I'VE HAD JUST ABOUT ENOUGH OF YOU SONNY
I'm just interested in the shirt. Ondre Pipkins caught a no-doubt exhausted Frank Clark catching some uncomfortable-looking Zs at something or another. As a man who slept through most of AP Bio in high school I have no leg to stand on as far as criticism of that activity. I'm just interested in his shirt:
EARN THE RIGHT TO RUSH 4
That would be nice.
And the shoes. Dr. Sap puts together a history of Michigan's shoes.
It's more interesting than it sounds. Before Nike came in in 1983, Michigan had seven different suppliers!
It's halftime. Jabrill Peppers has 20 minutes. He's already fixed your car, dated your daughter respectfully, and optioned a screenplay, so it's time to get props from Naughty By Nature:
“I would always hear about [Jabrill], and it was kind of like we let him do his thing and now he’s surfacing on his own. That was the first time I had heard him rap, I didn’t even know he had a crew like that,” he said. “I watched the video and listened to the song and it is really good. Jabrill’s song is like a throwback to ’90’s hip hop and I was like, ‘Wow, I’m really impressed.’ ”
In the time it took you to read that blockquote, Jabrill Peppers made crostini, pulled invasive garlic mustard out of an acre of parkland, and charged your phone. No, he didn't plug it into the wall.
Stick ball sports. Baseball got swept out of the Big Ten tournament, completing a promising first season for Eric Bakich. Michigan was vastly young this year, with just four seniors on the team: three relievers and Eric Biondi. With most of the best players underclassmen and a strong recruiting class coming in, baseball should be on an upward swing. Unfortunately, they'll probably lose slugger Michael O'Neill, who's projected to go somewhere in the first four rounds.
As you may know from the wince-inducing, nonsensical, miserable puns in your inbox…
Alumni Field Will Be Ragin' (& Cajun) This Weekend - Time To BUY(OU) Tickets
We're Jumba-LAY-ing It On Thick - Don't Miss The SOUP-er Regional This Weekend
…softball takes on Louisiana-Lafayette starting… uh… in a couple hours. If you're around and free, tickets are reasonably priced. If you're not, it's on ESPNU. Tomorrow's game is at noon, on plain ol' ESPN, with an if-necessary third game scheduled for ESPN at 3. Winner hits the WCWS. In the face with a bat.
"No, WE'RE going to murder the language more." Fed up with recruits claiming to be committed to schools they have no chance of actually signing with, schools fire back with offers that aren't anything like offers:
Alabama’s scholarship offers at some positions, most notably quarterback, are non-committable and pending an evaluation at summer camp.
The non-committable offer. Everything is a lie. This is a society that takes true things, hits them in the head with shovels, buries them neck-deep in turds, and waits for the tide to come in. This is called right-shoveling. All of everything is false and wrong and a lie. These words are random assemblages of symbols that have no inherent meaning. I cannot communicate at all, there is no meaning, I am floating in that crazy sad void in that one Death Cab song on that album I can't listen to for reason of not wanting to kind of want to put my face in a bathtub of water.
This may be an overreaction.
IT WAS NOT AN OVERREACTION. Charlie Weis got bought out for 19 million dollars. Oh hai meaningless Death Cab void.
Carl Hagelin has powers. Spooky powers:
GOOD EFFORT TRY WIN FIGHT. MLive asks what trolling is, discovers it is trolling. Revelations!
For example, when MSU fans post things like "LOL Walmart Wolverine skunk weasels" or when U-M fans post things like "LOL little brother" nothing is added to the conversation.
They are counseling commenters to ignore people who bother them, which if followed will reduce comments to four per article, all of them from me fighting with myself.
Marlin scouting Gordon. Thomas, that is. And how:
"Thomas Gordon could be a really good player," Jackson said during a recent interview. "If you look at him physically, he's everything you could want in an NFL safety."
"But I would just like to see him become more aggressive, when he's coming to make plays on the football and closing on open-field tackles," Jackson said. "Little things, but big things."
Etc.: Iowa loses a Ufer-equivalent. White House gets down with voracity. Everything you need to know about the Champions League final and horses. Toussaint "fired up" to keep his job, maybe play behind a line that will get him more than two inches of space. Denard can run man. How the pants was he still available in the fifth round man.
Carl Hagelin, 2007-2011
PROS: Molded from Swedish clay to be Red Berenson's platonic ideal of the student-athlete. Such an awesomely good defensive hockey player that it was immediately apparent even to novices. There was no such thing as an odd-man break with Hagelin on the ice. Fast as hell, offensively productive, and so good he leapt straight from Michigan's roster to the Rangers. If the Rangers had figured out how good he was in camp, would have been a strong Calder candidate. Four-year player with serious NHL ability, a rarity. Just really, really awesome at hockey.
Indirectly responsible for Yost's burgeoning flag tradition. Scored with a second left in overtime to win the game on senior night. I cried out "CARL?!!?!" during the devastating Miami Fort Wayne game that really needs a nickname.
CONS: Did not singlehandedly drive Michigan to national title, but you could say that about everyone on this list. Hagelin's senior year saw them get closer than any team since '98, so this is less of a con than it is for anyone else.
Shawn Hunwick, 2007-2012
PROS: Came to Michigan a 5'7" walk-on and third goalie expected to see three minutes over the course of his career. Left in the conversation for best ever; save percentages are no contest. Made me excited about the NHL again when he signed with Columbus and got in a game. Smart, funny guy on twitter. Fertile nickname ground: Tiny Jesus, Little Pimpin', etc. Lack of size gave him a distinctive style since if he stayed in or near the crease he was dead.
CONS: Did not make all CCHA first team. Occasionally lost his ish and started punching anyone who eyed his crease owlishly. Depending on personal preferences in re: 5'7" goalies giving hellacious uppercuts to skaters, this could also be filed under "pro." Failed to score on 20 minutes of power play time against Cornell. Deserved better.
Jack Johnson, 2005-2007
PROS: Johnson the younger was Loose Cannon Cop on hockey skates, a guy who doesn't have to follow your rules, man, because he doesn't need the man to catch bad guys and batter them senseless with ninja kicks while acquiring the sweet lovin' from attractive ladies.
A ludicrously talented defenseman, he loved to doodle around guys he was so much better than. He also loved to annihilate anyone with their head down.
He almost killed BC's goalie with a slap shot. He was really unbelievably good in year two. He wears his passion for Michigan on his sleeve. He probably shouldn't have even shown up after going third in the draft, but did anyway, and then stayed a second year.
…and directly responsible for creating JMFJ shirts for the entire family—including what appeared to a ten-year-old—when they found out about this. IIRC the ten-year-old was informed that it stood for something it did not stand for. "Massive fun," maybe.
CONS: Left after two years, and his first year was… uneven. Massive penalty minutes are obvious. Loose Cannon Cop rep got him suspended, sometimes warranted, sometimes not. At one point during his freshman year I yelled "you're supposed to be the third pick in the draft" at him. Was great fun, but how much impact did he have relative to the other guys on the list?
Kevin Porter, 2004-2008
PROS: Four-year player, Hobey Baker winner as a senior after I said his production would tail off without Hensick driving scoring chances next to him. Solid citizen who led some of the best Michigan teams of the period. His final year featured the Nickelback and Creed goals against Notre Dame in the Denver Frozen Four in a game that Michigan otherwise would have won. If Hagelin gets fewer minus points than anyone else for not finding a title at the end of the rainbow, Porter is second.
CONS: This might sound insane: he lacked personality as a hockey player. He was of course very, very good at hockey, but compared to the other guys on the list his career lacks color. Is this insane? Does anyone else feel this? I mean, I don't know what to say about him other than "Hobey Baker winner." The lone highlight on the tubes is a nice snap shot:
But it's not a good candidate for Most Remarkable Thing on the Tubes. When he won the Hobey it sort of felt like the committee had backed themselves in a corner after snootily denying Hensick despite his point totals the year before. That was justified as an example of the Hobey's character requirement—as if mouthing off to a ref is uncommon. As a result, the uber-talented Nathan Gerbe got passed over thanks to a couple of spearing-type incidents over the course of his career.
Porter is the opposite of Johnson. Johnson was Paul Bunyan on skates. Porter was just really good at hockey.
TJ Hensick, 2003-2007
PROS: The most recent magic midget and a guy I miss every time Michigan blows a 2 on 1… or 2 on 0. Had an amazing knack for making the unstoppable pass in that situation, and plenty others. Capable of stickhandling in a phone booth full of lime jello. This is almost painful to watch…
…because Michigan hasn't had it since he left.
Should have won the Hobey Baker easily as senior since he led the nation in scoring by a wide margin. Often accused of being a glory hound but massive assist numbers suggest otherwise. Was a one-man power play setup, a skill you should appreciate more now. Was immediately awesome; accumulated more career points than anyone else in the timeframe by a wide margin.
CONS: Maybe kind of a glory hound. Once tapped in a Porter shot on an empty net that was already going in. Mouthed off in one of those dismal NCAA tourney losses to North Dakota and got a ten-minute misconduct at the worst possible time. Did not win Hobey Baker, probably because of this. It probably wasn't his fault but the teams he was most prominent on were amongst the worst Michigan's had since the Berenson era took off.
Debate in the comments; voting will be unveiled once all candidates are.
All The Bork That's Fit To Bork. Hagelin makes the new York Times, and if you were one of the people on the perimeter of the giant Swedish flag you may have as well.
The LA Kings can eat this:
“Carl had the speed, but there wasn’t much to him,” said the Rangers’ chief scout Gord Clark, referring to Hagelin’s 5-foot-11, 180-pound frame. “But when they told me he committed to Michigan, it changed everything. Red Berenson plays an up-tempo system. It often doesn’t work out this way with a prospect because N.H.L. teams don’t have control, but Carl could not have gone to a better place to develop.”
Hagelin has 8-8-16 in 28 games and has likely ended his stay in the AHL permanently. Billy Powers is looking for more Swedes, as well:
“We’re trying to be active in Sweden,” Powers said. “I love going to Stockholm. I just haven’t been able to convince any top players to choose us over the hope of playing in the Elite League. Maybe Carl’s success will open some doors. He set a bar for student-athletes at Michigan that’s going to be tough for anyone to match, no matter where they’re from.”
Amen to that.
Movin' on up. Scot Loeffler is the man chosen to fill the big, wacky shoes of Gus Malzahn:
“Scot is a rising star who has worked with some very good quarterbacks, and has achieved a tremendous amount of success,” Auburn coach Gene Chizik said. “He is a tireless worker, is an outstanding recruiter and knows the rigors of competing in this conference. We’re very excited to have Scot join our staff and we welcome him to the Auburn family.”
It's interesting how Michigan fans' perception of the various assistants who scattered to the four winds when Carr retired have generally to have been borne out by their landing spots. Campbell, Loeffler, and English were generally well liked. Loeffler's steadily moved up in the world, Campbell has been turning middling recruits into assassins for Iowa, and English was hired at a relatively analogous job (DC at Louisville) before becoming the most successful EMU head coach in a million years.
The assistants Michigan fans didn't like have been shuffled off to makework NFL jobs, mostly. Mike Debord was assistant (to the) Seattle OL coach for a couple years and is now a tight ends coach in Chicago. Andy Moeller got an analogous job with the Ravens; FWIW Baltimore is high up in Football Outsider's possibly-not-very-meaningful OL stats. (A point in FO's favor: Detroit finished 31st at run blocking.) Before that Jim Herrmann shuffled off to another NFL positional job. Mike Gittleson got really mad that when you search for "Mike Gittleson Wikipedia" you get Mike Barwis but doesn't appear to be coaching.
The main exception appears to be Steve Stripling, who was well liked after defecting from Michigan State in time to pilot Branch, Woodley, Taylor, et al. in 2006. He took a year off and resurfaced at CMU; he's now the Cincinnati DL coach.
[Not mentioned: Fred Jackson, for obvious reasons. Vance Bedford since no one had much time to get a new opinion on him during his one-year return. Steve Szabo was supposedly at the tail end of his career; he kicked around some small schools before abruptly resigning from NIU a couple months after being named there. He had only a couple years to establish a reputation at Michigan.]
Never fear. Lloyd Carr has said some stuff in favor of Loeffler that Auburn fans and Orson have either expressed trepidation or stifled laughter about, depending on their general desire to see Auburn win. But it's not that bad. Here it is:
"Scot is a team guy -- one of those coaches who will call a game with the mindset of doing whatever it takes to win," Carr said. "Some days it may be to protect the defense, and some days to light it up."
This is the nicest thing Lloyd Carr can think of to say about someone intimately involved with something as salacious as passing, and should not negatively reflect on Loeffler.
But seriously folks, failing to rehabilitate Tim Tebow's throwing motion should not invalidate his work with Brady, Henson, Navarre, and Henne. Especially Navarre, who went from statewide whipping boy to secretly good to All Big Ten over the course of his starting tenure. A specialized cadre of NFL experts still can't get Tebow to throw more accurately than Joe Bauserman. If Loeffler secretly chafed under Lloydball he'll be a fine hire for Chizik and his tire-fire defense.
And now a strange reason to root for Auburn. College football provides an ever-shifting set of motivations and Michigan fans just got a powerful desire to see Auburn's offense blow up. Loeffler's 37 and if he does well will be a hot coaching candidate in five years; in ten or so Hoke is likely to retire. If Loeffler's a good candidate maybe we can skip the three years of civil war.
One thing we do know: he's got the lingo down pat.
“at the end of the day, it’s our job to score football points.”
Must not make obvious comparison. Er. This is the picture people are passing around about the infamous Dantonio interuppting cow moment:
I just don't even.
BTW, the look on all people facing the camera says all you need to know about the way this went down.
Moving on up, or down. ESPN's latest 2012 basketball rankings see Mitch McGary slip to #21; Glen Robinson III rises to #26 and Nik Stauskas gets a slight bump to #79. GRIII is now on the cusp of a fifth star at ESPN and a recent Rivals mailbag named him as the most likely player to pick up a fifth star when they redo their rankings.
Overall that's a win if it keeps McGary in school a bit longer. Michigan's recruits other than the ineligible McGary were "nominated" for the burger game, but that's is an honor on the level of being on a preseason watch list: 600 kids were nominated.
Just moving down, thanks. BCS attendance is plummeting:
In 2005, the last season before the addition of that title game, the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar bowls had a total announced attendance of 319,936, averaging 79,984 per bowl. This past season the announced attendance for those four bowls had dropped to 293,247; an average of 73,311 per bowl.
While there was a slight increase in 2010, this year's attendance numbers were 8 percent lower than the 2005 figures.
Keep in mind these are announced numbers that bear a strong relationship to reality when things sell out and none at all when arenas are half-empty. The real decline is likely greater. Also the Rose Bowl is still a guaranteed sellout, so the effects on the other three bowls are larger still.
At this point the only bowl that brings something worth keeping around to the table is the Rose.
Wolves, Barwis, etc. Michigan's departing seniors have all chosen to get back with Mike Barwis in preparation for the NFL draft:
"He's the best, hands down," said center David Molk, who is recovering from surgery to repair a ligament rupture in his right foot suffered during Sugar Bowl preparations. "If you want to get ready for a combine, you want to get ready for a season, you want to be the best you can be, you go to Mike."
Some credence for the eeee Barwis meme there; if we never saw it on the field it was probably because Michigan never had enough upperclassman to look strong or conditioned. Also, here's another GET IN THE CAR IT'S MIKE MARTIN picture:
Daniel Mears/Detroit News
Yes this. I promise this is the last word on the Paterno thing. It's hard to pass up something that summarizes the whole cultural thing in two sentences:
The most salient example of this phenomenon is the recent push by Penn State alumni to oust their board of trustees for the perceived sin of succumbing to a witchhunt against Paterno, of not allowing him to retire with dignity. That's the essence of Paterno's legacy: creating an unthinking paternalistic monolith that valued complete fealty to his cult of personality beyond all else.
Our non-megalomaniac. This bit is about Bo, so promise kept. Paul Campos writes on Bo's departure from Michigan:
In 2004, I watched the Michigan State game with Bo in the Michigan Stadium press box. The ratty old press box featured a few private booths from which retired athletic department employees could watch the game; it has since been replaced by a phalanx of dreadful luxury suites — referred to by the euphemism-addicted university administration as “enclosed seating” — which are rented out by persons of quality for $80,000 per season, game tickets not included.
By then, it was clear Bo was not in good health – he was suffering from degenerative heart disease and diabetes – but his mind seemed as sharp and funny as ever. I asked him, among many other things, if he had ever regretted quitting when he did, and he said he had, many times. But, he added, if he had in fact quit too early, that was still “a damn sight better than quitting too late.” And then he laughed.
In the end, the worst thing Bo ever did to the program he built was die. Given how many people of his stature go out, that's something.
2/18/2011 – Michigan 6, Western Michigan 3 – 20-9-4, 17-7-1 CCHA
2/21/2011 – Michigan 5, Western Michigan 4 (OT) – 21-9-4, 18-7-1 CCHA
Sometimes being at a hockey game is an exercise in wishing you were watching the thing on TV where the camera angle is consistent and the replays are repeated ad nauseum. This is especially true at Yost, where events just happen and evaporate without the benefit of video replay.
An example: at the end of the first period the puck was behind the net and suddenly the ref was feverishly pointing at the puck in the net without the thing seemingly ever reaching a spot where that was physically possible. The ref went to check it out. A few moments later the part of Yost directly behind the penalty boxes stood up and craned their collective neck to see the review as I plotted to relocate there next year, and a few moments after that he waved the thing off.
Last year I would have had to trudge through the deep, useless recesses of the USCHO board to find out what happened. Five years ago a Saturday game against Western probably wasn't televised at all and no one would really ever know. Since it's 2011 I just pulled out my phone, tweeted at the Daily's hockey beat writer*, and found out within ten minutes that the puck had indeed gone into the net from behind the goal.
I didn't see it, though, and that's kind of the point of being a spectator.
Sometimes hockey collapses itself into a universe just for you. You have to be sitting along the sideline between the blue lines for this to happen. If you are, at certain points you can draw a perfectly straight line from you to the guy shooting the puck to the goal.
An example: when Michigan came back against Denver in the NCAA tournament I sat right behind the Michigan bench and watched Eric Werner plunge into the slot to flick a puck over Wade Dubielewicz** to tie the game. I saw it the whole way and my mind blew up.
I shelled out for old fogey seats this year so when Lee Moffie entered the zone I saw Hagelin behind him and thought Moffie should drop it, and he did, and there were two seconds left so there's only one thing for Hagelin to do, and as he let the shot go and I drew a straight line from me to him to the net as the puck slid past the defenseman clean and rose. I could see where it was heading, see the goalie throw his glove at it but not get there in time, see the puck ricochet the right way as the great clank filled the building. It was one of those moments where the angel comes down from heaven and says "you there—God has selected you to have the deep-seated, socially awkward fandom of the concealed lunatic." It was pure.
And while I've been craving video boards at Yost for years there's something beautiful about not having the thing you just experienced altered by someone else's perspective. Since the Werner goal isn't on youtube no one can tell me he wasn't wielding a scimitar, wearing an eyepatch, and screaming "hhhhhyarrrrr" as he swashbuckled towards the net. I'm pretty sure the unicorn he was riding was named Steve.
Those days are over—see the youtube clip above—but thanks to Carl Hagelin Yost got one last opportunity to walk out of the building buzzing about the thing that just happened in your head, and only your head.
*[Michael Florek was beaten to the punch by the Hoover Street Rag.]
**[Google's spellchecking was heroic here: I typed "wade dublevicz."]
mfan_in_ohio has again broken down the pairwise so I'll just point you to his analysis. Michigan flew up to sixth after the sweep, but it is a tenuous, tenuous sixth. Here's why:
That's Ohio State barely nosing above .500 in RPI after taking a win and a tie from LSSU. Michigan's 3-1 record against the Buckeyes thus counts in the TUC category. This tiny difference in the season of a single opponent swings comparisons against Boston College and UNO. If OSU had split over the weekend Michigan would be eighth and we'd be wondering what a man has to do to get some respect around here.
As it is, OSU's nose getting over the line combined with a couple of wins over a WMU team that did well in its nonconference schedule gets you halfway to a one seed in one weekend. That and a lot of help elsewhere—Dartmouth, RPI, UMD, UNO, and Denver all lost over the weekend. Denver lost to Michigan Tech(!), which is huge because that's a common opponent and a terrible team.
While this is almost Michigan's ceiling, the stumbles of Denver and UMD have opened the door to the last one seed. Michigan easily beats Denver in COP now and is within striking distance in both TUC and RPI—outperforming them by a game down the stretch will do it. UMD, meanwhile, is close enough in RPI to drop if they lose and the six remaining regular season games between the two teams are all common opponents—NMU for Michigan, CC and UNO for UMD. If they take those two comparisons and Ohio State and Ferris can walk the tripwire so that both of them finish the season under consideration, they can slide up to fourth. This will take some luck but if Michigan sweeps Northern and wins the CCHA playoffs I think they'll be 50-50 for the one-seed.
- OSU plays Ferris this weekend and can remain in the TUC zone by splitting. However, sweeping will actually put Ferris about where OSU is now, leaving them vulnerable to dropping out in the CCHA playoffs. You probably want a split here but root for OSU on Friday because they're more vulnerable. You want both of these teams to do well in the playoffs.
- You hate Denver and Minnesota-Duluth with the burning fiery passion of a thousand suns.
- Also Boston College and UNO.
Everything else is up to Michigan.
It's Michigan and Notre Dame with ND maintaining a one-point lead. They have a home-and-home with this Western team; Michigan goes to Northern. Agonizingly, neither game in Marquette is televised. Michigan will win the tiebreaker if the teams end up even in points.
Non-bullets of !!!
Kind of mad, kind of awesome. Shawn Hunwick was not so good this weekend. On Friday it didn't result in much damage because the team had already gotten the other guy's goalie pulled but on Saturday he was off on both of the breakaways. They were breakaways so it's hard to be too mad but he gave up a weak five hole goal on the first and was way too deep in his net on the other. On the other hand, this is what he tweeted immediately afterwards:
Thank you Carl Hagelin for saving my ass. Great senior class. We had a phenomenal four years.
It wasn't that bad. We still love you and the fact that on shots from the point you end up halfway to the blue line.
Also, Hunwick made three clutch, clutch stops in the third period Saturday.
Need moar Swede. There needs to be another Swedish guy on the team ASAP. We've got the flag, we're very enthusiastic about the word "Bork"—let's make this happen.
Muppets. I totally should have muppetsed. Sorry. I had some people over afterwards and it slipped my mind.
With an assist to Lee Moffie. Moffie's fought for playing time most of the year despite having quite a knack for scoring because he's not that great defensively. Late in the third period as Michigan was trying to tie, however, he was ridiculously good. He's at his best when it's desperate and he can pinch and use his skill and wheel around the zone.
Other defensemen. It was a weekend full of defenseman thoughts:
- Greg Pateryn had a goal and three first assists on Friday. He essentially beat WMU by himself. As a bonus he would have had a fourth assist if you could assist on your own goals—he made an excellent play to control the puck and make a cross-ice pass in to the zone to set up the scoring chance. He still gets too aggressive at the blue line.
- Jon Merrill was really really good Friday—my friend just kept saying "he's really really good"—and then had probably his worst game as a Wolverine Saturday. It wasn't just the breakaway; he probably had more turnovers Saturday than in any two games he'd played this year.
- Mac Bennett is now leading the rush like 25% of the time there is one when he's on the ice.
What does he have to do? Lindsay Sparks was fast out there and looked as dangerous as he usually does. He hasn't put up much in the way of points but I'm continually surprised he can't get in the lineup regularly.
Exploding Lynch. Two on Friday, then two very fancy moves to get to his forehand Saturday. After the first I thought "that's the most dangerous thing he's done as a Wolverine" even though the shot was stopped; he did the same thing a period later and scored. Let's throw everyone down on the fourth line.
BONUS. Googling for Denver goals did turn this one up:
I'm hoping Hagelin channels Ortmeyer in his final games at Michigan.
As the crowd honored the seniors after the game, the Swedish flag that has flown at Yost for three seasons was tossed over the glass to Hagelin. The students had passed it around throughout the game, autographing it and writing thank yous and words of encouragement to our Super Swede.
I wondered what all the stuff on it was. Also: this is a bonus from having Senior Night on a weekend where the students aren't on break.
On what Berenson said to Carl when he gave him a hug after the game… Well, I just told him “Aren’t you glad you came to Michigan? And aren’t we glad that you came?” And good for him. He set a standard here. He’s been a terrific kid, student, player, teammate—you know, just a terrific kid. It’s the first Swedish player we’ve had and we’ll always remember him.
2013 commit JT Compher will join the NTDP, which should lock him up for college—it also suggests he's a high-end guy.
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.)