the season has truly begun now
Mac Bennett's projected partner: also Mac Bennett
|Mac Bennett||Sr.||Mike Downing||Fr.|
|Kevin Clare||Sr.||Brennan Serville||Jr.|
|Mike Szuma||Jr.||Nolan De Jong||Fr.|
ALSO: Mike Chiasson (Jr), Spencer Hyman (Fr), Kevin Lohan (Fr)
THIS IS WHERE IT GETS STICKY. The simultaneous departures of Jon Merrill and Jacob Trouba leave Michigan's blue line in a spot that is icky at best. While they've got a couple of NHL draft picks incoming, there's a major difference between Trouba, a top ten pick who is going to make the Jets this year, and Mike Downing, a fourth-rounder who Billy Powers says is "a bit skin and bones" at the moment.
But let's start with the nice bit. MAC BENNETT returns for his final year in a winged helmet wearing the C. He toned his game down last year when he found himself paired with Trouba, eschewing the puck-rushing style he flashed his first two years so that he could be a more reliable defensive partner for a dynamic player. He still put up points at an encouraging rate until he was hewn down in the disastrous 5-1 loss to Bowling Green that seemed to be the last straw for Red. He returned a month later on the second pairing—Merrill's return bumped him—and performed ably down the stretch. Miraculously, his +/- was zero on the year. Despite all his talent, Trouba did not fare nearly as well in that (admittedly wonky) stat.
This year, Michigan needs him to be Trouba, and all-phases crusher who sucks up shift after shift. If Red is ever going to throw over his policy of relatively even time, this is the year. Bennett should be logging Jack Johnson-in-Columbus time, playing all three phases and attempting to shut down the opposition's best on a nightly basis. Powers provided some Fred Jackson-level reassurance when he talked to the Canadiens' official site:
“Mac Bennett will be a dominant college defenseman [this season]. We expect him to be the most dominant offensive and defensive defenseman in the Big Ten. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it,” added Powers. “Every night, there will be someone in the building who will say – ‘That No. 37 is special’.”
Powers also said he's an “elite skater with incredible explosion and incredible endurance"; that latter quality should be put to the test.
Expect a resurgence of the offensive flair Bennett showed his first couple years, because it's not coming from anywhere else on this defense corps and whoever ends up pairing Bennett will be shot if he so much as thinks about getting up ice.
Now, who partners with Bennett? Your options are all frightening on some level. The primary contenders:
- The aforementioned MIKE DOWNING, who has promise and offensive upside but saw his stock drop significantly in his final year of junior and needs to fill out.
- Senior KEVIN CLARE, who provides zero offense (0-2-2 last year, 12 shots), was –9 last year in just 19 games, and was scratched for the final 14 because of disciplinary issues.
- Junior BRENNAN SERVILLE, who seems like he should be more of an offensive defenseman of only because he tends to give you hives with his decisions but is as bereft as Clare is in the points department (1-2-3, 21 shots) and was scratched for 11 games himself last year. But I guess he was +3? Woo?
I'm going with Downing, mostly because I cringe at the idea of Clare or Serville on a top pairing and haven't seen the freshman yet, but I could also see the job going to Clare, since Downing has some offensive upside in his game:
"He carries the puck well out of the zone and makes good decisions on when to hang on to it or move it ahead. Sees the ice well in transition and has a pro pass. He is willing to mix it up, especially when defending down low. He is also very good at moving the puck on the power play. He has a good, hard shot that he gets through to the net, but can and will fake his shot and make a quick pass to the open man. He is not afraid to jump to an open hole on the offensive attack to create scoring chances. He will need to show all of this with more consistency for the next level."
Michigan may want to split those two guys in an effort to have a puck-mover on the ice for most of the game. Clare's just going to sit back, break up plays, and try to get the puck out of the zone, and if he's out there with a lesser guy that could result in spells of uncomfortable pressure.
As for Serville, I'm in full confirmation bias mode with him in which I magnify every mistake he makes. But I'm aware of it and I'm still nervous about having him in a major role. He was a draft pick a couple years back and defensemen take time, etc etc etc. I'll be pleasantly surprised if he makes a significant step forward.
[After THE JUMP: at least they've got a ton of third pairing guys?]
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.
no sir I would not like to be your neighbor
you smell like deep-fried deep fryers
and you make the new big ten geographically incoherent
STOP LOOKING AT ME LIKE THAT AAAH
The Big Ten hockey conference is coming, bringing with it questions like "how do you structure the playoffs in a six-team conference?" Since this is America everyone gets their participation trophy berth, but then you have some options. Specifically these:
A single-elimination format at a neutral site in which all six teams are seeded according to regular-season performance. The lowest four seeds play for the right to face one of the top two seeds.
• A two-weekend model in which the four lowest-seeded schools play a best-of-three series for the right to advance to a final four, single-elimination set-up staged at the home of the top seed.
• A three-weekend arrangement in which the teams are seeded and the highest seeds host a best-of-three series. The four lowest seeds play for the right to face one of the top two seeds in a best-of-three series hosted by the highest seed. The highest seed hosts the championship series.
Wisconsin is supporting the first of these because formats other than the WCHA's Final Five confuse and frighten them. They probably saw a sixth team show up to the Final Five this year* and fled to the comforting bosom of the Big Ten.
If the rest of college hockey was in charge here they would permanently site in St. Paul because the Midwest doesn't exist. Fortunately, the Big Ten is apparently set on rotating the playoffs through Chicago, Detroit, and maybe Pittsburgh should a neutral site be required.
But… like… it shouldn't. The amount of money you can make from five games at a neutral site is way less than you can make from 10-15 games at campus sites unless you're expecting a Big Ten tournament to sell out, which it won't. (And even then it's probably about equal.) You have two sets of fans separated from each other by a lake. Ohio State and Michigan State fans will simply not show up. MSU fans don't show up to their own building, and didn't even when they were good. Penn State fans are undetermined but they are a very long way away from anything except Pittsburgh so banking on Nittany Lions to show up en masse is foolhardy, especially when they're probably not going to be very good for a while.
Meanwhile, the NCAA is not going to fork over extra games to the Big Ten for having an abbreviated playoff. So the advantages of a three-weekend series format are many:
- it is more hockey
- it is more money
- it is less random
- it is more important to finish well so you get home games
- it does not randomly assign home ice to whichever team happens to be closest to the playoff
The advantages of a single neutral site:
- it is good practice for playing an NCAA regional in an embarrassingly empty cavern of a building
- it is less frightening to Wisconsin
The Final Five works so well for the WCHA because they had eight fanbases within a few hours of Minneapolis. (They've got seven now since they traded BSU and UNO for Minnesota and Wisconsin.) Anyone who makes it can show up at the X with no trouble. That won't be the case in the Big Ten, which has only six fanbases, three of which are questionable. The three that aren't are separated by a lake and massive airfares since Minneapolis and Detroit are both Delta hubs, and the fans who would hypothetically go to them are facing down trips to randomly-selected regionals and the Frozen Four the next three weeks. A neutral site is not a good idea.
But this is college hockey, so they'll put it in the Sudan.
OTHER ITEM OF INTEREST: The article mentions that the displaced Big Ten teams "hope to" fill their schedule with eight games against WCHA and CCHA teams, leaving six (or eight if you go to Alaska) left for random nonconference series. Conveniently, eight games is how many it takes for this blog's State of Michigan-ish Championship idea to come to fruition.
OTHER END OF THE BENCH GUY: Via Michigan Hockey Net, a defenseman with 27 points in 122 games as the Omaha Lancers' captain has committed for next year. He's Mike Chiasson, and if that name sounds familiar: yes, he is former Red Wing Steve Chiasson's son. The elder Chiasson died in a car wreck 12 years ago, after which the family moved to Nevada.
Anyone committing this late is almost certainly a walk-on and Michigan has six guys slotted for playing time next year, but depth is depth and it's always good to add junior captains. Also here's Chiasson fighting some dude.
*[The WCHA added UNO and BSU, thus necessitating a sixth team. In a very Big Ten move, the WCHA refused to change the name. That turned out to be prescient.]