"Jim's a tough guy and you can see his personality is all over this football team," Fitzgerald said.
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.
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.)
Previously tackled: the forwards.
Senior Chris Summers. Summers was the captain and played 40 games, but finished with just 16 points (four goals and eight assists) and could only manage a +5. Though he'll be missed—first round draft picks who see out their eligibility at Michigan are rare indeed—his level of impact wasn't such that some combination of touted incoming freshmen and development from returning players can't pick up the slack. I'm not sure you'd be able to tell who the first-round pick was on Michigan's defense last year if you didn't know already.
That said, Michigan's most veteran defensemen are now Tristin Llewellyn and Chad Langlais. Neither are exactly defensive stalwarts. Well, Llewellyn is except when he's really not being a defensive stalwart. As we'll see below there is some uncertainty about who gets put on the ice when the opponent's danger lines are out.
Senior Steve Kampfer. Statistically, Kampfer was the best defenseman on the team. He led Michigan defensemen in +/- (+18) and points (3-23-26) last year. Those are rudimentary stats for defenders, but I didn't get the same feeling that he should somehow play better as I did with Summers. Kampfer also loosed "THAT IS WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT" in the aftermath of ending Michigan State's season. That is what I am talking about.
Jon Merrill, USNTDP. Merrill's stock has dropped a little bit since his commitment at 15, but nowhere near as much as Moffatt's. Merrill's slid to a mid-to-late first rounder, but… hey… that's still pretty good. As a bonus, his game is highly cerebral and he should be able to step onto the second, or even first, pairing without much of a transition period:
"He's very intelligent on both sides of the puck, makes good decisions, and defensively is good about keeping himself in good position," USNTDP U-18 coach Kurt Kleinendorst said. "There are a lot of things to appreciate about his game, including his size (6-foot-3 1/4, 198 pounds) and his dedication in the weight room."
And I still remember the incredible back-and-forth cycling that drove Minnesota to national titles when Hobey winner Jordan Leopold was around, so I love this comparison:
"He plays the game a lot like Jordan Leopold," said Central Scouting's Jack Barzee, who specializes in U.S. prospects. "He plays weaving and diving, sneaking and thinking, gaining the zone and moving the puck ahead and right on the tape to a guy. He's skilled and he's really come a long way in his development."
After Merrill was one of the best players on the USA U18 team that destroyed all comers except Sweden, who they still beat for the gold medal, he moved up from a fringe first-rounder to what sounds like will be a solid selection in the 10-15 range. The praise was rapturous:
Jon Merrill, LD -- USA Under 18
Regarded as one of the best defenseman prospects coming out of the US this year, Merrill looks to have leapfrogged his competition and could be debated as being one of the top three best defensive prospects in the entire draft. Merrill was simply dominant in Belarus and his ability to play in all situations, including running the power play, certainly makes him all the more valuable. Merrill is explosive, gets the puck on net and creates lanes all over the ice. He is effective and reliable defensively and proves to be very difficult to win space against. Scouts are salivating at the chance to add Merrill to their rosters, as he is already a dominant player but still has a lot of room for improvement. This kid is for real.
Merrill should step right into the lineup and could be the team's top blueliner by midseason. He's the most highly-touted D to enter the program since JMFJ.
Mac Bennett, USHL. Bennett, who was drafted in the third round by the Canadiens in '09, is the rare Michigan recruit who comes to Michigan a full year after the NHL got a crack at him. The last player to do it was Kevin Quick, who lasted a few months before he stole Carl Hagelin's credit card and shuffled off to the CHL. Before that he was pretty good.
Anyway. Bennett's rep is a slick puck-moving offensive defenseman. Here's a scouting report from James Stachowiak, the Official Cedar Rapids Contact of MGoBlog:
Bennett has been in the top defensive pairing for the RoughRiders all season and his play earned him a spot on the USHL All Star team. Bennett is typically paired up against the top scoring line for the opposing team, often logging the most minutes of any defenseman, and he still led Rider defensemen and finished 8th in the USHL with a +17 plus minus rating. He is a very good defensive defenseman with good ice awareness and vision on the offensive end. Numerous times this year he has hit a forward in stride with a blue line to blue line pass that lead to a breakaway.
For much of the second half of the season he has been captaining what has been referred to as the 1A powerplay unit and his presence on that unit gave it a real spark. On the powerplay, he has been good at taking advantage of opportunities to crash the net from the backside and score. Although he can lay the big hit, he also plays incredibly smart defense. He has only taken 34 penalty minutes on the season. He will be physical when called upon, but is not an enforcer.
He doesn't have the hardest shot either. In an impromptu hardest shot contest at practice where each player got three shots clocked on a radar gun, he hot 86, 88, and 84 MPH, five other Riders were able to crack 90 MPH.
Bennett does a good job of keeping everything in front of him and to the outside, has enough speed to get back into the play on the rare occasion when he turns it over, and has the makings of a very solid defenseman for Michigan.
Solid defense would be a major step forward for Bennett, who entered his NHL draft year with a reputation as a gunslinger. Red Line Report's Kyle Woodlief:
Woodlief said that he does not like Bennett’s “lack of discipline in the defensive end. He’s more like a forward playing defense.’’
Bennett is a strong skater –– he has “jets,’’ Woodlief said. “He’s able to create odd-man rushes with his wheels,’’ he said, and “he can handle the puck at high speed.’’
Meanwhile, USHR praised his college upside even before his USHL year:
5’11”. 170 lb. Hotchkiss defenseman and Michigan recruit Mac Bennett is a smooth skater who reads plays smartly, and excels in the transition game. He’s going to be an excellent college player. Smallish for a pro defenseman, but rates highly in every other are, so he will be drafted.
He should be as ready to step into the lineup as Merrill. Slight downer: Bennett makes no bones about his desire to jump to the NHL as soon as its feasible. Two years is your over/under on his tenure at Michigan.
Kevin Clare, USNTDP. Clare's stock dropped significantly over the past year. He went from 132nd in the CSB midterm rankings to entirely omitted; by the end of the year he was the only NTDP defenseman not to make the U18 World Championships team. He's mostly been skating with the U17s. None of these are good indicators.
Though the ISS's January mention of him as a "falling" prospect concerns itself with the sexual harassment incident he was involved in (it got Jacob Fallon booted from the NTDP), they also mention his falling offensive productivity. Why that would be a big deal isn't clear, though. Clare's rep is a purely defensive defenseman.
On the other hand, Clare ended up 31st on College Hockey 24-7's top 50 list, ahead of Moffatt and Fallon, and the CSB plunge is probably excessive given that people were talking Clare up as a potential late first-round pick a year ago and one of the guys who pays close attention to the NTDP was still suggesting he'd be off the board in the third as late as January. There's also some increasingly old fluff from the New York Daily News and USA Hockey.
We'll get a much better read on Clare's stock and prospects for playing time this fall by the NHL draft. Third round = serious contender. Not drafted = redshirt.
With just two defensemen outgoing and three incoming, Michigan will have a roster crunch. I'm not sure if Lee Moffie is going to get a regular shift next year and I think Michigan might actually redshirt Clare. Michigan hasn't redshirted a guy since Riley Olson way back in the day.
Three potential pairings, none of which seem that much better or worse than any other:
The idea of Llewellyn still gives me hives but he did play really well at the Joe and in the NCAA tournament and will be entering his senior year. He brings a physical element—and the penalties that go with it—that no one else except maybe Pateryn does. Paired with Merrill, he might get away with some of his unwise decisions—and if Hagelin's out there his backchecking could neutralize those. I'd still be more comfortable with Llewellyn out there against grinders and whatnot; we'll see how it plays out. Given his inconsistency he could be anywhere from the (very nominally) top pairing to the press box.
Merrill is a version of JMFJ minus the deranged genius. Michigan will lean on him heavily.
This pairing actually existed most of last year and seemed to work out fine, though Burlon did not make the impact expected given his excellent freshman year and status as a second-round pick. He still finished with a 3-11-14 and +12. He played ever game, blocked more shots than anyone except Kampfer, and took fewer penalties per game than any Michigan defender. It wasn't a lost season by any means; it was just something short of the pure breakout that Burlon hinted at in '08-'09.
Langlais is Langlais at this point: small, dynamic with the puck, clever passer, fairly responsible. I suggested he could move to forward since he's the best puckhandler on the team, but Derek Deblois coming in early would seem to put the kibosh on that idea. Hopefully he'll be less penalty-prone as a senior.
Pateryn is pretty boring when he's not sweeping down from the point to score a game-winning goal. Since his JMFJ-like pillaging of Northern Michigan remains the only goal of his Michigan career, that's most of the time. He racked up 1-5-6 in 33 games last year, finishing +8. That boredom has its uses, though. Pateryn had just 18 penalty minutes, which is a third of Llewellyn's total. Both played 33 games.
I'd like to see Pateryn tried out on against some top lines here and there: all of his scratches took place in the first half of last year, and from there he was a more-reliable version of Llewellyn. He's got tremendous size and seems to be on an upward track. If his skating isn't a problem he could move up to be the sensible guy next to Merrill.
As for Bennett, see above. He's a version of Langlais with enough size to draw NHL notice. His post-draft year of junior is unusual for a Michigan player; as a result he should come in ready to play. Hopefully that will be enough to knock Winnett off the power play.
The leftovers. I can't believe I can't find a spot for a kid who had 4-8-12 in just 29 games as a freshman but Bennett is definitely going to play and Merrill is definitely going to play and Llewellyn appears to have finally earned the coaches' trust. Injury, Llewellyn's inevitable game or three where he does something unfortunate and gets pulled, and maybe some of the same from others will see Moffie draw into maybe half of the games. It could be more if he shores up the defensive issues that got him benched despite his scoring tear.
As for Clare, we'll see how much his stock has actually dropped at the draft. I'd think someone gets redshirted this year just because Michigan can do it. If Clare does not have serious NHL prospects any more it will probably be him. If he does you're not going to get five years out of him anyway so you might see Moffie put in mothballs. It seems a waste of eligibility to have one of them play five games or whatever. I bet Michigan did not expect to hold on to Burlon this long.
As for Clare: Michigan has the luxury of redshirting him. Will they actually use it?
Was Tristin Llewellyn Re-Education Camp Happy Time as effective as it appeared? I don't think so. We've seen three years of Llewellyn's play and he was making some pretty mind-boggling decisions as late as the Munn Takeover—remember the boarding call when Michigan was already killing a penalty?—so his last four games only push the needle slightly towards reliability. It was just about pegged on the wrong end of that scale; he will be frustrating as per usual. At least Michigan has a lot of options should his processor short out this year.
How quickly can the freshmen be really good? Very. Merrill just got done pwning the world and has spent the last one and a half years going up against college kids—he got dragged up to the U18s late in his U17 season. Sometimes defensemen get picked high because of what they will be someday; Merrill appears to be something already. He's not going to spin around kids in the neutral zone and get away with it but he's not going to totally abandon decorum, either.
Bennett, meanwhile, is going to be 19 when he hits campus and has just spent a year being heavily relied upon by a USHL team. He might need a little while to get his defense up to a collegiate standard; an instant impact is still likely on the power play and against third lines.
Can someone already on the team improve radically? Three candidates:
- Burlon, who is one of those guys you're just waiting to go "click" and turn into a machine.
- Pateryn, who has an NHL-type frame at a long-armed 6'3" and 210 pounds and developed into a reliable guy in his own zone during his sophomore year.
- Moffie, who just needs to learn how to play defense.
All of these guys are not going to take major leaps forward; one might. I've got my money on Pateryn, a guy who quietly erased anyone who attempted to rush him last year.
Worries? There's no one you can look at and think "this is Miami's top line, let's put X and Y out." Merrill might be one of those guys; Pateryn could be the other. If it's not it might be Llewellyn, which will lead to Bad Things from time to time. Wither Jay Vancik?
1/23/2010 – Michigan 2, Ferris State 0 – 14-10-1, 9-7-0-1 CCHA
1/24/2010 – Michigan 2, Ferris State 3 – 14-11-1, 9-8-0-1 CCHA
I think I've come to this conclusion about the Saturday game, in which Michigan tied it up with two minutes left only to concede a game losing goal with under thirty seconds on the clock: GODDAMMIT.
In a little more detail, perhaps. There's no shame in losing to a Ferris State team that basically lived up to their advance billing as a very good team, but it's super frustrating when the three goals scored are
- a terribly soft short-handed goal on a nothing play
- the direct result of a really obvious tripping call, and
- in the final minute of the game.
If Michigan had done better than .500 in the first half of the season it would be easy to let the game go as a combination of misfortune, an excellent opponent, and a tough road venue, but they didn't. The thing stands as a giant missed opportunity in a season that doesn't have many left.
This post probably should be focusing on the full two-minute 5-on-3 kill and a weekend in which Michigan proved itself equal to a team that's solidly in the tournament, but it's hard to do anything but fret when your RPI is in the high teens and you're flirting with the end of a 20-year run in the NCAA tourney. Does Mel Pearson look nervous above or am I projecting? Does it matter?
The great reversal. What a weird series. Despite the 2-0 final score, the Friday game was full of end-to-end rushes and wide open play, with both teams just missing on a number of pretty passing plays. And despite the three extra goals on Saturday, that night's game was a slog where I don't recall a single scoring chance for Michigan in the first period. I don't know if Michigan's breakout caught Ferris by surprise or what, but it was weird. I was shocked that a team with defensive numbers like Michigan State in all its dead-puck Ron Mason glory would get into an end-to-end game like that.
Part of the deal Friday night was a very fast Ferris team pressing hard after they fell behind, which resulted in a lot of open ice—but few odd-man-rushes—once Michigan broke the pressure. When Michigan returned to the ice in the third just looking to close it out, that period became very boring. Saturday was mostly Michigan chasing thanks to the uber-soft shortie. With this team, I buy that first-goal-all-important stuff. The last two weekends are plenty of evidence.
People of note. I thought it was odd that Scooter Vaughn sat out last weekend in favor of freshman Jeff Rohrkemper and still think it's odd after Vaughn got back on the ice against Ferris and played very well, picking up a first assist on Friday and generally being the sort of fourth-liner that gets noticed for positive contributions. I guess you want Rohrkemper to know he's going to get in some games and if you're going to scratch one of the forwards it's probably going to be Scooter.
Louie Caporusso continues to struggle mightily. He's scored once in the past nine games. He has tried 60 spectacular dangles in that time, 58 of which have ended in pucks turned over in dangerous areas. The other two were admittedly pretty sweet scoring chances. I'm worried about him and also AJ Treais, who certainly seems like he should be putting up more points. He's not, and the longer he goes without having something click the less likely it is to ever happen. See also: Ben Winnett.
Greg Pateryn drew in for MGoWhippingBoy Tristin Llewellyn and was just okay. He didn't take any bad penalties but there was one incident where even a relative hockey neophyte like myself could see that he was moving the wrong direction like five seconds before a really poor attempt at a check was blown by and created a two-on-one. Lee Moffie, on the other hand, is super smooth and impresses more each game.
Bryan Hogan… ghaahahhah. Gah.
On that tripping call and other things. I didn't have a lot of complaints Friday night about the refereeing except for Steve McInchak's usual determination to let every post-whistle cheapshot go unpunished, but I also did not have the benefit of replay. Seemingly every call for and against Michigan in the Saturday game was wrong, most comically the Chad Langlais penalty where he took a holding the stick call after he'd established position in a race for the puck and bodied a Ferris player off so that his defense partner could collect the puck. I don't recall the bad calls on Ferris as specifically, but I remember thinking to myself
And then there was the second goal, where David Wohlberg was tripped coming out of the faceoff dot and then rushed out to the point at a speed that allowed Ferris's defenseman to step around him and pick a corner. That's an obvious call you have to make.
Why the CCHA allows McInchak and Some Guy I've Never Seen Before to ref a really important series when there's an opportunity to stash them at Western-Bowling Green I'll never know. In their stead we could have gotten the marginally more competent BG-WMU crew of Confused Marmoset and PCP-Enraged Physics Professor.
JMFJ. Two days after the Dean Lombardi incident, Jack Johnson is where?
At Yost, playing Score-O in his letter jacket. Not even Danny Fardig wore his, and if I was Danny Fardig I would never take mine off. Jack Johnson is awesome.
Still slightly to the good. Splitting with a team as highly regarded as Ferris is in the PWR is still progress: Michigan gained a spot over the weekend and now sits #18. Ferris, on the other hand, dropped from 5 to 8.) In the brief window between the Friday and Saturday games Michigan was technically in the tournament at #14.
PWR is really jittery, though, and the current RPI will predict the future PWR better than the current PWR. In that, Michigan was static.
Re-evaluating the 14 of 17 meme. I suggested that Michigan had to storm the last half of its schedule to have any hope of an at large bid and with the Saturday loss Michigan is off pace. They've used half of those three losses in six games. Doom?
Well… it does look pretty doomy. Sioux Sports shows that Michigan has to win nine of its last eleven to move into an RPI spot better than the last team in the tournament. If we can give them a little more slack it's not mch more: basically we don't have to count the Alaska tie against them.
This weekend is huge, huge, huge. HUGE. For one, it's against Michigan State. For two, State has slid of late and is now on the bubble itself. They're on the right side at the moment but Michigan could—probably would—pass them with a weekend sweep. That would give them the two head-to-head points they lost earlier back and probably send M past the Spartans in RPI. At the very least, Michigan would put that comparison back in play. Anything short of a sweep and that comparison is gone and Michigan will have spent another weekend doing nothing in particular to move on up in the world.
Before the weekend I suggested that 3-1 in this four game stretch was just about required if Michigan was going to be in position for an at-large bid, and they're 1-1. There are nine games plus the CCHA playoffs left after this weekend, which is a lot of time, but if they want to give themselves any leeway at all down the stretch they'll have to take a win and a tie from the weekend.