the season has truly begun now
Right, so hockey coverage has been nonexistent. This changes... now!
The Story So Far
Yuck. Awesome. What? ARRRRGH.
Basically that. Michigan started the season with a walkover of overmatched opponents, though the Saturday UConn game provided a dark foreshadowing of what was to come when Michigan was sailing through, up 6-0, when they let the UConn Connecticut Huskies of UConn Who Suck score five straight goals in a game no one saw because it was on at the same time the Penn State game was. So what happened? You got me. I was busy watching Alan Branch eat Anthony Morelli's face.
...but I can guess!
- Matt Hunwick got walked around at least twice.
- Billy Sauer faced several slapshots from the Josh Blackburn zone of you let that in?
- The third and fourth lines got caught in their zones for entire shifts.
- The freshmen defensemen brought gift baskets overflowing with turnovers.
That's wild speculation, mind you.
After an understandable split with Miami -- one of the three teams in the CCHA who have separated themselves from the pack at this early date -- Michigan faced perennial Hockey East bottom-dweller Northeastern and freakin' split, losing 3-2 despite outshooting the Huskies 47-20. (Many goals, few shots will be a theme.) That loss will be a PWR anchor all year. The season's low point came the next Friday, when Michigan went to Munn and turned a 3-1 lead after one into a 7-4 loss.
Then they ran off seven straight wins. Go figure, I don't know. They even kept the puck out of the net, keeping opponents to two or fewer goals in five of the seven wins, and against fairly quality competition: two MSU games, two against UNO, one against Wisconsin (though the Badgers are inexplicably terrible this year). Then came Minnesota, the #1 team in the country, and an 8-2 loss featuring four (four! F-O-U-R!) shorthanded goals, a dismal loss to Western that featured horrible play from Sauer, Hunwick, and Chris Summers, and a skin-of-their-teeth win at Lawson featuring Steve Jakiel in net. Jakiel did not exactly show himself to be Michigan's knight in shining armor, giving up 5 goals on 29 shots.
Michigan stands at 12-5-0 right now, headed for another tournament bid and neck-and-neck with Notre Dame and Miami for the league title but not a serious threat to do anything in April unless they stop fishing the puck out of the net every five minutes.
What's Gone Right
- TJ Hensick. Long dogged by accusations of selfishness -- though not from this quarter -- Hensick's senior year is turning into the best display of passing I've ever seen anyone in a Michigan uniform put on. Kevin Porter has Milan Gajic disease something wicked but still has 13 goals and 16 assists because he's getting two glorious chances per period on Hensick's wing. David Rohlfs was such an offensive force he played D for the past two years; this year he's averaging over a PPG and has already smashed past his previous season high for points (13 as a freshman forward) by seven. Why? Because Hensick is a dirty mofo, that's why. Theory: they should put Brandon Naurato on his wing just because he can shoot, and that's all he can do. It worked for Andy Hilbert.
- Jack Johnson. An erratic freshman season where Johnson won the crowd's admiration but not many games has been followed up by pure domination. A force at both ends of the ice, this is the Jack Johnson who went in the top five of the NHL draft. One thing: someone who does not play 30 flawless minutes a night should probably be the one getting fighting majors when Sauer gets run.
- David Rohlfs. Sure, he's the beneficiary of all those Hensick passes, but let's review: 10-10-20 with little powerplay time from a player who was a non-entity on offense before this season. Red always liked Rohlfs, placing him on the powerplay when he was a freshman, but never got much production out of him. Rohlfs does the dirty work for the Hensick line and gets rewarded for it. May be playing himself into Edmonton's fall camp.
- Brian Lebler. For a guy who never scored in junior, Lebler sure has some stickhandling ability. He makes a lot of smart little plays, takes the body, and is working his way up onto the Cogliano line slowly but surely.
What's Gone Wrong
Billy Sauer. We're approximately a year and a half into Sauer's career and there's no evidence he's good at hockey. While Sauer's not exactly playing behind the 1994 Devils here, he's also posting a .892 save percentage. Last year he posted a .898. In the USHL he did a little better at .904, but was still beat out Shane Connolly -- now Brian Elliot's backup at Wisconsin and a major suck vortex his freshman year at .885 in nine games, five of them rare UW losses -- and his .911.
That's the statistical case against him. He saves nothing. The anecdotal case against him is equally simple: last week against Western Michigan I'm pretty sure I saw him toss his blocker at a shot that wasn't even on net and deflect it into the goal.
This is different than Al Montoya, who clearly didn't give half a crap his junior year and had a proven track record of being damn good. There was always a chance he would snap out of it. Sauer has left a trail of "meh" in his wake and it's unlikely to get any better. Unfortunately, Noah Ruden's gone and Jakiel... well, Jakiel was beat out by a recruit we have coming in next year and traded. Also, five goals against.
Still, we've seen a lot from Sauer and all indications are that he's just a bad goalie. Platooning Jakiel may reveal him to be a better option.
Defensemen not named "Jack Johnson" and "Tim Cook" (seriously!). (That Cook-to-forward experiment was a disaster I hope we won't see repeated -- with Dest out for the next month with a shoulder injury and Jack gone for the WJC, I'm sure to get that particular wish until at least January. Cook has turned into a reliable, uninspiring defenseman. At forward he may as well not even have a stick. Anyway.) I don't know what's with Matt Hunwick, but ever since the game-losing goal against Wisconsin where Hunwick's man split him and a shocked Jack Johnson, I panic when I see him one-on-one against an onrushing player. And shockingly, I've been right to do so this year. People just dance past him on a weekly basis. It's amazing. Senior captain: take the damn body.
Summers and Kampfer have been turnover machines and generally tetchy, but as freshmen they have a built in excuse. Summers, at the least, skates gorgeously and clearly has tremendous upside, but too many times this year he's weakly attempted to purse-check his opponents and watched them waltz in for scoring opportunities.
- Lines without Hensick and Cogliano on them. The third line is close to getting off the dreaded MGoBlog naughty-word-for-poop list, but we need more crash and bang and less "help I can't break out of this zone." The only guys on the team who are minus overall other than statistical blip Anthony Ciraulo? Turnbull, Lebler, and Bailey (a frightening -9). The fourth line is a mishmash of JJ Swistak 2006 -- no offense, Fardig, I always liked Swistak -- a guy who can't do anything but shoot, and whichever walkon is so not being Trevor Lewis on this particular night. Effective? Not so much.
A fundamentally flawed team that's riding the brilliant performances of a few amazing players. Hensick, Johnson, and to a certain extent Andrew Cogliano are carrying the team. The offseason defections of Lewis, MacVoy, and Swystun are being felt keenly, as that's the difference between the Michigan teams of years past where gu ys like Gajic and Ryznar were our third-liners and this one. While no one would ever confuse Gajic and his sawdust stick with stardom, he was still a plus player who you could count on for double-digit goals and a whole lot of gorgeous misses. Once you get past the Hensick and Cogliano lines, the offensive skill consists of some flashes from Lebler and the (very) occasional wicked wrister Naurato gets off. Top heavy are the Wolverines.
Defensively, Johnson's dominant and then Mitera and Cook are competent. Hunwick is still an enigma; Dest and the two freshmen are turnover machines. No quarter necessary.
And then there's goal. While Sauer's not the only issue -- he's been five goals worse than a goalie with an NCAA-average (.904) save percentage, and removing those five goals moves Michigan up from 44th of 59 in GA all the way to... 37th! -- he, like junior Montoya before him, has been obviously subpar. Combine that with festival de turnover and hello sir I would like you to have a breakaway, especially shorthanded and you get bad.
Good news: if the defense tightens up and cuts down on the opposition's chances and the third line gives up and just traps the hell out of everyone, the top-end talent on Michigan's roster is enough to outscore just about anyone. Bad news: unlikely to happen, and Sauer's probably not going to get a visit from the Goalie Fairy with five-hole caulk anytime soon.
In a battle all the way with ND and Miami for the CCHA title. Probably finish second. Tournament bid as a 2 or 3 seed; fate depends heavily on opponent. WCHA = WCH-dead. Grinding team a la Cornell? Probably okay. Frozen Four unlikely; national championship verrry unlikely.
Commit #18 is another linebacker: Brandon Herron from Sugarland, Texas, a high school teammate of Michigan legacy and cornerback commit Troy Woolfolk.
One word to describe Herron: project. He's 6'2" and under 200 pounds. He plays defensive end for his high school. So he's the size of a safety, playing defensive end, and projected at linebacker. You can mark the redshirt in pen. If I could make an analogy, he's like Toney Clemons, if Clemons had spent much of his time playing running back.
The upside is treasured and cliched athleticism. I guess this is supposed to be a good quote from his coach:
"Brandon is a carnival fair freak. There is not a drill that a coach put him through that he can't do better than anyone else."
That could be a way of saying "can't really play football right now." Freelance recruiting guru Jim Stefani agrees:
80 Brandon Herron LB 6'2 198 4.55 Sugarland Fort Bend Dulles Texas Herron has tested exceptionally well the past couple of years at combines, but he didn't really start receiving offers until this past spring and is still emerging as a high-level prospect. Perhaps because he's a bit of a 'tweener between LB and safety. He will need to get bigger to play 'backer at the next level, but there's no doubting his speed, quickness (4.25 shuttle), strength (15 reps as a soph) or leaping ability (37-inch vertical). Looked very good at the Texas summer camp. OFFERS: MO,UTAH, UTEP, MICHST, MIN,NW, OKST,KANST, NEB,AZ, TT,LSU
Texas was reportedly on the verge of offering...
The Longhorns apparently were close to offering two prospects after their camp - linebacker Brandon Herron and defensive end Brandon Joiner. Apparently, nothing new has developed if any new in-state offers go out, those are the ones to expect from UT.
... but didn't. That's no shame, as Mack Brown picks and chooses whoever he wants from the fertile recruiting grounds of Texas these days. Herron then was a soft verbal to Nebraska before reversing course, claiming Michigan as his leader. He officially visited last weekend, got an offer today, and committed. Rivals and Scout have him a three-star; ESPN rates him a 77 ($), which is pretty meh.
Side note: On Woolfolk from an article on Dulles:
Defensive back Troy Woolfolk was the first to commit to Michigan and followed up his verbal with superb play. The 6-0 defensive back excelled at safety, picking off six passes.
"Moving Troy to free safety made all the difference," Dulles coach Jim Creech said. "No one could break the long one on us because of his speed and he really helped us on defense with his physical play. I really believe he's a safety."
Chances he's a safety at Michigan are reading zero, but it's more data.
Oh, yeah: wool judging!
WXYT 1270 in Detroit had Gary Danielson and Kirk Herbstreit on recently. I think the results speak for themselves.
This happened over the weekend. I was, uh, busy with something else.
Michigan commitment #17 is an unusual one: JUCO linebacker Austin Panter. Michigan hasn't taken a JUCO since the days of Russell Shaw in 1997. The reason usually cited is that it's hard to get dodgy JUCO grades to transfer, but Panter maintains a 3.8 GPA at Butler County CC and originally decided on junior college not because of academic concerns but in an effort to get more exposure. His Iowa high school was tiny, playing eight-on-eight, and he had little opportunity to earn a scholarship at a major school thre.
There's little out there on Panter, but he does seem like a good prospect. He's Rivals #17 JUCO, a four-star with good measurables ("4.5" forty, as per usual, 6'3", 220). He was the defensive MVP of his league. Arkansas and Minnesota were the first schools on him, which doesn't sound particularly appealing, but JUCO recruiting is a weird world I don't have a handle on. His school doesn't allow recruiting until after the season, so there seemed to be a fairly quick transition: Panter finishes season, gets interest from a couple BCS programs and then Michigan swoops in. An early enrollee, he'll come in at middle linebacker and compete for a starting job with redshirt junior Johnny Thompson.
How does this affect the 2007 class? Not much. Panter comes in with two years of eligibility. He could take a redshirt year if he needs or wants to, but that would defeat the whole purpose of scrambling for a JUCO linebacker. By the time anyone who comes in as a freshman is ready to play, Panter will be gone. Consider this a linebacker back-dated to the 2004 class.
What does this imply about next year's linebackers? There's little upperclass depth and potentially some questions about Johnny Thompson. Beyond next year's projected starters (Graham-Thompson-Crable), Michigan has junior Brandon Logan and three redshirt freshmen... and that's it. Brandon Graham ending up on the line as soon as he showed up radically changed the linebacking outlook, as he was by far the surest thing in last year's class and the most physically ready to play. Panter will help bridge the gap between this year's crew and the Mixon-Patilla-Ezeh-Whoever We Get This Year generation.
Note: if you see last week's poll it's a cache thing, I think. Refresh should cure it.
Hurray, that's the poll hurray. If you're interested, you can see all the individual ballots here.
Yes, that's Michigan #2. Full disclosure: last night I sent out an email reminding voters that, unlike the other polls out there, the BlogPoll has a specific mandate to rank the teams in order of who is "best," whether you arrive at that conclusion by resume or another method, and that rematch concerns should not influence voting. (This would seem fairly straightforward since the BlogPoll isn't, you know, able to set up a rematch. But one of the oddest things about the BCS-aftermath articles were quotes from AP voters like this:
AP poll voter Michael Vega of The Boston Globe said he wasn't against a rematch but found it hard to justify one this time.
"I had to reconcile a fundamental problem with giving Michigan a chance to win the national championship when it didn't even win a conference championship," he said.
Uh... for a newspaper guy you're not up on current events, Mr. Vega.)
We do have two voters who succumbed to minor Harris-ism by breaking up the OSU-Michigan-UF trifecta in the first three spots: 50-Yard Lion ranks Michigan behind both Florida and LSU while Bevo Sports has LSU #2, Michigan #3, and Florida #4.
Another discrepancy of note: Wisconsin keeps creeping up despite having proven little in the other polls, but BlogPollers knocked the Badgers down a slot behind Oklahoma. Also, USC was hurt less by its loss than in other polls.
Risers: It was mostly just sliding up where others fell, but Wake Forest did leap Virginia Tech to become the highest-ranked ACC team. As mentioned, Oklahoma leapt Wisconsin.
Fallers: USC took a four-spot tumble after gacking against UCLA, as did Rutgers. Georgia Tech finally slouched its way out of the poll.
Wack Ballot Watchdog: Suspended this week.
Now on to the extracurriculars. First up are the teams which spur the most and least disagreement between voters as measured by standard deviation. Note that the standard deviation charts halt at #25 when looking for the lowest, otherwise teams that everyone agreed were terrible (say, Eastern Michigan) would all be at the top.
Ballot math: First up are "Mr. Bold" and "Mr. Numb Existence." The former goes to the voter with the ballot most divergent from the poll at large. The number you see is the average difference between a person's opinion of a team and the poll's opinion.
Mr. Bold is Eagle in Atlanta, and it's easy to see why: USC plummets from #2 to ... wait for it ... #17 after their UCLA loss. Rutgers also drops nine after a triple overtime loss at West Virginia, who re-enters the poll at #21, three spots behind Rutgers. Having all those teams so low makes a lot of other teams berry, berry high and results in "Mr. Bold."
USC... #17? Can we get an explanation on that?
Mr. Numb Existence is Double Extra Point again. For the fourth time. Uncanny or a cynical attempt to get attention? You make the call!
Next we have the Coulter/Krugman Award and the Straight Bangin' Award, which are again different sides of the same coin. The CKA and SBA go to the blogs with the highest and lowest bias rating, respectively. Bias rating is calculated by subtracting the blogger's vote for his own team from the poll-wide average. A high number indicates you are shameless homer. A low number indicates that you suffer from an abusive relationship with your football team.
The CK Award is also Eagle In Atlanta's. Going for a clean sweep of the nasty ones, he is. Boston College #19 doesn't seem too offensive, though.
Straight Bangin' Award is Burnt Orange Nation for the second straight week for ranking the Longhorns a spot worse than the poll at large. This is probably not a sign of mental illness. Moving on.
Swing is the total change in each ballot from last week to this week (obviously voters who didn't submit a ballot last week are not included). A high number means you are easily distracted by shiny things. A low number means that you're damn sure you're right no matter what reality says.
Mr. Manic-Depressive is Badger Sports. Why? They forgot about Oklahoma last week.
Mr. Stubborn is Frank McGrath, who bumped last week's losers do wn only a tiny bit.
Click for store. They're a little bit more expensive because there's a lot of graphics and such. Florida is an intricate little bugger, apparently. Main store here.