TO THE HOT TAKE CANNON
Spring Visits Taking Shape
The Spring Game won't just be the first opportunity to see Michigan playing under Jim Harbaugh; it'll also be a major recruiting weekend for the program. The stakes got a little higher last night when Top-150 ILB Dontavious Jackson and three-star S Chris Brown, both M offer recipients from Houston (TX) Alief Elsik, booked their flights for a three-day visit that weekend, per Steve Lorenz.
While Jackson is one of the top targets for the likes of Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma, Michigan is the highest-profile school to offer both him and Brown, which may give the Wolverines an edge. Securing an unofficial visit is a good sign they'll at least be a major factor going forward.
Four-star FL ILB Devin Bush Jr., who recently said Michigan was one of a handful of schools sticking out to him, told Sam Webb that he's looking to visit for a spring practice at the end of the month ($). An FSU legacy, Bush said he's been learning about the school from DJ Durkin, who's spearheading his recruitment.
Another four-star linebacker, California offeree Darrian Franklin, told Scout's Greg Biggins that he's also looking to visit this spring, and with a summer decision looming Michigan is among his top schools ($):
"Right now, the main schools I'm really feeling are USC, Michigan, UCLA, Arizona, Oregon and LSU. I haven't decided if I'll still take some official visits after I commit or not. I kind of want to for the experience and see some places but I haven't really thought about it too much yet. I still need to make a decision first and then I'll go from there."
USC is his stated leader; we should find out soon if a visit can change that.
GBW's Josh Newkirk reports that Michigan is "comfortably within" four-star Cass Tech S Demetric Vance's top five, and Vance plans to visit for a spring practice ($). M's made positive strides with Vance since offering him last month.
[Hit THE JUMP for the rest of the roundup.]
wait… Phoenix still has a team? image via AA.com
Michigan will have to replace two-thirds of its top line. Via Tom's twitter:
@Darrendreger Phoenix agrees to terms with '09 2nd rd pick Chris Brown from U of Mich. Brown will forgo senior year and turn pro
Brown was one of a number of Wolverines hovering around the points leaderboard. Though he was fifth in team scoring he was only four points off of Guptill and Wohlberg's team-leading 33. Unless Selman or Milne plays better than his profile would suggest he would right away, this probably forces Boo Nieves on to a scoring line at wing. Random guess ho:
- Nieves-K. Lynch-PDG
- DeBlois-T. Lynch-Hyman
Mike Spath was making some noises about a potential departure from Sparks as he searches for a team that will ice him consistently, as well. Insert usual complaints about his ice time here.
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.)
1986 again. WH continues his flash back to 1986 with a copy of Michigan Replay from M's win over OSU that year. You should at least watch the first 1:35:
Yes, that's the podcast's theme music, kids. Forever will it be so. Also WH posted Bo's first game.
Senior. Spring practice fluffy video contains "senior" underneath Denard's name:
Sinking in slowly that this is the last opportunity to see the guy in a Winged Helmet.
What are you doing? Man, was that Purdue game last night frustrating to watch. The Boilers had it, but then started running clock with two minutes left and a three-point lead. TOC summarizes:
With 1:44 left to go in the Purdue-Kansas game last night, Robbie Hummel secured a defensive rebound with Purdue up by 3.
Of the 104 seconds that remained in the game, Purdue controlled the ball for 90 of them.
Kansas controlled the ball for the remaining 14 seconds.
Kansas scored 6 points in those 14 seconds.
Purdue scored zero points in its 90 seconds.
The risk of giving your opponent an extra 10 seconds to work with is perhaps being overestimated.
I'm beginning to think the best way to win a close college basketball game is to make sure your opponent has the ball with a one-possession lead with between 60 and 120 seconds left in the game.
Purdue held the ball until there were well under ten seconds on the shot clock in their 90 seconds and got horrible shots and turnovers for their trouble. If you had flashbacks to Rocky Harvey and various other late-game indignities foisted upon us by Lloyd Carr's tendency to clam up too early, you were not alone.
Rule: until you get into a range where the opponent is going to have to foul even if they get twos on all their remaining possessions, play as if there's 20 minutes left. With 1:44 you should only start stalling if you're up seven or more.
Side note: man, does Purdue have an unusual number of guards who can't shoot. Their dual Johnsons are both below 50% on free throws this year, and with 108 and 69 attempts that can't be explained away as a Douglass-like tiny sample size. Without Hummel and Ryne Smith the Boilers are going to be relying on DJ Byrd for a huge percentage of their outside shooting unless they've got some sniper freshmen coming in.
Let my people twitter. Brady Hoke thinks Michigan's silly secondary violation for congratulating Mike McCray on his commitment is silly:
When the linebacker picked Michigan earlier this month, Roundtree reached out to congratulate him. No big deal.
Except, he did it on Twitter. And that, according to NCAA rules, is a no-no. In fact, it's considered a secondary violation.
Brady Hoke sees something wrong with that.
"That one’s really silly," he said.
Hoke's in favor of loosening some of these restrictions put in place when media was media instead of everything being media. Despite his Fred Flintstone-like relationship with technology, he'd also like to let the Zooks run free with unlimited text messaging. The NCAA should deregulate a bunch of this stuff so people can focus on important things instead.
Restatement of previous suggestion: if a kid wants to opt out let them sign a non-binding intent to commit letter that lifts contact restrictions for the school he's committed to, prohibits them from taking official visits or being contacted by other coaches, and can be rescinded at any time by the player.
Hobey Hunwick. The CCHA's second-team goalie is one of two netminders nominated for the Hobey Baker award:
Michigan senior goalie Shawn Hunwick has been named one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the nation's top collegiate hockey player. Hunwick, named to the CCHA second team earlier this season, is 23-10-3 this season with a goals against average of 1.96 and a .934 save percentage.
Ferris State's goalie was not nominated for obvious reasons.
Profile season. The Daily covered Chris Brown. Texas? Texas:
Around Ann Arbor, he drives a massive black pick-up truck with Texas license plates slapped on it, a not-so-subtle reminder of the Division-I hockey player’s transplanted background.
And there is the music he listens to before games, so different than the hip-hop and electronic beats that usually flow in the locker rooms of Yost Ice Arena. Chris prefers country artists like Kenny Chesney and The Casey Donahue Band, whose most popular song is called “White Trash Story.”
Do you know how short Kenny Chesney is, though? He's really short.
The article goes in depth about the cross-country odysseys high level prospects have to undergo just to get to a place like Michigan. It's a nomadic existence. The only other athletes with comparable journeys are high-level soccer prospects.
Pro day stuff. Hemingway and Van Bergen showed well; so did Martin but that's no surprise. Gil
Thorpe Brandt highlighted those two plus Molk and Woolfolk as risers throughout the draft process. Hemingway:
Junior Hemingway, WR (6-0 7/8, 221) — Hemingway looked very good catching the ball from Bruce Gradkowski, the Bengals QB who was brought in to throw. He’s a sleeper who should surprise on draft day when he’s selected earlier than expected.
It is tough to judge receivers in an offense piloted by Denard Robinson.
Quick exit. Holdin' the Rope on Michigan's exit:
Trying to make sense of the NCAA Tournament is like trying to count the grains of sand on a beach. Once you've made what you believe to be a certain amount of progress--you've counted each and every singular grain in your hand--the tide comes in, obliterating everything, weakening your assertion by introducing something entirely new to your worldview. Upsets happen all the time; it is the ordered disorder of this entire thing, a relatively brief spectacle that can either build upon or utterly destroy the five-month slog that precedes it. How upset you should be after this is a product of your pre-conceived notions of Michigan's abilities relative to college basketball as a whole, the somewhat distorting effect of a shared conference title, and most importantly, to what extent you think Michigan "overachieved."
Etc.: Meyers Leonard is probably gone to the NBA; Shaka Smart is going to have to get a lot more out of Nnanna Egwu if he hopes to make Illinois competitive in year one. Red Line is not a fan of Boo Nieves for unspecific reasons. UMHoops has a state of the blog. Michigan is second on MaxPreps' early 2013 class rankings. OSU is #6, Penn State #7. #tenyearwarII #andintroducingPennState
It's time for death hockey.
2/4/2012 – Michigan 4, Miami 1 – 16-9-4, 10-7-4 CCHA
2/5/2012 – Michigan 3, Miami 0 – 17-9-4, 11-7-4 CCHA
Pull the string on a college hockey observer and you'll get a torrent of profanity about the latest refereeing injustices. Do it again and you'll get a statement about how it's a weird year. Do it a third time: more torrents of profanity. A fourth time and you get this: "there are no elite teams this year." Don't bother going any further. It's torrents all the way down.
It's just that… I don't know. I'm definitely not saying this, you know… but… would they be saying that if Jon Merrill hadn't been suspended for the first half of the year?
Consider Michigan's season. When Merrill came back from suspension Michigan was 11-8-3 and yielding 2.6 goals a game. Since, 1.25. They've gone 6-1-1 in that stretch against four opponents fighting for tourney bids with all but one win coming by multiple goals. Nine of Michigan's eleven non-wins in the first half were one-goal contests.
How many of those does Merrill—and the marginalization of Michigan's third pair—swing to the positive? How many goals per game is having him worth? The answer can be a lot less than 1.35 and still be enough to propel Michigan's season record into territory only Minnesota-Duluth is scraping this year. Past it, maybe. The idea I am creeping up to gingerly and fleeing in fear from after considering its audacious blasphemy is obvious.
What if Michigan is this year's elite team?
Look at it from a neutral observer's perspective: here's this team tied for second in RPI and PWR, third in KRACH. It's 10-1-2 in its last 13 games and midway through that stretch added a top-pairing defenseman from the WJC team. Their goalie has entered a new plane of existence in which it's reasonable to put up a .980 over a month. They are surging towards the top of what looks like college hockey's toughest conference. If not Michigan, then who?
Mentioning that point in November when it looked like the team was dead and buried and marveling at the huge distance from that point to this one is obligatory and discharged here. The shift has been abrupt and dizzying.
What changed? Merrill is obvious but Michigan was already on a 4-0-1 move when he re-entered the lineup. The formation of a thunderous top line helps a lot, as does Hunwick going from "still a guy you can win with," as I termed him in a post around the midseason mark, to a surefire Hobey finalist*. And then there's just… this feeling. Of competence and confidence.
Whatever it is, Michigan has rarely found themselves threatened since the halfway point. If it's still a little shocking that this Michigan team is rolling everyone not named Notre Dame, it's true, and the longer it goes on the more confident you can be in your delicate assertions that Michigan might be pretty good at hockey this year.
*[As in top ten, not necessarily top three. That's a possibility, though.]
The throbbing pestilence
The fetid sore on hockey that is Keith Sergott cannot be better summarized than by the meaningless penalty to Blake Coleman with one second left in Friday's game. After they'd let Miami run Hunwick twice without putting Miami on the penalty kill, a pissed-off Coleman plows Hunwick. Sergott does what Sergott does by Sending A Message and making this guy's penalty a major.
This infuriated me. One: the penalty was not a major. It was not dangerous at all, not much of a hit, and warranted two minutes. Two: twice earlier in the game Hunwick had gotten run harder and Sergott either ignored it or evened penalties up. Since the player did not get a DQ, the net result is to make it look like you're being strict without actually penalizing the behavior on the ice in any way whatsoever.
That's Sergott's MO. That's why he was on the ice when Conboy and Tropp assaulted Steve Kampfer, and his inability to keep tempers in check is indirectly responsible for the suspensions handed out at the end of Saturday's game. His incompetence is total, which shouldn't be surprising since he is Bull from "Night Court."
Yost Built has a good summary of this guy's track record:
You'll remember that Sergott was the official a few weeks back at Notre Dame, when he let the Irish run Hunwick at every opportunity and usually just evened things up on the rare occasion that he did call anything. He was also the official when Steve Kampfer was attacked by Andrew Conboy and Corey Tropp. He was also the official of the ND/WMU game when the wrong player got ejected. Even if you set the bar for your officials at "Don't endanger players with your incompetence", Sergott fails in a big way. He shouldn't be reffing BGSU/Alabama-Huntsville, let alone high-profile games.
His existence as a referee is on the same plane as the CCHA adopting "gongshow" as a title sponsor.
Antidote. Denard was at the Friday game:
Further highlights from Friday:
Bullets That Shawn Hunwick Perceives As Lackadaisical Watermelons
Hobey? Yost Built lays out the case for Hunwick:
Hunwick moved into 4th place in the history of the program with his ninth-career shutout. He also now ranks second nationally in wins, is fifth in save percentage, and ninth in goals-against. Hobey. Seriously.
Of the eight guys in front of him in GAA, four come from minor conferences (Union, Niagara, RIT, Quinnipiac), and he's played twice as many minutes as Knapp and CJ Motte. Only Douglas Carr from UML and Kent Patterson from Minnesota are from major conferences, have played around as many minutes, and have a better GAA. And Patterson is only .01 ahead.
The four guys ahead of him in save percentage play for Niagara, Union, RIT, and Robert Morris. And none of them are within 225 saves of him.
He is obviously the best candidate amongst goalies. Can he win against the usual parade of scoring forwards?
Baseball standings. Here you go:
|4||Notre Dame||11||8||3||36||22||1 2/3|
|Ohio State||10||9||5||36||24||2 2/3|
|9||Northern Michigan||7||9||6||30||22||3 2/3|
|11||Bowling Green||4||14||4||19||22||7 1/3|
The conference title race is still competitive, but Ferris State has a clear edge since they're in first place and have a BGSU series left. Michigan will either have to fly through the last three weeks or hope for Ferris to drop some points this weekend at Notre Dame.
The final week could be a barn-burner: WMU plays a home and home with Ferris as Michigan travels to BGSU. If the standings look like they do right now that could be a weekend where a split in FSU/WMU gives M the title.
The call out. Red Berenson is not a guy who expresses much emotion publicly, so a relatively gentle statement like this…
"We'll keep sending the information to the league but the league has to respond. I don't know that they've done a good job of it so far."
…says a lot about how frustrating it's been to watch the league ignore opponents making the Hunwick a target part of the gameplan without consequences. After Saturday, Red's opening statement was this:
"Don't ask me about the officiating."
So people figured out ways to ask him about the officiating without really asking him about the officiating. It was like watching JoePa interviewed at Media Day, when every question was not about retiring (nudge nudge wink wink). So Red said "we should not have to kill that many penalties in a game like that" when asked about the penalty kill and "it was the way the game was being handled" when asked about the emotions escalating at the end.
Legion of Boom! Top line nickname? No? Maybe? Yes? Needs more brutal hits, probably. Whatever.
Level up. When AJ Treais got a pass from Lee Moffie, held it… held it… held it(!) and then passed it back to Moffie at just the right moment for him to bang it into the net I was not surprised.
This was surprising. After a couple years of watching Treais be not Mike Comrie I'd resigned myself to the fact that he wasn't going to be the devilishly entertaining short guy that is my favorite hockey archetype*. But dang if he isn't basically all of Michigan's secondary scoring in the Legion of Boom era.
A lot of this has come from sniping. See his first goal Friday above. Yeah, Reichard could have done better there but Treais had about a square inch of real estate to make that relevant and nailed it. Then he zinged himself:
I saw a very small spot. I was just trying to get it to that spot, and the puck went in. I haven't done that since juniors. Usually my goals are back-door tap-ins.
This has not been true of late. High-variance shooting percentage aside, Treais has started walking dudes and generating chances. It seems like the light has gone on.
Moffatt and Brown are also contenders in this category.
*[Austin Czarnik's a good example. Western's captain this year is the best I've seen, though.]
You knew this was going to be in the post halfway through Saturday's game. I find it inexplicable that Lindsay Sparks ever gets scratched. He makes that line with Moffatt and Hyman so much more dangerous. Multiple times against Miami he set up excellent scoring chances by driving into the offensive zone and then pulling up to survey guys diving to the net or setting up in the slot; he also rang the post on a wrister.
Maybe he's not the greatest defensive player in the world but he's a chance generator. Against the flailing bottom sixes of the CCHA he's got to be a net positive.
Next up on "I can't believe this guy is a scratch": Mike Chiasson.
The Keith Sergott of power plays. A salute to the Miami PP, which sunk further into the depths after going 0/12 on the weekend. They dip to 13% on the year even without considering the shortie; Michigan's penalty kill is up to 16th.
Miami is now 8 of 94 on CCHA power plays.
Goal controversy. I will trade Blasi the goal they got double-reviewed Saturday for Fort Wayne, and I'll include Tayshaun Prince.
Vogelhuber. I'm little surprised "Vogelhuber" is not a rank in Vogon society.
I did mention that Michigan's bye-week fall was mostly illusory and a strong weekend would see them pop up. I didn't think it would be all the way to second, and it really isn't all the way to second: they're in a three-way tie with Mass-Lowell and UMD that sees each competitor take one comparison and lose one from the other. Michigan wins the tiebreaker by the hair on its chinny-chin-chin.
There's not a whole lot of complexity here. Michigan will win comparisons based on RPI against virtually everyone with two exceptions:
- #1 BU. Michigan probably has to have BU get at most a tie out of a weekend series with Northeastern to pass them before the playoffs give people a bunch of unplanned series not accounted for in the TUC stuff.
- #4 Duluth. M is going to have a hard time winning this comparison unless Duluth spits the bit down the stretch and they play very well. COP is basically Duluth's without very specific events unfolding and they have a ~1.5 game edge in TUC.
If M goes 3-1 in the next two weeks they're in great shape; 2-2 and they are probably going to drop to fourth or fifth. The margins here are very narrow, just like they are in the CCHA. Michigan is assured of nothing but has positioned itself well.
Random factoid: every game Michigan has played has been against a TUC (above .500 in RPI) save for their opening swing against Bentley, SLU, and Niagara. This will be an even more impressive statement in two weeks because both MSU and Northern are also TUCs.
Despite forbidding any questions on the matter, that Berenson spent much of his time speaking about officiating and taking shots at Blasi (after a dominating sweep, no less) says quite a lot.
Referees Brian Hill and Keith Sergott lost control of the game, Blasi lost control of his players, and Michigan was the team getting penalized.
For those keeping track at home, yes Keith Sergott is that Keith Sergott, the one who presided a particularly touchy and physical Michigan-Notre Dame series two weeks ago.
So, in honor of Berenson and in the spirit of reticence, I too ask that you not question me about the officiating.
So after the first 13:50 of the game, the RedHawks had had nearly eight full minutes of power play time. In that 7:57 span with Miami up a man, shots were 5-5 and goals were 1-0 in favor of the Wolverines. That is some penalty killing!
There is also a quality ref rant in that post.
1/13/2011 – Michigan 4, Ohio State 0 – 13-8-4, 7-6-4 CCHA Gongshow
1/15/2011 – Michigan 4, Ohio State 1 – 14-8-4, 8-6-4 CCHA Gongshow*
[sitebulletin: I'm going to be in a car driving for most of the day, unfortunately. I thought I would be able to avoid doing this during the posting day but it turns out I have to get back to town earlier than I thought I would. Apologies. Basketball game column can be ably summarized by searching for "temper tantrum" on youtube.]
*[This is not an endorsement of the CCHA's advertiser. But seriously folks, "CCHA Gongshow" is impossible to pass up now that I know they did it to themselves a year after they unsuccessfully attempted to keep their conference from imploding. We have a new leader in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment-memorial most craven naming-rights sellout competition.]
head up. you are feeling totally copacetic, man
I'm not saying that Jon Merrill's suspension was a deviously ingenious experiment designed to turn a large group of people into connoisseurs of the little nuances of defensive play. The only reason I'm not is because I can't think of a motive.
Because even if that connoisseurship is a side effect, it is real. In the second period yesterday, Merrill made a clearing attempt, got it blocked, got bashed by a forechecker, and then whipped a hard pass to Alex Guptill's tape in a situation where 90% of college defensemen start breathing into a paper bag or bawling for their mom. Billy Jaffe, one of the the uncommonly useful color guys for Sunday's game, exclaimed "that's the move!" afterwards, and I was like "YES THAT IS THE MOVE." Later they put up a replay of a pass that never got out of the defensive zone.
The thing that Merrill gives Michigan is breathing room. Sure, he's piling up assists at a PPG pace and whipped a breathtaking breakaway pass to Phil Di Giuseppe on Sunday. These are nice things. They are intermittent, though. What's constant is how a game feels when Merrill's on the ice: calm, spacious, steady. Smooth like Billy Dee Williams with his Colt .45.
Jon Merrill is the Billy Dee Williams of hockey. Forecheck hard and Merrill will take the hit with his head up and make the move. Back off and Merrill is capable of going tape to tape in small windows over long distances. Instantly Michigan switches from reacting to a forecheck to forcing the opponent to react to it.
I'm not an expert on hockey. I came to the game when I was ten and haven't put in the UFRing required to get me to the extremely-informed-amateur level I am with football. In hockey, that feel is all I've got. It's done a 180 since Michigan picked itself up after the Alaska series thanks first to the emergence of the Guptill-Wohlberg-Brown line as a true #1 scoring unit and now Merrill's return turning the second (first?) pairing from a third unit trying to cope into a major strength.
On Sunday, Michigan felt elite for the first time this season. They outshot a 14-4-3 team significantly, dominated time on attack, and hardly gave up an even strength scoring chance, let alone a goal. Moffatt and Treais flashed dirty dangles and walked in on Cal Heeter. Heeter got chased halfway through the game.
It was a throwback to times when Michigan won hockey games without requiring nuanced views as to why this might have happened. (See: last year.) They won because they bruised every inch of two different goalies and, with limited exceptions, spent the whole game in the offensive end doing fun things.
This isn't all Merrill—half of Michigan's 6-0-2 run has come with Merrill observing or playing at the WJC—but with him around it seems more plausible that Michigan's recent run is a sustainable one. The GLI was a near thing. Michigan was dominated by BC but snuck a late goal against the run of play, then played dead in the third; they scraped the MSU game in overtime thanks to a goal with under a minute left.
That felt like finding a shiny penny on the street. This weekend Michigan gave up zero even-strength goals en route to sweeping the #2 team in the country. With Merrill around it's possible they've invested in a mint.
Calm, Easy Breathing Bullets
About that #1 line. Yowza. I can't recall a big guy who's come in with a mid-round NHL draft pedigree who's performed at the level Guptill has. Max Pacioretty was a first-rounder, Aaron Palushaj a second-rounder, and both of those guys were only sort of big. Other mid-round power forward types seem drafted on the principle that they won't shrink even if they don't display any NHL level skills.
Not so Guptill. His goal in the first period Sunday was a pure snipe into the upper right corner of the net from a somewhat awkward angle, and his ability to dump and chase into the corner is actually effective because he's got the speed and board play to set up possession in the opponent's zone. Then the rest of the line cycles.
Meanwhile, Brown has suddenly leapt forward to consistent productivity after a couple years of flashes but not much else. This does not appear to be the line carrying him—remember that he spent big chunks of his first two years with Caporusso or Hagelin as his center. He's making nice passes and the availability of pucks in the area where his size matters gives him the opportunity to sweep in (admittedly soft) goals like he opened the scoring with last year.
Wohlberg remains Wohlberg: good shooter, fast guy, decent stickhandler. His goal Sunday was soft but showed off his assets pretty well. As a whole they seem to have an identity they lacked apart. They drive the net, dump unless it's obvious they shouldn't dump, cycle, and score.
Power play. It technically didn't score since Michigan's second on Friday was deposited a couple seconds after the penalty expired, but the spirit of the law declares it did. They have looked intermittently better since the holiday break gave them an opportunity to rejigger what they were doing. They were good against State in the GLI final, pretty awful against LSSU, and back to threatening against OSU.
Over the weekend they were moving the puck and getting shots on net that were not getting blocked above the faceoff circles. I'll take it. Eventually they'll get some puck luck.
Sinelli. Through the mist of hazy Sparks complaints I can see why Sinelli has taken a regular shift over not only Sparks but Rohrkemper, as he's a decently speedy guy who makes effort plays on the regular.
CCHA Gongshow. The league remains an incredibly tight sack of cats. By points Michigan surged into third with its weekend sweep; on winning percentage they are still fifth behind OSU, WMU, ND, and FSU. Notre Dame is third in winning percentage and sixth on points because they have two games in hand on everyone in front of them.
The 9th place team, Northern, is one game below .500 in conference and would easily make the tournament if the season ended today. It is a weird year.
BONUS: Michigan's goal differential is now the best in the league at +14. They've scored five more goals than their nearest competitor, OSU, and not even the relentlessly excellent defense of… wait for it… Western Michigan can get them past M. They're +13. Yes, I just said excellent defense and Western Michigan in the same sentence. No, I don't know why they held on to Jim Culhane for a decade. FWIW, OSU would still be tops in the league if they hadn't given up two empty-netters on Friday.
Pairwise. This is faintly ridiculous: after we spent most of the first half kissing our tourney streak goodbye, Michigan is now on the cusp of a one seed. They rank 5th. I can't give you the nitty gritty details because my favorite Pairwise site hasn't updated for yesterday's game yet. CHN's has and has Michigan fifth. This is not a fluke based on TUC or COP records that are liable to change with the win: Michigan's RPI is also fifth.
It's also not something liable to persist unless Michigan keeps winning. Michigan's flown up from out of the tourney to nearly a one seed in three weekends. They can drop back down just as fast.
There are still seven-ish CCHA teams in the tourney with MSU, Miami, and Denver tying for 15th. More realistically it would be six.
Have fun storming the castle. This looks less daunting what with the winning and all, but yeesh the final five weekends:
- @ Notre Dame
- @ MSU, MSU @ JLA
- @ BGSU
BGSU is not good; everyone else will be fighting tooth and nail for tourney positioning or a bid, period. ND is the toughest team statistically, FWIW. They have a +5 GD in conference; MSU is +4, Miami +1, and NMU –2. Sack of cats, I tell you.
Anything I can do you can do dumber. It's hard to see in this shot but lord, OSU's jerseys were goofy:
The zillion oversized Buckeye leaves were reminiscent of Ghost of Bo's legendary parody(?) football unis. Clean, simple lines are preferable. Even Michigan's jerseys could use a little cleaning up. OSU's were reminiscent of…
…yeah, you know it.
Official site recap has pictures and whatnot. Michigan Hockey Net describes the game as a "clinic." A few AP photos. Daily article quotes Wohlberg sounding somewhat badly translated from the Japanese:
“You saw after they scored their first goal, it was a big uprising for them. Then when we go out and we score two real quick, it’s a big push for us, and I think it emptied their spirits.”