I GET IT
3/23/2012 – Michigan 2, Cornell 3 (OT) – 24-13-3, 15-9-4 CCHA, season over
Shawn Hunwick first stepped on the ice for a 18-16-1 Michigan team that had seen its at-large NCAA hopes evaporate during a dismal road sweep at the hands of Nebraska-Omaha.
No one wanted him out there, but at least it didn't much matter. This year's team was in danger of missing the tournament in November and recovered to finish second in the Pairwise. Two years ago they had missed it, period, until they lost their starting goalie and inserted a guy who came to Michigan with no illusions he'd play.
That was the catalyst for a change in Michigan's fortunes. Involuntarily pulling Bryan Hogan was another outlet for the dread everyone was feeling at the near-certainty that Michigan would break its tourney streak. Those in the stands reacted by assuming that every shot at or in the general vicinity of the net would either go straight in (in the case of shots that needed no assistance) or be deflected into the dead center of a wide open goal (in the case of shots that were not already on net).
The team felt the same way. They responded by swarming into the slot in a great mass to sweep away the fat, glistening rebounds Hunwick seemed to give up on every shot, no matter how harmless. Their certainty that Hunwick would be overrun led to a 4-0 shutout.
The next night they'd finish the regular season by giving up five goals in an untelevised road loss. Did they relax? I don't know.
Michigan entered the playoffs the next weekend and went on a rampage. They continued to patrol their own slot with feverish intensity, and this translated into the "jump" hockey coaches and commentators are always using to define that ineffable quality a hockey team has when its passes are going tape to tape and the opponents keep finding inconveniently located defenders.
The jump lasted three games. They swept Lake State out of Yost, then bombed Michigan State 5-1 at Munn. The second night they leapt out to a two-goal lead and then bled it back. The first goal was just one of those things. Tristin Llewellyn took an insane elbowing penalty to put Michigan down two men and MSU passed it around until they got a slam dunk.
The second and third goals were the end of the ride. They were both power play goals—Llewellyn would watch State score from the box three times in three minutes—but they were pillowy soft ones. This was the moment at which it all came screeching to a halt and Hunwick was revealed as the walk-on he was. Michigan went to the locker room down 3-2 after one, certain that anything they let on net was going in. The jump had left Michigan's step.
Michigan State got one shot in the second period. It did not go in. That period was twenty minutes of battering a door until it hung by the barest sliver of a hinge. Three minutes into the the third, it gave way.
State managed 22 shots for the game but no more would get past Hunwick; Michigan tilted the ice decisively in the second, tied it, and finished the job in the third. The next weekend at the Joe, Michigan allowed 22 shots to Miami and 18 to Northern Michigan as they secured a streak-extending bid with the most rousing CCHA playoff run they'd had since the days when Michigan was looking up at the Lake States of the world.
They played like banshees. They died like Vikings. They did so because they didn't know what the hell was going to happen when someone threw a puck at the net.
Two years later, Shawn Hunwick is possibly the best Michigan goalie of all time and it's overtime because Michigan had a goal disallowed because Michigan always has a goal disallowed.
Michigan wins a faceoff and gets a shot off that is saved and caroms to Cornell. Cornell turns the play back against a third line of Luke Moffatt, Derek Deblois, and Travis Lynch. Moffatt is there to provide a third man back against the rush.
The defenders can't handle the rush that well and end up giving up a scary shot from a Cornell forward cutting left to right in front of the net. Hunwick's way out of the blue ice, because he's always way out of the blue ice because he's 5'6". He gets his right pad on the shot. He's 5'6". He has limited options when it comes to leg angles that kick pucks places. His choice here is between letting the thing into the net and kicking his leg as straight as he can so that there's no angle for the thing to go in. He's got a save percentage above .930. He's a Hobey Baker finalist. He kicks it out into the slot, like he did against Notre Dame, over and over again.
Moffatt's there, but in a bad position. His check is crappy, he doesn't tie the guy's stick up sufficiently, the guy puts it in the net, and Hunwick is over. All that's left for him to do is take the puck that was in the slot and is now in the net and hand it to Cornell. Deblois and Lynch are cruising into the defensive zone still. They don't look much like banshees, and they're not there in the slot. They're sophomores—juniors now—and don't remember what it was like when Shawn Hunwick was a 5'6" walk-on and not a Hobey Baker finalist.
The Horrible Horrible Power Play
For the third straight year Michigan's season ends 3-2 in overtime thanks in part to a disallowed goal. The rage factor on this one is lower than the other two because it came with 58 minutes to play, was not disallowed because the ref blew his whistle, and there's not enough rage to go around this year thanks to the power play.
Michigan's terrible awful power play entered the NCAA tournament 46th nationally and leaves it 48th, where they'll stay since everyone else around them is done for the year. Michigan spent half the
third second period up a man, almost three minutes of that time up two, and achieved a –1 goal differential in that time. That was the game right there. Michigan finished 0/7 on the power play, gave up a power play goal on one of Cornell's three opportunities, and conceded a shorthanded goal for the first time all year.
It's clear there's something wrong with the power play that can't be explained away by pointing to a lack of talent. Michigan hasn't had a power play you could actually call good in four years despite consistently putting up a lot of offense:
|YEAR||PP RK||Goals per G||Goal RK|
You can say '09-'10 is slightly above average, but that's all. Meanwhile Michigan continues to finish around the top ten in scoring despite not getting much production out of their power play. If their ability with a man advantage roughly corresponded with their 5x5 scoring this year* Michigan would have put up 13 extra power play goals and leapt into the top five in scoring.
It's hard to take the argument that Michigan just doesn't have the talent seriously when outfits like Bemidji State, Western Michigan, Northern Michigan, and Ferris State all finish 20+ spots ahead. Zero of those teams have NHL draft picks littering the roster, let alone a set of offensive defensemen like Merrill, Moffie, and Bennett.
This is a coaching issue. Watching Michigan cluelessly bat it back and forth from one covered guy to the other one on the five-on-three should make that clear. No one moves, no one has a plan, and the most common thing to do is fling a point shot into a defender's pads. Red is the king of all he perceives but this is a major problem that doesn't look like it's going away.
*[The #10 power play, North Dakota, converted at a 22% rate compared to Michigan's 14.6.]
The disallowed goal. I don't think Moffatt's impact changed the outcome of that play. The goalie was already sliding away from the puck and had no idea where it was. That said, Moffatt did impact the goalie in the crease, and it didn't look like his defender had anything to do with it. I don't think it's an outrageous injustice. It's very frustrating, of course, but if the ref screwed that up he more than made up for it with the avalanche of Cornell penalties Michigan could do nothing with.
The penalty shot was a terrible call, but at that point I think I preferred it to the alternative since Michigan was down, had a power play, and was playing a team without a ton of offensive skill.
Merrill: WTF? Also Moffie. The biggest reason Michigan lost other than its power play was the Merrill-Moffie pairing. Moffie initiated the sequence that led to the shorthanded goal with a suicide pass to Merrill; Merrill screwed it up at the line and the two-on-one started. Then Merrill took a swipe at the Cornell saucer pass with his stick instead of getting his body into the passing lane, leading to a slam dunk.
On the winner it was Merrill and Moffie who combined to let that rush turn into a dangerous shot; Merrill got too far outside and again out of the passing lane. Moffie also added a stupid crosschecking penalty seconds into Cornell's dubious major; it was Merrill who ended up giving up the (admittedly ludicrous) penalty shot.
Merrill has not played well over the last month. He was responsible for goals against Northern Michigan, Bowling Green, Western Michigan, and Cornell and hasn't been as superb with the puck as he usually is. I'm not sure what's going on there but he doesn't seem focused.
CCHA: not so much. The conference got almost half its membership into the tournament this year but saw four of its five teams flame out in the first round. Ferris State got past injury-riddled Denver and Cornell to make its first Frozen Four, and congrats to them.
Everyone else went out in game one. Takeaways from this:
- A conference where no one can score that was won by a team without an NHL draft pick on it is not that good at hockey.
- Non-conference games are hugely important because they are so sparse and provide the basis of comparisons between conferences.
That latter issue should evaporate after next year. Western college hockey will reform itself into three conferences from two and Michigan will have 14 nonconference games instead of six. Hopefully those aren't all home series against Bentley during football season.
A glance at next year. It's hard to predict without knowing the results of the NHL draft and whether Michigan will suffer early departures. A hypothetical no-defection defense corps looks pretty good:
That's light on sandpaper but should have no problems moving the puck. The only problem is that Michigan could lose the first three guys listed above. Bennett came in saying outright that he would not be a four-year player, Trouba is good enough to be signed immediately by an NHL club, and who knows what Merrill's attitude will be towards a hypothetical junior season after the rollercoaster he went through. Losing one guy is survivable. Two is worrying.
Michigan really needs a big leap forward from Serville. He's a lot younger than Chiasson, has a decent NHL draft pedigree, and seemed to be moving forward late in the year. If he can develop into a solid second-pairing type it'll be okay.
At forward, Red will put them through the blender but one man's rough guess:
- Moffatt-T. Lynch-PDG
- Random assortment including Rohrkemper, Sparks, Other Lynch, and freshmen Daniel Mile and Justin Selman
It's possible Nieves comes in and forces himself onto the top two lines but I'm guessing Red will go with a defense-oriented player over the freshman. Defections here are also possible, of course: Guptill, PDG, and Brown are all potential departures. People keep talking about PDG leaving but I'd be surprised if an NHL team is eager to sign him just now. His 26 points are good for a freshman but not Pacioretty good. The kind of guys who have left after one year have driven play more than PDG did.
The biggest change will be in net, where NTDP goalie Jared Rutledge replaces Hunwick with Junior A vagabond Steve Racine backing him up. Rutledge's Pointstreak page is a little scary—a drop in games and performance from year to year—but the embarrassingly primitive spreadsheet the NTDP uses to track its stats shows that over the course of the year Rutledge has a .902 versus teammate (and Ohio State commit) Collin Olson's .893. NTDP save percentages can be pretty ugly since a big chunk of their games are against college teams, so that's fine. Rutledge is a small, aggressive, technically-sound goalie who sounds a lot like Hunwick.
BONUS SPREADSHEETIN': Michigan's 3 NTDP U17 commits are #1, #4, and #5 in scoring on their team. JT Compher is the guy at #1 and has played 7-8 fewer games than the rest of the team. He's the only guy with a PPG. Tyler Motte is neck and neck with Miami commit Anthony Louis and UNH commit Tyler Kelleher for #2; Evan Allen is a half-dozen points back of that group. With those three guys and Bryson Cianfrone, a Canadian Junior A player who was projected as a first round OHL draft pick before committing to Michigan, Michigan looks like they'll have a dynamite 2013 class. Pending defections, of course, Always pending defections.
How does it feel to be a senior?
“Man, college goes by fast, and right now I’m taking on a leadership role and trying to be the best quarterback I can be for the team and be the best leader I can be for the team. Right now just trying to get better at everything I can get better at: watching film, going in with teammates and throwing extra routes, whoever’s around me, if we’re lifting, trying to tell them ‘get better at this’ and ‘get better at that.’ These are the things that I’m trying to do as a leader and as the quarterback on the team.”
Borges said you’re holding more people accountable. Is that the next step of development for you as a leader?
“Oh yeah. Oh yeah. I wasn’t an outspoken person. I didn’t do a lot of yelling and telling people, patting them on the butt and doing stuff like that. That’s one of the things I need to start doing, and that’s what I’m taking on this spring. For practice right now, I’ve been pretty well lately and talking to people and telling them what they need to do. Russ [Bellomy] was with me yesterday when we had practice. I told him if he took his time he’d make a better, more accurate throw. Those were some things that I did.”
Do you have to be the bad guy sometimes?
“Oh yeah, sometimes you have to get up in them. Help them out, give them their encouragement, but you can’t always be nice to them. I can’t always have a smile on my face.”
Is that possible?
“Oh yeah that’s possible. It’s possible.”
What was this offseason like for you?
“Learning. I mean --”
I don’t even mean football. I mean the enormity of, kind of, everything.
“Oh. Everything. I am a student. I am a student-athlete. Student first. Being part of that student body was one of the best experiences I’ve ever experienced on this campus. I’ve been in the Maize Rage at the basketball games, I’ve been at a hockey game watching them play, I’ve been to track watching the girls run. That’s one of the things I could never stay away from. I love watching sports. I love watching people that I know do better.”
How many sporting events do you think you went to?
You were on TV for every single one of them.
“I don’t know. I just try to go to all of them. If I had the chance, if I had the time, I’d try to go.”
Are you trying to do anything different with your body in terms of weight and strength?
“Trying to gain weight … whatever happens happens with that. Hopefully I gain a little weight.”
Does Hoke want you to gain weight?
“No. They never tell me about gaining weight. I have to take it into my own hands to gain weight.”
How is it taking snaps from Ricky?
“I’ve been snapping with Ricky since Rich Rod was here. My freshman year I was snapping with Ricky. Ricky’s one of the guys from Florida, so we can relate to each other. When he makes a mistake I’m right on him and telling him, ‘Let’s go. I’m right behind you 100-percent.’ He stayed competing and all of us are competing right now and trying to get better at everything. We’ve got some growing to do.”
He speaks Florida?
“Oh yeah. He does speak it. He helps me a lot in the huddle. Sometimes he tells the other offensive linemen what the play is. When Molk and Patrick used to get on me all the time, Ricky would help me out.”
Has anything changed for you over the offseason with the Obama stuff, etc.?
“No, because I enjoy interacting with people. That’s one of the things that I always enjoy. I come from a big family. Meeting new people is not a problem for me. I would love to meet everybody. If I see anybody on the street, I want to say hi to you. My goal is to make somebody’s day everyday. Hopefully I can do that.”
Borges said one of the keys for you is to cut down on interceptions. What is the most important part of being able to accomplish that?
“I’m going to tell you this. I play quarterback, and the number one thing about the quarterback is always take care of the ball. That’s one of the things that I need to stop doing. Turnovers. I had 15 interceptions. That’s not acceptable as a quarterback and something that I need to work on. I was throwing off my back foot -- that’s one of the things that kind of got me in a lot of trouble and I need to stay away from that. Making the right reads is one of the things I need to work on, too. All offseason I’ve been watching film and seeing the reads I should have made and how many touchdowns I missed. This year hopefully I don’t have that many mistakes.”
Is Devin athletic enough to catch the ball?
“Right now … both of us just have the same mindset. Whatever it takes for the team to win, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
How are his hands?
“Both of us have good hands.”
What was meeting Obama like?
“Oh man. That’s one of the days that I’m going to sit down and tell my grandkids. I met the president. That’s one of the things I’ll always cherish. As soon as I got done meeting him I called my mom, my dad, my brothers, and I was just telling them, ‘I just met the president. I just met the president of the United States.”
Did it catch you off guard at all?
“Me and Patrick were just like, ‘What?’ Patrick was right next to me and he was like, ‘Oh my gosh, he just called your name.’ ”
Have you thought about what the expectations are going to be this fall?
“We already know our expectations. We’ve been working on that all offseason. We’re trying to get better. It starts now. Get prepared for September 1st. Our goal is to win the Big Ten every year. That’s one of the things we already said that’s set in stone. We just have to be ready to work for it and all offseason just keep working for it and working at it. Holding each other accountable. It’s right there. We have to take care of it.”
How does it change your mentality to actually know who your running back is this year?
“We don’t know anything. We don’t know who the quarterback’s going to be. I’m going to tell you this. We have to come out and compete every day. Every day. Nothing’s handed to you. And that’s better that you know that you have to compete every day.”
You really don’t think you’re going to be the quarterback this fall?
“We have to compete every day.”
Hoke has said you had a great attitude last year despite not getting as many catches or numbers. Can you talk about how you dealt with that and what you’re looking forward to this year moving outside?
“I was buying in, just listening to what the coaches were saying. I wasn’t going out there and looking at the numbers and stats each game. I was just going out there and competing. It played out well, going to the Sugar Bowl and winning it. That was a great season for us.”
Was it hard at all going through that transition?
“No, not at all, because any point in the game we can get the ball in and see the seniors doing well last year and leading this team. I was just looking up to them. Even though I probably had one catch a game, that one catch was made effective.”
Did you ever get frustrated not getting footballs thrown your way?
“No. Our goal during the season was knockdowns. Every game we were just trying to have more knockdowns than one another. We really weren’t worried about the ball because the quarterback is the one with the ball in his hand and he’s the one making the right decisions.”
Is there a transition in moving to flanker?
“More motion. We’ve been doing this since January. We always rotated Y’s in different formations last year. It’s something I’m used to now because the extra [work] that we’ve been putting in trying to learn new plays and new positions that everyone’s at. I’m getting comfortable with it. More motions and really have to stay in shape.”
Why is that?
“Oh man, because you’re moving around all the time. Lining up in the slot or lining up outside. Just something I’m taking in and learning through spring ball.”
Do you see any differences in Denard this spring?
“Yeah, yeah I do. The timing is there. He’s making better reads. Staying composed back there. Now he knows the offense. It’s fluid. Practice goes smoother. I don’t see him frustrated or anything. I really see that he’s composed.”
Is he more decisive?
“Yeah he’s reading the defenses well out there. Just taking his time. You can actually heard the play fluent in the huddle again. I talk about him all the time saying he’s so country you can barely hear him, but now we’ve been in the offense for a year, we like listening to him better.”
Last year he often threw balls that put you in a position to get crushed. Has there been less of that these days?
“I mean, he’s the quarterback. They’re going to have their ups and downs. The wide receivers, just know our time to make the plays. If it’s a low ball, go get the low ball. You can’t just blame everything on the quarterback because they might be getting rushed half the time while we’re coming out of our routes. You never know until you watch it on film. He’s really been fluid in his passing. Getting better. Seeing him healthy, seeing him composed back there just making things right.”
How has Brandon Moore been?
“Yeah, Brandon Moore’s my roommate. I just talk to him everyday and see how practice went because I’m only with them during skelly and team, not individually. Him being a senior. Leadership -- we always say that seniors have leadership. He’s been doing well. Catching the ball good and running great routes and blocking. This is his year, I feel like. If you go out there and practice and show the coaches you can be trusted out there, it’s really going to be an impact this season.”
What’s Brandon like off the field?
“Shy. Calm. Smart. He doesn’t really do anything. Half the time he’s playing with his dog. Big Doberman that he has.”
What’s its name?
“Kane. I don’t mess with dogs.”
“I got bit when I was younger, so I don’t mess with them.”
How has Denard progressed off the field?
“Oh, just speaking. He’s been outgoing this year. Being a quarterback, that’s what it takes because everybody’s looking up to the quarterback. Just seeing him become a senior. Now he just said, man this went by so fast. Now everybody’s going to be looking up to him. All our seniors. We take real great impact in being a senior and having leadership, just like Team 132 seniors did, trying to accomplish something better.”
Denard hasn’t always been a real vocal guy. How has that transition been for him?
“He was a shy kid coming in, but now he’s mature more. Just taking it day by day, like how we work out. We’d be partners half the time just pushing each other. Just seeing that from ‘Lace. That’s giving him extra points because he wasn’t like that at first.”
Does it get the receivers fired up when you hear things like ‘What is Michigan going to do without Junior Hemingway’?
“(Roundtree talked about something that sounded like “croop thick” or “group think.” I have no idea, so I’m not going to transcribe it) … It doesn’t matter who’s out there. Being blessed to play here, playing for Michigan. Coach Heck always said that we lost some great wide receivers, but being a senior -- I’m the only senior up here going through the ups and downs and learning from each class -- most of them look at me because I’ve played the most. But I feel like we have a nice group of kids now. Everybody you haven’t heard about, but most of them you will.”
Have you taken to mentoring any of the younger receivers?
“Oh yeah. Half the time they ask me questions it’s like I’m a teacher out there. It’s weird because I did the same thing when I was a freshman, asking the upperclassmen. But now I’m just schooling them.”
What kinds of things do they ask you?
“Just like how you read the coverage on this route, how to get off press coverage. Just simple stuff because coach Heck does a great job coaching us in different steps in the offense.”
Any of the younger guys impress you?
“I know Joe Reynolds, I know J.J. (Jeremy Jackson). I see a lot of them and go like, wow made a great catch or did something. That’s what I expect to hear, so it’s not like I haven’t seen it before.”
Do you talk to Junior about playing his position?
“Yeah I talk to Junior all the time. Me and Junior are still close friends. He just said stay in shape, you’re going to have a lot of motions and reading the defense. Something I was already used to, reading it from the slot position. I feel like I’m not back at slot, but it seems like I am because of all the motions and getting closer to the inside and whatnot. He just said just stay in shape.”
Does being a leader come naturally now for you?
“After being four years in the defense and on this team, I think it’s something that’s starting to come naturally. I think we have a lot of seniors that are stepping into that role, and that’s going to be huge for us this fall. Our senior leadership is going to be huge.”
Have you seen more consistency out of Will Campbell?
“Yeah, no doubt. It’s not just on the field. It’s off the field. He’s holding meetings for the defensive linemen to get in and watch film. He’s helping them out. We’ve got a lot of young guys on the defensive line, and he understands that and he understands he’s a senior and he has to be a leader. He’s really stepping into that role and filling that role nicely for us.”
How does Jarrod Wilson look?
“Good. I think he’s going to be a good ball player. At the same time, we’re only four practices in, only two in pads. He’s been impressive so far as have the other underclassmen. We’re going to need those guys to continue to get better.”
How does he compare with how you remember other freshman safeties playing in the past?
“He’s made quite a few plays so far. He’s had the opportunity because we’ve been somewhat thin at safety, so he’s been getting a good look and he’s been taking advantage of it. Like I said, he still has a ways to go. He’s still young. He’s got a bright future here. He’s going to get better in the spring and in the fall I look forward to how he can play.”
Is it weird returning so many guys in the secondary? That’s never happened for you before.
“Well I think what’s weird is I’m going to have the same defense for two years in a row. I don’t think I’ve ever had that in my four years here. I think that that’s something that’s going to help us a lot. We’re getting comfortable with the playcalling and with the different plays. We bring a lot of defensive players back. We bring a lot of seniors back. That’s going to be huge for us. It’s nice to be comfortable with the guys you’re out there with and the plays.”
Have you been able to sit back and marvel at how much better the defense got between 2010 and 2011?
“A little bit, but at the same time we’re already on to the next year and we’re looking forward to getting even better.”
Hoke talked about ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ in practice. Is that new to this spring or has he done that before?
“We’ve been competing since he’s gotten here in everything that we do. That’s something he brought with him, whether it’s in the weight room or out on the practice field in spring practice or even in fall camp. There’s winners and losers. Competition’s important and we thrive in that. That environment is important for us to be successful.”
What happens when you lose?
“Gassers or some sort of punishment.”
Union and Michigan State are underway in a near-empty building, so we're off. Some final items before the madness descends:
HOCKEYBEAR. PLAYOFF TIME IS HOCKEYBEAR TIME.
HOCKEYBEAR IS GO
Cornell. The preview is here; the Big Red is a tight-checking team with a defensive emphasis and good goaltending. Usually getting an ECAC team in the tournament is a good sign—no team from that league has advanced to the Frozen Four since 2003. You saw the Air Force game, though. This is single elimination playoff hockey.
Line change? Michigan's broken up their top line at an odd time. In practice they've moved Derek Deblois up and Chris Brown down, leaving the lines like so:
- Brown-Lynch The Elder-Moffat
- Rohrkemper-Lynch The Younger-Hyman
Berenson's explanation of this is grim:
"I just think the lines were getting stale, especially Wohlberg's line," Berenson said. "I thought they lost their work ethic, and they were scoring as individuals but the line wasn't producing. In fact, the line was negative in the last 10 games.
"We can't go into a tournament with a line that is not helping the team, especially one that's supposed to be one of your best."
The top line was still filling up the nets, scoring eight goals in the last nine games, but they're –1 between them. How much is on them and how much is on Michigan's newfound addiction to terrible turnovers from the defense.
Also from that article: Michigan is 13-4-1 since Merrill returned, and he's +12.
Or maybe not? The Daily has another quote from Berenson that suggests Michigan may dump the change if it's not going well:
“When you see the line chart (on Friday) you’ll have a better idea,” Berenson said. “But I like the fact that we’ve got some flexibility. We’ve had different players play with different players during the year, and we’ve even had some guys play different positions. I think when you get to this point of the year, you have to be flexible, as a coach and a player.
“That doesn’t answer (the) question, but that’s my answer.”
It's possible Red is just sending a message.
2002 from darker eyes. Denver reminisces about Yost's apex:
"That was one of the toughest losses I've had in my career," says Kevin Doell, who led that club with 43 points and remains a veteran scorer with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. "When we had a lead going into the third period, we were good at shutting the door. Once they got that first goal and their crowd got into it, it was a huge momentum boost for them. It's still hard to swallow when I think about it."
And thus was born the NCAA's deathly fear of a home crowd for anyone other than Minnesota.
The start of it all. The Daily's Zach Helfland tell the story of Michigan's tourney streak beginning:
It was late Sunday night in March 1990. Bo had just retired, the Fab Five just months away from enrolling at Michigan, and Berenson had just finished a phone call that would decide whether his once-mighty hockey team would be relevant again after so many years.
The 2012 version of the Michigan hockey team encountered some bumps, but it waltzed into the tournament. So did the team before it. In fact, since 1990, only one team, the 2010 squad (which Shawn Hunwick led on its miracle run), was anywhere close to the bubble. But in 1990, it wasn’t that easy.
On one end of the call was Berenson, six fruitless years into his tenure in Ann Arbor. On the other was the NCAA selection committee. Ever since it beat Bowling Green in the CCHA consolation game the day before, Berenson’s team, firmly planted on the NCAA Tournament bubble, had been waiting for this call.
View from Cornell. An email:
Hi, I'm a Cornell fan. I like your site and wanted to add a thought or two with respect to some of the comments.
About the ECAC's number of national titles: technically it is four, not three. Cornell (1967, 1970), RPI (1985) and Harvard (1989). RPI also won in 1954, before the league was formed. And BU walked off with 3 (1971, 1972, 1978) when Hockey East split off from the ECAC.
On the subject of Cornell's mascot/nickname confusion: The nickname is the Big Red. Just the color. We tried to explain this to a Minnesota fan at the 2005 regional when they asked what the mascot is and they thought we were talking down to them. But usually when we say "Big Red" to someone the next words out of their mouth are "Big Red What?". In fact, one of the Cornell fan sites is called "the Big Red What?"
Anyway, the nickname comes from a football song written in 1905 as the team wore red and white, the school colors since its founding. The bear came along in 1915 when the football team bought a live black bear and kept it on the sidelines during games. And despite a bear being in the Cornell sports team logos the university website still refers to the mascot as "unofficial". Not sure what to make of that. Long story short, nobody calls us "the Bears".
They're like Stanford, okay?
Etc.: Michigan is not exactly paranoid about letting people see their practices. Cornell is of course the team that Michigan emulated during the famous 1991 matchup at Yost that spawned a thousand angry swears. (HT: MHN.)
Things are relatively quiet on the recruiting front at the moment, but here's an update on weekend visitors, players planning to attend the spring game, and more.
Weekend Visitors, Webb on Webb, Spring Game, Etc.
The list is short this week, with Washington (DC) Gonzaga CB Devin Butler the only uncommitted 2013 prospect slated to be on campus ($). Butler currently has Penn State as his leader, but the Wolverines are among a group of nine schools also in contention for his services.
Other visitors this weekend include 2013 commits Jake Butt and Jaron Dukes, and once again Cass Tech will be well represented—2014 WR Damon Webb, 2014 RB/DB Johnny Miggins, and 2015 QB Jayru Campbell will make the short trip to Ann Arbor.
Meanwhile, top receiver target Laquon Treadwell told Chantel Jennings that he'll visit for a spring practice in the first week of April ($, info in header). That will be Treadwell's fifth visit to Ann Arbor, but he still maintains that he won't make a decision until after his senior season.
The big visit weekend, however, will be when Michigan takes the field for the spring game on April 14th. One top-flight prospect who will be on campus is Erial (NJ) Timber Creek DT Greg Webb, who was the subject of Sam Webb's latest DetNews feature. Greg Webb's father earns major bonus points for saying Mike Martin and Iowa's Mike Daniels are two of his favorite D-linemen, because "they're undersized and they're badgers." The elder Webb also shed some light on the mindset of recruits who are witnessing a rather unprecedented rush to commit early:
"Michigan already (received verbal commitments from) 16 kids," Mr. Webb stated. "They're almost finished with their class. If you look at schools like Ohio State, they don't have as many scholarships (to offer). They're probably going to only take two or three D-tackles. You have to look at the numbers. If the schools you want to go to already have 16 or 17 commits, or they're only taking three more (players at your position), I don't think you can wait until signing day. A lot of the schools that he likes are a lot of the higher-profile schools. They're all going to fill up quick, so really I think we're going to have to look how things are going the next two or three months and see (if its best to make an early decision)."
With Michigan likely taking just two more defensive linemen—and also being in strong position with DT Henry Poggi—there could certainly be extra pressure on Webb to commit early if he wants a spot in the class.
Webb won't be the only elite D-lineman on campus for the spring game, either, as four-star SDE Joey Bosa will also be in attendance ($). Bosa currently has Michigan in his top six, but the competition—Florida State, Florida, Alabama, Wisconsin, and Ohio State—is stiff. Two other recruits who will be in that weekend are Cleveland Glenville S Christopher Worley (confusing, I know), who's currently holding offers from Arkansas, Bowling Green, and West Virginia ($), and 2014 Mequon (WI) Homestead DT Brandon Hines, who'll visit Ann Arbor on the 13th before checking out Iowa ($).
Quickly: Columbus (OH) Walnut Ridge WR Rob Wheelwright holds an offer, has Michigan in his top group, and is setting up a visit with coach Jerry Montgomery ($). Santa Monica (CA) WR Sebastian LaRue has "high interest" in the Wolverines and plans on taking a spring or summer visit ($). Grand Blanc (MI) DE Daniel Davis has been hearing from Michigan recently and plans to visit next week ($). TomVH on Michigan targeting several bigger cornerbacks in the 2013 class ($).
The final team in Green Bay this weekend. First round opponent Cornell was profiled a couple days ago; Denver yesterday. Doing the entire regional is not a jinx. It is a way to work out nervous energy. I told my wife that today was the first round of the hockey tournament and got a worried "oh" in response.
Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap
|WHAT||Michigan(?) vs Ferris State(?)|
|WHERE||Green Bay, heart of the CCHA|
|WHEN||9:30 Eastern Saturday|
|LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
Record. 23-11-5, 16-7-5 CCHA. Ferris won the CCHA by four points despite winning just one of five shootouts. They were going to have a rumble with Michigan at the Joe for the top seed in Green Bay until two overtime losses to Bowling Green saw them shockingly dumped from the CCHA playoffs. Ferris got locked into a two seed as a result.
They achieved what they did mostly with defense. Ferris is a little bit better than average at putting pucks in the net (a hair under three goals per game is good for 21st) and is top ten at keeping them out (2.2, 10th). Their goal differential in the league was an impressive +18. Michigan (+25) and Miami (+19) did beat them out, but Ferris spread their goals out much more effectively than the mercurial Wolverines and Redhawks.
Previous meetings. Michigan's lone bright spot in their awful streak last fall was a sweep of the Bulldogs that looks inexplicable now. Michigan hammered the eventual league champions 5-2 and 4-0; they'd win one of their next nine games.
It makes even less sense when you dive into some of the ancillary stats, in which the teams were dead even. Shots were basically even over the weekend. On Friday both teams had two power play goals. On Saturday the teams combined to go 0/11 with a man advantage. Penalty kills were also even over both days.
The only stat separating the teams were goals, goals, goals. Taylor Nelson gave up five goals on 28 shots; backup CJ Motte got the Saturday game and gave up four on the same number. Hunwick's save percentage for the weekend was .962. Note that Michigan's seven goal advantage came entirely at even strength.
Common opponents. Too many to mention since Michigan and Ferris are conference-mates. At least for now. This is probably even; the Bulldogs may have won the league but the different league playoff runs bring that back to parity.
Ferris needs Matthew Kirzinger to produce if it expects to advance
Dangermen. Ferris State's scoring is a lot like Michigan's: a top line does most of the work and gets they get decent support from the second line. After that there is little. Ferris's scoring drops off a lot faster than Michigan's. CenterIce scouted them before the fall series:
Don't get me wrong these guys can play, but what I saw from the film was the inability to finish plays. Time after time I watched a Ferris forward stickhandle through miami defenders, or make the perfect pass only to miss the net. A lot of the goals scored were due to Miami being shorthanded or being to slow, or a shot from Bolivia. That being said we still have to respect the team who is 15th in team offense because they do have a lot of skill.
The top guys are all upperclassment in the same point range. Winger Matthew Kirzinger (10-22-32) is the setup guy for Kyle Bonis (18-11-29) and Jordie Johnston (18-15-33). The second line does a little bit of scoring, but five of Travis Ouellette's nine goals have come on the power play, as have three of Garrett Thompson's nine. They don't get much even strength production outside of the top three.
Senior defenseman Chad Billins is also a power play threat—he has 7-22-29 with five of those goals coming with a man advantage.
Defense. These guys are defenders first, second, and third. Billins gets that power play run and has an assist rate that indicates he's doing something more than picking up second assists; even so no FSU defender has more than two goals at even strength.
Elaborately-named Scott Czarnaowczan is the other guy on the top pairing with Billins; he was a nominee for the league's top defensive defenseman at the end of the year.
undeserving of first team all conference but still pretty good goalie clapclapclap
Goalie. Taylor Nelson was not better than Shawn Hunwick over the course of the season but he would have been a deserving second-team all conference selection with his .920 save percentage and 2.18 GAA. Freshman CJ Motte got a dozen games as well, but Bob Daniels isn't likely to go away from his senior unless things go pear-shaped.
As noted above, neither goalie had a good outing in Michigan's sweep early in the year.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||4.7||3.7|
|PP Ag / G||4.4||4.2|
Michigan vs Those Guys, Hypothetically
Single elimination hockey. Is insane.
Usual statement about playing five on five a lot. Goes here.
Match Pateryn and Bennett with their big line. Michigan has last change and given the steep dropoff in even strength production they should try to get their best defensive lineup out there against Kirzinger/Bonis/Johnston. That is Pateryn plus some combination of defensive forwards.
Get the same goalie gap. The difference in Michigan's dominating sweep early in the year was almost entirely in net.
Grind it out. Ferris is a neutral-zone clogging, space-denying, odd-man-rush-prohibiting team of grit and sand that's gotten where they are despite a total lack of NHL draft picks. They will make whoever they play work for any chances they happen to get. Michigan will need guys like Guptill and Deblois and Brown and Glendening to win board battles if they want to get anywhere.
The Big Picture
Cornell first, of course. In the blessed event of a second-round game, Michigan must win or be thrown out the airlock.
A couple of good sources have passed along information about Michigan's hot topics du jour.
On Trey Burke. This should not be a scenario like Harris or Morris where the player leaves for dim draft prospects. In Harris's case he wanted out no matter what; Morris had people in his inner circle pushing him into the draft.
Burke is not either of those guys. If the NBA does not tell him he is a first round lock, he'll be back. Since that doesn't seem in the cards—name the last one-and-done under six feet tall—Michigan should avoid the terrifying prospect of entering next year with no point guard at all.
On Devin Gardner. Someone who's seen Gardner at all of Michigan's practices so far says he's "instantly Michigan's best receiver and adds a new dimension to the offense." He's "crazy athletic" with "surprisingly great hands." The one complication for Gardner-to-WR is the situation at quarterback, where he's still the clear #2 option. Gardner is still taking all the second team QB reps.
/end inside info, begin speculation
A lot of people have been mentioning Woodson when talking about this when trying to guess how much playing time is reasonable for a guy who's still full time at a second position. He got 10-15 snaps a game on offense back in '97. Gardner may start at that level, but if it's crunch time and he's 6'5" with a city block catching radius…
News bullets and other important things:
- The team started practicing in pads on Wednesday.
- Jack Miller has also been taking snaps at left guard along with presumed starter (at this point) Elliott Mealer.
- Brandon Moore has established himself as the current number one option at tight end.
“We’ve had four practices to this point, so we have a lot of work to do. We’ve got some positions obviously that need to be addressed. I like how we’ve come out to practice. I don’t know if I like how we’ve finished it completely. We have to do a better job of finishing. That’s a big part. You want to finish games. You want to finish the month of November. That’s something that we talk about, something that we need to do. The leadership’s been good. I like how our guys have worked together and the things that they’ve done. I think there’s some examples out there that guys are trying to show and trying to do a good job with. As far as that goes, I’m excited about being able to be out there in pads. We started that yesterday, and it was good to be out there and see some guys hit and be physical.”
Can you name some positions that you feel need to be addressed?
“I think they all [need to be addressed] as you know. But the front defensively, the front offensively -- that’s where the game’s played and that’s where we have to be more physical. I don’t think we’ve been as tough at the point of attack in the four days that we’ve had as we’d like to be, but I probably said the same thing last year at this time. I think the guys are working at it. I think Will [Campbell] is trying to step up as a leader. I think Ricky Barnum is. You see Taylor [Lewan] coming along as a leader, so I think guys are working together well. I think they understand the expectations.”
Do you feel like you need guys on the line to be team leaders?
“You know, I don’t know if it’s the most important thing, but I think if you have a guy who plays in the most physical part of the football team, I think that can make a difference to some degree. Defensively, Kovacs is a guy who shows a great deal of leadership. I think Craig Roh’s doing a great job with the position change. He’s been active. It’s going to pay off in the long run with that change. And then offensively Ricky’s a senior. Elliott’s doing a good job at the guard position. And then Taylor. So if you look at those up front guys, those guys are doing a good job, but it doesn’t necessarily [have to be them]. I think Denard is really working hard to be a good leader for us.”
What do you like specifically about Elliott Mealer at the left guard spot?
“Right now I like his work ethic and his demeanor. I think he’s got a bit more confidence than he had last year at this time.”
Mattison mentioned that Craig Roh is better suited on the strong side. Do you feel that way, too?
“We wouldn’t have moved him if we both wouldn’t have felt that way. He’s gained strength and the weight … that he’ll continue to do, but he has a burst in him and a good first time which gives you a little more speed and more of a guy who can give you a three-way move, which is important up front. We’d like for him to be 280-282. Boy don’t quote me on this, but he was 273 when we got started, so if he can maintain that and then gain a little more during spring ball, then during the summer he’ll be able to gain that weight. ”
How does the game change between being a weakside and strongside?
“You’ve got more combination blocks with the tight end and the tackle. If you’re on the open side then the tackle’s the primary guy who’s going to block you but you don’t have as many combinations.”
How is Ricky Barnum adjusting to the center position?
“I think he’s doing okay. We did so much with him a year ago. When we go to our quarterback snaps and all that, we have about five guys snapping. We’ve always done that part of it. He took some snaps in some live situations a year ago. I couldn’t count the number for you, but I think he’s doing okay.”
Have you seen consistency out of Will Campbell so far?
“Yeah, I wouldn’t say all the way yet. I think there’s so much more that we can get from him. What I like about it is his attitude towards it. We do some ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ every practice, and it pays to be a winner and losing -- there’s consequences. Defensively, we’ve had some consequences, and he’s done a great job of running the consequences.”
Who else is snapping besides Barnum and Jack Miller?
“It’s Jack, Joey Burzynski, and Ricky. Joey’s a guy that’s really grown into it pretty well.”
Has anything stood out at the left guard spot yet?
“No I think Elliot’s done a pretty good job with it at this point. And you’ve got that three-way rotation -- Ricky can bounce over there since he’s played it. Jack’s taken some snaps there. Joey’s taken some snaps there. If anything, we’re developing guys that have multiple skills who in the long run can help you.”
Can you see the comfort level in Denard that you may not have seen last fall?
“Yeah I would say so. Not watching the practice tape yet of what we just did, but from yesterday, there wasn’t any doubt that I thought there was marked improvement in some areas with throwing, decisiveness, good decision making, those things.”
What’s the most notable thing you’ve seen from him?
“Decisiveness with his throws.”
What are you looking for in the tight end position?
“Well we have to have a guy who can move the line of scrimmage first and foremost. Whether we run the power out of the one-back set, gun set, or if we’re running the power and the outside stretch play out of two-back. We’ve got to have a guy who can combination block the defensive end with the tackle and a guy who can handle what we call the 6-technique -- head up guys, defensive end -- if you want to try and get to the edge. That’s what you have to have. Koger was a guy who could do multiple things. I think Brandon Moore these couple of days has grown up a little bit. I like what he’s doing.”
Is Brandon Moore far and away the best one?
“I don’t know if it’s far and away, but he’s the best one at it so far. Most experience, too.”
How are your three freshmen holding up?
“Really well. Really well. I think they’re all three very willing. They all three have an athelticism to them. I think Joe and Kaleb are physical linebackers and they both run pretty well. Jarrod, he’s pretty good playing the ball and those things. At the same time he’s learning all this stuff -- this coverage is this, and when they motion this guy over, what do you do? And is it a zone, a fire, or a zone blitz, or is it man coverage? I mean, there’s a lot of things and it’s always hard at the safety position. Probably as hard as any within the defense because of the adjustments they have to make.”
Last year you coached the interior defensive line. Are you still doing that with guys like Will Campbell and Jibreel Black?
“Yeah. Jibreel at times, Jerry and I switch him back and forth, but Will and Quinton Washington and Richard Ash are the three guys I’ve got a great opportunity with.”
Does losing so many veterans change how you approach coaching the position?
“You know, I don’t know if it ever changes how you coach, because I think you make a real mistake -- and I did it here in 1998, having three returning starters back from the national championship team. I didn’t do a good job as coach with sticking with the basics and the progression that we want and the expectation that we need to have. I promised myself I wouldn’t do it again.”
Do you like Schofield’s move to right tackle?
“Yeah I do, and I think he’s playing with more confidence. I really like it. That always helps when you have all of the snaps that he has in big games. I’m real excited for him.”
How has level of physicality been now that you’re practicing in pads? Is it to your liking?
“Yes, no question about it. We will be as physical as we can possibly be.”
Do you expect Roy’s numbers to go up with his move to Junior Hemingway’s position?
“You know, I think the expectation has to come with how people want to defend you. I think that’s always a big part of it. Roy is a guy who I should have mentioend earlier as far as leadership and doing those things by example that I’ve been impressed with.”
What do you see from Jerald Robinson?
“Jerald’s got a chance. He’s got a huge chance to be a contributor. He’s shown more consistency. He’s caught the ball well. Gallon and him and Roy both, Drew to some extent, have done a good job. The receivers have been competing well.”
(I'll have some player transcripts up later today.)
(Quick site note: Museday is moving back to Wednesdays. I know that makes a ridiculous name more ridiculous but "Musenesday" sounds like nasal congestion)
In the calm before the storm of spring football, the diarists and board took the week to honor the other pieces of M athletics.
The Wrestler. Now I know two things about wrestling: that horrible call a few months ago, and that winning TWO (!) national championships is like, well, winning two national championships. Michigan's 141-pound wrestler Kellen Russell has done this. He's the sixth wrestler to do so for Michigan. The rest: Norvard Nalen (1953-'54), Jarrett Hubbard (1973-'74), Mark Churella (three times! 1977-'79), and Ryan Bertin (2003 and '05).
The Hockey Players. This incomparable diary by stephenrjking is hands down one of the best and most well written articles I've ever read about Michigan sports. He takes us back to the 2002 NCAA Playoffs and I can't write a better introduction than this:
It was the weekend Jed Ortmeyer achieved greatness. It was the weekend a mascot was ejected. It was the weekend Ron Mason coached his last game, and Ryan Miller played his last game. It was the weekend the CCHA Humanitarian of the Year almost murdered a dog. It was the weekend Denver stole Michigan’s locker room. It was the weekend the NCAA reconsidered its regional hosting policy.
It was one of the greatest sports experiences of my life. And incredibly, it was ten years ago this Friday.
It was also the year of the Cold War, and when the university decided swearing at opposing players on their way to the penalty box wasn't very genteel. If the tourney weekend was the loudest Yost ever got, a few weeks earlier against Michigan State has got to be up there. SRJK won Diarist of the Week and got his points about 5 minutes after this was front-paged.
For the rest of you ice junkies, there's a Picture Pages from the BG game by CenterIce, including one where Brown shows us how a screen's set in Texas. Also if you give Michigan 5 minutes of powerplay the Wolverines actually may gain the zone and score.
The Basketball Players. Right before three and a half guys bolted from next year's team, AC1997 wrote a fantastic diary going over the 2012-'13 basketball roster and what he expects from the returners. It's still mostly useful if you can mentally replace Smot's minutes with what I'm guessing will be a rotation of Morgan and NBA heirs at the 4.
East Lansing is Burning. Of course. Of course.
Multiple reports of couch burnings, rowdy activity in E.L.
10:20 p.m. Police scanner traffic and eyewitness reports indicate that there are multiple reports of fires, fireworks and arrests in East Lansing. Staff reports indicate that there are fires in the the Cedar Village neighborhood, Harrison Road and Elm and Milford streets. Fireworks were reported near Abbot Road. Police officials reported that “there’s not a lot going on right now.”
10:30 p.m. Residents are gathering on Elm Street. Mechanical engineering senior John Lusczakoski said the East Lansing Fire Department is watering down couches on the street to prevent residents from burning them. “I saw a lot of broken alcohol bottles,” he said. “They were watering down couches so we could not burn them.”"
You were expecting general shrugging of shoulders, sanguinity, and hope for next season, son? Let me introduce you to your uncle. Image HT: Blue in South Bend.
The Tennis Players. Beat Michigan State 7-0. Evan King got to 6-0, 4-0 and a break point before dropping that point and the 6060.
The Softball Players. My mission to make everyone softball fans continues for realz starting this week. You know about the northern team problem by now: they play the first six weeks of the season in various southern tournaments. This time it meant having two games canceled for rain while Ann Arbor soaked in sun and 70. To stay warm, the team scheduled an impromptu match against Eastern Michigan (you can do that? You can do that!). As EMU warm-ups go, Michigan looked a little sloppy at first, then hit a grand slam and forced the Eagles to cry uncle in the fifth.
For those of you trying to wrack up Priority Points for better football seats this year (don't deny it – you're the same people with airline status in the lanthanides) the $70 for softball season tickets is by my calculations the cheapest way to jack up your number. They're cumulative too. Just sayin'. By the way, the most expensive way to earn Priority Points is to earn a 4-year degree from the University of Michigan.
The Big Ten season begins tomorrow as Michigan hosts Penn State. Forecast says rain for the doubleheader.
The Man Who Stares at Borges. You've met Heiko but have you really met Heiko? Six Zero's MGoProfile Series came back this week with one of the most interesting interviews, and interesting subjects, yet. Heiko answers questions about what it's like being a member of the Michigan media, from the press room experience and other members of the media, to asking Borges questions about the bubble screen and the underappreciated medical art of properly framing a question. See for yourself why we send a doctor instead of a journalist to press conferences.
The Men Who Embed Videos. Other than ruining the UFR backlog and other heinous crimes against fair use, T.E.M. has now killed off the great Brady Quinn for Heisman Video, but for now you can still have the other without the one. You can also have Denard's magical first snap at Michigan, Denard to Roundtree, Wangler to Carter, Grbac to Howard, Desmond Howard's return, Charles Woodson's return, and much more in a thread of all-time favorite Michigan videos. Watch them all before people I despise with the hatred of a thousand supernovae manage to register enough baseless complaints to trip YouTube's level of "it's not worth it."
Etc. ZooWolverine started a thread to discuss the outlook for Michigan maintaining the Winningest Program title (note: except for Yale and Notre Dame pre-2002 or whatever year that was when we took it for good nobody else really talks about this). MMB drum major tryouts has to be coming up real soon right?
Your Moment of Zen:
In the immediate aftermath of yesterday's Trey Burke PANIC I said that Michigan wouldn't have to wait too long to know whether Burke will make us all emo. A correction: the NBA early entry deadline is the 29th. The deadline to withdraw is the 10th. IE, there is no deadline to withdraw anymore.
Burke will get his evaluation back from the NBA on the sixth, so a day or two after that would be a potential announcement timeframe. If it doesn't happen then Burke is on the fence and a final announcement probably won't come until the deadline nears. So… yeah, try not to think about it for the next month. I'll have kittens/muppets on standby.
Ah, hell, let's do the whole regional.
|WHAT||Michigan vs Denver(?)|
|WHERE||Green Bay, heart of the CCHA|
|WHEN||9:30 Eastern Saturday|
|LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
It's a pioneer. It is also Sinbad. This description is not about his comedy, obviously. It's about how he played basketball at Denver with a silly looking afro.
Record. 25-13-4, 16-8-4 WCHA. I'm not sure how a WCHA team with that record falls to a three seed, but that's Ferris State's problem before we can complain about it. FWIW, KRACH is in near-lockstep with the Pairwise when it comes to ranking Ferris and Denver.
The Pioneers finished third in the WCHA—a game and a half ahead of streaking one-seed North Dakota—with a +17 goal differential. After beating Wisconsin in three games to open the WCHA playoffs they won OT games against Michigan Tech and UMD, the second in double OT, before getting clubbed by North Dakota in the final 4-0. Take that with a grain of salt. By the end of that game Denver was down to three defensemen one night after going to double OT.
In keeping with the regional's ALL THE OVERTIMES theme, three of Denver's last four games have been playoff OTs. Michigan is coming off consecutive weekends with playoff double OTs. Ferris State got bounced by Bowling Green thanks to two overtime losses two weeks ago. And ten of Cornell's last 21 games have gone to OT. Prepare for fetal position hockey this weekend.
Outside of the league, Denver had one very impressive win and one bizarre loss. They beat BC in Boston to open the year, then lost to BU the next night. They beat Princeton in late November, then lost to Miami. They beat eventual one-seed Union 3-1 and smoked Air Force 7-1. They hosted Alabama-Huntsville… and split, giving the Chargers one of their two wins on the year.
Previous meetings. None. How about…
Common opponents. Both teams have wins against BC. Michigan, of course, got clubbed by Union at the tail end of their November fail; Denver beat them. Michigan went 2-1-1 against the Redhawks Denver lost to, and Michigan swept Denver's first round opponent. Denver will obviously be 1-0 against Ferris if this preview becomes relevant.
Dangermen. This is hard to judge given Denver's extensive but murky injury issues:
DU coach George Gwozdecky on Sunday said his six injured players — forwards Jason Zucker, Chris Knowlton and Beau Bennett, and defensemen Paul Phillips, Josiah Didier and David Makowski — are all “day-to-day” and questionable for Friday’s NCAA Tournament opener against Ferris State.
The Denver Post's Mike Chambers guesses that Zucker and Didier will be fine, Bennett will return, and that Makowski will play but only on the power play. Bennett and Makowski have been out since December; Zucker and Didier picked up injuries in the WCHA title game.
As a result of the injuries, Denver fans are feeling a bit of pessimism. One emailer:
I've see a few of their games this year and I am not holding my breath for this team to go deep in the tournament. The scoring dries up at times and the defensemen had issues clearing the puck earlier in the season. More than likely the goalie won't be determined until the day before and they both are pretty solid (either Brittain or Olkinuora). The Shore brothers and Zucker are the biggest scorers on the team, so losing Zucker would hurt if he can't play. Philips is a solid defensemen, but he might be out as well. This team is kind of wounded right now and young.
Uncertainty aside, this team has some elite scorers on it the likes of which have ceased to exist in the CCHA. If Denver fans think their team sees scoring dry up they'd be appalled by the CCHA: Denver is 9th nationally in goals for, with Michigan one slot behind them.
The top two lines are centered by the Shore brothers, Drew and Nick. Drew drives the bus for Denver with 21-31-52 and a +21. Given the plus minus ratings it looks like Denver has run a blender through its lines all year. Luke Salazar and Ty Loney are currently Shore's linemates. Salazar has 12-17-29, a +18, and just one minor penalty on the year; Loney has 10-11-21 and appears to be the gritty guy who provides grit and stuff.
The second line is explosive offensively but has struggled to keep its head above water. Nick Shore has 13-28-41 and is a –1 on the year; Zucker has 22-24-46 and is just +6. Some of this may not be their fault, as Denver has been missing two of their best defensemen for most of the year.
Defense. Injury clouds the picture even more here. Denver was down to five defensemen after the Didier injury against North Dakota; while they will get players back for the tournament how many will make a big difference. It sounds like Didier should be fine, Phillips still out, and Markowski limited.
That would mean Denver rotates through five guys on the blue line with occasional shifts to the returning Markowski; on a hypothetical second-night matchup they would be more tired than Michigan's guys, inevitable overtimes held equal.
In the absence of the injured, freshman Joey LaLeggia is the main man. He's +15 on the year and has 11-27-38. Those are astounding numbers given that he's only got three power play goals. LaLeggia's brilliant freshman season saw him named the CHN rookie of the year. He's not a big guy—just 5'10"—but he's been a rock for the Pioneers.
John Lee appears to be LaLeggia's partner. he's the muscle in the pairing at 6'2" but is also a good skater; he was a fifth round pick of the Panthers in 2007. If you're adding that up, yeah: he's 23. Veteran. Scott Mayfield is a penalty-prone stay at home guy with massive size (6'4") and an excellent draft pedigree (a second rounder). He may be deployed in an effort to slow down Brown and/or Guptill depending on how long the fracturing of the top line lasts.
Sam Brittain is 60-40 to be the guy
Goalie. Denver has three different goalies with double-digit games, something I don't think I've ever seen before. Junior Adam Murray, the least impressive statistically, only got his starts thanks to an injury to sophomore and Panthers draftee Sam Brittain. Once Brittain returned he and freshman Juho Olkinuora split starts. Both have impressive save percentages (.931 and .924, respectively). Despite Brittain's slight edge in that category his GAA is a couple tenths worse than Olkinuora (2.39 and 2.18). You'll note that neither of those is very high.
Denver fans aren't sure who will get the call this weekend. Based on recent play Brittain has the edge. He stopped an alarming 67 shots in the double OT win over Duluth; the next night Olkinuora was bombed for four goals on 18 shots before getting pulled for Murray in the third. I'd guess Brittain gets Ferris State and will maintain that spot in the event of a win that isn't 6-5.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||4.1||3.7|
|PP Ag / G||4.3||4.2|
Michigan vs Those Guys, Hypothetically
Single elimination hockey. Is insane.
Take care of the puck. Bob Daniels on the Pioneers:
“After watching tape on DU, we realize we have to be careful with turnovers. They’re a team I think, full of predators. They have so much skill up front that any type of turnover, could be very dangerous. We’re going to turn pucks over, but we want to make sure we’re very careful where they occur.”
- Ferris State Head Coach Bob Daniels
If you're thinking of Michigan's recent tendency to cough up horrible turnovers, you're not alone.
Hope the relatively chipper injury report is a front. If Zucker's out that's a big boost.
Wear them down if at all possible. Denver's shorthanded on the blue line and will be playing the second game of a back-to-back. If the first one is close or the inevitable overtimes are unbalanced, a steady diet of dump, chase, cycle could have the Pioneer defensive corps sucking wind in the third. A corollary…
Survive an offensive onslaught in the first period or so. Hypothetical Denver matchup is a rare one in which the other team has a clear edge in offensive talent. Michigan will have to ride it out and get to the part of the game in which they're fresher.
For the love of God stay out of the box. Obviously. Michigan prefers games like the ones they had against Notre Dame where penalties are rare animals.
The Big Picture
Michigan of course has to beat Cornell to find themselves against Denver. From there, win or disintegrate into component atoms.