a terrible blight on our fine country
1/13/2011 – Michigan 4, Ohio State 0 – 13-8-4, 7-6-4 CCHA Gongshow
1/15/2011 – Michigan 4, Ohio State 1 – 14-8-4, 8-6-4 CCHA Gongshow*
[sitebulletin: I'm going to be in a car driving for most of the day, unfortunately. I thought I would be able to avoid doing this during the posting day but it turns out I have to get back to town earlier than I thought I would. Apologies. Basketball game column can be ably summarized by searching for "temper tantrum" on youtube.]
*[This is not an endorsement of the CCHA's advertiser. But seriously folks, "CCHA Gongshow" is impossible to pass up now that I know they did it to themselves a year after they unsuccessfully attempted to keep their conference from imploding. We have a new leader in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment-memorial most craven naming-rights sellout competition.]
head up. you are feeling totally copacetic, man
I'm not saying that Jon Merrill's suspension was a deviously ingenious experiment designed to turn a large group of people into connoisseurs of the little nuances of defensive play. The only reason I'm not is because I can't think of a motive.
Because even if that connoisseurship is a side effect, it is real. In the second period yesterday, Merrill made a clearing attempt, got it blocked, got bashed by a forechecker, and then whipped a hard pass to Alex Guptill's tape in a situation where 90% of college defensemen start breathing into a paper bag or bawling for their mom. Billy Jaffe, one of the the uncommonly useful color guys for Sunday's game, exclaimed "that's the move!" afterwards, and I was like "YES THAT IS THE MOVE." Later they put up a replay of a pass that never got out of the defensive zone.
The thing that Merrill gives Michigan is breathing room. Sure, he's piling up assists at a PPG pace and whipped a breathtaking breakaway pass to Phil Di Giuseppe on Sunday. These are nice things. They are intermittent, though. What's constant is how a game feels when Merrill's on the ice: calm, spacious, steady. Smooth like Billy Dee Williams with his Colt .45.
Jon Merrill is the Billy Dee Williams of hockey. Forecheck hard and Merrill will take the hit with his head up and make the move. Back off and Merrill is capable of going tape to tape in small windows over long distances. Instantly Michigan switches from reacting to a forecheck to forcing the opponent to react to it.
I'm not an expert on hockey. I came to the game when I was ten and haven't put in the UFRing required to get me to the extremely-informed-amateur level I am with football. In hockey, that feel is all I've got. It's done a 180 since Michigan picked itself up after the Alaska series thanks first to the emergence of the Guptill-Wohlberg-Brown line as a true #1 scoring unit and now Merrill's return turning the second (first?) pairing from a third unit trying to cope into a major strength.
On Sunday, Michigan felt elite for the first time this season. They outshot a 14-4-3 team significantly, dominated time on attack, and hardly gave up an even strength scoring chance, let alone a goal. Moffatt and Treais flashed dirty dangles and walked in on Cal Heeter. Heeter got chased halfway through the game.
It was a throwback to times when Michigan won hockey games without requiring nuanced views as to why this might have happened. (See: last year.) They won because they bruised every inch of two different goalies and, with limited exceptions, spent the whole game in the offensive end doing fun things.
This isn't all Merrill—half of Michigan's 6-0-2 run has come with Merrill observing or playing at the WJC—but with him around it seems more plausible that Michigan's recent run is a sustainable one. The GLI was a near thing. Michigan was dominated by BC but snuck a late goal against the run of play, then played dead in the third; they scraped the MSU game in overtime thanks to a goal with under a minute left.
That felt like finding a shiny penny on the street. This weekend Michigan gave up zero even-strength goals en route to sweeping the #2 team in the country. With Merrill around it's possible they've invested in a mint.
Calm, Easy Breathing Bullets
About that #1 line. Yowza. I can't recall a big guy who's come in with a mid-round NHL draft pedigree who's performed at the level Guptill has. Max Pacioretty was a first-rounder, Aaron Palushaj a second-rounder, and both of those guys were only sort of big. Other mid-round power forward types seem drafted on the principle that they won't shrink even if they don't display any NHL level skills.
Not so Guptill. His goal in the first period Sunday was a pure snipe into the upper right corner of the net from a somewhat awkward angle, and his ability to dump and chase into the corner is actually effective because he's got the speed and board play to set up possession in the opponent's zone. Then the rest of the line cycles.
Meanwhile, Brown has suddenly leapt forward to consistent productivity after a couple years of flashes but not much else. This does not appear to be the line carrying him—remember that he spent big chunks of his first two years with Caporusso or Hagelin as his center. He's making nice passes and the availability of pucks in the area where his size matters gives him the opportunity to sweep in (admittedly soft) goals like he opened the scoring with last year.
Wohlberg remains Wohlberg: good shooter, fast guy, decent stickhandler. His goal Sunday was soft but showed off his assets pretty well. As a whole they seem to have an identity they lacked apart. They drive the net, dump unless it's obvious they shouldn't dump, cycle, and score.
Power play. It technically didn't score since Michigan's second on Friday was deposited a couple seconds after the penalty expired, but the spirit of the law declares it did. They have looked intermittently better since the holiday break gave them an opportunity to rejigger what they were doing. They were good against State in the GLI final, pretty awful against LSSU, and back to threatening against OSU.
Over the weekend they were moving the puck and getting shots on net that were not getting blocked above the faceoff circles. I'll take it. Eventually they'll get some puck luck.
Sinelli. Through the mist of hazy Sparks complaints I can see why Sinelli has taken a regular shift over not only Sparks but Rohrkemper, as he's a decently speedy guy who makes effort plays on the regular.
CCHA Gongshow. The league remains an incredibly tight sack of cats. By points Michigan surged into third with its weekend sweep; on winning percentage they are still fifth behind OSU, WMU, ND, and FSU. Notre Dame is third in winning percentage and sixth on points because they have two games in hand on everyone in front of them.
The 9th place team, Northern, is one game below .500 in conference and would easily make the tournament if the season ended today. It is a weird year.
BONUS: Michigan's goal differential is now the best in the league at +14. They've scored five more goals than their nearest competitor, OSU, and not even the relentlessly excellent defense of… wait for it… Western Michigan can get them past M. They're +13. Yes, I just said excellent defense and Western Michigan in the same sentence. No, I don't know why they held on to Jim Culhane for a decade. FWIW, OSU would still be tops in the league if they hadn't given up two empty-netters on Friday.
Pairwise. This is faintly ridiculous: after we spent most of the first half kissing our tourney streak goodbye, Michigan is now on the cusp of a one seed. They rank 5th. I can't give you the nitty gritty details because my favorite Pairwise site hasn't updated for yesterday's game yet. CHN's has and has Michigan fifth. This is not a fluke based on TUC or COP records that are liable to change with the win: Michigan's RPI is also fifth.
It's also not something liable to persist unless Michigan keeps winning. Michigan's flown up from out of the tourney to nearly a one seed in three weekends. They can drop back down just as fast.
There are still seven-ish CCHA teams in the tourney with MSU, Miami, and Denver tying for 15th. More realistically it would be six.
Have fun storming the castle. This looks less daunting what with the winning and all, but yeesh the final five weekends:
- @ Notre Dame
- @ MSU, MSU @ JLA
- @ BGSU
BGSU is not good; everyone else will be fighting tooth and nail for tourney positioning or a bid, period. ND is the toughest team statistically, FWIW. They have a +5 GD in conference; MSU is +4, Miami +1, and NMU –2. Sack of cats, I tell you.
Anything I can do you can do dumber. It's hard to see in this shot but lord, OSU's jerseys were goofy:
The zillion oversized Buckeye leaves were reminiscent of Ghost of Bo's legendary parody(?) football unis. Clean, simple lines are preferable. Even Michigan's jerseys could use a little cleaning up. OSU's were reminiscent of…
…yeah, you know it.
Official site recap has pictures and whatnot. Michigan Hockey Net describes the game as a "clinic." A few AP photos. Daily article quotes Wohlberg sounding somewhat badly translated from the Japanese:
“You saw after they scored their first goal, it was a big uprising for them. Then when we go out and we score two real quick, it’s a big push for us, and I think it emptied their spirits.”
Sometimes you start typing up a UV bit and then you hit 600 words and break it out into a post you had not intended to write.
So: hockey. It's been playing. They spent the first couple weeks wandering about looking pretty bad, then annihilated St. Lawrence to be an incredibly underserving #1. One Hunwick game misconduct later they came back from Northern with just two points in their CCHA opener and that ranking was gone.
Ferris rolled into town last night with a 6-0 record and sweep of Miami to their credit; Michigan came away with a validating 5-2 win. I have a habit of watching Ferris early in the year, thinking they're really good, and then watching them go .500, but I mean it this time: I think this is a really good Ferris team. This time I'm on steadier ground what with their record.
I'm still getting a handle on the team since it is hugely different than last year's outfit, but I think it's going to be more fun to watch than last year's edition. That's not to say it will be better—they won the league and got to overtime in the national title game—but they've already scored more pretty goals than they did all of last year.
That's thanks in part to Lindsay Sparks going from oft-scratched to the team's leading scorer. I won't question Red Berenson in case he decides to look at me with disappointment, thereby turning me into dust, but… I don't get it, man. The last couple years it seemed clear he was more of a threat than several second-liners, let alone the Rohrkempers of the world. This year he's looking like an all-conference player. He's already got 11 points, many of them featuring top-level skill.
Freshman takes in order of eeee:
- Phil DiGuiseppe. As I tweeted yesterday, guy can play. Slick passer, good jump, good size, good hands. Sometimes you pull these guys out of Junior A (not B, as I erroneously tweeted) and it turns out they can't make the transition. No such problems for DiGuiseppe, and he just turned 18. Star potential.
- Zach Hyman. Hyman hasn't leapt off the page as much as DiGuiseppe but he'll get there. He's good good balance and hands and he's been an effective part of the Sparks line.
- Mike Chiasson. Steady, conservative defensive defenseman. Will be a four year player; should quietly hold down a second pairing for most of his career.
- Brennan Serville. Has not been as noticeable but seems to have a regular spot. Don't know much about his game yet.
- Travis Lynch. Slotted into a spot with Wohlberg and Glendening and has 3-3-6 already. Had a sweet deflection last night on a Bennett point shot. Not sure if he can keep this up but he's been on a tear since about two seconds after he committed.
- Alex Guptill. Getting a generic-big-guy vibe from him. He'll slouch around the third line most of his career before suddenly getting really good as a senior, like Rohlfs or Lebler.
Szuma and Sinelli got in one game; they get incompletes. They are the new generation of healthy scratches.
Random other items:
- Greg Pateryn is a long-limbed rock. Tough to get enough space to get a good chance when he's on the ice. He will screw up too often to be truly great but if they come through this period without Merrill okay it will be because he held down the fort against top lines.
- Kevin Clare is unbelievably slow. I think he's the guy who sees his playing time decline when Merrill gets back.
- Derek Deblois looks like he's taken a step forward this year. Ditto Brown.
- I guess I can't complain when David Wohlberg is above a PPG but I don't like having him on the same line as Lynch (freshman edition) and Glendening. I'd like to see what a Sparks-DiGuiseppe-Wohlberg line could accomplish, and let the Lynches and Glendening anchor a checking line.
- The official scorer at Yost is padding opponent shot totals like a mother. Anything that gently rolls to a stop two feet in front of the goal is counted. I'm of a mind to look at Hunwick's home/away splits last year to see if there's a big difference in save percentage.
Michigan's streak of picking up an NTDP goalie has hit a third straight year with the commitment of 2012 G Jared Rutledge. Hurray. You're worried.
You're right to be, but Michigan's streak of having that goalie blanch at the prospect of competing with Shawn Hunwick and bolt to the OHL should end at two since Hunwick will be gone after this year. Rutledge, like Trouba, waited a long time to figure out what he was going to do so he wouldn't end up breaking his word:
"I told Red I didn't want to be their hat trick," Rutledge said with a smile. "I told them all along that when I made my decision, I was going to be 100% sure I was coming there. I couldn't be happier and I'm really excited."
Tell us what we've won, me.
Rutledge is a smallish goalie reputed to have excellent anticipation, rebound control, and positioning:
Rutledge is technically and positionally very sound, is excellent at controlling rebounds, handles the puck well, competes hard, has a good glove, doesn’t get phased on the rare occasion he does let in a bad goal, and is extremely good at anticipating the play. Though he isn’t overly big, he challenges exceptionally well, and makes life miserable for shooters. If you don’t beat him on the first shot, chances are you won’t get another opportunity.
Sounds like a less-tiny Hunwick who isn't constantly kicking pucks out into the slot. (No offense intended to Tiny Jesus.) He was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 OHL draft by Saginaw and is kicking around draft lists as a "B"—mid-round—prospect. His stats are pretty solid—he's averaged between .910 and .920 save percentage splitting time between the U17 and U18 teams, generally outperforming his competition in the same situation.
Hockey recruiting class: complete? Michigan might add a walk-on piece here and there, but this looks like it's about it for next year (question marks denote kids Heisenberg has listed as 2012 or 2013:
- Forwards: Boo Nieves, Daniel Milne, Justin Selman, Max Shuart(?)
- Defensemen: Jacob Trouba, Connor Carrick, Spencer Hyman(?)
- Goalie: Rutledge
If Merrill makes it through his current suspension I'm guessing he will be around next year as well. It seems like someone who was going to leave after this year anyway would book it given the severity of the punishment. If so they may or may not add Hyman. Right now they're scheduled to bring back everyone save Pateryn and I'm not seeing a ton of departure threats. Maybe Bennett. Hyman would be the seventh defenseman at best in that situation because Michigan would be insanely loaded on D: Merrill, Bennett, Trouba, Moffie, Carrick, Chiasson, Serville, and Clare plus Szuma and possibly Hyman. If Merrill and Bennett both take off then there'd obviously be room.
I wish there was a little more depth in the forward corps—I haven't seen any buzz about Milne and Selman being draftable—but a quality goalie plus two first-round types is a big haul to go with what's looking like a promising freshman class.
The scoreboard is hypothetically awesome but they're still trying to figure out how to use it. Goal replays are erratic; highlight packages sometimes don't appear at all in intermissions, and penalties never get replays. If they're willing to put the Wohlberg goal up last night as it was being reviewed I don't think that's a controversy thing. I get that there's only one camera but at least some of the penalties are on the puck.
As for Yost… man, it has been off. I think moving the seniors close to the band was a mistake. When they were in the middle of the ice the chants had a smaller maximum distance; now the two sections furthest away from the band are mostly empty and totally lame. Are ticket prices too high? Michigan ran that Groupon special and packed the empty endzone seats; once that stopped we were again treated to nearly-empty sections in both endzones. I sit amongst the old fuddies now and they're not around either.
Another possibility: odd starting times have thrown people off after decades of Friday, Saturday, 7:30, see you in two weeks.
Whatever the explanation, I'm not feeling the same sort of excitement in the building that there was even a couple years ago. We're seeing the same sort of apathy infect the student section at football games. I think it's time to start taking attendance and offering people nice perks for showing up on time, like better seats next year. The AD's solitary focus on money is making the product worse.
Is this inane or brilliant? Like all the best newspaper headlines, I can't tell if this News editor is serious or making a terribly sly joke:
New names add flair to Big Ten for next season
Flair you say?
The awful periwinkle logo does look like it belongs on a button that says "my other car is the incorrect belief I have a sense of humor."
Oddly, multiple readers have emailed to inform that the agency who put together this debacle is "highly respected." I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around a marketing firm named "Pentagram," which seems deliberately mom-terrifying and reminds me of Dan Akroyd in goat leggings and generally seems like a thing you should avoid if you don't want to give off the wrong impression.
Meanwhile, the public loves it:
According to an unscientific poll on ChicagoTribune.com, 6 percent believe Legends and Leaders "represent what the Big Ten is all about," and 94 percent say, "You have to be kidding … is this the best they can do?"
Similarly, 93 percent of those responding to a midwestsportsfans.com poll voted for either "terrible" or "it makes me want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon." Others opted for "awesome" (2 percent) or "indifferent" (5 percent).
94%! You can't get 94% of people to condemn murdering six year olds these days. In two weeks all FAIL pictures on the internet will have been mysteriously replaced by images of Jim Delany.
The count. They announced 113,411 at the Big Chill by adding up every single person who was there and counting Red Berenson as six because obviously, but when Guinness sits down to actually put a number in the book it will be considerably smaller than that because they take a more restrictive view on what counts as a spectator:
The school counts players, media and others at the game to work. Guinness doesn’t count any of those people.
"It's a combination of scans with the barcodes on tickets," Janela said, explaining how Guinness reaches its number. "It's not for tickets sold but for people who actually show up. People who weren’t ticketed, marching band for instance, or people who were given special passes."
Media and players, he said, do not count in the numbers because they are not actually spectators of the game.
UPDATE: Wow. Guinness says the actual count was 85,451, which seems low.
Also from that article, a ref skated over to the Michigan bench after the Wohlberg extra-point celebration and said any more funny business would result in a penalty and Rick Comley said it was "uncalled for." The NFL infects all.
Speaking of. A reader emails that the XP is not lost to history:
I also broke a cardinal rule of game columns by not checking my feed before posting, so I missed an extensive WH highlight package:
Casteel Watch. Jeff Casteel remains the most plausible defensive coordinator candidate out there, having established a level of performance with the 3-3-5 that's become as impressive as Rodriguez's WVU offenses were. That level is "really impressive… for the Big East." Even with that BE caveat, WVU's defense is #1 in FEI this year and equally impressive in conventional metrics. The three years before this they were 33rd, 28th, and 8th. I'd be willing to roll with Rodriguez again if the band got back together.
Unfortunately, after two swings and misses the chances of that are miniscule unless Bill Stewart whittles on down that road. Fortunately, there are machinations afoot in Morgantown, with Oklahoma State OC Dana Holgorsen heavily rumored to be taking the job after Stewart coaches the bowl game*. Though a Smoking Musket rumor that Stewart was out was refuted on the twitters by multiple players, actual newspapers are saying that may be a matter of timing:
Sources confirmed today that a high-ranking official from West Virginia's athletic department has been in contact with Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen about the head coaching position at West Virginia, even as there is no vacancy. …
A source confirmed it is probable Stewart will be fired if West Virginia does not win that bowl game, and could happen regardless of the outcome. A win in the bowl game would give the Mountaineers a 10-win season.
It's possible Holgorsen would look at the defensive side of the ball and decide that he shouldn't fix what isn't broken but the chances of landing Casteel go from zero to non-zero if Stewart gets the boot. Let's hope NC State wins 3-0.
UDPATE: Newspaper type folk are reporting that Holgorsen is in as OC/coach in waiting and will replace Stewart after next year without touching the defensive coaching staff. Dangit.
*(Is it just me or are there an inordinate number of coaches in limbo this year? Usually it's fire and forget immediately after the regular season, but this year the coaching carousel has a number of schools half in, half out.)
Darius as mini-Denard part two. Way back on Friday Michigan dismantled Utah in an 11-point game that wasn't really as close as that, and people are beginning to pick up on Darius Morris's leap forward. Someone was asking about surprise teams on the most recent Big Ten conference call and both Tom Crean and Matt Painter cited Michigan, with Painter specficially mentioning Morris as the reason. Big Ten Geeks:
Darius Morris led the way with 19 points to go with 10 assists, and it’s hard to ignore his play so far this season. A role player last year, Morris has become much more assertive in running the offense. This is actually somewhat of an exception--role players don’t suddenly start consuming possessions over an offseason in general--but one should keep in mind that with Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims monopolizing the offense last season, there wasn’t much of an opportunity for Morris. It’s been a different story in his sophomore season, as Morris is quickly becoming one of the Big Ten’s best floor generals. He’s shooting an amazing (for a 6-4 guard) 61 percent from 2-point range, along with one of the best assist rates in the country.
At times in the Utah game the problem with the offense seemed to be Morris's lack of assertiveness—most of Michigan's worst possessions saw him with limited time on the ball.
If Morris is shooting 61% from two he's probably not shooting enough, which is an interesting problem to have. Last year Manny Harris was sucking up 30% of Michigan's possessions while shooting 48% inside the three-point line. The rest of the team shot at a higher clip, and while that was because Harris drew so much attention I often felt like the team would have been better if the shots were more evenly distributed.
This year Morris is killing people; the rest of the team is doing well but can't keep up. Major SOS caveats apply, but I think I'd like to see Morris try to get a few more shots off per game. A complicating factor is Morris's assist rate, which is fifth nationally—a major reason he's not getting off more shots is he's turning Jordan Morgan into a 61% shooter, too.
Speaking of Morgan, he bounced back from a couple of rough outings with solid, annoying post defense against Utah's bigs, who are very big indeed. UMHoops grabbed a sequence in which he took a couple offensive fouls:
I wish they'd also clipped the possession before that, in which Morgan went to war with Foster for the duration of the possession and eventually got an elbow to the head for his troubles. The ref let that go but was looking for any funny stuff on the next trip and got it when a pissed-off Foster barged into him. Foster's not any good offensively—his usage rate is an amazing 8.9%—but he also did a good job on Washburn, and this year I think all we're looking for out of Morgan is holding his own against the mediocre and beating the bad.
Morgan drew a third charge with help defense later, but since he was 1) moving and 2) directly underneath the basket in the pretend no-charge circle the NCAA instituted last year that was positive reinforcement of a negative play Michigan got lucky on.
OH SO TINGLY. I may not be a fan of Michigan Stadium hosting dancing curly fries but some of the things Dave Brandon is plotting are major compensations:
Q: You also have talked about new scoreboards for Michigan Stadium. Your vision is not Cowboys Stadium huge, but pretty huge?
A: Pretty huge. If you picture the size of those (current) scoreboards and maybe something that's 30 percent larger, 40 percent larger, but then the entire surface or at least the vast majority of the surface would be video screen. I think those scoreboards look wimpy now with this structure and then the fact the HD video portion is only about a third of the surface. We can't do what our fans want us to do in terms of showing them really high-resolution replays, game action and even a lot of the marketing stuff we're doing with videos and pre-game and halftime shows — these screens are just not acceptable. This is very old technology, and they don't look very good, either. Think 30 or 40 percent larger and think big-image area for high-definition resolution screens. I think our fans will love it.
If you have never been to a stadium with video boards that size, it's a massive difference. It is Brandon's "hope" they are in for 2011. Brandon also re-iterates that advertising for the Big Chill does not presage advertising during football games. That's part of an extensive interview with Angelique Chengelis, BTW, that you should check out.
Time to go. The Only Colors takes an unprecedented step for them and calls for the replacement of Rick Comley as Michigan State's head coach. Despite how much I've been enjoying this stretch in MSU hockey, I'm with them. This is the third straight year they'll miss the tourney and the second time in three years they're virtually indistinguishable from Bowling Green, a school that's considering dropping their program. This year is like Rich Rodriguez having another 3-9 year two years after his first, and while Comley does have a fluke national title that sort of thing shouldn't be survivable at a program like MSU.
Etc.: Doc Sat points out how weird it is that awards lists are featuring Denard Robinson as something other than a quarterback when they were fine with Eric Crouch, et al, as QBs. Robinson completed 60% of his passes… what more do you need? Basketball takes on North Carolina Central at 7 this evening.
Cue up Dora the Explorer again. Michigan hockey has received a third commitment for the 2008 season, again a forward from Honeybaked AAA, center David Wohlberg. TBarr reposts Paul Shaheen's Research On Ice email. The thread that sprung up around it is also worth perusing. NCAA recruiting guru Chris Heisenberg's new blog has some detail:
That means that all of the 2008 commitments are from Michigan natives. So, what gives? Well, the Michigan group of 1990s stood out during the Summer's Select 15 Festival, and their play there helped secure the scholarships. (Czarnik and Wohlberg also stood out at last year's Select 14 Festival.)
It's also of note that Michigan experiences the fiercest competition with the CHL--it's a total
That is one creepy monkey.
afterthought in Minnesota, Peter Mueller excepted, and not a huge priority out east (unless you can't read; Hi Keith Yandle!). The OHL has a number of franchises in the state itself and there's no high school hockey culture or local NCAA-feeder junior league to combat the Canadian menace. Jumping on these kids early is no more risky than waiting a year or two and watching the OHL get involved.
The 2008 class will replace the 2004 class, which consists in its entirety of forwards Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter. Obviously 3 > 2; probably more are coming; obviously Red isn't expecting the whole of this year's class to make it to graduation. (Duh.)
Three commits from the same team over three years out in under a week. That must have been one hell of a Sesame Street Live trip.