The nutty Michigan coverage isn't so much about Harbaugh as it is a signal to the Big Ten that Fox wants to party.
PLAYOFF TIME IS HOCKEY BEAR TIME
|WHAT||Thursday: Michigan vs North Dakota
Saturday: Michigan vs Notre Dame, UMD, or grudging acceptance
|WHERE||XCel Center, St. Paul, Minnesota|
|WHEN||Thu: 8:30 PM.
Sat: hypothetically 9 PM
Record. 32-8-3, 21-6-1 WCHA. Yeeeeaaaargh. NoDak's dominating run through the WCHA ended in regular season and playoff championships and the underlying numbers are almost more impressive. The Sioux had a +50(!) goal differential in 28 conference games and were +86(!) overall.
North Dakota hasn't lost since January 28th and hasn't even tied since February 18th. In their last 15 games they are 14-0-1 and most of those games have been hammerings. A large chunk of that is due to playing Michigan Tech four times (total goals: 28-4) in a weak section of their schedule, but like holy balls. Two weeks ago they were the sole one seed to come out of the regionals and they did it without drama, annihilating RPI 6-0 and Denver 6-1.
They are an easy favorite to win the title, but Michigan has weighted plinko on their side this time.
Previous meetings. None. How about…
Common opponents. Chart? Chart.
|Nebraska-Omaha||6-5, 4-2||0-1, 4-8||6-1, 3-2||2-4|
|Notre Dame||6-3||2-2||5-3, 4-2||1-3|
|Colorado College||6-0, 4-3||2-4||6-5, 2-1|
That's less alarming than it could have been. UND is 9-4-1 with a +8 GD. Michigan is 8-3-1 with a +9 GD. Schedule strength is crose enough. These are all good opponents (and Minnesota), suggesting that maybe when it comes to the top of the schedule the teams perform similarly. Too bad that suggestion gets way less powerful when you throw in games versus teams like Miami and Denver in.
Matt Frattin is so tired of having to do this every game
Dangermen. Like UNO, North Dakota has three solid lines of scorers. Like Colorado College, the top line is lethal. This is not a very good combination if you are going up against them. Hobey lock Matt Frattin leads the nation in goals with 36 and added 24 assists. Who's up for queefcore-scored highlights? You are:
Meanwhile, Jason Gregoire missed around a dozen games and still checks in with 25-18-43. Corban Knight, Evan Trupp, Danny Kristo and Brad Malone are all essentially PPG scorers, and then there's Brett Hextall (yes that Hextall) and his 13-16-29. If you ordered the rosters on a PPG basis you'd run through two full lines of Sioux before reaching the second Wolverine*.
These guys come in all shapes and sizes. Malone is a prototypical power forward with 108 penalty minutes who does most of his work in and around the crease; Trupp is one of those little buggers listed at 5'9". Mostly they're big, though. Rare is the North Dakota player under six foot and most are heavy for hockey players. They score lots, too.
*[This is a tiny bit pessimistic since Gregoire and Kristo both missed a big chunk of the season, allowing some of the other guys more time in high leverage situations (read: power play) to put up points. But not very.]
Defense and goalie and whatnot. After a couple of opponents whose goalies were less statistically impressive than Shawn Hunwick they run up against one for whom that is emphatically not the case. Sophomore Aaron Dell is in the top ten in save percentage with a .924. Hunwick's .922 is hot on his heels, FWIW, but it was nice going up against a couple of tourney teams and thinking "it's more likely their guy implodes than ours."
As for the defense, they are Chay Genoway, Jake Marto and huge. Geonway is basically Chad Langlais surrounded by snipers, a 5'9"—four FAKES out of five, there—defenseman able with the puck. He's got 31 assists on the season, good for eighth nationally. Marto is their version of Merrill. He's around 6'0", has 8-11-19 (five of those even strength), and took just three minor penalties the whole year. The other four guys are all at least 6'2" with freshman Derek Forbort topping out a 6'5". They're not offensive threats, but they don't have to be.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||5.2||4.2|
|PP Ag / G||4.7||4.4|
Despite a well-deserved rep for being dicks, North Dakota doesn't rack up penalty minutes quite like Red's old teams that had so much talent they didn't have to care. They do take more than their share of minors but kill 86% of them—fifth—and have eleven shorties. Since they've only given up 28 PPGs… yeah, they do not care about going to the box.
That talent allows them to draw a ton of penalties—they are second nationally in opportunities behind only Colorado College. Their power play is very, very good, too. It is just ahead of CC's at 23.3%, so if you thought watching the Schwartzes ping-pong the puck around was terrifying you're in for more of the same when Michigan is shorthanded.
Michigan remains mediocre in both phases but the penalty kill has dragged itself up from the mid-30s to 22nd in recent weeks.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
No pressure, and by no pressure we mean turn this coal into a diamond or we kill your dog
Burlon readiness check: harsh. Michigan's main advantage relative to 90% of college hockey is the ability to throw out any defense pairing against a top line and have confidence they will not get bombed. That was not the case last weekend when Kevin Clare was forced into the lineup by Brandon Burlon's allergic reaction; in the two weeks since Burlon has regained most of the weight he dramatically lost* and has been practicing on the regular. Given how leery Red was of putting Clare out even against CC's mediocre-at-best second and third lines, there's no chance he doesn't go with Burlon even if he's not saying so publicly.
So… how are you feeling, Brandon? Strong and good? Yes? Ready to live up to Red's declaration it's like "nothing ever happened"? We ask because there's no shallow end here. If anyone's going to be sheltered it will be Lee Moffie and even he is going to have a hard time escaping some very dangerous players. Burlon is going to have to do heavy lifting right away. If he's trying to check Malone in the crease it might not go so well.
*[80% of that was water but whateva.]
Enjoy your front-row seats, fourth line. I think we might see Moffatt on the power play some and Michigan will throw them out there every once in a while, but the fourth line is going to be vapor.
Scooter! Vaughn's moment of brilliance ended up being decisive and it will take something like it to take what looks like a loss and turn it into a win. Maybe from Scooter, maybe from someone else, but scrappy gritty Novakgoals aren't going to get it done against North Dakota. There might be some, but without someone stepping up and saying "Hobey this, Frattin" the prognosis is grim. Another breakaway that ends without even the threat of a goal would not be so good.
Of course, Michigan could just let Moffie shoot from the point at every opportunity and watch it pinball around, catch the post, and deflect in. That works too.
Carl/Rust. Michigan's other big advantage is they can ice a truly shut-down checking line and back that up with Carl Hagelin. I think they can keep it relatively even when those guys are out there—the problem is going to be the third line—and that should keep it within the range where bouncing pucks matter. Shut North Dakota down as long as possible, put something past Dell, and watch the pressure ratchet up until it shatters glass.
STAY OUT OF THE BOX. Stay out of the box. No box. Srs.
Steal it. Hunwick has done it before this year and while my past self is inventing a time machine just so he can show up right after I type this to slap some sense into me, most win scenarios involve Hunwick setting up halfway to the blue line and stopping every first shot and then doing some crazy stuff you can't even believe is happening.
Believe in the plinko. The NCAA tournament is stupid and unfair and a disaster and this year that's the way we like it.
Pray like hell. Seriously, yo.
The Big Picture
Win or die.
“[The Fighting Sioux] roll three pretty strong lines, so I think their depth is their biggest strength,” said Blais, who guided North Dakota to two national championships during his 10-year tenure from 1994 to 2004. “But they might be more talented [than Michigan] because of players like Frattin and Genoway that can make a difference in a game.”
Everything you could want from the North Dakota perspective. Comparison:
- Profile of Red Berenson in the News: 1000 words.
- Profile of Brendan Morrison in the Daily: 2400 words. No pictures by "Danger Nesbitt" this time but some archived stuff from the Daily in a slide show.
They're both good pieces but since the length and care taken in the Daily article is no exception—this happens like all the time—it's a good example of why it seems like the best sports section covering Michigan, period. The students are all trying to get clips that will get them jobs that will probably never let them write anything as good as the thing they did when they were writing to impress potential employers, because who has the money for that? Also the Daily kids obviously care. That's not something you can say about everyone. Or even most people. Also also, the Daily pieces seem specifically written for the web what with their multimedia aspects and newshole-crippling length.
Michigan Hockey Net digs up good old times against the Sioux:
7) They have the #2 offense and the #3 defense in the country. That ranks them second in scoring margin (+2.00 goals per game) behind only Yale, which doesn't really count since we all know the ECAC sucks.
Complete domination obscured by thousands of horrible pinging sounds and late-game terror until the world's dumbest penalty, and then more late game semi-terror, resulting in awe at a guy who doesn't show up on the scoresheet at all. JMFM. Definitely best freshman defenseman I've ever seen. Possible additional superlatives might be warranted. Muppets.
And you can't have one without the other…
Quick, everyone look up transport to St. Paul.
The ding: minor. Sheridan's injury won't last much past spring:
Nick Sheridan has suffered a non-displaced fracture of his leg that will not require surgery. He will be out 4-6 weeks, and will be back with the team in time for summer workouts.
React to that as you will. I have absolutely no emotion relating to that news.
Drop the puck. Yost Built has ten things about Air Force for you before today's 3PM puck drop. As always, I'm petrified. There is nothing more terrifying that single-elimination playoff hockey, and nothing more shattering than that moment when the knife twists and the wrong red light comes on.
That's a lot of hamburgers. The Frozen Four is coming to Ford Field next year, which is a lot of seating for a college hockey game even if they, as planned, cut the stadium in half and put up temporary bleachers. They have changed the plan:
The NCAA announced today that the rink for college hockey's championship event will be in the middle of Ford Field next April, just like the basketball court will be in a couple of weeks.
There had been talk of putting the rink in an end zone and curtaining off part of the stadium because of crowd-size and viewing concerns.
Uh… thumbs down. Are you really going to get 70,000 people at the Frozen Four next year? In Detroit? Very unlikely even if Michigan makes it. This seems likely to be a debacle that makes the committee avoid Detroit for future events. Hurrah.
Adios. Toney Clemons' departure was handled with slightly more class than that of Mr. Plow:
"I was recruited in to play in coach (Lloyd) Carr's more pro style offense and that was an offense that allowed me to utilize my talents, using my size and speed combination to stretch the field, run precise routes and make plays down field in the passing game," Clemons said. "The offensive concepts were very different than the ones that coach Rod (is) running now and that was a system that I feel I could go into and thrive in. I gave this new system a chance thinking that I could switch lanes and use my athleticism to excel in the system but it just didn't work out for me, I just had a feeling that I wasn't what they were looking for."
By all accounts, Clemons was an outstanding kid—Breaston's cousin, so not surprising—and someone with talent in the right system. Hopefully he lands somewhere he can use that talent.
Sucker bets. Bruce Feldman checks in with Vegas to see if there's been any recent movement in the BCS championship lines. He finds one particular team surging:
Apparently, there's some enthusiasm for Michigan in Year 2 under Rich Rodriguez. The Wolverines went from being a 200-1 shot to win the 2010 BCS title game (on Feb. 3) to a 100-1 shot as of March 24.
Feldman cites the usual jump Rodriguez teams in year two, the six redshirted offensive linemen, and the Tate/Robinson combo at QB as reasons this might have happened. But all these things were true on February 3rd except maybe Robinson. I credit (blame?) drunk Michigan fans in Vegas after the Clemson game.
Here's an education, sort of. The Globe and Mail took a look at the CHL's education packages, getting some quotes along the way from Red Berenson:
“I think what's happened is that the Canadian Hockey League has done a good job of contaminating these kids in terms of their eligibility,” said Berenson, a Regina native and former NHLer who has coached in the NCAA for 25 years. “They're drafting these kids at 14 out in Alberta and B.C. and 15 in Ontario, so they draft them and get them excited about playing in the O [OHL] or the Dub [the WHL] and they bring them up and play them in a game and they're done. Once they've played a game, they've lost their [NCAA] eligibility.
“They can tell the kids they're getting everything they're getting in the U.S., but they rarely do.”
This is correct: junior players can get scholarships but only one year for each year they play in junior. Even sketchier, as soon as you sign an AHL or professional contract the money is gone. Heck, if you sign an ECHL contract you have one year and then the money is gone. Only 32% of CHL players end up getting anything at all.
Junior advocates will tell you this is still a good bet for future stars, and it may be for the tip of the pyramid, the top-ten picks who aren't long for any junior league. But once you take the numbers and start creating league equivalencies, 1) the USHL has the same quality of play as any of the Canadian junior leagues, and 2) college hockey is considerably tougher. The case that waiting for college hockey will delay your development has been blown up by the move of the USHL to tier one and the corresponding increase in quality of play. Junior now provides zero advantages unless you just don't want an education, which the CHL is happy to not supply.
Elsewhere in the hockey blogosphere, Tom Benjamin says Berenson is "full of shit" and proceeds to completely misinterpret the above quote:
Every young player knows that if he plays a game of Major Junior he loses his chance at an NCAA scholarship. This rule has not changed in recent years and therfore this rule does not explain why fewer and fewer Canadians are opting for the NCAA. It is happening because the CHL offers better opportunities - a faster route to the NHL and the scholarship program - now.
Berenson's not saying the kids don't know they'll lose their eligibility, he's saying the CHL teams are getting kids to play in a game or two when they're too young to have any idea whether or not it's a good idea, when they're really vulnerable to the far-off and unlikely dream of making the NHL. Mudcrutch has an excellent rejoinder, and Benjamin gets pwned in his own comments:
It’s also worth noting that the CHL’s scholarship program is a lot less financially generous than is a full ride NCAA scholarship. The fact that the “full ride” in the OHL is limited to first round picks from the Midget draft is outrageous - no wonder guys like Berenson are miffed. If it is about education, then you extend the offer to all players, not just an elite few whom you are concerned might bolt for greener pastures. It also takes at least four years to get a degree, not two or three, and the fact is that the CHL is usually only paying for two years for many of the players.
Junior is a scam, man.
What's the best option for acquiring Frozen Four tickets? Just wait until there's a glut of tickets from fans of non-tourney teams, wait 'til the FF is settled that week? At this point (after moving to NY) I'd be willing to go just to see the games.
Every year, the Frozen Four sells out over a year before the actual event transpires. As a result, thousands of fans end up not going because they can't be bothered or just bought the tickets to maintain their priority, and tickets are beyond plentiful. Unless you're dead set on getting the best seat in the house there's no reason to buy them until you arrive on site. I've gone when it was in Buffalo and Denver and both times acquiring seats for face value was a snap. If I really care to push it I probably could have got them for less. This year it's in DC, which cares about college hockey not at all, and if Michigan gets there I'm planning on buying on-site.
The only exception to this is if a Frozen Four happens to be in Minneapolis or Boston and a local team makes it; in that case tickets can be tough.
Brandon Smith, from Jersey in last years haul. He was Army, solidly recruited by some other bigs (FLA), he has disappeared off the map. Even with a red-shirt, should I have been less optimistic in that his name seems to only come up with trepidation, as in, "oh my god not Stevie and a Frosh". What do you percieve as his main challenges to getting on the field?
Smith was a pretty big recruit but was also more of an athlete than a solid player at any particular position. He played QB, KR, PR, S, and some LB for his high school team because he was one of those guys you use as much as possible; this speaks well to his athletic ability but also means he wasn't quite as ready to play as someone who was a safety all the way. So Smith started the year looking like a likely redshirt, then had an appendectomy which sealed it.
I haven't heard the trepidation you have, though. What practice mentions I've read have been very positive on his ability and optimistic he can be a solid player. That's no guarantee—Grady Brooks, Kevin Grady, etc etc etc—but he's not a guy who's fallen off the map during his redshirt year. I think he'll play, and challenge Mike Williams for a starting spot.
It is interesting that the Big Ten is again considering a nine-game schedule. I can remember the Big Ten race back in 1982. That year Michigan played nine Big Ten games (back when there were only 10 teams) but Ohio State played only eight. This actually decided the title because Ohio State beat Michigan in Columbus, had a better overall record, but finished 1/2 game back in the standings. (Searchable Big Ten standings database if you want to poke around.)
Michigan was 8-1 in the conference (losing to OSU). Ohio State finished 7-1 and beat Michigan. Michigan went to the Rose Bowl to lose to UCLA for a second time in just over 4 months. For some reason, only Iowa and OSU played 8 BT games while the rest of the conference played 9.
I was only 12 or 13 years old at the time. Imagine the chaos if that happened in the age of the internet!!
Keith in Northville
Holy cow: Keith is right. In 1982, the entire Big Ten played nine league games except for Iowa and OSU. This also happened in 1981, when those two schools tied for the title at 6-2. OSU and Iowa were co-champs in a year when the only Big Ten game that didn't get played was Iowa-OSU!
In 1979 and 1980, Northwestern and Minnesota played an extraneous ninth game against each other; the rest of the league stuck with eight conference games. In 1977 and 1978 it was Wisconsin and Northwestern playing a full round-robin. It appears that in the late 70s and early 80s Northwestern was so concerned about its ability to schedule nonconference games that it just struck up a deal with whoever had rotated off their schedule to play a game anyway. Opponents were happy to oblige, as Northwestern won just one conference game from '77 to '81. (They beat Illinois 21-7 in '77.)
In '83 the league stopped its experiment with wacky unbalanced schedules, playing a full round-robin for two years before settling back into its traditional eight-game schedule.
Does anyone know what the heck happened in 1981 and 1982? I get full round-robin schedules. I get Northwestern running around, hat in hand, to whichever conference mate was denied the opportunity to blast them into the stone age. I don't get "everyone plays except Iowa and Ohio State."
I've been a UM hockey fan for a long time, but I used to be the type that was a score-watcher until the weather got warm, then I would pay strict attention for the stretch run. My first UM hockey memory was the Mike Legg goal and I was hooked (boom, pun) since. The last few years I have taken a more consistent interest despite living outside of Michigan, mostly thanks to MGoBlog. It's been a lot of fun and I must say that I couldn't believe the surly mood I was in after the Notre Dame Frozen Four game last year.
That being said, my somewhat uninformed question is: do the refs really screw everyone like this in the CCHA? Trust me, I know they're bad. Like, The Mentalist bad. I'm just saying, it seems like the Wolverines have been on the receiving end of this as of late. I know that it goes with the territory of being an obsessive fan that you will think your team is being screwed, but when puck hits skate and goes in, it's hard to shrug off being called a homer. When's the last time UM has been handed a game a-la Notre Dame and Ohio State? And you know, aaarrrgggh and stuff.
I've long been of the opinion that CCHA refs not named Shegos* or Piotrowski were uniformly awful. Any new recruits quickly proved themselves about as incompetent as the rest of the bunch. Though a couple of the promoted linesmen have struck me as okay so far this year, it's too early to tell with them.
HOWEVA, I have never seen a team get so completely hosed on two separate occasions. Two obviously blown goals in two separate one-goal games is a truly enormous effect, one that can't be matched by a demonstrative Ed Hightower charge call, or anything at all, really. I've never seen anything like it.
In the decade I've been following Michigan hockey, these are the controversial (non-) goals that stand out:
- Some nonconference game against BC: Michigan is up 3-2 with about two minutes left in the game. There's a late scramble for the puck, which ends up lying in the crease for a BC player to roof a nanosecond after the ref blew it dead. Michigan goes on to secure an important nonconference game.
- Some game against State: I think this was the one Michigan ended up tying when Jason Ryznar scored with a second left. Anyway, a State defenseman blasted the puck… somewhere. A goal light went on, but the puck wasn't in the net. Replays showed very little, but there was a telltale net bulge—it looked like the State defenseman had actually shot the puck through the net. Not quite as impressive as beheading a goalie a la Jack Johnson, but still. They checked the net for a hole, didn't find one, and declared no goal.
- The NCAA regional game against Colgate: This, I believe, was the year Michigan played after the beyond epic St Lawrence-BU game that went into four overtimes. (They played Maine with four defensemen and collapsed late.) I watched an entire game of hockey and the feed only picked up when the OT started. Anyway, that was the second round.
In the first round, Michigan went to overtime with Colgate. At some point there was another goalmouth scramble in front of the Michigan net that was eventually blown dead. When Josh Blackburn, who had ended up partially in the net, moved the puck was revealed to be well over the line. It was not entirely clear when the puck had crossed the line, however, and after a lengthy review it was called no goal.
- The Buffalo Frozen Four against Minnesota: it's tied late in the third period, and by this time you know the drill: goalmouth scramble, puck loose that the referee can't find, and a whistle that goes just as Jason Ryznar pokes it through the fivehole.
Most of these are controversial early whistles from the referee, something that's inescapably part of hockey. None of them are the inability to see a puck obviously kicked in the net, or goals inexplicably waved off for absolutely no reason. I've never seen Michigan handed the equivalent of two goals via sheer blind incompetence.
The Colgate thing was probably the luckiest Michigan's ever gotten: it was like those plays in football where you're sure the call on the ice is wrong but there just isn't enough evidence to overturn it. It was a game-losing goal that Blackburn luckily obscured until it was too late.
Side note: the CCHA should obviously incorporate every available camera angle into its reviews, and the NCAA should repeal the inane rule about kicked goals. Anything that's not thrown or high-sticked into the net should count.
*(This knowledge appears to be disappearing into the ether, but there used to be two Shegoses (Shegii?) in the league. They were brothers. When displeased with refs who were not Shegoses, Yost would chant "we want Shegos." When displeased with refs who were Shegoses, Yost would chant "other Shegos."
The origins of this were never clear. Did the chant get started out of genuine respect, or the belief that Shegos was beyond horrible and preferring Shegos to anyone was the worst insult imaginable? Given what we know about Yost, probably the latter. This would be ironic, since the closest thing I have to a "thank God he's reffing" moment now is when I see Shegos on the ice.
Yes, like he was against Ohio State. He can't do anything about Langseth randomly awarding/disallowing goals.)