The Black, Burnt Dirt And Grass Comment Count

Brian April 11th, 2011 at 8:45 AM

4/9/2011 – Michigan 2, Minnesota-Duluth 3 (OT) – 29-11-4, season over


There's a track on the Robert Earl Keen live album I've listened to incessantly since I was maybe a junior in college in which it's just him introing a song with a story. It's about how he went to the second Willie Nelson Fourth of July Picnic. Keen lies that he was "about 27 years old" at the time and had a date—his first date ever. He had so much fun in "the Willy Way" that he had to go take a nap.

He woke up from his nap to hear a man on the PA announcing that there had been a fire in the parking lot and that 40 cars had burned up. The first winner: RHP 997. Now, you might wonder why Keen and I remember that so well. In Keen's case it's because it was his car. In my case it's because I've listened to this story hundreds of times.

Keen's obviously devastated by this news, but his date laughs. Keen reminds her "we don't have a ride"; she responds "I do." Keen is introduced to Tarzan and Adonis, who promise to "take care of her, man." She departs. Keen is left with not enough of a car to carbon-14 date and no date when just a few hours ago he having the best time of his life.

He sits down.

He sits down on the grass. On the burnt grass, the black, burnt dirt and grass, and he weeps. "Big, old, giant tears."


I don't know, man.

I've got a post in the hopper titled "the bottom" that details the stunning descent in Michigan athletics that started when Bo died the day before Football Armageddon and to my eyes stopped on January 17th when Greg Mattison was hired away from an NFL team to coordinate Michigan's defense. Since then the basketball team exceeded anything approximating reasonable expectations, Jim Tressel and Ohio State seem to have started a long, ugly process of implosion, and the hockey team deflected its way to a 50-50 shot at glory. We are finally on the way up.

That doesn't mean they are. Hagelin and Scooter and Hunwick just saw something slip through their fingers they'll never get back. I guess Hunwick has a shot next year but a quick look at the roster shows a team that should be happy to extend the tourney streak—in all likelihood this was it for Tiny Jesus. I'm trying to decide whether this is actually worse than last year. At least last year promised this year; right now it's hard to see Michigan back here for years, like when Boo Nieves is a sophomore and whichever 2013 forwards stick might be awesome. Next year's impact help is playing in the OHL.

So I'm not sure when that shot will come again. Maybe it will be next year—hockey is bizarre that way—but despite a season as frustrating as a conference championship can be by the end I was deeply, deeply invested in Hagelin and the kids who gave him a flag and our 5'7" third-string walk-on goalie with a story the Air Bud producers would send back as too hackneyed. The hours after the North Dakota game were one long shuddering as my body gradually remembered things other than pure terror, and to lose—to frankly deserve to lose—after that was like all the horror described last year but with more finality. That happened and won't happen again and it wasn't enough.

Keen goes on to room with Lyle Lovett and carve out a career as a minor country star who doesn't have to give a crap what Nashville thinks, but being a musician doesn't come with eligibility restrictions. I spent Saturday thinking of all the guys who came and went during Michigan's long championship interregnum: Cammalleri and Comrie and Shouneyia and Hensick and all the other brilliant 5'8" guys college hockey makes into gods. Jed Ortmeyer, who has more work ethic in a finger than I do in my entire body and once killed two St. Cloud players in the first five minutes of a tourney game at Yost. Jack Johnson. Milan Gajic and his magic ability to not score spectacular goals. Jason Ryznar and Craig Murray always seeming way better than they were. Al Montoya sitting in the penalty box. Brandon Kaleniecki living inside the goalie's jersey. Jay Vancik convincing me he was an NHL player. Bob Gassoff, who I once screamed "why even give him a stick?" in the general direction of.

I wrote about the fans and thought I'd write about them after—I guess I am, but not in the way I wanted to. Today we add Caporusso and Vaughn and Hagelin and Langlais and Winnett and Rust and Hogan to the list of people to valorize at some point in the indeterminate future.


As Keen was dripping onto the grass some guy from the festival came up and said "the least we can do is let you meet Willy," but Willy had to go jam with Leon Russell. Many years later he recorded one of Keen's songs as part of the Highwaymen—this is all in the story.

At some point Michigan is actually going to win another goddamned national championship and some of this will be redeemed. Not all of it, though. Shawn Hunwick is never going to do that again, and nothing's ever going to match the Swedish flag and my complete failure to get people to replace all words in the goal cheer with "bork" when Hagelin scores. Things come and go; this one has gone and I'm stunned at how much I miss it already.

Seriously, No Bullets

Why this is so early in the morning. You see, Rudy, the fiancée's dissertation is due today and it's like 350 pages and I edited all of it and at one point there was a sentence with three different serial commas in it and my head exploded and I haven't actually gone to bed yet. So 1) early post because I decided it was now or never and 2) I am going to bed and will see you tomorrow and will bump Tom's weekly when I wake up this afternoon. kthxbye.

Okay, one. Congratulations to Duluth, who got a deserved win. I don't know what it was, but they spent the entire game turning Michigan's defensemen. Were they just blown out from the North Dakota game? I find that hard to believe when they had two days off and Duluth also played, but I hadn't seen anyone get around Michigan's D with that consistency all year. Since that includes UND and some other very good teams I wonder if the semi just took too much out of them.

It's impossible to be mad at a team with no previous titles and so many guys with awesome beards that don't match their blonde hair; congrats.



April 11th, 2011 at 9:20 AM ^

not a huge hockey follower, yet. love it, just not enough exposure in my neck of the woods.  this post season made me remember how great hockey is though, and how no other sport has a final minute like the last minute of a hockey game.  it is worth the 99 other minutes of game and intermission to sit on the edge of your seat with that gnawing in your stomach as the seconds drip by.  overtime is even better.  it was thrilling, would rather have won, but all i can ask is that i am entertained, not embarassed and have some momentum for next season.


April 11th, 2011 at 10:07 AM ^

Something humanities related if memory serves me right. Though I guess it could be something in the lighter social sciences.

I just know it's not something thas has immediate career prospects beyond being a professor.


April 11th, 2011 at 5:15 PM ^

I'm pretty sure Brian mentioned she's working on a food studies project (in the context of eating well at his fiance's conferences.) Didn't mention the discipline, but most food studies comes out of either history, anthro, sociology, or public health. Potentially public policy but it's generally less quant and more qual than would be normal in public policy.


This does, of course, raise the question of the locational inflexibility of the academic job market. Can Brian still do mgoblog if he's not in AA?


And congrats to her.


April 11th, 2011 at 9:25 AM ^

I think the hardest part about this game is that there's no lesson.  I had said it and I see that, generally, Brian agrees.  Losing somehow makes more sense when it's part of a larger lesson.  This one doesn't seem to come with anything we didn't already know.


April 11th, 2011 at 9:39 AM ^

Methinks the boys played the championship game Thursday night.  It was a Pyrrhic victory.  The collective minds and bodies were tapped for UMD.  It was a memorable run though.


April 11th, 2011 at 9:48 AM ^

You've got at least one more member of that club, The Road goes on Forever and Merry Christmas from the Family are awesome and make me weep for what country music could be. but won't. 

I love the picnic story and think it's great that Brian mentioned it.   


April 11th, 2011 at 10:00 AM ^

I still am.  the penalty differential and the intent to blow the whistle, just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  If we had lost to No. Dak. I could have taken it, they were clearly better,  but I hate losing to teams I feel are inferior. When we played 5 on 5 hockey, we were better, but the 5 on 5 hockey was always disturbed by another PK. Or another whistle every 15 seconds.  The first period was what the whole game could have been, had the zeebra's stayed out of it. I am bitter.and always will be! reminds me of the Miami game last year in the regional final!!


April 11th, 2011 at 10:13 AM ^

because that team was up a man for 20% of the game.  From the opening whistle, all I saw was Gordon Bombay's team somehow wearing Bulldogs unis.  "TAKE THE FALL!  ACT HURT!  GET INDIGNANT!"  With as many times as they went down with minimal contact, you have to wonder how they ever made a national championship game.


April 11th, 2011 at 10:38 AM ^

Honeslty, I thought most of the refs calls were the RIGHT call.  Michigan got hit with a lot of penalties because they commited a lot of penalties.  

That's what happens when you get a lot of forwards going around defensemen--they start trying to grab, or trip, or hold or do ANYTHING to prevent the other guy from getting a clean shot.  It leads to a lot of penalties.


For a brilliant case in point, and one that is really this game in microcosm, look at that weird hook/tackle/facemask thing that happened later.  Defenseman got burned--on the power play-- and was forced to basically tackle the UMD forward.  It happened like that all game.

UMD didn't have to fake anything.  Michigan deserved most of the penalties it got. 


April 11th, 2011 at 11:13 AM ^

If the penalty was the same one I was thinking, it was the right call to take it. I was always taught to take the minor instead of letting someone blow by you if you were the last guy to beat.

But you're right, the penalties were deserved. M did not outplay them and it was pretty obvious, looking at it and looking at the penalty differential.


April 11th, 2011 at 11:36 AM ^

Which one is the cause of the other?  They were down a man for long stretches in the first period.  Were they tired to start the game or were the seemingly one-sided calls the reason they were tired lat one and took more? 

The hook around the head?  Good call.  The hit into the boards/official after the whistle?  Good call. 

However, a couple of the calls along the boards?  Not so much.  The amount of times UMD players dropped like they'd been sniper shot in the middle of the ice?  It looked like a soccer match in Italy and was a bit disgraceful.  If it was the NHL, there would have been a couple fights just from that alone.


April 11th, 2011 at 11:45 AM ^

No matter what happened early in the game, they didn't get themselves out of the box. To me, that shows that they were going to make those mental errors that led to penalties. Which came first isn't all that important, because these were obvious, correctable mistakes. The refs weren't calling BS penalties, they were calling penalties when M took stupid penalties.

I didn't see diving to the same extent you did. I thought the referees did an alright job, with the exception of the blown off goal, where the referee took too long getting from the corner to a spot closer to the net. Basically, M played stupid hockey. I don't know if they thought they could win no matter what, whether they got rattled early, whatever. They had several opportunities to stop taking dumb penalties and get themselves in control of the game, and they didn't capitalize on those opportunities.


April 11th, 2011 at 1:03 PM ^

I'm less pissed about the calls against us and more pissed about the lack of calls on UMD.  Hockey East officials have almost no idea what Interference or Obstruction are.  When a player dumps the puck up ice, and the player forechecking changes his route to hit that player after the puck is already at the other end of the ice, that's interference.  When a player changes his skating angle to prevent an offensive skater from chasing down a puck and not to pursue the puck himself, that's interference.  I saw 5 of these go uncalled through that game.  My personal favorite of the calls was the one on Scooter in the 1st as they made a call on him that they failed to call twice in the previous 5 seconds on two seperate UMD players.

To UMD's credit, I suppose, they figured out that they could draw penalties by embellishing borderline calls all night and did so with ipugnity.


April 11th, 2011 at 1:21 PM ^

There's definitely a case there, and now that you mention the Vaughn penalty I remember that being the case at least a time or two. But even if M-D had exactly the same number of penalties that M did (and I won't say that without some serious looking at a torrent, which I don't have) that would have just drawn the advantage to technically neutral, which is really still a disadvantage because M power play != M-D power play.

I thought they took lazy penalties and didn't "get it" until too late that they were going to get burned if they were in the box, and that they were the better team when they were playing 5-5.

I'm not trying to be insulting here, BTW. Good, even great teams have bad days in hockey, it's the nature of the sport. Smart players can make stupid decisions, and that's what happened from my angle.


April 11th, 2011 at 3:36 PM ^

I would only argue that UMD's power play had one affect all night, and that was tiring our players out, and to me, getting our guys out there in the same capacity could have made the difference between winning in regulation and losing in overtime. 

Their power play at least didn't have great opportunities to score.  The one goal they had was an unlucky play where the defenseman cleared the puck right back to the shooter's stick while Hunwick was playing cross-crease pass instead of nearside post.  We cleaned up their power play better than anybody has this entire tournament.

And it's easy to see one team as dominant when they spend more time up a man than another team.  It just naturally progresses that way and can tilt the ice one direction for an entire game.  Like I said, I just kept waiting for the officials on ice to see through the Oscar performances some guys were throwing out there and stop calling penalties that just weren't "national championship game calibur calls".  And they did, it just took them until the 3rd period with about 5 minutes remaining to stop eating the crap UMD was shoveling. 

I'm honestly surprised we didn't take at least a couple roughing penalties after whistles.  I've clocked a few guys for stuff much less blatant than what I saw Saturday.  I thought we were well disciplined for how one-sided things got, especially when you could see the exasperation in some of the reactions after no-calls on UMD that had previously been calls against us.

Yinka Double Dare

April 11th, 2011 at 12:16 PM ^

There was only one penalty that I thought was total bunk (one of the later ones, Melrose thought it was crap too) and frankly, I don't think our guys were better overall in the 5 on 5 in this game.  Fairly even, and UMD was better when it counted at the end.  And the "intent to blow the whistle" call was correct, even if the rule is annoying as hell.  That puck wasn't sitting in the open as in the awful call in the Miami game last year, it was under the goalie.  Hacking away at the goalie several times to jar the puck loose usually gets you hit by a large man in the NHL for your effort and still wouldn't have been a goal. 

I think basically playing like a penalty kill for two periods on Thursday just took a lot more out of them than we thought it would.  They didn't have the same quickness to the loose pucks and were more careless with their puckhandling and passing than usual. 


Six Zero

April 11th, 2011 at 10:08 AM ^

There are those who have grazed immortality with the soft fleshy insides of their fingers, only to see it flutter away like a bird that would later land in the hand of another.

Those few have little reason to fret.  We are no less proud of them, are we?

There are countless others who have never even seen that bird, yet alone been close enough to catch it.

Dude, the NHL looms for many of these guys, and their future remains bright.  And, the miracles of Hunwick notwithstanding, did we really expect them to get there in the first place?

We wish you well, boys.  Thanks for the run :)


April 11th, 2011 at 10:53 AM ^

Editing your fiancee's dissertation is serious above and beyond the call of duty stuff. The only person who edited by dissertation was my Ph.D. mentor and he was contractually obligated to do so. I'm not even sure everyone on my dissertation committee read the whole thing--which is perfectly fine with me. Pass me and throw your copy of the dissertation in the trash for all I care. As long as they passed me, I could care less what came afterwards. And that shit is BORING.

matty blue

April 11th, 2011 at 10:57 AM ^

it's also a real good way to end an engagement.

brian:  "this section here, i'm not sure you make a complete argument.  can you flesh it out some more?"

fiancee:  "hm.  let me see, that would be on page 300?  of the dissertation that i've been working on 60 hours a week for the last two months?  that one?"

brian:  "er..."

i think we can all see where it goes from here.


April 11th, 2011 at 11:31 AM ^

There's "above the call of duty" stuff and then there's "criticizing my life's work are you?" death wishes.  I love my wife and hope to keep her.  So if asked, I'd do everything in my power to help her find an editor.  But it won't be me.  I'm nervous enough reading her rough drafts as it is.



April 11th, 2011 at 11:16 AM ^

Was the horrible bleached blonde hair.  It made all of their players 100% unlikeable to me.

And frankly, beating UND and then losing to UMD was like what it would have been if the Miracle on Ice team had lost to Finland in the gold medal match after beating the USSR.


April 11th, 2011 at 11:31 AM ^

I can't think of a player on any team that I pull for that I wanted a win for more than I wanted this for Shawn Hunwick.  I was at the Notre Dame game a year-ish ago when Hunwick came in in relief of Hogan and set Yost on fire. I'm sure many of you were there, too, and like myself you probably thought DOOM. Shawn who? Wait, he's how tall?? 14 months later, among countless other kudos and achievements, Hunwick has a CCHA tourney title, CCHA tourney MVP, regular season CCHA title, 2 NCAA tourney runs, and an appearance in the National Championship game. And I've no doubt that had we won on Saturday, he'd have taken home MVP honors there, too. Not bad for the little guy who just wanted to be part of the team.

Thanks, Shawn. You'll never be forgotten. 



April 11th, 2011 at 11:43 AM ^

isn't this what being a Michigan fan is all about? I keep telling myself that it's the non-stop heartbreaking losses and rending of garments that makes the big Michigan victories, when they eventually do come, that much sweeter. 

Every single Michigan fan has a "remember when" story about getting their aorta ripped out Indiana Jones style.  Each one like a nightmare sequence from Gilligan's Island where the screen goes watery...

My older brother often retells the story of a guy named "Michael Jackson", of all names, a hard-nosed Washington linebacker who miraculously intercepted a pass that bounced off the helmet of freshman tailback Stanley Edwards in the 1978 Rose Bowl - what would have been the game-tying touchdown. The story abruptly ends, fork stuck in his mashpotatoes and his eyes staring off in the distance.

As for Michigan losing the OT match up agains the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs on hockey this weekend, the team played their hearts out, but in the end someone has to fall.  I think history instructed Michigan fans like me the following about heartbreak:

"There's plenty more where that came from!" :)



Wolverine In Exile

April 11th, 2011 at 11:44 AM ^

I have to say I'm surprised by the general depressive mood of the collective MGoBiosphere. This hockey team over the past two years has been a wonderful ride in the exemplars of what it means to be a fan. This year, while doing a mid-season pirouette in historical hockey style that usually only comes as part of some Herb Brooks sadistic cleansing-of-the-soul-marathon-of-suicide-sprints (I play.... for... Michigan. AGAIN!), we completely changed our fortune, won a conference title, hit the lottery three times in the Russian Roulette that is the NCAA hockey tourney (while arguably being outplayed in 2 out of the 3 wins), and finished the season a well earned OT goal away from a COMPLETELY unexpected national title. All this was done with a goalie who probably should've been starting since his freshman year.... at Albion, no 20-goal scorers on the entire team, our #1 experienced defensemen missing the whole tourney resulting in us playing the Amazing Frosh Penalty Machine, AND experiencing the incompetency of Hockey East officiating. This team is a cause for celebration, not remorse. They did a hell of job, and the default setting to a Morrissey like depression is just really starting to lessen my enjoyment of this blog. Our hockey team even though they have the most titles in NCAA history  isn't UConn women's bball-- we are not given as a birthright a final four appearance, and every time we do make it it needs to be trumpeted and celebrated, and if we win, then break out the Seagram's Gin and call Dr Dre. If we lose play hard, and damn the breaks just didn't go our way, then shake hands and call it a successful season. We didn't give up in any of these games, and frankly UMD just outworked us by the end. We lost to a better team, we had our chances and couldn't cap it (see: Hagelin & Caparusso breakaway in the 3rd after a fantastic Pateryn play), and in the overtime the better team at that point won by capitalizing on our inability to execute (get the puck out and clear it for a proper line change).

So get a grip, suck it up, enjoy the ride we had, and look forward to next year and the year after and after that. If the Rodriguez experience has taught us anything, it's to celebrate the successes that we had long taken for granted. This is one of those times.

turd ferguson

April 11th, 2011 at 12:10 PM ^

I enjoyed Brian's post, but I largely agree with you.  Sports fandom is by nature more pain than pleasure, but if we're crushed with disappointment after every non-national championship season, then the pain-pleasure balance gets so far out of whack that it's not even worth following sports (especially in a sport with outcomes as deeply grounded in randomness as hockey's). 

Thanks to the hockey program for a fun ride.  I'll gladly take a season like that any time you can put it together.

turd ferguson

April 11th, 2011 at 12:24 PM ^

That's part of it, but there's also a "forest for the trees" element.  People have a habit of focusing on the last game -- which is a loss for every team but the champion in a tournament like this -- and losing sight of the full season.  This group delivered Michigan yet another GLI title, CCHA title, NCAA tournament appearance, and Frozen Four appearance.  That's a hell of a season under any reasonable criteria (especially with the randomness of hockey issue).  Even with Michigan-level expectations, I suspect that most of us would have happily taken that season if it had been offered to us before the season began.


April 11th, 2011 at 12:39 PM ^


"I suspect that most of us would have happily taken that season if it had been offered to us before the season began."

Absolutely. No argument on that, whatsoever. But it does come down to the last game, and we were favored to win and played in a manner that made winning impossible. This one was tough to take just because of that. In five years, of course it's great that they made the title game, but in the immediate aftermath it's hard to look at it that way.


April 11th, 2011 at 12:53 PM ^

I think depression is a reasonable response to Saturday's result.  What would've been the reaction in 1980 if after beating the Soviets, the US Hockey Team went out and lost to Finland in the gold medal game?  That NoDak game was a win for the ages and to not come out with anything but the title just seems wrong.  To characterize this team as that kind of underdog coming into this tournament considering they were a 2 seed seems silly, but really, is there any team of the 11 Red has coached to the Frozen Four that seemed less likely to win the title?  We were just sooo close to something really special.

The other component of my sadness is that I just can't escape the feeling that this is probably Red's last crack at a National Title.  Heading into next season, I can't remember a Michigan hockey team the last 20 years where the cupboard looked so bare.  2007 comes close, but that team at least had Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik to anchor a bunch of freshmen.  I don't see that kind of talent in the senior group for next season.  I just can't escape the feeling that we're seeing the end of an era.

I hope I'm wrong.


April 11th, 2011 at 2:26 PM ^

Rationally, if this team won the National Championship it would have been the biggest shock in our hockey history.  Bigger than 1998.  So I don't want to whine like a little girl that it should have happened just because I really really wanted it.  You are right, we should not be upset.

But it's hard to be rational.  It doesn't just hurt to lose a National Championship in OT, it stings . . . alcohol into an open wound stings. 

These are opportunities that are extremely rare and precious, and to see one go up in smoke when it was right in your hand is an empty, empty feeling.  We are the winningest National Championship team in history, and yet even we haven't had a sniff at an NC in 13 years. 

And yet we've done everything right in those 13 years.  We've got a legend for a coach, an iconic venue in Yost, we are a glamour program, we recruit well, we play consistently and brilliantly year in and year out, and our helmet's got wings.  Yet there's those 13 years.  

There is a real fear that it could be another 13 years.


El Jeffe

April 11th, 2011 at 12:44 PM ^

Great post, Brian. Enjoy a well-earned slumber. You're sure the MGoFiancee isn't at this moment poised above you with a sledgehammer for all your dissertation comments? Oh well. That'll come during the first MGoPregnancy.

Oh, and the White Stripes' "Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground" would have also been acceptable as the post's leitmotif.