mgoblog, hockey edition
I think it's really happening. Mike Babcock-to-Michigan rumors have just been turned up to 11:
Mike Babcock says not worried about negotiating for extension, will either remain coach of Red Wings or be assistant at U of M/ Berenson
— Helene St. James (@HeleneStJames) April 29, 2014
That is quite a statement: "eh, if I don't continue to coach one of the most storied franchises in the NHL I'll just go be Red's assistant." If Michigan sticks to the plan that would be a one-year apprenticeship before the job came open.
Oh really. Paging Captain Renault: Mitch McGary's drug test won't impact his draft stock.
"No, not really, because you know what, probably 70 percent of the league does that (smokes marijuana)," the scout told MLive, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
But what about the spirit of sport, NBA? What about the spirit of sport?
"Appropriate." Matt Hayes walks up to the unionization issue on a tee and takes a Casey-like swing:
So if we’re going to do this; if we’re going to call athletes employees (or whatever you want to call them) and expand benefits and increase their ability to market and make money off themselves, the consequences for violating rules must be swift and appropriate.
Gone are the days where Troy Smith can take $500 from a booster, sit out a bowl game, get reinstated and two years later finish his career by winning the Heisman Trophy.
If you take $500 from a booster now, you lose eligibility. Permanently.
Hayes, prone on the ground, cartoon birds circling his head. The tee, untouched.
The average Troy Smith is still going to get the money, but will not be punished. Ramping up penalties for infractions that 99% of offenders will not get caught for is like throwing people in jail for speeding.
I mean, who cares? Who cares that Troy Smith now has 500 dollars? Level playing field, you say?
Gone are the days of second, third and fourth chances as it relates to— take your pick— arrests (and convictions), academic failure, failed drug tests (performance enhancing or recreational), or any behavior that harms a university’s reputation.
Let me just direct you to the quote above about Mitch McGary. Or, you know, society. The society in which those first time arrests and convictions generally result in probation or diversion so that people can have a second chance. If people were held to the standards Matt Hayes is advocating for newly professional-ish college athletes, unemployment would run around 50% and include Matt Hayes.
Let's goooooo. The News profiles now-critical Mark Donnal, collecting the various encouraging quotes about him that have been dropping in the past couple months:
“He’s definitely displayed a couple of specific skill sets,” Alexander said. “Mark is a tremendous passer, both in traffic and on the perimeter. His shooting range makes him a capable and reliable pick-and-pop jump shooter on the perimeter.
“He has a great face-up game in the post. The thing he discovered through added strength is the ability to rebound the ball in traffic.”
With sufficient three-point range to drag posts out to the perimeter, Michigan's post guys are liable to find shotblockers absent when they get by their guys. It'll be interesting to see what happens Walton and LeVert's shooting percentage at the rim when Donnal is out there providing Beilein his first shooting five since his arrival in Ann Arbor. I'm more concerned about his defense and rebounding—by the end there, Jordan Morgan was in beast mode.
Bacari is at least making the right noises about where he's headed:
“The thing that really excites me as his position coach is that nasty edge that he brings to the table, as well.”
He also has an interesting quote about how at Michigan "you are who you can guard," and the offense takes care of itself. Donnal will start at the five—out of necessity now—and has some ability to move out to the four as he "continues to improve his conditioning and lateral quickness." Given the composition of Michigan's roster the next couple years it doesn't seem like he'll be spending much, if any, time at the 4.
How much thing X irritates coaches, officially. Michigan's defensive grading system seems a little out of whack to me:
Like… forcing a fumble—hit the ballcarrier with enough force to make him drop the ball—is way harder than recovering one—get lucky, fall down. And what counts as a "missed tackle"? Missed tackles come in all shapes and sizes: you can let someone outside of you for a huge gain, which is super super bad, or you can not quite get a guy down but delay him enough that the cavalry rallies to stop him a yard after you would have. I'm guessing that latter probably counts as a tackle and the former gets a CRITICAL ERROR added to it.
Even so, it seems like "missed assignment" is the worst of all possible things. Missed assignments are touchdowns waiting to happen. When I do the UFRs some guy doing something that doesn't make any sense gets a serious downgrade and most of the coach types who have commented seem to agree with that assessment.
But being a coach is always a compromise between what you actually think in your head and what you think is the best way to get 85 guys doing a complicated thing well. See: the entire concept of "coachspeak." Or "Devin Gardner might start."
Just don't advertise it during games. Michigan Stadium is now open for prom:
Michigan Stadium is getting ready for prom season as part of a push to use the home of Wolverines football for more events during the offseason.
About 230 students from Durand High School, about 45 miles northwest of Ann Arbor, will take the field May 10 — the first time the Big House has hosted a prom, The Ann Arbor News reported (http://bit.ly/1mQvHXn ). And Dexter High School's prom is there May 17.
Hooray incremental revenue, as long as incremental revenue is not flogged at my ears during the games. See also: weddings, facebook, twitter, nonrevenue sports.
Everywhere, all the time. Ramzy on Ohio State's version of creating the future is worth your time:
Ohio State does not belong to you. You just happen to work there at this moment - you're stewards for a rich inheritance you're passing along to someone else that no one will ever cash. That's what Ohio State is. You did not build this brand. You can only damage or improve it.
And you should find as many ways as possible to give it away for free. Businesses do this all the time because it gives them a great return and it's terrific exposure for future buyers. Future buyers. This is where we talk about the children who don't have wealthy parents or opportunities to embark on a wallet-crushing fall Saturday in Ohio Stadium.
Also in this genre is a post from Get The Picture, a Georgia blog:
It’s not like money is a problem in Athens. It’s just that there seems to be little thought to spending it in a way that makes the fan base content. I think back to the shameful way North Campus was treated before Michael Adams had his hissy fit and essentially shut down the tailgate experience; much of that could have been resolved with better security, more restroom facilities and a reasonable amount of attention paid to trash removal. None of that is exactly back-breaking from a financial standpoint for a school with Georgia’s resources. It’s just that no one in a position to improve things could be bothered with it. And that’s a story you could repeat in many other ways.
Instead, we’re offered enhanced wi-fi, ever more intrusive piped in music and goofy sideshows like yesterday’s mascot abomination as a solution. But I don’t weigh the prospect of live attendance on the basis of my short-term attention span. The home experience is about greater comfort and convenience. I don’t wait to go to the kitchen for a drink, my bathroom smells nice and I can always find a place to park. This is the lesson I’m afraid McGarity and his AD peers are missing. I want what I got yesterday – a feeling that the money I’m shelling out is somehow being spent to benefit my experience in a way that gives me what I have at home, while making me feel glad I came.
I also recommend the comments, this one in particular:
UGA AA for so long thought that buying a ticket was the only way to gt a good view. Then 27 inch crt color television gave ay to 60′ HD home theaters and the Butts-Mehre suits haven’t yet figured out how to compete without creating something to sell.
Georgia fans are basically the Michigan fans of the SEC and they're experiencing the same things, albeit with less of a swoon with their football program. The comparison they're making here is to the Masters, which is a fantastic example of an organization successfully creating a culture of otherness that makes it in fact special. While that comes with costs—see women and minority membership—they're holding onto their fanbase because they make it feel good to be a fan. I can't say I remember the last thing Michigan did that was a step in that direction.
That reminds me of a thing I think I failed to relate when it happened: before the Nebraska game this year I was walking to my family's tailgate. As I neared the stadium the jumbotron was showing me the previous week's game… against Michigan State. Devin Gardner got annihilated and intercepted and I was like "feels bad, man."
It was the previous week's Not Michigan Replay, it turned out, and I just thought to myself "is there literally no one in the athletic department with the common sense to not show Michigan fans highlights of a game in which they rushed for –48 yards?" People are just in charge of things for no reason.
The ultimate Pandora's Box question. Oh, man. As scaremongering anti-union/reform questions go, this is the best/worst:
Could boosters treat recruiting like the Wild West?
oh no what would that look like
Etc.: Why the O'Bannon case is a duel to the death. At least everyone hates the way the McGary thing went down. More evidence that Michigan's upper reaches are inappropriately secretive. Jordan Morgan report card. Talking with Ricky Doyle. The Big Ten basketball powerhouse.
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.
- De Jong-Serville
- 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.
Aaand Alex Guptill took about 30 seconds to follow Phil Di Giuseppe out the door:
— Mark Edwards (@MarkEdwardsHP) March 26, 2014
Guptill was the bar-none most frustrating player I can remember in 15 years of Michigan hockey. Talent coming out his ears that he displayed on nearly every shot; a useless slug without the puck. The former saw him score about a PPG for his career. The latter made Red scratch him on the regular despite the PPG thing. I thought that having Copp as his center would force him into something approximating defensive responsibility. This was not the case.
You can directly trace this season's failure to reach the tournament to Guptill cluelessly poking his stick in the general direction of a Penn State player he had every opportunity to stop from having a breakaway and did not. One Penn State goal later they were back in a game they would later win in OT. That specifically prevented Michigan from reaching the tournament and emblematically represented the lack of give-a-shit that characterized Guptill's career, an attitude that bled over into various other players on the team.
I'll miss that guy's hands. Not so much the rest of his game. Next year will be a fascinating test to see how extreme the anti-leadership emanating from the two departures was.
Winger Phil Di Giuseppe has signed with Carolina:
Michigan's Phil Di Giuseppe has signed with the Carolina Hurricanes, voiding his final year of eligibility.
— Michael Spath (@Spath_Wolverine) March 26, 2014
It's something of a blow to lose a senior-to-be who had a 13-11-24 line and some talent, but I'm putting together a post on the hockey team that inevitably looks at what they should have next year and it's obvious that Michigan was anticipating some attrition. PDG in particular was the subject of OHL rumors after his first year and never really seemed that into the whole Michigan thing.
Ah, hell. Might as well say it: whatever problems Michigan had that caused Red to say that this team had underachieved and it drove him nuts fall squarely on the scoring-line type wingers who were outpaced by Copp, Motte, and Compher not only in the scoring department but the defensive responsibility one. Unfortunately, Michigan doesn't have a Corsi stat or anything like that so your one potential indicator of defensive GAF is blocked shots. And that's pretty stark. Compher + Copp: 56. Moffatt + Guptill + PDG: 32.
Attempts at stats fail. The eyeball test had me groaning about giving a crap for large sections of the year. Whatever culture issues the team has seem centered in an older cohort, and I'm not sure losing them is much of a blow. And now I don't have to figure out how to spell his name 50 times a year.
Michigan is still waiting on a decision from Guptill; no one else seems like a likely departure.
YES DO MORE THINGS THAT MAKE PEOPLE STAND UP IN FRONT OF YOUUUUU
So you’ve turned your calendar to March and watched some snow melt (finally), and your mind has naturally turned to brackets and the anxiety that goes hand-in-hand with single elimination contests. If you’ve thought about single elimination games that involve ice and rubber spheres instead of hardwood and rubber spheres then we’re on the same page.
At 3pm on Thursday Michigan plays Penn State, the lowest seeded team in the Big Ten Tournament and the team that has given Michigan more problems than first-ranked (in the nation) Minnesota. If Michigan wins, there’s a 96% chance they make the NCAA Tournament. If they lose, that drops to 40-50%. Pretty straightforward and terrifying.
If this is the first hockey game you’ve watched or just the first one you’ve watched this season then this guide’s for you. Think of this as a time investment. If you read it and Michigan wins on Thursday then you’re all set for the NCAA Tournament! If you read it and they don’t win then you must be some sort of human jinx, please don’t watch the basketball team.
Who to watch on offense:
#17 JT Compher, C, FR/#18 Andrew Copp, C, SO
I couldn’t split these two up and put one in the category below because they jointly set the tempo for Michigan. Both are going to forecheck hard enough to create offense, though they can create off the cycle as well. Both of these guys have the mindset of a third-line center with the hands and hockey IQ of a first-liner.
And if those guys aren’t on the ice?
#27 Alex Guptill, LW, JR
Put the puck on his stick and he’s a potential NHLer. Take the puck away from him and, uh, results may vary. He was a healthy scratch once this year essentially because he was putting in zero effort on the defensive end, but he’s since rebounded. He’s not going to win any awards for “best defensive forward,” but he has an incredible ability to move with the puck in tight spaces and keep it away from defenders.
Who to watch on defense:
#37 Mac Bennett, D, SR
This isn’t supposed to be a slight to the other defensemen but actually yeah, it’s kind of a slight to the other defensemen; Bennett is the only one that doesn’t make me nervous when he’s on the ice. He’s a senior, but more important is that he’s made strides in terms of playing a simpler, more balanced game. He’s a calming influence on a very, very young d-corps who knows when to rush the puck and how not to turn it over in the defensive zone as much as the other defensemen.
And if he isn’t on the ice?
#22 Andrew Sinelli, D, JR
He used to be a forward but the transition may be the best thing that’s ever happened to him during his time at Michigan. Sinelli will need to continue to work on little things like gap control, but he’s got the skating ability to hang with most anyone. He’s been really impressive since switching positions mid-season.
What about that guy who lets people use composite materials to throw pieces of rubber at him?
#35 Zach Nagelvoort, G, FR
Since Compher came in with considerable hype I’d say Nagelvoort is the real surprise contributor this season. He wasn’t supposed to be playing this season, but an injury to starter Steve Racine pushed him into the lineup and he hasn’t relinquished that spot since. Nagelvoort likes to handle the puck near his net and has a very good glove hand. His positioning is very good and he stays square to shooters. Hard to ask for more than that from a freshman.
What about the team, the team, the team?
Coin flip. Averaging 3.12 goals/game is good enough for 20th in the nation, but which offense shows up is anyone’s guess. They can hang six on anyone in the nation or they can score one, and they’ve done both against great and terrible competition respectively.
Coin flip. They’re giving up 2.56 goals/game, which again places them 20th in the nation. Some nights they look unstoppable (see last Saturday’s game against Minnesota) and some nights they look beyond confused (see the entire Great Lakes Invitational).
Michigan has scored on 26 of their 129 opportunities (20.16%). This places them 17th in the nation, with the caveat being that every team ahead of them has had more power play chances. They’ve looked better in recent weeks as Luke Moffat has emerged as a legitimate special teams scoring threat. Eight of his 13 goals have come on the power play, so watch for #9 when Michigan has the man advantage.
While it’s not the worst in the nation, it’s the team’s weak spot when considering that they’re ranked somewhere around 20th in the nation in all other team scoring categories. Michigan has killed 105 of 129 penalties (81.4%), which ties them for 35th nationally with American International, which is a school that I did not know existed until I just wrote it down.
Tl;dr. What do I really need to know?
Michigan has to beat Penn State if they want to make the NCAA Tournament and start The Streak™ over. We don’t know which version of Michigan will show up; it will either be the team that can beat anyone in the nation or it will be the team that gifted Penn State two of its three B1G wins.
3/14/2014 – Michigan 2, Minnesota 3 (OT) – 17-12-4, 9-8-2 Big Ten
3/15/2014 – Michigan 6, Minnesota 2 – 18-12-4, 10-8-2 Big Ten
Michigan is barely ahead of the pack. [Bill Rapai]
Imagine a man tied to a pole with a bungee cord in zero-G. Grip this man with an enormous metal arm and pull him until the bungee cord has no more give. Let go. Watch as the man flies back and forth at maximum amplitude forever, occasionally bonking his head on the pole.
I've just saved you 500 bucks for a hockey season ticket. You are invited to give me a cut with the donate button at right.
What can Michigan's hockey team do? Anything. They can beat Boston College, they can run out to a 10-2-1 start, they can thoroughly dominate Wisconsin in a weekend series, they can beat Minnesota by sniping the water bottle four times.
What can Michigan's hockey team do? Anything. They can lose to Penn State, lose to Michigan State, lose to Penn State, lose to Michigan State. They can let Western Michigan waltz, or possibly tango, through the slot a dozen times in a single hockey game. They can try some sort of center-ice pinch that was months ago but still remains crystal-clear in my memory as the most insane decision I've seen since Jack Johnson was around, making insane decisions seem like good ideas.
Yeah, actually. This hockey team is Jack Johnson, the hockey team.
But they have just about done it, with an assist from Minnesota's backup goalie. They have waddled their way into the NCAA tournament. Since they're on the bubble, their tournament starts one weekend early and has a very strange structure where one loss is permissible in most situations as long as it doesn't come against Penn State.
You may think this doesn't quite count. I do. I will be turning on a television at three on a Thursday to watch Michigan play a hockey game in front of 14 people as I try not to have a panic attack. If that's not the NCAA hockey tournament it's close enough.
If—if—if—ifffffffffffff Michigan does in fact get past Penn State, a possibility I am absolutely not taking for granted because this would be like taking a spiderweb for granted as you clung to it over the Grand Canyon, they will be in barring specific clusters of results. And that will be fine. Just making the tournament was everybody's first and only goal in a year when the second defenseman on the depth chart was terrifying—let alone the second pairing—and the goaltender situation was a cloud of question marks.
Even when they were rushing out to a blazing start, nobody who was watching them play was harboring delusions of grandeur. They're rickety on the back end and only flash their talent at forward often enough to drive you crazy when they go a month without scoring a goal on purpose. As the man said, they are who they are.
And since they are who they are—a man careening endlessly from one extreme to the other—they've got as much of a shot as anyone does in the barely-weighted plinko that is the worst championship format in sports. Once their spot is secured they could roll out onto the ice against the top two teams in the country and hold their own, as they did against Minnesota and Boston College.
They could implode in a pile of sawdust, yeah. Everyone can implode in a pile of sawdust. One seeds get plunked on the regular by random collections of initials that happen to have a hockey team. We've got one, and you don't want to face us, no way. Unless it's one of those days where you really do. But it might not be one of those days. It might be one of those other days. Nothing is certain, except that after it is over you will sit down and hold your head and wait for the room to come to a full and complete stop.
We're in! Ish! [Rapai]
Despite being a three seed if the season ended today, Michigan is not safe with a win over Penn State. Unfortunately, there are a number of scenarios that leave them the first team out if they go 1-1 at the Big Ten tourney. That's because the margins are tiny this year. The RPI gap from 11th—where Michigan sits—down to 17th is less than a point.
Michigan can't get passed by #17 Northeastern since they're out of the HE tournament, but Minnesota State, North Dakota, Vermont, Cornell, and Colgate are all within striking distance. All save Vermont are active in their conference tourneys. If Michigan beats Penn State they will finish ahead of the Catamounts; the rest is up for grabs.
Teams are so tightly packed that changing a single result has surprising and inexplicable consequences. In one scenario, Minnesota State beating Ferris in the WCHA final is the difference between MSU-Mankato finishing outside of the tourney or getting a three seed. It also knocks Colgate out as Michigan passes them for obscure opponents-opponents-win-percentage reasons.
But here are some things I can tell you:
Michigan is (almost certainly) safe if they reach the Big Ten final. Even in the worst case scenario where somehow they face MSU and lose to them, thus crushing their RPI along with my skull and providing MSU a bid, they sneak in over the line unless there are two additional bid thieves. If it's Ohio State or Minnesota their RPI will land them as a three seed even in the event of a loss.
They could sneak onto the two line by winning the tournament. A low two is their top end.
1-1 is very likely good enough. It would take some seriously bad luck for every bubble team to man up in the fashion necessary to boot M from the tourney.
0-1 is not over. BUT LET'S NOT EXPLORE THAT OKAY.
Teams you hate. Life gets much, much easier for Michigan if Cornell and Colgate lose their ECAC semifinals to Quinnipiac and Union, respectively. Both of those latter teams are already in. The two C outfits are right on Michigan's heels. Their performance is almost more important than Michigan's—they can get in with a Penn State loss as long as the ECAC results fall right.
Bid thieves are always a bubble team's foe. Those are UNH in Hockey East, BGSU and Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA, Denver, Miami, and WMU in the NCHC, and any Big Ten university with "State" in the name.
Teams you like. Root for North Dakota in the NCHC and Lowell in Hockey East, the former because it's the only current at-large from that league, the latter because every bit of schedule strength is going to count down the stretch here.
Ballpark. Michigan is 99% to make it with a 2-1 record this weekend, 80% to make it with 1-1, and 50% to make it with 0-1.
So frustrating. I kind of get why Minnesota may have relaxed on Saturday after securing the conference title, but it's not like they had nothing to play for. The #1 overall seed gets the Atlantic Hockey opponent that is generally far worse than any other in the field (but will still have a goalie who makes 60 saves because goalies are all far too good these days). BC and Minnesota were competing for that.
It in fact turns out that they had nothing to play for because Boston College got knocked out of the Hockey East tournament, guaranteeing Minnesota the top seed in the tournament.
Minnesota didn't know that on Saturday, though and by the time their backup goalie had ceded his first truly bad goal he'd been beaten on a procession of perfect water-bottle pops that comprised the prettiest set of goals seen in Yost Ice Arena in a long time. And the previous night, when Minnesota was going all out for the title, Michigan played them dead even.
So if they'd done what a team that plays Minnesota dead even does against some of the worst guys on their schedule…
And the avatar of that. Alex Guptill came off his healthy scratch in the aftermath of one of those horrible losses and Got The Message for about the fifth time in his career, playing impressive hockey. Some of the stuff he does is NHL-level.
There was one particular rush on which he repositioned himself in just the proper way so he could snap a shot past the defender's leg. That shot was whistling towards the top of the net before the goalie managed to snag it. It did not go in, but I muttered "Jesus" under my breath because the move and shot were so nasty.
I just hope he doesn't run out of attention before the end of the season here. If he comes back for his senior year—no idea—with the intention of getting an NHL contract for serious he could be a Hobey finalist. Or he could just be the most frustrating player in the last 15 years of Michigan hockey. Enormous wild card.
Sinelli emerging. The crazy thing about Andrew Sinelli these days is that he couldn't manage to find his way onto the ice as a forward during his first two years. He seems so assured with the puck as a defenseman that it's hard to envision him as a healthy scratch. Now that he's settling into his new role he is activating himself on offense more, not only for his hat trick against MSU but also several times in the Minnesota series he found himself in a dangerous position with the puck after making a nice read as to how the play would develop.
Is he Michigan's #2 defenseman now? With Kevin Clare playing his best hockey, probably not… but it's close.
The Hyman breakout. Happy to be right about this:
Inexplicable player enthusiasm of the year. Always one guy on the team who does nothing statistically but I find a way to advocate anyway, and this year it's Zach Hyman. Hyman's 1-2-3 line is obviously bleah. I still manage to think that he's much better at coming out of the corners with a purpose than anyone else on the team and should be flanked by two skilled players to take advantage of his ability to create offense off the cycle.
He seems like a different player, even if the stats aren't showing it. Remember this if he blows up in the next 20 games. Forget it if he doesn't.
After starting out with that 1-2-3 line in 13 games he put up 7-8-15 in his next 21.
Shuart's potential. Max Shuart has a nice combination of size and speed that hasn't really done much in his limited opportunities, but he seems like an intriguing guy to keep an eye on for next year. Could develop into a third line/PK guy.