in town for free camps
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]
UM 0 MSU 1 EV 03:09 Haag from Cox
Brennan Serville shoots and misses, and the puck hits the boards and caroms around and out of the zone. Joe Louis Arena’s boards are known for being springy, and this is a good example of that as I don’t think the puck would come as far out of the zone in a different rink as it did.
Michigan is set up for an offensive chance, so they’re naturally behind when the puck enters the neutral zone. Michael Downing is back to defend and needs to work toward the middle of the ice to break up the impending 2-on-1.
I was critical of Downing diving on Twitter, but now that I’ve had the benefit of watching the play over and over again in slow motion I have to take that back. His job on a 2-on-1 is to take away the pass so that Nagelvoort can take the shooter, which is what he’s clearly attempting in the screen cap below. His dive fails because Cox delivers a perfect saucer pass over Downing’s stick. I used to try saucer passes in Ea Sports’ NHL series and was never able to execute one as well as this.
Nagelvoort has to adjust in this frame. His job has changed from taking the presumed shooter (Cox) to pushing laterally and covering the actual shooter (Haag).
Haag tries to hit the near-side corner. The puck hits Nagelvoort in the shoulder and is deflected up and into the corner of the net. Michigan’s goalies have terribly unlucky shoulders.
[After THE JUMP: Are teams allowed to go more than 20 minutes without scoring? I investigate]
|WHAT||Michigan (15-7, 7-1 B10)
MSU (9-11-2, 3-3-2 B10)
|WHERE||Joe Louis Arena,
|WHEN||7:30 pm ET, Friday|
|TIX||the box office will have lots|
|TV||Fox Sports Detroit|
I haven't done a hockey preview for a while because I've never had much to say other than "this guy has a lot of points and this guy is drafted," but I guess it's better than nothing.
Michigan State is in their Nth consecutive year of mediocrity or worse, their fourth under former CCHA commissioner and non-hockey-coach Tom Anastos. After an opening year a few games above .500, Anastos's teams have lingered in a territory above terrible but below average; this year they are still that at 9-11-2. They're coming off a sweep of a drastically undermanned Ohio State team, so they've got that going for them.
Anastos teams tend to be defensively responsible and hopelessly dull, and this year is no exception. State is 45th of 59 in scoring and 25th in defense. They stay out of the box, kill penalties well, and struggle on the power play. They have a couple guys with a modicum of skill and a bottom six that tries to grunt their way towards goals. They have a couple of high draft picks on the defensive end and play a conservative system that tries to shut down space in the neutral zone, so at least that hasn't changed.
This is a Ron Mason team without an NHL top line or, you know, Ron Mason.
THE GENTLEMEN OF NOTE
Matt Berry. The diminutive senior is State's most skilled player. He leads the team in points with 16 despite missing several games due to injury earlier this year and is the only MSU player on a PPG. He's in the little puck wizard mode.
Mackenzie MacEachern. MacEachern is a rare breed indeed, drafted in the third round out of Michigan high school hockey. Reminiscent of Justin Abdelkader minus the dumb penalties, MacEachern is the most physically imposing opposition forward.
Villiam Haag. Is named "Villiam Haag." (Try-hard Swede is also active defensively and has established a spot on the top line thanks to two-way play. Think Matt Rust.)
Junior Jake Hildebrand has seen every minute of MSU's season; his .918 save percentage is middling but significantly better than Michigan's platoon.
THE LAST TIME
Michigan won the GLI final 2-1 with Zach Hyman and Andrew Copp scoring; Michigan was actually outshot 29-32. MSU was missing Berry; Michigan was down their four WJC participants (Werenski, Larkin, Compher, Motte). They skated seven defensemen in that game, in fact.
Michigan has played itself into an at-large bid for the tournament and must keep winning to stay there. The Big Ten offers no favors to Michigan's schedule strength.
Michigan State has no hope of an at-large bid. At this point Anastos has to be on the verge of losing his job if anyone in East Lansing still realizes the hockey team exists. It's been four years of mediocrity with no light at the end of the tunnel and a retiring Red Berenson is kicking MSU's ass on the recruiting trail.
It's time for Michigan State to get a real coach and start winning some games—crappy MSU was fun for a while but I'm over it. If Anastos wants to keep his job winning against Michigan is the best way to do it.
THE GUY WHO HASN'T CHANGED
Kampfer-assaulter Andrew Conboy was just dropped by his ECHL team for cross-checking a dude in the teeth. Stop hiring this man, hockey teams.
Hockey predictions are dumb, but whatever: Michigan is still vulnerable to turnovers and WTF defensive play but if this was an even game last time they should have a major advantage now that they've got four of their six best players back in the lineup versus just Berry for MSU. Stay out of the box and get solid goaltending and this train should keep rolling.
Friday, January 23rd, 2015
UW 1 UM 0 PPG 02:48 LaBate from Dougherty and Schulze
Michigan starts in a box on the penalty kill when Andrew Copp comes up high to attack the puck near the point. Wisconsin passes the puck down the boards and then back up to the blue line, and as Copp turns he runs into what is essentially a pick being set by Grant Besse. When Copp came up high someone else (Tyler Motte) should have moved over to cover the opposite side of the ice. He doesn’t, and Michigan ends up having three of their four defenders smushed together.
The pass gets through because of Motte’s error, but he isn’t the only one who makes a mistake here. Kevin Lohan needs to be lower in order to eliminate the backdoor player and step up and tie up the guy in the center of the crease if need be.
Leave the middle of the ice undefended and it’s not surprising what happens next. Zach Werenski hesitates and it looks like he’s trying to take away both the pass and shot, and the result is that he takes away neither. Dougherty passes to LaBate for an easy tap in.
[After THE JUMP: Michigan scores with Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind]