College Hockey Showcase preview

By DJ Powers

The 13th annual College Hockey Showcase shifts to Ann Arbor and East Lansing, Michigan as the University of Michigan and Michigan State will host the visiting University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin in the two-game series, which takes place over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. The Golden Gophers and the Badgers won both of their respective contests against the two Michigan schools in last year’s Showcase, which took place at Minnesota and Wisconsin.

This year’s CHS features four teams that have a combined total of 42 NHL prospects on their rosters. However, due to injuries, not all of them will be participating. Two of note that will be out of action are Minnesota sophomore defenseman Nate Hagemo (CAR) and Michigan State freshman forward Tim Kennedy (BUF). Hagemo is sidelined indefinitely with a shoulder injury, while Kennedy is nursing a broken hand and is not expected to return to the Spartans lineup until sometime in December.

Those who are following players eligible for the 2006 NHL draft won’t want to miss the CHS. Minnesota freshman sensation Phil Kessel, currently projected to be the top pick for the upcoming draft, will be in action along with several other players appearing on the NHL Central Scouting Bureau’s preliminary rankings. Among them expected to play are a pair of Michigan freshmen in goaltender Billy Sauer and defenseman Mark Mitera, along with Wisconsin freshman forward Ben Street and Michigan State freshman defenseman Brandon Gentile.

The opening match on Friday features two teams that seem to be going in opposite directions. After a tremendous 5-1-1 start to the season, Michigan State has gone into a bit of a tailspin. The Spartans are coming off of a disappointing weekend series versus Western Michigan, where they managed to salvage only tie in the home-and-home set. MSU is currently winless in their last six contests (0-4-2). One contributing factor to the Spartans woes has been specialty teams, specifically power play. The Spartans have just five (13.1 percent) power play goals in their last six games coming into the CHS, while allowing eight (23.5 percent) power play goals against, including four last weekend.

Sophomore Bryan Lerg leads the Spartans in scoring with 16 points (two goals, 14 assists). His 14 assists also lead the team. Sophomore Jim McKenzie (OTT) leads the Spartans with six goals.

The forward combination to watch for MSU is the re-emerging “ER” line featuring junior Drew Miller (ANA), sophomore Chris Mueller and senior Colton Fretter (ATL). The trio accounted for nine points (four goals, five assists) last week in the Western Michigan series.

While the Spartans are struggling to find wins, the Wisconsin Badgers are the hottest team in the nation. Wisconsin is coming off of a hard-fought series sweep over Minnesota State-Mankato last weekend. The Badgers are currently in the midst of a school record, ten-game undefeated streak (8-0-2) and have lost just once in the 12 games that they have played thus far.

The second match on Friday has #7 Minnesota facing off against top-ranked Michigan in a game that features three of the NCAA’s hottest rookies. The Gophers are coming off a tough series versus reigning national champion Denver, taking three out of a possible four points from the Pioneers at Magness Arena last weekend. The Wolverines are coming off of a bye week.

Minnesota was thoroughly dominating in last year’s CHS. In the two-game set versus Michigan and MSU, the Gophers outscored their CCHA counterparts by a combined 10-2.

This season, Minnesota struggled out of the gate early when Alaska-Fairbanks took a stunning three out of a possible four points in the series at Mariucci Arena back in mid-October. In their last ten outings, all in WCHA play, the Gophers have racked up an impressive 6-2-2 record, including a win and tie at Denver last weekend.

One of the keys to the success of the Gophers has been their ability to spread their team scoring around. All of the forwards, except junior Danny Irmen (MIN) have tallied at least one goal. Irmen returned to the Minnesota lineup on November 18th after missing nine games due to a finger injury. Junior Ryan Potulny (PHI) and freshman Phil Kessel currently co-lead the team in scoring with 16 points apiece. Potulny leads the Gophers with eight goals and five power play tallies. Kessel leads the team with ten assists.

One interesting note about Kessel is the fact that he has yet to score a five-on-five goal this season. The Madison, Wisconsin native made school history last month when he tallied his first collegiate goal on a penalty shot. Since then, he has scored four on the power play and one short-handed.

Kessel, along with the superb Wolverines freshmen of defenseman Jack Johnson (CAR) and center Andrew Cogliano (EDM) make up three-fourths of the top rookie scorers in the nation with 16 points apiece. Johnson and Cogliano co-lead the nation in points per game among rookies with 1.45, while Kessel and Clarkson’s Shea Guthrie (NYI), the fourth rookie co-leading scorer, are tied for second with 1.33 points per game.

The Saturday contest between #2 Wisconsin and #1 Michigan will pit the nation’s best defense against the nation’s top offense in a rematch of last season’s NCAA Midwest Regional semi-finals. Wisconsin, who possesses the top defense in the nation, has not allowed more than two goals thus far. The Badgers have allowed a nation low 16 goals against this season. Junior Brian Elliott (OTT) has been sensational between the Wisconsin pipes this season, sporting a 9-1-2 record. He currently leads the nation with a .944 save percentage, while his 1.40 goals against average ranks second.

The stingy Badgers defense will be tested against the Wolverines explosive offense. Michigan ranks first in the nation in team offense, averaging 4.36 goals per game. Coming into the weekend the Wolverines have seven players with ten or more points, the most of any team in the nation. Junior T. J. Hensick (COL) leads Michigan in scoring with 19 points (six goals, 13 assists). Sophomore Kevin Porter (PHX) leads the Wolverines in goal scoring with eight and co-leads the team (along with Cogliano) with four power play tallies.

One match up to watch in this particular series will be Wisconsin’s top line of junior Robbie Earl (TOR), sophomore Joe Pavelski (SJ) and senior Adam Burish (CHI) going against the Wolverines’ top defensive pairing of Johnson and junior Matt Hunwick (BOS). The Badgers top line account for nearly 39 percent of the team scoring. Pavelski leads the Badgers in scoring with 16 points (eight goals, eight assists) as well as power play goals (three) and game-winners (two). Earl leads the Badgers with nine assists.

Johnson and Hunwick rank fourth and fifth respectively in the nation in scoring among defensemen. Johnson has 16 points (four goals, 12 assists), while Hunwick has 15 (four goals, 11 assists). The Michigan duo also ranks second in the nation in scoring among defensive pairings.

The Michigan Wolverines have amassed the best record in the CHS since its inception in 1993, going 14-9-1 all-time. Minnesota is second with a 13-9-2 record, followed by Michigan State, who also has a 13-9-2 record but has lost to Minnesota in the last four head-to-head Showcase matches. Wisconsin rounds it out with an all-time CHS record of 5-18-1.

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