1/14/2011 – Michigan 3, Ferris State 2 – 14-6-4, 11-4-1 CCHA
1/15/2011 – Michigan 6, Ferris State 1 – 15-6-4, 12-4-1 CCHA
It's hard to get any emotional mileage from a game you saw on Comcast Local in a bar. The audio was trying to ignore Joe Buck calling an NFL game, the picture quality was 70s-vintage, and the camera was placed so close to the ice that not getting seasick was the main goal. Also it was a blowout.
Friday night, on the other hand, Michigan fell behind 2-0 and looked like they had let whatever momentum they'd gathered towards the back half of 2010 slip away. Commence well-practiced emo time.
Over the next four periods later they outscored a decent Ferris State team 8-0 en route to locking up a home-and-home sweep that sees them top the league* for the first time in over a year. Their goal differential is the best in the league. They're knocking on the door of a #1 seed in the tournament. And it's all a bit mystifying how.
At midseason it seemed like this team was just another middle of the road bunch that would make the tournament but didn't seem like much of a threat to do anything once there, as has been the MO for most Michigan teams since Red's great asskickers of the late 90s. It still kind of seems like that, but something else is creeping in: doubt.
I have the paradigm of a great Michigan team in my head. It has a 5'8" guy who could stickhandle through the Red Army. It has another guy who is a scoring machine thanks to the midget. It has a great craggy mountain of a defenseman who is impenetrable and another defenseman who is a completely insane goal pirate and therefore my favorite player on the team. It has Jed Ortmeyer, who is also my favorite player, and a goalie that everyone is secretly suspicious of.
This edition has some of those pieces, but lacks the magic midget, the mountain, and the swashbuckling nut. The midget is a loss keenly felt by everyone who sees Lindsay Sparks do something surprisingly dangerous and remembers Hensick/Cammalleri/Comrie et al. But the defensemen… in the defensemen may lie the secret of Michigan's success. Specifically, John Merrill.
Merrill came to Michigan with a ton of hype, surviving as the one member of Michigan's incredibly awesome 2010 recruiting class that arrived on campus with his draft status close to intact. That hype still fell far short of Jack Johnson's, and Merrill hasn't spun past an opposition forward on a routine breakout or murdered three guys on a single shift yet. His dad does not dance during the second intermission, not that anyone would notice if he did these days.
Despite that, Jon Merrill is a about ten times better than Jack Johnson was as a freshman. Johnson was insane even for my tastes. As a freshman he racked up an incredible 149 penalty minutes, most of them due to insane aggression. When it came to penalties Johnson was Tristin Llewellyn on speed, and that extended to the rest of his game. When he wasn't doing something ridiculous, he was doing something ridiculous.
Jon Merrill has four penalty minutes this year. Four! He plays all the time, against the top line, and has as many penalty minutes as Shawn Hunwick. That kind of brilliance only becomes apparent over time. Merrill takes tough situations and handles them elegantly in ways that his senior defense partner doesn't always. (Langlais had a rough first period on Friday.) He's emblematic of the entire corps, which consists of Merrill and Burlon and Langlais and Pateryn not making the sort of mistakes that made my veins throb in years past, or at least not many.
Michigan has always been the hare of college hockey, a high-tempo, high-variance team that racks up goals and penalty minutes. Their assets have always been obvious—that guy who can shoot the puck through a donkey, that first round draft pick. This is not a vintage Michigan team, but what it lacks in JMFJ thunder it may make up for with subtler qualities.
*[By winning percentage. Michigan is a point back of Notre Dame but has two games in hand—with conference wins worth three Michigan actually has a somewhat significant lead. Also if you're down here the next sentence says something about goal differential, by which I mean conference goal differential. Miami is better all things considered.]
Though it's not that different. Michigan's ninth in GPG this year, just a tiny pip behind Miami and North Dakota. Most of the other big scorers are Air Force or locked in the insular (and usually not very good) ECAC, leaving just two teams—BC and Notre Dame—significantly outscoring them. Who knew?
Enter the Moffie. Man, Lee Moffie can sneak them in from the point, can't he? Twice in two games this weekend to go with a couple from his freshman year. If he could just play some defense he'd be in business.
Caveat: in a game earlier this season Moffie was a turnover machine and was subsequently benched for a good long time. He nosed himself ahead of Mac Bennett when Kevin Clare rotated in on Saturday but is liable to collapse.
This years Rolfe Memorial Who-Dat Senior. Will be no surprise, but it's Scooter Vaughn, who scored Saturday to reclaim his spot as the third leading goalscorer on the team behind only Hagelin and Wohlberg.
Pairwise watching, still in vague mode. Michigan moved up one spot to sixth with their sweep. You are now rooting for the Bulldogs to destroy the rest of their schedule; at 11-10-4 they're actually pretty good (11-7-3) when not playing Michigan and if they can nose their way into the top 25 in RPI Michigan's Pairwise comparisons will get a major bump. Ferris is currently 28th.
How bizarre. Michigan hosted a fascinating recruiting visitor on the Michigan State weekend: Max Domi. Yes, that Domi. The younger guy is a highly skilled forward who would be a top pick in the OHL draft if his dad wasn't worried about OHL kids seeing the name on his back and wanting to make a name for themselves. They're making seemingly sincere college noises, but as always with these things it's hard to tell if the interest is real or if it's just posturing for the draft.
Domi's still a couple years from college, FWIW, and won't help fill in the two or three blanks at forward in next years class.
Also bizarre. Miami has the sixth-best goal differential in the country—Michigan is eighth—but finds itself 18th in RPI and outside of the tourney in PWR. Their record isn't very pretty so they must be obliterating teams in their wins and losing narrowly in losses.
Kicking yourself. Michigan's non-wins this year include a tie after being up 4-0 on Mercyhurst, blowing two third period leads against UNH, and two losses in OT. OTOH, they scored with under a minute left to send one of those games to OT and got a tie out of Ferris State via the same Houdini act.
Comment over/under. Twelve, in marked contrast to anything about football these days.
...a great craggy mountain of a defenseman who is impenetrable...
It needs Louie to become that sniper he was through most of his career, if UM can get him to put the chances in the net, this team will do well, like in the frozen four. Red always uses the first half of the season to tinker with lineups, shuffle goalies etc.. and then has the team turn it on after the GLI. Last year that didn't happen till the ccha tourney, but this year it's starting to happen now.
(That counts as a comment, doesn't it?)
I realize that NCAA Hockey and NCAA Football are completely different in how a national champion is crowned. FBS has just over twice as many teams as NCAA Hockey, but in theory, you have an 16 times better shot at winning the NCAA championship (16 teams in the tournament as opposed to two, half as many teams in the running.) Which raises an interesting question:
Is Red's goal the CCHA Championship or National Championships? Does Michigan hockey desire to be a Regional Power or a National Power? Because take a look at this:
Michigan's Finish in the NCAA Tournament since 1998:
1999: Regional Finals - p
2000: Regional Finals - *
2001: Frozen Four
2002: Frozen Four - * - p
2003: Frozen Four - p
2004: Regional Finals - *
2005: Regional Finals - * - p
2006: First Round
2007: First Round
2008: Frozen Four - * - p
2009: First Round
2010: Regional Finals - p
* - won CCHA Regular Season title
p - won CCHA Playoff Championship
Michigan has been in a position to win the NCAA Championship in every season since its last title, but something has happened to prevent them from even being in the final game. Brian has written, time and again, on the vagaries of a single elimination format in determining a national champion, basically acknowledging that you need more than a good team, you need everything to go right to win the national championship.
What is the point of this? It's perhaps to remind us that one of our best, most stable, most solid programs, has been a "national power" for the last two decades and has won "just" two national championships. It is not for lack of opportunities. It is not for lack of trying. It is not for lack of quality recruiting. It is simply that it is hard to win a national championship. I wish some in the MSM would remember that.
They are one of only two teams to have beaten us in regulation CCHA play this year, and it was our worst loss of the year. If we can get a sweep that would be huge.
... can cut down on penalties I don't see why this team doesnt have a legitamate shot at the frozen four. That being said we took 5 penalties the second feris game, and the only reason it didn't hurt us was because the bulldogs took 7. No way we have a shot against a WCHA or hockey east team trying to kill penalties all game. (looking at the standings I just realized how bad minnesota and wisconsin are doing in the wcha this season.)
The trend I've seen in Michigan hockey the last few years compared to the late 90's teams is they seem to have complete lapses on all facets of the game for minutes at a time.
I can't tell if this is really the case, or I'm seeing things that aren't there. However, it seems like there will be a 3-4 minute stretch most periods where the offense can't get set up in their zone, the defense forgets how to properly get the puck out of the zone and they all get frustrated and invevitably someone ends up in the box.
That being said, they are fun to watch and you know going in that they do have a chance to pull out every game....which is a breath of fresh air in Michigan sports lately.
Even 2008-2009 to the last two years it's really apparent. I've always described it as more of it used to seem like the whole team was super aware of where the puck was on the ice, especially if it was lose. Somebody was always on it and if it was knocked loose again, somebody was always right there to pick it up, again and again if necessary and somebody else would always be in position to pass to. It was actually pretty incredible. The last two years, people just seem to get lost a little more. Which, of course, leads to them being a little behind, which leads to penalties, more goals against and fewer goals for.
Also, just a quick stat check (CCHA only, because they look a lot nicer than including non-conference games):
3rd in goals for/game, 3.47, 0.03 behind Miami, 0.14 behind Notre Dame
1st in goals against/game 1.94. Miami is second with 2.00
7th fewest penalty minutes/game at 12.9. Western is 8th with 12.8/game, Ohio State is 6th with 13.5/game
For all the special teams problems we've had (and they've been frustrating!!)
PP is 3rd at 18.2%, WMU is second with 18.7% and Mimai leads with a 21.2%
PK also 3rd at 86.8%, Ferris is second with 89.4% and Miami again leads with 91.4%
Also interesting, Notre Dame really excels in the 2nd and 3rd periods (especially the third), but is actually being slightly outscore in the 1st period. Miami is really strong in the first two periods (especially the second), but is being outscored by 5 in the third. Michigan is best in the 1st and 3rd (especially the 3rd) and has a positive goal differential in every period.
Again, these are only conference games, the national picture is less nice, partly because it was against sometimes better competition, partly because it was earlier in the season.
Not sure what you're talking about. AJ Treias is that midget. Have you seen his stick skills? 100% the only reason he succeeds at his height is that he can handle the puck that well at pretty blazing speed. So I guess stickhandling and speed, you could make them 2 reasons, but whatevz, he's the midget regardless.
is NOT that midget, YET. He does a lot of things really well and he is fast and does stickhandle really well, but he's no Cammy/Hensick/Comrie. He had, I believe 7 goals last year and is on pace for maybe 10-12 this year. Next year, when he's likely our top center and almost certainly at least on the second line, I can see him maybe getting about 15, augmented by being on the top line, decreased because that top line doesn't include Carl Hagelin. Senior year, again assuming he's our first line center, I could maybe see up to 20, depending on who his linemates are and how well they play.
Treais is a good midget, at times a playmaking midget, but, as much as I like him, he is not a magic midget. I can certainly see him developing into a force, but given the choice, I would take sophomore Cammy over sophomore Treais, without even thinking about it.
Treias doesn't score a lot. But the way I see it, when he gets his fancy stick (and foot, since he often goes stick-to-skate-to-stick) work going, the defense collapses on him in an attempt to knock him off the puck (or out of sheer rage). When this happens, [insert any forward's name here] is open on the doorstep for an easy backdoor goal.
What needs to develop is the ability to actually get a stick on the pass, which we seem to miss 3x or more per game. Over time, that'll get better.
Basically, I never see Treias as a huge scorer, like you said. However, I see him as a potentially huge playmaker who will assist many in the future.
edit: actually, insert any player's name for the backdoor goals, since Merrill and Burlon et al seem to love coming up on the rush, which makes me giddy with glee as long as someone is covering back, dammit
Comrie/Hensick were the ones that left you still sitting in your seat saying "Holy Shit! That just happened! How the F did he do that?
Is it too late to take the over on the comments? I'll put my house down on that one.
Red has done a great job with this team. Watching Merrill skate is like watching a chess match played out on skates-I love this player. While this works well for Merrill, Louie just needs to shoot the dam puck and stop thinking about it so much-Go Blue!
Continued hockey posts despite their relative lack of popularity / demand make Brian my idol (even more than he otherwise would be).
Think this team is at an inflection point - they seem like they have what it takes to make a run (esp when Hogan returns), but it could go either way. Let's hope we stay aggressive early in games, because getting down is what really drains the energy from the team (though the comebacks recently have made me more hopeful.. if a little too much so).
Keep 'em coming.