Patrick Hruby is doing God's work.
A cursory glance doesn't reveal many similarities between Michigan basketball and Michigan hockey these days. After all, one team took the court this weekend with a share of the B1G title on the line and fans that lined up something like 22 hours before tip-off. The other team took the ice this weekend with no title on the line and not even a live televised feed of their games.
Take a closer look, though, and some broad similarities appear. Basketball and hockey are both games of runs. It's just the way the game goes when there are no pre-established offensive and defensive turns. You hit and you'll get hit back. You exert pressure and that pressure will eventually be exerted on you. Michigan basketball ended on the wrong side of a run, suffering a knockout punch that was one part bad luck and two parts missed opportunity. Michgan hockey, on the other hand, survived the inevitable pressure Northern Michign exerted after Michigan took a 3-0 lead.
A 3-0 first period lead wasn't something the Wolverines could rest on. Too many times this season they've taken an early lead only to be swept away by the undertow of another team's run, late goals and late pressure that were too much to overcome. With their postseason hanging in the balance Michigan responded on Friday, doing what was sufficient and holding serve in the third period to weather the storm and in the process made that dim glimmer of hope we hold that Michigan can extend its NCAA tournament streak to 23 consecutive seasons a little brighter.
I'll try to get a GBGA of Saturday's game up....sometime. Not sure when, but I'm working on it. Look forward to more pictures, more laughs, and most importantly moooooooooore goals.
(Burke photo cred: Julian Gonzalez, Detroit Free Press)
It's amazing how easily we take things for granted. We become acclimated and everything turns into background noise, only to gain our attention when things shift unexpectedly. It's how I felt when I graduated and moved out of Ann Arbor, and it's how I've felt about this year's hockey team.
I was introduced to Michigan hockey in 2006. Having grown up in a house with a die-hard Michigan State alum for a mother and a father who cared more about what went on in the philosophy and astronomy world than the sports world I had some catching up to do. I remeber reading the Daily's hockey season preview and thinking that becoming a fan of Michigan hockey was just a natural extention of my love of the Red Wings. I folded up that newspaper insert and stuck it in my backpack so that I could re-read it whenever I wanted. My conversion to a Michigan hockey fan had begun.
I never made it to a game that season. Instead, I had to rely on keeping up with the team through Daily articles and watching the few games that I could find on TV. Jack Johnson became something of a folk hero to me, a player that I still regret not seeing play while he was wearing the winged helmet. I vowed to myself that I would not make the same mistake twice.
Fall 2007 rolls around and mini-season ticket packages go on sale. A few friends, my girlfriend (who's now my wife) and I decide to get a mini season ticket package. I'll never forget going to my first game at Yost. If there's one arena in the world that can't possibly be done justice by TV this is it. I remember walking in through the cramped corridors and past the ornate woodwork. Then you walk into the stands and it's a fluorescent blast of white exacerbated by a sheet of ice. The corridors scream history while the inside of the rink just screams. If Michigan hockey is powered by a fuse box it only has one switch and that switch, which is permanently flipped, has "ON" printed above it on label tape.
I went to a CCHA playoff game that season and was struck by how the regular season atmosphere is essentially the same as the playoff atmosphere. There's no way for it to get louder and rowdier than it already is, especially when you're in the student section. At the time that seemed hard to believe. Again, I wasn't used to Michigan hockey just yet. Having been a Red Wings fan for so long you get acclimated to regular season games with half empty lower bowls that switch to rabid sell outs when the second or third round of the playoffs roll around.
The energy of Yost spoiled me, and I didn't realize that until this season. When things are about to be taken away from you, that's when you realize just how good you had it. I didn't think there would be a CCHA playoff game at Yost this year. Not after watching a team that had block M's on the front of their jersey but looked oh so unfamiliar otherwise. Now I realize just how amazing the atmosphere at Yost is. Now I realize just how important the CCHA playoffs are. These aren't throwaway games anymore, this is our ticket to the tournament. And, finally, I'm watching a Michigan team that I recognize. This is a team that somehow, someway dug deep and emerged from the shell of...well, whatever that was that took the ice from October through February. Maybe they realized what I realized; it's easy to take things for granted until you're about to lose them.
There aren't many goals to breakdown here, but that's a good thing. A team that was allowing almost four goals per game gave up two this weekend. Two! And I can't even make a joke about only giving up two and it not even being non-exhibition play because they gave up more than that to like Windsor, man. Let's analyze:
Brian talked a little bit in Monday's Unverified Voracity about the Michigan hockey team's recruiting class. I've seen most of those kids at least a couple of times, so I figured this would be a good chance for my first ever diary entry, before moving on to future diary entries about my hopes and dreams(tentatively titled, 'Minnesota Drops Athletic Department').
Anyway, for the 2009 class:
A.J. Treais: I would definitely compare Treais to T.J. Hensick in terms of playing style, but not in terms of talent. I could see Treais getting off to a slow start next season, but eventually becoming a nice playmaker for Michigan.
Chris Brown: The comparison to Eric Nystrom is pretty much spot on. Neither is going to score a lot of points unless they get paired up with a superstar, but both play very hard and are solid responsible players. The big difference is that Brown skates better than Nystrom did, and is a little more physical. I'd expect him to get picked somewhere in the second round of the NHL Draft this summer.
Kevin Lynch: He's really tough to get a read on because he plays a really unorthodox style of hockey, and as a result, you'll get a lot of different opinions on his play. Personally, I think he goes a little lower in the draft than most people expect--somewhere in the last couple rounds-- but should have a decent career at Michigan as second or third line-type guy.
I haven't seen Lee Moffie play, but all indications are that he's a pretty solid player. It looks like he's having a really nice year in the USHL, which bodes well for his future. I'd imagine Michigan will look to add another forward or two for next year as well. If you consider that Palushaj is almost guaranteed to leave and that Ciraulo and Glendenning are walk-ons, that leaves Michigan with only 10 scholarship forwards on deck for next year.
The 2010 guys...
Brian is right that at least paper, this looks like a great class of kids. I think it's a stretch, however, to say three kids will go in the top 10 of the draft. Individually...
Jon Merrill: Merrill is the most likely to go in the top 10 of the draft. I haven't seen him play in a while, but he certainly has all the tools to be a big time player.
Luke Moffatt: I go back and forth on Moffatt all the time. I think his style of play is more suited for faster, tighter checking games like the NCAA and pro level. He's not much of a dangler, which makes him look unimpressive against less-polished competition, but he's very strong on the puck and can make quick decisions, which will serve him well later on. He's not off to a great start this year with the NTDP, but a lot of great players struggled until about Christmastime in their first year at the NTDP, and then really took off. It's tough to tell where he'll end up in the 2010 draft. It could be really high or really low. He'd be the biggest concern about never making it to Michigan. I'd say the chances of him wearing a Michigan jersey are about 50/50.
Kevin Clare: He's just a rock on defense. I'm not sure that he has the superstar potential the same way Merrill does, but he should be a very strong player. I could see him going late in the first round of the draft two years from now.
As a side note, every year, the NTDP likes to call up a couple guys from the U17 team to play for the U18 team at the end of the year, and these three guys would all be among the top candidates.
Jack Campbell: He's incredibly talented. A lot can change for goalies between the ages of 16 and 20, so nothing is a guarantee, but he certainly looks like a gem. I have no clue where he rates for the 2010 draft, since it's still way too early to evaluate goalies much.
Mac Bennett: He's kind of flying under the radar right now, but I think fans will really like him. He should be a pretty high draft pick this summer, and could step in and play for Michigan next year if he were done with high school. He's one of the most poised defenseman I've ever seen and is a great skater.
Jacob Fallon: He's another kid that is flying under the radar, but could end up being one of the most valuable players in this class. He's an excellent passer, and the NTDP has really tried to put him in the playmaker role this year. I think he has the tools to become a more all-around scorer though. He lacks prototypical pro size which means he'll probably get drafted fairly late, and should keep him at Michigan for a number of years.
It's nice to see Michigan really loading up on players born in 1992 for the 2010 class, because the group of kids for the 2011 recruiting class is looking fairly weak, and there might not be as many options.