Icers face off with Michigan this weekend

Kevin Shields and Kevin Shields

Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich. is considered by many to be the toughest place to play at in college hockey. Tonight, the 17th ranked Falcons will get their shot to become the first team this season to win at Yost when they take on the 4th ranked Michigan Wolverines in what may be BG’s biggest Central Collegiate Hockey Association series yet this season.

So far this season, the Wolverines (11-4-1 overall; 9-1-0 CCHA) are 6-0-1 at home, as a 4-4 tie with 7th ranked New Hampshire has been the only game keeping them from a perfect home record. They are a perfect 5-0 in CCHA play at home though and last season had a perfect home record against the CCHA (13-0) during the regular season.

“It’s a great atmosphere there,” head coach Scott Paluch said about Yost. “They really have it going in terms of support for their hockey program. It makes for a very difficult place to play, but it’s certainly an enjoyable place to play. A lot of guys look forward to going up there and being in that environment, and I think it brings out the best in all players. If you can play well in that environment, you can play well anywhere, so it’s a challenge to each individual, as well as our team.”

“When you go there you’ll be heckled by the fans and they’ll be yelling at you and screaming at you, calling you different things,” forward Rich Meloche said about playing at Yost. “Hearing that though, for me personally and for a lot of other guys on this team, it gets you pumped up. If we’re doing our job, they’ll be on us all night and the more fun we’ll have.”

The Wolverines come into the weekend off a home-and-home sweep of Notre Dame, which saw them out-score the Irish 14-1, including an 8-0 shutout in South Bend, Ind. last Saturday night.

T.J. Hensick and Jeff Tambellini lead the way for the Wolverines this season, as they have both tallied eight goals on the year. Hensick, a sophomore is coming off a freshman season, which saw him lead Michigan in points, scoring 12 goals while recording 34 assists for a 46 point total and earning first team All-CCHA honors. He, like Tambellini two seasons ago when he was a freshman, is likely to become a first round draft pick at the end of the year, as he currently leads the team in points (8-11-19) this season again.

Other key contributors for the Wolverines up front are Andrew Ebbett, Milan Gajic, Brandon Kaleniecki, Chad Kolarik, David Moss and Kevin Porter.

On defense, the Wolverines have six solid defensemen, who are arguably one of the best defensive cores in the nation. It is lead by Eric Werner, who has five goals and eight assists on the year. Brandon Rogers, Matt Hunwick, Nick Martens, Jason Dest and Tim Cook are the others.

Then in net, second team All-American and first round draft pick, Al Montoya, returns for the Wolverines. He currently has a 2.41 goal against average with a save percentage of .901 and has two shutouts.

“They are by far the most explosive team in our league,” Paluch said about the Wolverines and their skill. “They’re the deepest team at both the forward positions and the defensive positions. They are extremely quick and powerful throughout their lineup and they’re probably as deep as any team in the country in terms putting out four lines and six defensemen. Then on top of that they have a returning All-American in net, in Al Montoya.”

“You got to be extremely intelligent in terms of not turning the puck over, but also when we’re in the attacking zone we have to be very smart about not getting three guys caught deep and allowing them to get three or four guys involved in the attack on us all night long,” he added.

For BG (8-4-2 overall; 5-3-2 CCHA), Jordan Sigalet is feeling better and is expected to be in net for both games this weekend after sitting out Saturday’s home game against Michigan State with flu-like symptoms in a 6-4 loss. He had 46 saves on 47 shots in the Falcons’ 2-1 win at MSU last Friday night. His current goals against average is 2.48 with a save percentage of .928 and has one shutout.

Jonathan Sigalet and Derek Whitmore both had two goals this past weekend to lead the scoring, while Brett Pilkington had four assists to lead the team in points on the weekend.

The Falcons registered four goals on the power-play last weekend to bring their season power-play goal total to 24. They are currently first in the CCHA in power-play percentage at .224 percent.

Jonathan Matsumoto is second in the league in power-play goals with six and Rich Meloche is tied for third with five.

“I think our power-play has been a pretty interesting animal to figure out,” Paluch said. “The positive is that we have been able to score goals on our power-play and our percentage is up there. We’ve scored some goals, we’ve scored goals in all types of fashion and yet we’ve had stretches where our power-play has killed our momentum by not being able to get much going. It’s been interesting and we’ll continue to work at it and improve.”

“I think this year we just have a lot more guys who can score, like Whitmore, Matsumoto, Foster and Hodgson,” Meloche said about the power-play. “They’re all guys who came to our team and jumped right on the power-play. They’re all pretty skilled guys and are guys that we just didn’t have last year.”

“We had good offensive guys last year, but this year I think we have more depth this year and have had control of the puck a lot of time for most of the two minutes and when you do that you’re going to score goals,” he added.

A big reason for the success of the power-play has been the big play from the top three defensemen on the team. Jonathan Sigalet, Michael Hodgson and Don Morrison each have nine points on the year.

“You look at where those three guys are, with nine points out of each of those guys,” Paluch said. “There’s not many teams in college hockey that are going to have 27 combined points out of their top three leading defensemen. We stressed getting contributions out of our defensemen this year and so far we’re seeing it out of those guys.”

This defensive core and power-play unit will look to keep scoring this weekend as tonight they head to Yost Ice Arena for a 7:35 p.m. face-off. Tomorrow night, the two teams will return to BG for a 7:05 p.m. face-off here at the BG Ice Arena, in the second game of this crucial CCHA series to finish off the first half of the season.