Everything Fast, Everything Precise Comment Count

Brian March 21st, 2016 at 12:49 PM

3/18/16 – Michigan 7, Penn State 2 – 23-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten
3/19/16 – Michigan 5, Minnesota 3 – 24-7-5, 12-5-3 Big Ten, Big Ten Tourney champions

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[Patrick Barron]

It takes me a while to grasp what a hockey player is like. Part of that is just the game: most of the time even the best players are on the bench, and then there are ten guys trying to control a puck that bounces around. It takes time for a player new to college to establish what he's going to be, and then further time for me to figure it out. Like, I thought Dylan Larkin was a good player. I couldn't describe his game like I could describe Zach Hyman's. Hyman, a senior, was excellent in the corners and capable of bursting from the boards to the net-front with little warning. Once there he had a deft touch at the net front. Larkin… scored a lot.

Like Larkin the year before, Kyle Connor has put up points in buckets without having a distinct on-ice personality for much of this year. That has gradually changed as the season progressed and Connor kept scoring on one-timers from absurd angles, kept dropping saucer passes directly on his teammates' sticks. A debate about which Michigan player should be their primary Hobey candidate went from wide open to probably Connor.

In the aftermath of a Big Ten Tournament in which Connor scored a natural hat trick in nine minutes and left Eric Schierhorn in a heap of self-loathing with this…

…both the Hobey and personality issues have been resolved. Connor for Hobey, because he is an all-around offensive dynamo.

He is fast. Everything is fast. His skating is fast. His shot gets out fast and travels fast. He is precise. Everything is precise. His ability to hit the water bottle from one knee on a one timer is something I've never seen from a Michigan player, even Hilbert or Tambellini. Seemingly every game now sees a saucer pass that elevates itself a good foot off the ice and then lands perfectly flat on a teammate's stick.

On Michigan's rampant power play he calmly checked options high and across before sliding the puck to Motte at the side of the goal. The pass was not remarkable in itself, but the process by which Connor moved the defense around with his posture and the fact that at any moment he might do something Kyle-Connor-esque opened up an opportunity. This was the weekend when Connor went from a guy on an awesome line to the guy on the awesome line, and that's no slight to Motte or Compher. I mean, go back to that Vine and check the pass that got Connor the opportunity and who it's from. JT Compher is awesome. He's not the guy.

-----------------------------

And so Michigan grabs a banner. As banners go it's not exactly a monumental achievement—it's on par with the GLI in games played. But it goes up in the Yost rafters anyway. More importantly, Michigan got another week further away from the alarming Ohio State meltdown. I'll take two even-strength goals allowed on a weekend. Two goals is more or less a shutout for this team.

Even when Minnesota scored three consecutive goals to take the lead on Saturday those felt like things that will happen in hockey games, and not an endless parade of unchecked opponents in the slot. Sorting out the signal from the noise in hockey requires a lot of feelingsball, and my feeling is that the team has responded to the OSU debacle with four of their most defensively responsible games of the season.

Extending that streak of games that don't make fans want to pull their hair out was more important than the actual trophy; mission accomplished. Having Kyle Connor definitively stamp his name on this season, nationwide, is a bonus.

Michigan enters the most bowel-rending postseason known to man firing on at least most of their many, many cylinders. It could all blow up in a second, because hockey. It could all blow up because this hockey team has many guns, some of which point at their own feet. It could blow up because the universe hates you. There are many ways in which doom comes in single-elimination playoff hockey. But if you squint and forget about two weeks ago…

Bullets

On the opposition. I haven't seen any Notre Dame hockey this year but at a glance they look like a typical Jeff Jackson team: fast, disciplined, slightly D-oriented. They score just over 3 goals a game (good for 15th)* and give up just over two (14th). They are reasonably good at everything and not great at any one thing. They're good-ish on the PP and good-ish on the PK. They spread their scoring out. Nobody's got more than 13 goals but six guys are in double digits.

As far as common opponents go, ND split with Penn State, Minnesota, and BU. They're just 19-10-7 but KRACH ranks their schedule difficulty 10th; Michigan languishes in 32nd. Both KRACH and RPI have this a game between #7 and #12, so Michigan got a slight break there—emphasis, however, is on slight. ND is a whisker behind Yale and Harvard.

Should be an exciting game. ND has a lot of draft picks and gets in your face on the forecheck.

*[Yes, the #15 O in the country is almost two goals a game worse than Michigan.]

Welp. Downing picked up a game misconduct for a crosscheck to the head delivered to a player who was on the opposite side of the ice from the puck and not even looking at him. That was his third of the season and brought with it a mandatory suspension from the title game; given his track record I wouldn't have been surprised to see another game added on for an incident that was pure violence without even the whisper of a legit hockey play.

At least that incident seems like a relapse by now. Downing got chippy late in those Ohio State games but so did a lot of Michigan players; when faced with games that were not inexplicable three or four goal deficits Downing's been even keel for the last couple months.

In his absence… Sam Piazza stepped in and Michigan didn't skip a beat. They even inserted Piazza next to De Jong on the nominal top pairing, which speaks both to Michigan's confidence in their D one through six and their confidence in Piazza—who also absorbed Downing's PP minutes—himself. And he's repaid that confidence, with a 1-5-6 line, a +7 rating, and zero penalties in 16 games. That is an incredible luxury to have as your seventh defenseman.

Getting more active. Both De Jong and Boka have been much more noticeable presences near the opposition's goal over the past few weeks. Michigan is doing a lot more rotation between forwards and D, which goes a long way towards making your cycle unpredictable enough to generate 5x5 chances. I still remember a vintage Minnesota team from a while back—the one on which Jordan Leopold, a defenseman, won the Hobey—that was terrifying specifically because they were the best at using their defensemen to generate 5x5 scoring chances. Michigan is not that, but I think they'll be in good shape next year as those two guys get older.

Good lord, the power play. Yes, I expect to score on every power play now. Michigan was 6/9 this weekend. (Nice.) They had excellent chances on two of the three they did not manage to convert; it is a machine unlike any I've seen at M. They lead the country, converting at 32%(!), and are 17/29(!!!) over their last six games.

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[Patrick Barron]

Mandatory attendance rant. There was nobody at this tournament even when Minnesota was there. It's embarrassing, and it's unnecessary. Michigan and Penn State averaged 97% of capacity this year and played in front of a few hundred people. A best two out of three series at Yost ends up with 40-60 times the attendance of this neutral-site farce.

There is no fixing this. Nobody but Minnesota fans and the odd Wisconsin fan will show in St. Paul. Nobody but Michigan fans will show in Detroit. The geographic realities of the Big Ten demand a return to home sites if anyone is ever going to show.

College hockey refuses to acknowledge this. Just yesterday the WCHA commissioner unveiled the "Big Idea". Prepare to be underwhelmed:

While the logistics, of which there would be many, still need to be worked out, the basic idea is to host all three conference tournaments for the WCHA, Big Ten, and NCHC in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area on the same weekend, and stagger the start times as much as possible to allow fans the opportunity to see as many games as possible. While not mentioned in the article, one rumor suggested all three conference tournament finals then being played on the final day of the season at the XCel Energy Center. The idea is to turn the weekend into a festival of college hockey for the city.

That's great for St. Paul, I guess. It's terrible for everyone in the Big Ten other than Minnesota and should be a non-starter. The idea that people who aren't interested in going to their own conference tournament will be convinced because teams they don't play against are also having a tournament is fanciful, and that permanently shuts out every Big Ten fanbase other than the Gophers. It's an idiotic idea. So of course:

The Big Ten seems the most interested at the moment, with B1G deputy commissioner and most hated man in college hockey Brad Traviolia admitting that is one of many potential options they will discuss and consider for the future, saying "We recognize that the attendance hasn’t been what we had hoped" under the current set-up.

College hockey is not big enough for neutral site playoffs other than the Frozen Four, period. I will never understand why they keep trying.

Comments

Lou MacAdoo

March 21st, 2016 at 1:02 PM ^

Their PP is just unreal lately. Those stats are unheard of for this level of hockey. Hopefully they can keep it up. Also, I was very impressed with the Gophers PP as well. Their puck movement was very impressive. I just looked it up and they're actually leading the country in PP percentage with a .28% 

Gordon

March 21st, 2016 at 1:05 PM ^

The overarching point here is that college hockey tournament attendance does not matter.

What matters are conference execs having the opportunity to play big shot in the city hosting the tournament, like every other bowl game and conference tournament.  They want "exclusive" events that they can go to, big name tags with VIP printed on the lanyard, and want to stride around in suits while seeming important.  They want to send out lots of press releases about how the tournament is in town, hopefully with some fancy lamppost banners that the city tourism board paid for, vanity promotions.  That's the whole point.

If you have it on campus, it's all the fun for the fans, but none of the fun for the incompetent executives.

yossarians tree

March 21st, 2016 at 2:21 PM ^

Higher-seeded team hosts. It works for the NF-fucking L.

At first I wanted to mock the "greatest hockey fans" of Minnesota but then I realized it will probably look a lot like that next year at the Joe in Detroit, which will at least thankfully have its head on the chopping block.

stephenrjking

March 21st, 2016 at 2:12 PM ^

In fairness I did see digital billboard ads for the tournament, and the B1G actually went to some effort to decorate the exterior and interior of the arena. More than the CCHA ever did at the Joe, certainly. 

But a huge B1G sculpture outside does not make up for empty seats.

Part of the problem is that MInnesota Hockey is in kind of a rut. There's not a lot of excitement around it, and that depresses fan and media attention. But the tournament just doesn't excite anybody, especially at the prices involved.

Richard75

March 21st, 2016 at 3:01 PM ^

That is almost certainly a TV decision. Which, for once for this sport, is understandable.

Unless you play in the afternoon, there's no way you can get 3 of the 4 games on TV (as opposed to just on ESPN3). Besides, the basketball tournament also plays afternoon weekday games; it's not an affront in and of itself.

Sent from MGoBlog HD for iPhone & iPad

NittanyFan

March 21st, 2016 at 3:47 PM ^

right now the schedule for Friday is:

Worcester, MA games at 4:30 PM (ESPN3) and 8 PM (ESPNU).

Cincinnati, OH games at 2 PM (ESPNU) and 5:30 PM (ESPNU).

Women's college tourney on both ESPN & ESPN2 starting at 7 PM.  Nothing live on ESPN2 prior to that.  Nothing live the entire day on ESPNEWS.

I don't get it --- why not have BOTH hockey regionals go at 4:30 and 8 PM?  Those start times would be best for maximizing attendance.   The 4:30 games could air on ESPN2 and ESPNU; the 8:00 games could air on ESPNU and ESPNEWS. 

ESPN has stuck some lower-tier B1G football games on ESPNEWS --- so that channel would definitely be viable for college hockey.

Yinka Double Dare

March 21st, 2016 at 1:14 PM ^

They seem to think these neutral site conference tournaments can work because the old WCHA Final Five worked, forgetting that was the case because over half of the teams in the league could drive to the Twin Cities. Same drill with the old CCHA ones - damn near everyone could drive to Detroit in 4 hours or less.

trueblueintexas

March 21st, 2016 at 1:23 PM ^

St. Paul resident. I paid $55 to go to one of the Michigan vs. Minnesota games during the season. I even bought a ticket for a friend so I spent $110 total to see one game at Munn Ice Arena. It was a great game and great atmosphere (even though Michigan lost in OT :-(

I thought I would duck out of work early and go to the PSU game at 4:00 on Friday. When I searched for last minute tickets, the cheapest I could find anywhere was $50 for a single game. I decided not to go. I didn't even bother with the championship game Saturday night. 

While I was watching the game on TV Saturday night my wife asks why I didn't go (I know, I have a good wife). I explained the $50 dollars to sit in an empty arena issue which she had already noticed. 

If the place was full, I would have had no issue paying $50 to be part of a great atmosphere. I'm not going to pay $50 while I sit there the whole time thinking I'm the idiot for having spent $50 to there by myself and that's with the most amazing first line I have ever witnessed in my hockey watching days as a strong pull.

stephenrjking

March 21st, 2016 at 2:15 PM ^

You missed out, my daughter and I got in for $50 total at the gate; I think you could've gotten a ticket for $25 or $30. And it was actually a lot of fun being in a vacant arena for the PSU game with the pep band nearby. My daughter and I even got a pic with them. Where did you sit for the game at Mariucci? We probably saw each other without realizing it.

BTW $25 for the worst seat on sale is still way too expensive for this kind of tournament. They should have a cheapie section that is at most $15.

 

BornInA2

March 21st, 2016 at 1:31 PM ^

Also: Agree on the stupidity of neutral-site tournaments. I'm old enough to remember the excitement of both WCHA and CCHA playoff games at Yost. They were series, not single-game elimination. Hell, even the years when they used that wacky total-goals system to determine the winner was more fun that what they do now. I feel the same way about the bball and football 'championship' games. It's silly to watch the camera operators working to hard to avoid shots of empty stadiums/arenas.

jg2112

March 21st, 2016 at 1:48 PM ^

We're not exactly breaking news here, but nobody in Minnesota cares about Big Ten hockey. There were probably more fans at my daughter's U11 hockey game Sunday morning in Edina than there were at the B1G tourney Friday afternoon.

No Gopher fan is going to pay $100+ to go watch a 6-team tourney, especially when there are no true rivals in the conference (the rivals Gopher fans truly care about are UMD, Mankato and North Dakota), and especially after finishing up a 6-week stretch of youth and high school regional finals and state tournaments.

Three weekends ago, the Grand Rapids and Duluth East boys varsity teams played a regional final in front of 7,000 fans in Duluth. Two weekends ago, 19,000 were at the X to watch the boys' state finals between Eden Prairie and Wayzata. 

This tournament isn't comparable to those, and isn't worth the time.

Alton

March 21st, 2016 at 2:06 PM ^

I traveled was in St. Paul last week, and I attended all 5 games.  And I enjoyed it.

Here's the thing.  If Minnesota fans didn't care about the Big Ten, that would be fine.  That would be major progress.  The thing is, though, they care very much about it.  They simultaneously hate the Big Ten and demand that the Big Ten be entirely about them and their experience.  They are furious that half the Big Ten tournaments are somewhere other than in Minnesota, and they completely fail to grasp that Minneapolis is in the middle of nowhere as far as the rest of the conference is concerned.

I swear that double-digit numbers of Minnesota fans (especially, for some reason, the Excel Center ushers) came up to me to bitch, bitch, and bitch some more about the Big Ten.  I'm not a huge fan of the Big Ten hockey conference, but if Minnesota fans hate it that much, it can't be all bad.  By the end of the week, I was joking to my wife that we will be there in Minneapolis in 2046 and a bunch of 80-year-old Minnesota fans will come up to us and tell us how awesome the WCHA was and that they wished Minnesota would drop out of the Big Ten.

 

stephenrjking

March 21st, 2016 at 2:23 PM ^

How vacant was it Friday afternoon? I was sitting in the first level with my daughter behind the goal, even with the faceoff circle in the first period. I saw Alton sitting on the club level at center ice to my right, 20% around the arena in the second deck. I yelled to him. He heard and waved back. Neither of us had anyone nearby.

It was great seeing you guys, btw.

mgobaran

March 21st, 2016 at 1:51 PM ^

What an absolute joy it is to watch the CCM line go to work. May this season never end. Also pissed the Wings didn't pick 2 earlier in the draft last year. A constant flow of Michigan Freshman Phenoms to the Red Wings would be great. 

mGrowOld

March 21st, 2016 at 2:13 PM ^

 

"College hockey is not big enough for neutral site playoffs other than the Frozen Four, period. I will never understand why they keep trying."

Because a CEO or someone else making the decision thinks it's a good idea and is unwilling to change.  I can tell you having spent over 35 years in the business world that many a momumentally stupid ide has been put into action because the "boss" had a brilliant idea and didnt want to hear any objections.

I had a partner for almost 10 years like that.  And any failures were always attributed to lack of proper execution on the part of our associates, not the stupidity of his ideas.  My guuess is neutral ice hockey is suffering a similar fate.

Wolverine In Iowa 68

March 21st, 2016 at 2:14 PM ^

College hockey is not big enough for neutral site playoffs other than the Frozen Four, period. I will never understand why they keep trying.

 

It wasn't broke....so they're going to fix it anyway...

stephenrjking

March 21st, 2016 at 2:20 PM ^

Stages of Dylan Larkin Grief:

September: Man, wish we could have had Larkin on this team.

November: Can you imagine Larkin on this team? That Connor kid is pretty good, though.

January: Wow, that Connor kid is good. Can you imagine Larkin playing with him?

March: Dude. Connor. Wow.

NittanyFan

March 21st, 2016 at 2:34 PM ^

but if the B1G is so insistent on a neutral-ice tournament, why not bump it up a week and hold it at the same time/in the same city as the B1G basketball tournament?

Indianapolis' minor-league hockey team (ECHL) plays in a ~6000 seat arena, it's more "right-sized" then these 19K-seat NHL arenas.  Chicago, DC and NYC must have at least one similar sized arena for hockey.

I know timing wouldn't be ideal, but the above seems a better idea than the present.  Minneapolis and/or Detroit are long-shots to EVER work.

 

Yinka Double Dare

March 21st, 2016 at 2:55 PM ^

Too bad the UIC Pavilion doesn't have ice anymore (UIC was actually in the CCHA back in the day until they discontinued the hockey program), as that would have been perfect, it's about a mile from the United Center, could have easily gone between the two. Instead it'd probably have to be at Allstate Arena. You could hop the CTA blue line between the two and take a shuttle or bus from the Rosemont stop to the arena, but it's not remotely as convenient.

Alton

March 21st, 2016 at 2:36 PM ^

Week 1:  Penn State hosts Wisconsin and Michigan State hosts Ohio State in best-of-3 series.  (Ohio State can't host because they don't have a hockey rink this weekend).  Attendance:  22,500 for 2 games at each site.

Week 2:  Michigan hosts Penn State and Minnesota hosts Ohio State in best-of-3 series.  Attendance:  29,500 for 2 games at each site.

Week 3:  Minnesota hosts Michigan in best-of-3 championship series.  Attendance:  19,000 for 2 games at 1 site.

Total (theoretical) Attendance:  71,000

Actual conference tournament attendance:  15,886

I just don't see why there is even the tiniest amount of thought given to continuing the "neutral" site tournaments.  Note that the average attendance of a Big Ten conference game this season was 7,548.  Even if you throw out the two outliers (M-MSU at JLA and M-PSU at MSG), you still get an average of 7,231.  The average attendance at the Excel was 5,295.

 

Team 101

March 21st, 2016 at 2:49 PM ^

I would do home ice a bit different.

Week One:  Minnesota hosts hosts Wisconsin, Michigan hosts Michigan State and Penn State hosts Ohio State in best-of-3 series.

Week Two:  The winners of week one are reseeded.  On Wednesday evening (to avoid March Madness conflicts), Team 2 hosts team 3 and Team 1 gets a bye.  On Saturday early afternoon, Team 1 hosts the winner of Team 2/Team 3.  Most of Saturday March Madness happens later in the day. 

Three weeks of B1G tourney is a bit too much.

The top three schools all get to host a weekend series.

If a host school does not want to host its series, it can flip the series to the other team's rink or play on a neutral site of its choice.

gwkrlghl

March 21st, 2016 at 3:31 PM ^

They stare at attendance woes and think of everything but the obvious for how to resolve it. This Traviola guy is another guy who is in charge of things for the sake of being in charge of things

Yostal

March 21st, 2016 at 3:42 PM ^

My goodness, to be left longer for the super homer FSN North announcers on Saturday instead of the pseudo-neutral BTN crew.  At least you could understand why the FSN North guys were pulling for Minnesota.