1/9/2009 – Michigan 5, Miami 1 – 14-7, 9-5 CCHA
1/10/2009 – Michigan 64, Iowa 49 – 13-3, 3-1 Big Ten
1/10/2009 – Michigan 4, Miami 0, 15-7, 10-5 CCHA
So one of the parents in the Miami student section forlornly held the above banner aloft throughout Michigan's 5-1 asskicking on Saturday. About halfway through someone told her she was making an idiot of herself and she pointed it the right way, but it was too late: Fun With Palindromes was born.
Hello, weekend. You start late but finish smoooooth. Three Michigan sporting events lead to three blowouts, two of them absolutely critical, and it's all endorphins. I find it really hard to write columns I think are worthy of the "column-type thing" tag week in and week out during the longer and less intense hockey and basketball seasons, so this one's an assemblage of bullets.
Hell, yes. Michigan got a little lucky this weekend when Miami lost Carter Camper and Justin Mercier, their #1 and #3 scorers, for the Sunday matinee, but 9-1 over the course of the weekend brooks no serious "buts." Michigan owned the Redhawks, flat out, and that's a huge step forward from their series earlier in the year when it was the Wolverines scraping one goal across 120 minutes.
Michigan is still way, way behind Notre Dame in the race for the CCHA title, but they cleared one huge hurdle with that sweep. Sweep ND in a home-and-home in three weeks and Michigan is six back—assuming equal points in the next four—but with two in hand. That's a hill to climb; it's doable, though.
More realistically, the sweep puts Michigan in a strong position to finish top-four in conference and get a first round bye; it also will be very helpful at the end of the year when the pairwise somewhat arbitrarily hews the weak from the strong and assembles a tournament field. The PWR is still extremely unstable—even at the end of the year it's moderately unstable—but at the moment Michigan is a shocking sixth despite their rough start. If only Miami hadn't gacked away its holiday tourney despite outshooting their opponents by about 3-1 each night.
Hogan. This weekend was the first during which I felt Hogan seemed a superior alternative to Sauer. Lost amongst the Mingo-witnessed flurry of goals on Saturday was Hogan's solid play on a number of quality Miami chances that kept the door shut; that game could easily have been 3-3 after five minutes instead of 3-0. On Sunday Hogan didn't have a lot of rubber but when Michigan led 1-0 he made an outstanding stop moving side to side by closing the five-hole.
Yost Built mentioned this:
He's not remotely flashy, but he goes out and wins. Also, he hasn't given up a soft goal since the game at Munn over a month ago. Then again, he's only given up two goals since that game at Munn, which is kind of awesome.
Yes. Hogan was giving up a soft-ish goal per game early in the year, and now he's not, at all. I think that's at least somewhat luck; it's not all luck.
Skaters. I was feeling very good about calling Brandon Burlon the breakout player of the second half when he had a goal and an assist five minutes into the weekend, but did anyone else think the rest of his Saturday was kind of rough? Miami's heavy forechecking forced a lot of turnovers out of him, and the rest of the team. On Sunday it appeared that Michigan had figured it out (or Miami was tired or losing Camper and Mercier was a death blow) and was breaking the zone with ease; on Saturday there were a lot of ugly turnovers.
The other guy who leapt out did so on the penalty kill: Tim Miller, who got multiple standing ovations whilst sucking away Miami PP time in the corners. He would have had a great shorthanded goal if Langseth hadn't taken it away, which Miller was still bitching at him about as the team left the ice on Sunday. Miller was making a hockey stop as the pass came across the ice and deflected the puck into the net, a situation that is explicitly allowed by the change in the rule:
To make this rule as clear as possible, the group proposed adjustments to its rules that will allow all goals scored as a result of deflections. This will include deflections off an attacking player who is in the act of stopping, provided neither skate is used to direct the puck into the net. Pucks that are directed or kicked with the skate moving toward the goal will not be allowed.
Yost Built saw the thing many times on replay and sayeth:
Now, I can't remember how the rule reads, since I'm pretty sure they changed it after the title game last season. If the puck can't hit off a skate and go into the net at all anymore, then it was the right call, and just a stupid rule. If it's allowed to hit your skate and you just can't kick it, then it was a terrible call.
The rulebook sayeth: terrible call. Note: this is the second straight year Langseth cost Michigan a goal against Miami.
I bet this seemed like a good idea at the time. The program for the Miami game was very fussy about what you can call Miami of Oh—
Who's up for never calling Miami anything but Miami of Ohio (Not That Miami Of Ohio)? This guy.
Strategy. Here's a tip I've picked up from the local scribes: if a team completely destroys a respectable opponent mere days after you question how good they are, claim it was your criticism that focused them, forging them into the towers of steel they became. Y'all can thank yrs truly for that performance.
More seriously: yes, that was more like it. Michigan made a concerted effort to go inside to Sims, and though the reward was a lot of shots that went down and then infuriatingly rimmed out, the overall quality of looks they got was greatly increased.
One downer, and I again hate to bring this up given the box score, but I didn't like Manny's game in this one much more than I did in the other Big Ten games. He took four three-pointers, each of them with a hand in his face when he just decided to chuck instead of drive, and a lot of his offense came off of turnovers. Take those away and his shooting percentage dips precipitously. OTOH: Harris was super-active in the passing lanes and was the cause of at least four Iowa turnovers that turned into fast-break buckets, mostly by Harris.
I just worry what happens to his offensive efficiency when the opponent isn't as generous, is all. He has not been effective in the halfcourt in conference play.
Stu and Zack. The relative stars of the two Indiana freshmen have crossed since it looked like Douglass was going to be a gritty, tough-nosed gym rat with a high basketball IQ and Novak couldn't buy a bucket. Now it's Novak destined for vaguely uncomfortable praise and Douglass who looks like he'll be in a battle for playing time when Vogrich and Morris arrive (and, hopefully, no one leaves unexpectedly).
This is a really easy observation to make after Douglass took a couple threes from 27 feet and seemed largely responsible for Iowa's garbage-time comeback, but sometimes you have to pick the low-hanging fruit. Douglass' basketball IQ doesn't seem particularly high.
Or, rather, it seems wildly variable. He made two excellent passes in this game, and seems to thread a needle or throw an accurate bounce pass on the break just about every time he gets an opportunity; he also made a great cut to the basket when Novak was trapped and got a layup for his troubles. His future is up in the air. If Good Stu wins I think he can be a significant role player the next couple years and a solid starter as a senior. If Evil, 27-Footer-Chucking Stu wins he's likely to get the Shepherd treatment.
Novak, on the other hand, is the unathletic white guy who actually deserves the "he's white!" praise that will no doubt be heaped on him the next three and a half years. He harasses people into bad decisions, rebounds very well, and does—ugh—the little things that don't show up on the box score.
Great, now I have to take a shower to wash off the sportswriter cliche.
Wha? That was a charge on Manny—you know what I'm talking about—and a blocking foul on Gibson—you also know what I'm talking about. Not like it mattered, but, man… Big Ten referees, folks. Also, what was with the foul on the follow-through of a Novak three that wasn't a shooting foul? Have you ever seen that before? Will you ever see it again?
The near future. With Michigan's two must-wins against the lower echelon of the Big Ten out of the way, they've got a tough road game against Illinois that seems like a freebie. Win and that's great. Lose and, okay, you're still on track.
After that, though, is four game stretch with two against a struggling, depleted Ohio State team that seems NIT caliber at best and one each against Northwestern and Penn State. 3-1 is good, but 2-2 against those four teams with a fairly daunting homestretch (Purdue x2, MSU, UConn, Minn x2, @ Wisconsin with PSU, NW, and Iowa sprinkled in) and it'll be touch and go. I expect/hope they'll be 6-3 in conference at the midway mark.