fair point that
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?
3/19/2010 – Michigan 5, Miami 2 – 24-17-1
3/20/2010 – Michigan 2, Northern Michigan 1 – 25-17-1, CCHA
One. When I was in high school my AP English research paper was a no doubt ham-fisted comparison between Winesburg, Ohio and Bridge of San Luis Rey. I don't remember the former whatsoever, but the latter is a novel by Thornton Wilder in which a selection of lovelorn 18th century Peruvians pitch headlong to their deaths when the rope bridge they are crossing gives way.
This event fascinates a local monk who sees the tragedy happen. He tracks down the life stories of everyone involved and concludes this was merciful act of God since each victim suffered from a love so powerful and unrequited that the last thoughts of the victims was probably something a long the lines of "yay it's over yay yay yayyyyyyy—."
For the monk's troubles, the Inquisition burns him at the stake. He was looking for proof of a just and loving God, which is heretical when you're supposed to take that on faith.
Two. At some point in a gas station or at Meijer or some other place where bad or obscure movies are put on sale for five dollars, I happened across a movie version of Bridge of San Luis Rey. I still remembered the book. Inexplicably, the movie starred Gabriel Byrne, Kathy Bates, and Robert DeNiro(!). I was obviously compelled to purchase it. This did not extend to actually watching it.
Three. My satellite setup is shared with the landlord and sometimes when we want to watch TV he is instead taping every procedural crime drama or nature documentary set in the Far East on television. Yesterday in the afternoon it was Wild China. So my fiancée put on this movie.
Four. The reason we were stymied by Wild China instead of watching the NCAA tournament in Vegas was because Spirit Airlines, which sucks immensely, oversold our flight to Las Vegas and bumped us. This sent me into a rage, destroyed the cost-benefit ratio of going, saw us cancel the trip entirely, and caused me to spend Thursday sulking like a five year old.
Five. On Friday I went to a hockey game. Saturday, too.
The number of Michigan fans that would gladly have seen their sports fandom pitch headlong to its doom has to be hovering near its all-time high right now. You can't voluntarily abandon it because suicide is a sin but, man, that bridge is looking pretty rickety and maybe if I just take all these things I care about and put them on the bridge and go attend to cargo down by the river I'll come back to find no trace of them and I can go be interested in crochet. There's no such thing as unrequited crochet.
As reactions to this year of Michigan sports go, turning off the hope and settling down into a prolonged malaise is obvious. I was planning some sort of gallows-humor-laden celebration when the three major sports seasons had finally expired and kind of hoping the hockey team would gack it up against Lake State just so it would over sooner. This was always hypothetical. Once the team got on the ice I was pulling for them, but without much fervor and with an eye on the silver lining if they did what they'd been doing all season. I was thinking about a mock funeral.
Then… that happened.
Putting the spurs to Lake Superior State was one thing, as they were a tenth-place team with some fatal flaw that made Michigan's numerous fatal flaws irrelevant. A dominant sweep was a rare occurrence for Michigan this year, but it could be explained away. Following that by stomping Michigan State in a series that redefined both teams' seasons lit a tiny little flame, though. When Tristin Llewellyn (of all people!) blasted a puck past Cody Reichard, it was on: the terror of a high-stakes game you are fully invested in. It had been a long time since one of those went the right way.
Something did flip on this team when Shawn Hunwick was forced into the starting lineup. The relentless defensive intensity from Hunwick's first game, when he saw maybe two shots with any hope of going in, has been a constant feature since his insertion. That's equal parts insult and tribute: the team both needs and wants to protect their miniscule walk-on goaltender. In doing so they've found the formula for success that eluded them so painfully the throughout the season and given Michigan fans reason to believe in heretical things like Benevolent Michigan Walk-On Tolerating God.
I guarantee you this: no group of people has ever been as excited about Fort Wayne, Indiana, as Michigan hockey fans are right now.
Yost Built is doing a round of apologies in the aftermath and I have a couple to offer up of my own:
Tristin Llewellyn not only scored but avoided any penalties that meant something (he took one with a few seconds left in a 5-2 game against Miami) and failed do anything that made me mentally exclaim "Llewellyn!" in the same tone of voice Jerry Seinfeld says "Newman!"
That latter is the way I usually judge individual defense: number of "Newman!" plays where someone's obvious error leads to a scoring chance versus number of anti-Newmans where something that looks threatening is snuffed out by a good play. (I know this is far from a complete evaluation but it's the best I can do live.) Llewellyn had a half Newman early in the Northern game when he came up too aggressively as NMU broke the zone, but he had backcheckers and nothing came of it. He had two or three anti-Newman plays against Miami, which is That Miami. Best weekend of his career? Probably.
Louie Caporusso came in for repeated criticism this year as he and David Wohlberg failed to even approximate their 2009 production. At a couple points I suggested that this was the real Caporusso, a decent second-liner and nothing more, and that the blazing hot start to his sophomore year was the aberration. Yeah… Caporusso is now two points off a PPG. Yost Built has details:
When Caporusso was a Hobey-finalist a year ago, he had 24-25--49, but scored just six goals after the first of the year--and five of those were against LSSU, WMU, and a dreadful FYS team. This year it's the opposite. After just 7 goals in his first 30 games, Caporusso has now ripped off 13 goals and 20 points in the last 13, which includes five multi-goal games and a playmaker. He also hasn't gone consecutive games without a point this calendar year.
Theory as to what happened: Caporusso's okay but not great at stickhandling, crazy Hensick goal against Michigan State nonwithstanding, and he spent large chunks of the year attempting to do everything himself. This resulted in a lot of lost possession and not much else. When the team picked up its play, Caporusso had more faith in his teammates to get him the puck in dangerous areas, which has shifted the focus of his game from his stickhandling to his lethal wrister and ability to get open in dangerous areas. Both of Caporusso's goals against Northern resulted from that, as did the shot that zinged off the inside of the post immediately before his second.
Shawn Hunwick. By the third period of the Northern game, Shawn Hunwick-specific terror had dissipated and was replaced by a slightly lower-level General Oh My God panic. His team is helping him out immensely, but after eight full games his save percentage is .912. I admit that I'm still waiting for the other shoe to drop here, but at this point you have to let it ride.
- At no point have I said anything about Carl Hagelin that would require an apology, but I should probably mention that if either of his linemates takes a step forward or they throw an offensive-minded player on his wing, his points could blow up next year to the point where he's a serious Hobey contender. There are only six players who 1) have more points than Hagelin this year, 2) play in a Big Four conference, and 3) can return next year. A couple of those guys play for RPI and UMass, teams that aren't likely to be good enough to get their guys into the Hobey top three, and none of them can possibly be as spectacular two-way players as Hagelin. The big problem is fellow Swede Gustav Nyquist, a sophomore for Maine who has 61 points.
Hoo boy did I hate a number of calls this weekend. I did not see the Miami guy clock Wohlberg into the boards and can't offer an opinion on whether that was two or five. I did think Glendening was done as soon as that hit was delivered, FWIW.
However, how the hell does a Northern guy plow Michigan's Happy Meal toy of a goalie without so much as a shove and not get a goal interference or charging call? How does the Miami game turn into a throwback where penalties are only called when there's bone showing?
Also, I've seen this call often enough to assume that it's actually the correct call but it's immoral: when a defenseman (Steve Kampfer in this case) lays an open-ice check on a guy who's about to receive a pass and that guy has just whiffed on a puck he could easily have touched, that gets called as interference. That drives me crazy. It should be like the NFL rule. If the defender gets there after the pass has gone through a small area around you it's a good play.
- I still don't understand why Winnett is playing the point on the power play. Michigan has Langlais, Kampfer, Burlon, and either Summers or Moffie available on defense. Three of those guys have more points than Winnett; Burlon is equal with him and Moffie is just two back despite playing only 29 games. Some of those guys aren't spectacular defensively but I'm betting they're all more comfortable there than Winnett. Winnett's a fourth line forward on a team with a ton of offensive defensemen. I don't get his usage there at all. Last weekend he shot numerous pucks into defenders and set up a couple shorthanded chances for the opposition.
- Scooter got pulled up onto the third line when Glendening went out and did well; in the third period I don't think the fourth line got more than a shift. I don't think he'll move up in the pecking order since Michigan is adding at least one more forward than they lose (this perhaps foolishly assumes no NHL departures) but I'd be comfortable with him as an energy guy wherever he ends up.
Daily story and gallery. Also a CHN article, attention from Puck Daddy, AnnArbor.com coverage Rivals promises "Swedish trash talk" in a Hagelin interview. 2011 recruit Lucas Lessio is projected as a first-round NHL draft pick. The Wolverine Blog on the game.
12/11/2009 – Michigan 4, Notre Dame 1 – 9-8, 5-6 CCHA
12/13/2009 – Michigan 0, Notre Dame 2 – 9-9, 5-7 CCHA
It's a sign of the raging apathy I've got going over here that the first I heard about Notre Dame's struggles to date—they, like Michigan, are a hugely disappointing .500—was in a game preview on Friday. I haven't looked at the CCHA standings all year. It turns out that Ferris State is really good (13-3-2) this year and Michigan is in 10th place. Hurrah. (They do have two games in hand, but those games in hand are against Ferris.)
Even so, it was a surprise to see the team totally dominate the Irish en route to a 4-1 victory that was probably their best game of the year. And then it was not a surprise when Michigan fell limply on Sunday, losing 2-0 despite outshooting the opponent 38-20.
Sunday was the seventh game this season in which Michigan has had close to a 2-1 advantage in shots but lost anyway because they can't put the puck in the net:
- Michigan outshot Alaska 23-13 in the opener and lost 2-0.
- They outshot BU 35-22, losing because Hogan wandered out of his net and gave the other team an Osgood-type goal.
- They outshot Miami 28-13 in one of the most frustrating games I've ever seen at Yost, losing 3-1.
- They outshot Michigan State 31-19 in a 2-0 loss at Munn.
- They outshot Bowling Green 31-21 in a 4-2 loss.
- And most spectacularly, Michigan lost to OSU 5-3 despite putting 45 shots on Cal Heeter and facing just 19.
That's seven of their nine losses. They only trailed in shots in the second game against Miami and the first against Michigan State. The Daily says Michigan was "unlucky" on Sunday, but it's hard to look at that pattern and not find something systemic.
If the games had gone according to script, this would be a freakin' awesome team. It's not, obviously, for reasons that remain mysterious to me. Some guesses:
There is an obvious deficiency in top-tier offensive talent. Caporusso occasionally does something reminiscent of Michigan's traditional magic midgets, but he's a far cry from Comrie or Camalleri or Tambellini or Hensick or Cogliano. Mostly he just ends up giving the puck away because he's trying to go 1-on-3. And the rest of the team is not there. Wohlberg's regressed (two goals), Czarnik left, Langlais and Burlon and Kampfer haven't provided the offensive pop they were expected to, and there's no one on the team who is a lock for a long NHL career despite not being able to go on all the rides at Cedar Point.
This was the case last year to some extent, too, but Wohlberg and Caporusso were scoring like mad. The two combined for 39 goals last year without much help from Aaron Palushaj, who spent almost the entire year playing on other lines. This year they have seven between them. They're on pace to score well less than half of last season's output, which is a drop in production you can't weather when your freshmen are anything less than epic.
The defense has been sloppy. The thing about some of those games, primarily that Miami game, is that even though Hogan didn't face a whole lot of shots I don't know if there was anything he could have done to stop the goals he let in, which resulted from massive defensive breakdowns that left Miami players totally uncovered in dangerous scoring areas.
It's not that they've been bad, necessarily, it's that they don't do a good job covering high-value areas of the ice and too often leave guys wide open in bad spots.
Hogan: meh. Bryan Hogan's save percentage is .905, which is 44th nationally. It's not far away from 30th, and given the weird tendency of Michigan to give up small numbers of high-quality shots it's harsh on him. But it's about right, right? Hogan has been basically average. He hasn't given up many (any?) really soft goals, but he's given up some questionable ones and rarely makes a "wow" save.
Results? Another weird item from the year's first foray into accumulated statistics: AJ Treais has only three points. Treais certainly looks like he's doing stuff right out there. His dangles are increasingly dirty as the season goes along and he gets more comfortable trying stuff against college competition. He certainly seems like a more effective offensive player than Luke Glendening or Brian Lebler, but the numbers aren't there for him. And he's playing on a line with Caporusso, so it's not like they've put him there to die with the grinders. He didn't have much in the way of points with the national team, either. Hopefully this is just a slow burn to effectiveness like an Andrew Ebbett or John Shouneyia.
Next time just punch the ref, please. Berenson did end up yanking senior defenseman Tristin Llewellyn for a couple games after his now-usual assortment of stupid roughing penalties and irresponsible defensive play, but he returned for the Notre Dame series, where he proved he'd learned his lesson by taking the world's dumbest crosschecking call on Friday.
I mean, I get that he's not that fast and sometimes he's going to get spectacularly walked by Drew Palmisano. That's life sometimes. It's the incessant penalties that get me. Llewellyn has five more than anyone on the team despite missing two games and most of them are boarding, slashing, roughing, that sort of thing. The penalties aren't from excessive defensive zeal, they're unnecessary, potentially dangerous plays that don't do anything except put Michigan a man down. This is not a new trend: Llewellyn lead the team in penalties last year with 25, five more than Travis Turnbull.
With Lee Moffie playing very well, I'd scratch Llewellyn again.
Tourney. Unlikely at this point unless Michigan goes on a rampage. Michigan did have the good fortune to do well in the nonconference portion of the schedule (4-1 against teams outside the CCHA, with a nonconference loss to Alaska), which will be disproportionately helpful at the end of the year, but they are currently 28th in RPI—not even a team under consideration—and going 12-6 the rest of the way only gets them to around 20th.
They'll have to win something like 13-15 of their final 18 games to be on the bubble when the conference tourney rolls around. That's probably not going to happen.
Mike Cox is pretty. A reader who's way more familiar with the facial features of fifth-string running backs than even I am was taken aback by a Bivouac newsletter featuring a fellow who appears to be Mike Cox:
Cox's mgoblue mug shot:
That's the same dude, right?
Extremely important CORRECTION: The "death touch" cartoon referenced in the Monday column was not GI Joe but Batman: The Animated Series. A helpful reader provides details:
I believe this was the animated series of Batman. I very clearly remember an episode of this, but I think there was only one real "death touch", which Batman was able to find by feeling up the bad guy's sparring dummy. He then confronts the guy who hits him there!(!). BUT of course Batman is too smart for that and had armored that spot so he wouldn't die, and then pwns the fool.
Craig Flemingloss '07
I now remember this clear as day. Fools at the Ohio State game are going to get a swift jab that's a one-way ticket to hell. Or they're just going to get poked in the neck. 50-50.
CYA, chanter of CYA. I noticed this during the portion of the Saturday Miami game I didn't spend crossly drinking at home:
I was at the game for about 10 minutes, when after Miami (Ohio)’s first penalty, I participated in what has come to be known as the ‘C-Ya’ chant. …
Like usual, I said the same chant tons of times Friday night with thousands of other fans and nothing happened.
Saturday night, I got kicked out. Not cool, dude.
Two or three others in the immediate vicinity of one cranky usher also got the boot over the course of the game. I didn't see the guy the next section over executing similar justice, so I assume that these are the actions of one guy who's mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore, not a Yost-wide thrust.
The uneven enforcement is annoying and will do nothing to stem the tide of that chant. That said, Michigan's been trying to erase or ease the cheer since I started attending games at Yost 11 years ago. In the long-long ago, Red Berenson even brought his adorable five-year old grandchild onto the ice to personally plead the student section to stop; no one did. They just added a sarcastic-seeming "we love you, Red" at the end of the thing. I thought that was pretty disgraceful: the only reason Yost is what it is today is Berenson, so if he wants you to stop doing something you should do it no questions asked.
Mostly, the chant's not clever. It's just a string of stuff that gets progressively further over the line every time something gets added. The things that used to get tacked on, like "Wildfong" in honor of a particularly annoying opponent or "Boren" for obvious reasons, are lost to history, replaced with generic swearing. I have been known to curse like a sailor from time to time; this is not mounting a high horse about vulgarity. The CYA chant is boring and embarrassing in the format currently served at Yost. It's not something worth fighting for when Red Berenson, who should be your God, wants it dead.
If the university actually wants traction on this, they should provide a carrot and stick to the entire student section in the form of ticket prices: higher if they continue, lower if they stop. Randomly tossing chickens* out of the game is just going to shame the Daily's editors even more than their humiliating defeat at the hands at a bunch of socially maladjusted engineers from the Every Three Weekly last weekend. It's not going to help, it's going to instill the Fight For Your Right To Party mentality that I saw after the Children of Red incident. The only thing that will work is a naked display of aggression on the part of the university. Either drop it or drop the bomb.
I will admit that I stood out from the other Children of Yost. I may or may not have had a megaphone. And I may or may not have been, ahem, dressed up — if you went to the game, you might have seen a six-foot chicken standing against the glass in section 18.
On a similar topic. I haven't ever heard Berenson tear his team a new orifice like he did in the aftermath of this weekend's pantsing at the hands of Miami. After the Redhawks scored to go up 4-1 on Saturday, the team started gooning at an alarming rate:
"I'm embarrassed," Berenson said. "We played like a bunch of spoiled brats, and we've gotta suck it up. When you're getting beat, you just keep working hard for the team. You don't take it out on the other team and take stupid penalties that are going to hurt your team even further. That's not the way we play hockey, and this team will learn that."
I wonder if this embarrassment extends to Tristin Llewellyn, whose spot on the depth chart opposite Chris Summers on what you assume is the #1 defensive pairing makes no sense to me. Llewellyn has been a dumb penalty factory ever since he arrived and makes a ton of chance-generating defensive mistakes. Putting him on the ice against top lines is asking for it; I don't get Berenson's faith in the guy when Kampfer is available.
On ice, but only metaphorically. Interesting bit from an AnnArbor.com piece on the freshmen getting redshirted:
Michigan has played 10 of 21 true freshmen this year, though linebacker Brandin Hawthorne has not seen the field since September and is in position to get his redshirt back.
…if Michigan has held him out because he is "injured," which I'm betting is the case. Michigan pulled medical redshirts for Adam Patterson, Junior Hemingway, and Kenny Demens last year and only Hemingway had injuries that were known to the public.
Mike Jones and Vlad Emilien continue to play on special teams but not on the defense, frustratingly, though I can understand why Emilien was put on the field given the situation at safety. Anything that can potentially get him ready sooner is more valuable than a hypothetical fifth year given Michigan's situation at the position.
The article also expands upon something Tim touched on in his press conference recap:
Rodriguez singled out cornerback J.T. Turner, safety Thomas Gordon and receivers Jeremy Gallon and Cam Gordon when asked what freshmen currently redshirting have caught his eye. He also said Michigan has "some really talented young offensive lineman" in Taylor Lewan, Quinton Washington and Michael Schofield.
I am terribly pleased that Gordon is one of the guys mentioned, just because of his position and his low recruiting profile. Gallon has a nice two-year gap between himself and Odoms now; if he lives up the recruiting hype Michigan should have a nice one-two punch at slot until Roundtree graduates. And one of the tackles—probably Lewan—stepping forward to claim a starting spot would be… well, probably not great. Next year's line is probably going to be something like Omameh-Schilling-Molk-Barnum-Dorrestein/Huyge, with Barnum potentially replaced by whoever's not the RT if he can't hack it yet. If one of the tackles is breaking through as a redshirt freshman that's probably a negative.
Advertisin' note. The M-Den, which is fantastic in all ways that an entity can be, has a holiday promotion running: orders over $100 come with a ten-dollar gift card.
Vote of confidence. Rote:
"He's not going anyplace," Martin said. "Rich is an outstanding coach. There is no question he's got my total support. I think the world of that guy. Is he perfect in every respect? Nobody is. But he works hard. He'll get it right."
Honey, I'm the AD. In the vein of "Let's FOIA 30-year-old grade records" and "Michigan coaches have loans from a bank the AD founded": Martin's embarrassment that was on all the premium sites yesterday afternoon appears to be shoving past some clueless DPS workers who don't know what the AD looks like. This never happens on sailboats. That's probably why he's retiring.
To me this is more interesting as an information-on-the-internet problem: I got a couple of freaked-out emails because premium sites were dropping dark hints about an "embarrassment" that was about to come out about Bill Martin. That embarrassment is stating "Honey, I'm the AD" and gently pushing someone out of his path. If anyone on the premium sites had just said that, or if the information was not locked behind a paywall and thus subject to wild speculation by people outside of it, the minor panic would not have happened. The perpetual non-information being purveyed on subscriber message boards is annoying both as a recipient and a competitor. My favorite part is when moderators elsewhere say "as we've been telling you for weeks (in one-way ciphered Navajo)" after this site says something newsworthy in explicit detail. You'll note that if this site has information it just tells you what the information is and the context it was received in.
Example! I've received some solid information that suggests Fred Jackson is probably going to move on after the season by his own choice. This should not affect the status of his son's commitment; Jackson's probably going to head to the NFL.
Given my opinion of how important a running backs coach is—not very—I don't think this is a big deal and hope the replacement is one of those young, energetic recruiter types. The first guy who leaps to mind is Ty Wheatley, now on Ron English's staff at EMU. With all the Rodriguez stuff—and the rumors as to where some of it is sourced—that may not be an option.
Etc.: Thanks to BWS I spent 20 minutes yesterday watching some guy play impossible Mario levels. Craig Roh's dad says recruits and their parents have the internet too. Big Ten Tour hits Michigan, runs into a guy who looks like Scott Steiner but says he's Hulk Hogan. Side note: I am 100% sure that I saw Scott Steiner wandering around before a game last year.