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Rivalry Week Q&A: Talking Hockey with Maize n Brew

David and Joe from Maize n Brew stop by to talk Michigan hockey

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Michigan State Spartans will take on a red hot 13th ranked Michigan Wolverines squad this Friday night in Detroit at Joe Louis Arena. The Wolverines have gone 14-2 in their last 16 games and have not lost a game since Christmas. To help preview this weekends' game Joe and David from Maize n Brew answered some questions from me and their answers are below. For more info on this weekend be sure to check out our latest The Only Colors podcast and be sure to stop by Maize n Brew for some great hockey coverage.

1.) Michigan is in my opinion the hottest team in all of college hockey. In three weeks they have gone from the outside looking in, to a 3 seed in the NCAA tournament. Obviously the goals have started to come but in your opinion what has clicked lately for the Wolverines?

Joe: The defense and goaltending haven't changed one bit. Those units are still underperforming, but this team is scoring so many goals that right now it doesn't matter. What's changed offensively is that they're finally playing to their strengths. Instead of the panicked, shoot from anywhere hole past Wolverine teams fell into, this team grinds and they keep coming in waves. Eventually teams get worn out and can't keep up anymore.

David: For me it's this idea that they're pretty much clicking in the system. Michigan, with the exception of the last couple of years, has traditionally been a "second half" team, whereby they're mediocre up until someone hits a light switch all the way to the NCAA tournament. The Wolverines are a high-octane team and are built to score, so it's the coach's job to teach them defense. While the latter hasn't worked quite as well so far, you're starting to see the effects of having three capable centers in the top nine, each of whom could easily be racking first-line minutes right now. Combine that with Dylan Larkin becoming one of the best Michigan freshman in Berenson's tenure and Zach Hyman's unbelievable Hobey Baker-worthy season, and you're vis-a-vis with a pretty powerful squad.

2.) Michigan is #1 in goals scored/game but 44th in goals against. Has Zach Nagelvoort just dropped off that badly from a pretty decent year last year or has the young Michigan D corps been more of the issue?

Joe: It's a bit of both. The blueline does not do him any favors but sometimes the goalie needs to come up big and bail the team out. The blueline was horrific last year but he always seems to come up big when they needed him. This season he just hasn't found that grove.

David: This is a personnel issue, but as I often say about Michigan goaltending it more or less is what it is. Nagelvoort is either lights out or ice cold, and he hasn't been incredible this year at all. In addition, while Steve Racine is respectable, he hasn't been able to put together a stellar string of starts. The younger defenseman have actually been okay so far, but not great. Michigan still blows a ton of coverages in its own zone, and it surrenders more odd-man rushes per game than the amount of damages caused by U of M fraternities on ski trips.


Systemically, however, they're a worrying squad in terms of puck possession measured by shot attempts. I've manually computed Michigan's Corsi-for and Fenwick-for per sixty minutes at each game I've covered this season, and there are nights where it doesn't belong on the same ice as their opponents in that regard. Red's system of choking the lane in front of Nagelvoort/Racine hasn't worked at all. In fact, it's given teams a large amount of opportunities from the circles, more time with the puck in the Michigan zone, and has even yielded easy cross-ice passes into the lane from the boards which wind up in scoring chances against.

The other thing to look at analytically is score effects. It's human nature to take the foot off of the gas pedal when up by a ton of goals (i.e. Michigan vs. OSU in Columbus a couple of weeks ago), but as much as we want to say "they can't do that," every team in the NHL in the history of the analytics era has been out-attempted at even strength when in the lead. This part isn't cringeworthy at all and it's probably a minor contribution to a pretty big defensive issue overall.

3.) Justin Selman had 5 points going into last weekend and came out with 11. Who is someone like Selman, a little off the radar (I.e. not a Hyman, Larkin, Compher) that Spartans' fans should follow these next two weekends?

Joe: It's tough to pick an under-the-radar player when everyone is finding the scoresheet, but I'm going to go with Max Shuart. Shuart has been a nice surprise for this team with 11 points after not recording a point last year; he can get down the ice in a hurry, cause quite a bit of disruption on the forceheck and fits in well playing either wing spot.

David: I can't really give anyone a fair estimate on this list other than to say Michigan's defense has been pretty good offensively during this run. If there's any serious damage that's going to be done by the Michigan offense that will be unexpected, look out for guys like Cutler Martin and even Michael Downing to make an impact from the point. Forward Tyler Motte hasn't been bad either, and he's readjusted quite well since the World Juniors a month ago, with seven points in his last five games.

4.) The MSU-UM rivalry seems to have dropped off a little bit since the Mason vs. Berenson years, with Comley almost avoiding recruiting against UM. Now Anastos seems to have gone back into metro Detroit AAA teams and started a little more of that recruiting war back up. How does the UM fanbase view this hockey rivalry currently?

Joe: This was something that had concerned me over the past few seasons. It seems like MSU treats this like a rivalry game; even if they were undermatched they still had energy that sometimes Michigan couldn't keep up with. It seems to be picking up now, but for an uneasy amount of time it didn't seem like the players or fans didn't get up for this game like they used to.

David: Most of the people I've talked to (I live on campus in Ann Arbor) haven't been too enthused about it, and a lot of it can be attributed to the fact that hockey has dropped off quite a tad over the last few years. It's growing quite a bit this year, especially with the newer ticketing policies (and the unfavorable and extremely unfair basketball policies), but there haven't been too many reasons to keep the rivalry up. When Michigan isn't playing poor hockey, all of its games against MSU are either at Munn or are played at Yost during academic breaks when students can't attend the games. I myself will be going to my first ever Michigan-MSU game on Saturday, March 14, and I'm a sophomore.


5.) It seems like every year Red Berenson's retirement gets more and more realistic, especially now that he has reached that 800 win plateau. If UM were to win it all this year does he step down or do you see Red announcing soon an expected retirement date?

Joe: It's either going to be this year or next year after his contract is up. If they don't make the postseason he'll step down, otherwise finish the last year before retiring.

David: I'm skeptical and don't see UM beating a UND or a BU in the spring, but if the Wolverines were to win the Frozen Four, Red is as good as gone. While it is a long-shot, Hackett has done a tremendous job as an athletic director at poaching front office and coaching talent. He landed Jim Harbaugh as an interim, and if he wants to take the full time job, landing a guy like Mike Babcock (who still hasn't signed an extension in Detroit) is not only going to give him an offer, but also might make him the best interim AD of all time.

6.) Care to give a prediction on the game at the Joe this weekend?

Joe: I'm going to say 3-2 Michigan.

David: Islanders 3 - Red Wings 2

Thanks again to Joe and David for taking part in the Q&A. Be sure to read their coverage over at Maize n Brew and give them a follow on Twitter, Joe (@MnBJoe) and David (@dmmm14).