekend's best of three series. Scoring a league leading 3.61 goals per game, Hensick (11 goals, 30 assists), Brandon Kaleniecki (16 goals, 11 assists), and Dwight Helminen (14 goals, 11 assists) need to get the offense back on track to make a deep run in the CCHA tournament.

The defense, lead by Montoya, Rogers, and senior captain Andy Burnes, is almost equally as impressive. Giving up only 2.50 goals per game (3rd in the CCHA), you can bet that the defense will come out aggressive and firing on all cylinders. With all defenders on the positive side of the plus minus (Burnes and Hunwick lead the team with +13), you can bet the Wolverine defense will keep them in every game, giving the offense an opportunity to win it for the recently slumping Wolverines.

After racing through the month of January with a 7-0 record and coasting through the beginning of February, the Michigan hockey team started to hit some bumps on the road. Late season losses to Notre Dame and Michigan State brought the regular season to a close on a sour note, something the team should be able to correct this weekend against a weaker Nebraska-Omaha team.

Nebraska-Omaha's offense (11th in the CCHA) is lead by freshman forward Scott Parse (14 goals, 19 assists), but has really struggled all season when it comes to scoring goals. As much trouble as the Mavericks have had scoring, they've also had problems defending their own net. Nebraska-Omaha goaltender Chris Holt is giving up 3.36 goals per game.

The last bit of significance for this weekend's series at Yost Ice Arena are the possible NCAA tournament implications. With only a 16-team tournament, the Wolverines are already locked in for a shot at the National Championship. A big weekend, however, could be what it takes to secure a high seed, bringing in a good draw for the Wolverines.

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