CSKA Ann Arbor

CSKA Ann Arbor

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on April 12th, 2016 at 11:01 AM

[Sherman/MGoBlog]

Yesterday I was thumbing through a notebook I use for interview prep and found a projected line chart I wrote last summer for the 2015-16 hockey season. It had Tyler Motte, JT Compher, and Alex Kile on the first line; I had Kyle Connor on the second. I chortled under my breath and moved on. It was only in doing research for this piece that I rediscovered how long- two months(!)- the lines were arranged as such. It's easy to forget that Michigan started their season without Connor, Compher, and Motte together, with the trio we'll affectionately remember as the CCM line not seeing game action until the beginning of December.

Connor, Compher, and Motte launched a four-month-long assault on the Big Ten and the Michigan record books that produced numbers that will be tough to come across in the near future. They also produced the kind of moments that become seared into your sports consciousness; sports memories tend to be grounded in moments, not the chronology of events. I still remember walking up State Street after some game during the 2007-08 season and marveling at Kolarik and Porter the whole way back. I don't remember which game, but I remember exactly what it felt like to be a witness to something special. I liked Michigan hockey before 2007-08, but the credit for why I care enough to want to break down every goal scored over the course of every season falls squarely on Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik's shoulders.

That feeling was back this year. For the first time in at least eight season we weren't just watching great players play, we were watching players play perfectly off of each other and accomplish things that caused that voice in the back of your mind to pick up decibels until it's practically screaming at you, reminding you that this is something to hold on to, something that doesn't happen every season.

The numbers give context to the memories: Connor led the nation in scoring and goals, Compher finished second in scoring nationally and led the country in assists, and Motte finished fourth in scoring nationally. Motte scored a goal in 12 straight games, a Berenson-era record; Connor ended the season with a 27-game point streak, another Berenson-era record. Connor scored more goals than any other freshman in Michigan history while finishing second in all-time freshman points. Compher had the second most assists of any junior in Michigan history. Compher, Connor, and Motte were three of the top 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker, which is just the third time in the award's history that one school has placed three players in the top 10. (Michigan also did it in 1994, when Steve Shields, Brian Wiseman, and David Oliver were finalists.)

Michigan's roster next year will look different, and it's not just because it's missing two guys (and possibly a third) who scored in droves. The way they played together is what set the CCM line apart. It's something that you don't see in hockey very often these days; creativity and communication can create beautiful plays, but the system a player is a part of has to allow the player to take some liberties for that to transpire. Michigan's system is well suited for that, and the results speak volumes not just about the system but about the way the abilities of three players blended to create a scoring threat that was nearly unstoppable.

Igor Larionov wrote a piece for The Players' Tribune that I've seen passed around NHL circles again recently, and the crux of his argument is that players are told to over-simplify their game at too early an age in order to eliminate risk. In his mind, this stifles creativity and leaves only a handful of players in the NHL who think the game three or four moves ahead and then act on those suppositions. In his words:

Our philosophy was about puck control, improvisation, and constant movement. Now, the game is all about “north-south,” chip-and-chase. We moved side-to-side and swooped around the ice looking for open spaces. A backward pass was just as good as a forward pass. You didn’t have to see your linemate. You could smell him. Honestly, we probably could have played blind.

Michigan had three boundlessly creative players on the same line. Connor's accuracy and quick release made him the perfect finisher, always open thanks to his linemates' ability to maintain possession and positioning near the net. Compher had some of the finest olfaction of any Michigan skater I've seen, seemingly throwing the puck around blindly only to put it precisely on the tape of his teammate's stick. Motte could turn and lift a puck from a sharp angle in such a way that the puck seemed to explode off his blade; he was the perfect netfront presence.

With a few exceptions, these three showed that you can be responsible defensively while also being creative offensively, and in the process they crafted moments that transcended box scores. To borrow from Red Berenson by way of Dickie Moore, you can't buy that kind of fun.

[After THE JUMP: I empty out my "CCM line" gif folder]

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: North Dakota

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: North Dakota

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on March 29th, 2016 at 4:29 PM

NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Final

Saturday, March 26, 2016

North Dakota 5, Michigan 2

1st period

Caggiula goal, North Dakota

UND 1 UM 0 EV 18:54 Assists: Stecher

Nieves notices Kile skating toward the slot but not the defender nearest him and has the puck knocked away. Stecher recovers the puck he knocked away and taps a pass ahead to Caggiula. From there, it's off to the races through the neutral zone.

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Here's how Michigan's defensive zone looks as Caggiula crosses the blue line: one defenseman—Martin—back, and so only one man to beat.

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Caggiula takes a fairly harmless shot from the high slot, one which Racine stops easily. The shot itself isn't that dangerous, and the only reason I can see taking it is Caggiula either assumes he can't get around Martin because he's gapped up well or he's assuming he's going to get a rebound; he's right about the rebound.

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Martin tries to get a stick out and almost deflects the puck, but it does (barely) clear it. Racine's leaning back but ultimately unable to push up and back before the puck's in the net.

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[After THE JUMP: the last six goals of the season]

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Notre Dame

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Notre Dame

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on March 29th, 2016 at 10:23 AM

NCAA Tournament Midwest Regional Semifinal

Friday, March 25, 2016

Michigan 3, Notre Dame 2 (OT)

1st period

SELMAN GOAL, MICHIGAN

UM 1 ND 0 EV 10:31 Assists: Kile & Downing

Nieves wins the draw back to Downing. The wingers go in motion off the draw, with Kile going from right to left. This picks up the attention of the defender in front of the net, who takes a few steps with him. Meanwhile, Selman is skating through the faceoff circle, now left unoccupied thanks to the defender being drawn out toward Downing.

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Two defenders are watching Kile as he receives the pass from Downing. Nieves has locked up the defender nearest Selman in the high slot; he did so immediately off the draw, and this is just where they ended up. Selman is blitheringly open, though ND goaltender Cal Petersen is square to Kile. Selman's shot catches him off guard, and he isn't able to move across and re-square before the puck's behind him.

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[You already know the OT winner is after THE JUMP why have you not clicked yet]

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Big Ten Tournament Final

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Big Ten Tournament Final

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on March 22nd, 2016 at 2:59 PM

Saturday, March 19, 2016

#20 Minnesota 3, #7 Michigan 5

1st period

MOTTE GOAL, MICHIGAN

MINN 0 MICH 1 PPG 09:33 Assists: Connor & Werenski

Werenski moves the puck to Connor as the rest of Michigan's power play works to establish position.

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Connor holds the puck and the defenders all look like they're infested with lice, moving and twitching and adjusting and readjusting while Connor just holds and holds and holds a little longer. The defenders, especially the one nearest Connor in the faceoff circle, seem very worried about the cross-ice one timer to the opposite wing.

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That works to Michigan's advantage, as everybody just forgot about Motte in front of the net. Connor passes and Motte spins in a circle and shoots. Schierhorn stops the first shot, but Motte flips his own rebound into the top corner; he regularly puts the puck top shelf from angles that seem like it should be impossible to lift the puck.

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2nd period

COMPHER GOAL, MICHIGAN

MINN 0 MICH 2 PPG 01:31 Assists: Werenski & Connor

Werenski's pass for Connor hops over his stick and goes to the corner, but the puck's eventually reversed back to Werenski. He sees how bunched up and shifted the defense is and how open Compher is on the other side of the ice and makes the easy pass.

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When Compher receives the pass he has a wide open half of the net, but he can't settle it and doesn't regain control until where he is in the screen shot below. He throws a backhander on net that Schierhorn stops.

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Compher manages to stop quickly and chop at the puck, which is sitting in front of Schierhorn's pad. One of Compher's hacks lifts the puck up enough to get over his pad.

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[After THE JUMP: a comeback, an undressing, a tournament championship]

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Big Ten Tournament Semifinal

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Big Ten Tournament Semifinal

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on March 21st, 2016 at 5:02 PM

Friday, March 18, 2016

#7 Michigan 7, #19 Penn State 2

1st period

SHUART GOAL, MICHIGAN

UM 1 PSU 0 EV 10:35 Assists: Downing & Dancs

Dancs knocks the puck away from a Penn State player trying to clear and then bobbles it as he heads toward the corner; he’s only facing the blue line because he whiffed on the puck a second before. He sees Downing at the point, though, and passes before getting hit.

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Downing steps up and snaps a shot on net that Glen tries to pick off, but the puck goes hits his stick and then hits McAdam, who pushes the rebound aside.

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Shuart tries to push the puck under McAdam, but he makes the save. The rebound stays right in front of the net, and Shuart has a second-chance opportunity with a defenseman and the goaltender falling down.

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Shuart gets flips the puck over two fallen PSU players unimpeded. I’m a little surprised that Glen didn’t make any effort to get across and try to engage Shuart. A tenuous argument can be made that he was trying to cut off the path from the backside and make sure no one could cut directly to the front of the net in case there was a rebound, but I’d think he would slide across when it was clear that both his help was falling over and the puck was loose in front.

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[After THE JUMP: Kyle Connor gif after Kyle Connor gif after Kyle Connor gif. That’s not an exaggeration, he had a natural hat trick.]

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Penn State- Part 1

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Penn State- Part 1

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on March 14th, 2016 at 3:43 PM

Friday, March 11, 2016

#9 Michigan 7, #14 Penn State 1

1st period

Sturtz goal, Penn State

UM 0 PSU 1 EV 02:25 Assists: Glen & Goodwin

The puck’s careening around the defensive zone when Cecconi comes to close to gathering it, but a Penn State skaters swipes at it and knocks it toward the net. Sturtz fires a backhander that misses, hits the boards, and travels toward the top of the zone.

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As all of the Michigan defenders in the frame gravitate toward the puck, Sturtz slips in behind the defense and heads for the front of the net. Juha carries up the boards for a split second before dropping the puck back for Goodwin.

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Connor carries Juha to the top of the zone, so Compher comes over to the wall to cover Goodwin. This opens the middle of the ice, and Glen notices; he cuts underneath Motte and gets himself ready to receive a pass off the wall. Both defensemen step forward once he gets the puck, and no one sees that Sturtz is in Racine’s face.

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Goodwin releases a really strong shot without anyone close enough to alter it, and Sturntz, who’s still unchecked, tips it in.

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CONNOR GOAL, MICHIGAN

UM 1 PSU 1 EV 15:14 Assists: Compher

Juha sees that the forechecking pressure is soft, and he has time to think through his next move before passing. He decides his best outlet is up the boards, but his pass misses Kerr and is intercepted by Compher.

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Compher immediately dishes to Connor, who is cutting underneath Kerr. All three PSU skaters in the area jump in to defend Connor; he manages to outskate them all.

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Connor stickhandles once—just once!—and it causes McAdam to almost hit the ice. It seems almost like his muscle memory led him to do so, because he immediately bounces up and tries to push to his right. That’s the Kyle Connor Effect; he doesn’t even make a true move and goalies are worried to the point they’re getting themselves out of position before Connor’s even attempting to shoot. Look at Connor and you can see that this shot doesn’t come off a huge windup; he’s basically going to shovel the puck on net, but his release is quicker and stronger from that position than most everyone else’s in the nation.

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McAdam essentially falls over himself trying to do the aforementioned get-up-lateral-push-butterfly-again move.

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[If you don’t hit THE JUMP you’ll miss more Connor insanity and you’re smart, you wouldn’t do that]

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Ohio State- Part 2

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Ohio State- Part 2

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on March 9th, 2016 at 10:39 AM

Sunday, March 7th, 2016

Ohio State 6, #6 Michigan 5 (OT)

1st period

Joshua goal, Ohio State

OSU 1 UM 0 PPG 10:15 Assists: Brevig

Joshua gets the puck on the wing and cuts to the middle. There’s a 2-on-1 opportunity and he tries to force the pass through the defender, but it bounces off of him…and right back to Joshua.

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Joshua fires a perfect shot just under the bar. Racine read pass and started to push across, but he course-corrects and drops to the ice when he sees a shot coming. He pulls his blocker up but doesn’t get a piece of the puck.

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Kearney goal, Ohio State

OSU 2 UM 0 EV 15:45 Assists: Dalrymple & Parran

Kearney cuts to the slot with Cecconi draped all over him. He skates through the outstretched stick…

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and is able to pull the puck under while flipping his stick over. Racine hit the ice too early and is now forced to try and poke check the puck away.

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Kearney can’t get back to the puck until he’s at a very sharp angle, and even then he’s only able to throw the puck horizontally across the crease thanks to Racine’s outstretched leg and Cecconi’s stick. The puck hits Racine’s skate and goes in because that’s just the kind of weekend it was.

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[Hit THE JUMP for the rest]

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Ohio State- Part 1

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Ohio State- Part 1

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on March 8th, 2016 at 10:05 AM

Friday, March 4th, 2016

#6 Michigan 4, Ohio State 7

1st period

COMPHER GOAL, MICHIGAN

UM 1 OSU 0 PPG 03:41 Assists: Motte & Connor

Connor picks up a loose puck along the boards and gets hit. Both players spin for the puck, with their blades connecting at the same time. The puck rolls ahead, and Connor gains possession again.

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Connor somehow pulls the puck across the defender’s face in the tightest of spaces, and he then throws a backhanded pass to Motte.

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Motte catches it on his backhand and stickhandles for a few seconds to buy time. With only one defender low, he just has to wait for someone to head toward the net to create a 2-on-1. He sees Compher skating in, and the defender seems to as well: he drops his stick to take away the passing lane and seems to do a pretty good job until Motte fires a pass that somehow gets under the stick.

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The puck’s already off Compher’s stick and Frey’s halfway to getting across to square to Compher. That’s not going to work.

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Frey sees that the puck’s rising and going away from the direction that he is, so he tries to jump off his right leg and stick out his left pad and glove. He misses, but when you’re already sliding across the crease and the puck’s headed to the far side, might as well try a Karate Kid stop on the off chance one of the flailing limbs gets a piece of the puck.

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[After THE JUMP: It kind of felt like a four-goal shutout]

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Minnesota- Part 2

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Minnesota- Part 2

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on March 1st, 2016 at 4:59 PM

Friday, February 26, 2016

#20 Minnesota 3, #6 Michigan 2 (OT)

1st period

MARODY GOAL, MICHIGAN

MINN 0 MICH 1 EV 07:18 Assists: Selman

Nieves dumps the puck in so Michigan can change, but Dancs heads in to forecheck. He takes away the passing lane behind the net, so Seeler carries it up the boards and passes across for Glover.

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Glover decides he’s going to spring someone with a stretch pass before he looks where he’s passing; he doesn’t see that Selman’s entering the zone through the same lane he plans to use.

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Glover digs in to try and start skating backward, and Selman uses that gap to his advantage, passing it through Glover’s legs and giving Marody a one-on-one with Schierhorn.

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Marody pulls the puck to his backhand and leaves it there long enough to get Schierhorn to hit the ice. He doesn’t seal the ice, but there’s not enough of a gap to entice Marody to shoot.

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Marody instead pulls the puck around Schierhorn, who makes a valiant effort to poke-check the puck away that barely misses.

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[After THE JUMP: Tyler Motte’s signature shot, deflections, disappointment]

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Minnesota- Part 1

Goal-by-Goal Analysis: Minnesota- Part 1

Submitted by Adam Schnepp on February 29th, 2016 at 11:04 AM

Thursday, February 25, 2016

#20 Minnesota 2, #6 Michigan 6

1st period

KILE GOAL, MICHIGAN

MINN 0 MICH 1 EV 11:19 Assists: Unassisted

Cecconi picks up a loose puck in Michigan’s defensive zone and passes to Motte near center ice. Motte flips the puck to the opposite corner while Michigan changes. Collins picks it up and skates to the faceoff circle when he sees two Michigan forecheckers on their way. He puts on the brakes, takes a step back, and looks to make the outlet pass. He accomplishes the looking part but not so much the passing part; much like my golf swing, he picks his head up early and swings over it.

min fri 1-1

Kile picks up the loose puck and pulls it to his backhand. This forces the goaltender to hit the ice, and he does a nice job squaring to a backhander, should that be what Kile does (and, to be fair, it certainly looks like that’s what he’s going to do). Kile, though, somehow pulls the puck on a string back to his forehand, which leaves the goaltender flopping.

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Kile’s able to slide the puck around Schierhorn’s pad, but it requires a deflection off of Collins’ stick to hit the net instead of going wide.

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[After THE JUMP: a newfound appreciation for the overhead goal cam, and your weekly dose of mind-boggling CCM things]