Saturday, March 09, 2019

Out Like a Lamb

Should I write something? Maybe I'll write something. Don't get used to it. But if I'm going to post thoughts on the message boards I might as well just do it here.

A season that began with (optimistic, IMO, since I wanted to see who would score for this team) national title aspirations on the heels of a Frozen Four appearance last season ended with a whimper, with the Wolverines getting swept out of the first round of the Big Ten Tournament by the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

So ends one of the strangest seasons that I can remember.

Out of the gate, the Wolverines put a ton of pucks in the net, and allowed a ton of pucks into their own net. Through the first 11 games, they averaged 3.72 goals per game for, which over a full season would have put us as the #4 offense in the country, but averaged 3.81 goals allowed, which would be the third-worst in the country.

After the series at Penn State, however, something really weird happened. Despite not changing anything about their system (just re-dedicating themselves to defense), pucks stopped going in at both ends of the ice. Over the next 11 games, they scored 24, allowed 24, which would have put them as the 9th-worst offense and the 11th-best defense over the course of a season. They went 2-3-6 over that stretch, including a brutal 0-2-4 stretch of series against Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Minnesota, with 5 of the 6 games at home. You'd have hoped to win 5 of those games, and they in fact got 0.

Michigan had a pair of good efforts (both ties, shocking) at the Great Lakes Invitational, but ultimately the death blow to the season occurred out in Vancouver at the World Junior Championships where, for the second straight season, the Wolverines lost one of their top forwards for the season--this time their top forward, Josh Norris.

They came back with an inspired win in the outdoor game at Notre Dame, but any hope of a North Dakotian second half came crashing down with an unforgivable, uninspired Tuesday night loss to 55th-in-the-Pairwise Merrimack. Beyond that, a lot of inconsistency, and a horrifically frustrating two-overtime-losses series against Wisconsin when they could have nailed down home-ice advantage in the first round of Big Tens.

All in all, they swept 2 series the entire year (and one was against 59th-out-of-60 St. Lawrence) and only won back-to-back games on three occasions. They played 11 overtime games and won 0. They won the season series with Big Ten Champion Ohio State and lost to two teams that didn't make the Hockey East tournament. They never settled on a goalie until they were pretty much forced to in the playoffs, despite Hayden Lavigne ranking dead last in the nation in save percentage. (Mann is 66th out of 75.) The special teams were both in the bottom third of the nation.

It's hard to point to anything specific as the cause of things going so wrong this year. because there are a lot of candidates. Clearly, having the goalies rank 66th and 75th out of 75 in actually stopping pucks is a big one. But the defense hung them out to dry as well. A lot of really bad turnovers in their own zone and just losing guys in weird spots. (Case in point this weekend--Cecconi threw a no look back onto the tape of a Minnesota player in the slot for the second goal on Saturday, the winning goal in overtime on Friday was an unchecked player right at the top of the crease. Summers seemed caught between trying to break up the cross ice pass and covering the slot and did neither.)

No one really stepped up to replace the DMC line's scoring. Lockwood and the Pastujovs had small jumps in scoring over their career pace, but nobody made that Tony Calderone (18 points to 45), that Cooper Marody (15 points (30ish pt pace) to 51), the Dexter Dancs (12 points to 28), the Tyler Motte (9 goals to 32) jump. Becker stayed the same, Slaker stayed the same, Winborg has gone from 16 points to 8 to 5 in his three years, Cecconi's offensive production went down, Hughes stayed the same.

It really felt like Michigan was just missing a couple of the snipers that they've had for pretty much all of history. Their Corsi numbers were great (2nd in shot attempts, 9th in Corsi For %), but, despite being tied for 1st nationally with Penn State in "close" shot attempts and 3rd in shots on goal from in close, they scored 27 fewer close goals than PSU and despite a 55.4% Close Shots For %, got outscored 51-42 in close, which was 41st in the country.

The freshman class just wasn't that good. That's a ten-man freshman class and they combined for 19-37--56, or 16 fewer goals and 15 fewer points than Kyle Connor had on his own in 2015-16. Now, there was no Connor in this group and there were some productive players/players that improved throughout the year -- I love Blankenburg, Moyle and GVW fit in great with Raabe, Summers chipped in 11 points and was a + on a team that didn't have too many. Lambert had a couple of good weekends down the stretch (though he had a horrendous Friday night in the tournament).

It also really hurt that some guys who should have been playing for them weren't playing for them at the end of the season. Josh Norris was on a 21-goal, 40-point pace, which would have led the team going away and would have put him somewhere around the top 5 in goals and top 10 in points nationally. He was having a breakthrough season and his injury was just killer. Our PP was 19.8% with him, and 10.3% without him (which would be worst in the country over a season).

Bode Wilde was the star of the freshman class and they couldn't get him into school. He ranks 3rd in the OHL in points among defensemen. Add in Luke Martin missing the stretch run, and that was no bueno.

So where to from here? Michigan's fortunes for next year hinge quite a bit on what their sophomores and juniors do. Hughes is most definitely leaving. Beyond that, though? You've got Norris, who I would have expected to go before his injury, also with the drafted juniors in Lockwood, Martin, and Nick Pasta. If all those guys come back, Cam York (projected top 15 pick) does a reasonable Quinn Hughes impersonation, Emil Ohrvall proves to be the sniper they're missing, and John Beecher comes in as that big center we could use, then they'll have a shot to be good. If all those guys bail, next year is going to be interesting-not-in-a-good-way.

I love Lockwood, but out of the juniors I think it's critical that Martin is back. If he leaves then you're replacing Hughes, Cecconi, Martin, and Boka. You'd have Luce, Summers, and Blankenburg back. That'd mean 3 freshmen in the lineup and you're praying to God that Cam York makes it to campus.

Beyond that, you're hoping for Lambert, Moyle, et al to continue developing. I think Blankenburg is going to be really really good. He hasn't been playing defenseman for very long but didn't look out of place and led the team in +/-. He can fly and hopefully his background as a forward will lead to some additional offensive punch. Moyle had 7 goals on like 30 shots, so maybe he's a guy that can take a leap as well.

Lastly, they have to find someone who can stop the damn puck. As I mentioned, Lavigne was last in the nation at actually stopping pucks that were shot at him. Mann's numbers weren't better, but I thought he was outstanding against Minnesota on Friday night and had some really nice games down the stretch. He only gave up more than 3 goals in 3 of his 14 appearances (12 starts) after mid-November and, frankly, I thought they should have played him more. I still think he has a chance to be good if they can get him to slide himself out of position a little less and curtail some of the really soft goals. We haven't had a goalie in 15 years aside from Hunwick, who they got more or less by accident. Gotta find someone who can stop a puck.

That's enough for now. I'm not going back to writing game previews or game recaps, but I'll chime in when I have things to say.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Ohhhhhhhhhhhh See Ya!

Given that I haven't posted anything since May I don't think this is going to be a real shocker to people, but I've decided to take a break from blogging. I realized that I needed to take some time off when Sam Miletic committed to Michigan and I couldn't find the energy to even put up a "Having a Seat Over There" post. Given that the recruiting posts have always been my favorite posts to write, that was an eye-opener.

Let me be 100% clear about this: It has absolutely nothing to do with the team's performance last year. Truth be told, had one more puck ended up in the net against Minnesota-Duluth a couple of years ago, this would have happened sooner. It's been a long time coming, and given that I'm going to be out of the country for the first month of the season, it just makes sense to me to do it now.

I'll still be just as big of a fan as always, I'll still be posting on Twitter (@YostBuilt) on a very regular basis since Twitter is my favorite thing ever, and I'll probably chime in on The Yost Post more often than I have been the past couple of years. If you want to get at me via email, the link to my address is still there. Hell, I'll probably get the itch to comment on the team a few times throughout the year on here and thanks to RSS feeds and Twitter I'll hopefully reach most of my usual audience when I do write. But this site isn't going to be a regular source of information this year.

The past couple of seasons a lot of what I've done on this blog has felt like more of a chore than something I loved doing. I loved writing the recruiting posts and I loved writing recaps of the games I actually got to watch. It was really hard for me to write previews that got increasingly more cookie-cutter and to recap games by watching the MGoBlue highlights--things that needed to be done for completeness, but ultimately were just a pain. 

I play hockey on Friday nights during the winter so I'd miss a lot because of that. A big part of my desire to take some time off, though, is that I sit in front of a computer all day at work and I don't really want to fire up the laptop when I get home anymore. I also haven't had the time to put out the content that I used to put out. I also took a look back at some of the stuff I wrote before I was employed and it was head-and-shoulders better than anything I've written in the recent past outside of the few occasions I've gotten really fired up. Stupid real world getting in the way. 

As far as what the future holds? We'll see. It's possible that next year will roll around and I'll reboot this thing. It's possible that I'll decide I don't really miss writing and this will be an occasional thing from here forward (though I don't expect that since I'm already getting somewhat excited while writing this post). It's possible that once I move back to Michigan (hopefully in the next couple of years) and can actually attend games again I'll pick the coverage back up. It's also possible I'll really miss writing once the season starts and I'll do my best waffle (Brett Favre and Dominik Hasek are my favorite athletes, after all) and I'll be back at it this year. We'll have to see. 

I've had a blast writing this blog over the past 8 years (Dear God, it's been 8 years?) and it's going to be weird for me when hockey season rolls around and I'm not racing to my computer to comment on the games. It's been an unbelievable experience. I've met a lot of great people, made several friends (including a couple of people that became good enough friends of mine and my wife's that they served as a groomsman and a bridesmaid in our wedding, which, to make friends like that makes all the hours I've put in on this site worth it), I've done a lot of cool things, made a (very) little bit of money, and along the way I even got to break a couple of stories (and had the pain of dealing with off-the-record stuff that I wanted to break but couldn't). If I never do more than this, it's been a pretty amazing ride.

I have to thank the following people: Brian Cook and Chris Dilks for inspiring me to start a blog of my own through their excellent work. Bill Rapai for all the photos. Mike Spath, Bob Miller, and the excellent writers from The Michigan Daily and the other fine publications out there for doing all the hard work and writing the stories that I was just able to comment on. Anybody who took the time to read what I wrote, comment on what I wrote, and/or linked to what I wrote (particularly Brian, given that this site would have about 1/3 of the traffic it has without MGoBlog linking to my stories). The folks who emailed me tips from time to time-it was always a thrill to know something (whether I could post about it or not). The SIDs for their excellent work (and Trev for any trouble I may have caused if anyone (incorrectly, I might add) ever assumed he was my source for something). The guys who have suited up for the Maize and Blue over the past decade and a half for cultivating my love of college hockey, especially Shawn Hunwick, Carl Hagelin, Jack MFing Johnson, Jed Ortmeyer, Kevin Porter, and Chad Kolarik. The Children of Yost past and present for making the games so damn fun. It was great to be a part of that group for 7 years while I was around Ann Arbor. And anyone else that I forgot to mention, because there undoubtedly were some.

So yeah. I'm excited to see the newest edition of the Wolverines--I think it will be a much better year. I love outdoor hockey and there will be plenty of it this December with the GLI and the Winter Classic festivities. I'm excited to see if Michigan makes good on last season's report that they were going to have streaming video for this year. I'm excited for any chance I have to get back to Yost. I'm more than excited to see this schedule that we're facing this year. It's going to be one great game after another. I'm excited to see the B1G Hockey Conference and how the college game evolves because of it. As always, FYS and F the O. And I'm hopeful that after some time off, I'll rediscover my love for blogging about all of it. 

Thanks for reading. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Having Some Seats Over There: 3 Prospects Go Blue

Michigan has been busy on the recruiting front over the past month, picking up three new commitments. The most recent--and the one that I'm actually writing about in a timely fashion--is defenseman Nicholas Boka, who just announced his commitment via Twitter.


Boka was among the first seven players to commit to the NTDP U-17 team for the 2013-14 season. He joined fellow Michigan commitment Brendan Warren in that first group. That would make him a 2015 commitment. He's also a former Spartan commitment. Boka is listed at 6'0", 175. 

Russ Bitely called him a "B-Player" (above average) at the Select 15 Camp a year ago:

A good-sized kid who is probably still growing and he has a lot of upside to his game. He is not a flashy offensive-defenseman although he moves the puck well and isn’t afraid to skate it up either. He is quite mobile and plays aggressive. Boka showed some physical play at the back-end and plays sound position as well as controlling gaps. He looks to have pretty heavy shot from the point too.

ProspectScoutingReports.com wrote the following about him:


Nick Boka is yet another talented defenceman on a very solid back end for Compuware U16. Boka is dependable in his own zone, providing stable and well positioned support. Engaging in a physical brand of defence, Boka does very well for himself in puck battles along the boards and will throw his fair share of hits. Latent offensive potential should continue to develop has his skill set suits that branch of development. Boka has good mobility and reads the developing offensive situation allowing for successful transitions. In addition, an under-utilized shot  from the point is another tool Boka possesses. 


USHR liked him when they saw him playing forward:
Michigan State went with big and physical Nicholas Boka. We first saw Boka back in November as a forward and liked him at that position as he simply punished defenders on the forecheck. At the Select 15 Festival he played a simple and composed game and we pegged him at #30 in a deep group. Has good feet for a big guy and plays a pro-style game. Boka is a bit of a projection pick by the Spartans, but a good project to have. The Plymouth, Mich. native put up a 14-22-36 scoring line through 61 games played -- at both forward and defense.
And after the Bauer Invitational:
Michigan State recruit is developing into a big, two-way defender who plays with an edge. Has good feet for a big kid and seemed more confident with the puck on his stick this weekend than at the Select Festival over the summer. 
The Sarnia Sting hold his OHL rights. He was a 6th-round pick, but fell in the draft due to his commitment to the NTDP.

OHL Scout Kevin Hess told MiHockeyNow that Boka is a "Good skating defender that plays on the edge.  He is a punishing defender that finishes a high percentage of his checks.  Great offensive instincts with a heavy shot from the point."

Also pledging to the Wolverines in the not-so-distant past are goaltender Hayden Lavigne (2014 or 2015) and defenseman Cutler Martin (2014). MichiganHockey.net has profiles of both Lavigne and Martin.
Lavigne is a big goalie, listed at 6'3", 190 at the moment. He played for the Wellington Dukes of the OJHL last season and was 9-7-1 with a 2.48/.922. He was a third-round pick of Tri-City in the USHL Draft, but the Dukes are said to be expecting him to return next season.

With the recent commitments of Lavigne and Zach Nagelvoort, and Steve Racine being just a sophomore, that would seem to close the door on Jared Rutledge returning to Michigan after a year in the USHL. It was confirmed that he will not return to the team next season. I wish him nothing but the best (as long as he stays out of the Big 10!), and I'm sorry it didn't work out in Ann Arbor.

Martin hails from East Lansing and currently plays for the Tri-City Storm in the USHL. He's listed as 6'1" 210 and put up a 4-12--16 line with a -2 rating and 74 PIMs in 59 games last year. He was far-and-away the leading defense scorer on Victory Honda in 2011-12, with a 12-22--34 line in 38 games. Only one defenseman in that talent-rich league had more points than him that season (and he had 38 in 40 games), so he seems like he might have some offensive pop in his game.

Storm Head Coach Josh Hauge said the following of Martin: "He can move pucks and keep the game simple, but at the same time he’s got nastiness to him and can be really hard to play against in front of the net."

Martin will again be with Tri-City next year. If Lavigne joins him, I just might have to hit up a couple of USHL games next season. Chicago and Dubuque aren't too far away.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rutledge Leaving the Team? 7 Skaters Make Final Draft Rankings

There was a fair amount of Michigan hockey news today, starting with the news that Jared Rutledge will not be with the Michigan hockey team next year, according to a report on The Wolverine ($ link). The Daily cited this report on their website as well, before amending their story to reflect that Rutledge told them, via text, that he will be returning next season. 

Spath said on the Yost Post message board that he can "100% guarantee" that Rutledge won't be back next year and told me on Twitter that his source is "impeccable". He also mentioned that Rutledge "could return in 2014-15". Since it's a $ link, I won't post any further details, though it's not hard to read between the lines about what's happening or where he might be playing. I have no reason whatsoever to doubt Spath, but it's a little odd that Rutledge is denying the report. I'm sure we'll find out more in the coming days, but I wouldn't expect to see him on the ice next year. Going elsewhere, playing a ton, and hopefully getting his confidence back is probably best for both parties, rather than him splitting time with two other goalies that have college experience and another recruit that was just brought in to compete for the job. Best of luck to Jared, whatever he decides.

Spath's article also has some recruiting news, including a blurb about a player who was supposed to be in the 2013 class but is reclassifying to 2014. We'll talk about that once it works its way out from behind a pay wall.

In other news, NHL Central Scouting released their final Draft rankings today. Seven current and future Wolverines appear on the list:

JT Compher - 34
Michael Downing - 49
Tyler Motte - 84
Nolan De Jong - 111
Alex Kile - 136
Andrew Copp - 142
Evan Allen - 157

2014 recruit Dexter Dancs dropped out of the rankings after being ranked in the midterm. 

Michigan's seven affiliated players on the list is tops amongst NCAA programs. Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth each have six. PSU (2), Wisconsin (2), OSU (1), and FYS (0) combine for fewer ranked players than the other two B1G schools. 

In other news, the OHL is including language in their tryout agreements with players that might make them ineligible for NCAA hockey. No shocker, the OHL are a bunch of dicks. College Hockey, Inc. has reached out to the NCAA for clarification on the matter and should hopefully have an update in the near future.

Billy Powers is being "prominently mentioned" for the vacant UConn coaching job. Bryan Hogan will play in Germany next year. Andrew Cogliano is up for the Masterton Trophy (HT: Center Ice) Cogliano and Hagelin are in the mix to be on the cover of NHL 14. Vote early, vote often. Also, where the hell is JMFJ in that contest? 

Lastly, I'm pretty sure I missed writing about this, but the club officially announced that Mac Bennett will be the captain next year with DeBlois and Copp alternates. That shouldn't surprise anyone as they're the three obvious choices. I love that Copp is wearing a letter as a sophomore. That means we've got three straight seasons (at least) where Michigan won't be turning over all their captains like they did this past season. Andrew Copp man. Andrew Copp.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Having a Seat Over There: Zach Nagelvoort

Even with the emergence of Steve Racine down the stretch, there was speculation that the Wolverines would look to bring in a goalie next season. They've done so, picking up a commitment from Zach Nagelvoort today. Nagelvoort played this season for Aberdeen in the NAHL (he started the season with the Soo before being traded at his request to gain some more playing time). On the season he is 17-6-2 with an impressive 2.10/.936. Since being acquired by Aberdeen, Nagelvoort is 8-1-1 with a 1.66/.949. He ranks 3rd in the league in both GAA and save percentage (though his save percentage is only 2 points out of the top spot).

Despite some great play down the stretch from Nagelvoort, the Wings missed the playoffs. I've been told he'll be with the Green Bay Gamblers in the USHL for their playoffs, so maybe he'll see some postseason action yet!

While he was on the Soo, they posted a long interview with him on YouTube:


Last year he was 10-6-1 with a 2.27/.921 with Traverse City and Kalamazoo in the NAHL.

MGoBlog dug up a quote from his coach in Aberdeen that was very complimentary:

“Zach came in and immediately injected the team with confidence. He is a very confident goaltender and person and it rubbed off on the rest of the team. We know we have a chance to win every night when he is in goal and during the last two months of the season, that was the mindset in every game and one of the reasons the team played so well.” Winter also said that Nagelvoort’s strengths in goal lies within his athleticism. “Zach is a very athletic goalie, who doesn’t give up on plays and he is very quick from side to side. He makes the 2nd and sometimes 3rd saves you need to stay in the game and keep momentum going and you almost never see a bad goal scored on him. I think all that combined with his confidence makes him an elite goaltender at this level.”

This gives Michigan five goalies on the roster for next season, with Racine, Jared Rutledge, Luke Dwyer, and Adam Janecyk. I think it's pretty automatic that one of them won't be with the team next year. Racine you'd figure is a lock and I have a hard time believing that Janecyk would leave before his senior year when he's proven to be at least capable. Dwyer has never really played, and there was talk (though I don't know if it was more than speculation) that Rutledge could go back to the USHL for a year to get some confidence back. Time will tell.

Even with Racine's play, there's definitely an opportunity to earn playing time. I'd imagine that Racine gets first crack at the job, but, like last year, the best player is going to play.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Trouba Signs With Winnipeg

Jacob Trouba will forego his final three seasons.
Photo: Bill Rapai

The Wolverines have suffered their second defection of the offseason as Jacob Trouba has signed with the Winnipeg Jets. 

The freshman defenseman won Best Offensive Defenseman and was named first team All-CCHA. He was also a finalist for CCHA Rookie of the Year and won a gold medal with Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Only Alex Guptill and AJ Treais had more points than his 12-17--29 line, and only Guptill had more goals. He also blocked a team-high 53 shots and led the team in penalty minutes with 88. He also led the team with seven power play goals and 14 power play points. He was second on the team (!) with 115 shots.

He quickly endeared himself to Michigan fans due to his hard hits and absolute rocket of a shot. He was at his best in one of the playoff wins over Western Michigan when he had two highlight reel goals to lift Michigan to a victory. 

His departure means Michigan will be replacing three of their top four defensemen next year, with Jon Merrill also going pro and Lee Moffie graduating. Mac Bennett, Kevin Clare (who it now sounds like will be back next year), Mike Chiasson, Brennan Serville, and Mike Szuma will return on the blue line. The Wolverines will also add Michael Downing, Nolan De Jong, and Spencer Hyman. It was also mentioned as a possibility that Kevin Lohan could join the team next year. So Michigan will have bodies on the blueline, but there are some big skates to fill. Downing is the best candidate to be able to step onto the top pairing and play with Bennett. 

If Trouba skates with the big club before the end of the season--as I imagine he will--he will be the 19th Wolverine to play in the NHL this year. Wisconsin currently leads the NCAA with 19 players in the NHL (they have a 20th on a roster, but he has not played yet, so they could easily pull back ahead). 

In other news, it's time for the annual jersey auction. I imagine those #8 jerseys will fetch a pretty penny. There are 5 options to pick from this year, with the GLI jerseys also up for bid. It looks like Moffie, Lynch, and Treais kept their blue jerseys, while Rohrkemper kept his white jersey and Sparks kept the GLI blue jersey.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Merrill Goes Pro, Trouba Leaning Toward Staying?

As expected, Jon Merrill has decided to forego his senior season and sign with the New Jersey Devils. He signed a 3-year entry-level deal with them, but will play the rest of the season in Albany on an amateur tryout, so the remainder of this year will not count against the three years on the deal.

Merrill had 2-9--11 in 21 games as a junior. He missed large chunks of the two previous seasons with a suspension last year and then a neck injury this season, but proved to be a high-end player when he was in the lineup and was Mitch McGary-esque with his breakout passes. 

In his only full season he was named to the All-CCHA Second Team, the all freshman team, and was a finalist for CCHA Rookie of the Year, best offensive defenseman, and best defensive defenseman. He was also the #1 star of The Big Chill at the Big House. 

He closes his Michigan career with 11-36--47 in 82 games with a +25 rating. He took just 21 penalties for 45 minutes. Merrill's AHL career has gotten off to a good start with 3 assists and a +3 rating in his first two games for Albany. He has been reunited with Brandon Burlon, who has 1-16--17 in 48 games.

In other news, Adam Wodon from CollegeHockeyNews tweeted that he is hearing from Michigan people that Trouba is "leaning towards staying at Michigan". No analysis needed on that one. Clearly it would be huge for the Wolverines if JMFT came back for another year. 

MGoBlue has a list of the Wolverines currently in the NHL and their stats. From a fantasy hockey perspective there's no one absolutely killing it, though Pacioretty (9-17--26), Cogliano (8-10--18, +15), Cammalleri (11-14--25), and Mike Brown (107 PIMs) are all having pretty solid seasons. There have been 18 former Wolverines in the NHL this year, tied for second with BC behind Wisconsin's 19. (Jake Dowell has been recalled, but hasn't skated for the Wild yet. He'd be #20.)