3/11/2016 – Michigan 7, Penn State 1 – 21-7-5, 11-5-3 Big Ten
3/12/2016 – Michigan 6, Penn State 1 – 22-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten
this will not go well for you [Bill Rapai]
This used to happen with some frequency: a not-bad team would walk into Yost Ice Arena and get hamblasted. By the second period of Saturday's game they'd have given up on everything except petty revenge, things would get increasingly sloppy, and at some point a combination of angry penalties would yield a 4-on-3 power play. We waited for the 4-on-3 every weekend, and got it most of the time.
Goalies were chased. Michigan replaced theirs voluntarily. The students chanted "goalie goalie sieve sieve sieve" at the various netminders they'd seen. People came perilously close to running out of fingers for the goal chant. Yost roiled; students right behind the opposition bench tried to get players to quit hockey on the spot.
I missed the Brendan Morrison-led heart of this era, when some local pizza marketer spent Michigan hockey games with his head in his hands moaning "why no why." Ten goals seems like a safely absurd number to offer free pizza after, and then this kid wanders out of British Columbia with the puck on a string and you go from business to charity overnight. I did catch the tail end. Even a slightly less rampant Michigan was electric. The Comrie-Cammalleri team was a ridiculous goal factory, and the subsequent Hensick/Porter or Hensick/Hilbert years didn't come up too far short of that ambitious mark.
Yost then was a revelation for someone raised on genteel Michigan Stadium, black as the ancient wood that held the stands up. People would scream things, terrible things. Yost got in people's heads. It was not uncommon for opposing players to squirt water in the vague direction of their most persistent hecklers. Lake State's coach tossed expletives back into the crowd like he was playing curse word tennis. Incidents where hockey parents lost their cool and tried to fight the entire section became so frequent they had to move the visiting team's ticket block across the ice.
The team was not responsible for the edge of danger that made Yost infamous, but they did inspire the utter lack of mercy with the product on the ice. I mean, I didn't get into Michigan hockey to the point where I started shaking uncontrollably during NCAA tournament games because things were reasonable and fair. I got into Michigan hockey because I wanted to see someone set on fire, and then taunted about how stupid and flammable they are.
Michigan set Penn State on fire this weekend. PSU limped in down multiple skaters due to injury, but they are a good team, a well coached team, and Guy Gadowsky has assembled a bunch of guys who can fly. Michigan struggled with their speed early, especially on two early power plays where PSU's aggression hardly let them get set up.
That's the way to play Michigan if you can hack it. They're not great at breaking out of their own zone and can get disrupted by a fierce forecheck. Penn State just about managed it for a period and then faded a hair in the second, surviving for the most part despite a flurry of chances. Michigan was up 2-1 and I was concerned because the lead probably should have been larger. Michigan tends to give up a lot of goals, you know.
Not on Friday. The third period featured one of those goal avalanches where Michigan turns a competitive game into a laugher over the course of three minutes. Kyle Connor snapped in another one-timer from his knees or his back or whatever. Like all Kyle Connor one-timers it was uncannily accurate and virtually unstoppable. That ended the competitive portion of the weekend; Saturday was about whether or not Michigan could crack a shot per minute. The 4-on-3 power play happened, of course, and there was even a brief period of 3-on-3. I can't remember the last time I saw that.
So you're looking at this team and Yost is alive, mean and angry, for the first time in a long time, and—oh right last weekend Michigan got swept by Ohio State thanks to an astounding 13 goals allowed, many of them resulting from Michigan turning the flamethrower on itself.
I hadn't been actually mad about a home game since I'd dialed it back after the Mac Bennett injury against BGSU. I'm into this team enough now to leave a game with Yosemite Sam smoke issuing from my ears if, say, they blow a 2-0 lead by allowing six straight goals of an increasingly clownshoes variety. Which they did.
So I don't know, man. I've been saying I don't know what to expect from this team on a nightly basis and in response they've decided to up their amplitude even further. We know they're in. We know what they look like when they're locked in. They look like the apocalypse on skates. We know what they look like when they're thinking about something other than the opponent in front of them. They look like a man playing spin-the-bazooka.
We don't know what Michigan looks like against a tourney team. The last time they played anyone likely to get an at-large was when they travelled to BU sometime in the 1860s. I fear that a disciplined ECAC team comprised largely of 24-year-olds may be a shock to the system, but equally anticipate than anyone going up against the kind of wheelin'-dealin'-saucer-passin' magnificence the CCM line comes up with will inevitably be left consoling a goaltender and possibly a pizza marketer.
It is almost time for the most terrifying thing in sports, and we are approaching it with a team that could do literally anything. If this is the last team Red Berenson ever coaches he dies like he lived: charging headlong into death or glory with flame in his eyes.
Dang, Nieves. The Boo Nieves we saw this weekend is the best-case version of Nieves. He was big, fast, agile, and deft with the puck. He drove a ton of play. That's the guy we were hoping to get when he was a second-round pick.
It's not that he's been necessarily bad; he's been a scoring-line player for the duration of his career and he has put up points. But he's never seemed to outclass his opposition. This weekend he did, maybe for the first time. Better late than never.
Where did this passing come from? Over the past couple months of the season Michigan has become an incredibly slick passing team when they are on the attack. Alex Kile had the sweetest pass of the series when he backhanded one from behind the net that fooled every Nittany Lion on the ice and resulted in a goal. It was one of many chances generated by Michigan's vision.
This hasn't happened in a long while: I got frustrated at Michigan for over-passing in certain situations. That used to be a common refrain when Michigan had an off night back in the rampant days. That it's back is, in the wider view, a great sign.
I would still prefer it if Werenski shoots when he's in the slot, though.
Downing: still sane. Haven't had much to complain about with him for a while now, even during the OSU series. I think the switch has flipped there. I haven't seen him generate an opposition odd man rush with excessive aggression much, if at all, since that MSU game he was horrendous in.
Boka: offensive upside. Michigan's been activating their D more over the past few weeks and Nick Boka has been a beneficiary. Not so much on the scoreboard but in terms of gaining and keeping the zone and handling the puck, Boka has given some indication he can help fill the shoes Werenski is likely to vacate next year.
Shuart is a luxury as a fourth liner [Bill Rapai]
Skill down the roster. Max Shuart's goal on Saturday saw him stickhandle through a couple guys and lift a backhand over the goalie; on Friday Tony Calderone scored a slick breakaway goal five-hole. Most years
Pairwise stuff. Michigan slides up just one spot to seventh. Right now they'd be bracketed with Harvard in the first round and (probably) Quinnipiac in the second, which would mean they get shipped east.
The committee does have leeway to move folks around in a seed band in an effort to bump attendance so Michigan might get swapped into Cincinnati anyway—although if I was the committee that wouldn't make much impact on me either way since attendance in Cinci is always a disaster no matter who is in that regional. If the committee really gave a crap about attendance a Cincinnati regional would not exist.
Michigan is locked into the field now, BTW. There is not a scenario amongst the three million or so possibilities remaining that drops them out. They are about 90% likely to be #7 or #8. No other Big Ten team has a chance at an at-large; Michigan Tech has a faint shot at an at-large if they lose in the WCHA title game. Michigan's playing for the banner and the banner only in St. Paul.
Big Ten Tourney stuff. Annual rant: this is the dumbest format for a sporting event that isn't the actual NCAA tourney. They will never get attendance anywhere when they have six teams so spread out for a niche sport like hockey. I do not understand why they don't just have best two of three series on home ice. More games, better for fans, more money. Anyone who doubts this must not have watched the various home-court basketball conference tourney finals, which are always played in tiny gyms that are losing their damn minds.
The holdup is that Wisconsin and Ohio State don't want to reserve their buildings for three weeks because high school state championships use them. Which is fine. If neither school wants to take hockey seriously that's their problem. (In Wisconsin's case their objection is even more absurd since there's another arena the same damn size in Madison that can take the high school events.) That shouldn't prevent the Big Ten from running a much better tournament in every way.
Oh: Michigan gets the winner of Penn State-Wisconsin after a bye. Given the results of the last two weekends that's better than facing the MSU-OSU winner. Minnesota would likely await in the final.
I don't want to get ahead of myself, but… I have heard that Compher will return for his degree, and I'm guessing Motte comes along with him. Werenski is almost certainly gone, but if they get those two guys back Michigan is waiting on Connor and just Connor. If he comes back… hoo boy. I mean, I don't think he's back. But man.