i refuse to even consider this a possibility
3/25/2011 – Michigan 3, Nebraska-Omaha 2 (OT) – 27-10-4
3/26/2011 – Michigan 2, Colorado College 1 – 28-10-4, Frozen Four
The course of the season showed that if Michigan was going to make the Frozen Four they were going to do it one way: narrowly. If you need a number, during the course of the UNO broadcast they put up a stat showing Michigan's record in one-goal games was 10-3. That's just how they do.
That record is now up to 12-3 after history's greatest video review and the Joe Howe show (wsgs Joe Howe's Posts) and if there was ever any chance we remembered this hockey team as the weird one that kind of reminded you of Ron Mason that's gone now. This team isn't trying to win games –1 to –2 but you'd be forgiven if sometimes you thought they were.
It's working, though. I spent the second intermission Saturday thinking about Buffalo, when Michigan dominated Minnesota for two periods but didn't put enough of that domination on the scoreboard to prevent Minnesota's rally from tying the game; Michigan lost the game and Al Montoya's brain in overtime on one of those bizarrely frequent OT goals that comes from almost the goal line on the left side of the net*. I spent the third period thinking about how beautifully boring it was until Red channeled into Lloyd Carr by slipping Jeff Rohrkemper out there for a power play shift. He was immediately punished for punting from the 34 by a Rohkemper boarding penalty and nine seconds later CC fumbled a puck into the net. Everyone braced for a storm. That storm was a single pea-sized hailstone. The most nervous moment after that was a bunch of players rooting for the puck on the boards with the goalie out and twenty seconds left.
Michigan had outshot their opponent 43-22, played a game universally acclaimed as their best of the season, and won 2-1 because Scooter is an animal and pucks that come off Lee Moffie's stick will hit the post and go in even if they have to deflect off three guys to do it. There is a natural inertia pulling them towards narrow wins you're uncertain about; even now that they've reached the Frozen Four there's a feeling they don't really match up with a North Dakota.
There's also the feeling they just might, though. Because what the hell, Michigan's 11-1 since the line shakeup after Michigan's dismal 0-3 stretch against MSU and Miami. Season goals slipping away and faced with the question of how to get the most use out of some good forwards who never, ever score Michigan put together a vintage Todd Marchant checking line and let anyone who might put the puck in the net forget about guys like Jaden Schwartz.
This has been remarkably effective. If the announcer didn't bring his name up every time he wasn't making a joke-type assertion about the "hockey hotbeds" of California, Texas, and Arizona, the viewer could have forgotten about Jaden Schwartz. Lingering irritation at Matt Rust's bad OT penalty against UNO evaporated as his line erased Schwartz, Schwartz, and Schultz with a healthy assist from Jon Merill at his most subtly awesome. The Schwartzes got their goal on a four-on-four scramble; everything other than that was frustration. In the second period they started jawing and shoving people because they were getting nothing. This was one day after they turned defending national champs Boston College into a lump of smoking carbon.
I watched North Dakota pummel two teams, one of them not even in the ECAC, this weekend. I remember Michigan's last two not-very-competitive matchups against them. I have considerable doubts that Michigan will beat them since they're by far the best team left standing. Doubts about doubts come when you close your eyes and see Jon Merrill gently shepherding you, the puck, and a hockey team into a deep, peaceful sleep as Matt Rust obscures the face of North Dakota Hobey finalist… oh… you know… what's his name.
*[Almost certainly an artifact of my introduction to college hockey but they seem to happen all the time: Josh Langfeld's championship winner, the Vanek goal (at 1:00) that put Michigan out in Buffalo, and ND's winner against Merrimack were all bizarre nothing shots from the same area of the ice that took the goalie by surprise.]
A Tiny Window Of White Bullets
Also the other two goals but mostly Scooter!
You do not have a twitter account that concerns itself with Michigan hockey if you didn't tweet "Scooter" followed by one to three exclamation points after his goal, which was completely unbelievable even as it was happening. CC does not have the greatest defensemen in the world but holy crap where did that come from?
Monster faceoffs. Michigan both faced and received extended periods of 5-on-3 time in the first period, and during both they got clean, critical faceoff wins. Moffie's goal was a direct result. The lack of a CC goal on their terrifying PP was greatly aided, as well.
Clare escape. To recap the thing I kept talking about during the game: after a tough shift in which Pateryn and Clare got caught in the zone forever, allowing the Schwartz line to get out against them and some other random non-Rust forwards, Red pulled Clare out of the lineup for more than a period. Pateryn took shifts with the second pair D to give guys a break. Clare returned about halfway through the second and actually got some PK time a bit later, which I guess makes sense because your breakout on the PK is slapping the puck down the ice. I saw him out there a couple times in the third, as well, but his minutes were minimized.
All this invites questions about Burlon's availability. He's got two weeks to recover from his strep and penicillin reaction, so I imagine he'll be in the lineup. Losing 15 pounds is kind of a lot, though, and I wonder how effective he'll be.
RNG in full effect. Hockey's vaguely weighted plinko system was a little more random than normal this time around: FF participants are two three-seeds, a two, and a one. One seeds went 2-2 in the first round, bringing their record against fours to 11-9 the last five years. That goes beyond "anything can happen" into "your excellent season gets you nothing."
What's wrong? I don't think you can blame the Pairwise. The "better"* ranking system, KRACH, already updated for the weekend's results and still has Yale a #1. The only difference between KRACH's top seeds and the PWRs is putting Denver above Miami, and there's a fair chance that wasn't the case before the events of the weekend.
You can blame insular schedules. Yale's nonconference schedule consisted of single games against CC, Air Force, Cornell, and Vermont and an "Ivy Shootout" against other ECAC members. The only evidence we had that Yale was a top seed other than their ECAC schedule was a 5-1 win over a .500 WCHA team and a 2-1 record against Atlantic Hockey—yeah, they'd already lost to first-round opponent Air Force.
This vapor-thin trail coupled with some other ECAC nonconference games convinced the ranking systems the conference didn't suck despite years of evidence to the contrary. The last ECAC team to make the Frozen Four was Cornell in 2003 and that last to win a title was Harvard in 1989.
That only explains perpetually disappointing ECAC #1s, which are rare. The rest of it is on a tournament format which has #1 Miami play #4 UNH in New Hampshire in a single-elimination game.
*[FWIW, KRACH is mathematically pure but has a tendency to go nuts about nonconference results. In certain years it would put up to eight WCHA teams, some well below .500, into the field.]
Abandabuildings. It was no surprise to see literally every seat in the upper bowl in St. Louis empty. We wondered if a couple of friends had actually made the trip despite stern clucking about teaching the NCAA a lesson, and I said "if they did they'll be on TV because they'll be the only people there," and midway through the second there they were. Even the NCAA's comically generous numbers only show 55% capacity.
Every year we get sterile half-full buildings as teams get shipped halfway across the country and fans have to deal with the possibility they'll get on a plane to see their team play once, or if they're lucky play twice and make the Frozen Four and then you've blown your budget on regionals already. Insert usual rant about using home sites here.
The good news is the NCAA has not selected regional sites past next year. In the past sites have been selected three to four years out, so that's a clear sign this failed format is on its last legs. Last year there was a report out of Grand Forks that change was coming, with home sites and "super regionals" of an undetermined nature.
The bad news is that once again the CCHA has no regionals within hundreds of miles of it—the closest is in Green Bay as the St. Louis regional moves to St. Paul. At least Michigan's getting out of that rinky-dink operation, and as a bonus the failures of its commissioner* now directly benefit it.
*[Seriously, what has Anastos done since 1998 that a lump of quartz couldn't? The CCHA has gone nowhere, and has clearly become the region of the country that either gets screwed over by the committee or can't scrape together a bid that makes any more sense than having a regional in St. Louis.]
I am Jack's total lack of surprise. The crew doing the Yale-UMD game that chucked Yale's best player out of the game for a clean open-ice hit were from the CCHA. Yale's coach was infuriated enough afterwards to lead his presser with "the game was taken away from us." Yet more reason to be happy we're getting away from the league—hopefully most of the refs don't follow.
Via Boyz in the Pahokee as per usual.
Daily game story and gallery featuring a great shot of the Scooter(!!!) goal:
Everyone in the shot including Scooter is thinking "WTF?"
“I think they did have a few pretty good shots early on,” Hunwick said. “But this is an opportunity to play for the Frozen Four. I think I made a couple good saves. It’s pretty easy to stay in the game when you’re playing to go to the Frozen Four. They didn’t really get anything going too much until they got into the power play. Once they got into the power play, I really had to be sharp.”
Seriously, that power play was terrifying. That first period five on three was awful.
Torrent of the CC game.
Complete domination obscured by thousands of horrible pinging sounds and late-game terror until the world's dumbest penalty, and then more late game semi-terror, resulting in awe at a guy who doesn't show up on the scoresheet at all. JMFM. Definitely best freshman defenseman I've ever seen. Possible additional superlatives might be warranted. Muppets.
And you can't have one without the other…
Quick, everyone look up transport to St. Paul.
PLAYOFF TIME IS HOCKEY BEAR TIME
|WHAT||Michigan vs CC|
|WHERE||Hundreds of miles from anywhere reasonable|
|THE LINE||College hockey lines, junkie?|
UPDATE w/ actual scouting. These are always a bit limited because the college hockey TV situation makes it almost impossible to scout beyond base numbers. Fortunately, Denver Blue has seen plenty of CC this year and provides a more in-depth look in a diary.
Record. 23-18-3, 13-13-2 WCHA. You wouldn't know it from CC's demolition of defending national champs Boston College but… eh… they were pretty mediocre this season. They limped to a .500 conference record and were actually outscored by WCHA opponents (by one, but still). That's why they're a four-seed.
Their nonconference schedule is kind of iffy, too. The good: a three-point weekend against RPI, a win over Air Force, and a sweep of UAH (yay?). The not so good: a loss to Fairbanks, a loss to Yale, and a narrow win over MSU followed up by a loss to Michigan(hey, that's us!) in the GLI.
If that's encouraging, the primary reason they're the opponent instead of favored BC is first-round pick and total ninja Jaden Schwartz, who 1) didn't play in the Michigan game because he was at the World Juniors, and 2) broke his ankle at that tournament and missed a couple months. Schwartz left for the WJC after a 3-0 win over SCSU that took CC to 9-7-1. When he returned against Bemidji on February 18th CC was 17-14-2. Um. With him they're 15-11-3… so yeah, apparently having him around hasn't done that much for their record. Still, that is one scary dude.
As far as recent performance goes, they bizarrely had five straight games against Wisconsin thanks to a first-round playoff matchup; they went 3-2 in those. They then beat UAA before losing to North Dakota in a WCHA semi. Then there was the BC demolition.
Previous meetings. As mentioned, Michigan beat CC 6-5 in a wild GLI final that saw Michigan blow a third period lead by giving up two quick goals, then reclaim it with two quick goals ten minutes later. Michigan outshot CC 39-30; CC scored on four of five power plays and gave up a shorthanded goal. Chris Brown, Jon Merrill, and Schwartz were all out of the lineup at the GLI. CC gets Schwartz back; Michigan's returners are offset by the losses of Brandon Burlon and David Wohlberg to injury.
Schwartz, Jaden Edition
Dangermen. Schwartz, obviously. He's CC's leading scorer (17-29-46) despite playing in only 29 of CC's 42 games. His brother Rylan is usually his linemate; he's more of an assist guy (9-28-37) for Jaden and second-leading scorer Stephen Schultz (17-28-45).
At first glance it looks like CC has a second line with considerable pop—Tyler Johnson leads the team in goals with 20—but in review the next two leading goal scorers get it done primarily on the power play. Twelve of Johnson's twenty were on the PP, as were 11 of Nick Dineen's 13. At even strength CC's second and third lines are only moderately threatening. On the power play they are demons.
The end result: CC is 21st in goals scored at 3.23, actually well behind #12 Michigan. Control the Schwartzes and stay out of the box and CC doesn't have much left. That's kind of a trick, though, isn't it?
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Sophomore Joe Howe got most of the work this year and was not good. His .901 save percentage is 57th amongst 71 qualifying goalies, and the guys below him are almost all on terrible teams that allow scads of quality shots. Either Howe is not good or the CC defense allows scads of quality shots. CC is 33rd in scoring D, allowing almost three goals per game.
Judging from last night's game it's a combination. Howe robbed Boston College on a half-dozen grade A opportunities and still let in four goals; the first one was a comedy of errors from Howe. It's entirely possible Michigan doesn't get the scoring chances BC did, but that GLI game argues otherwise.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||5.6||4.2|
|PP Ag / G||4.3||4.4|
CC goes on a hell of a lot of power plays. They've drawn 26 more than the #2 team in that category, North Dakota, and 59 more than Michigan. In the GLI game Michigan actually got six to CC's five, FWIW, but CC converted at an 80% clip.
Continuing with our theme of AWEFENSE coupled with horrible defense, CC is tied with BC for sixth on the PP, converting at 23.4% rate. They also lead the nation with 11 shorthanded goals conceded. (Michigan Tech is tied with them.) Michigan's PK remains mediocre.
Flip the units and it's a mediocre PP against a mediocre PK. In fact, CC and Michigan have identical numbers on the PK: both have killed 151 of 182. Michigan does have more shorthanded goals to their credit.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Neutralize the Schwartz: how? Michigan has last change so I imagine we'll see Merrill out there against that top line, but when it comes to forwards this seems like a situation where you'd put Hagelin out there with Rust and Scooter/Glendening/Lynch as you go all out to take that line out of the equation 5x5. That would bust up Michigan's lines, though, and you might not want to do that with zero practice days to get used to it.
Your other option is to stick with what you've got going, at which point you're probably throwing Rust/Glendening/Winnett out there, which is… like… not fast enough. It's either that or putting Brown and Caporusso out there with the Schwartzes, and who hates that idea? Everyone!
I think I'd re-form Rust, Hagelin, and Lynch but I'm just a guy, not Red. It'll be interesting to see what he goes with.
STAY OUT OF THE BOX. Tiny goalie plus snipers makes for a bad time.
STAY OUT OF THE BOX. I'm srs.
STAY OUT OF THE BOX. I'm srs!!!
The Big Picture
Win or die.
Excellent Daily story on the Zapruder goal:
“There was a kid behind the penalty box saying it was a goal,” senior forward Louie Caporusso said. “He just kept saying, ‘It’s a goal.’ ”
Yost Built screencapped the kid, too:
Michigan athletics loves pointing at things right now. FWIW, I disagree with his take on the Rust OT penalty. That was dangerous and deserved the call. Also, if you were wondering if CC's dominant performance meant the wrong team won last night from a Michigan perspective, don't be:
Boston College was 22-2-1 in their last 25 games. John Muse was 8-0 in the NCAA Tournament and something absurd like 22-1 in tournament play (NCAA and Hockey East, not sure if it counted the Beanpot).
Michigan had lost its last five NCAA Tournament overtime affairs, including 3-2 in double OT to Miami in the final of last year’s Midwest Regional.