The Oral History of Yost, Part 4: The Way the West Was Won

The Oral History of Yost, Part 4: The Way the West Was Won Comment Count

Adam Schnepp August 24th, 2017 at 12:00 PM

Previously: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

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[West Regional vs NoDak, 1998/Kalmbach via Bentley Historical Library]

The story is almost too perfect. You expect the details of a hockey story to flow from odd angles, to be all jagged edges and shoulders and elbows and yet this story is writerly and neat and almost formulaic. It follows the kind of structure script writers teach in their intro film classes: the protagonist runs through the gauntlet and passes a test that changes them, then uses their newly girded spirit to pass the ultimate test and reap a reward barely fathomable at the start of the journey. From humble beginnings, etc.

The necessity of icing an unusually high number of freshmen dampened expectations at the start of Michigan’s 1997-98 season, but there were enough upperclassmen remaining—Marty Turco, Bill Muckalt, Matt Herr, and Bobby Hayes, to name a few—to keep them from falling off precipitously. Yes, skating four freshmen defensemen was different, but close games can be won with a Hobey Baker finalist, Muckalt, leading the offense and one of the best goaltenders in the country, Turco, as the last line of defense.

And close games—one-goal games, to be precise—soon became Michigan’s calling card. Entering the NCAA Tournament, sixteen of their 42 contests had been one-goal games, including two of the games that got them to the GLI final and two of the games that got them to the CCHA Tournament final. The GLI and CCHA finals against Michigan State and Ohio State, respectively, left their mark. Both were losses and both snapped long streaks for the Wolverines, who had won two straight CCHA tournaments and nine straight Great Lakes Invitationals.

Those losses, however, ended up helping Michigan in their NCAA Tournament seeding. Not only were they placed at the West Regional, which happened to be held at Yost this season, but they were seeded third. This put them on the opposite side of the bracket from Michigan State, the one-seed and no. 1 overall team in the nation, and Ohio State, the no. 6 team in the country yet somehow the four-seed. Two teams they’d had a problem with all year, their two in-conference archrivals, were on a collision course.

That didn’t mean that Michigan’s road to the Frozen Four would be easy, though. North Dakota, the defending national champion and no. 2 team in the USCHO poll, was waiting in the wings. Michigan would have to fight the temptation to look ahead to that game and first dispatch six-seed Princeton, which made the Tournament by winning the ECAC and was listed last in USCHO poll’s “others receiving votes” section.

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Mel Pearson, assistant coach: Weird game. It just seemed like we were either looking ahead or...there was something going on in that game and we just didn’t have it and there was nothing going right for us. I think part of that was Princeton but I don’t think we respected them enough as a team. They worked hard and they didn’t give us anything and I think we just thought we were going to come in and throw down our sticks and they were going to fade away and we’d blow them out and go into the regional final but it didn’t work out that way.

Innocent play from the sidewall down near the zamboni. I can’t even remember who threw it at the net but somehow it hit a couple guys in front and went right between the goalie’s legs. We didn’t even have a player in front of the net. I think it went off of one of their players and went in the net. Once that goal went in it just seemed like, Okay, here we go. The crowd got into it a little bit. Princeton had played an absolute great road game. They didn’t let the crowd into it for the most part but once that goal went in we started to play better.

The thing I remember is it was just a weird goal, literally. One of our guys backhanded it towards the net, it hits one of their guys, a defenseman, goes off a skate between the goalie’s net and it’s in. It’s like, there’s nobody there. It’s one of the weirdest goals I’ve ever seen. Did we have anybody in front? I don’t think there was. It’s strange. It’s just like an act of the hockey gods.

[After THE JUMP: The hockey gods have a field day]

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Unverified Voracity Mints Three Dollar Coin

Unverified Voracity Mints Three Dollar Coin Comment Count

Brian May 31st, 2017 at 12:24 PM

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[Marc-Gregor Campredon]

Baseball returns to the tournament. They kick off their tourney run at 1 on Friday against Florida Gulf Coast. Michigan was one of the last four teams in after a bit of a slump to end the season; they've got excellent pitching and questionable bats.

The Zaire holdup. Former ND quarterback Malik Zaire is going to grad transfer somewhere, and reports have suggested that if it can be Florida it will be. This is the holdup on UF's end:

The SEC has always been stricter on graduate transfers than other leagues, largely because some coaches disapproved of Ole Miss getting a waiver to enroll Jeremiah Masoli from Oregon in 2010, especially when he didn’t complete a graduate degree. So it put some rules in place, one of which restricts schools from taking graduates transfers for three years if their previous transfers didn’t work out academically. Well, Florida had two graduate transfers in 2015 that didn't meet academic benchmarks, so technically they shouldn’t be able to take Zaire -- unless the rule changes this week, allowing the SEC to drop all pretense that academics matter in this discussion.

Florida should know one way or the other soon, and then Michigan will know if they'll be taking on Zaire or (probably) redshirt freshman Felipe Franks in the opener. Zaire's done pretty well in sparing time over the last three years, completing 59% of his 98 attempts for 8.3 YPA and a 6-0 TD-INT ratio. It would be better for Michigan if the Gators did not have that option, and that's why everyone expects the SEC's grad transfer rule to go by the wayside in the near future.

Spartan blackout nearing its end. After months of nothing, the wheels have started to turn in East Lansing:

Blackwell's contract had been extended by a month twice, which struck me as odd by may have been required for the school's now-concluded Title IX investigation. With that complete a decision from the county prosecutor can't be far behind. Probably.

Meanwhile it was revealed today that former MSU WR Keith Mumphery was expelled last year for sexual misconduct. If the anonymous trio ends up booted, as it appears they will be, that's five in two years. 

Somebody still writes for ESPN! Congratulations to Kevin Pelton, the last man standing. He's got a fascinating piece on the emergence of the pull-up three pointer in the NBA. This is relevant to Michigan's interests since they've seen the same thing happen over the last few years with Nik Stauskas and Derrick Walton. The pull up 3 is a very very average shot even for guys who are the best at it, but the threat of it opens other things up on the pick and roll:

Portland point guard Damian Lillard, whose 445 pull-up 3-pointers since 2013-14 rank him third in the league over that span behind Curry and James Harden of the Houston Rockets, recalls learning the intricacy of pick-and-roll play from a trainer in 10th grade.

"He would always tell me, 'Everything is a setup,' " Lillard said.

The ability to shoot the pull-up 3 changes the way opponents defend pick-and-rolls and isolation plays, forcing them to come out higher to be able to contest a deep shot off the dribble. Lillard says he feels that difference on both ends of the court.

"You just know that you've got to be more in their space," he says of defending a player who can shoot the pull-up 3. "I know when a guy gives me space and I come off the pick-and-roll clean, that's a shot that I'm looking for because people want three points over two points now, especially with so many guys that can take and make that shot. So when I'm guarding a guy like that, I'm aware of it."

Here is a chart of pick and roll efficacy versus pull-up threes attempted for NBA players:

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Michigan fans are nodding at that slope. This is especially relevant to our interests because Michigan was about to find out what happens at the very lower end of that scale when Xavier Simpson stepped into Walton's shoes. Simpson was just 5/19 on threes last year and just about all of those were must-take catch and shoots.

Now they're likely to be on the higher end of the scale. Jaaron Simmons is coming off a season where he took a whopping 104 jumpers off the dribble, per Synergy, and managed exactly 1 PPP on them. That was 87th percentile. He was at 1.16 PPP last year when shooting off the dribble after accepting a pick and roll; that was 88th percentile. His eFG in those situations was 58%—ie, insane.

Amongst D-I players with at least 50 PNR pull-ups last year Simmons was 11th in PPP, and the folks around him are almost exclusively low-low majors. Two notable exceptions were #9 Markelle Fultz, the probable top pick in the NBA draft, and #2 Derrick Walton.

Muckalt more or less done. Also: Flin Flon! George Sipple confirms Tech Hockey Guide's report that Bill Muckalt will be Mel Pearson's second assistant. Tech promoted assistant Joe Shawhan.

In less relevant hockey news, today I learned that Pearson is from a place named "Flin Flon," which is a silly name to give to a place. Pearson is now the only person you know who worked in a zinc plant:

“I did a little bit of everything,” Pearson said. “I worked in the zinc plant one summer. I went underground at North Main for a couple summers, working in the steel shop, straightening steel and sharpening up. I had to fill in at the changehouse one year, too. I enjoyed it. You meet a lot of really neat people there and learn about the industry and the mine itself and how things operate.”

Flin Flon is a remote town of 5k. Very remote:

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And its name was acquired in the usual way:

The town's name is taken from the lead character in a paperback novel, The Sunless City by J. E. Preston Muddock. Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin piloted a submarine through a bottomless lake where he passed into a strange underground world through a hole lined with gold. A copy of the book was allegedly found and read by prospector Tom Creighton.

When Tom Creighton discovered a high-grade exposure of copper, he thought of the book and called it Flin Flon's mine, and the town that developed around the mine adopted the name. Flin Flon shares with Tarzana, California, the distinction of being named after a character in a science fiction novel.

The character of "Flinty", as he is locally known, is of such importance to the identity of the city that the local Chamber of Commerce commissioned the minting of a $3.00 coin which was considered legal tender amongst locally participating retailers during the year following its issue. A statue representing Flinty was designed by cartoonist Al Capp and is one of the points of interest of the city. In 1978, the National Film Board of Canada produced the short documentary Canada Vignettes: Flin Flon about the origin of the city's name.[4]

This has been today's MGoDiscussionOfCanadianSmallTownNames.

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Hello: guy. Hockey has added this person:

Becker is an odd duck. He'll be 20 before he arrives this fall; unusually for an overager he was drafted. (In the seventh round, sure. Still: odd.) He was a Wisconsin commit who got thrown back in the pool when Mike Eaves was fired. His second try at a commitment was Tech.

Becker had a 16-12-28 line in 49 games last year. At 19 that's a statline indicative of a bottom six player. He's a big dude at 6'4", 198. More details at Tech Hockey Guide.

Also in hockey recruiting:

I've seen Norris anywhere from late first round to late second in draft projections; Pastujov seems to be moving back up into the third or fourth round range after an injury-plagued year or two. Chris Dilks recently profiled him:

After being considered one of the top prospects in his age group, Pastujov missed all but 5 games of his U16 season, and all but 14 games of his U17 seasons with the NTDP due to injury. He also missed a handful of games this season due to injury. I have no idea on the likelihood of re-occurrence. But even if he remains healthy, he has missed a lot of key development time in the past few years. …

NHL Central Scouting omitted him completely from their mid-term rankings before placing him 80th on their final list, and he followed that up with a point-per-game performance at the World U18s, which probably helps. There’s likely to be an extremely wide range of opinions on Pastujov though, just because there’s a tantalizing ceiling, but so little in terms of track record to go on.

If I were picking, I’d probably start looking at Pastujov as early as the late-second round. I have serious concerns given his injury history, but high-end scoring ability like he potentially has is going to be very hard to come by in this Draft.

Pastujov was a big big deal when he committed to Michigan; with Norris he has the potential to insert some of the top end scoring last year's team so badly missed.

Golazo. Francis Atuahene did this in a US Open Cup match:

Unfortunately for Michigan, Atuahene was about all they had going for them last year as they finished 4-11-4.

Etc.: Ryan Veingrad beats cancer, walks on. Florida opener set for 3:30, which is not at the same time as Bama-FSU. Northwestern scatback Solomon Vault will miss the 2017 season with injury. I am honor bound to link assertions that adding Rutgers and Maryland was a dumb long term move, but Delany's got his 20 mil so he don't care.

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Report: Bill Muckalt Returning As Assistant

Report: Bill Muckalt Returning As Assistant Comment Count

Brian May 27th, 2017 at 12:20 PM

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I have not heard of Tech Hockey Guide before but it seems credible after a brief review of its twitter and the site itself. They have news:

Michigan Hockey News also reported Muckalt's departure from the Tri-City Storm, so 1) he's taking a new job and 2) the Tech people say it's not at Tech. That's solid.

Muckalt was Pearson's first hire when he got to Houghton and he's getting the band back together at Michigan. Given the results the first time that's probably good news. Muckalt was upwardly mobile in the hockey coaching ranks after departing Tech, landing a job as a USHL head coach/GM, and should bring recruiting chops. Tech Hockey Guide credits him for finding some gems in the rough in his tenure there; when Pearson hired Muckalt at Tech his ability to make it rain recruits was a major factor:

“I always admired his tenacity, his work ethic, his character; with his background it was a no-brainer hire for me,” Pearson said.

Pearson also eyed Muckalt for his own recruiting skills. “He’s such an out-going guy. You need someone who is personable and not afraid to go out on the road and work hard.”

If Steve Shields sticks around as the goalie coach—and given the results Michigan should be working overtime to make that happen—that would complete Pearson's staff.

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Wiseman In, Powers Out

Wiseman In, Powers Out Comment Count

Brian May 5th, 2017 at 1:46 PM

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Wiseman will stay behind Michigan's bench

Per George Sipple of the Detroit News, Brian Wiseman will continue in his capacity as a Michigan assistant coach under Mel Pearson. Billy Powers will not. FWIW, I've heard from various sources that Wiseman was doing yeoman work in a difficult recruiting situation the last few years; he's probably a good guy to keep around. I have not confirmed but suspect that he was the driving force behind Michigan's brilliant 2015-16 umbrella power play, as well.

Sipple has a list of potential second assistants for Pearson:

Madden is unlikely since he is an AHL coach who has a good shot at moving up to the NHL ranks in the near future. As previously mentioned, Muckalt is a USHL head coach/GM; I have no idea whether being an assistant at Michigan is a move up or down in terms of status. Some guy who seems to know what he's talking about on the USCHO message boards asserted that someone in Muckalt's role is probably pulling down 90-100k a year; Powers made 138k this year. Michigan can offer a major salary bump for him. Sipple had previously asserted that unless Muckalt was the new head coach at Tech he expected him behind Michigan's bench.

Tamer and Komisarek are both former Michigan defensemen who had long NHL careers. Tamer is currently an assistant for the USA women's team. Komisarek just retired from the NHL in 2014 and returned to Michigan to complete his undergrad degree; he was working with the team as a student assistant. Neither has the resume of Muckalt but both are very familiar with Pearson.

I'd imagine Steve Shields would stay on as the volunteer goalie coach since he goes way back with Mel and did great work this year with not one not two but three goalies.

As for Powers, this would seem to be a natural fit:

That might not be as much of a recruiting boon as it seems. Most NTDP guys are already committed to a college by the time they join the program. Having Danton Cole around certainly didn't help MSU's recruiting efforts. But it can't hurt.

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Pearson Official, Bill Muckalt Likely Assistant

Pearson Official, Bill Muckalt Likely Assistant Comment Count

Brian April 24th, 2017 at 10:57 AM

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Mel Pearson has been officially announced as Michigan's hockey coach:

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Mel Pearson has been named the University of Michigan's head coach of ice hockey, as announced today (Monday, April 24) by Warde Manuel, the Charles F-ing Woodson Director of Athletics. Pearson, who becomes the ninth head coach in program history, returns to Ann Arbor after previously serving 23 seasons as an assistant coach for the Wolverines.

In addition, Detroit News hockey writer George Sipple asserted this on WTKA this morning:

That would be bad news for one of Billy Powers and Brian Wiseman, the current assistants.

UPDATE: it sounds like John Madden, currently head coach of the AHL's Cleveland Monsters, will not be the second assistant.

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