1/8/2016 – Michigan 9, MSU 2 – 12-3-3, 3-1-1 Big Ten
1/9/2016 – Michigan 6, MSU 3 – 13-3-3, 4-1-1 Big Ten
The denigration of the Michigan State hockey program happened gradually and then suddenly, like bankruptcy. After Ron Mason retired he hired his buddy Rick Comley from Northern Michigan; he turned the Spartans into Northern Michigan. Comley retired and Michigan State hired a program alum whose most recent coaching experience was something along the lines of girl's high school hockey 20 years ago. I forget what it was exactly and, following Mark Hollis's lead, decline to look something like that up.
This has gone about as well as you might expect. MSU has made the tournament once since 2008, that from a 19-16-4 season in Tom Anastos's first year that saw a quick first round exit. Anastos's brand of hockey—Ron Mason, except defensive—has imploded into itself, leaving MSU one of the very worst teams in the country. At the moment they are 54th of 60 D-I teams in RPI. They've been headed in that direction for a decade.
And Michigan keeps losing to them.
Since Michigan's own slide began, time and again they have encountered the Spartans in the second half of a season spent on the bubble and dropped games to crappy teams that came back to haunt them. The collection of problems that killed Michigan's tourney streak is large and frustrating, but the second-most infuriating trademark of the drought squads has been their ability to get your hopes up just before a NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING loss to Michigan State.
Oh, hell, here you go:
- 2015: Michigan goes 3-2, losing a pair of 2-1 games in which a dude with 8 goals all year scores the GWG early in the third. The crippling final loss sees Michigan outshoot MSU 38-19.
- 2014: Michigan eats a humiliating 3-0 loss in the GLI, then blows a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3 on the penultimate weekend of the final season. They miss a bid by one game when they lose to PSU in the opener of the Big Ten Tourney.
- 2013: A night after whipping the Spartans 5-1, Michigan loses 7-2. They do win the subsequent three games in the series. /waves tiny "punt" flag
It is very painful to lose to Michigan State because when they do score they spend the rest of the game stacked up like cordwood in the crease. Watching these things happen while envisioning big red down arrows next to Michigan's pairwise ranking has been an unpleasant experience, to say the least.
So here's to that not happening, even a little bit, last weekend.
I've spent most of this year disengaged, as you do when you aren't expecting much. I have been waiting for a sign that I should allow my emotions to get involved with this hockey team, and this weekend might have been it.
It was another rote walkover of a bad team, but let us not turn up our nose at rote walkovers of bad teams. There have been plenty non-walkovers of bad teams in the recent past. There turns out to be something to the art of not losing to teams you should not lose to.
I admit I was worried early on Saturday. @YostBuilt kept tweeting "don't lose 2-1" and I was like "please stop tweeting that" in my head. MSU came out with save-our-season energy; Michigan got one shot in the first ten minutes. MSU scored.
The script goes one of two directions then. It goes either to another hat-eating, silent-cursing loss that looms over your season, or Michigan limbers up the machine guns and makes Jake Hildebrand look like he's singlehandedly fighting World War I again. 18 of the 19 players chose Door Murder Hildebrand, and Michigan has no arrow next to its RPI at all.
That's all you can ask for when you play a team as bad as Michigan State. On to the next opportunity to not blow it.
Player nineteen. If you follow me on twitter it will not be a surprise to you that I thought Michael Downing had a really bad day. Downing gave up two breakaways in the first 21 minutes, one on a bad change, the second when he made a very inadvisable D-to-D pass, managed to recover from that due to MSU incompetence, and then got stripped of the puck at mid-ice anyway. Later he took two penalties, both of which I thought were legitimate; MSU scored on a 5-on-3 resulting from one to bring the game sort of close.
In between he did more of those Downing things where he decides to go nail a player coming out of the zone. A couple of these worked but he gave up at least one odd-man rush as a result. I will never understand why he chooses to do that or why he hasn't been screamed at until he stops doing it—the upsides there are so low and the downsides so high.
Downing is a bad decision machine and I find it inexplicable he hasn't been benched for a wake-up call. That goes double because Michigan skates seven defensemen most nights and there wasn't a detectable dropoff in play during Downing's three-game suspension.
No line shuffles please. Red loves to throw his lines in a blender from time to time just to see what happens. He usually lets it ride when things are going well, and so we've had a long period where the forwards are relatively settled:
Where X is whoever they're double-shifting with the fourth line. I'd like to see Michigan stick with this going forward; Motte and Compher have always seemed to play best together, Connor really benefits from their workrate, and the third line is playing really well together. I'm kind of meh about the second line but with the other two rolling and Dancs and Shuart bringing speed and size to the grinding corps it works.
Penalty for hitting too hard. While I though the penalty that put Michigan down 5-on-3 was a legit call, the charging penalty that preceded it was… well… on the one hand, as soon as I saw it I expected a call. But I also thought it was not a penalty.
Hockey's fallen into a situation similar to the one college football finds itself in with targeting. Some penalties get called simply because something legal and impactful looks bad. CFB reviews things, which doesn't help in any way whatsoever because nobody knows what targeting is. College hockey does not.
I dunno. I know we want guys to be safe but to me the pendulum has swung too far the other direction when Kile can plow a guy in the chest and the ref 200 feet away immediately puts his hand up for no other reason than "that looked hurty."
Pairwise bits. As always, it's basically RPI these days. Michigan is 8th. This is relatively good news. Michigan's nonconference opponents have been surprisingly good in conference play, which has kept M's SOS level despite the nature of the Big Ten. They don't have much opportunity to move up into truly secure territory unless they just don't lose the rest of the way; it's more about holding serve and generating a buffer.
This weekend against MSU did little other than help Michigan tread water; anything but a sweep would have been a hit. So, despite being a two-seed this instant, a bad weekend or two puts them right back on the bubble. It will be precarious going forward. So far so good. They are scoring an awful lot.