Michigan, a senior laden team, is one of the most experienced squads in the NCAA tournament this year. They have gone through their ups and downs on the season, but are starting to peak at just the right time as they head into the tournament on a 10-game win streak.
On the offensive end of the ice, the team is lead by sophomore T.J. Hensick and junior Jeff Tambellini. Hensick and Tambellini each totaled a team high 52 points on the season. Hensick is a quick/shifty scorer that can create space and create his own opportunities thanks to his speed and stick handling abilities. Tambellini boasts the top shot on the Wolverine team. Many of his goals come from the point, where he can generate some power behind his shot. Brandon Kaleniecki is the third man on the line and is another grind it out type player.
Another line to keep an eye on is the on consisting of Andrew Ebbett, Eric Nystrom, and Milan Gajic. Gajic is the top scorer of the trio, netting 20 goals on the season. However, this line is very good defensively and can grind it out. Pound-for-pound, Ebbett is one of the toughest skaters on Michigan's team and is an exceptionally strong penalty killer.
The freshmen, Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter, are paired with David Rohlfs on a line that is capable of scoring, but that also likes to hit people. Kolarik is a power play specialist with 11 goals on with the man-advantage this season. Rohlfs may slide back to defense depending on the status of senior David Moss.
On the blue line, the Wolverines are led by senior alternate captain Brandon Rogers and sophomore Matt Hunwick. Hunwick, the recipient of second team All-CCHA honors, likes to hit and is dependable in the defensive zone and has good speed. Rogers is one of the teams senior's and is very consistent.
Jason Dest and Eric Werner make up the Wolverines second defensive line and they have been improving by leaps and bounds as the season has wound on. Dest is very effective in one-on-one situations and is the best on the team at playing the body. Werner is the smallest defender but is good offensively and can throw his weight around if necessary.
Goalie Al Montoya came into the season as possibly the highest regarded player in college hockey. However, his season has been inconsistent and most Wolverine fans wondered at one point whether or not Ruden would get a shot in net. Fortunately for follwers of the Maize and Blue, Montoya has stepped his game up dramatically lately. Regardless of his struggles he continued to be a pressure player and he has a reputation for coming up big in playoff situations.
One thing to keep an eye on in this match up is how the Wolverine offense will do against the Wisconsin Badger defense. Wisconsin will funnel back on defense and clog the middle. That is a style of play that has slowed down Red Berenson's club in the past. If Michigan wants to be successful, they must take advantage of their special team opportunities and play a strong defensive game.
The following is a Wisconsin preview courtesy of BadgerManiac poster Monsignor.
The Badger Hockey team is talented but young (17 frosh & sophs), leading to some highs and lows over the course of the season. Depending on how those younger players perform on a given night often tells the outcome of the match.
One of the few seniors is goalie Bernd Bruckler, an All-american last year who can carry a team. Bruckler has struggled some down the stretch, but seemed to be regaining his confidence in the last 2 games.
Tom Gilbert is rounding into the best defenseman for the Badgers, but he is the only upperclassman in the group and the youth at this position may give Michigan some opportunities. The defenders seem to cough up the puck or just fail to cover a wing at least a couple of times a game, often leading to easy scoring chances.
Earl and Pavelski are the best of the forwards. In fact, I think the freshman Pavelski is now the best player on the Badger team. Carlson, Joudrey and Burish can also score. MacMurchey has been a regular contributor, but has been in a slump. Whoever has to cover the Earl-Pavelski line will have their hands full. The Badgers play good positional hockey and work hard in the corners, but are often a dump and chase team at the blue line. Other than the players noted above, there aren't a lot of forwards who are going to turn a defenseman.
Wisconsin struggled down the stretch, having played something like 8 straight one-goal games, and often failing to convert on clear scoring chances. If that happens again, Michigan will make short work of Wisconsin. If the Badgers can get some offensive punch, they will be very comfortable playing in a tight game.
My Prediction: 3-2 Michigan Talk about it here!