I was going to update the recruiting board but a computer crash ate it. So: #$*((#$. Delay.
Tickets. Have received several emails about the best ticket strategy for the Frozen Four, so: I'm not an expert since I've only gone to one, that in Buffalo in 2003, but that experience leads me to believe that tickets will be available in abundance. In Buffalo you couldn't throw a rock without hitting someone hawking 4 tickets; some guys were carrying around enormous packets.
We ended up buying lower-bowl seats right behind the net where Jason Ryznar's goal was waved off (woo!) for face value; when the immense depression of that game's OT loss combined with the lethal carnie strip of "attractions" on the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls border to force us home ASAP we left our (stupidly, arrogantly purchased) tickets for the final with my brother, who ended up selling them for just over half of face.
With both Colorado schools bombing out in the regionals (thanks, MSU and Wisconsin!) the situation in Denver is likely to be similar. BC is half a continent away and Notre Dame fans barely know they have a hockey program. The other ND and Michigan figure to bring large contingents, but Buffalo was much closer to participating programs and the aforementioned scenario played out.
So given all that, I'm pretty comfortable with the idea of heading out there with the intention of buying tickets on the street. Unfortunately, this year the second semi ends within an hour of the first one and there is a single ticket for both. In previous years there had been separate tickets. This scuttles the post-semi dump wherein fans of the losing team sell tickets to the second semi.
We're going to print out a Pepsi center seating chart and go for the gusto. IIRC, the athletic department tickets were lower-bowl but in the corners in Buffalo.
What? Notre Dame is selling your standard a "woo frozen four shirt" on their official site. But apparently they got theirs from a mirror universe:
This seemed like an easy opportunity to make fun, but on closer inspection it's just weird. Michigan goes out in the first round to Northeastern, which didn't even make the tournament. Northeastern then plays Wisconsin, which beat UMass -- also not in the tournament. In fact, every first-round game is wrong and the only thing the shirt got right was a second-round matchup between ND and State going to ND. So that's... bizarre. It's as if they said "hey, no one's going to believe ND is in the Frozen Four anyway, let's just go all the way with this."
Movin' on up. I previously speculated that Brandon Minor might be headed elsewhere because of the shift in offensive philosophy; initial returns on that are as good as "Porter is a creation of Hensick":
Junior running back Brandon Minor and senior cornerback Morgan Trent have become early vocal leaders of the team, Rodriguez said.
That's a week or two old. This is new:
Defensive standouts: Rodriguez listed fifth-year senior John Thompson, redshirt sophomore Obi Ezeh and junior Stevie Brown as the defensive players who have stood out in the spring.
Thompson is trying to take the starting middle linebacker job from Ezeh, who was a Freshman All-American last year. Redshirt sophomore Jonas Mouton and sophomore Marell Evans appear to be leading the way at the outside spots. Rodriguez said the linebacker corps was one of the deepest units on the team.
How are these items related? Evans and Minor both attended Varina High in Virginia. Minor was generally well regarded -- a mid four-star, IIRC, though some sites rated him as fullback -- while Evans was virtually ignored. How ignored? He's the first two-star Michigan prospect (kickers excluded) since Andre Criswell two years before, and Criswell was a last-second edition. Michigan can get a commit from the most obscure Estonian and Rivals will give Argpan Ekerbajain a third star if given a couple weeks to re-evaluate him. Evans, not so much. Michigan recruited Evans specifically because Brandon Minor told them he outworked Brandon Minor; I probably should have given him more credit.
I find the leaders at linebacker interesting for these reasons:
- Jonas Mouton was just a redshirt freshman last year but I'm going to be pretty ticked if he has a good to excellent debut season; last year he was stuck behind a mediocre to bad Chris Graham. Since the coaches were willing to boot Graham to the bench in 2007 I think he got something less than the full-on Massey treatment and Mouton might have a year like Ezeh in 2008: "promising" but pretty meh.
- Johnny Thompson and Obi Ezeh both impressing and Evans being the leader at strongside linebacker. Ezeh was a SAM until the dire situation at MLB forced him over. Presumably either he or Thompson could shift back. So if Evans does get to start he's beaten out either a returning starter or (more likely) a fifth year senior with spot starts to date.
Varsity Blue has some video from spring practice. Remember that year in NCAA when 1) John Navarre was Michigan's quarterback and 2) the option was unstoppable anyway? Yeah, watching David Cone run a triple option brings back the memories:
There's another set of clips at VB. I watched them, for what little value that provided. Main impression: holy God, Jason Kates still blocks out the sun.
I usually don't go in for the predictable photoshopped baby in the aftermath of someone bailing or complaining or something, but good freakin' lord this is creepy:
Mmm, that's good nightmare fuel. Image you'll see in your sleep tonight prompted by this Matt Hayes article in which he checks out Michigan practice and finds a distinct lack of blood orgies.
Etc.: MVictors actually cased Saline High's football field in an effort to scout out spots from which you, the fre
nzied, BTN-less Michigan nut, can espy Michigan's spring game. The internet at its best.
Who is Isaiah Bell? A guy who's likely to play safety. This is about all we know at the moment. Rivals knew nothing of his existence until he committed to Michigan. ESPN doesn't have a scouting report. Scout is similarly silent.
There is this article from a local paper:
It's been hard for Liberty's Isaiah Bell to choose which team to root for in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry since he started watching football as a kid.
His mother is a Wolverine fan, while his father cheers for the scarlet and gray.
But after 16 years, he has finally picked a team in one of the biggest rivalries in college football.
Michigan's won two of these house divided situations in the past few days: OH DB Justin Turner's mom was pro-OSU while his father was pro-Michigan.
More useful items from the article: Bell didn't play offense last year, when he was 6'3" and around 180 pounds. This year he's around 215 and will get a shot somewhere, presumably wide receiver with two D-I prospects already vying for time in Liberty's backfield, about whom more later.
First, an awesome quote from the same piece:
''He can run the football, there's no doubt about that. We saw that when he returned kicks and punts. He's got great hands, we saw that in his interceptions. And he's also in the running for the quarterback spot. How that turns out is entirely up to how he and the team progresses.''
Bell, who had ''dozens of Division [-I, presumably, sic -ed]offers,'' according to Whittaker, said he wants to play safety at Michigan, and wherever else the Wolverines need him. He said first-year coach Rich Rodriguez was the primary reason he decided to play for Michigan.
''They remind me of the coaching staff at Liberty,'' Bell said. ''It wasn't just a coaching staff, they work like a family in terms and looking out for each other.''
Blood orgies are a family value.
Other pieces of information:
- Bell plays at Liberty High in Youngstown with two other potential D-I prospects, including a running back/slot guy fantastically named "Fitzgerald Toussaint." Though Michigan's luck with awesomely named running backs has been middling -- Mister Simpson transferred to Cincinnati after a year -- Toussaint is a pretty slick running back. Check out his Scouting Ohio video.
The other guy is Julius Ferrell, who will split time with Toussaint this fall. Ferrell is a fullback who "loves hitting" and may be a fit for the Owen Schmitt role; Michigan should be able to sell the idea he'll actually get carries, along with the presence of a teammate. Both are potential Big Ten prospects; Toussaint already has a Michigan offer.
Not exactly "I heart Hart."
Editorial Opinion: Likely to be an anonymous three-star safety recruit; I generally prefer to get my anonymous three star safety recruits early in the recruiting cycle since the early offer usually means greater confidence in the eyes of the staff. This one comes with a Trotwood-like bonus, as Liberty is in possession of two more kids who are potential Michigan recruits.
Who is Teric Jones? An enigma wrapped in a riddle covered in sinew and bone and tendon that moves fast.
The Jones experience in youtube summary:
One off-tackle run in a JV game.
Jones' junior year was spent as Indiana commit Cortez Smith's backup, limiting his guru exposure. Then he did this at the Army All-American junior combine:
Although small in stature, running back Teric Jones came up big everywhere else. His 4.47 40-yard dash time was the fastest heard about all day and he put those numbers to practice in the one-on-one drills, catching several long passes down the sidelines after leaving defenders behind.
"I wanted to let everyone know that I am one of the top backs in the nation," Jones said. "I wanted to show my speed and agility and show that I am a big playmaker."
That 4.47 has been quoted as a 4.37 elsewhere, but, as always, the actual 40 time isn't the important thing. It's your 40 relative to everyone else's, and amongst a sampling of the nation's best junior recruits Jones was #1. Interest picked up after that.
Scout put together some video:
Pete Carroll was TOTALLY STOKED ABOUT HIM:
Trojans Come Calling for Jones
Detroit Cass Tech RB Teric Jones gets some love from the left coast
-by MichiganVarsity.com Mar 5, 2008
And so forth and so on. Fortunately, Jones proved to be a non-communist and stayed home.
For those concerned about his lack of status on Scout and Rivals, ESPN is already on the ball with a highly positive scouting report($):
Can attack a defense in a number of ways as a runner. Perimeter speed to take it the distance on the outside, suddenness and body-tilt to slice through the small creases in-line and deceptive strength breaking tackles. Has a natural smoothness and fluidity to him as a runner and shows good body control. A true weapon and homerun threat in space with his great burst and acceleration.
There are some concerns about his apparently inability to fight through tacklers for extra yards, but we all know the Rodriguez offense is light on pounding interior runs for the Slaton-Devine "superback" sorts. Jones is in ESPN's top 150 watch list.
Editorial Opinion: Jones' lack of playing time makes him a small risk, but he seems like a perfect fit for the spread 'n' shred and has the potential to move way up in guru estimations with a breakout senior season. He'll probably be a three star until fall; if he does well he may end up in the 100-200 range.
A potential side benefit: OMG shirtless DT Will Campbell is a Michigan verbal, but makes noises about going on visits to USC and other warm places. This is probably only a minor concern -- Brandon Graham was also an all-everything five star, also committed early, also claimed he would take trips, and then didn't go anywhere -- but it's nice to have a friend and teammate in his ear about Michigan.
Let's map out this sequence of events:
1) Justin Boren decries a "lack of family values" in the Michigan program, citing Rodriguez's unusual practice methods...
...and decides to transfer.
2) OH DB Justin Turner commits to Michigan.
3) MI RB Teric Jones commits to Michigan.
4) OH S Isaiah Bell commits to Michigan.
Blood orgies are good for business.
3/28/2008 - Michigan 5, Niagara 1
3/29/2008 - Michigan 2, Clarkson 0
Frozen Four berth
What happened? The last two years Michigan hockey seemed in the early stages of a Michigan State basketball-like gradual decline into boring super-mediocrity. Two straight first-round matchups with North Dakota resulted in two straight first-round exits. Said first round exits were the first Michigan had ever experienced since the tournament moved to twelve teams. Michigan State added insult to injury by clutchigrabbing themselves the national title.
Then out the door went the shoulda-Hobey winner TJ Hensick, God himself Jack Johnson, and dynamic sophomore center Andrew Cogliano. Johnson and Cogliano spent the entire year in the NHL; Hensick got in 31 games. Three other defensemen, including captain Matt Hunwick, graduated, as did useful forward David Rohlfs. The media and coaches picked Michigan an apocalypse-inducing fourth in the CCHA.
Fast forward through a bunch of goals for, not many against, and you get this year's inexplicable finish: the top overall seed, 33-5-4, and favored to beat Notre Dame, make the NCAA championship game, and win Michigan's tenth national title.
Uh... what? What the hell happened here? And how can we make it happen to everything else? An exploration below.
But first, one thing that's not the cause:
TJ and Jack say seeya. Michigan looks like a quintessential Ewing theory team: lose the big stars, instantly much better. I am here to say bunko, pal. Bunko. The problem with last year's team was not the nation's leading scorer, his 45 assists, his +24, or his 19% shooting percentage. Nor was it Jack Johnson, his 16 goals and better than PPG scoring pace, and his 30-35 minutes a night.
Sometimes I read things on the internet and they often claim that one or both of the above guys was somehow selfish or lazy or was not properly leader-y, and I don't get it. Hensick killed penalties as a senior, was tied for third in shots despite having more ice time than any other forward, and had the highest plus minus on the team. Jack reigned in his wild freshman year, saw his PMs halve, and was just generally the best player -- period -- I've ever seen at Yost.
It wasn't them.
It was this:
Sauer. Obviously. When you go from a .896 save percentage to a .927, you have significantly increased your team's chance of victory.
How much of this is an improvement in Sauer himself and how much of it is a more committed team defensive effort? It's obviously a mix of both; Sauer has a hand in it. Check last year's stats:
With the same same roster -- I guess Michigan did lose the most statistically ineffective hockey player they've had in a decade when Jason Bailey left at midseason -- and only a modest drop in shots faced, Sauer went from eye-wrenchingly horrible (a save % of .884 would have been good for 66th of 73 goalies who registered enough minutes to qualify last year) to average (.914 would have been 27th, just ahead of Jeff Lerg). This was a quantum leap in performance largely obscured by Sauer's first-half performance. It's hard to say "hey, this guy is playing pretty well" when the statistics still have that ugly "8" after the decimal point.
When people did notice this they kept it under their breath in case, say, most of the way through the best game of his career he went for a stupid poke check and let in an ugly goal that cost Michigan the CCHA playoff championship and the ensuing mental trauma resulted in seven North Dakota goals in something like four minutes in the NCAA tournament. Hypothetically.
And this year?
Hey, good job Billy. And look at that, a significant drop in shots against. Hmmm...
The freshmen defensemen are outplaying last year's senior counterparts. I can tell because there is always at least one defenseman in my personal doghouse at all times. Said defenseman is responsible for all turnovers, goals, and undesirable global climactic
changes until such time as someone else enters the doghouse, they graduate, or -- in the case of Jeff Jillson -- a hockey team that drafted you way too high throws a bunch of money at you.
In that light, three enduring memories from the 2006 and 2007 teams:
- Michigan is tied or leads by a goal against some team late. I think they're leading, because it seemed at the time that caution was called for. The opposing team gains control of the puck behind their own net and throws it up the wall. The puck's a good foot or two off the ground and traveling at a high rate of speed; Matt Hunwick decides this is the perfect time to practice his I'm-a-ninja-let's-knock-this-blowgun-dart-away skills, rushing forward and taking a wild swing at the puck whizzing by him. The ensuing two-on-one results in a goal.
- Jason Dest blatantly crosschecks a guy to the ice while killing a penalty, drawing another penalty. Dest throws his arms in the air, disgusted. The guy he's crosschecked to the ice gets up and, unchecked, taps in a goal.
- Tim Cook, just in general.
Aside from a couple groan-worthy Langlais moments that were, IMO, not nearly enough to erase his consistently excellent play, has anything like this occurred this year? No. I literally cannot remember Scooter Vaughn or Tristin Llewellyn doing anything important all year. That's fantastic when you're freshmen defensemen on the #1 team in the country.
Do the stats back me up here? I think they do, at least slightly.
Dest last year: 1-10-11, +6. Cook: 0-4-4, +11. Hunwick: 6-20-26, +24
Vaughn: 0-4-4, +10. Llewellyn: 0-5-5, +9, Langlais 0-19-19, +20, "Other" (Quick): 2-2-4, +8.
That's about the same number of points and the same +/- (albeit in about 16 extra games between the four freshman) from four freshmen as the three seniors from last year. I know points and +/- are not great metrics -- if I had schmanzy stats like some of the NHL bloggers I would use them -- but there is also the lack of on-ice hatred for any of these guys.
Even if they're not actually better than the seniors, Chris Summers is better than he was as a freshman and so is Kampfer and so is Mitera.
I think there is one outstanding statistical anomaly that proves 1) it warn't Jack's fault, and 2) whatever the second and third defensive pairings were doing was messed up. This is it: Cogs last year: 23-25-48, +7. Kolarik: 18-27-45 +13.
Those two were the second line, basically. A rotating cast of Turnbull, Naurato, Miller, and others filled the other wing. Kolarik is awesome this year and was pretty darn good a year ago; Cogs has 45 points in the NHL thi
s year. Usually Jack came out with TJ and the first line, IIRC, and then saw another shift when the second or third line was out there. The second line was prime Dest-Cook territory, and those plus/minus results speak for themselves.
Kevin Porter was not a creation of TJ Hensick. One of the occupational hazards of putting your opinions on sports on the internet is that sometimes you write stuff like this:
We're about to find out if Kevin Porter, top five scorer, was entirely a creation of TJ Hensick. Survey says: hell yes. He's still probably the team's best player, but is uninspiring as those go.
Ha-HA! I suck.
Porter is the nation's leading scorer and since he hasn't taken any misconduct penalties will win the Hobey Baker on Friday. What's more, Red credits him with the work ethic and discipline shown by the entire team. When he missed practice Wednesday with a flu something or other, Michigan had what may have been its worst practice of the year.
And Chad Kolarik is just as good. Porter's going to win the Hobey, as he should, but Kolarik is the #6 scorer in the country and has transformed himself from a second-line offense-only forward (just +13 last year on 45 points) into a premiere penalty killer and effort guy. When he popped his hamstring against Lake State he new something was very wrong, but it was a five on three so he got to a knee and made himself a nuisance. Lake State did not score.
In both these guys, Michigan finally has a pair of senior top-liners on a par with the monster combos like Sertich and Sterling and all those guys from like UMD or Miami who are pretty good hockey players for a while until something finally clicks and they lay waste like McBain.
Virtually every freshman met or exceeded expectations. The jury is still out on Brian Hogan and Kevin Quick is an ex-Wolverine. I've discussed the defensemen. The forwards:
- Max Pacioretty. First line-mainstay who was a bit of a passenger for the first half of the season before having a TJ-like breakout second half. Now a PPG scorer.Superb passer, excellent size, good shot. Fits in with Porter and Kolarik beautifully.
- Carl Hagelin. Bork, man, Bork. 10-10-20 with almost no power play time. Lighting fast skater who works his ass off every shift; guaranteed to get in three or four "holy crap!" backchecks per game, and who says "holy crap!" after a backcheck? Right. Odds on favorite to be top line center at the start of next year.
- Aaron Palushaj. You can see he's right on the verge of using those slick hands to pour in goals; as it is he's 10-31(!)-41 without the luxury of playing with Porter and Kolarik much. Probable top-line winger next to Patch and Hagelin next year.
- Matt Rust. Also a wicked fast skater. 11-10-21 with hardly any power play time, good faceoff guy. Key second-line player, excellent defensively, played with broken leg the past couple weeks.
- Louie Caporusso. Missed a month with an injury; came back and had 12-9-21 in 32 games. Smallish, skilled centerman closer to Andrew Ebbett than Cammalleri in overall talent, still a good bet to be a second-line center next year. Needs a talented winger to go with Turnbull.
- Ben Winnett. Winnett was the only real disappointment this year. He had a nasty injury that cost him half of his last junior season but prior to that was scoring at nearly the same pace as teammate, first round pick, and Cornell freshman star Riley Nash. He went in the fourth round of the draft -- two rounds before Hagelin -- and ended up puttering around the third and fourth lines doing little. 6-5-11 isn't too bad for a guy who didn't get much time; it's the "didn't get much time" that's an issue. Showed some flashes of talent late in the season.
Everyone of these guys was a significant contributor save Winnett, and there are no Fardig-Bailey-Brown-Miller-MacVoy sorts in the bunch; every one is a potential scoring line player with offensive skill to spare.
The key to this recruiting class is the success of Hagelin, Langlais and Vaughn. All were relatively late pickups, which usually nets you questionable third or fourth line sorts and last pairing defensemen. Each of these guys showed up ready to play and will be mainstays for the next four years unless Hagelin gets really, really good and the Rangers sign him.
There are just a lot more good players. Okay, out went three excellent players: Jack, TJ, and Cogs. Out went two more good to average players, depending on how much you think of Matt Hunwick: Hunwick and Rohlfs. Out went three bad players: Dest, Cook, and Bailey.
I am of the opinion that Michigan picked up three excellent players -- Patch, Hagelin, Palushaj -- five good players -- Langlais, Rust, Caporusso, Llewellyn, Vaughn -- and one average one -- Winnett. Combine that with the slow and steady morph of Billy Sauer from an awful player to a good, maybe great one, and wham:
No, seriously. Flights out of Chicago are around 220 now -- yesterday there were in the 170s. Tickets will be available at face or below in Denver with both local schools knocked out. Hell, Notre Dame fans, it's your first Frozen Four ever. Go! Taste the sting of defeat, but go!
1) After a tense first period last night, Michigan blew the doors off Niagara and faces Clarkson (7 PM, ESPNU) in the regional final tonight.
2) Justin Turner, an Ohio DB from Massillion, Shawn Crable's old school, committed yesterday. Turner's currently in the top 50 at Rivals.
3) Teric Jones, a lightning-quick MI RB who turned in the fastest 40 at the Army All-American combine, just committed.
I'll have google-stalks of the new commits early next week; am in full-on-hockey mode.