4/9/2011 – Michigan 2, Minnesota-Duluth 3 (OT) – 29-11-4, season over
There's a track on the Robert Earl Keen live album I've listened to incessantly since I was maybe a junior in college in which it's just him introing a song with a story. It's about how he went to the second Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic. Keen lies that he was "about 27 years old" at the time and had a date—his first date ever. He had so much fun in "the Willy Way" that he had to go take a nap.
He woke up from his nap to hear a man on the PA announcing that there had been a fire in the parking lot and that 40 cars had burned up. The first winner: RHP 997. Now, you might wonder why Keen and I remember that so well. In Keen's case it's because it was his car. In my case it's because I've listened to this story hundreds of times.
Keen's obviously devastated by this news, but his date laughs. Keen reminds her "we don't have a ride"; she responds "I do." Keen is introduced to Tarzan and Adonis, who promise to "take care of her, man." She departs. Keen is left with not enough of a car to carbon-14 date and no date when just a few hours ago he having the best time of his life.
He sits down.
He sits down on the grass. On the burnt grass, the black, burnt dirt and grass, and he weeps. "Big, old, giant tears."
I don't know, man.
I've got a post in the hopper titled "the bottom" that details the stunning descent in Michigan athletics that started when Bo died the day before Football Armageddon and to my eyes stopped on January 17th when Greg Mattison was hired away from an NFL team to coordinate Michigan's defense. Since then the basketball team exceeded anything approximating reasonable expectations, Jim Tressel and Ohio State seem to have started a long, ugly process of implosion, and the hockey team deflected its way to a 50-50 shot at glory. We are finally on the way up.
That doesn't mean they are. Hagelin and Scooter and Hunwick just saw something slip through their fingers they'll never get back. I guess Hunwick has a shot next year but a quick look at the roster shows a team that should be happy to extend the tourney streak—in all likelihood this was it for Tiny Jesus. I'm trying to decide whether this is actually worse than last year. At least last year promised this year; right now it's hard to see Michigan back here for years, like when Boo Nieves is a sophomore and whichever 2013 forwards stick might be awesome. Next year's impact help is playing in the OHL.
So I'm not sure when that shot will come again. Maybe it will be next year—hockey is bizarre that way—but despite a season as frustrating as a conference championship can be by the end I was deeply, deeply invested in Hagelin and the kids who gave him a flag and our 5'7" third-string walk-on goalie with a story the Air Bud producers would send back as too hackneyed. The hours after the North Dakota game were one long shuddering as my body gradually remembered things other than pure terror, and to lose—to frankly deserve to lose—after that was like all the horror described last year but with more finality. That happened and won't happen again and it wasn't enough.
Keen goes on to room with Lyle Lovett and carve out a career as a minor country star who doesn't have to give a crap what Nashville thinks, but being a musician doesn't come with eligibility restrictions. I spent Saturday thinking of all the guys who came and went during Michigan's long championship interregnum: Cammalleri and Comrie and Shouneyia and Hensick and all the other brilliant 5'8" guys college hockey makes into gods. Jed Ortmeyer, who has more work ethic in a finger than I do in my entire body and once killed two St. Cloud players in the first five minutes of a tourney game at Yost. Jack Johnson. Milan Gajic and his magic ability to not score spectacular goals. Jason Ryznar and Craig Murray always seeming way better than they were. Al Montoya sitting in the penalty box. Brandon Kaleniecki living inside the goalie's jersey. Jay Vancik convincing me he was an NHL player. Bob Gassoff, who I once screamed "why even give him a stick?" in the general direction of.
I wrote about the fans and thought I'd write about them after—I guess I am, but not in the way I wanted to. Today we add Caporusso and Vaughn and Hagelin and Langlais and Winnett and Rust and Hogan to the list of people to valorize at some point in the indeterminate future.
As Keen was dripping onto the grass some guy from the festival came up and said "the least we can do is let you meet Willy," but Willy had to go jam with Leon Russell. Many years later he recorded one of Keen's songs as part of the Highwaymen—this is all in the story.
At some point Michigan is actually going to win another goddamned national championship and some of this will be redeemed. Not all of it, though. Shawn Hunwick is never going to do that again, and nothing's ever going to match the Swedish flag and my complete failure to get people to replace all words in the goal cheer with "bork" when Hagelin scores. Things come and go; this one has gone and I'm stunned at how much I miss it already.
Seriously, No Bullets
Why this is so early in the morning. You see, Rudy, the fiancée's dissertation is due today and it's like 350 pages and I edited all of it and at one point there was a sentence with three different serial commas in it and my head exploded and I haven't actually gone to bed yet. So 1) early post because I decided it was now or never and 2) I am going to bed and will see you tomorrow and will bump Tom's weekly when I wake up this afternoon. kthxbye.
Okay, one. Congratulations to Duluth, who got a deserved win. I don't know what it was, but they spent the entire game turning Michigan's defensemen. Were they just blown out from the North Dakota game? I find that hard to believe when they had two days off and Duluth also played, but I hadn't seen anyone get around Michigan's D with that consistency all year. Since that includes UND and some other very good teams I wonder if the semi just took too much out of them.
It's impossible to be mad at a team with no previous titles and so many guys with awesome beards that don't match their blonde hair; congrats.
PLAYOFF TIME IS HOCKEY BEAR TIME
|WHAT||Michigan vs Minnesota-Duluth|
|WHERE||XCel Center, St. Paul, Minnesota|
|THE LINE||Come on|
Record. 25-10-6, 15-8-5 WCHA. Duluth is necessarily less terrifying than North Dakota. They're approximately as terrifying as UNO: they finished a point behind the Mavericks in the WCHA and were +28 in goal differential (UNO was +35). Their nonconference performance was a bit better than UNO's, but other than a weird nonconference matchup with North Dakota the opponents were not strong. KRACH—which stopped updating before tournament results came in—has them 7th. Michigan is 6th. (North Dakota was an easy #1.)
The Bulldogs spent time earlier in the year at #1 but struggled late in their conference schedule. After a sweep of Michigan Tech in late January they finished the regular season 3-4-3; their best opponents were CC (one point) and UNO (split). In the WCHA playoffs they beat St. Cloud in the first round, then lost to Bemidji in the quarterfinals.
In the tournament they were fortunate to be the only non-AH/ECAC team in Yale's regional. They beat Union 2-0 despite getting outshot 32-26 by scoring two power play goals. Against Yale they jumped out to a 3-0 lead. After Yale got one back, Brian O'Neill, the goalscorer and Yale's best player, was kicked out of the game on a clean open-ice hit. UMD scored twice on the ensuing five-minute power play and that was all she wrote; Yale did add two PP goals of their own in the third. Yesterday they fell behind in the first period twice but bounced back quickly; their power play scored three more goals. An ND shortie closed the gap but not all the way.
If you're scoring at home, Duluth has two even strength goals in three NCAA tournament games. They've been outshot by 6, 7, and 13.
Previous meetings. None. How about…
Common opponents. Chart? Chart.
|Northern Michigan||3-2||-||-||3-2, 5-0|
|Notre Dame||4-3||-||-||5-3, 4-2||1-3|
|Wisconsin||2-0, 6-5, 3-2||2-3||-||4-4|
|Colorado College||-||4-5||3-3||6-5, 2-1|
|North Dakota||3-2||0-5, 2-4||-||1-0(!)|
Duluth is 7-6-4 with a –1 goal differential; Michigan is 11-3-1 with a +19 goal differential. Woot? Well, here the schedule strength is not close at all since Michigan's only got the one game against North Dakota and four against meh CCHA teams like LSSU and Northern. On the other hand, Minnesota was pretty bad this year and Michigan only got one crack at them—they lost, but if they played four they might have done better than 1-1-2.
Yes, everyone on UMD dyed their hair blond.
Yes, this makes everyone look like eurotrash except the guys with beards.
Yes, the guys with beards just look amazing.
Clint Austin/Duluth News
Dangermen. Also way less terrifying than North Dakota's. Closer to CC's with a stronger second line and much worse depth. CC has six forwards with more than 20 points; four are on a PPG-ish pace. From Michigan's perspective, that's better than UND's six. Their top line is outstanding—brothers Mike (28-26-54) and Jack Connolly (18-41-59) team with Justin Fontaine (22-36-58) to create a line on par with CC's Schwartz/Schultz combo and not far off UND's Frattin/Malone/Trupp. Their even strength numbers are a bit less impressive, as 26 of the line's 68 goals came with an advantage. Scooter actually has more ES goals than Jack Connolly and Fontaine. That's not to say scoring on the PP lots is bad thing—it's just that they're two different phases. North Dakota's even strength scoring was far more intimidating.
The second line is pretty strong as well, with JT Brown's 16-20-36 leading the way and a couple others not far behind. After that scoring collapses. One guy has thirteen points and then it's a bunch of nothing—this should be a game in which Michigan's third and fourth lines dominate.
Defense and goalie and whatnot. Junior Kenny Reiter is a step back from UND's Aaron Dell but is better than the goalies for either of Michigan's regional opponents. He has a slightly above average .914 save percentage. Tiny Jesus is up to .925 after blanking North Dakota.
Faulk has played Michigan before. Mark Bialik/AnnArbor.com.
The UMD defense has one ultra-star in freshman Justin Faulk, a second round pick of the Hurricanes in last year's draft. Faulk has 8-25-33 and is hyped up by many as the best freshman defenseman in the country. Jon Merrill might have something to say about that, but he's very good. The United States of Hockey scouts him:
As I mentioned, a big reason UMD’s power play works so well is because of the threat Faulk provides from the top of the point. Teams don’t want him to unleash his accurate and heavy shot without someone in his face. Due to that, there’s more room down low and on the half walls for the Connollys, Brown and Fontaine.
The other thing about Faulk, as friend of the blog Corey Pronman pointed out, is that he doesn’t shoot if he doesn’t have a lane and is far more than an offense-only defenseman. I think that’s why he’s probably the best pro prospect playing.
People in the NHL think he has "50 point upside."
UMD was hit with the mid-season departure of former Chicago first-rounder Dylan Olsen, who was going to be academically ineligible for the second half of the season. An injury to junior Brady Lamb made them quite thin for a time in February. They're better now, with senior captain Mike Montgomery and freshman sensation Justin Faulk (2010 second-round pick by Carolina) taking most of the big minutes. Lamb and sophomore Wade Bergman will see plenty of ice time. Sophomore Drew Olson needs to be more consistent, but he's been better while paired with fifth-year senior Trent Palm.
Sounds like the third pairing is a bit of an issue.
Special teams. Your power plays per game:
|PP For / G||5.1||4.2|
|PP Ag / G||4.8||4.5|
Duluth is slightly less likely to draw and more likely to commit an infraction. Michigan can't buy a call.
This is the same story as the previous two games: UMD, CC, and North Dakota are 7-8-9 in power play effectiveness, which means they're very very good and you are playing with fire every time you go to the box. The only power conference teams in front of that trio are BC and Miami. UMD's given up only three shorthanded goals compared to CC's 11 and UND's 7, so they're even a bit better than the numbers suggest.
Michigan's mediocre play earlier in the season gave way to an outstanding penalty kill in the tournament. North Dakota could hardly get set up on their five opportunities and CC was shut down. They're still languishing in the 20s; they're playing much, much better than that.
On the flipside it's a matchup between the #27 PP and the #27 PK that will be won or lost by the accuracy of Michigan point shots.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Rust Annihilation Co. Again Michigan comes across a team vulnerable to the incredible shutdown line they've iced since the three-game slide at the three-quarters pole. With last change Michigan will throw Rust, Glendening, and Winnett out there against the Connollys and hope to outscore with their other three lines. (Yes, three. I take it all back, fourth line.) If Rust and company can do what they did to the Schwartzes Michigan is halfway home.
STAY OUT OF THE BOX. I realize this can be difficult when refs think your shoulder is your elbow and ignore boarding and charging from the other team, but seriously: UMD has two even strength goals in the tourney. That's not very many. While Michigan doesn't have many more they are a different sort of team. Michigan is 6th in goals allowed, UMD 17th. If Michigan keeps the penalties in check and kills them the way they did against UND they're three quarters of the way home, leaving…
Scooter, Caporusso, Moffatt, Treais, someone: score. Hagelin and Caporusso will draw the second UMD scoring line, leaving a bunch of mugs up against Michigan's third and fourth lines. With UMD's third defensive pairing also a little shaky, those lines need to be at least +1 collectively. We can't bank on the Annihilation Co actually outscoring the opposition's mad awesome line again.
How likely is this? At least somewhat. UMD's been significantly outshot in the tournament despite a wicked power play; if Michigan can play the game five on five they should have a territorial advantage. They bombed a team with a similar lack of depth in the regional final and only scored two because Joe Howe went Hunwick and Joe Howe's posts did too.
Burlon? I was surprised Burlon wasn't ready to go. Actually, I'm not sure he wasn't. It sounds like the reason he was scratched was Red wanting to leave the regionals lineup intact. That's very strange to me because Clare does not get a whole lot of run—certainly not as much as Burlon would—and there's at least one shift a game where the speed of these good WCHA teams clearly overwhelms his ability to get rid of the puck in an effective fashion. I'm guessing we'll see Clare out there again, but there's a case that you can hide Burlon against these iffy UMD lines, especially with last change. Having him out there for his offense seems like a benefit.
You can make the same case for Sparks over Rohrkemper but that's definitely not happening. /shakes fist
HUNWIIIIIIIIICK. From the North Dakota preview:
Hunwick has done it before this year and while my past self is inventing a time machine just so he can show up right after I type this to slap some sense into me, most win scenarios involve Hunwick setting up halfway to the blue line and stopping every first shot and then doing some crazy stuff you can't even believe is happening.
He probably won't have to do that in this game—shots figure to be at least even—but if he's on like that it's party time. He can't possibly be again, but this is hockey so yeah he could.
Pray like hell. Seriously, yo.
The Big Picture
Win or die.
i just did one of these but in the meantime there has been a TWB post on Shawn Hunwick…
Jon Merrill rang an almost-perfect shot off the crossbar, and with 13:26 remaining in the first period Ben Winnett — a player who had scored all of three goals this season — eventually corralled the rebound and buried it to give Michigan the all-important 1-0 lead. A North Dakota fan flashed his middle finger, one of those derogatory gestures meant to say, “Enjoy it while you can,” in expectation of the inevitable comeback. The Sioux battled back with increased intensity, turning up the pressure on the Wolverines and turning the game into one of those Hockey Games That Take Years Off Your Life. Watching North Dakota play, it was hard not to agree with Middle Finger Guy: This was far from over.
…and a torrent.