||Michigan vs Bemidji State
NCAA First Round
Michigan vs Miami/UAH
Hypothetical NCAA Second Round
||Fort Wayne, Indiana
||Saturday, March 27th 7:30 PM
Hypothetically, Sunday March 28th 8 PM.
||College hockey lines, junkie?
||Saturday: ESPN360, Fox Sports North, Comcast Local
The Bemidji State Beavers were the darlings of last year's Opposite Day NCAA tournament, the 16th seed who knocked off national #1 Notre Dame and thumped Cornell to make the Frozen Four. Air Force's upset streak stopped at one game and thus did not occasion a series of "what's Bemidji State" articles. (This literally happened.) Also people are aware of what Air Force is. My favorite: the New York Times article entitled "Bemidji State Awakens From Incongruous Dream." College hockey as brought to you by Michele Gondry.
Put that from your mind. Those games were not flukes. The combined score of those games was 9-2 Bemidji. Further indication of that: they used that regional as a springboard to a season that is by far the best in school history and is only the second time a team outside a major conference has acquired an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament*. Remember how Michigan's loss to Air Force acted as a harbinger for this season? Yeah, that's Bemidji State. They are Cinderella no more.
Record. 23-9-4, 14-3-1 CHA. Who cares about the CHA, though? It's more telling to look at Bemidji's 14 nonconference games against WCHA and CCHA opponents as a hodgepodge conference schedule. Those opponents ranked from best to worst according to KRACH:
||W 5-4 (ot)
That's a weighted average of 17.2. The CCHA's conference average is 21.1. In those games, the Beavers were 7-5-2 and had a goal differential of +9. Extrapolated over a 28-game season, BSU's goal differential against a CCHA-ish schedule would be +18—better than Michigan's by four. They'd be 14-10-4. If shootouts are a 50-50 proposition they'd land 48 points, which would tie them with Northern Michigan for fourth in the league.
Don't be fooled by the conference affiliation. Bemidji's body of work is better than Michigan's this year and they earned their at-large bid without assistance from Pairwise oddities.
My longstanding bitch about KRACH is that it weights schedule strength way too heavily**—if it was used to determine the NCAA tournament, 18-19-4 Minnesota would be a three seed—and therefore is too enthusiastic about the WCHA teams Bemidji played this year, but even at worst Bemidji's nonconference schedule is about on par with the average CCHA team's. BSU played the first, fourth, sixth, eighth, and twelfth place teams in the CCHA and the fourth, seventh, and eighth-place teams in the WCHA. That's a great spread if we're going to make up a Hypothetical CCHA Bemidji State (HCCHABSU), which we totally are.
College Hockey Stats conveniently separates conference stats on its team pages, so I'll take a look at BSU's overall stats and then the HCCHABSU alternate universe. The latter includes the 14 games charted above plus BSU's conference tournament games and a season-opening sweep of Air Force (total goals there: 10-4). Air Force was a good Atlantic Hockey team but didn't win any of their six nonconference games.
Those four games should drag those schedule numbers down a bit and be a close approximation of BSU's performance as a CCHA team. We'll prioritize those 18 games on the assumption they're a more realistic picture of BSU's ability than 18 games against UAH, Robert Morris, and Niagara.
Recent form. Patchy. In their last six games they're 2-2-2, splitting at Nebraska-Omaha (something Michigan could not do) and getting a win and a tie at Alabama-Huntsville before their disappointing CHA tournament, which featured an opening-round loss against Niagara and a third-place game tie against a Robert Morris team that sucked against teams not named Miami and had zero to play for. (Bemidji was playing for seeding.) Even before that disappointing weekend, BSU coach Tom Serratore was fretting about his team's play:
“When you start looking at wins/losses over the regular season – you don’t just think so much about that you won, but how you won. We talked about it with the team this week – when was the last time we put two really good back-to-back games together? Maybe it was at Western Michigan in January.
“We’re aware of that, and also aware that now is the time to really step it up. It’s the same formula – pay attention to detail, play with intensity; establish the forecheck; put pressure on the defense; get good goaltending and special teams play.”
In that CHA tourney fail, shots did favor the Beavers. BSU outshot Niagara 36-25 in the semi and 36-32 in the third place game. Against Robert Morris, starting goalie Dan "Scott" Bakala got chased five minutes into the third after giving up three goals in a two-minute span.
FWIW, The three weeks before the recent 2-2-2 stretch were a sweep of Niagara and two consecutive splits against Robert Morris.
Dangermen. I've searched high and low for something more illuminating than pure stats on the Beavers, but there is no BSU blog and the only newspaper coverage consists of local gamers devoid of analysis. USCHO's forum remains as pointless as it usually is, so stats will have to do.
Junior Matt Read, pictured above scoring BSU's only goal in their national semifinal against Miami, is the guy at the top of the heap with a 19-21-40 line in 36 games. Junior Ian Lowe actually bested Read in goals with 20, but only had ten assists. First-team All CHA defenseman Brad Hunt had a 7-26-33 line and is by far their most active defender. No other D had more than one goal and none cracked ten points. Look for him on the power play.
Outside of conference play, BSU averaged 3.11 goals per game. Read was still the top scorer with 17 points, just one shy of a PPG. Everyone's points suffer but it doesn't appear that there's anyone who loses more than you would expect. Their guys are their guys.
The Hagelin Solution is likely to be deployed against Read, Lowe, and Jordan George; BSU's second line has some pop but is averaging .5 PPG or less in the Hypothetical CCHA portion of the schedule. As it was against Northern Michigan, Michigan's third line of Lebler-Treais-Brown should have a significant advantage over Bemidji's third and fourth liners.
Goalie and defense and whatnot. Bakala (above) has an impressive .919 save percentage (11th nationally) and a 2.27 GAA. He's got a freshman backup who saw about seven games' worth of time this year, but Michigan figures to have chased Bakala if we see him. The good news: Hypothetical CCHA Dan "Scott" Bakala's save percentage is only .906. That would be 48th nationally.
Shawn Hunwick doesn't have enough games to qualify for the stats, but his current .912 is around 30th nationally. This marks one of the first times this year the opponent's goaltender will enter the game with save percentage lower than Michigan's. Hypothetically.
On defense, Hunt and Ryan Adams are the top pair; Hunt is the guy with all the points but Adams's +23 leads defensemen. Hunt is six back. Junior Dan MacIntyre and freshman Jake Areshenko are the second pairing; both are +11 overall. HCCHA versions average a +6, so they're not gits outside of the CHA. Both are extreme stay-at-home types, though: between them they have nine points. McIntyre's six came in just 17 games, FWIW.
Meanwhile, Michigan should get senior captain Chris Summers back:
The Milan native skated at the Joe last Saturday before the team’s game against the Wildcats and Berenson said he would probably be back for next weekend’s game (or games) in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Excellent jinx avoidance by the Daily there. Elsewhere, AnnArbor.com makes Summers' return seem considerably more doubtful; Mike Spath says he "should" be back. The ayes have it. With Tristin Llewellyn earning the coaches' trust over the second half of the season, Summers's return should send freshman Lee Moffie to the press box.
Michigan's defense has cut down on the dumb penalties and turnovers during Michigan's blazing finish, but they remain susceptible to forechecking pressure and can leave the team caught in its own zone. Bemidji might have one or two lines capable of applying this pressure—it's impossible to tell given the information out there—but it's doubtful they can hem Michigan in for long stretches.
Special teams. Power play opportunities per game:
|PP For / G
|PP Ag / G
(Above numbers HCCHABSU; overall numbers are basically identical.)
Overall, Bemidji State finds itself 25th nationally on the power play at 19%. HCCHABSU, however, is 40th at 16.9%. Same story on the penalty kill: BSU drops from 12th (84.8%) to 35th (80.3%). Meanwhile, Michigan's been dropping on the penalty kill but rising on the power play. The kill has fallen to 8th nationally from a high of third and now sits at 86.5 percent. The Caporusso-enlivened powerplay is up to 17th at 19.6 percent.
All these numbers are encouraging: Michigan converts and kills better than Bemidji and is in the black when it comes to power play opportunities; BSU, hypothetical or not, is in the red. This is a significant advantage for Michigan.
Michigan Vs Those Guys
Do whatever the hell it is you have been doing lately. This is what they have been doing lately:
“Their speed gave us big problems,” Kyle said. “They got pucks behind us, they forechecked … they had great back pressure, stole the puck from us numerous times coming up ice, and we failed to get pucks in the zone and generate a forecheck.”
Essentially, they have cloned Carl Hagelin and put him on three lines. Michigan's speed from lines one to four is causing neutral and defensive zone turnovers galore, preventing organized breakouts from the opposition, and keeping the action largely confined to the opponent's side of the ice. Even a team as good as Miami ended their recent game with Michigan on the short end in shots and (eyeballing it) attack time; Lake State, Michigan State, and Northern Michigan could barely generate an offensive rush.
If Michigan can pull that trick off against Bemidji—and they've just done in four consecutive games against opponents either as good or better than them—they will again be staring at a major advantage in shots and attack time. This usually results in a win.
For God's sake, score or something. This has been less of an issue lately with Louie Caporusso's re-emergence, but you and I and everyone who's watched this team is petrified that the final shots will read 35-12 and the scoreboard will betray us. Hell, until Caporusso leapt off the bench with under a minute left in the second period of the CCHA Championship game, I was expecting to lose that game 1-0 with a 3-1 advantage in shots on goal.
Michigan's low shooting percentage is a real thing to fear. Their best player (Hagelin) is currently chugging along at 11% and there's a guy on the second line (Glendening) with a 7%. First liner Kevin Lynch is also sporting an ugly 8% conversion rate. Michigan is short a sniper and a half this year. Converting that presumed territorial dominance into goals is by no means guaranteed.
Camp out in your own crease and watch it like a hawk. I agree 100% with BWS's assessment of Hunwick's primary flaw:
there's a pretty obvious fundamental flaw in the way he handles rebounds, and it's not something that works itself out with more playing time. Hunwick attacks shots. Given his size, he might have to. He can't sit back in the net and direct rebounds the way larger goalies can. This is not to say that coming out and challenging shots is wrong (in fact, it's one of the strongest parts of his game), but Hunwick has to exert himself so much--stretching to make a save, moving quickly to cover the corners, etc.--that steering rebounds to the corners and out of danger is something he seems unable to do.
Michigan has remedied this by collapsing on the slot and frantically clearing everything, but eventually kicking every somewhat dangerous shot out into the slot is going to burn you. I don't think Hunwick can do anything about this unless he grows a half-foot in the next few days. They'll have to continue to play panicked and hope the rebounds land on their sticks, not the opponents'.
It's worked so far.
Fort Wayne's arena hosts all manner of events—the D-League's Mad Ants call it home!—and has a reputation for erratic ice conditions. Slow ice would neutralize Michigan's blazing speed and would probably be bad. So this is good news:
After months of planning, coliseum staff started preparing the arena immediately after Sunday's Mad Ants game was completed. The floorboards were removed, the hockey boards put back up and then two Zamboni machines started shaving down the ice to a 1/2 -inch level. The Komets' advertising was removed, the remaining ice was painted white and new NCAA logos were placed. Then hoses were used to start building new ice.
While General Manager Randy Brown and his staff hosted a conference call with NCAA officials Monday afternoon to discuss hotels and travel plans for the teams, the Zambonis returned to work on specific spots and add the final few layers. The Komets and recreational hockey leagues will break in the ice this week before Friday's tournament practices start at 11:30 a.m.
“We want to have the Komets and some other uses skating on it so it is well broken in by the time we get to our practice sessions on Friday,” Brown said. “The worst thing you can do is have green ice, new ice. We don't want to have that.”
This should mean good ice for the teams.
A Regrettable Thing I Have To Say Of A Prediction-Type Variety
Bemidji made the Frozen Four last year and Michigan went out at the hands of Air Force, and Bemidji's body of work is indeed stronger than Michigan's, all things considered. HOWEVA, I must regretfully inform readers that as I have researched Bemidji State's season I have become increasingly confident that Michigan should win.
This is all based on the assumption that Michigan will play like they played the last six to ten games of their season, which is basically how they played the rest of the year plus a ton of defensive responsibility and Louie Caporusso sniping. Michigan should have a major advantage in shots and chances, but that's proven to be insufficient time and again this year. The difference has been Michigan's almost total dominance the last few games. They've leap past their crappy shooting percentage and crappy save percentage by making the ice so lopsided it doesn't matter. Do that and they're 80% of the way to a Miami rematch. Play an even game and they're 40-60 dogs.
Sadly, I'm thinking the former. Please don't throw me into the fiery furnace if it doesn't happen.
Entirely Hypothetical And Not At All God-Taunting Section About Potential Second Game
Please ignore the section behind the curtain, Temporarily Benevolent Michigan Walk-On Tolerating God
If Michigan does get by Bemidji State, the bracket sets up in a convenient fashion for previewers: Michigan's second opponent will either be CCHA league champion Miami—previewed thoroughly on Friday around these parts—or Alabama-Huntsville.
If it's Huntsville, this is what you need to know: Huntsville is a bad CHA team that has just pulled off the bar-none greatest upset in NCAA hockey tournament history. Michigan should thwack them mercilessly. You should make friends with a Miami fan so that five years from now, when he's all but forgotten it, you can subtly bring it up and watch bits of his brain splatter across a three-county area.
In the exceedingly likely event of a Miami win, they are almost the exact same team that was so terrifying on Friday:
The ferocity with which Miami pwned the CCHA has to be approaching record territory. They had 70 points, 20 more than second-place Michigan State. Their conference goal differential was +61. Michigan and Northern tied for second in that category at +14. This may be the best CCHA team since Brendan Morrison and company.
The only thing that's different is a 1-1 record and –2 goal differential against Michigan and Ferris State that makes them slightly less terrifying. And the possibility that nominal backup goalie Connor Knapp starts. Knapp got the start against Ferris in the CCHA consolation game and held the Bulldogs to one goal… on 13 shots. That's not exactly standing on your head but it is the second week in a row Knapp has come on in relief of Cody Reichard after Reichard gave up five goals. In the most recent case it's hard to blame him for any of Michigan's goals save one (the Lebler tip that went five-hole) and even that's a tough deflection to handle. I don't think it matters much who plays; both are amongst the national leaders in save percentage.
If there is a second-round Michigan-Miami matchup, don't let the CCHA semifinal fool you. It will be a war. In the last matchup Michigan had a fitness edge with Miami's previous series going three games and featuring some overtime play while Michigan skated maybe a game and a half against a fairly pathetic effort from Michigan State. In this hypothetical matchup, Miami will have slightly more rest since they play early and probably won't have to expend too much energy in the third. Michigan now has confidence from outplaying Miami in two of three matchups this year, but they still lost two of those games and it's not like MU fluked its way to a +61 goal differential.
Home crowd or not, Michigan remains an underdog against the Redhawks—albeit a slighter one than they were at the Joe.
*Niagara was the first way back in 2000, the second year they even existed. They won the CHA but the conference hadn't been around long enough to get an automatic bid. Amazingly, they qualified via the PWR into a twelve-team tournament and beat HE champ UNH in the first round.
**I know that KRACH is recursive and internally consistent and therefore correct by definition, but that doesn't mean it correctly weights the amount of randomness in hockey. When you get highly segregated clusters of information, you can considerably overrate the strength of the links between the two. Any rating system that deigns to assert that nine of the sixteen teams in a hypothetically national tourney should be from a ten-team WCHA is wrong.
There are versions of KRACH that add fictional results against teams that don't exist that significantly reduce this effect. Anyway, if KRACH was really about who the best team was it would take goal differential into account. Poster quakk, who KRACHed college football last year, might jump in with some arguments about this.