Michigan walloped a bad CIS team on Saturday, beating Western Ontario 10-1. The Mustangs were not a good team last year and seemingly came to Yost with less than a full complement of skaters; things did not improve with one injury and three ejections. But Michigan hockey has played a CIS punching bag annually and they haven't always looked like that. Since 2009-10, with tourney teams bolded:
- Michigan 6, Windsor 2, shots 33-16 M
- Michigan 4, Western Ontario 2, shots 39-29 M
- Ontario Tech 3, Michigan 2, shots 56-28 M
- Michigan 7, Windsor 3, shots 43-30 M
- Waterloo 2, Michigan 1, shots 35-22 M
- Michigan 5, Wilfred Laurier 2, shots 52-24 M
- Michigan 8, Toronto 1, shots 52-12 M
- Michigan 2, Windsor 0, shots 36-32 M
Beating up on Western Ontario doesn't mean Michigan Is Back, but the trend there is clear. All but one tourney team doubled up the opposition in shots; all but one team that missed was in a relatively competitive game, give or take the goaltending. Not clobbering Western Ontario would have been a real bad sign. Michigan avoided that.
Feelingspuck? Doesn't sound right. Anyway: Michigan felt like a much-improved hockey team. Odd-man rushes, which happened seemingly three times a period during the last few years, were restricted to one early two-on-one and a breakaway when Quinn Hughes's stick broke. Meanwhile Michigan's breakout impressed with the diversity of approaches they took and their success at breaking the WO forecheck.
The forward corps is still short on talent, with two or three guys who would ideally be third-liners on the top two lines and a questionable bottom six. On the other hand, the return of Cutler Martin to defense—where I've always liked him—gives Michigan seven defensemen ranging from competent to excellent. Michigan has almost never had the kind of defensive depth they have this year, and with a more organized team supporting them and two good goalies backing them up Michigan could find success as a grind-it-out outfit that wins games 3-2 and 2-1.
Nobody wants Michigan hockey to look like that long term but beggars can't be choosers this year. If they get to the tournament, that's how.
[After THE JUMP: player-specific takes and a feel for the season.]