Michigan and Cornell will face off on Saturday at New York City's Madison Square Garden in an event being called The Frozen Apple. It's a rematch of last year's NCAA first round tournament match-up in which the Big Red upset Michigan in overtime. by a score of 3-2. If either team has designs on making it back to the NCAA tournament this year, this game isn't quite a 'must-win' but is definitely a 'probably need to win'.
Michigan's streak of 22 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances--a streak that started with an NCAA tournament playoff series against Cornell--appears to be in jeopardy after a disappointing 5-6-1 start to their season. They need wins anywhere they can get them, but a non-conference win against their only ECAC opponent of the year would be especially valuable.
The Wolverines lead the CCHA in offense at 3.58 goals, but they've struggled recently, averaging 2 goals per game over their last four games. A.J. Treais is tied for the national lead with nine goals scored so far this season. On the blue line, Michigan is still without New Jersey draft pick Jon Merrill, who is out indefinitely with a neck injury, but do have one of the exciting freshman in the country in Jacob Trouba, the eighth overall pick in last year's NHL Draft.
Cornell isn't in nearly as dire a situation as Michigan, though they come into this game without a win in their last five games. Like Michigan, they've struggled offensively of late after a decent start, scoring just a single goal in each of their last three games. But under head coach Mike Schaefer, Cornell has never needed a lot of goals to win because they're always excellent defensively. This year's team is led by Ithaca, N.Y. native Andy Iles in goal, and supported by big, tough defensive defensemen like Pittsburgh draft pick Nick D'Agostino and Chicago draft pick Braden Birch.
The crowd for this one should be interesting. Cornell has a bit of an advantage being just 220 miles from New York City. Michigan has an advantage in that their basketball team played at MSG on Wednesday and Friday, creating more incentive for their fans to travel. Both schools have pretty big alumni presence in the NYC-area, though Cornell's alumni base is likely a little more hockey-savvy. You also have to wonder how many people will show up just for the chance to watch any hockey game at MSG this year.
This game matches up like it will be pretty similar to last year's game; tight and low-scoring. Michigan may hold a slight edge in play due to their speed, but won't see many high-quality chances due to Cornell's discipline. The big key for a Michigan victory will be converting when they get opportunities on the power play. In last year's game, they went 0-for-7, including a scoreless 5-minute major power play. This year's version of the power play hasn't been that much better, especially without Jon Merrill in the lineup, scoring at a middling 16.7%.Cornell will likely try to follow the same plan that worked last year, trying to keep the game low-scoring as possible, and hope that they are the ones to get a bounce or make a play late in the game.