I'm not actually in Las Vegas. It's a short but spittle-flecked story I'll get into on Monday. But I can tell you that this is the likely bracket Michigan finds itself in:
4. Boston College vs 13. Alaska
5. North Dakota vs 12. Michigan
It's a pretty brutal bracket: ND first and probably BC in Boston next, but Michigan isn't in a position to complain. Confirmation tomorrow, but the final bracket has no conflicts and there's no chance it will be significantly different.
Because you can't have one without the other... Other goodies after the jump.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Northern Michigan, CCHA Championship Game|
|WHERE||Joe Louis Arena, Detroit|
|WHEN||Championship @ 7:35 PM.|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
The math is complicated—Michigan actually dropped in the pairwise after beating Miami—but the stakes are simple and immense: win and make the NCAA tournament as the worst matchup ever for some poor one seed. Lose and miss the tournament for the first time in twenty years.
Record. 20-11-8, 13-9-9 CCHA with three shootout wins, good for fourth place. They are locked into an NCAA tourney bid. Northern tied with Michigan for the CCHA's second best goal differential at +14. Their overall differential is +22; Michigan is currently +42 thanks to their tear through the CCHA playoffs, albeit in three extra games.
After scoring the the last first-round bye, Northern swept Alaska 4-3 and 5-1, then squeezed by Ferris in OT at the Joe. Northern's goal came a minute into OT, so it shouldn't affect their legs.
Northern's been on a tear since getting swept at UNO in late January. Since then they're 10-1-2 in a stretch of games that included four against Alaska, three against Ferris state, and two against Michigan. Michigan, FWIW, was Northern's only loss in that stretch.
Previous meetings. The teams split their only series of the year in late February, and that was at Yost. Friday was a 3-1 Northern win with a familiar script: Michigan outshot the Wildcats 39-21 but couldn't get anything except a first period Hagelin goal. Northern scored on two of its first five shots and that was enough.
The Saturday game was wild after a fairly calm first period that saw Greger Hanson score an unassisted goal on a terrible turnover from Kampfer. Michigan took the lead in the second, Northern tied it, and then Michigan took the lead again. In the third, Michigan blew the lead by yielding two goals in little over a minute; four minutes after that they would get goals from Chad Langlais and Greg Pateryn to retake the lead and close the scoring. Pateryn's goal was a JMFJ-esque swoop in from the point and a bizarre way for a stay-at-home defenseman to score the first goal of his career. Michigan outshot Northern 32-27.
FWIW, Michigan had four more power play opportunities over the two games. We will see this was not a coincidence.
First team All-CCHA forward and Hobey finalist Mark Olver (right) is the team's leading scorer with 19-29-48. He plays with a couple of sophomores. Andrew Cherniwchan has an 11-16-27 and Tyler Gron a 10-10-20. This leaves Northern a second dangerous line of double-digit scorers: Greger Hanson (16-22-38), Justin Florek (11-21-32) and Ray Kaunisto (17-14-31). On defense, Erik Gustafsson was the CCHA's best offensive defenseman. He has a 3-28-31 line.
Northern has two extremely strong lines, which will again prevent the Hagelin Solution from working perfectly, but after those two lines the dropoff is steep. There's one guy with 22 points on the season and then it's 12, 11, etc. Michigan can't afford to let the third and fourth lines put anything on the board. You can see the dropoff in the +/- numbers: the top two lines are all at least +8 and most are somewhere in the +12 to +18 range. The third and fourth lines are somewhere between +2 and –9. Michigan has three solid lines and should be able to make hay when Northern's first two units are on the bench.
Northern is just above average offensively despite the strong top two lines: their 3.08 goals per game is 22nd nationally. Michigan is up to 12th at 3.31.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Senior Brian Stewart is NMU's unquestioned starter. His backup has only played about six games worth of hockey. Stewart has a 2.41 GAA and a .926 save percentage that's fourth(!) nationally after Michigan knocked Cody Reichard from a .930 to a .924. Does everyone Michigan play have to have a crazy save percentage?
Defensively, Northern is experienced and boring past Gustafsson. Freshman Kyle Follmer and senior TJ Miller are +16 and +17, respectively; senior Alan Dorich is +7 despite rocking an 0-2-2 line. That's your top four. The third pairing is shaky.
Northern is 12th nationally in scoring defense at 2.51 per game; Michigan is 7th at 2.31. Shawn Hunwick's save percentage is up to .908.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||4.4||5.6|
|PP Ag / G||5.7||5.3|
Northern is a heavily penalized team that spends significantly more time in the box than their opponents do. A repeat of the Yost PP disparity seems likely, though if Shegos and Wilkins call the game like they did yesterday—think NHL circa 1995—there will be a lot of should-calls that get ignored.
However, despite the penalty disparity Northern has scored and yielded an equal number of goal on special teams: 35 for, 35 against. Opponents are shooting just .097 on power plays; Northern is shooting .172. Overall, Northern's kill is 17th nationally at 84.3% and their power play is 10th at 20.5%. Michigan's kill is 9th; their power play is 19th.
Northern actually leads the country in a funky stat College Hockey Stats tracks called "combined special teams" that adds up all your opportunities and counts your successes, but that stat slants heavily towards teams that spend a disproportionate share of their time killing penalties. If I had to hazard a guess I'd say Northern is amongst the worst teams in the country in that ratio.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Do whatever the hell it is you have been doing lately. Against Miami, Michigan did not spend 80% of its time in the opponent's end like they did in the first two rounds of the CCHA playoffs, but they did tilt the ice slightly in their favor against a team that was +61 in the CCHA this year. They deserved to beat Miami.
I mean no disrespect to a Northern team that is currently hotter than hell, but if Michigan can do that to a team that is definitely That Miami when it comes to hockey, most of this game will probably be played in the Northern end. Supporting evidence: Northern has been outshot on the year by a margin of about five per game. Michigan is outshooting opponents 34-23. That might not be enough for a win given the shooting/save percentages, but it's better than the alternative.
If Michigan can keep the turnovers down and keep clearing the dozen terrifying pucks that kick out into the slot, they will be in good shape. The overall goal differential here is big: despite the fact that Northern (13th) is only four slots back of Michigan (9th) in scoring margin, Michigan is +1.0 and Northern is +0.56.
Clone Carl Hagelin and put him on three lines. I'm pretty sure they did this after watching Miami turn the puck over in its own end time and again because of heavy Michigan forechecking. Michigan had its share of scary moments against the equally fast Redhawks, but I don't think Northern quite has the skating those guys do. Sans Michigan turnovers, their third and fourth lines are going to be hard pressed to do anything except get off the ice without giving up a goal.
Stay out of the box. Northern takes a lot of penalties and doesn't draw many but that power play is lethal. I think Michigan would prefer most of the game to be played five on five. This would make that 1995 NHL era refereeing a positive for Michigan.
The Big Picture
Win or go home.
MVictors returns from the Joe with a bevy of pictures and one Awesome Crappy Photoshop. Yost Built recaps the Miami game.
|Friday 2:30pm, Mets Spring Training Complex #7, Port St. Lucie, FL|
|Matt Miller (0-2, 4.58 ERA)||vs||J.P. Mack (0-2, 9.58ERA)|
|Notes: This is on field #7, and the first meeting between the programs|
|Saturday 11am, Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie, FL|
|Alan Oaks (1-3, 2.73ERA)||vs||Max Krakowiak (0-2, 4.64ERA)|
|Following Game One, Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie, FL|
|Bobby Brosnahan (0-2, 7.71ERA)||vs||Rich Anastasi (0-1, 3.07ERA)|
|Notes: Second game of a double header.|
|Sunday 11am, Tradition Field, Port St. Lucie, FL|
Notes: Michigan trails 0-1-1 in the all time exhibition history. This game
I'm still swamped with real life – hence the lack of a Coastal review- so shortened version of the Fordham preview after the jump. No Mets as this game means nothing.
|WHAT||Friday: Michigan vs Miami
Saturday: Michigan vs Ferris State/Northern Michigan
|WHERE||Joe Louis Arena, Detroit|
|WHEN||Friday: 8:05 PM.
Saturday: Championship @ 7:35 PM. Third place game @ 4:35.
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
|TELEVISION||Friday: BTN HD
Record. Yeeergh. 26-6-7 overall. 21-2-7 (with two shootout wins) in the CCHA. The ferocity with which Miami pwned the CCHA has to be approaching record territory. They had 70 points, 20 more than second-place Michigan State. Their conference goal differential was +61. Michigan and Northern tied for second in that category at +14. This may be the best CCHA team since Brendan Morrison and company.
However, Miami did look somewhat mortal last weekend. 6-2 over Ohio State on Friday was not a surprise, but they lost 5-4 in overtime the next night and squeezed out a 2-1 series clincher in game three. Look a little deeper, though:
- Friday shots: 42-28, Miami
- Saturday: 46-21, Miami
- Sunday: 24-23, Miami
It's a miracle it even got to Sunday.
It was weird at the time and it's weirder now: the most bizarre series of the season in college hockey is Miami getting swept by the CHA's Robert Morris in a home and home. Miami is Miami. Robert Morris went 6-9-3 in the CHA. Against teams not named Miami, Robert Morris was 8-19-6. WTF?
Previous meetings. The only two meetings of the year started Michigan's November tailspin. Game one was a penalty-laden, frustrating affair that may stand the test of time as the game most emblematic of Michigan's 2009-10 season. Michigan outshot the Redhawks 28-13 and lost 3-1. Along the way they failed to convert on a penalty shot, put a number of shots off the post, and missed wide open nets. They found a way to lose that game.
The next night was totally different. Miami had the advantage in shots and walked away with the game early in the third, causing Michigan to melt down and take 19 penalties. Berenson called them out for it in the aftermath, and they responded by getting swept by Michigan State.
Dangermen. Might be quicker to pick the kids who don't seem particularly threatening. Junior forward Justin Vaive only has eight points. Freshman Steve Mason has played all of five games. Backup goalie Connor Knapp has two assists.
Aaand we're running out of names. Miami has four(!) players currently at or above a PPG: senior Jared Palmer and juniors Tommy Wingels (right, via cnati.com), Andy Miele, and Carter Camper are all in a tight cluster of 39-44 points. All have at least fifteen goals. This means Michigan cannot throw Hagelin and company at the opponent's top line and turn them into spectators. (It also means that you can expect Miami to be this good again next year: they have two seniors who play regularly.)
There's a dropoff after those guys but it's a dropoff to junior Pat Cannone, who has a 12-16-28 line. So… right. Miami has almost two lines of double-digit goalscorers.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Cody Reichard and Conor Knapp are still rotating even this deep into the season. Reichard has played more than Knapp so far this year and got the first two games in the OSU series, but was pulled in favor of Knapp after he gave up five goals on 21 shots in Ohio State's OT win. As of Wednesday, Miami had not named a starter.
This is not like Michigan's choice between Hogan and Hunwick. Reichard and Knapp are #3 and #9 nationally in save percentage with a .930 and .920, respectively. Either one is a far better option than Michigan's goalies.
As far as those go, it will be Hunwick this weekend:
"It's a pretty easy decision," Berenson said before practice Tuesday afternoon. "I have to play Hunwick. He got us there. (Bryan) Hogan's skated at practice. He'll take shots today. He'll be our backup if he's ready to go."
He is Red Berenson and can shoot lasers from his eyes at anyone with temerity to question his judgment, but man I disagree with that. Though Hunwick's save percentage is holding up pretty well so far, there have been a ton of soft goals and even more fat rebounds that opponents have not been able to capitalize on. Maybe Hogan's still feeling the effects of his groin injury and Berenson is phrasing it this way for motivational/confidence purposes.
Miami has been as good on defense as they are on offense, shielding the goalies—when you've got two guys in the top ten in save percentage chances are your defensive corps has an awful lot to say about that. Here Miami is also poised to bring back virtually everyone. USCHO lists senior Brendan Smith as a defenseman, but he's actually been bumped to forward this year to make room for a collection of sophomores and freshmen. Vincent LoVerde is the only upperclassman; he and Cameron Schilling are the top pair.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||5.3||5.6|
|PP Ag / G||5.4||5.3|
Surprisingly for such a talented team, Miami kills more power plays than it draws. This seems to be wholly the responsibility of freshman forward Curtis McKenzie, who has a spectacular 43 minor penalties this year.
Does this matter much? Eh… not really. Miami's kill is fourth nationally at 87.3% and has seven shorthanded goals. Michigan dropped a little bit after that first period outburst by Michigan State but is still seventh at 86.3%. Also a surprise: for a team that scores as many goals as Miami does, their power play is kind of lame. They're 33rd at 18.4%. Michigan is slightly better at 19.2%.
Neither team was particularly successful in the earlier series, with Michigan going 1 for 14 and Miami going 2 for 15. Two of those goals were five on three, the third four on three. This is a series that's going to be decided at even strength.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Do whatever the hell it is you have been doing lately. Michigan can play with Miami. We saw that in the first matchup of the season between the two teams, where an epic ton of bad luck and iffy goaltending sent Michigan down to defeat. And we've seen it in the CCHA playoffs to date. Michigan's opponent has been run out of the building four straight times.
Sure, post-human Miami wouldn't even comprehend Lake State as a hockey team, but humiliating Michigan State in the fashion Michigan did has to count for something.
Clone Carl Hagelin and put him on three lines. They might have done this, actually. Do it again. I have something in my head where after a game the Michigan hockey team gathers in a circle and removes their helmets and they're all Carl Hagelin and they all go "bork"… is it a dream or a nightmare?
Pray like hell. Even if Michigan plays at the level they have been of late, I can't see Miami going as quietly as Michigan's first two playoff opponents. Hunwick is going to face his share of grade A chances. I worry about that. It will take a superhuman defensive effort to win.
The Big Picture
No matter how you thwack the Pairwise predictors there is no way to get Michigan into the tournament without an autobid. It's all on the line.
If Michigan wins Friday I'll hop in with a conference championship preview.
Now pretend it's a lot darker
It's been rumored over the past couple days that the Michigan v. Notre Dame game in Ann Arbor on September 10, 2011 would take place under lights in the Big House, but the real serious smoke came this afternoon from the official Athletic Department twitter account:
HUGE Michigan football scheduling announcement today at 2:30pm. Check MGoBlue.com for details later this afternoon.
So, now we know: there will be a night game in The Big House within the next two years. Here's how Michigan has fared in night games, including those against the Irish:
- Michigan is 22-11 all-time in night games. They are 19-5 in away night games, 3-6 in neutral site night games. This will be the first home night game in Michigan history.
- The Wolverines are 0-3 in night games against Notre Dame. They lost 17-23 in 1982, 17-19 in 1988, and 24-28 in 1990. All three games took place in South Bend.
- The first Michigan night game took part in was a 14-0 victory over MArquette on September 23, 1944.
Notes from the announcement press conference:
Coach Rich Rodriguez
Prepared Statement: "Our players have always enjoyed playing night games, and I think it's something that our fans will truly enjoy and embrace. I expect the atmosphere will be electric for this match-up at the Big House."
Night games provide great exposure for the players and the program. Players really like night games. Playing in front of a lot of people both in person and on television is exciting. National TV is great for the University, since games are like a 3.5-hour commercial for the school.
AD David Brandon
Prepared Statement: "This will be an unprecedented game day atmosphere that ours fans have not experienced at Michigan Stadium. It's a great opportunity to showcase out program, University, and Ann Arbor to a primetime viewing audience. This also adds a new chapter to the storied rivalry between our two great programs."
Brandon has been working on logistics for a couple weeks. We know how to string lights, work traffic, etc. The operations team has over a year to prepare to do this at night.Brandon didn't have to touch base with the city.
Michigan is familiar with the concept of playing under the lights (for 3:30 starts, and they've seen how other schools have handled night games. If this goes well, there will probably be one night game per year at Michigan Stadium.
Night games are part of what create a big exciting atmosphere in college football. Of the night game, Bo would say "That Brandon guy believes that change is good and I'm gonna support him."