Hoke was top notch at this aspect of his job.
Ohio running back Fitzgerald Toussaint, teammate of safety commit Isaiah Bell, has committed to Michigan. Informative update coming.
Mildly informative update: He's fast, as per usual:
Liberty junior Fitzgerald Toussaint and senior James Allen will lead the Leopards this year in the sprint. Toussaint was sixth in the 100 at state, while Allen took third in the 200. Both runners have great chances to sit high atop the podium come early June.
Toussaint and Allen will have to find two more running partners for the 400 relay, an event the Leopards placed second in Division II last season.
Sixth in the state as a sophomore: not bad. He runs far on few carries also as a sophomore:
Liberty junior Fitzgerald Toussaint tore up the league as a sophomore in 2006, averaging 12 yards per carry, rushing for 1,100 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns.
With every skilled position filled last year, Toussaint was fortunate to earn a spot. Junior Julius Ferrell wasn't so lucky.
A couple years ago, when Dallas Saunders was still an assistant at Chaney, the Cowboys scrimmaged Akron Garfield, which had a running back named Chris Wells who was headed to Ohio State.
Saunders came away impressed.
Friday night, the Struthers head coach had a similar feeling after watching Liberty junior Fitzgerald Toussaint juke, jive, spin and accelerate past his team â€” sometimes breaking a few tackles along the way â€” on his way to 239 yards and four touchdowns.
"He's a special back," said Saunders after his team's 43-22 road loss to the Leopards. "I don't know that he's quite at that [Wells'] level, but he's the best I've seen in awhile."
But, like... okay. There are kids not as good as Beanie Wells who would be fine on Michigan's team. Toussaint isn't ranked by Scout, Rivals, or ESPN yet; he had offers from Pitt, Illinois, and WVU but not Ohio State. If I had to guess he'll probably be a mid-to-low four star when he gets ranked. Ohio State generally prefers its tailbacks bigger than Toussaint, who's in the 5'9"-5'10 range and is often compared to Sam McGuffie by Michigan fans who watch his Scouting Ohio video (I like when the man says "shawties!").
Said video isn't quite the McGuffie mixtape, especially since Liberty doesn't play the top competition in Ohio, but it is pretty good. He's fast, he's got some jukes, and doesn't go down that easy. He's got this weird jump-stop thing going on where he'll take one step that slows him considerably, the go "WOOP!" and past the defender.
There are now two running back sorts in this class but Rodriguez's philosophy on slick little bastards appears to be "gotta catch 'em all" so look for another two or even three slot/tailback/DB types as Rodriguez gets Michigan's speed up to speed.
Side note: while Michigan has ceded ground in-state and in Ohio at certain positions, like ground pounding running backs and water buffalo pocket passers, to MSU and OSU, this is an example of a guy for whom Michigan is now a beacon on a hill. Toussaint is a great fit in the spread 'n' shred and could be a slot receiver or a tailback who experiences Great Success. Meanwhile at OSU, Maurice Wells is buried.
Related note: Youngstown Liberty has another potential Michigan recruit in FB/LB Julius Ferrell. An injury robbed him of most of his junior year and thus offers are slow in coming -- Akron is the lone suitor at the moment -- but he'll be one to watch into the fall. He said Ohio State was his leader a month ago, FWIW.
Received two conflicting opinions on whether Mark Mitera will stay or go. Western College Hockey's Chris Dilks:
I think the odds of Mitera leaving are probably better than 50/50. Pretty much everything I've ever heard is that Mitera would leave Michigan after three years, even before his freshman season. I kind of discount the midseason chatter about him staying. You hear that from a lot of players who get caught up in the camaraderie of the team during the year, and don't want to make it seem like they're bailing on their their teammates as soon as the season as is over. But once the season is over, they sit down and look at it and decide it's really best for them to sign. Personally, I think Mitera is ready to go. I'm not sure what else is left for him to prove at the college level.
Is it best for Mitera to sign? Gabe Nelson, currently at the Michigan Daily, provides some insight into Mitera himself...
He is a junior biophysics major who takes his studies seriously. My friend was his lab partner and said always worked hard and cared about his education. He's one year from that degree. Considering he's the only upperclassman hockey player in a legitimate major, don't you think that indicates a determination to stick it out?
...and the situation of the Anaheim Ducks:
The Ducks are likely to get knocked out of the playoffs by the Stars, reducing their immediate need for a rookie defenseman, and already have a stacked defensive core in the NHL.
Chris Pronger "C"
They have six legitimate top-six defensemen on that list. They are not hurting immediately for another. And would Mitera leave Michigan so he could go play for an AHL affiliate and probably not make the Ducks right away? Another year at Michigan, with visibility as the captain, gives him a better shot at making the team right away and gives him better leverage for a contract.
Just a thought. I'd personally be shocked if Mitera decided to leave. He has very little to gain.
Nelson's right about the Ducks' D corps. All but DiPenta are signed next year and all but Huskins are solid NHL defensemen making 1.2 M+. There's no room at the inn for Mitera and no chance he'd make the team. He's also right about Mitera's degree program:
Personal... Enrolled in the College of Literature, Science and the Arts, majoring in biophysics ... Graduated with honors from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School in 2005. ... Drafted in the first round (No. 19 overall) by the Anaheim Ducks in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
No independent study there.
Not to unduly insult someone who's weighing whether to take the NHL millions now or later, but I also question Chris's assertion that Mitera has no developing left to do at the college level. He was indeed lights out early in the season, but as soon as he deflected a Notre Dame shot into the top corner of the net in January there was a significant wobble to his game: turnovers, turnovers, turnovers. There were several games in which Mitera was directly responsible for opponent scoring chances and goals via sloppy passes or turnovers along the boards. At no time did he seem to be above the level of competition like Mike Komisarek or JMFJ.
He's clearly very good and could go if he wants, but if he's serious about school -- check -- and is going to be developing at Michigan or in the AHL, -- check -- I think he might stay. Lord knows Michigan's lost kids with no chance of making the show for years, and by merely floating the idea of a return I have singlehandedly guaranteed he'll depart August 15th immediately after tearing everyone's ACL in fit of pique. But the indicators here are not all bad.
Well... it was a disappointing end but given the expectations at the beginning of the year -- picked fourth in the conference, some concern over extending the tournament streak -- the results -- CCHA double, GLI title, Frozen Four -- are outstanding. Probably the only Michigan revenue sport to exceed expectations since... uh, 2006 football. Never mind.
Highlights from the year that was:
The Hoover Street Rag says next year in DC, and got even more jerseys than we did.
Now that's a lot of trouble. I wonder what a Michigan list the equivalent of this soaring, majestic dossier of Penn State malfeasance would look like? A brief, representative snippet:
17. Tony Johnson - Arrest, DUI - Guilty
18. Richard Cheek - Arrest, Stolen Credit Card - Guilty
19. Yaacov Yisreal - DUI, - Guilty
20. Dan Drogan - DUI Leaving Accident, - Guilty
21. Dethrell Garcia - DUI, - Guilty
22. Scott Paxson - Criminal Mischief, Summary Charge - Guilty
23. E.Z. Smith - Drunk in public - Summary Charge - Guilty
24. R.J. Luke - Arrest Assault, - Acquitted
25. Damone Jones - Unknown Charges - Dismissed From School
26. Mike Sothern - Terroristic Disorderly Criminal Mischief - Guilty
27. Mike Sothern - Criminal Mischief Expelled - Guilty
"Terroristic Disorderly Criminal Mischief" is the best charge ever. The list, which dates back to 1999 or thereabouts, comprises 57 separate incidents including JoePa's road rage and generally paints the picture of a team that no longer fears or respects their coach, possibly because he works from home. And is one billion. And tries to eat their brains.
While I don't think Michigan could match Penn State's achievement in this category, if you took just the last few years the schools would be pretty close: Sears, Arrington, Richards, Butler, Germany and so forth and so on. Moral of the story: once you lose your "I'm gonna kill you" fastball, discipline and performance starts slipping as your guys start getting frisky. Thus Penn State -- .500 in the Big Ten over the past eight years -- and Michigan's uneven performance in the last years of the Carr era. Is it a coincidence that West Virginia started racking up Fulmer Cup points in earnest as soon as mean ol' Rich Rodriguez left and nice ol' Bill Stewart was promoted from teaching European History to tenth graders?
Mean is good.
Seriously? Is this "OMG Tressel" tiff still "going on"? Rodriguez was asked (yet again) about whether he was a Rumpelstiltskin-style* child kidnapping fetish after Jim Tressel made a joke that probably wasn't directed at Rodriguez at all. A recap:
What would you describe this as? I would go with "patient explanation to child with a tape recorder." The Free Press went with:
Rich Rodriguez fires back after Jim Tressel's jab at his recruiting tactics
The thing they cited first as "firing back":
"If not being a gentleman is recruiting guys until the end, until signing day, particularly after all visits â€” guilty as charged."
Can you fire back by agreeing with someone?
Of course, someone scurried off to the next Tressel press conference with Rodriguez's stunning riposte and asked for a riposte riposte:
Asked if he had a beef with Rodriguez, Tressel said, "I've known Rich for a long time; no beefs at all. He'll do a good job. I've said that all along."
This is exactly why I never begrudged Carr his churlish relationship with the media. What a waste of time.
I was flicking through the spring practice pictures on the Free Press' website when I hit this one...
Probably not. I bet Derek Tinkle's work is in need of some copyediting but no more or less informative than your average newspaper piece.
This might also be the place to relate that when Michigan was in Denver preparing for their semifinal against Notre Dame, they made it clear Billy Sauer didn't really want to talk about the North Dakota game last year. The first question (from a knob at the Denver Post) was basically "how do you feel about being such a goddamn failure in the North Dakota game last year?"
It's one thing to ask a "tough question" when there is the possibility of an enlightening response or someone has undertaken ethically questionable activities. Tough questions in the context of the Ann Arbor News' investigation into independent study and the like are fine. (That the Ann Arbor news passed on the opportunity to ask those questions because they didn't want an email interview is another matter entirely.) A "tough question" to a 20-year-old kid when the answer to that question is going to be the standard athlete cliche boilerplate about taking it one game at at time is just being a dick.
But journalism has this weird machismo thing going on where that's prized: see any anti-blogging screed that claims the basement-dwellers inferior because they don't say rude things directly to the players themselves. I've always found it interesting that said screeds contain the implication that bloggers are wantonly negative because they don't have to face repercussions. Newspapers, meanwhile, are full of people who are wantonly negative because they like being wantonly negative even in the face of social approbation.
Which group sounds more maladjusted?
*(apparently the Firefox dictionary has "Rumpelstiltskin" in it, which... like -- gnome (yes) griffin (yes) hippogriff (no) sphinx (yes) mindflayer (no) gorgon (yes) Perseus (yes) Icarus (yes) -- is apparently only the tip of a nerd iceberg. It figures: open source.)
Reverse. Of course, it's not all bad. See this informative piece on NCAA, Big Ten and Michigan drug testing regimes by Mark Snyder that explains just how Manningham could play despite testing positive for weed. Operative area:
As for punishment, a Michigan athlete who fail
s a first test will be referred for counseling and attend an assessment with the athletic department doctor. If the athlete does not participate in the counseling, "additional disciplinary action will be taken by the athletic director and/or head coach and may include, but not be limited to, suspension from practice/games," according to the policy.
A second positive test -- at least 90 days later -- results in suspension from competition for 10% of the maximum allowable contests in the traditional season and must be served immediately. The coach may enhance the penalty.
Manningham was suspended for the Eastern game this year but no others. Question: I recall Arrington being suspended for large chunks of his career, and he was one of the three guys -- Eugene Germany and Carson Butler the others -- in serious trouble after the Rose Bowl for an incident widely rumored to be getting crunk in the hotel days before the game (WHAT?). I bet one of his one-off suspensions was for a second positive test and the Rose Bowl incident was his third; Butler also got a one-off suspension during his redshirt freshman year, IIRC. Both nearly got the boot.
Speaking of weed, man.
1) At Copper Mountain on Saturday they were having some sort of season-closing music fest. When I got off the hill, George Clinton was playing and man... freaky, man.
2) Ohio State's having their own problems with the marijuana:
That 2008 Buckeye defense we've all been daydreaming about just took a bit of a hit. The rumors from earlier in the day proved to be correct and Donald Washington, Jamario O'Neal and Eugene Clifford are in a bit of trouble.
Eleven Warriors says the message-board buzz is that Eugene Clifford is gonzo -- hello, Cincinatti -- and Washington may follow him out the door, while O'Neal is in trouble but safe. That's probably in inverse order from what Buckeye fans would like (other than "no pot issues at all"), as Jamario "Toast" O'Neal is a backup as a senior and has been a bust whereas Washington is a useful nickelback and Clifford was the highest rated recruit in OSU's 2007 class.
3) Ladies and gentlemen... Ohio State fans!
What are the chances this guy didn't smoke a bowl ten seconds before this? Zero. What are the chances this guy really likes Chappelle's Show for all the reasons that drove Dave Chappelle crazy? 100%.
Etc: Stuff Golden Domed People like from MNB... MNB's wife is a Domer so this one's authentic; some sort of Fan Day will happen in August; we're slow but smart; Russ Levine drops a Tacopants reference in this FO article; MVictors digs up a bit of M history on Will Johnson's Meyer Morton award; Ekpe do you not know the pathways of my heart?
sorry this is late, it had to be rebuilt after Firefox froze. I was asking for it though... something like 80 windows open.
If my feedreader is any indication, you're already stuffed with information about Michigan's spring practice and game. But I would be remiss if I didn't chip in with what I have.
First, something that purports to be the entirety of the spring game-like substance in four minutes and seventeen seconds:
Given other descriptions of the game I believe the above is missing a number of plays -- no dropped balls -- but it's still a quick primer on what went down.
You can get most of the same thing with better video quality and some guy who calls Troy Woolfolk "Woolfork" and Nick Sheridan "Andy Mignery"(!) twice(!!!), plus some interviews in the extended highlights provided on the Big Ten Network:
(What is with this "Woolfork" stuff, man? It's an error rampant on message boards and it even showed up in a Free Press article... three times! Who would make a fork out of wool? It would be floppy and when you got stuff on it, which you would constantly because that is the life purpose of a fork, you couldn't wash it because then you'd have mini-woolfork. And HIS DAD, who is also NOT NAMED "WOOLFORK," is ONE OF THE BEST RUNNING BACKS IN THE HISTORY OF THE PROGRAM. I think I NEED TO CALM DOWN ABOUT THIS.)
Holy crap that's a lot of ugly interceptions. The only other thing that pops out: Avery Horn is as fast as rumored. Oh, and Threet looks a little like Justin Timberlake.
Michigan Sports Center has collected the media available on the game, and MVictors has an extensive photo gallery.
H'okay. In marked contrast to years previous, information about Michigan's spring practices is flying around, giving us a new problem: instead of one secretive and possibly sketchy source, Michigan fans are confronted with a wide array of often conflicting information.
Let's try to sort it out. In addition to the material published in the paper and online I'll intersperse some impressions from emailers; the largest bulk comes from Craig Ross, a dedicated observer of the program and author who's been to a lot of spring practices.
Quarterback. Rodriguez said Sheridan and Threet were both equal on Saturday but Threet had pulled ahead in the practices leading up to the game. In all likelihood, he is your Utah starter. Ross:
Threet was a bit better than Sheridan. But, man, this looks like a sore spot. Teams are just going to sit on the run and underneath stuff and ignore us deep. But, it was wet and cold. The ball was probably hard to throw. Antonio Bass would have been perfect in this offense. What a heartbreak for another truly kind and thoughtful person. [My guess is Carlos Brown will get some reps in the fall, unless Feagin can pick the offense up quickly and is better than most think.]
In the video above you can see the long bomb completed to Mathews was underthrown by about 20 yards. Chad Henne's deep ball will be missed. Oh, and his tendency to not throw six interceptions.
Fellow attendee Stephen Raines:
Threet looked really weak. Although, he showed good decision making at times, his passes were not pretty and often into tight coverage. Sheridan actually looked decent, at times, at others you could really see how his height will get in the way of him ever being a starter, but he had some good throws. Where he was a better runner than Threet, this benefit goes out the window when we tried to run the option and he completely missed the pitch.
The attempted options in the spring game were few, far between, and ugly as sin. As previously theorized, it's going to be confusing and ugly early. I expect at least three players (Threet, Feagin, and one or both of Brown/Minor) to take snaps at QB, though one or two of those players will be operating as an Incredibly Surprising Running Quarterback in the vein of Darren McFadden. Hopefully very much in the vein of Darren McFadden.
If David Cone strides onto any field of play when a game is remotely close, cower. (Ross repeatedly mentions he's a fantastic kid, though.)
Running back. This is one spot that will likely find a strong starter simply because Michigan has too many bullets in the chamber to miss with all of them. Mike Barwis ate Carlos Brown's finger, causing him to miss much of the spring as Barwis grows him a new one; Kevin Grady had a lingering knee injury of some variety that held him out. Grady did come back midway through spring practice, but most of the reps went to Horn and Minor.
Avery Horn was not mentioned in AA News today (at least I didn't see anything) but he has big play potential. The rumor is that he has had trouble learning the offense (moving to slot?) but he has remarkable speed. I thought Minor and Grady played hard and pretty well.
You can see Horn's lightning quicks in the video above. There are two sweep handoffs that together tell a story: on the first, Minor pops outside the defensive and and gets decent yardage but can't get the corner. On the second, Horn does the exact same thing, bursts to the outside, and ends up grabbing a big chunk of yards.
Still, it's Minor gathering praise for his work ethic and leadership and Horn who is still reputed to be having difficulties with all the things he has to do in the offense. And then there's Grady, who had one impressive run during the scrimmage and was the subject of Brandon Graham's violent attentions. Ever spring we hear he's driving bowling-ball shaped holes through defenders and rescuing the princess with dashing derring-do, then in fall we either get unimpressive performance or exploded ligaments.
Minor is your tentative front-runner now, but as many as six players (the four on campus now plus Mike Shaw and Sam McGuffie) will vie for carries in the fall.
Wide Receiver and Tight End. This position group was extremely thin due to NFL draft entry and Junior Hemingway's high ankle sprain. Greg Mathews, Toney Clemons, Zion Babb, and James Rogers were the only scholarship players available, and the latter two were DBs for part or all of last year.
Some positive indicators from Raines:
A plus here, M
athews showed that he can catch the ball, even on a bad pass. And because he was covered by Trent, this impressed me. Clemons looked pretty solid too. He had a couple quick slant passes that showed he can catch it in the middle.
Mathews will be reliable but not game breaking. Ross sounds an alarm about the general lack of speed in the unit:
But mostly we went with one tight end. Sometimes two. Rarely 4 wideouts. The fact is we have tight ends but not much in the way of slot receivers. ... Over the coming years, I would expect to see less and less of the tight end. The theoretical key to RR's spread is 4 wide----and my guess is he wants to get there. But not this year. I think we will see a lot of 11 packages [1 TE, 1 RB -ed] in the fall. Recruiting might look to TEs who can also play OT, as opposed to TEs who might be used as WRs---our current batch.
RR seemed pleased about the team understanding of his offense. From an intellectual point of view, the team is well ahead of where he guessed it would be at this time. The problem is (according to RR) "we are too slow." I think this references (primarily) the slot receiver position (and QB, of course). This will change with the 4 guys coming in---I know Odoms and TR and McGuffie ain't slow.
This is how bad it is: Jim Potempa, the little guy you might remember from the end of the Notre Dame and Purdue games, has been pressed into service as the wacky slot guy. The starting wacky slot guy. Terrance Robinson and Martavious Odoms are going to get all the snaps in the slot from day one.
Offensive Line. Justin Boren is a communist. Past that, the threat level here is pink or orange or whatever is equivalent to "the nukes are on their way." Virtually every observer has called the offensive line a Sauer -- zing -- this spring, and when Rodriguez made the quarterbacks live for a brief period Threet was immediately knocked out with a minor injury.
It looks like the first group right now is Moosman, Schilling, Ortmann, MacAvoy and Zirbel. My guess is Molk may still sneak in. But, for the moment, the first five seem like the leading candidates.
They weren't awful. At this time of year, that might be OK. I have seen some good lines look awful in the spring. On the other hand, they weren't very good---at least w/o looking at the tape.
I think this group would mean a move inside for Schilling, as Ortmann and Zirbel have always been tackles. Moosman and Schilling won awards are thus good bets to start. Ortmann basically has to be the left tackle unless Dann O'Neill is just awesome. MacAvoy and Zirbel should be considered provisional with David Molk and the true freshman threats to take their jobs. (Dey tik er jebs!)
I dunno. It's gonna be rough.
Defensive Line. Michigan's hopes for a good season rest on this unit being frickin' awesome. So... hope that Terrance Taylor's apparent demotion to second string is successful motivational ploy and not an indication that he's not taking to the Way of Barwis. I kinda think he might be, though:
Will Johnson won kind of a weird award for a fifth-year senior and returning starter to pick up:
Fifth-year senior Will Johnson (Oakland, Mich./Lake Orion HS) received the Meyer Morton Award, granted to the senior football player that experienced the greatest development and showed the most promise during spring practice.
Johnson was excellent in spot duty as a sophomore but only okay last year. He was pretty highly touted as a recruit before an ACL tear cost him his senior year, so he could have some upside left. He's always been renowned as one of the hardest workers on the team... hopefully he can make a big leap.
Meanwhile at defensive end, Jamison and Graham are both reputed to have lost 15 or 20 pounds during their period of Barwisization. Rodriguez has apparently gotten a little ticked at defensive coordinator Scott Schafer for unleashing the DEs a little too frequently and violently. There's certainly the potential for these guys to blow up. Jamison has alternated explosive plays with wheezing and Graham was clearly a physical marvel on par with Woodley but lost his conditioning late in the year, most prominently when Michigan State plowed him over again and again in the second half. Both of these players were top-50 recruits.
Behind them there's very little. Ryan Van Bergen did get an award of his own:
Freshman defensive end Ryan Van Bergen (Whitehall, Mich./Whitehall HS) led all newcomers, earning the John F. Maulbetsch Award. This honor is given to a distinguished freshman athlete on the basis of desire, character, capacity for leadership and potential for future success.
Michigan really needs him to work out given the way defensive end recruiting has gone the last couple years.
Linebackers. Obi Ezeh is penciled in as a starter somewhere, which is unsurprising. The surprising thing is the emergence of senior JUCO transfer Austin Panter. Ross on an earlier practice:
The LBs looked good, notably Panter (!!!!) who seemed to be running with Thompson with the top DL group.
Insert default moaning about blown redshirts here. IIRC, Panter was an MLB/SLB type, which would mean he's battling Thompson for one of the two big beefy guy slots.
On the weakside, I guess Brandon Logan is still technically a threat but it's Jonas Mouton and whichever freshman impresses the most. There were a few rumblings that Mouton looked pretty good but after last year, when he could not see a snap playing behind a poor Chris Graham, this blog is spooked about his ability.
Secondary. Except for the nasty rumors flying around that Donovan Warren might transfer, cornerback is set with three returning starters. As for the rumors: they're widespread enough that I give them credence but I think they're unlikely to come to fruition. If he was going to go he probably would have already announced it a la Boren. And if they were serious he probably would have missed some time in the spring a la Carlos Brown last year. Knock on wood.
The questions, then, are at safety, where both starters graduated. Stevie Brown was a special teams standout and practice hero as a freshman. He was given the starting spot for The Horror... and immediately gave up a long touchdown and entered the Hall of Infamous Michigan Athletes. Not bad for a first start. Brandent Englemon replaced him before halftime.
Yeah, now he's basically guaranteed a starting job. Ross says he looked "pretty good," and there is the potential that Michigan Safety Hating God has moved on to other pastures with the departure of Carr and his staff. I, and probably all of you, will be nervous until his play dictates otherwise.
The other spot is probably going to go to Charles Stewart, but sophomore Artis Chambers and redshirt freshman Mike Williams also played well. Ross says Williams was noticeable during the spring game and Chambers had the wherewithal to catch wounded ducks thrown directly to him, which will b
e a critical skill for the Notre Dame game (zing!).
spring game stuff tomorrow.
Outgoing. Only two seniors depart but one of them was the Hobey Baker winner and the other should have been a finalist. Between them, Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter scored 63 goals -- that's more than an entire D-I team (Alabama-Huntsville) -- and comprised two-thirds of the top line in college hockey. They leave big shoes to fill both on and off the ice. We'll cover "on" later.
The "off" bit? Michigan has five seniors next year: Billy Sauer, Mark Mitera (maybe), Travis Turnbull, Tim Miller, and Danny Fardig. Mitera wore an A this year and is thus likely to get the C if he returns. If he goes? Uh... Turnbull is a hard worker and dedicated player who's got hockey bloodlines. He would almost definitely be the captain. Then you've got some fourth-liners and a goalie. Er.
Possibly Outgoing. We are entering one the dreaded Michigan Hockey Summer, during which strange and amazing things happen to submarine the team in the fall. Candidates for departure:
|Mark Mitera, junior defenseman|
|Drafted:||1st round (#19) in 2006 by Anaheim|
|Probability of departure:||Berenson said he expects Anaheim to make a run at him this offseason, and they will. The only Michigan first-rounder to ever complete his eligibility was Eric Nystrom, who plateaued as a freshman and is a marginal NHLer, so the general expectation going into the year was he was a goner. Around midseason there was some chatter he would return... at this point it's 50-50, IMO.|
|Impact of departure:||It's never good to lose a potential senior captain, but Michigan is prepared in case of a Mitera departure. They recruited St. Mike's Buzzer (St. Mike's also produced Andrew Cogliano and Louie Caporusso) and possible late-first-round pick Brandon Burlon to step into any potential holes on the blue line.
Burlon is coming in either way with Kevin Quick's departure, so the guy brought in to take Mitera's spot would be USHL defenseman Greg Pateryn. Pateryn was offered as a developmental prospect -- he could sign his LOI this fall because he's not getting a full ride; Burlon had to wait -- with an eye on bringing him in for 2009.
This sounds sketchy, but Pateryn blew up this year, scoring 30 points and ending up a -1 on a bad Ohio team, getting named to the USHL All-Star team, and being ranked higher by the CSB than incoming forward recruit David Wohlberg. He can play and Michigan's defense corps will be okay without Mitera.
|Chris Summers, sophomore defenseman|
|Drafted:||1st round (#29) in 2007 by Phoenix|
|Probability of departure:||I haven't heard chatter either way about Summers, but a friend who works at a local newspaper interviewed him and got the impression he was sticking around. Phoenix was content to let Porter and Kolarik develop and was rewarded; hopefully they'll follow suit with Summers.|
|Impact of departure:||See Mitera above for Michigan's potential response to a Summers departure. Michigan could probably deal with one of the two defenseman bolting without serious difficulty, but losing both would make Steve Kampfer the only upperclass defenseman and force Michigan to skate both freshmen with only walk-on Eric Elmblad behind them. Yick.|
|Max Pacioretty, freshman winger|
|Drafted:||1st round (#22) in 2008 by Montreal|
|Probability of departure:||Low, but it would be just like Michigan Hockey Player Stealing Hobgoblin to grab Pacioretty after his extremely promising freshman year. Montreal is likely to let a late first-round pick who isn't clearly dominant already stick around for development and cost control purposes.|
|Impact of departure:||Pacioretty is going to be the anchor of the top line next year and there's no one to take his place if he goes. Losing him would be brutal.|
|Some Guy, freshman/sophomore/junior defenseman/forward/goalie|
|Drafted:||Somewhere, or not at all.|
|Probability of departure:||Though last season was relatively calm and frustration-free -- Jack Johnson was so gone no one even considered him an early departure and Andrew Cogliano went right into an NHL scoring line -- the general rule is that weird crap always goes down and costs Michigan a player or two. Hopefully the Quick fiasco fills their WTF departure quota for the year.|
|Impact of departure:||Carl Hagelin's pissed off.|
Incoming. Burlon and Pateryn were mentioned above, but a little more information on the former. (Should Pateryn info become 2008-relevant I'll provide the same for him, but there's not much out there.) According to the always opinionated, sometimes right Kyle Woodlief now has him a "solid" first rounder:
Right now, we've got Zach Dalpe (Penticton), Brandon Burlon (St. Mike's), and Joe Colborne (Camrose) solidly in our first round.
Woodlief had a scouting report earlier in the year:
Burlon is ultra-smooth and the prototypical two-way defender in the post-lockout NHL landscape. He defends beautifully in his own end, seemingly never making a mistake in either his puck movement decisions, coverage down low or play diagnosis. He's big enough and competitive enough to duel against the big boys in front of the net and mobile and savvy enough to sniff out and breakup plays and lead quick-strike transition attacks, turning defense to offense in a heartbeat.
The Hockey News has him at #20:
#20 â€“ Brandon Burlon â€“ LD; St. Mike's Buzzers
Intriguing prospect who plays Junior-A for the same team that produced Andrew Cogliano and Red Wings prospect Brendan Smith. Had a tremendous World Junior-A Challenge and has impressive offensive skills that will be good at any level.
At forward, Robbie Czarnik and David Wohlberg are eerily similar to Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik as recruits. Like Porter and Kolarik, Czarnik and Wohlberg are teammates and (usually) linemates on the NDTP U-18 team. Both will go in the same middle-round range Porter and Kolarik did. If Phoenix grabs them I'll be freaked.
Czarnik is the Kolarik of the pair*:
Czarnik is a dynamic forward who can take over a game with his shifty moves and his long reach. He is able to get around defenders with his reach and has one of the quickest releases in midget major hockey. Czarnik just has that scoring touch that not many players are gifted with. He takes a lot of abuse on the ice, but he seems to handle it well and even shows some grit to his game when defenders challenge him.
That report is from a year ago.
I think Czarnik's stock has dropped a little since his tremendously early commitment to Michigan. He's going to go in the fifth round or so. He was fifth in scoring for the U-18 team this year, well behind BU commit Jordan Schroeder and (in PPG at least) high-first-rounder Jeremy Morin. To be fair, amongst players who played the entire NDTP season only
Schroeder had significantly more points -- the three other guys ahead of him beat him by one or two. In something of a down year for the NTDP, you'd like to see your main guy do a little better.
Meanwhile, Wohlberg is the Porter analogue (same link as above):
[Wohlberg is the] Detroit Honeybaked Captain and leads by example on and off the ice. Has a great all-around skill-set and possesses a great mind for the game defensively. He is a great passer who uses his teammates and he can really create a lot of offense on the rush.
I don't know if we've anybody like David Wohlberg for the last little bit. He's an intriguing player with good size and he plays with a real edge to him. He has good skill -- good hands. He's the type of guy you could probably project to play against a lot of other teams' top centers because he is very defensive conscious in the zone. He's good on faceoffs.
Wohlberg had 11-11-22 with the NTDP team.
*(Lest you doubt, Red Berenson approves this message, a little bit: "If you had to compare them in a general way, I could compare Czarnik a little bit to Chad Kolarik. And I could compare Wohlberg a little bit to Porter. That's a little bit."
Re-arrangement. Last year was a weirdly stable one for Michigan's lines. Pacioretty, Porter, and Kolarik always played together when injury or suspension didn't prevent it. The same went for Rust, Hagelin, and Palushaj. Louie Caporusso and Travis Turnbull were two thirds of the third line with Tim Miller, Brandon Naurato, or (late in the season) Ben Winnett the third. The biggest question about the lineup was which fourth-liner got scratched.
This stands in marked contrast to years previous, when Berenson would shove the lines in a blender whenever Michigan got sluggish or he was feeling especially frisky or Billy Powers dared him to. Without senior anchors the likes of Kolarik and Porter, the blender will be back in force this year and the following exercise is probably futile. But whatever:
|LW||Max Pacioretty||C||Carl Hagelin||RW||Aaron Palushaj|
|Patch is the lone returning member of the top line and is a lock. Palushaj is the team's leading scorer outside of the two seniors. And though Hagelin spent most of this year on the wing he took over at center when Matt Rust broke his leg and had an excellent weekend or two. Though Hagelin's scoring was considerably off the pace set by his projected linemates, he got very little power play time and is set for a breakout season if given increased responsibility and opportunity.|
|LW||Ben Winnett||C||Matt Rust||RW||Travis Turnbull|
|Winnett might be a reach. He was a disappointing nonentity for the first half of the year but began to come on towards the end of the season. He was a rampant scorer in the wild-west BCHL and a mid-round NHL draftee: he has talent. Berenson has always displayed a preference for the younger player when two guys are similar, which should give him the edge over Tim Miller.
Turnbull is a checker and lightning skater who popped in 15 goals last year on nothing more than grim determination; Rust seems like a bigger version of Dwight Helminen. This looks like an excellent defensive line to eat tough minutes against top lines across the league.
|LW||Robbie Czarnik||C||Louie Caporusso||RW||David Wohlberg|
|If Hagelin does move to center as projected someone will have to move to wing or Michigan's going to have an excellent player getting limited minutes on the fourth line. The projection here is this will be freshman Wohlberg.
This line is small, young, and possibly dodgy defensively but as Michigan's third option could be an excellent outscoring line against soft competition.
|LW||Brandon Naurato||C||Danny Fardig||RW||Tim Miller|
|(Also: Lebler, Ciraulo.) Here are the limited but useful players, the same as they were last year.|
I have no idea what will happen with the defensemen. Mitera is an obvious first-pairing guy if he returns and I think Summers will anchor the second pairing. Langlais, IMO, was Michigan's third best defenseman at year's end but will always be tiny and need sheltering from top lines. Burlon could jump directly onto the top pairing or shuffle around the second or third. First-round picks don't get scratched regularly, so if Mitera stays Vaughn and Llewellyn (and Kampfer, IMO) will battle it out to see who gets scratched.
The Looming Question. What do you do with a goalie that had the statistically-best season in the history of the program but melted down in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year?
Until Al Montoya signed with the Rangers, goaltender at Michigan was a simple thing: there was one guy who started for four years and that was it. No platooning, no controversy, just one guy. No more. Billy Sauer came in a year early and broke that trend. He lost his job to Noah Ruden as a freshman. As a sophomore he gave way to Steve Jakiel for a few games, during which Jakiel managed to look even worse than Sauer. And he just got pulled for Brian Hogan after the first period of a national semifinal.
Hogan's back for his sophomore year and the general expectation is he'll be given the opportunity to win the starting job. Unfortunately, the general indicators on Hogan are no better than they are on Sauer. In limited time this year -- about six games -- Hogan was 0.6 GAA worse than Sauer and had a save percentage of .903 compared to Sauer's .924. You could put this down to an unfortunately-timed case of mono and infrequent use, but Hogan's final USHL year and the .889 save percentage he posted during it remain a big red flag. Hogan's two years younger than Sauer, was not drafted, and has worse numbers. He's probably not as good.
So? It's hard to tell which of the Big Four teams are going to be hurt the most by their offseason losses but pretty easy to determine which will be hurt the least: Notre Dame. ND loses four players, two of them reliable defensemen, but no big names.
Ryan Jones and Nathan Davis are out the door for Miami, as is high-assist defenseman Mitch Ganzak and third liner Nino Musitelli. But Carter Camper, Justin Mercier, Andy Miele, and a bunch of other guys who helped Miami pound goals in are all back. The one problem: Jeff Zatkoff is off to the AHL early, and his backup was Hogan to Zatkoff's Sauer last year.
Michigan State loses Lerg (traitorous forward edition), Justin Abdelkader, Mike Ratchuk, and Chris Mueller along with two senior D. Tim Kennedy is widely expected to sign with Buffalo, too.
As noted, Michigan loses Hobey One and Hobey Two.
Advantage Notre Dame? NSFMF! Last year's goal differentials:
Notre Dame gave up one fewer goal than MSU and one more than Miami in conference -- Michigan was five worse than ND -- so this isn't like a Ryan Miller MSU team where their goal differential might be only +30 but that's because they scored 30 to their opponents zero and were dominant. Notr
e Dame was a distant fourth in team quality and has a major leap to make to get up to the level Michigan and Miami were at this year.
A complicating factor: a potential rise from the Medium Four -- the four teams that finished within two games of .500. Northern Michigan loses one regular defenseman and one top liner, plus two guys with under ten points. The rest of the team, including a huge freshman class, returns. They project to be significantly better. Similarly, Ferris State loses one top line forward, one guy with four points, and what looks to be their bottom three defensemen from a team that finished the year strongly. They could make a push.
It will be a wide open year; the three teams with big goal differentials will probably fall back to the pack and if one of Ferris or Northern makes a leap it could be a wild free-for-all amongst as many as five teams. Michigan is probably the favorite pending Michigan Hockey Summer.
4/10/2008 - Michigan 4, Notre Dame 5 (OT) - end of season
During Billy Sauer's period of extreme incompetence at the beginning of his sophomore season, I figured out which of the parents in the Michigan section was Sauer's mother. There were hints -- she always sat next to a woman in a Sauer jersey, for one -- but the key "this is definitely her" event came when I made a sarcastic remark about Sauer and her head whipped around to identify the offender. We kept the volume of our sarcastic remarks down thereafter.
Our prior restraint was soon unnecessary. The sarcastic comments stopped once Sauer first reached competence and then exceeded it, but the presence of Sauer's mother remained something of a burden. Though I don't know what anyone else's parents look like except those of Jack Johnson -- for obvious reasons -- and Scooter Vaughn -- for equally obvious reasons -- I imagine they come off as less... severe.
Jack Johnson's dad had the time of his life at each and every game. While Mrs. Sauer may be a vibrant woman in the course of her everyday activities, at Yost she's always seemed grim and sad. This probably says more about being the mother of a goalie than her. I have made a mental note to never let hypothetical children of mine guard anything other hypothetical children are supposed to put balls or pucks past.
I find attempting to analyze hockey impossible. Football is discrete and measurable. It lends itself to charts. Basketball is in the early stages of a tempo-free statistical realignment. And baseball is a stat heaven. Statistically-minded hockey fans are out of luck. NHL fans can find shift-chart data and make some calculations about even-strength goals for and against. The next step is to take a player's opposition into account and normalize for strength of schedule, resulting in... a vague idea that a player is kinda good when averaged across hundreds of minutes. The idea of analyzing a single game is absurd. Pucks bounce.
The INCH podcast previewing the Frozen Four brought this point home. I listened to it and thought their analysis was pretty stupid, then attempted to improve it mentally, then failed at that, then was enraged by their Hockey East knob attempting to justify a Gerbe Hobey because "every great player" spears opponents to get an edge.
In contrast, I spent the week before the Ohio State game predicting that Vernon Gholston would obliterate Steve Schilling and Beanie Wells would grind out 200 yards on an excessive number of carries; this was (unfortunately) exactly right. But it's not the exactly right bit that matters: it's impossible to make a statement of that specificity about a hockey game without being ridiculous.
What are you supposed to say? "Watch out if Sauer lets in an early goal, freaks out, and lets in two goals so horrible you nickname them 'Nickelback' and 'Creed' because the furious comeback the team mounts in the next half-hour will see them tie the game but cost them their legs and cause them to lose in overtime"?
Hockey is a bitch, and makes the observer feel helpless. The observer is always helpless -- this is the definition of "observer" on a non-quantum level -- but the random number generator that produces goals emphasizes the general bloody-mindedness of the universe. If all sports fandom is a form of emotional gambling, football is poker and hockey is roulette. In the NCAA tournament said roulette comes with a gun and the appellation "Russian" -- how apropos -- and I'm terrified. Every time. I cannot function.
So I understand Billy Sauer pretty well, I think. I empathize. I wish I didn't.
We were exiting the arena in a herded mass, attempting to come to grips with what just happened. I saw a woman in a Sauer jersey ahead and was just perceiving the import of that, picking out the woman I've seen at Yost for three years, when I heard one of the people I was with sum up his opinion of the game.
She's probably overheard her share of nasty comments. She's definitely heard me say something meaner. This one was worse because it was matter-of-fact, evenly delivered, and indisputably true. It lacked hyperbole, utterly.
"Sauer dug them a hole they couldn't get out of."
She turned around. Her eyes looked bloodshot and tired as she scanned for the offender, then she gave up and moved off into the crowd with her husband.
- Remember how I spent a month advocating Notre Dame's inclusion in the tourney before the seventh and/or eighth WCHA team? Nevermind, bring on Mankato.
- I didn't have a great angle on the third ND goal, the backhand one, and kinda thought it might have picked out the top corner. Not so much:
- For both semifinal games the NCAA put the pep bands on the other side of the arena from their fans. WTF?
- North Dakota fans made a very strong showing; too bad their team did not follow suit. They had more fans than any other school, and even after getting housed a lot stuck around for the late game. Just about every BC fan left.
- I don't think I have to tell anyone this, but: as long as Jeff Jackson is around at Notre Dame they're going to be a good team. Jackson turned Dave Poulin's rag-tag bunch of losers into a tourney team and is now recruiting on a level better than anyone in the league save Michigan. He's 53.
- So we've got a decade of regular tourney appearances by ND on the docket. Miami's got a new Goggin and will not be going away any time soon. (Carter Camper say what!) The era of the Big Two and Little Ten in the CCHA is over, and not a moment too soon. I'm looking forward to more than four big conference games a year.
- You'd think something as heteronormative as all the men bellowing something and the women screeching in response could not possibly be gay, but the Notre Dame pep band would prove you wrong on that.
- Excellent turnout by Notre Dame fans -- better than BC. Could this be the turning point for Notre Dame hockey fan interest? They get the Cinderella tourney run complete with overtime victory over Michigan, then get beat by BC of all teams in the final. Carrot... carrot... STICK STICK STICK. It's a great way to get hooked.
Separate list of confirmed sightings.
One of the super-cool things about the Frozen Four is it acts as a community gathering for the entirety of college hockey, which is just big enough to pack an NHL rink and just small enough for everyone to fit inside.
Jerseys or other paraphenalia representing the following teams were located by myself or compatriots:
(all but UAA.)
(I'm sure there were some NMU/LSSU fans there, but we didn't make any contact.)
Providence (including one guy with a killer handlebar mustache)