In Michigan athletics, it has been a year that volumes could be written about. They have, actually, but most are unfortunately housed in medical records across UMHS. There was missing the tournament in hockey, missing expectations in football, and missing a national title in basketball. There was Kevin Lohan's knee, Devin Gardner's foot, and Mitch McGary's back. There was sadness, frustration, and disappointment.
Then, in a place few expected, there was hope. A strange and slightly uncomfortable hope borne of early season victories over legitimately good teams. Hockey rose to being ranked #3, a ranking that seemed almost too high for a team with a young, turnover-prone defense and offensive weapons yet to break out. Yet the wins kept piling up, and Michigan found themselves having only the Great Lakes Invitational between them and the meat of the all-important B1G season.
The Great Lakes Invitational began with a game against Western Michigan, a familiar opponent from the former CCHA in an unfamiliar environment. Playing outside has a certain novelty to it, but it also exposes one to all of nature's elements. Exposure turned out to be the prevailing theme of the weekend, as all of Michigan's weaknesses were on full display in the Tigers' den.
Michigan vs. Western Michigan December 27, 2013
GLI Game 1
UM 1 WMU 0 6:35 SHG
Compher from Clare
Michigan is on the penalty kill when Clare wins a battle along the board, spots Compher up ice, and chips the puck out of the defensive zone. Compher catches the puck, drops it (look guys, I made it like FoxTrax! /ducks), and has an auto-breakaway in front of him.
Compher goes backhand-forehand-backhand-forehand. By the second time he goes to the backhand the goalie is absolutely frozen and looks like he expects the shot to be in his chest protector. The puck, however, is still on Compher’s stick. Compher tucks it inside the goal post for a shorthanded tally.
Where Michigan would be without Compher.
UM 1 WMU 1 10:11
Berschbach from Oesterle & Pitt
Michigan can’t clear the puck from their defensive zone. Three players get bunched up in the middle of the zone, but no one can get a stick on the puck or chip it out. Western retains possession and moves the puck down the wall. Serville moves to cut off the pass to the area behind the net.
The problem here is that de Jong leaves the front of the net to cover the man behind the net, but no one is checking the guy who’s open in the slot. By Serville cutting off the pass behind the net and de Jong floating back to cover the player behind the net Michigan has double covered one guy and left the front of the net wide open.
Nagelvoort butterflys immediately to stop a quick backhand, but this leaves him vulnerable when Berschbach switches to the forehand. Nagelvoort can’t move across laterally fast enough to stop the shot.
UM 1 WMU 2 15:48
Kessel from Killip
Centerice wrote on his blog about how much trouble Michigan’s defensemen were having with beating a heavy forecheck, and this is a good example of exactly that. Bennett doesn’t move the puck to his partner and instead gets tangled with Western’s one forechecker against the wall. This allows Western time and in turn allows additional Broncos to get into the Michigan zone.
Bennett has a second chance at the puck but can’t get it back from Kessel, who has just entered the zone. Kessel’s toe drag freezes Nagelvoort long enough for the shot to squeeze past him. It wasn’t the most difficult shot to stop (there was no one screening in front, Nagelvoort had a clear view of the shooter), but the offensive chance should never have developed for Western in the first place.
UM 2 WMU 2 5:24
WMU passes and passes and passes their way around the neutral zone. Eventually someone loses their edge and falls down, which creates a loose puck with no Western players nearby and Lynch in prime position to pick it up.
Lynch shoots just before two defenders collapse on him. The shot is about as perfect as they come, just under the crossbar and over the goalie’s blocker. If ever there was a shot that could be dubbed a “laser” this is the one.
UM 2 WMU 3 4:41
Pitt from Oesterle & Hafner
DeBlois tries to bark out assignments, likely telling Serville to take the man along the boards in case the puck carrier passes. In the meantime, DeBlois gets walked around. Still, Michigan has a diamond of coverage and should be able to lock down the wings and at least put one guy on the puckcarrier.
Downing is the last man back, and he goes for the poke check. If you’re wondering how that went please refer to the cartoon above and yes, I’m available for commission work if you’re interested.
Downing then makes things worse by attempting to hit the puck carrier. He’s young and he’s talented and hopefully he learns from this, but what he needs to do is turn and try to send the puckcarrier to the corner instead of attempting to knock him down. There are ways to neutralize guys that don’t involve hitting, and hopefully these subtleties are picked up quickly by Michigan’s young defensemen. Alternative, Downing could go for the hit if he has support behind him but in this case there is none; as I mentioned before, he was the last line of defense in front of Nagelvoort.
Michigan vs. Michigan State December 28, 2013
GLI consolation game
UM 0 MSU 1 1:23
Ebbing from Cox & Draeger
MSU charges Michigan’s zone with a 3-on-2 advantage. It’s pretty textbook, and Michigan has this defended as well as they can.
Ebbing shoots and Racine sort of stabs at the puck with his glove. Stabbing at a puck doesn’t usually turn out well, and whether it’s a mechanical issue or just rust the puck gets behind Racine. I’m guessing it’s rust, though, because after giving up this softie Racine settled in and made some really remarkable saves throughout the rest of the game.
UM 0 MSU 2 7:32 PPG
Berry from Chelios (not that Chelios)
Michigan’s on the penalty kill here, and they’re seven seconds away from killing in the penalty. In what would become the theme of the weekend, it seemed like they’d make it through this trouble spot, things were fine, ok, OH COME ON ARE YOU SERIOUS. Michigan takes away the pass to the MSU player in the slot, but…
…that leaves Berry wide open on the other side of the ice. He shoots it over the glove of Racine and Michigan State’s lead is increased.
Berry then pretends to hit a home run because haha get it they’re playing in a baseball stadium you see and when can this year end seriously.
UM 0 MSU 3 13:52
Darnell from MacEacher & Boyd
No analysis for this one because the people that make the highlight film have a heart and did not want the rest of us to suffer any longer.