great lakes invitational
Bill Rapai [set]
I went to the second (consolation) game of the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park. Michigan lost 3-0. Brian said I must write this up, which is just as well since I'm too depressed to write about the football team right now. So.
As a Detroiter (err…Metro-) I appreciate Mike Ilitch. He may be a king of the Sicilian Square people while I'm a firm Foldedsliceitarian, but he's the daddy who won't say no to a Brett Hull or a Prince Fielder even if he just got you a Robitaille/Cabrera. He also funds a third of Detroit charities, renovated FoxTown, and realized the United States needed a Canadian-like hockey development program 30 years before USA Hockey itself got serious about it.
For this, that, and the other thing, nobody in this town can begrudge him anything. Not for weirdly refusing to put Larry Aurie's number (6) in the rafters, or for putting Tiger Stadium in the ground, or for not paying his taxes, because Ilitch is the guy who bought the Dead Things, then stole the GM who built that Islanders dynasty, then drafted Yzerman, then began a postseason streak which has outlasted both of Michigan's.
So when they told him they wanted to have his Red Wings host the Winter Classic (and once the stakeholders could decide on which pizza to order)* nobody could begrudge Mike his demand that Detroit, as opposed to Ann Arbor, should play host city, and that his downtown, bank-monikered ballpark should get a carnival and an ice rink too.
When you got down there and saw the Hockey Hall of Fame tent in the middle of the stadium lot, you could be for this in a rah-rah-good-for-Detroit kind of way. But, like handing that long-term deal to Franzen instead of Hossa, Comerica Park as hockey rink was a contemporarily questionable decision which in hindsight appears to be an awful one.
* [My vote would have been Supino's**]
**[Yes, we are all about superfluous possessives in Detroit. What of it?]
The thing about outdoor hockey is it's supposed to call to mind "pure" hockey, i.e. the game you played with friends under a gunmetal sky after spending twice that long shoveling, until the half-frozen parent you left on the shore decided everybody's going to fall in/catch a cold. I realize not everyone knows what this experience is, and there are myriad social/cultural/class reasons why this is, including SE Michigan geography:
[Jump: CoPa makes for a bad hockey rink, Michigan makes like a bad hockey team, and a hockey stick serves as a passable bat]
It is alive. A month ago, Michigan's tourney streak was dead and buried after an appalling skid the likes of which Michigan hasn't endured since Red revived the program in the mid-80s. Since then a four-point weekend against MSU and a surprising GLI championship have turned their pairwise fortunes 90 degrees. Try this on for size: if the season ended today, Michigan would be in. There's another 90 degrees to go, but that's good work for two weekends.
Video from the stands gets a great look at the Moffie-Clare connection that won the State game at about the 3:10 mark:
I missed all but the last ten minutes of the BC game because I was at Crisler. Yost Built has your recap. Michigan played well in the first, built a lead, got blown out of the water in the second before Treais scored against the run of play late, and then strangled the third. The ten minutes I did see were pleasingly dull.
The day after, Michigan played an even game with State. Trailing 2-1 with under a minute left and up a man, Luke Moffatt flung a cross ice pass to one of the sundry Lynches on the team, who deflected it in. In overtime Hunwick saved Michigan's bacon three times before the above transpired.
The Situation (Not That Situation)
The pairwise is a very silly metric that bounces hither and thither even when it has most of a season's worth of data, so no grand conclusions should be drawn just yet. The pairwise is also heavily slanted towards RPI, a metric that's still pretty silly but is far more projectable now that the vast bulk of nonconference games are out of the way. Now that they are, well, remember how they put in a rule that you couldn't finish below .500 and still make the tournament because of the WCHA? This year the CCHA is the WCHA:
The CCHA is 40-12-5 out of conference so far this year, for a winning percentage of 0.746. Even terrible Bowling Green, who is 1-11-2 in conference, went 5-0-1 in nonconference play, which helps everyone else in the conference.
That was before the holiday tourneys, FWIW.
Let's have a poke at RPI. Michigan is currently in a swamp of four teams separated by a couple thousandths that stretch from 10th to 13th. Their brutal schedule down the stretch is 14 games. Two of them are against BGSU. The remainder are series against #1 OSU, #4 ND, #8 NMU, #10 MSU, #15 LSSU, and inexplicably .500 Miami.
This is good and bad. Michigan can maintain its RPI at its current level by going .500 down the stretch, which will put them on the bubble. Win nine of 14 games and Michigan's RPI will slide up the 6-8 range. That is lock territory.
Michigan's in a much better spot than they were a couple years ago when they were 10-10 after the GLI. They had little room for error, used all of it and more, and only made the tourney after scraping out a conference tourney win. That team wasn't addressing its biggest weakness with the best defenseman in college hockey, though, and they weren't playing in a league the algorithm looked upon favorably.
The Other Situation (The Wall Punching One)
Is this team addressing their biggest weakness with the best defenseman in college hockey? When Jon Merrill's mysterious suspension was mysteriously extended to a mysterious end date, everyone assumed he would be back for this weekend's LSSU series and the stretch run. That is apparently not the case:
Merrill will NOT play this weekend per Red this morning
Didn't sound super optimistic the kid will be back anytime soon either. Might have to push his ETA back to late January.
Fantastic. We still have no idea what Merrill's issue is, no idea when he'll return, no idea why he's still in Ann Arbor when he's apparently never going to get back on the ice again. It's not academic or Merrill would be eligible now. It's not legal or someone would have run across a public document of it by now. It's not serious enough to put off USA Hockey when they were selecting the WJC team, but it's serious enough to force Merrill out of 2/3rds of a season and counting. ARGH ARGH ARGH ARGH. Red is Red. He is the program. He knows what he's doing. I will remain calm.
So here we are. If Merrill ever gets back I'd guess the pairings end up like so:
That's three pairings with one offensive and one defensive player and no Brennan Serville, a guy who has struggled immensely in his transition to college hockey. Early in the year I thought Clare's footspeed would see him eat bench in the distant future when robots ruled the world and Merrill was eligible again, but the coaches clearly have more faith in him at this point. During Michigan's dismal slide, Serville was more or less directly responsible for two goals in a particular first period and sat out until midway through the third. He'll probably rotate through from time to time when Moffie or Clare has a shaky outing; a regular shift is unlikely.
If the above looks pretty good, without Merrill it's the same story we've seen so far this year: a pretty good top pairing, a somewhat reliable elderly freshmen, and after that terror, alarm, and Lee Moffie's assist machine.
Silver lining: Merrill must be planning on coming back for his junior year given the above. I mean, right?
The Forwards (Eh)
Michigan's stats are bizarre. They're fifth in the country with 3.55 goals per game but have no one averaging a point per game; leading scorer Chris Brown is tied for 79th nationally with 6-12-18 and is the only guy in the top 100 at College Hockey Stats.
The game with ALL OF THE GOALS (all of the goals)
If it doesn't feel like they're fifth in scoring, this is largely attributable to the distribution of the goals. In one game against St. Lawrence, Michigan poured in ten. Excise that from the stats and they fall to 17th nationally… which also seems high. It is less eyepopping. Since their season-opening tomato cans they've averaged exactly 3 goals per game with four outings in which they managed only one. That's why anyone running across Michigan's place in the scoring ranks is set for a double take.
As for individuals, it's hard to pick out any for attention. What is Michigan's top line? I don't know, you don't know. M had Andrew Sinelli out there for the GLI with Moffatt and Hyman… is that a fourth line? What is that?
These days the nominal top line is Brown-Wohlberg-Guptill, which sounds like just another bunch of dudes but does have the three top-scoring forwards on the team. Whoever is playing with Phil Di Giuseppe is the second line. Lindsay Sparks has eaten bench the last four games after his production fell off; he still has more points in 18 games than Lynch, Deblois, Glendening, and Hyman have in 21 or 22. He is not notably more deficient on D than the rest of the team. I will never understand his deployment, especially when Michigan's power play is terrible.
Positives and negatives are hard to throw out there when you're not sure who is supposed to be what. Glendening is a senior captain who spent much of the year on the top line and he has eight points. That would be disappointing if it wasn't obvious he was going to be a guy with about eight points at midseason. PDG has stopped producing after a torrid start; that would be disappointing if he had much help from his linemates and wasn't a shiny penny found in the depths of the OPJHL.
Two freshmen forwards are clearly deviating from expectations in one direction or another: Alex Guptill is deservedly on the top line and has more goals (9) than any other Wolverine. He's a big guy with enough mobility to make his size relevant and puts in a bunch of effort on most shifts. Zach Hyman hasn't been bad, per se, but I keep waiting for him to Do Something. He hasn't and has limped his way to a 2-6-8 and the worst +/- on the team. He's an older guy, too, so if he doesn't start producing soon he's not likely to ever become a star.
As for upperclassmen, there aren't many. Brown, Lynch, Glendening and Wohlberg are playing at about the levels you'd expect. Treais has become more of a chance-generator but is still more Shouneyia than Cammalleri. Sparks is hated by all coaches everywhere, even that guy at Colorado School of Mines. That no one has stepped up to Rohlfs/Scooter/Lebler levels this season is a collective disappointment. Michigan has had a big old guy take a leap forward just about every year. Not so much this one.
Special Teams (Terrible)
Hey, speaking of: Michigan's special teams are not good. Their power play has finally given up the ghost and languishes at 41st nationally with just 14 goals in 86 attempts. (Miami, miraculously, is worse at 44th. What happened to the Redhawks?) They are killing penalties at an 80% rate, 38th nationally and worst in the CCHA.
While special teams have not been a consistent strength for Michigan in a while, the power play especially, they seem to have no plan at all this year. They did get much better movement in the GLI—I bet they spent a lot of practice time on doing something other than shooting it into a defenseman's knee from the point.
As for the PK, it was a testament to how great Hagelin and Rust were that they kept their head above water the past couple years. Hunwick's weaknesses are magnified when shorthanded. Opponents are more likely to get to copious rebounds, more likely to get the cross-ice motion that either exposes big chunks of the net or forces Hunwick to stay deep enough in his net for his size to be a problem. It's not a surprise they're bad when they have to deal with that and don't have the best defensive forward in college hockey.
This bad? Probably not.
Hunwick's maintaining a decent .917 save percentage that sees him at 26th nationally. This is a step back from his blazing junior year partially attributable to a regression in his play and partially Michigan's intense focus on executing defensive breakdowns. He's still a guy you can win with.
I was much happier when Merrill was going to be back this weekend. I'm not sure this team can hack through the upcoming schedule without him.
Sitebulletin. By "back" I meant loosely back, obviously. I am still not back in Ann Arbor and the resulting social obligations make the writing a difficult thing to carve out time for. I will be in a car for a big chunk of prime posting time tomorrow so Thursday will be the first day I'll have an opportunity to have a normal obsessive day.
In the meantime…
GLI tonight! And it's not on TV! The steady erosion of college hockey's profile in the metro Detroit area continued unabated. The only GLI game that will be on TV this year is the final. So you might as well go if you're in the area. Yost Built has ten things about RPI, Michigan's opening opponent. The Engineers—woot—are a .500 ECAC team that has a couple nice wins but has also lost six of its last eight. Michigan should be (slightly) favored.
Something unprecedented is going down today, by the way: Michigan is actually getting helped out by the World Junior Championships. For the first time since I've followed college hockey Michigan has its entire roster and plays a team that is missing someone, as RPI freshman Jerry D'Amigo is on the USA team. Pounding Michigan forward Chris Brown is not, and he seems peeved.
Michigan Tech has resumed being utterly terrible (3-14) after a few decent years, so State is the likely opponent should Michigan make the final. The News also has a preview.
It could happen. Seriously. Because you are an American in good standing who did not go to USC, you want to see the Trojans get the wrong end of the NCAA's jabbin' stick for the litany of transgressions ranging from Reggie Bush to OJ Mayo to Joe McKnight. The NCAA already folded its Mayo investigation into the Bush one and may have just caught a major break in that case:
A state appellate court affirmed Monday that an ongoing lawsuit against Reggie Bush (pictured above) does not have to go to confidential arbitration, opening the way for attorneys to question Bush and USC Coach Pete Carroll about whether the running back received improper benefits while playing for the Trojans.
Michigan got hammered on the Ed Martin stuff when the feds got involved because of Martin's gambling stuff; here Reggie Bush will be deposed about something he probably doesn't care much about. (Carroll will probably play dumb no matter the consequences.) May Bush become a Webber-level pariah to the six USC fans that still care about the Trojans when they go .500 after the NCAA finds a lack of institutional control.
Yes, yes, I know I shouldn't get your hopes up. Or mine.
New name. With Ben Cronin looking increasingly like a very large and slow butler to a creepy family and two center-type people graduating this year, Michigan find itself in serious need of an actual post player going forward. Blake McLimans and Evan Smotrcyz are true Beilein fours, 6'9"-6'10" wing forwards who are 1-3-1 nightmares and can play post defense on a power forward in a crunch. They are not centers. That leaves freshman Jordan Morgan, who's redshirting, as the only reasonable option next year if Cronin's questionable health does not improve.
So… yeah, Michigan can give two more scholarships in 2010 if they want and with Casey Prather off the board and Trey Zeigler getting attention from schools like Duke it might be time to look at some new folk. One of them is Jon Horford, the younger brother of current Atlanta Hawk Al Horford. The elder Horford was briefly a Tommy Amaker commit before heading to Florida and becoming the third pick in the NBA draft. The internets were (and are still) rife with payoff rumors in the aftermath of that recruitment, but the younger Horford is a much less highly sought recruit.
He's been having an excellent senior year, though, and UMHoops says that he's maintaining a leader similar to the one his brother had earlier:
Regarding his recruitment, it appears that Jon still has one school on top ($): Michigan. Michigan seems ready to take a big man (Horford) as well as Zeigler in the class of 2010 if they both want to come. Looking at the roster composition right now, it’s hard to fault a decision like this.
Michigan may also pick up Jordan Dumars after he transfers from South Florida; presumably this would be as a walk-on since the elder Dumars may have a couple of nickels to rub together. Michigan isn't in a position to offer a scholarship to a kid like Dumars, who was a two-star recruit who barely cracked 10 PPG as a senior in high school.
Donation machine. Braylon Edwards may never shed the dropsies he had at Michigan but he does shed money in fantastic and productive ways:
The Wolverines' former star wide receiver and '04 team MVP is three years into a five-year funding plan that amounts to $500,000 in endowed scholarships at his alma mater -- $80,000 annually for the football program and a pair of $10,000 academic scholarships for bright and needy students from inner-city Detroit.
That article is all about athletic endowments and wanders away from Michigan after discussing Edwards's donation and the 130 athletic scholarships that are covered by the endowment. Only three other football players have provided enough in the way of donations to cover a scholarship: James Hall, Curtis Greer, and Jim Mandich. That list seems short. Surely Tom Brady can afford the scratch now, right?
Now the only thing is getting someone to wear the #1 so Edwards's scholarship can be tangibly used. Roy Roundtree?
Etc.: TSN asked the blog folks to post about their defining moments of the decade. Mine, unfortunately, is The Horror. I did make a totally awesome comparison to Lord of the Rings, though. Andy Staples digs deeper into the Trail photos for another excellent article. Dave Kindred writes unreasonably nice things about me. The WLA hates faulty recruiting math just as much as I do.