"He makes it really easy on you as a coach because he has tremendous football instincts," Michigan tight ends coach Jay Harbaugh said. "Things come really naturally to him. He doesn't have to see things too many times. He has a good sense for how things should look and feel, and he's a tough, physical guy."
It's a bye week and Atomic Dog happened, so this week's question is naturally inspired by Dennis Norfleet:
I think we can all admit our collective love for Dennis Norfleet extends well beyond what he's accomplished thus far as a Michigan football player. (What he could hypothetically accomplish is a topic for another week.) Looking back onto Michigan teams of the past—hoops and hockey included—which player or players stick out in your mind as somebody you enjoyed cheering on largely for reasons outside of their ability to perform between the lines?
Additionally, please include the song you'd choose for Special K to play when a hypothetical kick returnin' you prepares to receive a kickoff.
Seth: Oh man. Well, Dakich, but I have a feeling Ace had Andrew in mind when he asked, so I leave that to the basketball beat. There must also be an entire category for one-off videos: Coner's rap, Louie Caporusso: Love Expert, 2011 hockey's savage mock rock skit, etc.
There's a bittersweet one worth discussing: Big Will. As a player, in a time when Michigan needed a hero out of their 5-star DT, we instead got Thor. Soup did little to justify his hype until Brady swapped him back to defense and set the army of DL coaches on him. That fact unfortunately overshadowed a blue chip off-the-field career.
Even before he arrived, Will gave us two commitment celebrations: one a year before the rest of his class, the second a literal hat dance...
...after trolling recruitniks by declaring Michigan out and LSU his leader two days prior.
Will was a regular at various with-the-kids charity functions the players did, and these inevitably led to endearing photos of flat-topped Soup among the Lilliputians. I never found video of it, but in the same vein, I remember after we beat Michigan State in 2012 that the scoreboard zoomed in on the students as various smurf-sized players jumped up to sit among them, and then Will started to follow and you could clearly make out some girl in the drop zone mouthing "Oh shit!"
Finally, there was the misdemeanor so hilarious we begged EDSBS to bring back the Fulmer Cup: denting the hood of a car while trying to Dukes of Hazzard. This destroyed my previous all-time favorite crime by a Wolverine: Jerald Robinson's heroic destruction of a parking gate. Campbell may not have been as productive as Martin, nor as eloquent as RVB, but in times that called for levity as much as interior line depth, Big Will was at the very least hilarious.
Seth again: Crap, I forgot music. Kool & the Gang, Jungle Boogie: "Get down, get [your pad level] down!"
[Hit THE JUMP for Denard, Air Georgia, the owner of the world's most interesting pet, the unicyclist and the philosopher, and more.]
Good news for people who like boring news. There is a webcam of Michigan taking down their new scoreboards. You can watch it, or you can look at this picture. They are basically equivalent:
Yes, they left the Big Chill lingo up.
Womp-rats? Yesterday at about 7 PM Yahoo released its latest article that terrifies and thrills, and it's a doozy:
Tressel knew of gear scheme last April
If true, that would expose Ohio State to the worst kind of NCAA justice. Cover-ups are very bad. They got SMU the death penalty and are soon to terminate the job of Bruce Pearl.
Can Yahoo/the NCAA prove it, though? The Robinson/Wetzel piece relies on one anonymous source who said Tressel was "troubled by the information" and promised to investigate. I don't think OSU can reasonably suggest they investigated and found nothing since it didn't take the NCAA long to confirm the story, but previous Yahoo gotchas came with paper trails—as of now there isn't one.
The worst-case scenario here is that this gets rolled into an investigation of Terrelle Pryor's perpetual loaner and it turns out that—surprise—zealous OSU boosters are funneling massive amounts of impermissible benefits to players. It's getting to the point where it's hard to downplay everything that comes to light as an isolated incident, especially when Antonio Pittman tweets that cats have been getting hookups on tats since 2001.
I don't think anyone knows where this is going but if Yahoo can produce paper a major violation, an actual one not about stretching, is in the offing. Eleven Warriors just tweeted that they are hearing Tressel will admit wrongdoing(!) and sanctions/suspensions are "possible."
No serious harm done. According to Mike Spath, Carl Hagelin and Billy Powers expect Louie Caporusso to return for next weekend's CCHA finals at the Joe. Presuming Michigan can get by Bowling Green, by far the worst team in the league this season, without him they won't be short in their quest for a one-seed.
Word. Best NFL draft evaluation ever on one Justin Boren:
Plays angry on the field but his mental makeup is in question after a transfer from Michigan. Day 3 prospect.
Love to bits. The SBN Oilers blog goes off on semi-regular rants about how numbers are just not understood, man, that I love to tiny bits. Their latest is about the Avalanche and their fluky run last year. According to hockey's advanced metrics last year, the Avs were a terrible team. According to the standings midway through the year they were pretty good. They managed to survive a massive late slump to squeeze into the playoffs and fans thought this was sustainable and numbers were stupid. This year they're pretty much the same team except they're not nearly as lucky, so they're just above the Oilers in the standings and fans are discussing whether they should fire the coach they were pumping for the Jack Adams last year.
Avalanche fans are not alone in ignoring, even denying the evidence behind the performance of the team. In an article entitled "When the scientific evidence is unwelcome, people try to reason it away" in The Guardian, author Ben Goldacre explores what happens when people are "...confronted with scientific evidence that challenges their pre-existing view." His conclusion? "Often they will try to ignore it, intimidate it, buy it off, sue it for libel or reason it away." Goldacre references a 1979 paper from Lord, Ross and Lepper. From the paper's abstract:
People who hold strong opinions on complex social issues are likely to examine relevant empirical evidence in a biased manner. They are apt to accept "confirming" evidence at face value while subjecting "disconfirming" evidence to critical evaluation, and, as a result, draw undue support for their initial positions from mixed or random empirical findings.
Goldacre goes on to discuss a second group of people - those who attack the science behind the evidence presented to them.
When presented with unwelcome scientific evidence, it seems, in a desperate attempt to retain some consistency in their world view, people would rather conclude that science in general is broken.
This line of thinking is similar to that used by fans who argue in favor of shot quality. Shot quality has become the great foil used by those arguing against possession metrics as a basis of hockey analytics. The ever-increasing mountain of possession data, evidence and studies means little to the shot quality folks. Arguments abound in favor of shot quality with no evidence to back it up, so lacking so Desjardins challenged the world to prove the existence of shot quality. There were no takers.
When presented with unwelcome scientific evidence, it seems, in a desperate attempt to retain some consistency in their world view, people would rather conclude that science in general is broken.
What's that on the horizon? It's getting closer! It's getting closer very fast!
This is why numbers are important—they at least force you to consider things that conventional wisdom holds are ridiculous, like Derek Jeter being a pretty crappy defensive shortstop. The advanced metrics said the Avs were due to regress badly and they did. This would be just another guy who loves numbers accepting confirming evidence while some other team that defied the numbers would be seized upon by the Joe Morgans of the world as their confirming evidence… except for the fact that you can collect big sets of numbers and show they are accurate more often than not. We had a discussion about this before college football season when I predicted Iowa wouldn't do so hot and Iowa fans were like "numbers are stupid."
The other end of the spectrum from Joe Morgan is David Berri, who's just as wrong as Morgan and relies on a just-as-irrelevant credential ("I was the greatest second baseman of all time"/"I went to Princeton") in his quest to reduce everything in sports to a regression. I'm not arguing for that, either. The numbers gathered by football and basketball box scores are witheringly insufficient to hope to explain anything.
In reality, numbers are insufficient to fully explain anything but baseball for a lot of reasons. Baseball's easier and there are orders of magnitude more data—Pitch FX is insane. But in all sports advanced metrics can at least provide a much better answer for "what," if not how and why. An example: about a week ago LaVall Jordan tweeted that Michigan had the fourth best defense in the Big Ten. That's true on a pure counting number basis but if you do something like divide they were ninth*. That's a huge difference and the tempo-free number is indisputably better. There's a huge difference between talking about why Michigan has an above average defense or why they have a below-average one, and anyone who would prefer to talk about the former is just wasting people's time.
*[The MSU game moved them up to seventh.]
Hardaway explosion. Rod Beard's latest in the News has a wide array of quotes on the emergence of Tim Hardaway Jr. Vitale is involved, but don't let that phase you. Here's the most interesting bit on his recent blowup:
"When he was shooting a lower percentage earlier in the year, I called him in and we just talked a little about getting a better shot than he was taking," Beilein said. "(I told him) you're probably going to take just as many shots, but the ball will come back to you again.
"He did it immediately and his shooting percentage has gone way up."
Beilein has repeatedly praised Hardaway's coachability, which suggests he will continue to improve over the duration of his career at Michigan. Dad is also impressed:
"He's developed very well and the whole team has, from November to today," Tim Sr. said. "You can see a lot of confidence in them and you can see their swagger. They're playing well, they believe in the system and they believe in the coach."
Random offer thought. Michigan continues to litter the nation with offers, but a Q: could this be a more general pattern? The NCAA just implemented a rule that prohibits schools from sending written offers until August. In the past there was the verbal offer, which was more of an indication of interest, and the written offer, which was as close to official as something that says "we can revoke this at any time" gets. Now there are no written offers, nothing to distinguish between the two, and kids who may have waited to declare they had an offer until they had the actual paper in their hands now have nothing else do go on.
In any case, the universal predictions that this rule would lead to confusion and would do nothing to slow down the breakneck pace of recruiting have come true, like it was obvious they would.
Etc.: Posnanski writes something about the "joy of rooting against Lebron" that expands on yesterday's trash-talk assertions. According to Ira at WTKA via Brandon, Michigan's club seats and suites are sold out. Evolving Evan Smotrycz. Big Ten wrestling details.
The must-get. I mentioned this on twitter yesterday but in case you don't follow me and my pork-induced time travel, this man exists:
This man exists and is an in-state defensive back who already claims an Iowa offer. I promise to refer to him as LEVITICUS PAYNE, in full, in caps, for the duration of his career if he ends up at Michigan. Unless that is an illegal inducement. Which it totally isn't.
Love expert. So… yeah… this…
…is the best thing ever produced by a university athletic department. Fact. It also produced a sad zinger, if you're a masochist. (Quick masochist test follows. Q: Are you a Michigan fan?)
Pipped. Sticking with hockey, Bryan Hogan is healthy. Unfortunately for him, Shawn Hunwick's been playing as well as he possibly can and Hogan's had nine games over the past year. Result:
Hunwick has been solid since then, and remains the Wolverines' No. 1 goalie. But if necessary, Berenson said Hogan could be inserted into the lineup. Berenson said he never considered making a change in Saturday's 3-0 loss to Miami after Hunwick gave up three goals in the first 40 minutes.
Not sure why he'd pull Hunwick after he gave up some goals where 1) he fell victim to a wraparound because he's short and has to come way out of the net, 2) got sold out on a breakaway, which he stopped, only to get sold out on the guy following up the play, and 3) gave up a 5x3 goal on a cross-ice bomb to one of the nation's best power plays.
Also, Red fired up the line blender and came up with this:
Carl Hagelin Louie Caporusso Chris Brown
Scooter Vaughan Matt Rust Luke Glendening
David Wohlberg A.J. Treais Luke Moffatt
Ben Winnett Kevin Lynch Derek DeBlois
Based on recent performance I think AnnArbor.com has the second and third lines flipped there. Will it matter? Eh… maybe. I still think you have to put Lindsey Sparks in just to see what happens when a little guy with some skill gets on the ice.
Basketball follow-up. When I went back to assess NCAA tournament chances it struck me how close this team was to pulling off two or three wins that would have them not on the bubble but solidly in the tourney, and I thought about the 2009 team that got those wins against UCLA and Duke.
So is it good or bad that right now Michigan is the #55 team in Kenpom? Two years ago the Michigan team that made the second round of the tourney finished the year 50th. This team is nearly their equal. Look:
This year's team is slightly worse at both O and D but the differences are small and Michigan is so young you can argue they'd play better down the stretch than older teams closer to the top of the learning curve. That year's team was also so young—289th nationally—and improved at the tail end to squeeze its way in. If this edition of Michigan basketball can do that against a reasonable closing stretch the sole difference between this year and the tourney year will be a few points here and there against UCLA, Duke, Syracuse, OSU, and Kansas.
Possible addition. Chris Pool tweeted something about a Graham Glasgow visiting Michigan this weekend. [update: and as I write this I see Tom's all-seeing eye has confirmed it.] Glasgow is a 2011 OL from Illinois with no ranking anywhere. After reading the stuff available on Rivals it seems he's a preferred walk-on sort. He had an Eastern Michigan offer but Minnesota was talking to him about walking on. Also he just visited Ohio State(!), and I'm pretty sure they're full since OL Chris Carter ended up not getting charged* in his Hand That Rocks The Cradle case. If he's looking for a walk-on spot Michigan can accommodate that, and possibly sell him on the idea he's got a better shot at PT at M.
*[Which seriously people, when you complain about Ohio State being "at it again" you sound ridiculous. Fulmer Cup standings do not lie unless we're talking about Michigan State. Feel free to hammer OSU for its regular scandals involving their players having contact with boosters and Kiffin-esque secondary violation collection, but as far as behavior goes people who live in fairly sturdy brick houses shouldn't throw rocks at others in fairly sturdy brick houses. It's pointless and you look silly.]
Exactly wrong. Excellent The Only Colors post on the effect losing Korey Lucious has had on the Spartan basketball team stands in magnificent contrast to the News's take: "Deflating loss exposes Spartans' lack of grit, heart." This is exactly wrong. MSU is playing an elf who bakes cookies. He is backing up another goofy walk-on. This is the corrected version of that headline:
Deflating loss exposes Spartans' excess of grit, heart
Deflating loss exposes Spartans' lack of persons to put balls through hoop
Not that this will stop anyone's stupid meme. Some poll found that 81 percent of the state didn't go to either Michigan or Michigan State. A third of these people said they weren't fans of either. A third said they were MSU fans, a third said they were Michigan fans.
Graph. Here's a graph of Michigan's offerees and where they went from Touch The Banner:
It'll be interesting to see how this graph shifts under Hoke. Guessing the overall numbers get smaller and the SEC's share shrinks drastically.
Etc.: Kansas ditched the students who follow players around to make sure they're in class and is now going with senior citizens. About half of I-A has gotten nailed for major violations, but major ain't what it used to be. Michigan gets to be on a list of a dozen schools that got hit twice YAYAYAYAYAY. Bob Wojonowski being Radley Balko back in the day. Previous article about Rodriguez dissing former players disputed by Woodley, Orr, Runyan. Stewart Mandel obliterates Saban's attempt to defend himself from negative PR about oversigning.
An annual post informing/figuring out what's going on with the hockey team when football season ends.
Last year: On the one hand, Michigan tore through the final ten games of its schedule en route to its 20th straight NCAA tourney bid. They swept Michigan State at Munn in the ultimate karmic retribution, beat Miami at the Joe, beat Northern to clinch their tourney bid, and were one erroneous whistle away from a thrilling overtime win against Miami in the rematch and a Frozen Four bid.
On the other, Michigan needed every game of their CCHA tourney run to go their way or they would have been left out of the tourney entirely. After struggling to a .500 record more than halfway through the season, an uninspired group of Carl Hagelin and a bunch of guys who weren't very good seemed like obviously the worst Michigan team assembled since Red got his machine going back in the late eighties.
The question going into 2010: which was it, then?
Neither Great Nor Terrible
Eighteen games in, that's the answer. Michigan's part of what looks like it will be a three-way race for the league title with Miami and Notre Dame. Michigan is two points behind the Redhawks but has two games in hand; they are behind Notre Dame by virtue of a single shootout point. They've split with ND already and have played two of the three teams hovering around .500 in the league, so the schedule has been somewhere between representative and tough.
The nonconference has not been as kind. Michigan's 1-2-3 with ties against Mercyhurst, UNH, and Wisconsin, a loss to Minnesota, and a split against Nebraska-Omaha. That's a very difficult schedule—UNH is #3, UNO #10 while Wisconsin and Minnesota are middling WCHA teams—but nonconference losses are Pairwise anchors. Michigan's probably given away any shot at a #1 seed unless they rip through the second half schedule.
This is miles better than last year, when Michigan finished seventh(!) in the league and was .500 at the holiday break. If Michigan can take care of business against a 3-7-1 Michigan State team that's just as bad as it should be after losing all but a couple players with a hint of talent, they'll go into this break 10-5-4 with a solid head start at landing an at-large NCAA bid.
So why does this feel just like last year?
It's kind of just like last year. Carl Hagelin lacks the raw net-ripping scoring to carry the team offensively but is awesome in all phases and is the only Michigan player to be noticeable on almost every shift. Louie Caporusso is frustrating but somehow is tied for the team lead in points. A totally obscure senior forward has made himself a critical contributor (Lebler last year, Vaughn this year). Large stretches of every game are boring, defensive hockey not because that's how Michigan is trying to play but because there's no one on the team who can create chances for himself or his teammates. The power play: guh. Michigan's scoring margin this year is 13th nationally, right about where they finished last season.
The main differences:
- They are not maniacal hackers any more. Michigan is traditionally amongst the national leaders in penalty minutes. Last year they were 15th. This year they're 22nd. Since a large chunk of those are coincidentals, I took a look at PP/G given up. Michigan is 33rd—essentially average. That's a big improvement. Michigan went 115 minutes against Notre Dame without going on the penalty kill.
- The goaltending is average and could be better. Bryan Hogan was puttering around at .901 when the season ended and spent most of the year looking up at .900. This year he's splitting time with Hunwick, who is puttering along at .903 while Hogan is at .923. Put them together and Michigan's overall save percentage is slightly above average this year; last year it was ridiculously bad. Hogan's 19th nationally in SV% and is 7-2. Hunwick' 2-3-4 and just gave up a horrendous goal* to Ohio State that eventually proved to be the difference in a 3-2 OT loss—it may be time to give the job to Hogan full-time.
- They don't have a defenseman who is killing the team. I've been rough on Llewellyn for the duration of his career so credit where it's due: he has been a steady presence on the backline to the point where I'd rather have him out there than Lee Moffie or a couple other offensive defensemen. I think he's had one penalty this year that I was like "aaaaargh" about, which is on par with the rest of the team. He's made a step forward. So has Pateryn, who I think should be seriously considered for a first-line shutdown role.
The things that are the same:
- There is no grade A scorer. This is the point at which Louie Caporusso says "oh really" and starts sniping goals left and right but at this instant I'm down on his ability to do much other than shoot, which he doesn't do enough. Hagelin's outstanding but needs a pure scorer on his wing; he's got Rust and Lynch, who are not anywhere close.
- The depth is weak. Michigan's picking between Scooter Vaughn and Luke Glendening when they're figuring out the second line. No offense to those guys but that's two guys who would have a third line ceiling on a truly good Michigan team. Meanwhile, Chris Brown has two goals and AJ Treais—the designated tiny stick ninja and the U18 team's leading scorer—three, one of them a pinball gift.
- There probably isn't a true shut-down defenseman. Michigan's top pairing has been Chad Langlais and Jon Merrill, and while both have been good neither is a physical presence like a Mitera or Komisarek. Pateryn might be, but those guys were first round picks and he was a 5th or 6th who's still developing.
This is a frustrating team. They'll play two games that are exactly the same over the course of the weekend. They will lose one. They will win one. Most of the time the outcome of either game seems heavily dependent on luck. See last weekend against Ohio State or the Notre Dame split. Last weekend Michigan dominated a bad team territorially and in shots and got a split because they hardly had any scoring chances and Hunwick let in a soft goal. Against Notre Dame they played a fairly even game but eventually ended up on the short end in shots and chances. They won on Saturday because three pucks wandered into the net of their own volition and Chad Langlais was the only person on the ice who realized Chad Langlais had the puck.
Unlike last year's team, they're not undisciplined enough or poor enough in goal to lose many games against the dregs of the CCHA. The Ohio State loss was the first one that could truly be considered bad; all games against the bottom rungs of the league have alternated periods of Michigan dominance with (long, so very long) periods of aimless whatever in which neither team really does anything. That adds up to a 5-1 record against teams that aren't legitimately good, and that coupled with Michigan's ability to tread water against the elite should see them finish second or third in the league—it appears Miami is again the class of the league and should prove that over the course of the year—and get a two or three seed in the tournament, where they'll have to get lucky to advance.
It's not all bad, but it's not what the thrilling run at the end of last year promised. I guess that was too good to last—you can only live on adrenaline so long before it loses its effect.
*(The first one, not the one with under ten seconds.)
The hockey team takes on Mercyhurst this weekend in an actual game, and since I had the good sense to write my hockey season preview in the summer it exists for the first time ever. The forwards:
- Lose just Brian Lebler and midseason defection Robbie Czarnik.
- Return everyone else including seniors Carl Hagelin, Louie Caporusso, and Matt Rust.
- Add talented-but-engimatic forwards and draft stock imploders Luke Moffatt and Jacob Fallon.
Carl Hagelin == hockey Denard.
- Michigan loses Chris Summers and Steve Kampfer.
- They return Tristin Llewellyn, Chad Langlais, Brandon Burlon, Greg Pateryn, and Lee Moffie.
- They add second-rounder Jon Merrill, 2009 third-rounder Mac Bennett, and undrafted NTDPer Kevin Clare.
Biggest concerns are Llewellyn's reliability, a shut-down defender against top pairings, and how to get Moffie on the ice if he's learned how to play D.
I have no idea what will happen here. Hunwick could backslide as his rebound control betrays him, and Hogan could bounce back to his junior-year form. If you put a gun to my head I would say Hunwick claims the starting job around midseason, but that is a prediction with nothing but good memories from the playoff run behind it. I don't think anyone has a clue here, including the coaches.
Yost Built is also ramping up its season preview. Michigan is ranked #4 in the first USA today poll of the season and the official site has launched a "Countdown to Faceoff" series similar to the CTK videos. Here's Louie Caporusso:
The TV schedule, road games in bold:
|10/2/10||Mercyhurst at Michigan||7:35||Comcast|
|10/8/10||Michigan at Bowling Green||7:05||Comcast|
|10/30/10||Ferris State at Michigan||7:35||Comcast|
|11/5/10||Michigan State at Western Michigan||7:35||Comcast|
|11/13/10||Notre Dame at Michigan||7:35||Comcast|
|11/19/10||Lake Superior at Michigan||7:35||Comcast|
|12/3/10||Michigan at Ohio State||7:35||BTN|
|12/11/10||Michigan State v. Michigan
The Big Chill at the Big House
|12/30/10||G-L-I Championship (Teams TBD)||7:35||FSD|
|1/7/11||Michigan at Michigan State||7:35||BTN|
|1/8/11||Michigan State at Michigan||7:05||FS PLUS|
|1/14/11||Ferris State at Michigan||7:35||CBS College|
|1/15/11||Michigan at Ferris State||7:05||Comcast|
|1/21/11||Alaska at Michigan||7:35||FS PLUS|
|1/29/11||Michigan v. Michigan State (JLA)||8:05||FSD|
|2/4/11||Michigan at Miami||7:35||CBS College|
|2/5/11||Michigan at Miami||5:05||FSD|
|2/11/11||Ohio State at Michigan||7:35||BTN|
|2/12/11||Ohio State at Michigan||7:35||BTN|
|2/18/11||Western Michigan at Michigan||7:35||Comcast|
|2/19/11||Western Michigan at Michigan||7:35||FSD|
|3/4 OR 5/11||First-Round Campus-Site||TBA||CBS College|
|3/12/11||Second-Round Campus Site||TBA||Comcast|
|3/18/11||CCHA Semifinal # 1||4:35||FS PLUS|
|3/18/11||CCHA Semifinal # 2||8:05||FS PLUS|
|3/19/11||CCHA Championship Game||7:35||FS PLUS|
That's 20 of 34 games plus potential additions if they get to the GLI championship (likely since the first opponent this year is Michigan Tech) and host a playoff series, which they obviously will. As a bonus, all of the FSD games will be in HD.
Serious coverage will have to wait until football season is over, but there will be erratic posts when warranted.
A Stupid Prediction
Michigan spent most of last year floundering around looking like they'd be the first Berenson team in 20 years to miss the tournament, then caught fire in the CCHA playoffs. Eight games later they were undefeated in the postseason when some guy from Hockey East and his galaxy-spanning incompetence robbed Michigan of a goal that would send them to the Frozen Four. Fate being what it is, Shawn Hunwick would misplay an easy slap shot in the most crushing hockey game I've ever seen.
The question Michigan hockey will spend the first half of the season answering is "well, which is it?" Is it the .500 team that entered the CCHA playoffs or the undefeated team that outshot Miami almost 4 to 1 in the first overtime of the Waterloo, Indiana game?
It should be the latter. Michigan will battle Miami for the conference title, make the NCAA tournament as either a 1 or 2 seed, and then you've got single elimination playoff hockey designed to make a mockery of anyone stupid enough to predict it. Red is going around bluntly stating things like this:
"We realized we were as good as anybody at the end of last year and this team will take that (confidence) and put that on the ice."
"Does it make our team better? Definitely, it's huge," said Berenson of having Hagelin and Caporusso back. "You're so much more optimistic because you know who your top players are. I felt they had their heads in the right place. They are really invested in this program."
They will lay waste and then it will be the tournament again, where nothing makes sense and it all matters so much.
Sophomore Robbie Czarnik, sort of. Czarnik signed with Plymouth approximately a third of the way through the season. In the twelve games he played he had a 3-3-6 and was +1. Michigan was actually just 5-7 with him; they were 21-11-1 without him.
Senior Brian Lebler. Lebler (playing daddy right) was the latest in Michigan's parade of seniors who improved radically in their final year at Michigan, racking up 14-10-24 in 42 games while providing the proverbial physical presence. He combined with freshmen AJ Treais and Chris Brown during the second half of the year on an effective third line.
Senior Anthony Ciraulo. Walk-on Ciraulo skated in seven games, picking up one assist.
Various Flight Risks. Now begins Michigan's annual watch for NHL departures silly or justified. First, allow me to pick up a clover as I pound every bit of furniture in the vicinity. Ah, there. Now: Michigan shouldn't lose anyone this offseason. Kevin Lynch, David Wohlberg, and Ben Winnett haven't played at a level that would see an NHL team jump on them. Chris Brown is a Coyotes draft pick; the 'Yotes have let their last three Michigan prospects play four years. They're also owned by the league and cheap. If they can let Brown develop free of charge, they will.
Then there are the three juniors. Carl Hagelin is an academic All-American from Sweden. He's likely to want his degree. Matt Rust and Louie Caporusso. Louie Caporusso was a third round pick of the Senators and may be a guy an NHL team would look to sign after his blazing finish, but Mike Spath of the Wolverine was asserting that Caporusso was likely to stay even before the Senators swooped in on UNH free agent Bobby Butler, another smallish offensive forward and one the Senators have put directly on their NHL roster. This makes it more unlikely Ottawa will press hard for Caporusso to sign and reduces their ability to sell a potential NHL opening.
All three flight risk juniors have unambiguously stated they will be back, so… yeah. Michigan Hockey Summer happened midseason this year.
Moffatt's rise and fall has been documented on this blog in a series of increasingly puzzled steps as he plummeted from the #2 overall pick in the WHL draft and a certain NHL first-round pick to 95th in the latest CSB rankings. What happened? You've got me. Some hints can be found on this USHL scouting blog:
Behind Zucker, Moffatt was the most visible offensive threat among the 2010 eligibles. Moffatt had the knack of being in the right spots and had several opportunities to create offense. However, once he had the puck, he did not always make the right play. He forced a few bad angle shots from the boards that were easily turned aside and transitioned by Ohio State. On those occasions, Moffatt had more time to survey the play and wait for support. Moffatt is a kid who will benefit from the coaching at Michigan and should play out his eligibility.
Insert Dean Lombardi joke here.
There's not much to say in Moffatt's favor, unfortunately. He's been healthy. He's been heavily scouted. He had a couple of okay years with the NTDP, but did not play anything like the star he was supposed to be. At the latest U18 World Championships, Moffatt finished with one goal and one assist on a USA team that won the title and scored buckets of goals along the way. No one even mentioned him as a disappointment.
All that said, we're talking about a fall from uber-hype to moderate hype. Moffatt is not Tristin Llewellyn, who committed to Michigan incredibly early as a potential first-rounder and didn't even get drafted. He'll go somewhere in the second to fourth rounds of the draft; Michigan's had plenty of stars who have fared worse. Carl Hagelin, for one, was a sixth-rounder. Moffatt will come in battle-tested and should have a shot at earning a spot on a scoring line.
Jacob Fallon, Indiana Ice/USNTDP.
Fallon's also been falling, but for reasons other than his talent level after getting booted from the NTDP midseason for the ever-popular undisclosed violation of team rules. He'd been serving a suspension that almost got him kicked off the team before that—rumored to be a drinking incident, FWIW—and had only six games to his name before he moved to the USHL's Indiana Ice. In 24 games since the move, Fallon has a 1-8-9 line and is minus six. He's done nothing on the ice this year; off the ice he's raised a bunch of questions.
So… yeah, it's a little weird that Fallon was invited to the NHL combine (Moffatt wasn't), was 50th in the Central Scouting midterm ratings (he fell a bit in the final edition, but not much) and is picking up positive scouting reports as recently as April 1st:
First off, Fallon is quick. He can burn defensemen outside, and if he has a teammate with him, the chances are, they're going to score. Fallon has great hands with which he can make crisp, tape-to-tape passes that set up his teammates with great chances to score. His speed, mixed with his ability to make great passes, draws comparisons to Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane. So, he is definitely highly regarded in the NHL community. Fallon doesn't have the best shot, which can bring his value down, and his below average size, 5'10"/180, also brings his draft value down a bit also. But you really can't argue with his raw ability, it's just that he has developing to do as he gets older and plays in college. He will be a great player someday, he just needs to develop his great potential and he'll be in the NHL someday.
Here's a February report from a different source:
Fallon seems to play and look bigger than 5’10 180. He’s a powerful skater with good balance and he uses his edges well. He is also very strong on the puck whether he is handling it in traffic or if he needs to make a hard pass or dump-in. Fallon played well without the puck and was a very responsible player in all 3 zones as well as a physical presence. At times, he seemed tentative in getting to open ice in the neutral zone….possibly a result of becoming acclimated to his new team. When he had the puck, Fallon possessed another gear and was able to take the puck hard into the zone while protecting it. Fallon certainly looks like a hockey player and stands out with strong techniques in all facets of his game and a player who does the little things well. Whether or not his offensive skills develop will dictate Fallon’s role as a second liner or third liner in college and beyond.
On the other hand, Fallon falls to 37th on College Hockey 247's top 50 list—not bad, but a big dip from being the 50th best skater in North America to the 36th best* headed to college—and WCH trashed Fallon's midterm CSB ranking, declaring he'd be lucky to get drafted at all.
Fallon did have a productive year with the U17s in 2008-09, scoring 15-23-38 in 55 games. He'll probably kick around the second and third lines as a freshman.
*(One goalie, Cornell-bound Andy Iles, is ranked ahead of Fallon.)
Hypothetical 2011 Accelerant. Michigan has three forwards committed for the class of 2011: Lucas Lessio, Derek Deblois, and Alex Guptill. With Czarnik's departure there is a potential opening for one of those guys to end up in the class of 2010. Given the depth chart it's not a necessity; it is a possibility. If it's anyone it will likely be Guptill. There's no buzz around Deblois leaving early. Cedar Rapids play-by-play guy James Stachowiak provides an inside look:
There has not been any talk around here lately about his plans for next year. The way that he has been used it seems as though he is being groomed as a team leader for Cedar Rapids next year. He and Mac Bennett are the only first year guys that the RoughRiders coach has included on his "leadership group".
He has also spent the majority of the season playing on the Riders top line. This line happens to have the teams two leading scoring forwards and many of Derek's points have come either feeding them or cleaning up rebound goals. Derek has not been used much on the powerplay during the second half of the season but has become a very valuable asset on the penalty kill. He has very good speed as most RoughRider forwards do and plays very smart on the kill.
As I said, there has not been much talk about plans for next year with the team getting ready for the playoffs, one thing that may or may not sway a decision is that DeBlois and Bennett are very good friends and have been for a long time, in fact, i believe they have always been on the same team growing up and now in Cedar Rapids, if there's a chance to do that at Michigan next year, it might be enough to convince Derek to move on, however, that is just speculation. I think that he would benefit from another season in the USHL where he is a top scoring option.
Lessio is a 2011 draftee and seems content at St. Mike's. Guptill, on the other hand, is a guy who will get drafted this year, has good size guy, and is currently toiling in Canadian Junior A. If anyone comes early, it will be him.
The left wing here is a guess. The top line is Hagelin, Rust, random assortment of wingers who will change at Red's whim and possibly stop rotating wildly the second half of the season. If Luke Moffatt had torn up the USHL like his hype suggested he would, I would have guessed he goes here by sheer dint of talent. If it turns out he's Brett Hull with crappy linemates he'll probably end up on Hagelin's wing, cackling.
That does not seem in the cards. The tentative guess here is that Chris Brown improves enough from year one to year two to displace Kevin Lynch from his spot on the top line. Brown didn't actually score much more than Lynch at even strength (six and five goals, respectively) but Brown brings a physical element that should help Rust and Hagelin's dangerous cycling and provide either or both targets for goalmouth passes.
Just like the first line, you can pencil in Caporusso and Wohlberg as inviolable components of the second line and pick a name out of a hat when it comes to the third guy. My tentative guess is that whatever faults exist in Moffatt's game he's still likely to be a decently high pick in this year's NHL draft and that talent will translate quickly enough for him to find a place here.
Or something? The bottom six forwards are up in the air. With the addition of Fallon there will be at least one extra body next year, which will push the 49 total games from Ciraulo, Sparks, and Rohrkemper into the press box. The six players left are:
- AJ Treais, a tiny skilled center who needs more strength and speed to become an impact player.
- Fallon, who was discussed above.
- Kevin Lynch, who spent a large chunk of last year as the other guy on the Hagelin-Rust line and was a second-round pick.
- Luke Glendening, who was the other guy on the Wohlberg-Caporusso line and wore an A as a sophomore.
- Ben Winnett, a senior who was the point guy on the PP last year.
Only Scooter is a lock to be a fourth-liner. He established himself a reliable forechecker and penalty killer but with a 2-4-6 in 35 games and a 4.5% shooting percentage he is unlikely to work his way onto a scoring line. The other guys could end up anywhere from the top line to the fourth. As you can see above, I'm guessing the offensive talent of Fallon and Treais will outweigh the seniority of the fourth line.
Winnett was the fourth-liner who Red had the most faith in. Until Glendening took his spot, he moonlighted on the second and third lines; he also spent most of the year driving me crazy on the point on the power play. Hopefully Michigan manages to find someone else at that spot. Winnett still brings a modicum of skill and size the other guys hovering around the end of the roster don't.
Glendening spent most of last year on the second line after Czarnik left and Winnett failed to make a leap forward; dropping him to the fourth line might be excessively harsh but it's hard to see how he doesn't fall out of the top six with Moffatt and Fallon arriving.
Rotating Cast Of Scratches
There's actually an interesting guy at the tail end of the roster: Lindsay Sparks. Sparks lost his role on the fourth line to Jeff Rohrkemper at the end of the year, but for a brief stretch in the middle of the season when Michigan was really struggling he brought a little pop to the lineup. Once he stopped getting on the scoresheet his deficiencies in size and defense couldn't justify his place in the lineup, but he ended with a 4-4-8 in 23 games without much playing time. During his time on the ice he showed better dangles than anyone else on the roster; he's got way higher upside than any of the other guys around here and will be a guy to watch early next season. He might have the skill to play himself into the lineup.
Rohrkemper didn't do much in his 19 games; he's a guy at the end of the lineup who will draw in when injury or the World Juniors deplete the roster.
Will a previously obscure player have a Lebler-like breakout? Over the past few years, Michigan's seen a number of players make significant leaps forward after two or three years in the program. Brian Lebler went from 8 to 16 to 24 points. Travis Turnbull went from 17 points as a sophomore to 27 and 28 as a senior. David Rohlfs spent a productive season on TJ Hensick's wing, going from 2-10-12 to 17-17-34. Jed Ortmeyer went from 24 and 21 points as to 38 and 34.
These leaps tend to come from big, grinding forwards who get to hang out on the wing of Michigan Offensive Star Du Jour. (Lebler's advancement is all the more impressive for being almost entirely self-generated.) Michigan doesn't have a Hensick or Cammalleri next year—Caporusso needs more help to generate his offense than any of those guys—but Carl Hagelin threatens to become a Hobey candidate and led the team with 31 assists. Hagelin ended the year on a playmaking tear with 16 assists in his last 18 games, Michigan could decide to lift Kevin Lynch, who had just 6-10-16 as a freshman and endured a 7.6% shooting percentage, for a player more likely to convert the opportunities a rampant Hagelin leaves in his wake.
The two guys who could potentially benefit from this are not exactly obscure. The player on the roster with the closest resemblance to a coke machine is Chris Brown, whose freshman year ended with a 13-15-28 line and seven power play goals, most of them on deflections and dirty crease mucking. If he can improve his skating enough to stay in the same zone as Hagelin and Rust, he could make a PPG-or-better living on tap-ins. The lumbering senior on the roster is Ben Winnett, who came to Michigan as one of those guys who lit up the BCHL but hasn't gotten off checking lines in three years at M. Red likes to put promising kids in high pressure positions, so I'm guessing we'll see Brown get the call on the Wing of Free Points.
Which Caporusso? Louie Caporusso spent the first half of his junior season on a tear. Over the next year he played like a nondescript third-liner, not a upperclass third-round pick. Then he blew up again. Which one is it? If Michigan's going to continue playing like they did during their run to the NCAA tournament Caporusso is going to have to produce. Not at the level he has during either of his tears—Michigan's forward corps should be way better since they only lose Lebler and add two potential top six guys plus a year of experience for everyone on the team—but he can't revert to the form he showed in his lost year.
Will a skilled midget make a leap? No one is going to mistake AJ Treais or Lindsay Sparks for Mike Comrie, but both flea-sized freshmen had their moments last year. As they adjust to bigger, stronger competition one or the other could turn into a solid playmaking center. In Sparks' case that wouldn't have much impact five on five but he showed enough last year to suggest he might be a useful power play specialist.
Treais, on the other hand, is likely to be the third-line center and could have some skilled wingers like Moffatt, Fallon, and possibly Glendening or Lynch. A dropoff from one of the top two lines could be covered by the third line emerging into the sort of unit that obliterates iffy third pairings in the CCHA.
How awesome is Carl Hagelin going to be? So awesome.