Monday, November 28, 2005

Wheldon's Gone? What the Hell?

I pull up the IRL webpage today after my last post in the midst of enjoying having the internet once again, and I see this: "Ganassi Overhaul for 06: Wheldon, Dixon will drive Dallara powered Hondas".
My reaction: No big deal, Honda's got a great engi.....WHEN THE HELL DID THEY SIGN DAN WHELDON!!!!!

The story just glosses over it. Ganassi announced it at a press conference today apparently, but there's nothing about how the IndyCar Champ just left the most powerful team in the sport, for a rival. No reaction from Michael Andretti about who they might fill his spot with, no reaction from Wheldon about how this got done. It just seems like it was expected to happen.

They'll probably add a fourth driver to the team. I'm hoping they'll up Herta's role in the team to more of an equal partner rather than a testing specialist. Franchitti's still my pick to win it all next year.

Holy crap though.

Back From The Ville

I'm back from Louisville and ready to comment on what was an extremely disappointing week and a half.

Every year, I look forward to two games above everything else. Michigan/OSU football and Michigan/Minnesota hockey. And as has been the case pretty much every year as of late, both teams just grabbed their ankles and took it up the tailpipe.

I'm sure football has been hashed over time and time again, so I'm not really going to comment on it. Same old stuff we've dealt with for the rest of the season. Can't run the ball, passing game is erratic, defense plays pretty decently overall but can't quite seal the deal. Hands up, who else loved the bend-but-don't-break when a field goal wins the game. I know I did.

In hockey, the Wolverines came out of their bye week for two huge games: One against a team that they needed to get a win against to get the monkey off their back, and a game that would be #1/#2. They flopped in both.

The Minnesota game was just an embarassment. It's embarassing to go 1/11 on the power play when you have that many 5 on 3s. It's embarassing to give up 5 power play goals. It's embarassing that on the last shift of the game, Minnesota was going for 7 and the Wolverines were standing around watching them try to rub it in.

Sauer had one of those type of games like Al Montoya did in the regional against CC. Hard to fault him for the goals (apart from Kessel's first I've been told, by someone who had a much better view than I did) but you'd sure like to see him make some of those stops.

Tim Cook is an absolute pussy. For a kid that big to continually refuse to use his size...ugh! I understand that not everyone is going to be Jack Johnson and just go around killing people, but when I see a Minnesota player cutting to the middle of the ice with his head down, and Cook just lightly taps him, it absolutely infuriates me. On one of the power plays down in our end, he was running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Like he knew he was supposed to keep moving, but he really didn't have a clue where he was supposed to be. The Gophers didn't score (right then anyway) but they made about 4 tic-tack-toe passes around Cookie, with him a second late on all of them.

I think it's a pretty much consensus opinion at this point that Tyler Swystun is useless. I know the book on him was that he needed another year of seasoning to become the player that he's projected to be. But as I said on the Yost Post, he needs to show something. Some sign that he's got a future playing hockey. Because right now all he does is take up space on the first power play unit, get minuses, and take dumb penalties (Martin Lapointe would've been proud of him this weekend).

On the bright side, both Tim Miller and Brandon Naurato have been outstanding lately. Miller has points in 3 of 4 games and Naurato is on a 3 game goal-scoring and 4 game point streak. Naurato is kind of being Kal, since Kal can't be Kal. He's got a great shot, but that's not how he's scoring. He's been getting the ugly goals, and we need someone to do that.

Kal's hurt. I imagine that's part of the reason that he's been ineffective this year. Hopefully he can come back healthy and start making a positive impact.

This weekend was a nice measuring stick. We knew this team wasn't the best team in the country and they ended up just taking the lumps that we thought they'd take a little bit more often in the early-going this season. Minnesota is the better team, but they aren't as much better than Michigan as they showed the other night. 5 on 5 was pretty close, and Michigan's special teams had an off-night (they've been at the top all year). Things kind of snowballed from there. But they were all over the Gophers at times. I didn't watch that game and get the sense that Michigan was completely over-matched. They need to watch the back corner of the net on the PK though. RyPo was wide open every time, and they had that problem a couple times against Wiscy, though it didn't bite them.

I forgot how big Ryan Stoa is. Him and Wheeler are both huge. I thought Briggs looked pretty shaky in their net.

Minnesota has Michigan's number and it showed. A lot of bad breaks went against Michigan (pucks narrowly going in vs. narrowly missing, guys losing their sticks on PKs) and that's what happens when you're snake-bit against a team. Hopefully the Hockey Gods will be more kind in the future.

Oh, and McInchak sucks. I'm not blaming him for losing 6-3 (especially since we had our opportunities on the PP and didn't cash in) by any means, but that guy is an awful awful ref. Two no-calls that jump right to mind (and both went our way, for the record) were that Jack Johnson had about the most blatant charge I've ever seen in the first period and Andrew Ebbett creamed a guy from behind into the board and got 2 minutes for roughing or something. Johnson took about 5 strides before just murdering one of the Gopher dmen and it didn't get called. Not sure what Jack was thinking there...maybe he just needed to do something to get the crowd and his team fired up after they got down 4-1, but that was blatant. What a hit though! Ebbett's hit was worse than probably 75% of the ejections I've seen this year, and he gets two for it. Unreal.

Against Wisconsin, I thought the effort was a lot better. Wiscy is a completely different team from Minnesota, and to fight back from 2 goals down against them was impressive. Johnson and Hunwick got caught and it led to the last goal. They need to tone it back just a bit (or they need to split the two of them up) because they've been a little bit too much Danny Richmond lately. As good offensively as they've been this year, they need to realize that they're still defensemen first and foremost.

As much as it sucks to get swept in the Showcase (again), I came away feeling like we can play against both of those teams. People keep saying that Wiscy is the best team in the nation, and if that is the case (I've only seen em once) then we're not too far off from where we need to be. This was a young team getting beat by two teams who are better than them at this point. I think we're right there at the end of the year though.

The Packers lost another tough one, this time by 5 points to the Eagles. That makes 7 of their nine losses that have been by a TD or less. This time the culprit was 2 fumbled kickoffs (one by the 6th string WR, and one by the 6th string RB) and another fumble by the 5th string RB, Gado, who looks like he might actually end up being a player. He's got 5 TDs and 2 100 yard games in 4 efforts and also has the 3 highest rushing totals by a Packer RB this year.

This season is just becoming comical at the way they're finding to lose. I still say they're not that far off and one great offseason can have them right back in contention. Especially if that offseason includes Reggie Bush. The Lions are firing Mariucci today and I have to believe he ends up in either Green Bay or East Lansing. If they axe Sherman, I really think GB could do a lot worse than Mariucci. Especially if they can keep Jim Bates as DC. Plus it'd almost definitely mean that Favre would be back.

With that Packers loss, it assures them their first losing season since 1991, and they also become the last team in the NFL to have a losing season in the salary cap era. So in honor of 13 years of great football, I close with my 5 favorite plays of this era in Packers football:

5. Favre to Kitrick Taylor gets everything started. Earlier in the day, I had been crying when I heard that my favorite player (Majik) had screwed up his ankle (I was 9, ok???!!). I ended the day by jumping around like crazy and wondering who the hell this Favre guy was!

4. Wayne Simmons and Craig Newsome combine to get that playoff game with the 49ers started off right. Probably the best upset of this team's run.

3. Favre to Sterling Sharpe to kickoff this team's run with a last-second playoff victory over the Lions (not to mention it gave me bragging rights over my whole school! God I loved wearing my Favre jersey to class after that one!)

2. Desmond Howard's runback to seal the Super Bowl. His entire season was just amazing to see. Way to go, Michigan man!!

1. Favre to Rison on the second offensive play of the Super Bowl. 54 yard TD and Favre runs off the field with his helmet in his hand, jumping all over the place.

Honorable mention to Josh McCown and Nathan Poole. While it wasn't really a Packers game, it would rank probably #3 on this list in terms of excitement. "TOUCHDOWN!!!!! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! The Cardinals have knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs!!!"~Minnesota radio

Other honorable mentions to Favre's backhanded TD pass to Freeman vs. Seattle, the falling down 2 handed push to Dorsey Levens vs. Carolina in the playoffs, the Hail Mary to Freeman against the Bears where he jumped over the guys back, every throw Favre made against Oakland after his father died, Robert Brooks's 99 yard TD pass, Ahman's long TD run against Denver, Reggie White's 3 sacks against NE, Desmond's two long runbacks against SF in the playoffs, Levens' leaping TD grab vs. Carolina in the playoffs, that TD catch Edgar Bennett had against I believe Tampa Bay where he laid completely out for the ball, and the play in the snow against the Lions where Sharpe thought he was in the endzone (he wasn't) and the guy hit him from behind, he fumbled and the ball bounced right back into his hands for the score.

War this being a quick turnaround for the Pack and Favre playing another couple of seasons.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Michigan Hockey 1st Quarter Player-By-Player Grades

Overall the team gets an A. No one expected a 9-1-1 start to this season and I sure as hell didn't think the special teams were going to be this good, this soon. They aren't the best team in the country, but then again, nobody else has a better claim to the #1 ranking apart from maybe Wisconsin. Michigan has won their games, and other teams haven't. It's that simple, and that's why we're #1.

Now for the player-by-player rankings.

Jack Johnson: A+ I knew the kid was going to be outstanding, but I think he's even exceeded my own expectations. He's phenomenal in both ends of the ice, and for an offensive defenseman, he's really pretty darn responsible in his own end. He's just a sick player, and I look forward to watching him for as long as he wants to stay, and I'll closely follow his NHL career.

Adam Dunlap: Inc. Only dressed once and I don't believe he played a shift.

Matt Hunwick: A- He has really taken a step forward with his offensive game this year, and he's done it without really having it negatively impact his defensive prowess. The only knock is that he has had a few moments where he's gotten beat to the outside (like on the potential game tying goal against BC).

TJ Hensick: A- 19 points in 11 games, and he's even a +6. He's logged some time on the PK and despite the rapid heart rates in the crowd has actually done a decent job. Still too selfish with the puck sometimes.

Jason Dest: C I don't feel like he's improved all that much, if at all. Granted some of this is playing with Tim Cook, but he hasn't been very consistent this year IMO. When he's good, he's pretty darn good, but when he's having a bad game, look out. 1 point and a -5 overall isn't going to get it done.

Andrew Cogliano: B+ 16 points through 11 games, and he could easily have 6-8 more points since it took him a couple games to get one to go in, but he sure had his chances. I knew the book on this kid was that he was uber-fast, but you have to see him in person. I thought he'd have a few more chances in the games on the big ice (didn't notice him much during the Saturday UAF game for sure...though that could've been the camera angle making it tough), but he did notch 1-3--4 in those 4 games. Needs to improve his defense some (Even in the +/- category) and NEEDS TO STOP FREAKING DIVING like a little soccer player. He gets an A/A- without the diving, but it's one of my pet peeves and he does it a lot.

Travis Turnbull: B+ The most pleasant surprise of the team. 9 points and a +6 through 11 games, and I think he's already one of the more reliable two-way players that we have. I wasn't expecting a ton out of the kid, but he's been fun to watch.

Kevin Porter: A Him and Ebbett are the best two-way players on the team. He's the goal scorer while Ebby is the assist guy. Leads the team in goals and is over a point a game. He's been solid the whole year.

Zach MacVoy: C He's been pretty good when he's been in there, but his skating is still holding him back, as I'm sure it's the reason he didn't see the ice against BC, or on the Olympic sheets. I do like him though, and when they need a more physical guy, he'll get his chance and fair pretty well.

Brandon Kaleniecki: C+ Two goals, three points, and a -2 just isn't going to get it done, captain. He does things well that don't show up on the score sheet, but he needs to produce more on the offensive end. He isn't going to lead this team in goals again, and I don't expect that, but he needs to score more than 6-8 goals this year.

David Rohlfs: B I haven't noticed him, and that's not a bad thing for a defenseman. Especially one that is still learning the position. I think he could probably produce a little more offensively from back on the blueline, being a converted forward and all, but then again, we've got plenty of offense from our blueline with Johnson and Hunwick. Him and Mitera make for an imposing duo.

Mark Mitera: B+ One of the unsung heroes of the first quarter. He's not flashy like Johnson, and despite his size isn't going to kill people like Jack, but he's just been solid, solid, solid. Very good at using his feet to deflect pucks and he's been outstanding at giving up his body to block shots.

Tim Miller: B- He's started to come on as of late, and he's probably right on the B/B- border in my eyes. He had a very nice game Saturday night it sounded like, and that was the first time he's really jumped out. 4 assists, and he's a +4, but he sure hasn't hurt us out there. He's not going to light up the scoresheet, but he's a solid player and you need guys like him. Hopefully he keeps up the improvement.

Andrew Ebbett: B Took him a little while to get it going, but he's been pretty good overall. He's on pace for very similar offensive numbers to his sophomore and junior years, but he needs to not be on the minus side of things defensively. There probably aren't many (if any) penalty killers out there who are better than this guy though. I forget what game it was (MSU maybe?) where he killed off a full minute by himself. It was unreal. He's a big reason the PK has been so great this year.

Tyler Swystun: C- I wasn't expecting much out of him since the book was that he probably needed another year of seasoning, which is why he gets a C- instead of a lower grade. I can live with him not scoring, since he's had a few chances, but -8 in limited icetime? Yikes.

Jason Bailey: C+ I just haven't seen the kid that I saw at USA just yet. With the NTDP he was all over the ice, pinballing off of people. He seemed pretty good in his own end, but again he's one of the worst +/-s on the team (I know that stat doesn't show everything, but it's alright comparing guys on the same team). He reminded me of a Mike Brown type, and thusfar that's kind of what he's been. Which isn't necessarily a good thing. I still think he's going to have a very nice career here.

Brandon Naurato: B- I'm not quite sure what to make of him yet. He's defnitely got a great shot, and yet the two goals he netted this weekend were both floaters that should have been stopped. Still though, 5 points in 8 games is pretty good for a guy that wasn't really expected to see the ice much.

Chad Kolarik: B- Absolutely invisible up til a couple weeks ago, but he's really turned it on as of late. If the first few weeks was just a fluke/slump (and I think it was), he'll probably be up in the A-/B+ range by the end of the season. Kid's a player.

Tim Cook: D+ Dear God. I want to like this kid. I really really do. In the first couple of games he was jumping up into the play, he was solid in his own end. But there hasn't been much of that lately. Still no points, he's a -4, he probably is dragging Dest down somewhat. He gets beat to the outside, he had a beautiful fall/backflip combo at ND that led to a goal. He doesn't use his size. If all our defensemen hang around, he won't be playing at all next year.

Danny Fardig: B+ If Turnbull isn't the most pleasant surprise then this kid probably is. He's just all out effort, every shift he's out there. He gives up his body on the PK, he blocks shots. I love Digger.

Mike Mayhew: Inc 3 saves in 10 minutes.

Noah Ruden: B He's been a solid backup, and came in and pitched a shutout (with the help of his pipes) at UAF when Sauer was really struggling. This is Sauer's job though. I think Rudy gets the occasional start the rest of the season, and they'll throw him in there when Billy needs a break or if he needs to calm down for a game, but Sauer is the guy.

Billy Sauer: B+ I'm not sure we could have expected much more out of this guy. He's already shown the capability to be a big game goalie (he was outstanding against BC and MSU). He won a game for us at NMU Saturday night. And he's been pretty darn solid the entire way, with the exception of the UAF game, which I'm willing to chalk up to him not knowing the angles. He fixed that real quick. He has the tendancy to give up some big rebounds and some soft goals, but not as many bad ones as Al gave up last year. He's incredibly athletic, great side to side, great along the ice, and he's outstanding at finding the puck through traffic. He needs to improve his puckhandling, because it's just atrocious, but to his credit he doesn't attempt to do it very often. IMO he won the starting job with his performances the last two weekends (paired with his great performances vs. MSU and BC). He's not as good as Al was his freshman and sophomore seasons (but that's a ridiculous standard to hold the kid to), but Billy definitely has been better than Junior-year Al to this point. I think we have an upgrade in goal over last season.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

We're Gonna Be #1 Again....

Don't look now, but the Michigan Wolverines are probably headed back to being #1 again. They swept a series on the road against the Northern Michigan Wildcats, and paired with a one-point weekend for Colorado College, Cornell getting smoked by Darmouth, and Maine losing to New Hampshire, it looks like the Maize and Blue are headed back to the top of the rankings, just in time to see Wisconsin and Minnesota come to town. Our only hope is that the voters like what they saw out of Wisconsin, taking 3 of 4 points from CC, and move them over us up to #1.

I didn't get to listen to very much of the 3-1 victory on Friday night, as I was working the Michigan volleyball game, but it sounds as if Billy Sauer had an excellent night. He earned himself another start on Saturday and by several accounts was the difference in the 4-3 overtime win. The NMU homers didn't make him a star of the game, but WTKA gave him the third star. Brandon Naurato was the obvious choice for #1 (with 2 goals including the game winner) but NMU gave it to Contois. Apparently both goals Naurato scored were of the "You'd like to have that one back" variety, but if you shoot the puck on net, good things happen.

It sounded like Sauer was outstanding once again, stopping at least 3 breakaways. It's a little disturbing to me, though, that there were so many quality chances for the Wildcats. Part of that is probably the big ice again, but we've hung our goalie out to dry plenty of times on the small ice too.

We had two more players ejected for hits from behind, thankfully neither was given a game DQ, so both Turnbull and Bailey can play against Minnesota. Porter continues to play well, and Kolarik netted another goal this weekend. The Wolverines' power play scored in both games, and they've now scored a PPG in all 11 games to start the season.

They now get a week off before a crucial weekend against Minnesota and Wisconsin, which I imagine has some severe Pairwise implications. The Gophers have been a pretty schizo team so far this season, but Wisconsin has been rolling as of late. It should be a pretty fun weekend. I don't know how I'm going to make it through the next 2 weeks--which will include a trip to Kentucky--before they faceoff.

The Wolverines now stand alone at the top of the CCHA standings with 11 points, following Miami's loss to LSSU. Ohio State is a surprising last place, and it's not due to them having played less games, because they've played 6 in conference already. You've gotta think that they've already kissed their conference championship hopes goodbye. They've lost 4 games already, and Michigan only lost 3 CCHA games all of last year. Granted the Wolverines set a record for points in the conference, but short of running the table, I think Ohio State might have already played themselves out of the race for the regular season championship at this early date.

Michigan football had--as Brian would call it--a "functional DNP" against Indiana this weekend that was never really in doubt. Indiana scored on their opening drive and then--as I predicted in the crowd--didn't come close the rest of the game (until the scrubs came in). Gotta love that first drive defense...give up 80 yards on the first drive, then about 80 the rest of the game.

From the crowd, it seemed like Henne was pretty on the ball. He missed on a couple of throws for sure, but you're not going to hit on every single one. He was pretty close to perfect throwing the outs and the timing routes and had several throws that were just gorgeous. Apart from maybe the first half against MSU, that was the closest he's been this season to the Henne from last year. Grady did a nice job running, in limited opportunities and Breaston went 2005 Rose Bowl on the Hoosiers, though no one can figure out why he cut that punt return back to the east side of the field when he had a clear path to the endzone. I feel like there was one other time when he cut the wrong way or he would've been gone.

The second half was uber-boring and I paid attention for all of about 3 plays, but in the first half it was nice to see the Wolverines open the playbook, giving OSU a lot of looks to think about. You gotta believe that they're cooking something up for Antonio Bass next week. I'm not sure what it is, but they're planning something. I wondered aloud when we might see the throwback to Henne, since it hadn't come out yet this year, and darn if they didn't run it about 5 minutes later. Breaston made a terrible throw, or Henne had a LOT of running room. Gotta love that play.

I always say that if I could pick any team that I root for to win a championship, it'd be Michigan hockey. And a big part of that is because I'm in Ann Arbor, I go to every game, and if they win a title, I'd be there. It'd be incredible. But today taught me that the team I care about most is still the Green Bay Packers. The injuries have been a big joke to me, since there's no team in the league that could overcome what the Packers have gone through and they've pretty much derailed at least a decent football team. That being said, every loss this season has just made me ache. I hate watching them be 1-7, and I can't imagine what everyone went through in the 70s and 80s watching this every year, because it just makes me hurt.

Today felt great though. What a performance out of this team. I think it converted a lot of people back onto the "Don't fire Mike Sherman" side of the fence, because there aren't a whole lot of teams in this position who would come out with the effort that this team came out with (and has come out with every game this year). They fight for every game, even though their playoff hopes have been all but over for 2 or 3 weeks.

Jim Bates has done absolute wonders for that defense. They held the NFL's #1 rush offense to 133 yards on the ground, which is 50 yards below their average and they never trailed in a game that they were probably close to double digit underdogs in. The knock against the defense all year has been the lack of turnovers, but they came up with 3 fumble recoveries today and put the offense in good field position a couple of times. Nick Barnett had his best game of the year. Brady Poppinga has a ton of speed and Thornberg was a heckuva pickup for the special teams. Those two just prove Fisher DeBerry wrong. I can't say this enough: No matter what happens in the offseason, Green Bay has to find a way to keep Bates. He's an absolute miracle worker and I can't wait to see what he can do with a few more pieces.

Samkon Gado. What can you say about that kid. He rushes for 100+ yards and scores 3 times in his first start? Yikes. I still don't know that he's a starting-caliber running back, but he definitely can play in this league. The line looked much better with Wells in there for Klemm. I wonder why they didn't pull the trigger on that move sooner.

Basically at this point, you're just looking at positives for next season. I think they've definitely found one in Gado. Antonio Chatman has proven that he can be a pretty darn capable slot receiver. And they're getting a lot of looks at some good young defensive players that will make an impact on this team in the future. They dressed 13 rookies today. If you're going to have a season that has this much go wrong, then at least a lot of youngsters are getting valuable live-game experience. 4 games down in the division with 7 games to go is probably too much to overcome, but I guess crazier things have happened, especially when they get to play the division-leading Bears twice still.

Overall though, I'm just going to enjoy the ride and hope this isn't the last I'm going to see of Brett Favre, because he deserves to go out on a better note than this, and I really feel that they could be right back in contention next year. This guy makes a really good case for why Favre should actually be the MVP right now. He changed the headline of the article and toned it down a bit, but the point he makes rings true. The guy is doing it with a CFL team around him. They showed a lot of heart today, and they showed everyone that they're not the laughing-stock that their record would indicate.

Oh. And Kurt Busch is a douche bag. He got cited for reckless driving outside Phoenix Speedway Friday night and Roush racing suspended him for the rest of the season because of his confrontation with the officer that pulled him over (and probably the fact that there was at least some alcohol involved, and he's damn lucky the Breathalyzer broke). Since Busch is joining Penske Racing South next year, that officially ends his time with Roush. "We're officially retiring as Kurt Busch's apologists effective today"?? That was in the Roush Racing press statement? Yeah, I'm sure they're sorry to see him leave the team next year. That's a ballsy move out of Jack Roush, since Busch was one of the Chase For the Cup drivers. Even though he was pretty much out of contention for the title, that's still quite a bit of money he's leaving on the table by taking him out of the car. Kudos to him for making that move. Now if he'd do something about his other prick of a driver, Biffle.

And Tony Stewart is gonna win the title again. Yippee. He seems to be less of a prick this year, and honestly, I'd probably rather see him win it than Busch or Biffle, but I hate seeing that guy do well. Hopefully Jimmie Johnson can pull something out, but if Stewart even lands a Top Ten at Homestead, I think he has it locked up.

And next weekend there's a 500 mile go kart race in Brazil that guys like Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon and Bryan Herta will be driving in. I'd love to see that on TV somewhere. Last year, Kanaan, Wheldon, Felippe Giaffone and Rubens Barrichello won the race. I'm sure all the amateurs that were racing just loved seeing three IndyCar veterans and one of the premiere F1 drivers racing on the same team. Can't wait to see how that one turns out. Hopefully Speed will cover some of it, but I doubt it.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Brian Lebler Goes Blue

Brian Lebler, long thought to be headed to the Badgers, committed to the Wolverines today, and will likely sign a letter of intent tomorrow according to this thread on The Wolverine. He's not putting real big numbers (especially for being in the BCHL) but he's a big, big forward (6'2" 205 right now) who apparently has some scoring ability. He's also faired pretty well on the power play last year (10 ppgs) and this year (6 so far). He should fit in with the bigger team that Red is trying to put out there now. It's nice that Michigan was able to steal away a recruit from the Badgers, and as MaizeOut pointed out, if he signs tomorrow he won't have time to Benedict Earl us.

Andy Hilbert's rights were traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for a 5th round pick. This is a move that I wish the Wings had made (and I said it at least 2 months ago when he said he wanted to be traded). I know they're close to the cap, but to land a prospect like Andy for a 5th round pick is a pretty good gamble. And I'd rather see Andy on the roster than a guy like Mark Mowers who really doesn't do anything for me. Hilbert put up numbers in the AHL last year that were right up there with the likes of Spezza, Cammalleri, and Vanek who are all fairing pretty well on the NHL level this year.

Michigan hockey completed the sweep of Notre Dame with a 4-2 win Saturday night at Yost. I missed the first 18 minutes of the first period (Michigan volleyball duties), so I missed both goals that Sauer allowed. I heard one was extremely weak, but Billy played very well the rest of the game. I think he had something like 17 saves in the third period, which is unacceptable for the defense to be giving up that many shots. Mel Pearson said on WTKA that he thought the fatigue from the previous week's trip to UAF caught up with them and it would probably be another couple days before they were back to normal. Kolarik added a pair of goals and it looks like he's out of his slump. Cogliano netted himself a CCHA Rookie of the Week award with 3-3--6 over the two games. He's now the leading freshman point getter in the country, with Jack Johnson right behind him at #2 (they also are 1-2 in ppg for freshmen).

The additions of Johnson and Cogliano have done absolute wonders for the powerplay, which currently sits at #1 in the nation at 33.3% (24 of 72). Qunnipiac has the 2nd most ppgs with 18, but they've also had 15 more powerplays. The PK is also a very solid 91.7%, good for 4th in the country.

Sterling Sharpe was on the Jim Rome show yesterday and his interview made me want to puke my guts out. He got up on his high horse about Terrell Owens, saying that at some point the player has to realize that the team is more important than individual things like money. Sterling. You jackass. You are the last person who should be criticizing players for being selfish. Mr. Sharpe, back in 1994, threatened on the eve of the first game to not show up the next day if Green Bay did not make him the highest paid WR in the league by $1. And now he's going to criticize Terrell Owens for threatening a holdout and basically just being a jackass? Please.

Lebda is back with the Red Wings, and Howard was sent back to Grand Rapids--a good sign, because that means that Legace is back and I don't have to watch Osgood anymore. Lebda has been a very pleasant surprise, and I'm hoping that means less of Jamie Rivers (or failing that, Lilja). Actually, I take that back about Lilja. He hasn't impressed me much, but the guy does lead the team in +/- and that has to account for something. That's shocking actually. I'm pretty much stunned to see that. He would've been my bet as one of the few guys on the team with a minus. It'd be nice to see Woolley back healthy as well. He's been very solid since he was resigned, before he was hurt.

The Packers lost again. And once again it was the little things that beat them. Favre gets killed and the Steelers get a scoop-and-score off it instead of it being a GB field goal. There's the 10 point margin of victory. Longwell shanked a field goal (thankfully he blamed the wind, and not his holder this time. How bout "I just missed the kick" for once, Ryan) and Driver dropped a pass that was right in his hands and would've been a first down. Instead the Steelers get a pick off it and it sets up a TD. 3 plays, and that's the difference between a 10 point win and a 10 point loss.

And the injuries just keep getting worse and worse. Tony Fisher is now out with a broken rib, pretty much leaving the starting job to Samkon Gado. Apparently he was 3rd string on his college team last year. Amazingly, he actually looked pretty decent against the Steelers great defense and set a season high for yards by a Packers RB (62. That's pathetic that that's the high).

I still say this team is a helluva lot better than their record. And they keep fighting, which is more than I can say for a lot of teams out there that have already mailed it in it seems. It's not going to get much better this season, but there's still plenty of talent there, and plenty of money in the offseason to fix some holes.

I can't say enough about the defense though. They're now ranked 9th in the NFL in yards given up per game, tied for 10th in yards given up per play, and a respectable 18th in ppg given up. The only thing that's lacking is turnovers created, which is only 10 through 8 games. That'll come with more playmakers on the field, however. For a makeshift defense, 9th in the league in yards is just amazing.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Hockey and a Women's Soccer Miracle

Hockey beat Notre Dame 8-5 last night, but the game was much closer than the score as Notre Dame closed to 6-5 with a few minutes remaining in regulation before Cogliano netted 2 to seal it. Now, I don't get CSTV so I didn't get to see the game--and I only got to listen to the last 10 minutes--but I'm kind of confused as to why Ruden got the start. I know he had a shutout against UAF, but the Nanooks hit 4 goalposts, and with a couple bounces going against him he could've gotten shelled as bad as Sauer did. I understand starting Rudy up in Fairbanks as Sauer hadn't gotten to practice on big ice, but why come back with Ruden last night?? Sauer's young, he needs road experience, and Notre Dame isn't an overly tough place to play. I'm sure we'll see Billy back between the pipes tonight.

It was nice to see Kolarik break out of his slump with a goal and an assist last night. He had about 6 goals against ND last year, so this was a good team for him to be playing against. Naurato and Bailey got their firsts as Wolverines as well. Our powerplay is humming along with 4 more PPGs last night, and Al and Jim were talking about how that raised our PP % up to something like 32%. I gotta believe a lot of that is due to the presence of Jack Johnson back on the point (and Matt Hunwick's improvement). I've said many times we haven't had a shot like Jack's back on the PP since Komo left, and it looks like the power play #s are starting to indicate that. Cogliano also looks like he's comfortable in college hockey now. The first few games he had chances and just couldn't get any to go, but since then he's been lights out. He's got 6 goals and 7 assists on the year now. Turnbull continues to be a pleasant surprise, and Porter looks like he's continued his great season.

Maybe someone who saw the game can indicate if the score was Ruden being a sieve or the defense sucking. Based on his prior performance at ND and the high shot total, I'd say it was probably a combination of both. I really don't like that we gave up 5 goals to that team though. I know they're probably much improved over last year, but that's a team that scored 7 in 6 games against us last year. No reason to give up 5 to them.

The Wings 9 game winning streak came to a close against Edmonton (shut up Brian). Nothing like putting Chris Osgood in to cure a franchise-record winning streak. Again, didn't see the game, but I've heard that 3 of the 4 that he let in were just brutal but that he also made some huge stops to get the game to OT. To which I say: Yup, that's Chris Osgood. Maddeningly bad sometimes, brilliant other times. I've always said that when he's completely on his game there aren't a whole lot of goalies better than him. It's just that he's rarely completely on his game, and in the meantime you get a mix of great saves and goals that even junior-year Al Montoya could have stopped. Jason Williams now has 18 points. Unreal.

An interesting thing happened yesterday when I pulled up There were three stories on their front page that were Green Bay-related. Roethlisberger isn't playing against them Sunday, so we get the return of Charlie Batch, hooray! Terrell Owens said that Philly would be undefeated if Favre was QBing them, throwing McNabb under the bus again in the process. And that Favre said if Sherman is fired, he's probably leaving too because he'd have to learn a new system and whatnot.

Favre needs to hang around 1 more season after this one. He'll break the TD pass record if he stays healthy and he'll have a shot at breaking Elway's wins by a QB record (I think he needs 12 more). Not to mention that this team is set up pretty nicely to make a run next year if they can add a few pieces. And if the team keeps struggling and lands the #1 draft pick, having Favre, Reggie Bush and Javon Walker on the same offense...yikes. They're going to have a ton of cap room to help out in areas of need as well. There have been worse teams than this one make the turnaround in one year. They're 1-6, but they've lost 6 games by 30 points and 5 games by a total of 16 points. They aren't nearly as bad as their record indicates, especially considering all the talent they're missing right now because on a rash of injuries like I've never seen. Talk is now that Tony Fisher and Antonio Chatman might not play Sunday, so they'd be missing all 3 of their RBs and their 1, 3, 4, 5 WRs. Awesome. I guess that's still better than starting Charlie Batch or Joey Harrington.

On talk radio this week, there's been a ton of chatter about how if the Packers keep struggling they need to put in Aaron Rodgers to get him some snaps, to which I say "Bunk!" There's a few reasons you don't sit Favre down:

#1) He's Brett freaking Favre! It's one thing if he's out there playing with a Paul Coffey-sized fork sticking out of his back, but he's not. 2 years ago he led the NFL in TD passes, and probably should've won his 4th MVP (but they gave it to Gannon...good call). Last year, I believe he set a career high in completion percentage. And this year, going into last week's games he was leading the league in TDs AGAIN. He's the only thing this offense has going for it. Oh yeah, and he's a freakin' legend that you don't bench.

#2) If they put Rodgers out there with Tony Fisher in the backfield and Donald Lee and David Martin to throw to, what would they expect to happen? He'd look awful. They'd kill his confidence before he had a legit shot to do anything. Look at JP Losman in Buffalo, and that guy has McGahee, Moulds, and Reed out there.

The idea of sitting Favre down is completely idiotic. It might be nice to get Rodgers into some games late in the season, just to get an idea if he's got anything so that if you land the #1 pick at Matt Leinart is sitting there....well..ya know. But they're not benching Favre, and they shouldn't. This team would be lucky to score 50 points the rest of the season if Favre was on the bench/hurt. If you can't run the ball (and they can't, and they couldn't even with Ahman Green) and you've got a rookie QB out there, what the heck do you think is going to happen?

Back to college hockey, a week after sweeping Ohio State, Western Michigan lost 10-0 to LSSU at home! Bellissimo got yanked and the guy they put in gave up 4 goals on 6 shots. Ouch. How bad do those Buckeyes look right now? They lost to Miami 3-1 last night to cap it off. They're looking very Purdue-footballesque right now at 1-3-1 in the CCHA and having only played Western, Miami and BGSU. Probably not the start they were looking for.

To women's soccer: Michigan pulled off an unbelievable upset in the first round of the B10 women's soccer tournament, knocking off unbeaten, untied, and #1 ranked Penn State in penalty kicks. The game goes down as a tie, because it made it through both overtimes tied, but for the Wolverines to pull that off is just incredible after they gave up the tying goal with 20 seconds left in regulation on a penalty kick. They went on to beat Illinois 2-1 last night to earn a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game against Wisconsin. The game features the 7 and 8 seeds in an 8 team tournament. Whodathunkit. Wisconsin is on fire right now, and Michigan lost their second best player--Therese Heaton--with what appeared to be a torn ACL. Should be an interesting game tomorrow. Hopefully the maize and blue will pull it out and make it back to the NCAA tournament.

Stones 2-0, Rip? Not nice!