1/21/2011 – Michigan 2, Alaska 0 – 16-6-4, 13-4-1 CCHA
1/22/2011 – Michigan 4, Alaska 3 – 17-6-4, 14-4-1 CCHA
"We had a lot of guys playing hard, but our team didn’t play as well it needed to.”
I've been going to Yost for a long time and I don't think I've ever seen Michigan outshot on consecutive nights, let alone by the margins they were outshot this weekend. And yet they still won. They won because Shawn Hunwick was both awesome and fortunate—at least three pucks sailed harmlessly through the crease behind him on Saturday—and Alaska demonstrated that they are the sort of team that scores two goals a game even when the other is dead-set on making a pile of errors.
I swear Michigan athletics is designed to make me look bad. A week after suggesting this set of defensemen was a near-flawless machine they coughed pucks up left and right, failed to check guys screaming through the slot, and gave up an epic number of odd-man rushes. On Saturday Alaska had a 2-on-0 thanks to Mac Bennett blowing a tire at the blue line. They didn't score. That was kind of the weekend.
Even Merrill broke character to join in. Of all people, he was the guy headed to the box to give Alaska a minute of 5-on-3 with five minutes left in the weekend and the game in the balance. His slash was pretty dumb. That was also kind of the weekend.
Michigan's last loss was courtesy of back-to-back dumb 5-on-3s ceded to Michigan State. Michigan's penalty kill is really bad this year. The building was braced for a red light. But then Chad Langlais dove to chip a puck out of the zone off the faceoff, Rust and Hagelin played with the puck for thirty seconds, and by the time the Nanooks got set up in the zone they'd spent 80% of their 5-on-3. Ten seconds later it was over, Yost was on its feet, and Michigan had swept an Alaska team that had gone two years since coming out of a weekend without a point.
Today varsity is two points clear of Notre Dame with a game in hand. They've won nine of their last ten and dropped the one in overtime. They're one Ferris State win away from a one seed. But this week the amalgam of parts that add up to more than they should individually looks like a ramshackle jalopy ready to fall apart. Hopefully this can serve as a wakeup call, rather than actual losses foretold by Saturday's performance.
Non-bullets of escape
Strategery Q. Should Alaska have pulled their goalie during the 5-on-3? I don't know, but I think I would have. You're not going to get a better chance to score and the chances a three-man group can break out against six skaters seems incredibly low.
Adding to the uneasiness. The only even-strength Michigan goal of the weekend that wasn't a point shot came from Scooter Vaughn directly off the draw. (Rust's goal was a deflection from Moffie.) Michigan's defensemen can really pick them out from the point but I doubt that's sustainable.
Moffie, yo. Lee Moffie had a three game goal streak and picked up an assist on that Rust goal when another point shot of his was deflected in. And he didn't seem responsible for much, if any, of the scary defending on Saturday.
Greenham FTW. After Michigan's first goal on Friday a student chucked a small plastic ball on the ice. Moments later, Carl Hagelin was decked as he skated by the Alaska bench. A scrum ensued, followed by one of those interminable referee conferences where they take ten minutes to give everyone matching minors.
In this window of time Alaska goalie Scott Greenham attempted to flip the ball back into the crowd. His first attempt was unsuccessful and drew boos. The second worked, but Greenham had miscalculated: he put it back where it came from. Whoever caught it chucked it right back on the ice. Greenham sighed demonstratively and set about trying to flip the thing over the boards on the other side, but couldn't. He eventually hit it to Rust, who put it over in one, causing the crowd to blow up and Rust to celebrate like he'd just won the Stanley Cup.
It was the best interminable referee conference ever.
Speaking of interminable referee conference. How does Michigan come out of that with an unsportsmanlike bonus penalty to Carl Hagelin? He took a penalty for getting nailed. Other frustrations from the refs:
- not immediately waving off the hypothetical Alaska tying goal for goaltender interference, and then not giving Alaska a penalty for running Hunwick over.
- watching two Michigan sticks cleaved in half right after Merrill had gotten out of the box for his slash and calling neither.
I thought the reffing over the weekend was actually pretty good, but those were weird/frustrating.
Yost bits. A couple of student cheers that were memorable: shutting up the Alaska parents section after their third goal with a "Sarah Palin" cheer and chanting "where's our candy?" at a linesman who had flipped them some the night before.
Pairwise bits. Bits flipped somewhere in the PWR and Michigan now slides behind Boston College. They're sixth. This is probably because Ferris dropped under .500 in RPI and Michigan lost their shiny TUC record against them. That's enough to flip the BC comparison.
For an example of how volatile the PWR is, especially at this point, RPI was mentioned as the #16 team in the preview. After the weekend they're up to 8th. Swings all over the place.
I did take a look at a couple of the comparisons Michigan is losing right now and it does seem possible that they would be able to pass some of the teams in front of them without passing them in RPI. They will not win the North Dakota comparison without heaven and earth moving, but they would win comparisons with BC and Denver if Ferris was still a TUC; the UMD comparison would be very much up for grabs with a narrow margin in the common opponents category making the difference.
1/14/2011 – Michigan 3, Ferris State 2 – 14-6-4, 11-4-1 CCHA
1/15/2011 – Michigan 6, Ferris State 1 – 15-6-4, 12-4-1 CCHA
It's hard to get any emotional mileage from a game you saw on Comcast Local in a bar. The audio was trying to ignore Joe Buck calling an NFL game, the picture quality was 70s-vintage, and the camera was placed so close to the ice that not getting seasick was the main goal. Also it was a blowout.
Friday night, on the other hand, Michigan fell behind 2-0 and looked like they had let whatever momentum they'd gathered towards the back half of 2010 slip away. Commence well-practiced emo time.
Over the next four periods later they outscored a decent Ferris State team 8-0 en route to locking up a home-and-home sweep that sees them top the league* for the first time in over a year. Their goal differential is the best in the league. They're knocking on the door of a #1 seed in the tournament. And it's all a bit mystifying how.
At midseason it seemed like this team was just another middle of the road bunch that would make the tournament but didn't seem like much of a threat to do anything once there, as has been the MO for most Michigan teams since Red's great asskickers of the late 90s. It still kind of seems like that, but something else is creeping in: doubt.
I have the paradigm of a great Michigan team in my head. It has a 5'8" guy who could stickhandle through the Red Army. It has another guy who is a scoring machine thanks to the midget. It has a great craggy mountain of a defenseman who is impenetrable and another defenseman who is a completely insane goal pirate and therefore my favorite player on the team. It has Jed Ortmeyer, who is also my favorite player, and a goalie that everyone is secretly suspicious of.
This edition has some of those pieces, but lacks the magic midget, the mountain, and the swashbuckling nut. The midget is a loss keenly felt by everyone who sees Lindsay Sparks do something surprisingly dangerous and remembers Hensick/Cammalleri/Comrie et al. But the defensemen… in the defensemen may lie the secret of Michigan's success. Specifically, John Merrill.
Merrill came to Michigan with a ton of hype, surviving as the one member of Michigan's incredibly awesome 2010 recruiting class that arrived on campus with his draft status close to intact. That hype still fell far short of Jack Johnson's, and Merrill hasn't spun past an opposition forward on a routine breakout or murdered three guys on a single shift yet. His dad does not dance during the second intermission, not that anyone would notice if he did these days.
Despite that, Jon Merrill is a about ten times better than Jack Johnson was as a freshman. Johnson was insane even for my tastes. As a freshman he racked up an incredible 149 penalty minutes, most of them due to insane aggression. When it came to penalties Johnson was Tristin Llewellyn on speed, and that extended to the rest of his game. When he wasn't doing something ridiculous, he was doing something ridiculous.
Jon Merrill has four penalty minutes this year. Four! He plays all the time, against the top line, and has as many penalty minutes as Shawn Hunwick. That kind of brilliance only becomes apparent over time. Merrill takes tough situations and handles them elegantly in ways that his senior defense partner doesn't always. (Langlais had a rough first period on Friday.) He's emblematic of the entire corps, which consists of Merrill and Burlon and Langlais and Pateryn not making the sort of mistakes that made my veins throb in years past, or at least not many.
Michigan has always been the hare of college hockey, a high-tempo, high-variance team that racks up goals and penalty minutes. Their assets have always been obvious—that guy who can shoot the puck through a donkey, that first round draft pick. This is not a vintage Michigan team, but what it lacks in JMFJ thunder it may make up for with subtler qualities.
*[By winning percentage. Michigan is a point back of Notre Dame but has two games in hand—with conference wins worth three Michigan actually has a somewhat significant lead. Also if you're down here the next sentence says something about goal differential, by which I mean conference goal differential. Miami is better all things considered.]
Non-Bullets Of Well, Now
Though it's not that different. Michigan's ninth in GPG this year, just a tiny pip behind Miami and North Dakota. Most of the other big scorers are Air Force or locked in the insular (and usually not very good) ECAC, leaving just two teams—BC and Notre Dame—significantly outscoring them. Who knew?
Enter the Moffie. Man, Lee Moffie can sneak them in from the point, can't he? Twice in two games this weekend to go with a couple from his freshman year. If he could just play some defense he'd be in business.
Caveat: in a game earlier this season Moffie was a turnover machine and was subsequently benched for a good long time. He nosed himself ahead of Mac Bennett when Kevin Clare rotated in on Saturday but is liable to collapse.
This years Rolfe Memorial Who-Dat Senior. Will be no surprise, but it's Scooter Vaughn, who scored Saturday to reclaim his spot as the third leading goalscorer on the team behind only Hagelin and Wohlberg.
Pairwise watching, still in vague mode. Michigan moved up one spot to sixth with their sweep. You are now rooting for the Bulldogs to destroy the rest of their schedule; at 11-10-4 they're actually pretty good (11-7-3) when not playing Michigan and if they can nose their way into the top 25 in RPI Michigan's Pairwise comparisons will get a major bump. Ferris is currently 28th.
How bizarre. Michigan hosted a fascinating recruiting visitor on the Michigan State weekend: Max Domi. Yes, that Domi. The younger guy is a highly skilled forward who would be a top pick in the OHL draft if his dad wasn't worried about OHL kids seeing the name on his back and wanting to make a name for themselves. They're making seemingly sincere college noises, but as always with these things it's hard to tell if the interest is real or if it's just posturing for the draft.
Domi's still a couple years from college, FWIW, and won't help fill in the two or three blanks at forward in next years class.
Also bizarre. Miami has the sixth-best goal differential in the country—Michigan is eighth—but finds itself 18th in RPI and outside of the tourney in PWR. Their record isn't very pretty so they must be obliterating teams in their wins and losing narrowly in losses.
Kicking yourself. Michigan's non-wins this year include a tie after being up 4-0 on Mercyhurst, blowing two third period leads against UNH, and two losses in OT. OTOH, they scored with under a minute left to send one of those games to OT and got a tie out of Ferris State via the same Houdini act.
Comment over/under. Twelve, in marked contrast to anything about football these days.
So of course it didn't work out. This piece on the rise of the spread offense comes in anticipation of tonight's spread-mad national title game and recommended by Herb Hand, a branch of the Rich Rodriguez coaching tree. In it Rodriguez is approvingly cited multiple times:
Kelly constantly visited other staffs, including Clemson, Wake Forest, Northwestern, Georgia Tech, Oregon and West Virginia. When Kelly visited West Virginia, he was most intrigued by the speed of Rodriguez's offense, Hand said.
When Hand was at Tulsa a couple years ago and watched film of a future opponent playing New Hampshire, he immediately noticed the West Virginia tempo.
"You cannot relent on the tempo," Hand said. "When you first install some of this stuff, you've got to understand it's going to be very ugly early. We used to say you have to coach in short verbal blasts.
"It's not like you're going to have 35 seconds to make your point. The execution is eventually going to catch up to the speed. Now, when you combine the tempo with the execution, then it's a beautiful thing. That's where Chip and Gus are at."
And we're where we are. I think Rodriguez did have to go after the bowl game but that was with the assumption Jim Harbaugh would be the next coach. With our current situation leaning towards either Les Miles or the guy who thinks zone running is insufficient for the needs of MANBALL, I wonder how many Michigan fans are having firer's remorse as they watch the recruiting class disintegrate and Michigan seemingly poised for plan C at best. It's not like Brandon had any good options after the bowl game, but whatever this is seems like the worst possible outcome.
Michigan will have to be more patient with whoever the new guy is than they were with Rodriguez if they want to get out of the massive hole they continue to dig themselves. Hiring a spread guy to continue the transition they've started seems like the best approach—possibly a reason why Miles and his flexibility with offensive styles would be preferable to Hoke.
Part of that rift has been the alienation former players have felt from the football program. Rueben Riley, an offensive lineman from 2003 to 2006 who later played three years in the NFL, said former players have not been included in the program as they have been in the past.
“When I was around, you’d see guys like Hutch (Steve Hutchinson) come back and talk, (Gary) Moeller come back, and you could just see their passion,” he said.
“For a coach to have Lloyd Carr on campus and never have him back to talk to the team? That’s unbelievable to me.”
That is unbelievable. Almost as unbelievable as Michigan's head football coach coming under constant assault and getting nothing more than a single tepid statement of support from Carr over the course of his tenure, or various former Carr players badgering Brandon to fire Rodriguez on a near-weekly basis, or Mike Barwis's testimonial page having quotes from dozens of Michigan athletes who didn't play for Rodriguez, some of whom (like Jack Johnson) didn't even play football. Feeling "disconnected" from Michigan football is the flip side of Carr-era players largely treating Rodriguez like crap.
But wait, there's more!
Shea said it rubbed him the wrong way when Rodriguez disregarded the team’s traditional offense and installed the spread upon his arrival. He’d like to see the next coach return to running the football, playing stout defense and employing a fullback.
“And multiple tight ends,” he said.
“I think the most important thing, whoever it is, I want a guy that understands what Big Ten football is,” he said. “That’s the criteria, along with knowing the pressure that the job entails.”
This is the genesis of all the Hoke stuff, no?
Hockey bits. Michigan split with Michigan State last over the weekend thanks to a combination of stupid penalties and terrible refereeing that saw Michigan end up down 5-on-3 twice late, with State converting both times against Shawn Hunwick. Michigan's erratic offense got a few goals on Saturday and that played out much like the Big Chill did.
Just past the halfway mark it's time to start looking at RPI and the Pairwise—though the latter should be taken lightly given how much jitter it has. Michigan finds itself in a solid position, seventh in the PWR and eighth in RPI. Shockingly, if the season ended today Western Michigan(!) would probably make the tourney at 14th. With the dissolution of the CHA there's only one small-conference autoo-bid and the ECAC actually has some respect in the PWR this year so it's unlikely more than one autobid results in a team that otherwise wouldn't make it. Perpetual HE bottom-feeder Merrimack is also tenuously in the tournament, and Yale is far and away the #1 overall seed at the moment. Weird year.
Michigan also filled in another hole in its 2011 recruiting class by adding forward Phil Di Giuseppe from the Villanova Knights of the OJHL—the same league that sent Brandon Burlon and Louie Caporusso to Michigan. Yost Built has a recruiting profile on him; he's got a 14-30-45 line in 36 games and is the third-leading scorer on his team. The two guys in front of him are three years older, though, so he's obviously the best prospect his team has. He's the league's leading scorer in his age bracket. Here's Di Giuseppe throwing down:
Di Giuseppe's about a month too young for the upcoming draft so he's not on the CSB radar yet. It's hard to tell how big of a land this is for Michigan as a result. His coach provides a little scouting report:
"He is very coachable and more than willing to take advice from others," said Baker. "Phil is a very offensively gifted hockey player his speed and stick skills are second to none. He has made major improvements this year in his defensive play."
At the very least Di Giuseppe sounds like a scoring line type, though maybe not right away.
Goldilocks. If 113k was silly and 85k equally so, then this number—the final one—for Big Chill attendance seems just right:
Resolution to the attendance drama per Sara Wilcox at Guinness World Records PR: “Final number is: 104,073”
And lo, it shall stand for all time unless Michigan does this again at some point.
Etc.: Perry Dorrestein may have a gig waiting for him at the Milwaukee police department. Maize 'n' Brew spends a lot of time fisking Michael Rosenberg, which like… what's the point? Section 1 will love it, at least.