3/20/2014 – Michigan 1, Penn State 2 (2OT) – 18-13-4, season over
I already wrote up what this hockey team was before the Penn State game: chaos. February it had become clear that Michigan was a hockey equivalent of Indiana's football outfit, a team capable of doing literally anything on any given night. Beat BC? Ok. Lose to Penn State? Ok ok ok.
In the aftermath of a third loss to one of the worst teams in the country and the subsequent failure to reach the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year, Michigan's season went from just good enough to absolutely not good enough. If they had beaten Notre Dame in the CCHA final last year, their season would have been just good enough instead of absolutely not good enough. If Michigan gets one more game this year they have an opportunity to do something of note.
Instead they're just a 10-8-2 Big Ten mediocrity that went out in the first round of the tournament. If that seems harsh, it's probably not harsh enough if you ask Red:
“Not yet, but I’m getting closer [to retiring]. I can’t handle losing. I can’t handle a team underachieving -- that’s the most disappointing part, and this team definitely underachieved during the second half of the season.
“But, yes I’ll be back.”
The last two years are wearing on Red Berenson, the rock of Saskatchewan. Red told the NHL to wait until he had his degree, leapt directly there, played for 16 years, scored 6 goals in a game, was the NHL coach of the year, and revived a moribund Michigan program. He's almost more crag than man these days, a living monument, and this is eroding him.
I'm not sure he can get it back before the timer goes off. More distressingly, it kind of sounds like he's not sure either. I look down the roster, though, and Copp and Compher and Motte and Hyman seem like they are the kind of guys to pull where others need to be pushed. I hope to God they get it together this offseason and say there's no way the old man is going out like that.
[After THE JUMP: a look at the recruits coming in versus what Michigan lost and a wild-ass guess at what the future holds.]
Center Ice has a good take on what happened:
At forward the team lacked consistency, falling into familiar patterns that heavily favored transition hockey and at times looked unmotivated. For large stretches of the game the unit would settle for wide drives on the rush without any net presence, before going into panic mode with the game on the line. A group that should have easily scored 3 goals a game routinely came out flat, at times fighting to score 2.
Michigan was able to overcome their mistakes early on but over the course of a season the law of averages evened out. The Wolverines were able to survive against teams such as Michigan Tech, Ohio State, Niagara and Boston University; as competition increased and our tendencies made it to the film room it wasn't enough anymore.
Michigan loses seniors Mac Bennett, Kevin Clare, Luke Moffat, and Derek DeBlois. Phil Di Giuseppe and Alex Guptill have already departed for NHL contracts. Further departures would be a shock… if we weren't talking about Michigan hockey. Still, it doesn't seem like anyone else is much of a threat, knock on wood.
This puts Michigan in a slightly awkward spot since the recent addition of defenseman Sam Piazza gives Michigan a seven-man recruiting class against six departures and an already large roster. Hockey is an "equivalency" sport— which means you can divide up your scholarships however you want—so you don't have to make pure one-for-one replacements. It is possible that, say, Bennett was on a full scholarship and Piazza is being given a smaller chunk of money. Michigan can carry all these guys based on whatever agreements they have with them.
But the roster is about to be even longer than it was last year. Michigan will carry ten D (counting Sinelli as a defenseman now) for the second consecutive year. Forwards will go from 14 to 15. They've also got goalie Hayden Lavigne committed, though he may defer or defect given Michigan's freshman/sophomore goalie duo.
Long story short, Michigan anticipated departures. The surprise flip of incoming freshman Tony Calderone in January implies that they flat-out knew a couple were coming. They are still looking at a lot of players on the roster.
The Recruits: Forwards
Larkin may be Copp 3.0
NTDP forward Dylan Larkin is the headliner. Larkin is projected as a late first round pick in the draft and is #17 on the CSB's list of North American skaters. This has generally meant a second-round selection in recent years, as guys in that range slip whenever an organization goes off the board for a surprise. Larkin is the #4 scorer on the NTDP this year with a 28-20-48 line and comes with a reputation in the Motte/Compher mold:
Dylan Larkin just looks like a pro. He has that north/south style which would scream “power forward” if only he were just a little bit bigger. Add to that a pro defensive game and a high level of determination and intensity and you know you are making a safe draft choice with this guy.
Yes, more of that, all of that. Just clone Copp every year and put him on the NTDP and have that guy go to Michigan. Year two was a rousing success in that department. Let's hear it for year three.
Two other guys are on the midterm CSB list. Canadian Connor Murphy comes in at 174. Irritatingly hard to google since there's a Phoenix Coyotes defenseman with the same name, Murphy plays in the relatively obscure GOJHL. That league which last hosted an NHL draft pick when MSU's Daultan Leveille was hanging around. Leveille was a huge bust, which has negatively impacted Murphy's stock; he's also a bit small.
What he has done is trash his league two years running with 71 points in 51 games as a 16 year old and 96 in 49 games this year. He's got 14 more in nine playoff games to date. Unlike Zach Hyman (who is rounding into a good player as an upperclassman), Murphy is not an overager. His production should project better to college. The OHL was interested enough to spend a seventh-rounder on him despite his clear preference for college. Owen Sound's GM:
“He’s a very smart player. He has a high hockey IQ, high skill, very good skater. There’s not a whole lot not to like,” said DeGray adding his only concern was his small size at 16-years-old.
You never know with guys from the smaller circuits. The leap in competition is large, and some just fade away.
Dancs is emerging into a power forward who goes to the net—rejoice
Fellow Canadian Dexter Dancs is 154th CSB list but has had a breakout year in the BCHL after a rough 2012-2013 that featured a trade. His stock is rising. He's put up 26-41-67 in 56 games and drew the attention of Red Line Report in December:
…Dancs ended up getting dealt to Vernon midway through the season and to the delight of scouts everywhere, took his game to another level and grew into a healthy 6-2/205-pound power forward.
Dancs is now a wide-bodied winger who is very tough to knock off the puck. He has good hands around the net and excellent skating ability for such a big kid. He also plays up to his size, throwing the body and mucking it up in the corners, and will drop the gloves when needed. He takes the puck hard to net and plays all over the ice on the PK & PP. With his combination of size/strength and outstanding mobility, along with the late progression in his offensive game, our BCHL talent hound thinks he could be a hidden gem who goes as high as the third to fourth round.
Those three guys are likely to fill the spots created by the Moffatt, PDG, and Guptill departures. The grit spot opened by DeBlois's graduation is wide open.
Michigan also brings in over-agers Tony Calderone and Alex Talcott. Talcott committed a while back and has seen his scoring just about halt in the USHL. He gets mentioned in articles about muckers. Muckers at the USHL level are muckers at the college level.
Calderone is a bit more interesting. For one, he decommited from Princeton in January. For two, he is scoring in the USHL, with 44 points a year ago and 39 so far this year. He was actually the first overall pick in the 2012 USHL draft, for whatever that means. (Not much. Those drafts are fraught with considerations other than pure talent level.) He was a "C" level prospect in the CSB's players to watch list. And it sounds like he's got some skill:
“He’s an absolute sniper,” teammate Conner Valesano says. “He makes things happen, he’s good in the defensive zone [and] he’s not afraid to block shots.
Mitigating factors: his numbers aren't incredible, especially for an overager. Most of his highly-rated compatriots from that USHL draft have just finished up their freshman years. Don't expect immediate fireworks; Calderone is a guy who could end up being one of those breakout upperclassmen.
The Recruits: Defense
Michigan did not do well here by their standards and for their needs. While both guys look like potential rotation pieces, both are over-agers with little profile. There is not a Trouba instant-impact type here. Michigan could really use one with Bennett out the door.
East Lansing native Cutler Martin spent a large chunk of this season on injured reserve; before that he had 6 points in 21 games. He sounds like a Kevin Clare type:
“I think he’s a strong, steady and powerful defenseman,” Hauge said. “He can move pucks and keep the game simple, but at the same time he’s got nastiness to him and can be really hard to play against in front of the net.”
He'll be a stay-at-home gentleman.
Piazza's star has fallen thanks to concussion issues but he is very skilled.
Former Boston College commit Sam Piazza saw his career disrupted by severe concussion issues and the two eventually parted ways, but after 46 games without incident in the NAHL this year Michigan took a look and decided they'd roll the dice on him. He retains the skill that had a power program like BC interested in the first place:
“Sam is a powerful skater with great on-ice vision and stick skills. In the years I have been coaching junior hockey, I have not seen anyone with his vision on defense. When you couple that vision with his high-end stick skills, that is a tremendous combination for a hockey player,” Baxter said.
Both guys will be 20 or thereabouts by the time they arrive, so they should be more physically ready than guys who didn't take overage years. Mentally maybe not so much given the injury issues both have faced.
A Guess At What It Looks Like
If Michigan gets through the rest of the offseason intact, one man's completely useless line guess:
Shuart-Lynch-Kile (Selman, Calderone, Talcott)
Yes, I'm banking on Hyman having a Rohlfs-like senior year. Would be nice to get that annual tradition back. Red's no stranger to putting freshmen in the deep end, so Larkin will be given a shot to shine right away. Motte and Compher occasionally display a telepathic connection and Nieves will be given every opportunity to break out of a miserable season-long scoring slump before he is finally relegated to the back of the depth chart.
Kile and Calderone have the best shot at moving upwards on the line chart; Allen and Larkin the best shot at moving down, and of course Red will deploy his blender liberally.
Unlike last year there seems to be a pretty clear delineation between the top two lines, a third that will try to chip in more scoring than it gives up, and the fourth line.
Martin-Sinelli (Chiasson, Hyman, Szuma, Piazza)
This year should see a more balanced setup of left-handers and right-handers. The three returning freshmen all need to take a step forward if Michigan's going to be comfortable. Finding a sixth guy from the large pile of available defenders will be doable; the real issue is finding a top pairing that can be reliable. Downing needs to improve his decision-making extensively for that to happen.
So Is Red Going Out Like That?
Oh man I can't tell you yes or no after Michigan managed to turn a 10-2-1 start into a no-bid season. The defensive corps remains frightening. They should have more depth next year with five okay guys. Serville made a leap about midway through the season that I only realized had occurred after about six games in which I had not gone "dammit, Serville!" more than once. Sinelli was a relevation and moved towards being an active, effective offensive defenseman late in the year, and all the freshmen should make a move forward.
That said, there's no Bennett to throw out there against top lines, let alone a Merrill or Trouba. The top end will be lacking without a Stauskas-like leap from Downing.
That's the bad news. The good news is a goalie situation that looked terrifying going into last year is now one of the better ones in the country and the forwards are stocked with the usual amount of talent. This talent is now headlined by guys who try really hard every shift. While there probably isn't a Hobey finalist in the bunch, they'll have a lot of depth and an effort anchor on most lines.
I think they'll improve, and that should be enough to get them in. How much depends on the defense's improvement and the leadership factor.