Michigan's power play and Kyle Connor just drove Michigan to a Big Ten Tournament championship and an autobid to the NCAA Hockey Tournament. They don't need it, but they'll take it, and send Minnesota home for the year like the Gophers did a year ago.
And you can't have one without the other…
Brackets should start getting projected here as soon as the NCHC title is decided.
3/11/2016 – Michigan 7, Penn State 1 – 21-7-5, 11-5-3 Big Ten
3/12/2016 – Michigan 6, Penn State 1 – 22-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten
this will not go well for you [Bill Rapai]
This used to happen with some frequency: a not-bad team would walk into Yost Ice Arena and get hamblasted. By the second period of Saturday's game they'd have given up on everything except petty revenge, things would get increasingly sloppy, and at some point a combination of angry penalties would yield a 4-on-3 power play. We waited for the 4-on-3 every weekend, and got it most of the time.
Goalies were chased. Michigan replaced theirs voluntarily. The students chanted "goalie goalie sieve sieve sieve" at the various netminders they'd seen. People came perilously close to running out of fingers for the goal chant. Yost roiled; students right behind the opposition bench tried to get players to quit hockey on the spot.
I missed the Brendan Morrison-led heart of this era, when some local pizza marketer spent Michigan hockey games with his head in his hands moaning "why no why." Ten goals seems like a safely absurd number to offer free pizza after, and then this kid wanders out of British Columbia with the puck on a string and you go from business to charity overnight. I did catch the tail end. Even a slightly less rampant Michigan was electric. The Comrie-Cammalleri team was a ridiculous goal factory, and the subsequent Hensick/Porter or Hensick/Hilbert years didn't come up too far short of that ambitious mark.
Yost then was a revelation for someone raised on genteel Michigan Stadium, black as the ancient wood that held the stands up. People would scream things, terrible things. Yost got in people's heads. It was not uncommon for opposing players to squirt water in the vague direction of their most persistent hecklers. Lake State's coach tossed expletives back into the crowd like he was playing curse word tennis. Incidents where hockey parents lost their cool and tried to fight the entire section became so frequent they had to move the visiting team's ticket block across the ice.
The team was not responsible for the edge of danger that made Yost infamous, but they did inspire the utter lack of mercy with the product on the ice. I mean, I didn't get into Michigan hockey to the point where I started shaking uncontrollably during NCAA tournament games because things were reasonable and fair. I got into Michigan hockey because I wanted to see someone set on fire, and then taunted about how stupid and flammable they are.
Michigan set Penn State on fire this weekend. PSU limped in down multiple skaters due to injury, but they are a good team, a well coached team, and Guy Gadowsky has assembled a bunch of guys who can fly. Michigan struggled with their speed early, especially on two early power plays where PSU's aggression hardly let them get set up.
That's the way to play Michigan if you can hack it. They're not great at breaking out of their own zone and can get disrupted by a fierce forecheck. Penn State just about managed it for a period and then faded a hair in the second, surviving for the most part despite a flurry of chances. Michigan was up 2-1 and I was concerned because the lead probably should have been larger. Michigan tends to give up a lot of goals, you know.
Not on Friday. The third period featured one of those goal avalanches where Michigan turns a competitive game into a laugher over the course of three minutes. Kyle Connor snapped in another one-timer from his knees or his back or whatever. Like all Kyle Connor one-timers it was uncannily accurate and virtually unstoppable. That ended the competitive portion of the weekend; Saturday was about whether or not Michigan could crack a shot per minute. The 4-on-3 power play happened, of course, and there was even a brief period of 3-on-3. I can't remember the last time I saw that.
So you're looking at this team and Yost is alive, mean and angry, for the first time in a long time, and—oh right last weekend Michigan got swept by Ohio State thanks to an astounding 13 goals allowed, many of them resulting from Michigan turning the flamethrower on itself.
I hadn't been actually mad about a home game since I'd dialed it back after the Mac Bennett injury against BGSU. I'm into this team enough now to leave a game with Yosemite Sam smoke issuing from my ears if, say, they blow a 2-0 lead by allowing six straight goals of an increasingly clownshoes variety. Which they did.
So I don't know, man. I've been saying I don't know what to expect from this team on a nightly basis and in response they've decided to up their amplitude even further. We know they're in. We know what they look like when they're locked in. They look like the apocalypse on skates. We know what they look like when they're thinking about something other than the opponent in front of them. They look like a man playing spin-the-bazooka.
We don't know what Michigan looks like against a tourney team. The last time they played anyone likely to get an at-large was when they travelled to BU sometime in the 1860s. I fear that a disciplined ECAC team comprised largely of 24-year-olds may be a shock to the system, but equally anticipate than anyone going up against the kind of wheelin'-dealin'-saucer-passin' magnificence the CCM line comes up with will inevitably be left consoling a goaltender and possibly a pizza marketer.
It is almost time for the most terrifying thing in sports, and we are approaching it with a team that could do literally anything. If this is the last team Red Berenson ever coaches he dies like he lived: charging headlong into death or glory with flame in his eyes.
Dang, Nieves. The Boo Nieves we saw this weekend is the best-case version of Nieves. He was big, fast, agile, and deft with the puck. He drove a ton of play. That's the guy we were hoping to get when he was a second-round pick.
It's not that he's been necessarily bad; he's been a scoring-line player for the duration of his career and he has put up points. But he's never seemed to outclass his opposition. This weekend he did, maybe for the first time. Better late than never.
Where did this passing come from? Over the past couple months of the season Michigan has become an incredibly slick passing team when they are on the attack. Alex Kile had the sweetest pass of the series when he backhanded one from behind the net that fooled every Nittany Lion on the ice and resulted in a goal. It was one of many chances generated by Michigan's vision.
This hasn't happened in a long while: I got frustrated at Michigan for over-passing in certain situations. That used to be a common refrain when Michigan had an off night back in the rampant days. That it's back is, in the wider view, a great sign.
I would still prefer it if Werenski shoots when he's in the slot, though.
Downing: still sane. Haven't had much to complain about with him for a while now, even during the OSU series. I think the switch has flipped there. I haven't seen him generate an opposition odd man rush with excessive aggression much, if at all, since that MSU game he was horrendous in.
Boka: offensive upside. Michigan's been activating their D more over the past few weeks and Nick Boka has been a beneficiary. Not so much on the scoreboard but in terms of gaining and keeping the zone and handling the puck, Boka has given some indication he can help fill the shoes Werenski is likely to vacate next year.
Shuart is a luxury as a fourth liner [Bill Rapai]
Skill down the roster. Max Shuart's goal on Saturday saw him stickhandle through a couple guys and lift a backhand over the goalie; on Friday Tony Calderone scored a slick breakaway goal five-hole. Most years
Pairwise stuff. Michigan slides up just one spot to seventh. Right now they'd be bracketed with Harvard in the first round and (probably) Quinnipiac in the second, which would mean they get shipped east.
The committee does have leeway to move folks around in a seed band in an effort to bump attendance so Michigan might get swapped into Cincinnati anyway—although if I was the committee that wouldn't make much impact on me either way since attendance in Cinci is always a disaster no matter who is in that regional. If the committee really gave a crap about attendance a Cincinnati regional would not exist.
Michigan is locked into the field now, BTW. There is not a scenario amongst the three million or so possibilities remaining that drops them out. They are about 90% likely to be #7 or #8. No other Big Ten team has a chance at an at-large; Michigan Tech has a faint shot at an at-large if they lose in the WCHA title game. Michigan's playing for the banner and the banner only in St. Paul.
Big Ten Tourney stuff. Annual rant: this is the dumbest format for a sporting event that isn't the actual NCAA tourney. They will never get attendance anywhere when they have six teams so spread out for a niche sport like hockey. I do not understand why they don't just have best two of three series on home ice. More games, better for fans, more money. Anyone who doubts this must not have watched the various home-court basketball conference tourney finals, which are always played in tiny gyms that are losing their damn minds.
The holdup is that Wisconsin and Ohio State don't want to reserve their buildings for three weeks because high school state championships use them. Which is fine. If neither school wants to take hockey seriously that's their problem. (In Wisconsin's case their objection is even more absurd since there's another arena the same damn size in Madison that can take the high school events.) That shouldn't prevent the Big Ten from running a much better tournament in every way.
Oh: Michigan gets the winner of Penn State-Wisconsin after a bye. Given the results of the last two weekends that's better than facing the MSU-OSU winner. Minnesota would likely await in the final.
I don't want to get ahead of myself, but… I have heard that Compher will return for his degree, and I'm guessing Motte comes along with him. Werenski is almost certainly gone, but if they get those two guys back Michigan is waiting on Connor and just Connor. If he comes back… hoo boy. I mean, I don't think he's back. But man.
A big thanks to our sponsors. The show is presented by UGP & Moe's. Shopping with them helps us and supports good dudes. Check out 100years.moe for the rich history of Michigan's oldest apparel store.
Things could be going less bad. We talk mostly about the future, including Beilein hotseat talk (that we largely reject) and where the improvement comes from net year.
Ace's Hockey Podcast
starts at 19:50
This weekend was not a good weekend. It was a bad weekend. Still in, and this time we're in favor of plinko. More Hire Mel Pearson chatter.
Gimmicky Top Five: Predicting Future WTF Offseason Takes
starts at 32:43
After last year's collection of rumors that did not come to fruition we take our swings at the things insiders say about the 2016 team that will look most bizarre in retrospect.
Spring Football Stuff
Starts at 48:42
Early (very early) takeaways. Ian Bunting, Ahmir Mitchell, Drake Harris, Tyrone Wheatley Jr all come in for discussion along with the QBs, of course.
THE USUAL LINKS
Johnson pictured before he was immolated by 73-degree temperatures [Patrick Barron]
The humanity. Michigan's Florida trip was just another step towards the destruction of collegiate athletics:
"It's been wonderful," running back Drake Johnson said. "I think the team bonding aspect was the best. Obviously, we're here to learn football, but I think being together this whole time, sometimes being on campus can kind of spread you away from your team because you're caught up in school life. Being here has allowed us to accelerate the process of learning."
They will never recover. I will play the world's tiniest violin for them.
Soon, but not yet. Harbaugh on one Brandon Peters:
"It's impressive what he did (this week), as young as he is, being out here for the first time, he's got some real coolness about him," Harbaugh said unprompted Friday evening after the team's final practice at IMG Academy. "It showed up over and over in each of the four days.
"He's not a guy that panics. He's a natural in a lot of ways."
I mean, that sounds like "very soon" but some of the praise on offer here is definitely of the "for a freshman" variety:
"A lot of times with freshman quarterbacks, let alone someone who is coming in at mid-year, you expect fumbled snaps or they can't get out of the huddle. But he was out of the huddle on every snap, every call."
So maybe we can pump the brakes on the inevitable Brandon Peters Is A Real Challenger chatter. Here's hoping he goes redshirt, backup, really good redshirt sophomore. If someone else doesn't pip him in two years.
Linebacker group taking shape. Harbaugh called Ben Gedeon a "stud" after four spring practices, so let's hang on to that when we're squeezing our worry balls about the linebacking corps over the offseason. Also:
“I think Noah Furbush is going to contribute,” Harbaugh said. “Devin Bush Jr. is going to be good (too). So we got some real good players in there. I feel much better about our linebacker situation after four days.”
On the one hand, awesome. On the other, four mostly unpadded days. Harbaugh also praised McCray but noted his injury history. He can hang out with Drake Harris in his dorm room made entirely from bubble wrap and soothing whale song.
Satellite camps are on. Michigan's got one scheduled in Alabama for June 6th, so those haven't been banned yet.
MAAR profiled. Or Rahk or whatevs man. Brendan Quinn talks to his dad about the origin of the name:
"Oh!" the 58-year-old booms. "I tell you, man, to this day, it was the most magnificent thing I've ever seen in my life."
It's a Saturday morning in Manhattan and Dawud Abdur-Rahkman — the former David Cody — is rolling. The busy coffee shop disappears as he smiles and squints, telling the story of how he met Muhammad Ali in 1978. His voice crackles like old vinyl.
Every memory is vivid: Ali's sweat flying as he sparred. Ali looking 10-feet tall. Ali taunting the kids in jest, "I told you chumps I'm the greatest!" He remembers meeting Ali one-on-one and only being able to muster, with a tremble, "How you doing, Champ?"
Hey, I remember getting blitzed by that dude. The New York Times has an article on Keith Frazier, former SMU player and walking academic red flag who serves as a poster child for the ridiculousness of the one-and-done rule imposed on the NCAA by the NBA:
Frazier’s educational track record was pockmarked with failure. His high school grades mysteriously and quickly improved whenever his eligibility to play was at stake. He most likely had too many absences and failing grades to graduate from high school. And top officials at S.M.U. ignored their own professors, who recommended that Frazier not be admitted to S.M.U., an academically tough university.
Frazier took an online summer course before enrolling in freshman classes. An S.M.U. team assistant secretly completed Frazier’s work, an N.C.A.A. report found.
Frazier played against Michigan, helped SMU torch us, and has since left school. He would have been better off in the NBA from the drop… and in this case, SMU would have been better off as well. But guys like Frazier are all over college basketball, because they have to be.
This isn't a situation like football where there is a legitimate safety concern for recent high schoolers being put in the shark tank against guys like JJ Watt; it's solely the NBA using the NCAA as a marketing arm. Unfortunately I don't see a solution since the NFL's rule was challenged in court and stood because it was part of a CBA. Jim Delany proposing the return of freshman ineligibility is the nuclear option that will never happen… and really seems like the only option, period.
See also: Ben Simmons, who was left off the Wooden list because of his GPA in his only semester of college.
NOPE. If you're wondering who secured an interview with Tom Anastos and managed to turn it into a sympathetic piece for a guy who has MSU hockey 42nd in RPI in year five, well, it's Graham Couch because of course it is. MSU is so bad at hockey that it makes me, a Michigan fan, upset. And it's worse when Anastos's solution to MSU's problems is to bring in overage players:
Q: What’s the timeline now for the turnaround, to be closer to what North Dakota and other elite programs are on the ice, where there’s a noticeable difference? You’ve got a heralded class coming in but those guys will be young next year.
Anastos: “Yeah, but we have some older kids coming in. We’re not getting to the point where we’re starting to be able to be more patient (in when we bring in a recruit). … To answer your question about North Dakota, I thought it would take a good eight or nine years to be able to get ourselves in a position where you’re competing for those most elite prospects, and you can build the depth in your roster."
Dude was supposed to be connected to every junior program in the state and he cannot compete for the same recruits Michigan does. I'll admit that I don't know a ton about MSU's incoming class but it doesn't seem "heralded" by anyone. It has zero NTDP players. Only one of their guys was even ranked in the midterm CSB rankings. It's not even that old, five years in. North Dakota mostly recruits like Michigan and BC do; the old dudes strategy is one that second-tier programs use to offset the fact they're not bringing in the Kyle Connors of the world.
Why Anastos thinks it would take twice as long as a player is eligible to turn around a program is obvious: it's the only possible justification for the guy keeping his job. Fire this dude, fire Mike Eaves, go to home series in the playoffs, Make the Big Ten Great for the First Time.
Also hire Mel Pearson, Michigan.
Etc.: This is a tradition I could do without. Further reminding us of the Amaker era, Michigan is the 8 seed in the Big Ten tourney and will play Northwestern at noon on Thursday. Big Ten hockey guy who isn't a hockey guy tries to defend league's sneaky rules ploy, fails. Calls removing eligibility from 21-year-old freshman a "modest proposal," unironically.
Ball screens not so much this year.
I don't know man. I literally don't know about Sunday's game, which was not televised. I also do not know about the Friday game, during which Michigan gave back all of their defensive gains over the past month and then some. It sounds like that continued Sunday:
Glad we got those D issues ironed out
RT @umichhockey: 19:02 1st |Racine makes a great save as 2 OSU players broke into the zone all alone
— Yost Built (@YostBuilt) March 6, 2016
After giving up a 2-on-0 breakaway a minute into the game, Michigan fell down 5-1, tied the game up, had a go-ahead goal waved off, and then lost in OT. I did not see this game, but I've seen this game.
What I did see on Friday was the same kind of stomach-churning frustration on one end and joyous awesome goal-scoring on the other end I imagine Sunday was. The reason people started watching hockey in the first place is so they could see the kind of tic-tac-toe goals the CCM line bangs in with regularity; the reason they got really angry and burned down the White House in 1812 is an inability to adjust to forechecking.
Michigan looks really really talented and not too bright, same story as always post-Mel. This year they've put together one of the best lines in Red Berenson history and it's keeping them above water. Except when it doesn't. Since Berenson is almost certainly retiring there's not much to do at this point but get to the tournament and hope things bounce the right way. Change is coming either way.
But at least they gave themselves enough breathing room. We can put away the RPI calculators and fancy graphs. Per College Hockey News, Michigan is 100% in the field and highly unlikely to end up outside the 7-10 range. At that point your seeding is unimportant. We'll be hoping the ping-pong balls come up in the right way to send Michigan to Cincinnati, where a 20% capacity crowd will provide an advantage to nobody. That means Michigan wants to get bracketed with whichever NCHC team ends up third or fourth, but it's impossible to figure out how to do that.
Michigan really just wants to go three periods without having Mad Max break out.
Speaking of "not televised." You know, I'm not as down on Big Ten hockey as everybody else seems to be. It was necessary for the growth of the sport to go from two Western conferences to three. Does Arizona State exist today if it's looking at two absolutely full conferences and the prospect of a long and lonely road as an independent? I doubt it.
But I do kind of expect that a game on Sunday between blood rivals is on TV. The only basketball game between 4 and 7:30 was on CBS. To not even have a streaming option is ridiculous.
Hockey is, or at least can be, a revenue sport. It should be treated as such. I see zero evidence the Big Ten is doing this. The BTN didn't bother televising a nonconference series against BU even though they certainly could have bought rights to televise an NESN broadcast of the Friday game; Saturday wasn't televised by anyone at all.
On the next coach. The fact that Berenson is retiring after this year has entered worst-kept secret territory. It is very like Red to not tell anyone publicly, but you can expect this weekend's Penn State series to be Red's last at Yost. His legacy is such that someone's going to put his name on something important; I'm not going to handle it in a random bullet point.
No, this bullet is for looking towards the next guy. Since Michael Spath is more or less the entirety of the Michigan hockey beat he's the only person with a list of candidates, which is in some order:
- Michigan assistant Brian Wiseman
- Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson
- Providence head coach Nate Leaman
- U18 NTDP head coach Danton Cole
- Springfield Falcons head coach Ron Rolston
Spath's been issuing lists for a couple months now and there isn't a ton of commonality between them except for the obvious guys connected to Red. I get the feeling that nobody really knows because Red keeps his own counsel and Michigan just imported a new athletic director. The names other than Pearson and Wiseman on that list are probably educated guesses.
Set aside Pearson for a moment. I would be fine with Leaman, who turned Union into an excellent program and then turned around and did it again at Providence. Providence is in the running for a one seed this year; they are they defending national champs. I'm listening.
He would be in for some major culture shock, though: he's one of those guys importing 20 and 21 year old freshmen. Michigan doesn't recruit like that and will not recruit like that through the next, oh, three or four recruiting classes since those are all but wrapped up already. I'm pretty sure he'd be able to cope with extremely talented younger guys, but you never know. And would he be able to recruit going forward?
The other guys on the list are all major risks. Wiseman has never been a head coach and is a current assistant on a team that can't find its ass in two tries on defense. (It's in the net.) Danton Cole is a Spartan whose only college job was a dismal three-year run at UAH. Rolston does have about a decade of college coaching under his belt plus a long spell with the NTDP and a couple years as the Sabres' head coach; he hasn't been in college for a decade.
A couple of those guys might be good if you end up moving to fallback options. But then there's Mel.
I was going to put a vertical line on the chart when Mel left for Tech and then I realized it was already more or less there. It's the blue uptick and red downtick in 2012. Pearson got Tech in the tourney for the first time since 1981 last year. This year the Huskies won their first conference title since 1976. (I realize this WCHA is not the old WCHA but when you're Tech hockey any hardware is a miracle.) They've currently scrapped their way onto the bubble again. Pearson immediately made Tech much better and now that it's his program they're at a level they haven been at since Pearson was playing in Houghton.
Yes, he's a bit older than is ideal at 57. On the other hand, Red was 57 in 1997. He won a national title the year before and the year after. Michigan has the raw tools to win a national title every year; there need be no building phase. Even if Pearson does retire at around 65, you get almost a decade out of him. That decade is immediately productive. He is obviously a top-level coach who was a linchpin of Michigan's success under Red.
This isn't hiring Brady Hoke; it's more like hiring Harbaugh, insofar as hiring anyone other than Harbaugh is like hiring Harbaugh. Knowing the culture is an asset; it just can't be the only asset. Pearson was clearly a major reason Berenson succeeded and is currently in the midst of the most impressive rebuild job in college hockey.
Hire Mel Pearson.
A big thanks to our sponsors. The show is presented by UGP & Moe's. Shopping with them helps us and supports good dudes. Check out 100years.moe for the rich history of Michigan's oldest apparel store.
Woof. Defense: what? Walton's two point shooting: what? I mean, let's not go overboard into fire everybody here but all of a sudden this is a crossroads kind of situation.
Ace's Hockey Podcast
starts at 19:31
I loooove playing at Minnesota. Do not love goals outside the blue line so much. Do love the CCM line lots, plus New and Not Insane Michael Downing. Michigan has more or less secured a bid, so that's nice.
starts at 31:10
Rishi Narayan joins us to talk about the Coaches' Challenge, which John Beilein is a finalist in, and urges you to participate. They've got prizes on offer for participating. Click the sponsor ribbon RIGHT ABOVE THIS POST to participate or email [email protected] with proof of your vote.
Gimmicky Top Five: Surprising Baby Things
starts at 34:07
No, YOU stick to sports. Ace and I list the top five or six most surprising things about extremely young babies. Ace does not have the benefit of actually having an extremely young baby, but has something like common sense ever stopped us? Absolutely not.
Spring Football Stuff
Starts at 46:41
The Gentry move and the implications thereof. Khalid Hill as Phillip Lutzenkirchen. Jabrill Peppers, SAM linebacker? It could happen.