"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
3/19/2010 – Michigan 5, Miami 2 – 24-17-1
3/20/2010 – Michigan 2, Northern Michigan 1 – 25-17-1, CCHA
One. When I was in high school my AP English research paper was a no doubt ham-fisted comparison between Winesburg, Ohio and Bridge of San Luis Rey. I don't remember the former whatsoever, but the latter is a novel by Thornton Wilder in which a selection of lovelorn 18th century Peruvians pitch headlong to their deaths when the rope bridge they are crossing gives way.
This event fascinates a local monk who sees the tragedy happen. He tracks down the life stories of everyone involved and concludes this was merciful act of God since each victim suffered from a love so powerful and unrequited that the last thoughts of the victims was probably something a long the lines of "yay it's over yay yay yayyyyyyy—."
For the monk's troubles, the Inquisition burns him at the stake. He was looking for proof of a just and loving God, which is heretical when you're supposed to take that on faith.
Two. At some point in a gas station or at Meijer or some other place where bad or obscure movies are put on sale for five dollars, I happened across a movie version of Bridge of San Luis Rey. I still remembered the book. Inexplicably, the movie starred Gabriel Byrne, Kathy Bates, and Robert DeNiro(!). I was obviously compelled to purchase it. This did not extend to actually watching it.
Three. My satellite setup is shared with the landlord and sometimes when we want to watch TV he is instead taping every procedural crime drama or nature documentary set in the Far East on television. Yesterday in the afternoon it was Wild China. So my fiancée put on this movie.
Four. The reason we were stymied by Wild China instead of watching the NCAA tournament in Vegas was because Spirit Airlines, which sucks immensely, oversold our flight to Las Vegas and bumped us. This sent me into a rage, destroyed the cost-benefit ratio of going, saw us cancel the trip entirely, and caused me to spend Thursday sulking like a five year old.
Five. On Friday I went to a hockey game. Saturday, too.
The number of Michigan fans that would gladly have seen their sports fandom pitch headlong to its doom has to be hovering near its all-time high right now. You can't voluntarily abandon it because suicide is a sin but, man, that bridge is looking pretty rickety and maybe if I just take all these things I care about and put them on the bridge and go attend to cargo down by the river I'll come back to find no trace of them and I can go be interested in crochet. There's no such thing as unrequited crochet.
As reactions to this year of Michigan sports go, turning off the hope and settling down into a prolonged malaise is obvious. I was planning some sort of gallows-humor-laden celebration when the three major sports seasons had finally expired and kind of hoping the hockey team would gack it up against Lake State just so it would over sooner. This was always hypothetical. Once the team got on the ice I was pulling for them, but without much fervor and with an eye on the silver lining if they did what they'd been doing all season. I was thinking about a mock funeral.
Then… that happened.
Putting the spurs to Lake Superior State was one thing, as they were a tenth-place team with some fatal flaw that made Michigan's numerous fatal flaws irrelevant. A dominant sweep was a rare occurrence for Michigan this year, but it could be explained away. Following that by stomping Michigan State in a series that redefined both teams' seasons lit a tiny little flame, though. When Tristin Llewellyn (of all people!) blasted a puck past Cody Reichard, it was on: the terror of a high-stakes game you are fully invested in. It had been a long time since one of those went the right way.
Something did flip on this team when Shawn Hunwick was forced into the starting lineup. The relentless defensive intensity from Hunwick's first game, when he saw maybe two shots with any hope of going in, has been a constant feature since his insertion. That's equal parts insult and tribute: the team both needs and wants to protect their miniscule walk-on goaltender. In doing so they've found the formula for success that eluded them so painfully the throughout the season and given Michigan fans reason to believe in heretical things like Benevolent Michigan Walk-On Tolerating God.
I guarantee you this: no group of people has ever been as excited about Fort Wayne, Indiana, as Michigan hockey fans are right now.
Yost Built is doing a round of apologies in the aftermath and I have a couple to offer up of my own:
Tristin Llewellyn not only scored but avoided any penalties that meant something (he took one with a few seconds left in a 5-2 game against Miami) and failed do anything that made me mentally exclaim "Llewellyn!" in the same tone of voice Jerry Seinfeld says "Newman!"
That latter is the way I usually judge individual defense: number of "Newman!" plays where someone's obvious error leads to a scoring chance versus number of anti-Newmans where something that looks threatening is snuffed out by a good play. (I know this is far from a complete evaluation but it's the best I can do live.) Llewellyn had a half Newman early in the Northern game when he came up too aggressively as NMU broke the zone, but he had backcheckers and nothing came of it. He had two or three anti-Newman plays against Miami, which is That Miami. Best weekend of his career? Probably.
Louie Caporusso came in for repeated criticism this year as he and David Wohlberg failed to even approximate their 2009 production. At a couple points I suggested that this was the real Caporusso, a decent second-liner and nothing more, and that the blazing hot start to his sophomore year was the aberration. Yeah… Caporusso is now two points off a PPG. Yost Built has details:
When Caporusso was a Hobey-finalist a year ago, he had 24-25--49, but scored just six goals after the first of the year--and five of those were against LSSU, WMU, and a dreadful FYS team. This year it's the opposite. After just 7 goals in his first 30 games, Caporusso has now ripped off 13 goals and 20 points in the last 13, which includes five multi-goal games and a playmaker. He also hasn't gone consecutive games without a point this calendar year.
Theory as to what happened: Caporusso's okay but not great at stickhandling, crazy Hensick goal against Michigan State nonwithstanding, and he spent large chunks of the year attempting to do everything himself. This resulted in a lot of lost possession and not much else. When the team picked up its play, Caporusso had more faith in his teammates to get him the puck in dangerous areas, which has shifted the focus of his game from his stickhandling to his lethal wrister and ability to get open in dangerous areas. Both of Caporusso's goals against Northern resulted from that, as did the shot that zinged off the inside of the post immediately before his second.
Shawn Hunwick. By the third period of the Northern game, Shawn Hunwick-specific terror had dissipated and was replaced by a slightly lower-level General Oh My God panic. His team is helping him out immensely, but after eight full games his save percentage is .912. I admit that I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop here, but at this point you have to let it ride.
- At no point have I said anything about Carl Hagelin that would require an apology, but I should probably mention that if either of his linemates takes a step forward or they throw an offensive-minded player on his wing, his points could blow up next year to the point where he's a serious Hobey contender. There are only six players who 1) have more points than Hagelin this year, 2) play in a Big Four conference, and 3) can return next year. A couple of those guys play for RPI and UMass, teams that aren't likely to be good enough to get their guys into the Hobey top three, and none of them can possibly be as spectacular two-way players as Hagelin. The big problem is fellow Swede Gustav Nyquist, a sophomore for Maine who has 61 points.
Hoo boy did I hate a number of calls this weekend. I did not see the Miami guy clock Wohlberg into the boards and can't offer an opinion on whether that was two or five. I did think Glendening was done as soon as that hit was delivered, FWIW.
However, how the hell does a Northern guy plow Michigan's Happy Meal toy of a goalie without so much as a shove and not get a goal interference or charging call? How does the Miami game turn into a throwback where penalties are only called when there's bone showing?
Also, I've seen this call often enough to assume that it's actually the correct call but it's immoral: when a defenseman (Steve Kampfer in this case) lays an open-ice check on a guy who's about to receive a pass and that guy has just whiffed on a puck he could easily have touched, that gets called as interference. That drives me crazy. It should be like the NFL rule. If the defender gets there after the pass has gone through a small area around you it's a good play.
- I still don't understand why Winnett is playing the point on the power play. Michigan has Langlais, Kampfer, Burlon, and either Summers or Moffie available on defense. Three of those guys have more points than Winnett; Burlon is equal with him and Moffie is just two back despite playing only 29 games. Some of those guys aren't spectacular defensively but I'm betting they're all more comfortable there than Winnett. Winnett's a fourth line forward on a team with a ton of offensive defensemen. I don't get his usage there at all. Last weekend he shot numerous pucks into defenders and set up a couple shorthanded chances for the opposition.
- Scooter got pulled up onto the third line when Glendening went out and did well; in the third period I don't think the fourth line got more than a shift. I don't think he'll move up in the pecking order since Michigan is adding at least one more forward than they lose (this perhaps foolishly assumes no NHL departures) but I'd be comfortable with him as an energy guy wherever he ends up.
Daily story and gallery. Also a CHN article, attention from Puck Daddy, AnnArbor.com coverage Rivals promises "Swedish trash talk" in a Hagelin interview. 2011 recruit Lucas Lessio is projected as a first-round NHL draft pick. The Wolverine Blog on the game.
Wow. After years of screwing one and two-seeded Michigan teams, the committee went off the reservation and gave Michigan the kindest possible draw in the history of draws:
1. Miami vs. 4. Alabama-Huntsville
2. Bemidji State vs 3. Michigan
That bracket is crazy better than going to Massachusetts to play WCHA champion North Dakota and facing a probable road game against BC if you survive that. Michigan gets to play virtual home games against Bemidji, the #8 overall seed—North Dakota is #5—and probably Miami, a team they just beat handily. I have no idea why the committee would do this except the big one: attendance. Fort Wayne is now going to be packed and Michigan's chances of making it to Detroit probably just doubled. This is totally unfair for the rest of the field.
UPDATE: Just to emphasize what a favor the committee just did Michigan, everyone thinks KRACH is a much better rating system than the Pairwise. KRACH has North Dakota 4th and Bemidji 13th. In its world, Michigan is 10th and actually a favorite in the first round game. Of course, then Michigan has to take on #2 Miami instead of #5 BC, but I'll take it.
UPDATE II: Tickets here.
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.