I did not make this headline up
Friday, February 20, 2015
Michigan 3 Ohio State 5
Michigan 1 Ohio State 0 EV 03:52 Larkin (11) from Selman (8) and Hyman (22)
Michigan enters the offensive zone with a numerical advantage. Dylan Larkin passes to Justin Selman instead of dropping it to Zach Hyman, and I’m not sure why considering the defenseman in front of Selman and the open lane in front of Hyman.
Selman gets tied up, but the defenseman is unable to knock the puck away from Michigan’s forwards. He gets a weak swing on the puck, but Larkin is in the process of cutting from the corner to the front of the net and intercepts it.
Larkin has a tremendous advantage in that he’s undefended and the goalie has already hit the ice. Christian Frey is square to a shot from where I drew the arrow on the screencap, but…
Larkin can skate around Frey faster than he can move across laterally to re-square himself to the shot, resulting in an uncontested shot on a half-open net.
[More after THE JUMP]
Apologies. This posted as a draft yesterday and I didn't notice until late.
2/14/2015 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 6 – 16-9-0, 8-3 Big Ten
2/15/2015 – Michigan 0, Minnesota 2 – 16-10-0, 8-4 Big Ten
There can be no contrast of hockey styles greater than going from playing Michigan State on ice that may as well be gravel to Minnesota's immaculate Olympic sheet. On the Olympic sheet you will play the biggest, fastest, and often finest players the "State of Hockey" has to offer. Also the occasional Austrian. (This year Minnesota State, the school you thought was fictional, has claim.)
Sometimes this goes okay. Sometimes it really does not.
Michigan got bombed out of the building on Friday as Minnesota repaid the favor Michigan did them when they met in Yost; they lost narrowly the next night as Minnesota repaid the favor from the first matchup. It wasn't fun, except it kind of still was even when Michigan was getting their ass handed to it.
I don't know man, it's weird. Multiple times a period teams would make little clever passes to break out of the zone and rush the puck in. Dump and chase, these days the default method of doing anything, was just about unheard of. The Olympic ice has weird effects on visitors, who tend to spread out on both ends. On offense this leaves you taking speculative shots from the outside that don't have a lot of chance to go in; on defense your slot is exposed*.
*(That's not what she said.)
So Minnesota opened the scoring by wiring a puck from the slot to the top corner on a power play and things continued from there. Hockey's weird and I don't think this means Michigan's a thousand times worse than the Gophers any more than the previous series meant the inverse. But sometimes you get Minnesota and you're just like… dude.
You have Hudson Fasching, a guy who I've heard about since he was 15, and he is a boring third-liner. The tic-tac-toe of the puck is mesmerizing, and if they get zeroed in on your breakout, as they did in the second period Friday, you are in deep without a paddle. Friday's game went from a relatively even 3-0 game to a 4-0 blowout over the first ten minutes of the second, if that makes any sense.
The kind of things Michigan does to a lot of star-struck opponents (or did until the last few years) Minnesota does from time to time. Sometimes when they're on, etc. Michigan competed, but they currently do not have the defense to deal with these things. Minnesota erased Zach Hyman with NHL uber-prospect Brady Skjei; Michigan has no equivalent defender. Zach Werenski is real good… and 17. Check back with me when Werenski is a senior to see if he's as good as Skjei, a junior, is now.
So it was over the weekend, as two teams playing with buckets of space made it 120 minutes of 4-on-4. 120 minutes of 4-on-4 is terrific to watch even if you aren't, like, scoring any goals. It restores a faith you didn't know you needed restoring in the wisdom of flinging pucks at a guy in a mask.
Margin for error is gone after losing three of four with weak competition ahead. Michigan is 17th after the sweep, currently on the wrong side of the bubble. They have eight regular season games left against the dregs of the league and Penn State; they have to win a lot of games if they're going to feel good about their at-large chances.
Michigan's schedule strength is languishing at 34th nationally despite nonconference matchups against Lowell, BU, BC, Michigan Tech, and New Hampshire. The league is really dragging them down, and they got unlucky to draw a really bad version of RPI (the university).
Anyway: I figured that Michigan had three or four games to give if they wanted to be secure going into the Big Ten tournament. They've just about given all of them. It is go time the next two weekends against Ohio State (who may not be as bad as they seemed the first time around, as they were dealing with a Michigan basketball level of injuries) and dire Wisconsin. Sweeps in both are imperative.
Olympic ice is terrific. I don't see any reason not to adopt it. More ice to cover means long periods like 4-on-4 hockey where the team with the puck can maintain possession and threaten for a 30 or 40 second period, as both Minnesota and Michigan did. I prefer anything that brings the skill of the rush back to prominence, especially a week after MSU's "line four guys up on the blueline and pray" strategy.
If I was the NHL commissioner I'd decree any new building has to have Olympic ice. I'm a fan of weird variations in playing situations, something that gives baseball some of its allure. The time to make that change was probably 20 years ago before the various stadiums went up, but I'd make that change anyway.
Goaltending: insufficient. Nagelvoort got chased on Friday as he let in one very soft goal (the second trickled through him and he was unaware of that fact, leaving a ton of time for a forward to swat at the puck twice) and did not make many of an admittedly very difficult sequence of saves on water-bottle jobs from the Gophers. Still, I don't have much confidence in either guy at this point… and that's coming from a person who was claiming the problem largely rested with the defense corps for the first half of the season.
Which it certainly does, in part. Michigan's slot has been… not well defended dammit that's still a PHRASING. Is there any way to talk about the section of the hockey rink between the circles that now that I'm thinking in this manner really really resemble breasts ARGH I blame twitter for everything.
Nieves is modern day Milan Gajic. Looks like he should be a scorer, isn't a scorer, reinforces this by putting his first two in since November in a situation in which no one will remember because they don't matter.
I thoroughly enjoyed the Minnesota crew. The color guy was a little willing to condone disproportionate reprisals for a bit of Michigan frustration on Friday and the PBP guy was inclined to exclaim "no penalty!" in situations where there wasn't even much complaining from the crowd. Other than that, they were excellent—much better than the anodyne BTN duo, still featuring Fred Pletsch for reasons that escape me.
The PBP guy, who turns out to be named Doug MacLeod, brought up Ufer apropos of nothing other than respect for the fraternity of announcer bros, and that felt appropriate. He has that certain gravitas a Bud Lynch or Carl Grapentine does.
One thing not so much though. The color guy kept knocking Compher for not pulling the trigger on a couple of 2-on-1 opportunities he got. This felt wrong because Compher's last second pass after a shot fake trickled through the crease and Shuart really should have gotten a stick on it. If he did that was a slam dunk into an open net. The other one didn't come off as his attempted saucer pass was flicked into the air by a defenseman's stick, but a super great opportunity for a tap-in in two tries is worth more than any two two-on-one shots are.
Nightmare fuel via Patrick Barron
Friday, February 13, 2015
Minnesota 6 Michigan 2
Minnesota 1 Michigan 0 PPG 06:28 Rau from Cammarata and Reilly
Tyler Motte over-pursues at the point, which leaves Kyle Rau free to skate toward the slot. I’ve drawn on the screen cap where Motte should be; you can see that if he’s further to his left he can pick up Rau and drive him wide.
Zach Werenski steps up to cover Rau, so he passes to Taylor Cammarata to the side of the net.
Rau keeps his feet moving and gets past Werenski easily. Werenski turns toward Cammarata and just drops his coverage of Rau. Not good. Nagelvoort sees the puck at the side of the net and tries to lock down the post, but Cammarata passes back to an all-too-open Rau. Nagelvoort leaves some huge gaps as he tries to come off the post, the first sign (of many) that this night is not going to go well for him.
[After THE JUMP: *insert your preferred guttural noise here*]
Michigan (16-8, 8-2 B10)
Minnesota (14-9-3, 5-2-3 B10)
Mariucci Ice Arena
9 PM ET Friday
8 PM ET Saturday
|TIX||pricey: 50 bucks on Stubhub|
Year-in, year-out the Minnesota roster is littered with NHL draft picks. 2014-15 is no exception, as it's quicker to run down the guys who have played in more than half of Minnesota's games who haven't had their name called. A whopping 15 Gophers have been drafted, including eight(!!!) defensemen.
But of late Minnesota fails to turn this surfeit into a hockey team worthy of it surprisingly often. They're coming off three excellent years; the four before that saw one tournament bid, that from a 19-17-9 outfit that got run by BC 5-2 in the first round.
This year the Gophers are just okay at 14-9-3. They've gone 1-3 against Duluth* and lost to RPI #1 Minnesota State; they did beat BC authoritatively. Despite the sweep at Michigan's hands in January, they've been making their hay against the rest of the league. They're undefeated against the rest the Big Ten (in pairwise terms at least) at 5-0-3. You'd think that and a bag of donuts would get you no pairwise traction and some donuts, but 3-0-1 against Wisconsin and Ohio State was sufficient to lift the Gophers from 20th to 14th in the Pairwise.
Minnesota is the exact opposite of Michigan State, philosophically. They are a free-wheeling, attacking hockey team that activates their defensemen more than any team in college hockey. If anyone's going to have a D leading their team in scoring, it's the Gophers, and junior Mike Reilly does in fact do so with a 4-24-28 line. He's one of two D with a PPG nationally.
But he's not Jordan Leopold. That Reilly leads with that line speaks to a lack of out-and-out stars in the forward corps. They've got a few guys hovering around a PPG, but those guys lean heavily on Minnesota's killer power play. The three leading Gopher scorers have 17 PPGs and 14 even strength goals. Minnesota is not a big, physical outfit that generates a lot of opportunities in the zone. Rushes and power plays are where they thrive.
*[Minnesota managed four nonconference games against the same team by playing them in the season-opening Ice Breaker tournament plus a new Minnesota version of the GLI in addition to a regularly-scheduled home and home.]
THE GENTLEMEN OF NOTE
Kind of everyone. As mentioned, talent out the ears.
F Kyle Rau. Senior Panthers draftee led Gophers with 40 points last year and is top scoring forward this year. He's a little quick bugger effective in tight spaces.
F Hudson Fasching. Hasn't translated massive hype to production just yet but is Minnesota's top even strength scorer with eight goals. Combines elite size with skating and hands.
F Sam Warning. Warning doesn't get PP time but scores anyway. Excellent PK guy, fast as hell, probably the Gophers' best two way forward. Undrafted(!).
Adam Wilcox is struggling much like Michigan's platoon is. After starting his career with .920 and .930 save percentages, he's bottomed out as junior. He is currently 60th of 78 qualifying goalies with a .901. Whether that's on Wilcox or his team's defense is difficult to determine—sample sizes need to be super large for you to say anything about save percentages confidently. Those samples are hard to get in a short college season.
FWIW, Nagelvoort's recent run here has him up at .914 for the season. That's not great, but it is approaching middling.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS
Michigan needs to stay out of the box. I know, everyone always says that. I mean it, yo: the Gopher power play is currently connecting at 29% rate! That is by far tops nationally. Michigan is #3; both teams are killing at a crappy 80% rate.
Two awesome power plays going up against two bad PK units means that penalties take on an even larger share of importance.
THE LAST TIME
Michigan announced their intention to make a run at the tournament with a stirring comeback after Andrew Copp took a major penalty and Minnesota scored twice on it to take the lead. Zach Hyman powered past a Gopher defender, flipping the puck to Justin Selman; Selman shoved it in the net. A whistling Cutler Martin snap shot in overtime finished the comeback.
The next night was the 7-5 barn burner featuring zero defense from anyone. So… yeah, should be entertaining at the very least.
Massive. Both these teams are barely on the right side of the NCAA bubble. A sweep by either would solidify a bid and leave the loser in a precarious position. A split helps Michigan more than Minnesota thanks to the way college hockey calculates RPI*; that would be equivalent to going… uh… 1.2-0.8 this weekend.
The road weighting plus the bonus from beating a top 20 team, which Minnesota will remain, would keep Michigan where they are. It might even move them up a little if the teams in front of them have a bad weekend.
These two teams are also competing for the Big Ten title. Michigan is in first with 24 points; Penn State trails by two; Minnesota is six back. A Gopher sweep would put them right in the thick of things. Michigan doing the same would just about eliminate Minnesota and make it a two-horse race.
*[Dumbly. The way they have it set up means that two teams playing four games, two at home and two on the road, can split and have those games weighted as 4.8 games (if the road team wins all) or 3.6 games (home teams win all). Same results, different outcomes. Not good eats.]
A split seems reasonable.
all these people would have fit in Yost [Patrick Barron]
After a near-fiasco with the ice at Soldier Field that caused Michigan and Michigan State to drop the puck at 9:40 PM Eastern, scattered pockets of people and eighty thousand empty seats took in an ugly hockey game marred by ice closer to a dirt road than a smooth sheet.
And with that Michigan's participation in outdoor college hockey should be over, with a single exception.
Yeah, there's no much you can do if your opponent decides to move one of their home games, as Ohio State did a couple years back for a slightly better-attended outing in Cleveland's baseball stadium. There's no much you can do if the GLI is outside in conjunction with the Winter Classic. But Michigan can look at this fiasco of an event and choose to never do it again.
The lone exception should be occasional reprises of The Cold War and Big Chill*. Both were great events featuring packed houses, and will be again if they are sufficiently rare. What's sufficiently rare? I'd say one game at Spartan Stadium or Michigan Stadium every four years. You can tell each recruiting class that if you stay for four years you will play a packed outdoor game, and you are doing it rarely enough that the "packed" part of that proposition is likely to remain true.
Other than that, let's drop it. Outdoor hockey is
- COLD. Obviously.
- BAD HOCKEY. Strange lighting and bad ice make these games hard to watch. Pucks bounce over sticks. Skill's importance is muted in favor of luck.
- LITERALLY HARD TO WATCH. You're far away and the sightlines make no sense. (Any modern NHL building goes up as vertically as possible; most football stadiums are much less steeply pitched.)
Those are not fixable. Taking two teams from Michigan and having them play in Illinois is, but I'm just over it. I would rather watch an outdoor game on TV these days because the environment is the definition of antiseptic and I'll have a much better grasp on what's going on if I don't have to squint from a half-mile away.
I mean, it was cool. It will remain cool if it's rare enough. Remember when the television people were trying to expand the NCAA tournament to 128 teams because they're willing to wreck anything if they can point to a bigger number in the spreadsheet they're responsible for? College hockey is in the process of doing this to outdoor games. Outdoor games should be magnificent events. These days they're too often ghost towns full of monuments to hubris instead of people.
Meanwhile, even the watered-down modern-day Yost is one of the best environments college sports has to offer. Taking a game out of there to play in front of approximately as many people outdoors is the definition of madness. We can be done with that; we fired that guy.
*[they should drop the Big Chill nomenclature and just go with Cold War [roman numeral], in my opinion]
UM 1 MSU 0 EV 01:43 Downing (5) from Calderone (6) and Nieves (14)
Tony Calderone gets the puck via a stretch pass Boo Nieves makes from along the boards in Michigan’s defensive zone. The pass comes from the same spot Nieves wasn’t able to gain control of the puck last Friday (which subsequently led to a Spartans goal), so it’s nice to see him seal the puck and get it out of the zone this weekend. Calderone skates to the red line before walking it back up the boards in an effort to avoid the MSU defender.
Michigan State’s defenders have collapsed around the net, which is typical of their style. That’s not really a criticism; if you’re going to give up shots from the point and your goaltender is Jake Hildebrand you’re probably going to do alright. Calderone passes to the blur at the top of the screen cap. That blur is Downing, and it’s easy to see how much he’s able to put on the shot from the camera’s inability to focus on him.
It looks to me like the puck goes under the defenseman’s stick and beats Hildebrand on his blocker side in the little green square I’ve drawn on the screen cap. This isn’t a good goal for him to give up; despite having a defenseman in front of him in the screen cap he was able to track the puck and squared himself to the shot. That d-man in his view came in after the pass had been made to Downing and Hildebrand was starting to butterfly.
[After THE JUMP: Darth Vader makes an appearance, and it’s not in discussing MSU or Dave Brandon]