Ryan Kelly skates down the ice during UM-Dearborn's game vs. Oakland in late January 2015. Kelly figures to be a big part of the 2016 Wolverines. (Ricky Lindsay/MJ)

Editor’s note: Check out a StoryMap of UM-Dearborn hockey’s 2015-2016 schedule here.

By RICKY LINDSAY, Editor-in-Chief

Another year, another University of Michigan-Dearborn hockey season filled with top-tier talent.

Editor-in-Chief Ricky Lindsay breaks down the recently-released schedule, which features seven teams ranked in the American Collegiate Hockey League’s Division-I final rankings.

Home away from home

UM-Dearborn opens its season on Sept. 11 and won’t see home ice until Oct. 2. It’s a tough draw, but the price of scheduling top-ranked foes.

The Wolverines travel to Annapolis, Md. Sept. 11-12 to face Navy (18-10-1) in a two-game series. The season opener is one that’s been hyped since spring; head coach Chris Haltinner and company are excited for the atmosphere the Naval Academy will offer on Patriot Day.

For what it’s worth, UM-Dearborn was swept by Navy two years ago in the 2013-2014 season opener.

Great Lakes Collegiate Hockey League foe Western Michigan (18-18-5) is wedged between another trip east. UM-Dearborn visits to Buffalo (27-8-1) and Niagara (20-6-2) to round out September.

The Wolverines have an interesting rivalry with Buffalo from last season (*cough* bag skates *cough*).

Navy, Buffalo and Niagara were all ranked at the end of last season. A few wins against the trio could propel the Wolverines.

“If we can come out of here with some wins and healthy, look out,” Haltinner said. “We could really make some noise.”

Rivalry reignited

Before last season, UM-Dearborn had a 3-13 record against Oakland.

Then it shocked the GLCHL.

Highlighted by a 10-4 win in the Clark Park Classic, the Wolverines demolished the Golden Grizzlies last season, taking two of the four games played (the third game was cancelled due to poor ice conditions).

The intense rivalry is reignited in UM-Dearborn’s home opener. The Wolverines host Oakland (18-20-1) on Oct. 2 followed by a road contest against the Grizzlies.

Quiet time

From Oct. 2-Dec. 5, UM-Dearborn plays only nine games. Davenport (25-11-6) highlights the stretch, but the Wolverines play it the weekend after Oakland.

There’s a reason for the extended time off.

“I feel that in previous years, we just went too much, weekend after weekend after weekend,” Haltinner said. “We need to let the kids be human beings and kids. Give them a week off, let them go home, let them be with their families, let them be with their parents and relax, get a little bit away from hockey every once in a while.

“I feel that they’ll come back refreshed and you’ll see a better product on the ice because the kids will have that drive to want to be back and playing.”

Brutal finale

UM-Dearborn should hope the extended time off helps. Its second-half schedule packs a punch with seven games against ranked teams, highlighted by national-title contender Adrian (31-4-1).

A home-and-home series against Oakland kicks off the second half. For the third year in a row, the Wolverines will play the Grizzlies outdoors at Clark Park.

Adrian follows the outdoor game in a home-and-home series. UM-Dearborn finally overcame Oakland last year; can it do the same against Adrian?

The Wolverines embark on quite the trip from Jan. 20-22. A Wednesday game against new conference foe Indiana Tech (8-26) kicks off the trip before two games at Liberty (22-11-5).

UM-Dearborn plays several top-flight foes on the road this season but Liberty stands out to Haltinner.

“They just built a 3,200 seat facility. They’re sold out. It’s the hardest place to play in the ACHA. They have a light show that rivals the NHL. It’s unbelievable,” Haltinner said. “I’ve talked to a lot of coaches around our league — a lot of coaches around the country — about playing down there because I was wondering about scheduling, just because it’s such an expensive trip.

“Everyone says it’s one trip that I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever get rid of. That’s a trip that you have to go on. We’ve got it set. They’re sold out, they’re ready to go…it’s going to be a blast.”

Indiana Tech and Kent State (18-19) stand between UM-Dearborn and a showdown against Adrian at the Fieldhouse. The regular-season finale will likely have implications on the national tournament race.

UM-Dearborn won’t have to go far for the GLCHL playoffs. Oaklandhockey.org reported that the Fieldhouse will host it.

New foes

The GLCHL is welcoming two teams to the conference this season: Rochester College and Indiana Tech.

UM-Dearborn is familiar with both teams; its played Rochester College twice the past two years and opened the 2014-2015 season against Indiana Tech.

Haltinner is excited about the conference’s addition.

“They’re good teams to have and they’re supported by their universities,” he said. “Rochester (College) always gave us a really good fight; they’re a scrappy team. Indiana Tech is up and coming; a well-put together team.

“They’re gonna add some skill to this league, they’re gonna add some challenges and that’s good ‘cause it helps everyone else out in the league.”

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