Tuesday, February 28, 2006

There Were Reasons Not to Panic?

So yeah, that whole not panicking about Michigan hockey thing? Forget I said that. If panicking is good enough for Red, it's good enough for me. Taking Noah Ruden out of the starting lineup in favor of Bill Sauer--who has about as much confidence between the pipes as my brother has in Dubya--prior to the last weekend of the regular season just reeks of panic. We now head into the postseason in the unenviable position of having absolutely no freaking idea who our starting goalie is. That's never a good thing.

It's probably a good thing that I opted for a post-Valentine's Day trip with the chica rather than trekking to Big Rapids (though I really did want to hit up the Tractor Supply Store, I'm not gonna lie) and then buying a ticket to watch that crap at Yost. I'm not sure what my reaction would've been had I seen that, but with the players' families sitting right in front of me, it's probably best I wasn't there.

Not too much good you can say about a team when they blow a 3 goal lead for the second time since 1988 second time since last April. I'm not going to skewer anyone for their play, because I didn't see the games, nor was I able to listen to them. What I've heard though? Same ole, same ole. Soft goals, bad defense, odd-man rushes up the wazoo.

Some posts on this weekend that I thought were very much worth reading from the Yost Post:

Alnike had one of the best posts I've seen on that board in recent memory, with his breakdown of a bunch of stats about this team and who needs to step up their game. The most telling stat:

In its last 12 games, in which Michigan is a pathetic 4-4-4, the team has either
had a lead, or been in a tie game in the 3rd period in all those games. By my
accounts, it pissed away 10 pts and only recovered 2 pts. vs tOSU when Caruso
let in the Turnbull beachball shot through his 5-hole.

-2 vs. MSU at JLA (5-3 lead, goalie, penalty kill)

-2 vs. tOSU at Yost (4-3 lead, goalies)

-1 vs. LSSU (2-2 tie, OT goal - Ruden)

-1 vs. UNO (3-3 tie, 3 goal comeback immediately thwarted)

-2 vs. UNO (4-2 2nd period lead, 1 goal lead in 3rd, Ruden)

-2 vs. FSU

I knew it was bad...didn't realize it was quite that bad.

Mike Spath also had a nice post of comments and observations. MHNet has an interesting theory as to why the team is struggling--one that the superstitious person in me whole-heartedly agrees with. After seeing what our basketball team has gone through the last two years, should we have really screwed with the hockey team's karma? 6 losses at Yost this year tells me everything I need to know about that one.

I'm teetering dangerously close to detaching the way I did with U of M football this year, accepting that it's going to be the worst year in recent memory and not getting worked up over the losses anymore. I think I may have been the only person not wearing red that was able to crack a smile after the Michigan/OSU game in football, and it's getting close to that point with this team. I miss freshman/sophomore year Al Montoya, Jed Ortmeyer, Mike Cammalleri, Andy Hilbert, and Mike Komisarek. And John Shouneyia.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Favre Not Done Yet

This makes me want to do a fucking backflip:

AP reports Green Bay Packers QB Brett Favre has been in touch with Packers general manager Ted Thompson and new head coach Mike McCarthy on an almost weekly basis of late, but there is nothing new to report regarding his decision to possibly retire. The fact that Favre is calling regularly from his Mississippi farm to check in would seem to be a positive sign that he is still open to returning for a 16th season. Thompson said the team has not established a deadline for Favre to make a decision. "We haven't really established a deadline," Thompson says. "I think all the parties know when a decision probably needs to be made." Ideally, that would be by the March 3rd start of free agency.

5 Reasons

Heading into the last weekend of the regular season, here are my 5 reasons to panic about the Michigan hockey team, and the 5 reasons you shouldn't panic about the rest of the year.

We'll get the bad out of the way first.

5 Reasons You Should Panic:

1) They still don't know how to play team defense: 30+ games into the year, don't you just get the feeling that if they don't know how to not give up odd-man rushes by now, they're never going to learn? Some of it has been bad pinches, some of it has been the forwards being more Paul Kariya than Kris Draper, but we've all been saying it for weeks...it needs to change. They make progress and then the next weekend it's back to the same old routine. In our own zone, I honestly think we do a great job. In transition though? It's ugly.

2) The goaltending has been--and probably will continue to be--iffy: This goes back to Alvaro saying "Adios" during the summer. Yes, I thought we'd be better off without him if it was going to be more of the Apathetic Al that we saw last season (and I'm not convinced it'd be any different with him in net right now). Enter Billy Sauer, who frankly just wasn't ready to be a full-time starting goaltender in college. He split time in the USHL last year, and what? 3 years ago he was playing JV hockey in New York? He could have really used a full year as a USHL starter. It's hard to say anything bad about Noah Ruden because, let's face it, he's not on par with some of the goalies we've had in the past, nor should anyone expect him to be. He's a walkon that inherited the starting role and he's done a better-than-passable job. You just have to come into the game knowing he's probably giving up 1 real weak one, bare minimum. But better-than-passable doesn't mean I've got confidence we can go to the NCAA title with him. If it was only a one-game tournament, sure. He's had some absolutely excellent games this year. But I don't know that he can put together 4 great games in a row. And that's what it would take.

3) Consistency: I just touched on it talking about Noah Ruden. This team has a major problem with stringing quality efforts together (and in a lot of cases, even bringing a quality effort for 60 minutes). At the top of their game, they're as good as anyone. The downer to that is we've only see that kind of performance for maybe 10 minutes at a time any given weekend. This team hasn't strung together back-to-back wins in a weekend since December 9th and 10th. Since then, they've only one back-to-back games twice. It's hard to believe they're going to run off four straight W's to win a title when they can't sweep a weekend series from a mediocre CCHA team.

4) Poor Performances on the Road: Ignoring the fact that they've dropped 5 games at Yost Ice Arena this season (who saw that coming??), this team has been worse when they've gotten away from the friendly confines. They're 6-7-3 in games not played at Yost. That doesn't bode well for a long tournament run when you take into account that the closest regional is 6 hours away and we potentially could end up playing Wisconsin in Green Bay, NoDak at Achtung Arena, or either of the Boston schools in Massachusetts.

5) Our Two "Game-Changing" Forwards Need to Get It Going: TJ Hensick and Andrew Cogliano are the two biggest X-Factors for us up front going into the playoffs. You know you're going to get a great effort out of "The Line" of Ebbett, Kal, and Kolarik. But the two forwards that can change the game the quickest as Hensick and Cogs. TJ, despite having points in 7 of his last 9 (and multiple points in 5 of those games) just looks like he's going at half-speed a lot of the time. There was a buzz for a little while that he wasn't 100% and that could have played a factor. But we've all seen just how good he can be (like last year when he was in the running for the Hobey) and if this team is going to make any kind of run toward a title, he needs to play at that kind of elite level.

Cogliano has gone 6 games without a point, and has only tallied points in 3 of his 15 games since coming back from World Juniors. Has he hit the freshman wall? I'm not sure. That would be hard to believe since St. Mike's played probably twice as many games last year on their way to a long run into the Canadian Junior A Tournament. Scorers go through slumps, and if he can get back to his earlier form (Points in 8 of 9 games in October and November) this team will be much better off.

Enough with the negatives.

5 Reasons You Shouldn't Panic:

1) At Some Point, the Power Play Has to Get Going. Doesn't it?: Since the GLI, the Wolverines are on an incredibly bad streak of going something like 9 for 97 on the Power Play. Despite that, they're still ranked 13th in the country with the man advantage. At some point they have to find something that works. On the plus side, they have had more success scoring even strength! If the power play can get even close to how it was at the start of the year, we're going to be ok offensively.

2) The Light Has Gone On For Some Guys: Particularly Tim Cook, Jason Dest, Tim Miller, and dare I say....Tyler Swystun? Cook and Dest were brutal at the start of the year, but since Cook scored his goal, they've been probably our two best defensemen in their own end (and Cook has even scored points in back-to-back games!). Tim Miller has been a joy to watch this year. He's just getting better and better, and in the last weekend at Yost, Swsytun showed glimpses of the ability we all heard he had. Guys like Cook, Dest, and Miller aren't going to win us a national championship, but at the same time, we can't win it without them playing well.

3) The Vets Are Leading By Example: Putting Ebbett, Kolarik, and Kaleniecki together was a stroke of genius. That line has been fabulous since they were first put together. Ebbett and Kal have done an outstanding job of leading by example out there, whether it be on the PK and forechecking like madmen, or scoring a big goal when we need one (Start of the 3rd period vs. OSU). Ebbett has 13 points in his last 9 games and has scored at least one point in 8 of them. Kolarik has points in 11 of 16 (with multiple points in 8 of them) and just ended a 4 game drought with 3 in the tie at Omaha. Kal has points in 7 of 10 since he came back from his injury.

4) The Talent is There: I've said it the whole time we've been in this slump....if the light ever goes on for them, look out! There's so much talent on this team. They can play with/beat anyone in the country, they just have to execute and do it. You look at guys that can without question step their game up a notch or two and you've got Hensick, Cogliano, Porter, Johnson, Hunwick, and I guess even Kolarik. Those are some big-time names, and if most of them can elevate their game, they can play with anyone.

5) Even Though They've Been Subpar, They've Been in Almost Every Game: As bad as Michigan has been, and as many games as you can say they've been outplayed, they haven't been that far off. Look at the games we've lost (going backwards): 1 goal, 1 goal in OT, 2 goals with an empty-netter, 3 at BGSU when we were awful, 2, 2, 5 vs. CC which doesn't count, 1, 2, 1, 3, 2. So you've only got 3 games the entire year where we were completely out-classed and had no shot to win (actually make it 4 because that 2-0 game against Sparty was just a complete abortion). But the point is, we've been playing like hell, and we haven't been getting killed. That bodes well for us if the lightbulb ever goes on.

And a bonus reason to feel positive:
6) The NCAA is Wide Open This Year: There's just no dominant team. Wisconsin had that look for most of the year until Elliot got hurt, but they struggled in his absence. But I have to say that they just didn't blow me away when I saw them at Yost. They kind of reminded me of those Michigan State Ryan Miller teams that were great in the regular season put didn't do much in the tournament. Miami has had an excellent year, but do I think that Michigan can't beat them on a neutral sheet? No way! We've beaten BC, granted it was their first game of the year. If you're naming the favorite coming into the tournament, who do you even pick? It's wide open, and if Red can get them to start playing, there's no reason they can't take a run at this thing. I keep coming back to this: 2 years ago, Denver was 5th in the WCHA. They lost in the first round of their conference tournament. They won the whole damn thing. And remember the Terrier Curse: Michigan loses when they are favored, they win in the years they're not expected to do anything.

Get it going boys, and let's take a shot at it! Go Blue!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Odds and Ends

Lots of odds and ends to tie up, since I haven’t had a lot of time to post lately:

First off, Michigan and Nebraska-Omaha: Disappointing weekend for sure. You have to feel like they left 2 points on the table this weekend, even if we shouldn’t have really been in position to get one of them. To get down by 3 goals and still have the heart to fight back shows me something, but then to give up the game winning goal six seconds after you tied the game up is just…I don’t have a word. Is it possible to do that any faster? If Nikiforuk started at center ice with no defenders whatsoever, would it take him at least four seconds to score?

Note that on 3 of the 4 UNO goals Friday night, a defenseman (or two) screwed up. I really wish I had a stat to back this up (and who knows, it may even be the norm for the country), but I’m convinced that 80% of the goals we allow are on rushes and not a result of a team just setting up in our end. I really feel like we do a good job in our own zone once everyone is back. It’s just a rare occasion that that’s the case. A commitment to team defense (by everyone) would go a long way to helping this team. I’ve pretty much given up hope that that’s going to happen now, if it hasn’t happened already though.

I guess the bottom line is this: Defensemen need to do a better job playing defense, forwards need to do a better job scoring, goalie needs to do a better job stopping the puck, power play needs to score an effing goal once in awhile. At least the penalty kill is good.

Saturday night: Shocker, another blown game. This time they blew two 2-goal leads, letting Omaha finally tie the game up with about two minutes to play. Once again, no power play goals—0 for 3, with a whopping 2 shots on goal—putting them up to 20 straight without a goal.

From reading the game wrap it sounds like we had some excellent goalie play coupled with a pair of goals that he’d like to have back. All-in-all a pretty typical Michigan hockey weekend. I didn’t listen to a second of either game, and yet I feel like I could paint a pretty accurate picture as to what happened, since it’s been going on for months.

On to Daytona: Thank God racing’s back. Overall I thought it was a pretty good race. Lots of leaders, lots of lead changes, lots of 3-wide racing. Tony Stewart had everyone covered, but he drove like a fricken moron and threw it away. That guy just cracks me up. It wasn’t more than a week ago that he was complaining about how they were going to kill someone out there, and then he (admittedly) intentionally wrecks Matt Kenseth at 190 miles per hour. And true to form, Nascar is completely inconsistent with their penalties. Yes, Kenseth deserved a black flag for ramming Stewart coming out of the pits, but when all’s said and done, how does Kenseth end up with more of a penalty than Stewart? Is it really a penalty to put someone at the back of the longest line a) at a restrictor plate track and b) when he probably needs to pit anyway? Then Kyle Busch gets a black flag, can’t get down the racetrack to serve it, the caution comes out, and they let him serve it under yellow. What dude?

It really amuses me that Nascar apparently frowns more upon swearing on TV than they do on intentionally wrecking someone in front of the entire field. Junior loses 20 or so points last year for saying “Shit” on TV, but Stewart, Jarrett, Robby Gordon, etc. don’t even get a slap on the wrist for intentionally wrecking another driver. It’s unreal.

Jeff Gordon drove a helluva race. He fought through a wreck with Stewart, losing third gear, blowing a tire, and finally a wreck with McMurray. Up until the wreck with McMurray he was still in contention for a win. He deserved a better finish than he ended up with.

NBC’s coverage is horrible. Too many commercials, they go “through the field” too much, they don’t keep you aware of what’s happened to guys on the track (e.g. Harvick went from 4th to 37th a lap down and we never heard a word about what happened to him). And their announcers just grate on me. I couldn’t be happier that they lost the bid for next year’s package. Good riddance.

Junior cost himself three spots at the end of the race with what was honestly a pretty futile attempt at pulling out a victory. I give him credit for trying though. I’d much rather have a guy at least trying to win races, rather than doing what Kenseth did his championship year, just finishing seventh every race.

The NBA All-Star game: I didn’t see much of the actual game, though it was nice to see pretty much everyone agree that the Pistons won it for the East. The Skills Competition was pretty darn good though. I like the obstacle course, there’s some originality in the dunk contest again, and the three point contest is still a classic. The dunk contest was the highlight though. It was outstanding this year. Nate Robinson dunking in it of itself would get me to watch but to see him throw one down jumping over Spud Webb in the process was just fabulous. Iguodala wins for creativity though, with his dunk off the back of the backboard. Was there anyone watching that actually thought he was going to pull that one off? I wonder if the 76ers brass was having a heart attack after he almost decapitated himself on his first attempt.

I disagree with Bill Simmons about Robinson’s last dunk of the night. I feel like it was worth waiting for. If he had been able to pull it off from half court—like he almost did on the second or third attempt—it would’ve brought the house down. Yes it sucked that it took him 15 tries to get it right—and that he moved in to the 3-point line in the process, but it was still a sweet dunk. Iguodala should have won, but of the three most memorable dunks of the night, Robinson had two of them.

I do, however, like Simmons’ idea of increasing the money payouts, adding H-O-R-S-E and a half-court shot contest to the night. They could get rid of the shooting stars and the obstacle course (though I do like the latter) in favor of those.

As for Michigan/MSU basketball: Did anyone really expect anything different, especially after Chris Hunter went out? If Harris was completely healthy and Sims stayed out of foul trouble, maybe then you’ve got a shot without Hunter. But being down Abram and Hunter—and essentially down Harris and Smith—and with Sims in foul trouble, that spelled disaster. That means that your two bigs in there are Petway and Brown, neither of whom is a real big offensive threat and you’ve only got one legit guard in there with Horton. Add that to great games out of Shannon Brown, Ager, and Neitzel [insensitive German comment deleted], and you’ve got a loss on the road.

I still think this team gets into the tournament. They’ll beat Indiana, and they should win at least a game in the Big 10 Tournament. That should be more than enough, especially if the committee sees that the team is getting healthy (please Basketball Gods, please!).

That’s all for now, since I should actually get some work done today. There will be a Dale Earnhardt tribute coming. Wanted to get it done on the 5 year anniversary, but it didn’t happen (no internet). Also, the Jack Johnson Milestone Watch will be updated.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Michigan 4, LSSU 2

Belated thoughts from a Saturday night victory:

Don’t look now, but Jack Johnson only has 2 PIMs total in his last 4 games and that penalty didn’t lead to us being short-handed. He’s done a nice job of toning it down since his last ejection.

Much better effort Saturday night than Friday. Michigan came out in the first period and actually looked like they wanted to be playing hockey, rather than chasing tail or yelling out the window making fun of Asian girls that can’t parallel park (yeah Mike Woodford!).

Once again, The Line set the tone with Kal and Ebbett accounting for 3 of Michigan’s goals in the first period. Kal’s second goal was about as big of a blooper as you’ll ever seen. He was basically in all alone, and when he went to shoot, he biffed on the ice and somehow was able to shoot the puck on his way down. It got past Jakaitis in classic Junior-Year-Al-Montoya-“He’d-like-to-have-that-one-back” fashion and Kal had one of the ugliest goals you’ll ever see. Kal has points in 8 of 9 games since he’s come back from his injury and Ebbett has points in 6 of 7. That line is carrying this team right now. A friend in my ticket group put it best, “Good thing him and Ebbett are leaving this year.” Yeah.

Tyler Swystun got on the scoresheet for the second straight game with a beautiful give-and-go with Danny Fardig. Swystun really played well this weekend. It wasn’t just that he tallied points in both games. He made a couple of really nice backchecks Saturday, and showed the first flashes we’ve seen of that high-end offensive skill that he supposedly has. 1-1—2 for the weekend, but he could’ve easily had another goal at the bare minimum.

If any psychology student is reading this and feels like doing a case study into the effect that confidence can have on an athlete, you need to look no further than Tim Cook. Honest to God, he looks like a completely different player from the start of the season. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a time he’s screwed up since the tie game at Munn, and he even played pretty well in that one. The highlight for him Saturday night was a crushing hit on a guy in the first period. Yes I just used the phrase crushing hit in reference to something Tim Cook did.

Ruden was solid in net. I don’t think I’d characterize either goal as his fault, which you couldn’t say on Saturday night. As long as he doesn’t really screw up, we’re not going to see Billy Sauer the rest of the way.

Apart from that 45 second span in the first period, the team defense was overall pretty darn good. I did notice that when Jack rushed the puck, a forward made sure to get back and play defense on a couple of occasions (both times that I actually looked for it). The power play is still absolutely abysmal. What happened to Rohlfs in front of the net? He was out on the point this weekend.

Kevin Porter’s Kris Draper syndrome continued Saturday night. He’d miss the side of a barn if he was shooting from the slot right now. He’s in a funk but I have every confidence he’ll get out of it. I’m not worried about Porter at all. Hensick on the other hand, looks like he’s only willing to skate hard for 2 or 3 shifts in any given game. You can’t have a preseason Hobey Baker candidate going roughly two months without having goals in back-to-back games.

Other notes: The power play was 0-8 on the weekend with 8 shots on goal total. Awful. And we got smoked on faceoffs both games. 33 out of 71 on Friday and 31 out of 70 Saturday. AJ Jenks can’t get here soon enough.

I don’t think it was a coincidence that we had Piotrowski finally and subsequently had probably the two best officiated hockey games of the season. I’ve never been a Pio fan, but after seeing what else the CCHA has to offer in great detail this season, I’ve come around. More of him, please.

It was a little disappointing that Michigan came out and looked like they were going to blow LSSU out of the building, and then a 45 second lapse in team defense turned a 4-0 lead into a 4-2 hockey game. The 2nd and 3rd periods were extremely dull and I zoned out for a pretty fair portion of them. It wouldn’t make me cry if we don’t see LSSU again this year.

There are signs that this team is turning it around—which sounds funny to say after they lost that game Friday night, but I believe it’s true. LSSU isn’t going to remind anyone of the late 80s Oilers or anything, but they did a pretty nice job defensively this weekend. It looks like Jack has toned it down some and the forwards are doing a better job of getting back on the defense rushes. Get the power play going—which it will, there’s too much talent for it not to—and keep making a commitment to playing defense and there’s still hope that this can turn into a successful season.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

LSSU 3, Michigan 2 (ot)

First off, post of the year by Mike Spath on The Wolverine.

Gents, wouldn't it be far nicer to let 6 or GFunk post when they have something as opposed to constantly begging for information.
That has been one of the most absolutely annoying developments in message board history. I really think 75% of the posts the last month have started "Mods, 6, GFunk........." Lord. Thank you Spath.

Now onto that abortion of a hockey game:

I hate hockey games like that. The trap bores me silly. But frankly, I'm not so sure that's not the style I would play against Michigan. Play defense, limit their quality scoring chances, because you know we're going to get impatient and you know we're going to make 4 or 5 big mistakes throughout the course of the game. You just have to capitalize on a couple of em and you're in business. Plus you know we're going to give up at least one terrible goal every game (last night it was the first one. How'd that go in exactly?)

Honestly, I'd have a hard time picking out anyone that played well last night, and I'd have trouble picking out anyone who sucked. It was just a boring, boring, boring hockey game. I hate playing LSSU.

One person I will say played well was Tyler Swystun. That was the first time in a LONG time that he's shown anything indicating he could potentially be more than a 12th forward in college. Great play on the goal he got an assist on, and he had a really nice effort in close that almost ended up in the net.

Apart from that, it was another game with a lot of low-percentage shots. Probably the most boring 70-80 shot hockey game I've ever seen.

What the hell was our team doing on the overtime goal? It looked like we got the puck cleared and then all 3 of our forwards just completely stopped skating, like they were either expecting someone else to go get it, or they thought the play was gonna be blown dead. At least Hensick admitted postgame that they screwed up on that one....

We're just not a very good hockey team. But like I've said all along, I bet Denver fans were saying the same thing 2 years ago. If the light finally goes on, no one's going to want to play them. Keep playing like this, and we're 1 and done for the second time in our history...

It just scares me that I'm starting to feel about this team the way I feel about the football team right now. I get excited as all getup when they score/win, but when they lose I just can't get mad about it.

5 home losses in a season? Are you freaking kidding me? Five?? I guess it's only fitting with Michigan football losing 3 at home this year and the Packers dropping 5 at Lambeau.....Awesome.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Hobey Ballot

Western College Hockey is doing a blog vote for the Hobey, so here's my ballot as it stands right now:

1 (5 points). Chris Collins (Forward, BC): The nation's leading goal scorer, second in points, second in points per game, just out of the top 20 in assists, and his team is doing fairly well. Plus I actually got to see him in person this year and he impressed the living hell out of me.

2 (4 points). Brian Elliott (Goalie, Wisconsin): 18-2-2, .944, 1.40. Stats lie sometimes, but you don't need to see a whole lot more than that with this kid. Wiscy was the consensus #1 until he got injured, and his injury is the only reason that I leave him out of the #1 spot right now. If he comes back strong, give him the award.

3 (3 points). Scott Parse (Forward, UNO): The nation's leading scorer, #1 in points per game, #2 in assists. UNO is 9th in the unadjusted Pairwise right now, and if they make the tournament, that's a big boost for his bid.

4 (2 points). Jeff Zatkoff (Goalie, Miami): He splits time, or he'd be higher. Honestly, who had Miami winning the CCHA, let alone getting a cup of coffee as the #1 team in the entire country? .938 and 1.75 go a long way toward that. Gotta give someone on that team their due, and Zatkoff is as good of a choice as any.

5 (1 point). Matt Carle (Defenseman, Denver): The top scoring defenseman in the country for the two-time champs, who are starting to get a little feisty. I had him pencilled in at #3, but as Andy Hilbert learned, pencils have erasers, and my keyboard has a backspace key. I can't give it to someone whose team probably isn't going to make the tournament. If Denver gets in, slide him up to #3.

My remaining 5 finalists: Brett Sterling, Ryan Potulny, Cory Schneider, Jamie Hunt as the token small school player, and Jeff Jakaitis because really? Lake State? Really? He would also be my "wildcard" pick for someone that shouldn't win it, but should at least get a mention.

Michigan 4, WMU 1: Two Wins in a Row? What's This?

First off, about the arena and crowd: They have to be disappointed with the showing last night. The student looked great, and the middle of the arena was full, but from about the faceoff dots in the zone on around behind the net, there were a LOT of empty seats. If you can't pack the place for Michigan, something's wrong. The concessions there are awesome. Damon's is their vendor, so they have BBQ, and you can even get a full slab of ribs if you want. But all the praise they get from me on that goes away when you take into account that THEY DON'T SELL PUCKS. What's wrong with these people? What's going to sell more? A bright orange t-shirt with "Western Michigan" on it in white writing (that was fugly by the way) or hockey pucks at a hockey game. Strong work.

On to the game:

That was a lot more like it! That's as good of a game as this team has played in a long time. They got it started right away with an absolutely gorgeous pass to Hensick for the breakaway goal.

The 4th goal of the night was also an excellent passing play. Great play by Turnbull to beat the WMU player to the puck, and then to have the vision to see Hensick coming behind him and the presence of mind to drop it to him...then TJ makes a great feed to Porter for the goal. Niiiice. Thing of beauty. Porter is just so effective and yet not even remotely flashy. Our sophomores are playing great, great hockey right now.

It was hard to see too much else, since most of the play was down at the other end of the rink and we didn't have a great view of it. Johnson made a great fake on his goal to get the WMU player to go down, then he walked right around him and had a clean lane to shoot.

Ruden was outstanding last night. They didn't have a ton of chances but he still made quite a few outstanding saves. It's nice to see a goalie have 2 good starts in a row. No question he starts vs. LSSU in my mind...hopefully he'll have a strong weekend and solidify himself for the playoff run. I wanted Sauer to win the job, but he never did it, and I think you have to go with Ruden at this point.

Fardig had a great game as well. He does such a nice job on those penalty kills. I get the feeling that he and Porter will be our go-to guys on the PK next year with Ebbett and Kal gone. It was completely obvious that Cogs was going to get a SH breakaway at some point last night. He just missed breaking up 2 passes out by the point or he would've been gone. He did manage to get one on that same PK though.

McInchak cracks me up. He didn't call a BAD game last night, it was just funny what he called and what he let go. Cook high sticks a guy...he's looking RIGHT at it. Nothing. Fardig gets a guy in a full nelson and hauls him down. He's looking right at it. Nothing. Ebbett gets his hand taken off, nothing. One of the WMU players loses a glove on a slash, nothing until 5 seconds later when he called something ticky-tack.

It makes me really happy to see Johnson and Hunwick split up--I think we're a much stronger defensive team because of it. I also think that rotating 5 defensemen for the most part is helping this team, though I'm not entirely sure why (Is it forcing guys to be more aware b/c they're not used to their partner? I don't know). Montville is not hurting this team one bit though. He had a great breakup of a budding 2 on 1 in the early stages of the game. Cook, Dest and Johnson all had outstanding defensive plays during the course of the game.

Nice to see Hensick get it going. He's been coasting way too much the last few weeks...whether it be injury or something else. We NEED him to be a threat if we're going to go anywhere in the postseason.

The defense as a whole was good. Actually, as it turned out, most of the breakdowns we had were while we were on the powerplay. WMU's only goal was shorthanded (albeit with a delayed penalty so it was 5 on 5), and they had a couple other shorthanded chances. But overall, our defense didn't give them a ton. I think all 6 of our defensemen can walk out of that building saying they played a good game. Our forwards were also being responsible for the most part--someone coming back when one of the defensemen would go. It was very nice to see.

Johnson with Mitera is working...Jack would go flying into the zone and Mitera would back completely out. They compliment each other well.

The scary moment for Michigan was when Cook, Dest, Rohlfs, and Fardig were all in the box, so we had to kill a penalty with only 4 D (including Montville, and both our emergency defensemen were in the box as well). Montville did fine though and we killed it off.

Good win, they took care of business against a much lesser team and were never really threatened. Gotta keep the momentum going into the weekend against LSSU. We really need 3-4 points this weekend.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Too Early to Talk 91s/Saturday Thoughts

Because U of M might be in on a potentially top-notch one. Kenny Ryan was at the Michigan/Ohio State game Friday night, and he's supposedly really really good. Then again, he's in 8th grade. If the last name sounds familiar it's because he's the younger brother of Ross Ryan, the Michigan punter.

I don't have a subscription to hockeyscouting.ca, but here's a little tidbit you can get in the teaser:
1991 born Kenny Ryan one of the top Michigan prospects
By the www.hockeyscouting.ca staff

Even though Kenny Ryan, a tall winger with Detroit Honeybaked, is three years away from being eligible for the OHL Draft, scouts have been keeping a close eye on the prospect:

"I got a peak at him during a Toronto Red Wings tourney," says one scout, "he is a tall kid with top end hands. Right now he is one of the best 1991's in all of the United States."

It's kind of hard to get geeked up about a kid that's going to be in the class of...umm...2010 if I did the math right, but that's definitely a name to remember for the future. And I'd imagine we have a pretty good shot at getting him as long as his brother is having a nice time in Ann Arbor. His family was with him, and Jack Johnson's dad was kiddingly trying to talk the kid out of attending Notre Dame (Daddy Ryan was a member of the Fighting Irish, and had a huge ND ring of some sort on his finger). Kenny was very amused by the penalty chant. He covered his mom's ears on a couple of them.

To the game Saturday, and a few comments that weren't in my post on the Yost Post since I just thought of them:

I was really happy to escape that game with 1 point, let alone two. What a horrid performance for the first two periods. You'd think that after Friday night they'd come out flying, but what do they do? Get outshot 9-1 in the first segment.

Luckily they turned the tables on OSU from the night before--we were the ones with 2 quick goals to start the third (that GWG was BRUUUUUTAL by the way--did Section 17 get an "Osssgood" chant going or was I just hearing things? Because that was who it reminded me of).

Kolarik was awesome again. He had the jump going the whole night and was probably Michigan's best player once again. He's been our MVP for this last segment of the season.

I'm not sure why they split up "THE Line" (that's what I'm calling them now) to start the game (Kolarik/Ebbett/Kal) but they put em back together in the third and what do they do? Score 12 seconds in. Smart move, Red.

OSU had 38 shots or something, but I feel like they didn't have all that many that were great scoring chances. As Colin alluded to in the comments below, the defense did a really nice job in keeping the shooter from getting into the slot. I felt like most of their shots were from aroudn the perimeter. Ruden was good when he needed to be (especially in the last couple of minutes), but by and large, I thought a lot of the shots were pretty low percentage. Couldn't believe when I looked up at the board and saw that shot total. He played a good game though. The team was geeked at the end of the game. All the guys mobbed him when we won. Spath says he's getting the nod tomorrow, and I can't disagree with that. Hopefully Noah will seize the job this time, because it's getting to the point in the season we NEED someone to take hold of the goalie spot. I think Sauer's confidence is too shot to trust him in a big game at this point.

The defense wasn't great, but they definitely weren't terrible. Both goals were off giveaways, but one ended up getting cycled back out to the point before OSU scored. I noticed that when Jack pinched a couple times, Ebbett immediately came back...very nice to see the awareness out of the forwards.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. I like Tim Miller more every time I see him play. He's a really nice all-around player for us.

Did Hensick play tonight? He did? Huh. Could've fooled me.

Shegos was better tonight. He still let a lot of crap go that you know damn well he would've called if it was Johnson (that hit from behind with 2 1/2 minutes left in the Buckeye end for instance), but it wasn't the Brokeback Mountain treatment he gave us Friday night. Porter's penalty was just dumb, dumb, dumb. We were getting a 5 on 3, a guy by our bench was yapping, and Porter reached over the linesman with his stick to tap him on the head, but he ended up whapping the linesman 3 times. Just dumb. Luckily we got a 5 on 3 like 20 seconds later, but it was still a potential opportunity wasted.

No "Dammit Cook!" moments for the weekend. We're making progress there. The power play? Not so much. Horrible again.

I like Rohlfs up at forward, Cook and Dest seem like they've improved their games a lot in the last couple of weeks. And "THE Line" is outstanding. It's nice to get a W, but I don't really feel good about how we played. But there were some positives to take from the weekend and hopefully they'll carry on to the Western game tomorrow. Looking forward to hitting up Lawson for the first time.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

JJ and our Philosophy as a Whole

This deserves it's own post, because the anonymous commenter brought up a couple things I want to address.

It isn't just Jack. It isn't just Jack and Hunwick. I understand that team defense is more than just one player, and without watching the tape and knowing Michigan's strategy, it's hard to say if a defenseman made a bad pinch or if the forward was supposed to come back and didn't. I single out that duo more than I probably should because we saw how incredible they can be at the start of the year. Maybe it increased our expectations too much.

The commenter said that he feels Jack could carry this team if Red would let him. I don't necessarily doubt that. I said earlier in the year, I think that Jack would be our second best forward. He got that much offensive talent. But here's the thing: If they were to want Jack to carry them, then they have to make adjustments. I have no problem with them giving Jack the green light to go whenever he wants (I thought putting him out at forward against Michigan State was a great move, not that it lasted for more than 5 seconds, because officials seem to freak out when he hits anyone), but--and it's a big but--they need to adjust. Because there's too many occasions where Jack or Hunwick pinch and we end up seeing an odd man rush going the other way. So either they're going at bad times or too often, or the forwards aren't being defensively aware enough to get back and play some D. I suspect it's some of both. Last night--according to the captain--it was the latter:

"We can't play shootout games anymore. We were rushing up the ice when Kaleniecki had a blocked shot and we had all five guys underneath the hash marks. Then they got a breakaway and took the puck the other way. I thought our defense played pretty decently tonight, but the forwards weren't helping them out on the backcheck. The offense wasn't coming back, but the defense did a great job coming back up the ice."

The other point I'd like to make about Johnson having the ability to "carry" the team is this: Our offense has gone through some slumps this year, no doubt. But I'd also say that this team has a ton of offensive talent and with our goaltending alternating between shaky and piss-poor, at this point I'd rather see our defensemen pinching less, and the team as a whole making more of a commitment to defense. They're not going anywhere in the tournament if they keep giving up 4-5 goals a game, no matter how good the offense can be.

Johnson plays with passion and he plays until the final horn. I love players like that. It's what I loved about Jed Ortmeyer. God only knows we could use a lot more players with the heart those two play with.

I think it's unfair to put all the blame on the goalie(s) just as it's probably unfair to single out Jack and Hunwick all the time like a lot of fans (myself included) tend to do. There have been wayyyy too many goals that you could say "Sauer/Ruden would like to have that one back" about (The first, fifth, and sixth goals last night jump right to mind), but at the same time, there's plenty of them that our defense (that includes the forwards) needs to do a better job of helping out. The sheer number of breakaways and odd-man rushes we've given up point to some breakdown in our system.

I'm really frustrated right now. I'm not used to seeing Michigan lose this many games. I'm not used to seeing the Wolverines lose this many games at Yost. Something needs to change, because our defensive coverage hasn't been up to par. And I can't believe a coach as good as Red has let it go on this long uncorrected.


I needed some time to calm down from last night because I was not a happy camper after that game.

Our goaltending was pathetic. Sauer gave up at least 2 that he HAS to stop, and the goal Ruden gave up was horrible. No, the defense isn't helping them one iota (e.g. Mitera made a horrible attempt to intercept a pass that turned a nothing play--a one on two--into a breakaway from OSU that ended up in our net) but at some point our goalies have to give up less than 3 goals in a hockey game consistently. Especially against a team with as problems scoring like OSU.

Johnson didn't have a good game, despite his goal. There's just too much offense and not enough defense with most of our defensemen and it keeps turning into breakaways and odd man rushes. I didn't get a look at his ejection, but tbarr said it wasn't a good call, and that's enough for me to believe it.

I finally see what MSUStudent was talking about with regard to Shegos. He and Langseth really gave us the Brokeback Mountain treatment last night. Shegos did his best Scott Hansen Buffalo '03 performance in blowing a play dead as the puck was crossing the goal line. Should've been a goal. Wasn't because he was too quick on the draw. Langseth calls a holding penalty on Michigan when Shegos is right there looking at it and not calling it. Kal gets boarded and somehow it's a 2 minute penalty, but when Jack does it--questionably--you better believe that it's 5 and a game. Thankfully not a DQ. Ref the game, not the number.

On the bright side, Ebbett/Kal/Kolarik looked very good once again. Montville didn't get a ton of ice time, but apart from letting a guy get behind him on the first shift, he didn't hurt us any.

And the biggest plus: David Rohlfs. Ho-ly. Crap. I like the kid back on D, but I love him as a forward. I don't remember him being THIS good. He was all over the ice against WMU, and he was even more visible last night. Scored a goal, had a couple other chances, and he's like a 50-pound-heavier Tomas Holmstrom on the PP. He parked himself in front of Caruso, and they couldn't do anything about it! We've found something there....He looked outstanding.

Mitera played a very good game apart from his one goof that led to the OSU goal. Didn't realize he was +3 until just now when I looked at the boxscore. At the other end of the spectrum: Hunwick and Turnbull -3 each.

Again, the power play did a much better job of moving the puck, and not just doing the same thing over and over. They were only 1-7 but they generated 12 shots on the PP. Good things will start happening if they keep it up. Still too much jacking shots into the defensemen--HENSICK!--but at least a couple times they made the effort to go down low. I love Rohlfs in front as a screen.

Too many defensive lapses, horribly shaky goaltending. But a good effort out of our forwards, and especially David Rohlfs. He just looks fantastic out there.

Shegos, you're a jackass. Langseth, you are too.

Sauer has just lost his confidence. It's not Red's fault for playing him because you can see the talent this kid has, it's the defense's fault for hanging him out to dry over and over. The kid was lights-out at the start of the year, and then our defense got worse and worse, and not coincedentally, so did Sauer's play. Now he's giving up cheapies all over the place. I don't doubt for a second these things are related.

Ruden does nothing for me and Sauer seems like he's just a wreck mentally right now. I don't envy Red about deciding who to go with down the stretch. Although, honestly...if they don't get this defensive crap fixed, it's not going to matter if we have Dominik Hasek or Stephen Hawking in net.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

3 Games, 3 Wins

Imagine that. The NBA-leading Pistons are on one station, the Western Conference leading Red Wings are on another station, and I choose to watch The Big 10 Leading Michigan Wolverines basketball team. God does it feel good to be able to say that. Who would've thought I'd be picking them over the Wings and Pistons?

In between flipping back and forth, I was getting a little bit worried about the Maize and Blue. They started slow, got out to a comfortable lead, held it for a long time, and then it got close at the end. Once again, it would've been really easy for that team to fold (especially with Horton on the bench) but they were able to pull it out thanks to Dion Harris and a clutch shot by Daniel. Courtney was again MIA. 1 of 6 from the field, with 3 of his shots blocked, going up against a team that doesn't start anyone that is less than a half-foot shorter than him. Vagina. He was menstrating all over the court once again. Lester returned for 2 minutes and had a nice basket. Not sure why he didn't play more--if his aggravated his ankle, or if they were just testing it and wanted him to shut it down. Either way it was nice to see him back on the floor. Hopefully he'll be good to go against Iowa.

Something interesting that I learned yesterday. Jack Johnson's 7 minute penalty and game misconduct against Miami was reviewed by the CCHA and they actually apologized to Michigan, saying that it shouldn't have been called. Guess who was the ref? Here's a hint, he apologized to Michigan a couple years ago after waiving off a U of M goal that would've tied a game at Munn (that we ended up losing by 2...an empty-netter was the only other tally). If you said Brian Aaron, you're absolutely correct!!!

Over to the Wings, Kronwall made his return to action and man-oh-man did he look good. He had a huge hit, and two assists. Not bad for someone playing his first game in four months. Detroit may not make a deadline deal this year, but getting Kronwall back is even better. Adding a top 4 defenseman to the team is always a plus, especially when he's got a rocket of a shot and can make the outlet pass. He's going to love playing without the red line, since that's what he was used to over in Sweden, when he quarterbacked the team's Torpedo System. The highlights.

The Wings as a whole looked uninspired for the first half of the game, but luckily they got it going in time to salvage a win. The first goal Legace gave up was a cheapie, but he rebounded and made some big saves at the end to preserve the win.

Congrats to Tomas Holmstrom. With the injury to Markus Naslund, Homer has been named to the Swedish Olympic Team.

From the "This can't actually happen....can it?" file, a post on Redwingscentral.com says--citing a post on another board citing ESPN Insider (and my best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with a girl who saw Ferris pass out at 31 Flavors last night. I guess it's pretty serious)--that the Red Wings will be going to a more "modern" look with their jerseys next season.

The new Red Wings home jersey will be red, and will feature a mid-weight ULTRAFIL polyester construction, as well as double layered shoulders, black interlock neck trim, reinforced stitching on the shoulders and armholes, with black cuffs and white polyester mesh gusset inserts for better ventilation. Below the gussets, the jersey will be black. The flying wheel chest crest will feature a black drop shadow, and the jersey will have black player numbers under the white player name. Piping across the shoulders will be reflective white.

My BS-o-meter is beeping away on this one. While it's been rumored for awhile that the Wings would get a black third jersey, I can't see them changing the classic look that they've got now. Black numbers under a white name? Reflective piping? There's no way.

Pistons? Another game, another blowout win over Minnesota. Think that team's happy they're done playing us for the year?

Fun story for Packer fans about Max Lane--the guy that Reggie White just abused in Super Bowl XXXI. He watched the tape for the first time in conducting this interview.

And an update on my favorite racecar driver, Andretti-Green driver Bryan Herta. Who races in the offseason, but has done a better job of not flipping his car than Tony Stewart has. It's almost racing season!!!!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Michigan 7, WMU 3

It was an encouraging game to me because even though we got down by a couple goals and had a player injured, we fought back and made it not close by the end. And even when they were down 2-0 they were still playing pretty well overall.

I love Rohlfs up at forward. That had to be one of his best games in a Michigan uniform (his first game on defense down at BGSU last year would be right there as well). He looks like he hasn't missed a beat in moving up front. He and Fardig each had 5 shots on goal last night. Nice to see those guys chipping in on the offensive end. Rohlfs had a couple that could've gone. Montville didn't look out of place at all back on D, and I really feel that the defense has been better since they started switching guys around during the game.

Kal looked like Bobby Orr on the goal he scored. Too bad the photo on MGoBlue wasn't taken a half second later or it would've been perfect....

The power play looked a lot better tonight, even though they only converted on a delayed penalty, and were 0-3 overall. They had a lot of good movement, they worked it down low some, we even saw Ebbett behind the net if I'm not mistaken (someone was!). Still too many low-percentage shots from the perimeter that have no chance of getting through.

Hensick had the jump back tonight. 2 assists, +3 on the night. I'll take it!

Absolutely love Kolarik, Ebbett, and Kal together. That line was just phenomenal. Chad especially has been excellent for the last few weekends. It scares me to think of what this team would be doing if he actually WAS out for the season.....

Nice to see Digger rewarded with a couple of goals. Kid works hard every shift. He had a great PK early in the game too.

Cook played another pretty darn good game actually. As DCNole mentioned, he didn't play that 2 on 1 so well, but Mitera really hung him out to dry on that one. He had a couple of nice hits throughout the game. It's nice to see him FINALLY using his body more and more often. It's like ever since he scored that goal he's been playing with 10x more confidence, and it's showing in his game.

The defense as a whole played pretty well. Only gave up 10 shots total in the 2nd and 3rd period after giving up that many in the first. Billy made some big stops and could really only be faulted on the 2nd goal. Overall a pretty good night as a whole.

One other note: To the people on the glass in section 17....if you're going to jock my style with the dry-erase board on the glass, come up with something more creative than this. At least say who you're talking to. Bastards caught a puck that would've been right in my hands too, if I had my seats from the last 3 years. Grr!