also duty-free guys falling over and grabbing their shins
mgoblog, hockey edition
Michigan Hockey Summers. All due caveats apply, but it looks like defenseman Chris Summers is sticking around for his junior year. There's a Wolverine article titled "Summers committed to future at Michigan"($) that teases he's "shown no signs of wanting to be anywhere but Ann Arbor next year" and has some direct quotes from Summers to that effect.
With Mark Mitera publicly stating an intent to return, the lone guy on the watchlist who hasn't made his intentions explicit is freshman forward Max Pacioretty. Most observers expect him to return.
Also, I am terribly sorry for the bad pun.
Metagame. This is either going to crush my standing in the eyes of readers or be perfectly obvious given my status as a computer engineer/blogger, but for a brief time I was kinda into the online version of Magic: The Gathering. I stress online here... no conventions wherein I wear a "VULCANS DO IT LOGICALLY... BUT ONLY ONCE EVERY SEVEN YEARS" tshirt. At least not since high school.
Anyway, during this brief period I read a number of articles about Magic tournaments, which are pretty interesting strategically. There are draft and sealed formats in which you attempt to make the best deck out of a random assortment of cards, but more interesting for our purposes are "constructed" tournaments wherein you can bring whatever you want from home.
Magic, like many games, has a distinct rock-paper-scissors aspect to it. If you have a Goblins deck it could tear through anything that's particularly slow but be weak against a "Control" deck designed to keep everything dead or immobile. And Magic, like many games, often inspires copycats when one strategy tends to win a number of tournaments in a row. Once Goblins start rampaging everywhere, everyone thinks that's the way to win and runs them, and it's at this point your lame-o Control deck can show up, lock everything down, and coast to victory. If this happens a bunch, the metagame starts getting split between Goblins and Control and a third thing that might do okay against both gets added in and so on and so forth. At any one time, there are usually two or three dominant archetypes and then scattered weirdos trying to invent a new one and almost always failing. When a weirdo breaks through, though...
The parallel to football is obvious. Rich Rodriguez and Urban Meyer and a few others were the breakthrough weirdos running a spread-option look; now the metagame has started to shift towards lots of little guys on the field at once. The Big Ten by offensive style:
- Spread Option: Minnesota, Illinois, Michigan, Penn State(? - probably), Northwestern, Indiana
- Passing Spread: Purdue.
- Three yards and a cloud of dust: Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa
If you've gonna play in a league where everybody's going to pound the ball down after down, you better have some big strong interior defensive linemen and your middle linebacker better be a big, thick joker that can take on a fullback and knock him back.
But if all of a sudden those guys get spread out and there are some really quick cats running around there, you want to have some defenders running around, too. I think people will even get to run more light defensive personnel, their quicker, faster guys that can keep up with that.
Once you put these great athletes out in space -- most coaches will say space is the enemy of a defender because it's tough to wrap up a guy where there so much space to deal with -- you better have a bunch of quick guys who can pursue and close in on those offensive players.
Jack Siedlicki (Yale's coach):
I'm the contrarian in the group. The last two years, we have the best tailback in the league. We gave him the ball 400 times last year. It's kind of worked to our advantage. What Mark's saying, defenses are standing more guys up, getting more guys with speed that can spread out and line up with all these teams. It's kind of worked to our advantage that we're at the other end of the spectrum right now. We're a conservative, by modern standards right now, running football team with the best back in the league. He was the player of the year in the league and we got him back next year. I think it's worked to our advantage that people have gotten smaller, quicker, lighter. We're going after them.
You can see an echo of this in the success of Michigan State and Ohio State last year despite having barely adequate quarterbacks.
My main concern with Rodriguez going forward is that Michigan missed the optimal window for the spread. Even if it remains effective, everyone's going to run it and Michigan's comparative advantage will again be based on talent and motivation. That's not exactly a downer given that Michigan now has the highest-paid S&C coach in the country and Rodriguez made a living off unearthing Pat White and Steve Slaton, but I do think the likelihood Michigan ever reaches the lofty YPC numbers West Virginia did is low.
Is it the "coming demise" of the spread, as predicted in the "via" link above? Not likely. The I-formation was just a fad for 40 years, and then West Coast passing games, etc. If you can effectively use all eleven players on a run, that's a lasting advantage all the 220-pound defensive ends in the world can't eliminate. Just ask Rutgers and their notoriously undersized, quick, and effective defensive line.
Etc.: UMHoops reviews Deshawn Sims' season.
spring game stuff tomorrow.
Outgoing. Only two seniors depart but one of them was the Hobey Baker winner and the other should have been a finalist. Between them, Chad Kolarik and Kevin Porter scored 63 goals -- that's more than an entire D-I team (Alabama-Huntsville) -- and comprised two-thirds of the top line in college hockey. They leave big shoes to fill both on and off the ice. We'll cover "on" later.
The "off" bit? Michigan has five seniors next year: Billy Sauer, Mark Mitera (maybe), Travis Turnbull, Tim Miller, and Danny Fardig. Mitera wore an A this year and is thus likely to get the C if he returns. If he goes? Uh... Turnbull is a hard worker and dedicated player who's got hockey bloodlines. He would almost definitely be the captain. Then you've got some fourth-liners and a goalie. Er.
Possibly Outgoing. We are entering one the dreaded Michigan Hockey Summer, during which strange and amazing things happen to submarine the team in the fall. Candidates for departure:
|Mark Mitera, junior defenseman|
|Drafted:||1st round (#19) in 2006 by Anaheim|
|Probability of departure:||Berenson said he expects Anaheim to make a run at him this offseason, and they will. The only Michigan first-rounder to ever complete his eligibility was Eric Nystrom, who plateaued as a freshman and is a marginal NHLer, so the general expectation going into the year was he was a goner. Around midseason there was some chatter he would return... at this point it's 50-50, IMO.|
|Impact of departure:||It's never good to lose a potential senior captain, but Michigan is prepared in case of a Mitera departure. They recruited St. Mike's Buzzer (St. Mike's also produced Andrew Cogliano and Louie Caporusso) and possible late-first-round pick Brandon Burlon to step into any potential holes on the blue line.
Burlon is coming in either way with Kevin Quick's departure, so the guy brought in to take Mitera's spot would be USHL defenseman Greg Pateryn. Pateryn was offered as a developmental prospect -- he could sign his LOI this fall because he's not getting a full ride; Burlon had to wait -- with an eye on bringing him in for 2009.
This sounds sketchy, but Pateryn blew up this year, scoring 30 points and ending up a -1 on a bad Ohio team, getting named to the USHL All-Star team, and being ranked higher by the CSB than incoming forward recruit David Wohlberg. He can play and Michigan's defense corps will be okay without Mitera.
|Chris Summers, sophomore defenseman|
|Drafted:||1st round (#29) in 2007 by Phoenix|
|Probability of departure:||I haven't heard chatter either way about Summers, but a friend who works at a local newspaper interviewed him and got the impression he was sticking around. Phoenix was content to let Porter and Kolarik develop and was rewarded; hopefully they'll follow suit with Summers.|
|Impact of departure:||See Mitera above for Michigan's potential response to a Summers departure. Michigan could probably deal with one of the two defenseman bolting without serious difficulty, but losing both would make Steve Kampfer the only upperclass defenseman and force Michigan to skate both freshmen with only walk-on Eric Elmblad behind them. Yick.|
|Max Pacioretty, freshman winger|
|Drafted:||1st round (#22) in 2008 by Montreal|
|Probability of departure:||Low, but it would be just like Michigan Hockey Player Stealing Hobgoblin to grab Pacioretty after his extremely promising freshman year. Montreal is likely to let a late first-round pick who isn't clearly dominant already stick around for development and cost control purposes.|
|Impact of departure:||Pacioretty is going to be the anchor of the top line next year and there's no one to take his place if he goes. Losing him would be brutal.|
|Some Guy, freshman/sophomore/junior defenseman/forward/goalie|
|Drafted:||Somewhere, or not at all.|
|Probability of departure:||Though last season was relatively calm and frustration-free -- Jack Johnson was so gone no one even considered him an early departure and Andrew Cogliano went right into an NHL scoring line -- the general rule is that weird crap always goes down and costs Michigan a player or two. Hopefully the Quick fiasco fills their WTF departure quota for the year.|
|Impact of departure:||Carl Hagelin's pissed off.|
Incoming. Burlon and Pateryn were mentioned above, but a little more information on the former. (Should Pateryn info become 2008-relevant I'll provide the same for him, but there's not much out there.) According to the always opinionated, sometimes right Kyle Woodlief now has him a "solid" first rounder:
Right now, we've got Zach Dalpe (Penticton), Brandon Burlon (St. Mike's), and Joe Colborne (Camrose) solidly in our first round.
Woodlief had a scouting report earlier in the year:
Burlon is ultra-smooth and the prototypical two-way defender in the post-lockout NHL landscape. He defends beautifully in his own end, seemingly never making a mistake in either his puck movement decisions, coverage down low or play diagnosis. He's big enough and competitive enough to duel against the big boys in front of the net and mobile and savvy enough to sniff out and breakup plays and lead quick-strike transition attacks, turning defense to offense in a heartbeat.
The Hockey News has him at #20:
#20 â€“ Brandon Burlon â€“ LD; St. Mike's Buzzers
Intriguing prospect who plays Junior-A for the same team that produced Andrew Cogliano and Red Wings prospect Brendan Smith. Had a tremendous World Junior-A Challenge and has impressive offensive skills that will be good at any level.
At forward, Robbie Czarnik and David Wohlberg are eerily similar to Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik as recruits. Like Porter and Kolarik, Czarnik and Wohlberg are teammates and (usually) linemates on the NDTP U-18 team. Both will go in the same middle-round range Porter and Kolarik did. If Phoenix grabs them I'll be freaked.
Czarnik is the Kolarik of the pair*:
Czarnik is a dynamic forward who can take over a game with his shifty moves and his long reach. He is able to get around defenders with his reach and has one of the quickest releases in midget major hockey. Czarnik just has that scoring touch that not many players are gifted with. He takes a lot of abuse on the ice, but he seems to handle it well and even shows some grit to his game when defenders challenge him.
That report is from a year ago.
I think Czarnik's stock has dropped a little since his tremendously early commitment to Michigan. He's going to go in the fifth round or so. He was fifth in scoring for the U-18 team this year, well behind BU commit Jordan Schroeder and (in PPG at least) high-first-rounder Jeremy Morin. To be fair, amongst players who played the entire NDTP season only
Schroeder had significantly more points -- the three other guys ahead of him beat him by one or two. In something of a down year for the NTDP, you'd like to see your main guy do a little better.
Meanwhile, Wohlberg is the Porter analogue (same link as above):
[Wohlberg is the] Detroit Honeybaked Captain and leads by example on and off the ice. Has a great all-around skill-set and possesses a great mind for the game defensively. He is a great passer who uses his teammates and he can really create a lot of offense on the rush.
I don't know if we've anybody like David Wohlberg for the last little bit. He's an intriguing player with good size and he plays with a real edge to him. He has good skill -- good hands. He's the type of guy you could probably project to play against a lot of other teams' top centers because he is very defensive conscious in the zone. He's good on faceoffs.
Wohlberg had 11-11-22 with the NTDP team.
*(Lest you doubt, Red Berenson approves this message, a little bit: "If you had to compare them in a general way, I could compare Czarnik a little bit to Chad Kolarik. And I could compare Wohlberg a little bit to Porter. That's a little bit."
Re-arrangement. Last year was a weirdly stable one for Michigan's lines. Pacioretty, Porter, and Kolarik always played together when injury or suspension didn't prevent it. The same went for Rust, Hagelin, and Palushaj. Louie Caporusso and Travis Turnbull were two thirds of the third line with Tim Miller, Brandon Naurato, or (late in the season) Ben Winnett the third. The biggest question about the lineup was which fourth-liner got scratched.
This stands in marked contrast to years previous, when Berenson would shove the lines in a blender whenever Michigan got sluggish or he was feeling especially frisky or Billy Powers dared him to. Without senior anchors the likes of Kolarik and Porter, the blender will be back in force this year and the following exercise is probably futile. But whatever:
|LW||Max Pacioretty||C||Carl Hagelin||RW||Aaron Palushaj|
|Patch is the lone returning member of the top line and is a lock. Palushaj is the team's leading scorer outside of the two seniors. And though Hagelin spent most of this year on the wing he took over at center when Matt Rust broke his leg and had an excellent weekend or two. Though Hagelin's scoring was considerably off the pace set by his projected linemates, he got very little power play time and is set for a breakout season if given increased responsibility and opportunity.|
|LW||Ben Winnett||C||Matt Rust||RW||Travis Turnbull|
|Winnett might be a reach. He was a disappointing nonentity for the first half of the year but began to come on towards the end of the season. He was a rampant scorer in the wild-west BCHL and a mid-round NHL draftee: he has talent. Berenson has always displayed a preference for the younger player when two guys are similar, which should give him the edge over Tim Miller.
Turnbull is a checker and lightning skater who popped in 15 goals last year on nothing more than grim determination; Rust seems like a bigger version of Dwight Helminen. This looks like an excellent defensive line to eat tough minutes against top lines across the league.
|LW||Robbie Czarnik||C||Louie Caporusso||RW||David Wohlberg|
|If Hagelin does move to center as projected someone will have to move to wing or Michigan's going to have an excellent player getting limited minutes on the fourth line. The projection here is this will be freshman Wohlberg.
This line is small, young, and possibly dodgy defensively but as Michigan's third option could be an excellent outscoring line against soft competition.
|LW||Brandon Naurato||C||Danny Fardig||RW||Tim Miller|
|(Also: Lebler, Ciraulo.) Here are the limited but useful players, the same as they were last year.|
I have no idea what will happen with the defensemen. Mitera is an obvious first-pairing guy if he returns and I think Summers will anchor the second pairing. Langlais, IMO, was Michigan's third best defenseman at year's end but will always be tiny and need sheltering from top lines. Burlon could jump directly onto the top pairing or shuffle around the second or third. First-round picks don't get scratched regularly, so if Mitera stays Vaughn and Llewellyn (and Kampfer, IMO) will battle it out to see who gets scratched.
The Looming Question. What do you do with a goalie that had the statistically-best season in the history of the program but melted down in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year?
Until Al Montoya signed with the Rangers, goaltender at Michigan was a simple thing: there was one guy who started for four years and that was it. No platooning, no controversy, just one guy. No more. Billy Sauer came in a year early and broke that trend. He lost his job to Noah Ruden as a freshman. As a sophomore he gave way to Steve Jakiel for a few games, during which Jakiel managed to look even worse than Sauer. And he just got pulled for Brian Hogan after the first period of a national semifinal.
Hogan's back for his sophomore year and the general expectation is he'll be given the opportunity to win the starting job. Unfortunately, the general indicators on Hogan are no better than they are on Sauer. In limited time this year -- about six games -- Hogan was 0.6 GAA worse than Sauer and had a save percentage of .903 compared to Sauer's .924. You could put this down to an unfortunately-timed case of mono and infrequent use, but Hogan's final USHL year and the .889 save percentage he posted during it remain a big red flag. Hogan's two years younger than Sauer, was not drafted, and has worse numbers. He's probably not as good.
So? It's hard to tell which of the Big Four teams are going to be hurt the most by their offseason losses but pretty easy to determine which will be hurt the least: Notre Dame. ND loses four players, two of them reliable defensemen, but no big names.
Ryan Jones and Nathan Davis are out the door for Miami, as is high-assist defenseman Mitch Ganzak and third liner Nino Musitelli. But Carter Camper, Justin Mercier, Andy Miele, and a bunch of other guys who helped Miami pound goals in are all back. The one problem: Jeff Zatkoff is off to the AHL early, and his backup was Hogan to Zatkoff's Sauer last year.
Michigan State loses Lerg (traitorous forward edition), Justin Abdelkader, Mike Ratchuk, and Chris Mueller along with two senior D. Tim Kennedy is widely expected to sign with Buffalo, too.
As noted, Michigan loses Hobey One and Hobey Two.
Advantage Notre Dame? NSFMF! Last year's goal differentials:
Notre Dame gave up one fewer goal than MSU and one more than Miami in conference -- Michigan was five worse than ND -- so this isn't like a Ryan Miller MSU team where their goal differential might be only +30 but that's because they scored 30 to their opponents zero and were dominant. Notr
e Dame was a distant fourth in team quality and has a major leap to make to get up to the level Michigan and Miami were at this year.
A complicating factor: a potential rise from the Medium Four -- the four teams that finished within two games of .500. Northern Michigan loses one regular defenseman and one top liner, plus two guys with under ten points. The rest of the team, including a huge freshman class, returns. They project to be significantly better. Similarly, Ferris State loses one top line forward, one guy with four points, and what looks to be their bottom three defensemen from a team that finished the year strongly. They could make a push.
It will be a wide open year; the three teams with big goal differentials will probably fall back to the pack and if one of Ferris or Northern makes a leap it could be a wild free-for-all amongst as many as five teams. Michigan is probably the favorite pending Michigan Hockey Summer.
4/10/2008 - Michigan 4, Notre Dame 5 (OT) - end of season
During Billy Sauer's period of extreme incompetence at the beginning of his sophomore season, I figured out which of the parents in the Michigan section was Sauer's mother. There were hints -- she always sat next to a woman in a Sauer jersey, for one -- but the key "this is definitely her" event came when I made a sarcastic remark about Sauer and her head whipped around to identify the offender. We kept the volume of our sarcastic remarks down thereafter.
Our prior restraint was soon unnecessary. The sarcastic comments stopped once Sauer first reached competence and then exceeded it, but the presence of Sauer's mother remained something of a burden. Though I don't know what anyone else's parents look like except those of Jack Johnson -- for obvious reasons -- and Scooter Vaughn -- for equally obvious reasons -- I imagine they come off as less... severe.
Jack Johnson's dad had the time of his life at each and every game. While Mrs. Sauer may be a vibrant woman in the course of her everyday activities, at Yost she's always seemed grim and sad. This probably says more about being the mother of a goalie than her. I have made a mental note to never let hypothetical children of mine guard anything other hypothetical children are supposed to put balls or pucks past.
I find attempting to analyze hockey impossible. Football is discrete and measurable. It lends itself to charts. Basketball is in the early stages of a tempo-free statistical realignment. And baseball is a stat heaven. Statistically-minded hockey fans are out of luck. NHL fans can find shift-chart data and make some calculations about even-strength goals for and against. The next step is to take a player's opposition into account and normalize for strength of schedule, resulting in... a vague idea that a player is kinda good when averaged across hundreds of minutes. The idea of analyzing a single game is absurd. Pucks bounce.
The INCH podcast previewing the Frozen Four brought this point home. I listened to it and thought their analysis was pretty stupid, then attempted to improve it mentally, then failed at that, then was enraged by their Hockey East knob attempting to justify a Gerbe Hobey because "every great player" spears opponents to get an edge.
In contrast, I spent the week before the Ohio State game predicting that Vernon Gholston would obliterate Steve Schilling and Beanie Wells would grind out 200 yards on an excessive number of carries; this was (unfortunately) exactly right. But it's not the exactly right bit that matters: it's impossible to make a statement of that specificity about a hockey game without being ridiculous.
What are you supposed to say? "Watch out if Sauer lets in an early goal, freaks out, and lets in two goals so horrible you nickname them 'Nickelback' and 'Creed' because the furious comeback the team mounts in the next half-hour will see them tie the game but cost them their legs and cause them to lose in overtime"?
Hockey is a bitch, and makes the observer feel helpless. The observer is always helpless -- this is the definition of "observer" on a non-quantum level -- but the random number generator that produces goals emphasizes the general bloody-mindedness of the universe. If all sports fandom is a form of emotional gambling, football is poker and hockey is roulette. In the NCAA tournament said roulette comes with a gun and the appellation "Russian" -- how apropos -- and I'm terrified. Every time. I cannot function.
So I understand Billy Sauer pretty well, I think. I empathize. I wish I didn't.
We were exiting the arena in a herded mass, attempting to come to grips with what just happened. I saw a woman in a Sauer jersey ahead and was just perceiving the import of that, picking out the woman I've seen at Yost for three years, when I heard one of the people I was with sum up his opinion of the game.
She's probably overheard her share of nasty comments. She's definitely heard me say something meaner. This one was worse because it was matter-of-fact, evenly delivered, and indisputably true. It lacked hyperbole, utterly.
"Sauer dug them a hole they couldn't get out of."
She turned around. Her eyes looked bloodshot and tired as she scanned for the offender, then she gave up and moved off into the crowd with her husband.
- Remember how I spent a month advocating Notre Dame's inclusion in the tourney before the seventh and/or eighth WCHA team? Nevermind, bring on Mankato.
- I didn't have a great angle on the third ND goal, the backhand one, and kinda thought it might have picked out the top corner. Not so much:
- For both semifinal games the NCAA put the pep bands on the other side of the arena from their fans. WTF?
- North Dakota fans made a very strong showing; too bad their team did not follow suit. They had more fans than any other school, and even after getting housed a lot stuck around for the late game. Just about every BC fan left.
- I don't think I have to tell anyone this, but: as long as Jeff Jackson is around at Notre Dame they're going to be a good team. Jackson turned Dave Poulin's rag-tag bunch of losers into a tourney team and is now recruiting on a level better than anyone in the league save Michigan. He's 53.
- So we've got a decade of regular tourney appearances by ND on the docket. Miami's got a new Goggin and will not be going away any time soon. (Carter Camper say what!) The era of the Big Two and Little Ten in the CCHA is over, and not a moment too soon. I'm looking forward to more than four big conference games a year.
- You'd think something as heteronormative as all the men bellowing something and the women screeching in response could not possibly be gay, but the Notre Dame pep band would prove you wrong on that.
- Excellent turnout by Notre Dame fans -- better than BC. Could this be the turning point for Notre Dame hockey fan interest? They get the Cinderella tourney run complete with overtime victory over Michigan, then get beat by BC of all teams in the final. Carrot... carrot... STICK STICK STICK. It's a great way to get hooked.
Separate list of confirmed sightings.
One of the super-cool things about the Frozen Four is it acts as a community gathering for the entirety of college hockey, which is just big enough to pack an NHL rink and just small enough for everyone to fit inside.
Jerseys or other paraphenalia representing the following teams were located by myself or compatriots:
(all but UAA.)
(I'm sure there were some NMU/LSSU fans there, but we didn't make any contact.)
Providence (including one guy with a killer handlebar mustache)
Chris Graham has just had tragedy befall his family:
NFL hopeful and local son Chris Graham tragically lost his sister, Jacqueline Love, in a house fire this past week -- a portable kerosene heater was the cause of the accident. Jacqueline, a single mom, leaves behind her 10-year old daughter, Jada Love. The child escaped the fire with minor injuries, but lost all of her belongings. The family is now struggling to pay for a funeral and has asked for the public's help in raising funds.
Donations can be sent to this address:
c/o Jeff Terry
4345 Forrest Manor Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46222
Glasnost. It's no secret that Michigan has, until recently, operated at a level of paranoia and secretiveness rivaled only by Scientology. What's a secret? Everything else. Enter Rich Rodriguez as Gorbachev, and the walls come tumbling down:
For decades, the program operated under a shroud of secrecy that led to extremely limited media access. Last week, however, this reporter was able to walk right into the Schembechler complex, speak with not only the head coach but also the assistants and -- drum roll, please -- watch an entire Michigan practice.
That's Stewart Mandel, who -- like many members of the media -- has long been crotchety about Carr's... uh... crotchet-osity. Or whatever. You try turning that into an object.
Fans have been clamoring for more openness for a long time, for selfish reasons like it's nice to hear things like this:
Led up front by veterans Tim Jamison, Terrance Taylor, Will Johnson and Brandon Graham, and with both Trent and freshman All-America Donovan Warren (by far the most impressive player in practice) at cornerback, a dominant defense will likely be Michigan's best hope for a respectable transition season.
Fans love any piece of information they can get their greasy mitts on; Carr and company thought it detrimental to the program. Why? I don't know. I don't think they considered Michigan's media profile particularly important -- which it wasn't in 1969, the last time anyone updated the drapes or changed the culture around these parts -- and were loathe to let anyone know about Michigan's very tricky secrets like "run left on first play of game every game".
In 2008, things are different. Pete Carroll and Urban Meyer turned their programs into media darlings by 1) winning and 2) being accessible and, in Carroll's case, thinking everything is awesome. That tie you're wearing? Awesome. The donut you're eating? Awesome. Snoop Dogg? Awesome. Result: Shelly Smith is surgically attached to Trojan football and recruits all over the country spurn the local schools to be sixth on the depth chart. Not that I'm bitter or anything.
A quick check of any message board on the planet will reveal that every fan thinks the media is biased against their team. Incontrovertible proof: You can go to NDNation and read not-irregular complaints that NBC is biased against Notre Dame. QED, MFer. In reality, the media is mostly biased in favor of itself. Carr made their job hard by staring holes in their face whenever they asked an impertinent question and hardly ever providing the sort of access that makes a good story. Result: generally negative coverage of the program in the media. Rodriguez says "come in and watch this and I'll tell jokes about the Lion King." Result: stuff like the Mandel piece above. Media-friendly is the way to go.
Speaking of the media... the Daily meta-interviewed some of the Ann Arbor News interviewees and turned up something unethical:
Kolarik said he was misled by Ann Arbor News reporter John Heuser, who interviewed him for the story, about the article's subject matter.
"He told me it was going to be a tribute to Hagen's retirement, because he retired from one of his jobs this past fall," Kolarik said.
Kinesiology sophomore Greg Mathews, a wide receiver on the Michigan football team who was also quoted in the story, said he too felt misled about the focus of the story.
Mathews said the Ann Arbor News reporter who interviewed him - he said he didn't know who that was - told him the story would be a tribute to Prof. Hagen because he had retired from his position in the Society for Research in Child Development in the beginning of September.
I wonder if I Are Serious Editor has stopped spending every moment agonizing over Michigan's "culture of denial" and can now focus some time on an investigation that turned up almost nothing, outed embarrassing GPAs of innocent students in violation of federal law, and used unethical reporting tactics to get incriminating quotes from students who thought they were doing a professor of theirs a favor.
The administration is also looking for whoever leaked student's transcripts to the press -- which, like keeping an amphibious rodent for, uh... domestic... within the city limits, isn't legal -- and will undoubtedly fire the guy.
You remember how the News complained about the University being unresponsive and turned down an interview with Mary Sue Coleman because the U wanted it over email?
Heuser did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment.
Jim Knight, managing editor of The Ann Arbor News, did not return repeated calls for comment last night.
Mmm, like rain on your wedding day except actually ironic.
Side note: back in October, Heuser acted like a dick during a press conference and got snipped at by Carr.
Why not? Rakes of Mallow, in the midst of complaining about Notre Dame basketball's nonconference schedule -- 250th in all the land:
Big Ten teams- A few years ago, the Irish played both Indiana and Michigan, a trend that sadly stopped the last couple seasons. While the team may eventually face Tom Crean's Indiana Hoosiers in Maui (one NCAA win in five seasons! As long as he can get Dwyane Wade to come to Bloomington, great hire, Hoosiers!), what's the reason for not facing Michigan, Indiana and/or Purdue on a yearly basis?
Word. Michigan and ND just locked themselves into a football contract that expires when the sun does; they're also in the same hockey conference. Why don't they play Notre Dame every year? There's an existing rivalry between the schools, ND is nearby, and the ND program is respectable but not exactly Duke or UCLA.
I briefly inhabited the city of Cork, wherein an unpleasant woman showed me a room with black plastic where a window should go, the view was nice but I decamped to Galway and that was Cork. The most bizarre biographical factoid about MGoBlog bete noire John Pollack, he of "Save the Big House" and Tiananmen Square fame: he built a boat
out of wine corks and floated it down some river. No, seriously. If you don't believe me, believe 20/20:
Pollack's childhood fantasy was to build his very own boat and sail off on a magical adventure, and he made that dream a reality.
20/20 thinks this is cute; around these parts not so much.
Hockey FR. Yost Built has "Going Upstairs" posted for Michigan's regional games and plans like editions for Michigan's games against Notre Dame this year; surprisingly there was no mention of how frustrating the refereeing was during the Clarkson game. Clarkson, like Michigan State, specialized in "good defense," which means grabbing and clutching and grabbing and interfering juuust short of a penalty unless the game is undergoing one of its periodic crackdowns on obstruction. They also specialized in punching guys in the face, which only got called sometimes.
But he had the benefit of replay, and concluded:
I should also point out that I don't think the officiating was nearly as bad as I thought it was the first time I watched the game. Most of the ones we got replays for were legit calls. A couple of bad missed calls, but overall a pretty well-officiated game, despite my earlier comments.
Ohhhhhhhh... As mentioned on the sidebar yesterday, MSU's Jeff Abdelkader signed with the Red Wings and will not return for his senior season. Yost Built notes that there is a guy on the RCMB claiming sophomore defenseman Mike Ratchuk has signed with the Flyers. Since the same guy reported both the Abdelkader and Brian Lerg (who signed with Edmonton) signings hours before the news became public, it's probably legit.
With Tim Kennedy widely expected to sign with Buffalo, State will enter next year minus four of its top five scorers, three of its defensemen, and some pointless fourth-liner. If Jeff Petry -- who, IMO, was terrific in what I saw of him -- signs with Edmonton, they might have a rough year.
Oh... snap? Jim Tressel:
"Is there a gentleman's agreement between Big Ten coaches that once a player verbally commits to a school, the other coaches are supposedly hands off?"
This was Tressel's answer, after about a one-second pause.
"I guess only between the gentlemen."
OSU's Scout site refers to this as a "thinly veiled dig"; the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, linked above, is more circumspect. Is it? It seems remarkably hypocritical to imply you're ethically superior to another coach when you yourself just tried the exact same trick. (Columbus OL Patrick Omameh picked up an OSU offer the day before signing day, just like Michigan and snake-oil-eruption-causing Roy Roundtree.) And it seems out of character for Jim Tressel, Most Boring Man On The Planet.
It kinda sounds like a dig, though. And by God I hope it is. MGoBlog's policy on trash talk is "trash talk is awesome, always."
Etc.: Tyler Sellhorn explains the flexbone, may be of relevance to option-interested Michigan fans.
I was going to update the recruiting board but a computer crash ate it. So: #$*((#$. Delay.
Tickets. Have received several emails about the best ticket strategy for the Frozen Four, so: I'm not an expert since I've only gone to one, that in Buffalo in 2003, but that experience leads me to believe that tickets will be available in abundance. In Buffalo you couldn't throw a rock without hitting someone hawking 4 tickets; some guys were carrying around enormous packets.
We ended up buying lower-bowl seats right behind the net where Jason Ryznar's goal was waved off (woo!) for face value; when the immense depression of that game's OT loss combined with the lethal carnie strip of "attractions" on the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls border to force us home ASAP we left our (stupidly, arrogantly purchased) tickets for the final with my brother, who ended up selling them for just over half of face.
With both Colorado schools bombing out in the regionals (thanks, MSU and Wisconsin!) the situation in Denver is likely to be similar. BC is half a continent away and Notre Dame fans barely know they have a hockey program. The other ND and Michigan figure to bring large contingents, but Buffalo was much closer to participating programs and the aforementioned scenario played out.
So given all that, I'm pretty comfortable with the idea of heading out there with the intention of buying tickets on the street. Unfortunately, this year the second semi ends within an hour of the first one and there is a single ticket for both. In previous years there had been separate tickets. This scuttles the post-semi dump wherein fans of the losing team sell tickets to the second semi.
We're going to print out a Pepsi center seating chart and go for the gusto. IIRC, the athletic department tickets were lower-bowl but in the corners in Buffalo.
What? Notre Dame is selling your standard a "woo frozen four shirt" on their official site. But apparently they got theirs from a mirror universe:
This seemed like an easy opportunity to make fun, but on closer inspection it's just weird. Michigan goes out in the first round to Northeastern, which didn't even make the tournament. Northeastern then plays Wisconsin, which beat UMass -- also not in the tournament. In fact, every first-round game is wrong and the only thing the shirt got right was a second-round matchup between ND and State going to ND. So that's... bizarre. It's as if they said "hey, no one's going to believe ND is in the Frozen Four anyway, let's just go all the way with this."
Movin' on up. I previously speculated that Brandon Minor might be headed elsewhere because of the shift in offensive philosophy; initial returns on that are as good as "Porter is a creation of Hensick":
Junior running back Brandon Minor and senior cornerback Morgan Trent have become early vocal leaders of the team, Rodriguez said.
That's a week or two old. This is new:
Defensive standouts: Rodriguez listed fifth-year senior John Thompson, redshirt sophomore Obi Ezeh and junior Stevie Brown as the defensive players who have stood out in the spring.
Thompson is trying to take the starting middle linebacker job from Ezeh, who was a Freshman All-American last year. Redshirt sophomore Jonas Mouton and sophomore Marell Evans appear to be leading the way at the outside spots. Rodriguez said the linebacker corps was one of the deepest units on the team.
How are these items related? Evans and Minor both attended Varina High in Virginia. Minor was generally well regarded -- a mid four-star, IIRC, though some sites rated him as fullback -- while Evans was virtually ignored. How ignored? He's the first two-star Michigan prospect (kickers excluded) since Andre Criswell two years before, and Criswell was a last-second edition. Michigan can get a commit from the most obscure Estonian and Rivals will give Argpan Ekerbajain a third star if given a couple weeks to re-evaluate him. Evans, not so much. Michigan recruited Evans specifically because Brandon Minor told them he outworked Brandon Minor; I probably should have given him more credit.
I find the leaders at linebacker interesting for these reasons:
- Jonas Mouton was just a redshirt freshman last year but I'm going to be pretty ticked if he has a good to excellent debut season; last year he was stuck behind a mediocre to bad Chris Graham. Since the coaches were willing to boot Graham to the bench in 2007 I think he got something less than the full-on Massey treatment and Mouton might have a year like Ezeh in 2008: "promising" but pretty meh.
- Johnny Thompson and Obi Ezeh both impressing and Evans being the leader at strongside linebacker. Ezeh was a SAM until the dire situation at MLB forced him over. Presumably either he or Thompson could shift back. So if Evans does get to start he's beaten out either a returning starter or (more likely) a fifth year senior with spot starts to date.
Varsity Blue has some video from spring practice. Remember that year in NCAA when 1) John Navarre was Michigan's quarterback and 2) the option was unstoppable anyway? Yeah, watching David Cone run a triple option brings back the memories:
There's another set of clips at VB. I watched them, for what little value that provided. Main impression: holy God, Jason Kates still blocks out the sun.
I usually don't go in for the predictable photoshopped baby in the aftermath of someone bailing or complaining or something, but good freakin' lord this is creepy:
Mmm, that's good nightmare fuel. Image you'll see in your sleep tonight prompted by this Matt Hayes article in which he checks out Michigan practice and finds a distinct lack of blood orgies.
Etc.: MVictors actually cased Saline High's football field in an effort to scout out spots from which you, the fre
nzied, BTN-less Michigan nut, can espy Michigan's spring game. The internet at its best.
3/28/2008 - Michigan 5, Niagara 1
3/29/2008 - Michigan 2, Clarkson 0
Frozen Four berth
What happened? The last two years Michigan hockey seemed in the early stages of a Michigan State basketball-like gradual decline into boring super-mediocrity. Two straight first-round matchups with North Dakota resulted in two straight first-round exits. Said first round exits were the first Michigan had ever experienced since the tournament moved to twelve teams. Michigan State added insult to injury by clutchigrabbing themselves the national title.
Then out the door went the shoulda-Hobey winner TJ Hensick, God himself Jack Johnson, and dynamic sophomore center Andrew Cogliano. Johnson and Cogliano spent the entire year in the NHL; Hensick got in 31 games. Three other defensemen, including captain Matt Hunwick, graduated, as did useful forward David Rohlfs. The media and coaches picked Michigan an apocalypse-inducing fourth in the CCHA.
Fast forward through a bunch of goals for, not many against, and you get this year's inexplicable finish: the top overall seed, 33-5-4, and favored to beat Notre Dame, make the NCAA championship game, and win Michigan's tenth national title.
Uh... what? What the hell happened here? And how can we make it happen to everything else? An exploration below.
But first, one thing that's not the cause:
TJ and Jack say seeya. Michigan looks like a quintessential Ewing theory team: lose the big stars, instantly much better. I am here to say bunko, pal. Bunko. The problem with last year's team was not the nation's leading scorer, his 45 assists, his +24, or his 19% shooting percentage. Nor was it Jack Johnson, his 16 goals and better than PPG scoring pace, and his 30-35 minutes a night.
Sometimes I read things on the internet and they often claim that one or both of the above guys was somehow selfish or lazy or was not properly leader-y, and I don't get it. Hensick killed penalties as a senior, was tied for third in shots despite having more ice time than any other forward, and had the highest plus minus on the team. Jack reigned in his wild freshman year, saw his PMs halve, and was just generally the best player -- period -- I've ever seen at Yost.
It wasn't them.
It was this:
Sauer. Obviously. When you go from a .896 save percentage to a .927, you have significantly increased your team's chance of victory.
How much of this is an improvement in Sauer himself and how much of it is a more committed team defensive effort? It's obviously a mix of both; Sauer has a hand in it. Check last year's stats:
With the same same roster -- I guess Michigan did lose the most statistically ineffective hockey player they've had in a decade when Jason Bailey left at midseason -- and only a modest drop in shots faced, Sauer went from eye-wrenchingly horrible (a save % of .884 would have been good for 66th of 73 goalies who registered enough minutes to qualify last year) to average (.914 would have been 27th, just ahead of Jeff Lerg). This was a quantum leap in performance largely obscured by Sauer's first-half performance. It's hard to say "hey, this guy is playing pretty well" when the statistics still have that ugly "8" after the decimal point.
When people did notice this they kept it under their breath in case, say, most of the way through the best game of his career he went for a stupid poke check and let in an ugly goal that cost Michigan the CCHA playoff championship and the ensuing mental trauma resulted in seven North Dakota goals in something like four minutes in the NCAA tournament. Hypothetically.
And this year?
Hey, good job Billy. And look at that, a significant drop in shots against. Hmmm...
The freshmen defensemen are outplaying last year's senior counterparts. I can tell because there is always at least one defenseman in my personal doghouse at all times. Said defenseman is responsible for all turnovers, goals, and undesirable global climactic
changes until such time as someone else enters the doghouse, they graduate, or -- in the case of Jeff Jillson -- a hockey team that drafted you way too high throws a bunch of money at you.
In that light, three enduring memories from the 2006 and 2007 teams:
- Michigan is tied or leads by a goal against some team late. I think they're leading, because it seemed at the time that caution was called for. The opposing team gains control of the puck behind their own net and throws it up the wall. The puck's a good foot or two off the ground and traveling at a high rate of speed; Matt Hunwick decides this is the perfect time to practice his I'm-a-ninja-let's-knock-this-blowgun-dart-away skills, rushing forward and taking a wild swing at the puck whizzing by him. The ensuing two-on-one results in a goal.
- Jason Dest blatantly crosschecks a guy to the ice while killing a penalty, drawing another penalty. Dest throws his arms in the air, disgusted. The guy he's crosschecked to the ice gets up and, unchecked, taps in a goal.
- Tim Cook, just in general.
Aside from a couple groan-worthy Langlais moments that were, IMO, not nearly enough to erase his consistently excellent play, has anything like this occurred this year? No. I literally cannot remember Scooter Vaughn or Tristin Llewellyn doing anything important all year. That's fantastic when you're freshmen defensemen on the #1 team in the country.
Do the stats back me up here? I think they do, at least slightly.
Dest last year: 1-10-11, +6. Cook: 0-4-4, +11. Hunwick: 6-20-26, +24
Vaughn: 0-4-4, +10. Llewellyn: 0-5-5, +9, Langlais 0-19-19, +20, "Other" (Quick): 2-2-4, +8.
That's about the same number of points and the same +/- (albeit in about 16 extra games between the four freshman) from four freshmen as the three seniors from last year. I know points and +/- are not great metrics -- if I had schmanzy stats like some of the NHL bloggers I would use them -- but there is also the lack of on-ice hatred for any of these guys.
Even if they're not actually better than the seniors, Chris Summers is better than he was as a freshman and so is Kampfer and so is Mitera.
I think there is one outstanding statistical anomaly that proves 1) it warn't Jack's fault, and 2) whatever the second and third defensive pairings were doing was messed up. This is it: Cogs last year: 23-25-48, +7. Kolarik: 18-27-45 +13.
Those two were the second line, basically. A rotating cast of Turnbull, Naurato, Miller, and others filled the other wing. Kolarik is awesome this year and was pretty darn good a year ago; Cogs has 45 points in the NHL thi
s year. Usually Jack came out with TJ and the first line, IIRC, and then saw another shift when the second or third line was out there. The second line was prime Dest-Cook territory, and those plus/minus results speak for themselves.
Kevin Porter was not a creation of TJ Hensick. One of the occupational hazards of putting your opinions on sports on the internet is that sometimes you write stuff like this:
We're about to find out if Kevin Porter, top five scorer, was entirely a creation of TJ Hensick. Survey says: hell yes. He's still probably the team's best player, but is uninspiring as those go.
Ha-HA! I suck.
Porter is the nation's leading scorer and since he hasn't taken any misconduct penalties will win the Hobey Baker on Friday. What's more, Red credits him with the work ethic and discipline shown by the entire team. When he missed practice Wednesday with a flu something or other, Michigan had what may have been its worst practice of the year.
And Chad Kolarik is just as good. Porter's going to win the Hobey, as he should, but Kolarik is the #6 scorer in the country and has transformed himself from a second-line offense-only forward (just +13 last year on 45 points) into a premiere penalty killer and effort guy. When he popped his hamstring against Lake State he new something was very wrong, but it was a five on three so he got to a knee and made himself a nuisance. Lake State did not score.
In both these guys, Michigan finally has a pair of senior top-liners on a par with the monster combos like Sertich and Sterling and all those guys from like UMD or Miami who are pretty good hockey players for a while until something finally clicks and they lay waste like McBain.
Virtually every freshman met or exceeded expectations. The jury is still out on Brian Hogan and Kevin Quick is an ex-Wolverine. I've discussed the defensemen. The forwards:
- Max Pacioretty. First line-mainstay who was a bit of a passenger for the first half of the season before having a TJ-like breakout second half. Now a PPG scorer.Superb passer, excellent size, good shot. Fits in with Porter and Kolarik beautifully.
- Carl Hagelin. Bork, man, Bork. 10-10-20 with almost no power play time. Lighting fast skater who works his ass off every shift; guaranteed to get in three or four "holy crap!" backchecks per game, and who says "holy crap!" after a backcheck? Right. Odds on favorite to be top line center at the start of next year.
- Aaron Palushaj. You can see he's right on the verge of using those slick hands to pour in goals; as it is he's 10-31(!)-41 without the luxury of playing with Porter and Kolarik much. Probable top-line winger next to Patch and Hagelin next year.
- Matt Rust. Also a wicked fast skater. 11-10-21 with hardly any power play time, good faceoff guy. Key second-line player, excellent defensively, played with broken leg the past couple weeks.
- Louie Caporusso. Missed a month with an injury; came back and had 12-9-21 in 32 games. Smallish, skilled centerman closer to Andrew Ebbett than Cammalleri in overall talent, still a good bet to be a second-line center next year. Needs a talented winger to go with Turnbull.
- Ben Winnett. Winnett was the only real disappointment this year. He had a nasty injury that cost him half of his last junior season but prior to that was scoring at nearly the same pace as teammate, first round pick, and Cornell freshman star Riley Nash. He went in the fourth round of the draft -- two rounds before Hagelin -- and ended up puttering around the third and fourth lines doing little. 6-5-11 isn't too bad for a guy who didn't get much time; it's the "didn't get much time" that's an issue. Showed some flashes of talent late in the season.
Everyone of these guys was a significant contributor save Winnett, and there are no Fardig-Bailey-Brown-Miller-MacVoy sorts in the bunch; every one is a potential scoring line player with offensive skill to spare.
The key to this recruiting class is the success of Hagelin, Langlais and Vaughn. All were relatively late pickups, which usually nets you questionable third or fourth line sorts and last pairing defensemen. Each of these guys showed up ready to play and will be mainstays for the next four years unless Hagelin gets really, really good and the Rangers sign him.
There are just a lot more good players. Okay, out went three excellent players: Jack, TJ, and Cogs. Out went two more good to average players, depending on how much you think of Matt Hunwick: Hunwick and Rohlfs. Out went three bad players: Dest, Cook, and Bailey.
I am of the opinion that Michigan picked up three excellent players -- Patch, Hagelin, Palushaj -- five good players -- Langlais, Rust, Caporusso, Llewellyn, Vaughn -- and one average one -- Winnett. Combine that with the slow and steady morph of Billy Sauer from an awful player to a good, maybe great one, and wham:
No, seriously. Flights out of Chicago are around 220 now -- yesterday there were in the 170s. Tickets will be available at face or below in Denver with both local schools knocked out. Hell, Notre Dame fans, it's your first Frozen Four ever. Go! Taste the sting of defeat, but go!