Friday, December 28, 2007

Michigan 6, Providence 0

That was a strange, strange hockey game. Due to a wreck on I-75 and having to make the "long" part of the People Mover journey from Millender to the Joe, we missed the first 8 minutes of the game. When I walked in, it was 1-0 Michigan and shots on goal were 12-1. Then a funny thing happened: The Friars got a shot on Billy Sauer and instead of becoming 12-2, the shot clock changed to 13-1. "Surely that can't be right," I thought. Michigan got a shot. The other side of the clock changed. Sure enough, the Friars were peppering Billy Sauer, but it was the Wolverines leading.

And things never really changed. Providence kept shooting. Billy kept making saves. The Wolverines kept scoring. By the time things were said and done, Michigan won the game 6-0, but was outshot 50-21. It could've been worse; Michigan was credited with 23 blocked shots in the game to Providence's seven. Only one player on the Friars failed to tally a shot on goal.

But at the same time (keeping in mind that I missed the first portion of the game) the only great scoring chances that Providence had were on a late flurry at the end of the first period, and on a five-on-three with about 8 minutes to go. The rest of the time, they were taking harmless shots from the perimeter. Sauer was making the saves he had to make, not leaving rebounds, and playing a steady hockey game in net. They had a couple of good chances scattered throughout, but nothing like you'd expect from a team that put up 50 shots in the game. Still a great performance by a goalie that continues to impress.

Spreading it Around:
What struck me tonight was how many different players we got contributions from offensively. Six different players scored goals, ten guys had points. And it was all the different lines contributing: Kolarik (!), Fragner, and Fardig were the only players who weren't a plus in the game, and Kolarik was on the ice for the power play goal. Check out these names that showed up on the point sheet: Miller, Naurato, Lebler, Ciraulo, Winnett, Turnbull. When those guys contribute offensively it's a major bonus, since you pretty much know that Porter's gonna be on the ice for a couple as well.

Best play of the night that only kind of shows up in the box score:
On Michigan's fourth goal (the power play tally by Porter), the Friars had multiple opportunities to clear. Once, they played it to the right point. Porter had pinched down, so there was no one there to hold the puck in. Chad Langlais read the play, and somehow managed to get over to the line in time to keep the puck in the zone. He later held the puck in a second time and eventually fed Porter for the goal. He got an assist on the play, but even that doesn't reflect how much of an impact he had on that scoring play.

Louie Freaking Caporusso:
I didn't forget how good he was during his time off, but he continues to produce. He had a goal just over a minute into the game and had an assist with under a minute left in the first period to stake Michigan to a 2-0 lead. That gives him 10 points in 10 games during his young career. He was also our best faceoff man, winning 10 and losing 7. It's nice to have ya back, Louie!

I Was Worried About This Guy?:
Just earlier in the afternoon, I suggested that Sims was the type of goalie that could make life difficult on us. Wrong. I assume he just had an off night, but after giving up 11 goals in his last 7 games, he gave up 5 on 14 shots before being lifted after two periods. Two were of the weak variety. The other three were nice shots, but at some point you gotta make a save.

Big Goals From Lesser Known Players:
How bout those shots by Anthony Ciraulo and Ben Winnett?! Ciraulo got a great feed short-handed from Kevin Porter and put one up over Sims's shoulder to give Michigan a 3-0 lead. I don't think he got all of it, but it was perfectly placed. The person who did get all of his shot was Ben Winnett. He fired a laser into the top corner, which pretty much ended any thought that Providence might have had about making it a game at some point. That was a bomb.

That's More Like It, Lebler!:
I've been kind of rough on the kid this year, but Brian Lebler played a great hockey game tonight. It was the type of game that he needs to be playing night in and night out, because he is a guy that can help this team. He was in the corners banging away, using his body, creating space for his linemates. I had one specific play that I wanted to single him out for, but it's slipped my mind. So sorry bout that, Lebs. I'll give you some props though for a very nice game tonight.

Unsung Moment of the Game:
It's not College Hockey at The Joe without Bud Lynch not coming close on the pronounciation of several players' names. The best one tonight was how Aaron Palushaj's name became "Aaron Paluski", then "Aaron......mmmsfaf", then "Aaron..........." I love that guy.

So bring on the Techsters:
MTU played a very nice game, downing MSU 4-1 in a game that was much closer than the score indicated. We left after the first period and I caught the third on TV; that was an entertaining hockey game. Tons of hitting, lots of great scoring chances, some big saves, some posts, and one of the greatest hip-checks you'll ever see, with Mike Ratchuk getting up-ended. The Spartans hit a bunch of goalposts, but could never really solve Tech backup goalie Rob Nolan, who played very well despite his ugly numbers (3.17/.874). Stud goalie Michael-Lee Teslak is out with an injury and I don't expect to see him tomorrow, since he wasn't dressed for the game tonight. I'm not disappointed that we should avoid seeing him in net. That guy is good.

MTU comes in at 7-8-2, and their 11 conference points put them at 5th place in the WCHA ahead of Minnesota and Wisconsin. They got off to a hot start, going 5-2-0 out of the gate, and beating North Dakota, and Wisconsin in the process. After that, they slumped, going 1-6-2 over the next nine (including being swept by St. Cloud and taking just one point from each of Minnesota-Duluth and Northern Michigan) before the win over Sparty tonight.

Tech doesn't score many goals. They've only got 38 in 17 games this season. So as long as Sauer is remotely on his game tomorrow and we don't let Tyler Shelast get off (good player!), I expect a win. I'm sure Tech will come out hitting hard, playing some good defense, blocking a frustrating amount of shots, and slowing down Michigan any way they can. But if we can put two or three goals on the board, it should be enough to win.

I was happy to see Tech win tonight, because it means that either way one of the host schools will be ending a long GLI Championship drought tomorrow (We haven't won since 1996, Tech hasn't won since 1980). Plus it'd be a lot easier to stomach a loss to them, if it happens, than Sparty. Both these teams know the significance of this tournament, so I expect it to be a pretty intense game early on.

But I fully expect to be celebrating a GLI Championship tomorrow night. Here's hoping, anyway. It'd be pretty special to win the College Hockey Showcase and GLI in the same season, with some more prizes (CCHA, CCHA Tourney, NCAA Tourney) still up for grabs.

The good news for me is due to the weather forecast, Northwest allowed flights to be changed for free, so my travel plans got pushed back by a day, so I'll be able to get to the game tomorrow. Woot! That means no live-tape-delay blog, however. Just thoughts after the game or sometime on Sunday.


Sorry about the lack of posting this week. I've been back in Michigan doing family stuff and didn't have nearly as much time to screw around writing second half previews as I thought. I hope everyone has had a great holiday.

We begin the second half of the season in a few hours, with the Wolverines competing in the 43rd Great Lakes Invitational, a tournament that they once dominated, but haven't won since 1996. They come into this tournament short-handed, missing Matt Rust, Chris Summers, Max Pacioretty, and Carl Hagelin who are off competing in the World Junior Championships. They will, however, get Louie Caporusso back from injury, which should help somewhat.

The first opponent is the Providence Friars, who come into today's game in sixth place in that jumble of teams that is Hockey East. They're in sixth place, but are just 3 points out of first place, and have at least one game--and as many as three--in hand over every team in front of them. They're 6-6-2 overall and 4-3-2 in conference. But they've been playing good hockey, having won 3 in a row to get back to .500 for the first time after starting 0-4-0. They've beaten UMass, Vermont, Brown, Union, and swept Maine. The losses came against BU, St. Lawrence, Clarkson, Northeastern, Holy Cross, and New Hampshire.

On paper, this is a team we should beat. But then I look at the stats and see a goalie in Tyler Sims with a 2.16, .917--but still only has a 5-5-1 record--and it makes me think that he's probably the type of goalie that can get hot and cause a team fits. Especially a team missing three--or arguably four, depending what position Chris Summers is actually supposed to be playing--really good forwards. He's given up just two goals in his last three games, and 11 in his last seven.

They've got three guys averaging a point a game--and two more who are right around that mark--and are led in scoring by an awful lot of upper-classmen. Their top freshman only has five points.

16 of their 45 goals have come with the man-advantage--and they convert at almost a 25% rate. They also kill penalties very well (86.9%). They've also got 6 shorties this year, so for the season as a whole, they're only -2 in terms of goal differential when they're killing penalties. That's outstanding. Michigan is -8.

I'm not overly scared of this game, but Providence does seem to have the potential to make life difficult on us--and get out of there with a win if Michigan doesn't bring it. I fully expect to see these Wolverines playing for the Championship tomorrow, though.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: I think things set up pretty well for us this year. Even with those four guys gone, we've got our two best forwards, all our defensemen, our goalie, and 4/5ths of our top power play unit. I'm looking forward to seeing Caporusso back in the lineup. Even though our record has been great with him out, I think we did miss him quite a bit. I'd expect that once everyone comes back, we'll see better performances out of guys like Miller and Turnbull--and even Hagelin who got quiet for a little while after a hot start.

Brandon Naurato will be getting a chance on the top line today. What an opportunity for that kid! His numbers are clearly down this year, but he'll get a chance today to prove that he should be an every day player in the second half of the year. Porter and Kolarik will be able to set him up for some nice opportunities, and he needs to make the most of them with his great shot.

I'll be down at the Joe today, but I'm heading back to Wisconsin tomorrow, so I'll miss our game (hopefully the Championship) tomorrow. Fox Sports is showing it on tape delay at like 12:30 am, so I should be back in time to catch the telecast, if we're playing, and do a live-tape-delay blog for it. If my laptop turns on.

One last bit of news: Mark Mitera will now be wearing the "A" instead of Tim Miller. They've said that it was a way of rewarding Mitera, not punishing Miller. Berenson expressed concern that Miller may have been worrying too much about being a captain and it was hurting his game--which, given the start he's had, might not be far-fetched. We've seen the way that wearing a letter has helped Kolarik, but it might be working the opposite way for Miller. Mitera deserves it for the way he has played.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Projected Stats: The Breakdown

The other day, I projected stats for the rest of the season for the hockey team. Today, I'll break down the numbers with my thoughts on what you can take from them--and what might be a little misleading.

It's highly unlikely that Kevin Porter is going to score 41 goals. Ted Cook led the nation in goals last year with 32. The stats on USCHO only go back to 1998-99, but nobody has hit 40 in that timespan. Barring an injury he'll get into the 30s, which is usually good for the national lead, but I can't see him keeping this pace up all year. That said, the most goals a Michigan player has had since 98-99 is 31 (Muckalt). Porter should top that fairly easily.

Colin's research for his inaugural post (beyond an intro) indicates that since 99-00, Michigan has had just three freshmen score more than 1 point per game, and only five have have scored .8 ppg or more. Over the last 7 years, there have only been 57 .9 ppg freshmen. Currently, we've got two freshmen at or above a point per game, and three above .8 ppg. I think it's reasonable that Pacioretty's numbers will continue to improve, as he got off to a slow start due to a broken hand. History suggests that all three of them won't continue at the pace they're on, however.

Chad Langlais is on pace for 27 assists, which would be the highest total ever for a freshman defenseman at Michigan (23, Patrick Neaton) and the highest total by any defenseman over the referenced timespan (26, Jeff Jillson). With the way our power play is working, and with Langlais being the quarterback, it wouldn't shock me a bit if he continued on this pace. It's very likely that he'll get the freshman record. He only needs to average about a half assist a game the rest of the year to attain that mark. That's kind of incredible if you think about all the greats that have come through this program.

Look at those goals against and shots on goal totals. Sauer is on pace to allow 45 less goals than a year ago (albeit that would be in 4 less games). The team as a whole is on pace to allow 42 less goals than a year ago (not counting ENGs). A big reason for that is the play of the defense in front of our netminders. At this rate, we'll give up right around 200 less shots. Pretty impressive.

It should also be mentioned that Billy Sauer's current save percentage would be the best mark a Michigan goalie has posted since Al Montoya's stellar sophomore season.

The biggest surprise amongst the returning skaters has to be Steven Kampfer. In just 17 games, he's had 2 1/2 times the amount of points he had last season and he's on pace to make a 19 point jump (and a +20 jump). He's been really, really good.

Looking at the numbers, there aren't too many players that you can consider to be a "disappointment". Miller, Naurato, Lebler, Mitera, and Summers are the players on pace to score less points than a year ago.

Naurato is playing a lot less, which isn't surprising. Chris Summers's numbers are skewed, as he got a lot of points playing forward at the end of last year, and he's been up front for just a game and a half thusfar. Mitera's numbers are down, not insignificantly, but he's been so good defensively (I believe I read that he's been on the ice for just one even-strength goal all year) that it's impossible to say that he's been disappointing in any fashion.

Tim Miller puzzles me. He made a big jump forward offensively last year, scoring 7 goals and 24 points after tallying 15 points as a freshman. For a forward that didn't see a lot of power play time, those are pretty good numbers. He played with Cogliano and Kolarik for a little while, but most of the year he was playing on the third line, and his points were pretty spread out. He's been really quiet this year, with just six points and no goals.

If you are looking for a breakout player in the second half, he and Chris Summers would probably be the best bets. I think Caporusso's injury hurt him because even though he was playing with Rust, it kind of jumbled the second and third lines. I like him on the wing, and with Caporusso coming back, he should be able to slide back outside full-time. He's not going to be a huge scorer, but he should be closer to .5 ppg rather than .33 ppg. He's only on pace for 14 points, but I bet he ends up closer to 20.

Brian Lebler has been disappointing. Last year he wasn't great, but he was able to contribute offensively at times, and when he wasn't getting on the score-sheet, he was doing a nice job on the checking line. He's taken waaay too many penalties this season, and they've been of the dumb variety. He's had a couple of checking-from-behind majors, and he had a really stupid penalty that negated a power play during the loss to Ohio State. Perhaps he's trying too hard to make an impact physically when he's in the lineup, in an effort to stay there.

If Palushaj continues the pace that he is on, and ends up with 32 assists, he would be tied for 6th on the freshman assists list, just two behind TJ Hensick and ahead of the great Brendan Morrison.

Last year we had seven players with double digit goals and nine guys with 20+ points. This year, we're on pace to match those totals.

Currently we're averaging just a tenth of a goal per game less than we did last year when we led the nation in goals. The schedule gets tougher in the second half with as many as six games against MSU and at least two with both of Notre Dame and Miami. I expect the offense to take a slight turn down, and the goals against to rise a little bit. But as it is, our goal differential is nearly a goal per game better than last year, so we've got some leeway. I don't think anyone would object to averaging say, 3.9 goals per game and allowing 2.3 or 2.4 gpg. That's a vast improvement over 3.1 last year even if they aren't as wonderful in the second half.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Thoughts on Rich Rodriguez and the Sports World

1. There are others who are much more versed in the world of college football. I'm sure the usual suspects will be able to break things down a lot better than I. That said, I can't help but be absolutely thrilled with the outcome to this coaching search--thank you Mary Sue Coleman. Rich Rodriguez is one of the top coaches in the game. He's pioneered an offense that many of the top programs use. He's built West [freaking] Virgina into a kind of sort of national power. And now he's here, to take our offense out of the stone age. As offensive coordinator, he went 12-0. At Tulane. With Shaun King at QB. Read those last 3 sentences again. He made Shaun King the most prolific passer in college football history. It's hard to not get excited about this one. Especially when Terrelle Pryor might follow him to Ann Arbor.

2. I really feel for Les Miles. There have been rumblings that he was still interested in the job, and I believe it. Ironically, if West Virginia hadn't choked on applesauce against Pittsburgh, Miles would probably be our coach, with Rodriguez in the title game. People can say what they want, but anyone who loves this school enough to flirt with it, even with his damn strong football team in the national title game is someone that I will always root for. Beat those Buckeyes, Les.

3. The loss to Pitt will no doubt get brought up by Sparties trying to justify to themselves that this was a terrible hire or that he'll "fit right in". That game doesn't bug me so much. Les Miles lost to Arkansas at home with a chance at the title game hanging in the balance. Same with Tressel's team losing to Ron Zook and Illinois at home. Those two still ended up getting in. But Bob Stoops and the Sooners dropped a game to Texas Tech. Lloyd Carr and company lost to App State. St. Nick and the Crimson Tide lost to a team from Louisiana not named LSU. Urban Meyer lost at home to a ho-hum Auburn team that got beat by Mississippi State. Pete Carroll and USC lost to Stanford. Georgia lost at home to a 6 loss South Carolina team. Mack Brown's Longhorns got blown out at home by Kansas State. It was a weird year.

4. It takes a special play to get me to mention an NFL happening before talking about my Packers, but one happened today. Brian Westbrook, my hat is off to you. For those who didn't see it, the Eagles were up 10-6 on Dallas just before the two-minute warning at the end of the game. Westbrook ripped off a run for a first down and had clear sailing to the end zone. He stopped at the one yard line and took a knee, knowing that they'd be able to run out the clock with Dallas out of timeouts. It was the most heads-up play I've seen in a long, long time. Most players wouldn't have had the awareness to pull it off, and some would've been selfish enough that they would've scored the TD anyway. If there are two things that I'm strongly in favor of in football, they're a) not going for 2 before it's necessary and b) letting the other team score if tackling them means you lose. The latter is hardly ever practiced (or it's not practiced correctly, Mike Holmgren). While I don't think Dallas was trying to let Westbrook score, he was smart enough to pass up the sure TD anyway.

5. I can't wait to hear all the stories about people who lost their fantasy football playoff games because of Brian Westbrook's heads up play.

6. Congrats to the greatest quarterback in history on breaking another of Dan Marino's records, this one, the all-time passing yardage mark. That record came en route to leading the Packers to a 12-2 record, clinching a first round bye. They've got a real shot to come out of the NFC, and I think they can give any AFC opponent a game (and I'm not at all convinced that it's going to be New England).

7. It's amazing to me that after not having a return game since Allen Rossum left a few years ago, it appears the Packers have 4 guys that can get the job done. Koren Robinson gave them great field position all game today and is an ex-Pro Bowler at KR. Tramon Williams has also done well in that role, and took a punt back for a TD against Carolina. Will Blackmon has shown some sizzle on punts, including a punt return for a TD against Oakland last week. And Charles Woodson is solid as well.

8. I really do feel for Lions fans. That team is an absolute disaster, and the city deserves a lot better. It's a testament to the quality of football fans in the Motor City that they continue to show up for games after the crap that Matt Millen has put on the field for the last 6-7 years (not to mention the pre-Millen suckfests).

9. Amir Johnson: 15 minutes, six points, seven boards, three blocks. The other night he had 5 blocks in under 10 minutes. It still blows my mind that he wasn't active for the playoffs last year. No, you're not going to play him 30 minutes or anything, but his energy and ability to create exciting plays could have been the ticket to get the crowd back into a game or gain some momentum. I love Jason Maxiell as well.

10. Another great move by Joe D with the Nazr Muhammad trade. He gets two players he liked, sheds a ton of salary, creates cap flexibility in the future, acquires expiring contracts for if he feels so inclined to deal again, and lands a 7'1" player who was starting as well as a guy who was dropping 20+ a night at the end of last year when he got a chance to play. That's a good move in my book.

11. They said it's a first in team history, but I wonder if it's ever happened where an NHL team has had 2 penalties shots in a game, let alone a period. That was pretty cool for the Wings last night. That team is simply amazing. I still think they need another scorer for the playoffs, but they're playing amazing hockey right now. I'm pretty convinced that no one in the world is better at their job than Nick Lidstrom is at his.

12. I still believe in Beilein but this is hard to watch right now.

13. Congrats to the Michigan volleyball team. They were eliminated in the Sweet 16 by #1 Penn State, but that's the farthest the team has ever made it and the future is bright. Thanks to the outgoing seniors, Katie Bruzdzinski, Stesha Selsky, Sarah Draves, and Lyndsay Miller. Bruzdzinski was a pleasure to watch, and I think she could make a strong case for being the best player to come through our program. I also loved Miller's energy and how happy she seemed to be out there all the time. They're a fun group.

14. I'll get to the hockey point projection analysis hopefully sometime on Monday.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Projected Stats

We're now 18 games into the season and I think it's high time we come up with some projected stats for the rest of the year to give a little context to the pace that some of our guys are on. For comparison's sake, I'll be projecting it over 41 games, which is how many Michigan played last year. We could play as many as 45 games, however (I'm assuming in this "maximum" that we still will have a bye in the first round of the CCHA playoffs, which seems to be a pretty safe assumption).

For Louie Caporusso, I've done two projections: One for his current pace, another for if he misses no additional time. I'm also listing Summers as a defenseman and am assuming the defensive rotation continues.

First, the raw data. I'll break it all down in my next post and talk about what's surprising, what's shocking, what's disappointing, what you can take from this data, and what might be a little misleading.

Kevin Porter:
18 GP, 18-11--29, 8 PIMs, 59 SOG, +13
Projected: 41 GP, 41-25--66, 18 PIMs, 134 SOG, +30
Last year: 41 GP, 24-34--58, 16 PIMs, 128 SOG, +23

Chad Kolarik: 18 GP, 12-12--24, 6 PIMs, 80 SOG, +11
Projected: 41 GP, 27-27--54, 14 PIMs, 182 SOG, +25
Last year: 41 GP, 18-27--45, 24 PIMs, 163 SOG, +13

Aaron Palushaj: 18 GP, 5-14--19, 4 PIMs, 32 SOG, even
Projected: 41 GP, 11-32--43, 9 PIMs, 73 SOG, even

Max Pacioretty: 18 GP, 5-13--18, 32 PIMs, 54 SOG, +14
Projected: 41 GP, 11-30--41, 73 PIMs, 123 SOG, +32

Matt Rust: 17 GP, 7-5--12, 29 PIMs, 21 SOG, +6
Projected: 39 GP, 16-11--25, 67 PIMs, 48 SOG, +14

Carl Hagelin: 18 GP, 5-7--12, 12 PIMs, 28 SOG, +10
Projected: 41 GP, 11-16--25, 27 PIMs, 64 SOG, +23

Travis Turnbull: 18 GP, 5-4--9, 32 PIMs, 32 SOG, +9
Projected: 41 GP, 11-9--20, 73 PIMs, 73 SOG, +21
Last year: 41 GP, 8-9--17, 52 PIMs, 75 SOG, +6

Louie Caporusso: 9 GP, 3-5--8, 0 PIMs, 10 SOG, +6
Projected: 21 GP, 7-11--18, 0 PIMs, 22 SOG, +14
Projected (assuming he misses no additional time): 32 GP, 11-18--29, 0 PIMs, 36 SOG, +21

Tim Miller: 18 GP, 0-6--6, 12 PIMs, 15 SOG, even
Projected: 41 GP, 0-14--14, 27 PIMs, 34 SOG, even
Last year: 41 GP, 7-17--24, 57 PIMs, 53 SOG, +13

Ben Winnett: 18 GP, 3-2--5, 4 PIMs, 26 SOG, +4
Projected: 41 GP, 7-5--12, 9 PIMs, 59 SOG, +9

Brandon Naurato: 12 GP, 2-2--4, 10 PIMs, 30 SOG, -1
Projected: 27 GP, 5-5--10, 23 PIMs, 68 SOG, -2
Last year: 40 GP, 12-11--23, 34 PIMs, 108 SOG, +4

Brian Lebler: 13 GP, 2-1--3, 42 PIMs, 11 SOG, even
Projected: 30 GP, 5-2--7, 97 PIMs, 25 SOG, even
Last year: 37 GP, 7-4--11, 34 PIMs, 48 SOG, +2

Danny Fardig: 12 GP, 1-2--3, 10 PIMs, 13 SOG, +1
Projected: 27 GP, 2-5--7, 23 PIMs, 29 SOG, +2
Last year: 41 GP, 2-4--6, 36 PIMs, 38 SOG, +5

Anthony Ciraulo: 7 GP, 1-1--2, 2 PIMs, 5 SOG, +1
Projected: 16 GP, 2-2--4, 4 PIMs, 11 SOG, +2
Last year: 24 GP, 1-1--2, 2 PIMs, 15 SOG, +3

Chad Langlais:
18 GP, 0-12--12, 22 PIMs, 24 SOG, +7
Projected: 41 GP, 0-27--27, 50 PIMs, 55 SOG, +16

Steve Kampfer: 17 GP, 2-8--10, 16 PIMs, 22 SOG, +10
Projected: 39 GP, 5-18--23, 37 PIMs, 50 SOG, +23
Last year: 35 GP, 1-3--4, 24 PIMs, 32 SOG, +3

Mark Mitera: 18 GP, 1-5--6, 24 PIMs, 23 SOG, +14
Projected: 41 GP, 2-11--13, 55 PIMs, 52 SOG, +32
Last year: 41 GP, 1-17--18, 52 PIMs, 47 SOG, +23

Chris Summers: 18 GP, 1-4--5, 18 PIMs, 21 SOG, +10
Projected: 41 GP, 2-9--11, 41 PIMs, 48 SOG, +23
Last year: 41 GP, 6-8--14, 58 PIMs, 42 SOG, +13

Tristin Llewellyn: 13 GP, 0-1--1, 18 PIMs, 6 SOG, +1
Projected: 30 GP, 0-2--2, 42 PIMs, 14 SOG, +2

Kevin Quick: 13 GP, 0-1--1, 8 PIMs, 6 SOG, +5
Projected: 30 GP, 0-2--2, 18 PIMs, 14 SOG, +12

Scooter Vaughan: 13 GP, 0-1--, 12 PIMs, 13 SOG, +8
Projected: 30 GP, 0-2--2, 28 PIMs, 30 SOG, +18

Billy Sauer:
16 GP, 14-2-0, 2.06 GAA, .915 Save %, 33 goals, 354 saves
Projected: 36 GP, 31-5-0, 2.06 GAA, .915 Save %, 74 goals, 797 saves
Last year: 40 GP, 25-14-1, 3.03 GAA, .896 Save %, 119 goals, 1,028 saves

Bryan Hogan: 2 GP, 2-0-0, 2.01 GAA, .920 Save %, 4 goals, 46 saves
Projected: 5 GP, 5-0-0, 2.01 GAA, .920 Save %, 10 goals, 115 saves

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Media Roundup: BGSU Sweep

The Wolverines closed out the first half of the 2007-08 season in-style with, as expected, a tightly-contested sweep of Bowling Green. Those wins, coupled with the Miami loss to Alaska, have put the Wolverines into the #1 spot in both polls, and the #1 spot in the CCHA heading into our Christmas layoff.

The Michigan Side:
Kevin Porter was named National Player of the Month and has been a pretty unanimous choice in CSTV's Hobey Watch for the better part of two months. Pretty clear it wasn't just playing with Hensick last year.

Michigan doesn't usually lose second periods, but BGSU had great success in the middle frame this weekend.

Derek Whitmore was banged up, and that probably contributed to his subpar weekend. Kevin Porter doesn't believe that Hogan was just trying to clear the puck when he nearly scored into the empty-net. Sidenote: With everything that got called this weekend, how was it not a penalty when Porter got hacked on our second attempt and the empty net?

Red wasn't thrilled with the "holiday hockey" the team was playing, despite the sweep.

Everyone is surprised at Michigan's start. The Daily calls on the student section to eliminate the no-shows and be louder. Because this team deserves it.

Patrick Wiercioch, a defenseman for the Omaha Lancers, was in town on a recruiting visit on Monday. I think we get him. We seem to have cornered the market on players with names that people will butcher at every opportunity (Kolarik, Palushaj, Langlais, Gajic, etc.). He's from BC and played in the BCHL before coming to the USHL for this season.

Stat Hunting:
Our top line has now combined for 193 out of our 531 shots on goal this season. All three forwards have 54+ shots, the next highest on the team are Palushaj and Turnbull with 32 apiece.

Chad Kolarik may have six less goals than Porter, but he's got 4 game-winners amongst his twelve goals. That kid is just clutch.

Sparkling is the only way to describe our goalies' numbers. Sauer has a 2.06/.915. Hogan has a 2.01/.920.

7-0-0 on the road in conference is one way to win a CCHA title.

Now we get Louie Caporusso back. This already dangerous team adds a nearly point per game player (8 points in 9 games...he'd be 5th in scoring at that pace, had he not gotten injured), plus arguably their best faceoff man. That'll help.

The Bowling Green View:
The Sentinel-Tribune has recaps of both games. Red Berenson was very complimentary of the Falcons both nights, saying they outplayed Michigan on Saturday. BTW, I think Bowling Green should stick with these jerseys for awhile. I could take or leave the home ones, but the orange road jerseys were the best I've seen them wear. Very nice.

The BG News has their take as well.

BGSU fans came out in droves Friday night. That arena really can get loud.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Weekend Recap: Sweep of Bowling Green

I'm a pretty happy camper about this weekend. It wasn't the best hockey the Wolverines have played by any means, but against a pretty good hockey team, they were able to get a sweep, despite trailing late on the road, and blowing a 2-0 lead the following night.

The big story of the weekend: -5. 0 goals. 2 assists. 6 shots on goal. Those were the numbers for Derek Whitmore, the senior who came into the weekend ahead of Kevin Porter in terms of goals per game. And by and large, we did a great job on him. He was on the ice for all four Michigan goals on Friday night, and was invisible for most of the night on Saturday. Simply a great effort against one of the nation's best players.

The most exciting moment of the weekend came in the waning moments Saturday night. With Michigan clinging to a 3-2 lead, and the Falcons in a 6 on 4 situation, with the goalie on the bench, the puck was dumped in to goaltender Bryan Hogan. He went to play the puck, and there just happened to be nobody in the middle of the ice. Without a risk of icing, he was free to take a shot at the empty net. As soon as the puck bounced, it was clear he had it right on line. I yelled. I had never seen a goalie score before--Osgood's wasn't on tv. Closer, closer, and it juuuuuuuust missed. What a bummer!

Doubtlessly, we'll be seeing another article this week about how the Wolverines need to stay out of the penalty box. They didn't succeed this weekend. Bowling Green had fifteen man-advantages this weekend. To the penalty killers' credit, the Falcons only scored two on the power play. But even with a whistle-happy official, that's far too many infractions.

Matt Rust deserves a lot of credit for the win this weekend. He had the tying goal Friday night and got Michigan off to a fast start on Saturday with an unassisted, short-handed goal on a breakaway. He wasn't on the ice for any of BGSU's goals, which means his PK unit did their job against one of the best PP's in the country. And he was 20 out of 32 on faceoffs against a very good team on draws.

One more thing about faceoffs: I mentioned in the preview that John Mazzei was an incredible 66% on draws coming into this weekend. Friday night he won just 3 out of 18. He won just 5 on 13 the next night. Great work by our centers.

As a big-time proponent of Summers at forward, I was very happy to see him make another impact play up front, by scoring the game winning goal in his first game back as a forward. He banged in a rebound off a Turnbull shot, which hit the post, and gave the Wolverines a lead with just 1:23 left in Friday night's contest.

Another big positive from this weekend: Both our goaltenders played very, very well. Sauer made some huge stops in the third period Friday night, and made 27 saves in the 4-2 victory. The next night, Red came back with Bryan Hogan and he was able to repeat the magic from his first win. He made 20 stops and damn near scored a goal. Hogan left a few too many rebounds for my liking--one of which ended up in the back of the net--but it also appeared that the defense was ready for it, and they helped him out on a lot of occasions. We were credited with 15 blocked shots Saturday, but it seemed like more. At least two--one by Quick (where he redeemed himself for not holding the puck in at the line and getting beat down the ice), one by Turnbull--kept pucks out of the net (or at least robbed the Falcons of extremely good scoring chances). And when Hogan was called upon, he was able to make the stop. His best might have been off a Tim Miller giveaway, where he was able to stone a Falcon player on a two on one down low.

Again, this is not a goaltending controversy. Sauer has been amazing this season, but reportedly indicated to the coaches last weekend that he was getting fatigued. They obviously had high hopes for Hogan coming into this season, so it makes sense to get him some time and make sure there's a backup plan if Sauer gets hurt or starts to struggle. And with his performances, Hogan has earned himself some playing time. I don't expect to see him every weekend, but as long as he proves to be a trustworthy netminder, it wouldn't shock me to see him a couple of times a month. But Sauer is the guy, as long as he doesn't falter.

It's amazing that I've made it this long without talking about our top line. Their line (including the top power play unit) accounted for three goals on the weekend-including an empty netter. After we saw Kolarik unleashing some lasers last weekend, Porter showed that he's got a great shot as well. The goal he scored on Saturday night was an absolute bomb from the top of the circle.

Kevin Quick was -1 on the weekend, but on Saturday night (when he was even), I thought he made some really nice defensive plays. I mentioned the blocked shot earlier, but there was another two on one where he did a great job not only taking the pass-option away, but also keeping the puck carrier to the outside, which made it pretty easy for Bryan Hogan to hug the post and stop the shot.

And just as Quick was able to redeem himself for a questionable play at the offensive blueline by keeping the scoring chance out of the net, Chad Langlais had an equally great play. He gave the puck away at the Falcon blueline and Dan Sexton was off to the race. Langlais caught up to him and made an incredible play to poke the puck away from behind. Keep in mind that it's extremely difficult to break up a breakaway in college hockey, as you aren't allowed to knock the puck away and then take out the player's legs.

Steve Kampfer also deserves a call for setting up the game-winner on Saturday night. He made a really nice play to keep the puck in the zone, which led to Hagelin feeding Naurato, who uncorked his trademark shot. That one put the Wolverines up for good and to put salt in the wound, it came with just 6 seconds left in the second period.

I was really impressed with Hogan's puck-handling ability. It looked like he's pretty good in that area. And he didn't panic when he was in a couple of tricky situations behind the net.

So we go into a 20 day break at 16-2-0, 11-1-0 in the CCHA. The sweep, coupled with Miami getting shut out at home by Alaska, puts the Wolverines into first place by themselves in the conference--and quite possibly #1 in the nation once again. I don't think any of us could have seen the first half of the season playing out in this manner.

Over the break, I'll have a look back at the first half including player grades, statistical projections to give some context to what our guys are doing, as well as a look ahead to the second half of the regular season. Needless to say, everyone will be getting high marks. I honestly can't think of a single player that I would label as a disappointment. And it's been a long time since I've been able to say that. It speaks to the coaching and leadership on this team, as well as the work ethic of everyone on the roster.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Get Miles

Some mood music from one of my favorite bands, Gomez.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

10 Things to Know About the Bowling Green Falcons

Between the search for a new football coach, which has me hitting F5 over at Rivals every 30 seconds and the World Junior stuff, I almost forgot that we still have a pair of games this weekend. Friday night, we play at Bowling Green, before a home tilt on Saturday. Neither game is televised, which is actually a bonus for me (since I don't get Comcast Local anyway) because it means that Saturday's game will be shown on the WOLV-TV online feed at MGoBlue.

Here are 10 things to know about this weekend's opponent:

1. Derek Whitmore leads the nation in goals per game and is 4th in points per game. He has 13 goals in just 11 games this year. Eight of those have come on the power play. He's also the only player on the Falcons that has more than 2 career points against the Wolverines, with seven. If you think he's the guy to focus on, you'd be right.

2. Despite being picked to finish a distant last in both preseason polls, the Falcons are currently tied for 6th in the CCHA with a 5-3-0 record. They're 8-4-0 overall. If you sort by winning percentage in conference, they move up to 5th. Caveat: Notre Dame is the only team they've played and they lost both games, though they played ND tough. Wins have come against RIT, Western (2), Wayne State (2), Ferris State (2), and Northern Michigan. Losses have come against Notre Dame (2), Niagara, and Northern Michigan. They've been in every game though. No loss has come by more than 2 goals.

3. The teams have split the last two season series, including that embarrassing loss last year. BGSU has won two in a row at home.

4. The Falcons are second in the NCAA on the power play, with a 27.8% rating. Geezus. The PK isn't bad either at 84.1%, which is middle of the pack in the nation, but their CCHA PK is 4th in the conference. In their last seven games, they're 15 for 38 on the PP. They have given up 3 short handed goals in 12 games, so Kolarik might be licking his chops.

5. They've been solid in both offense and defense this year. They have the 9th ranked offense in college hockey and the 17th ranked defense. They've scored less than 3 goals only three times this season.

6. Both Jimmy Spratt and Freshman Nick Eno have played 6 games. Eno is 5-1-0 while Spratt is 3-3-0. Neither has bad numbers, and Eno's are pretty damn good: 2.16/.906 while Spratt has a 2.51/.901. I would expect to see both this weekend.

7. Eno last played for the Green Mountain Glades. Apparently a glade is a clearing in a forest. That might be the worst team nickname since Wild. Urban Dictionary also lists glade/glades as being either a synonym for huffing or a slang term for sunglasses. Either way, it makes the nickname more funny.

8. Apart from possibly Verona, WI, does any random city churn out more players per capita than Northville, MI? BGSU has a pair, Ryan Hohl and Todd McIlrath. That goes with the seemingly 98 that have come through our program.

9. They're freaking ranked! 18th in the USCHO poll, and they're the last team receiving votes in the USA Today poll (that would put them 21st, but the poll goes to 15).

10. As was the case with the Buckeyes, Bowling Green is very strong on faceoffs. They've won 55% of draws on the season and their only guy who takes a significant number of faceoffs who is below .500 is 68/138 on the year (so, off by 1 win). John Mazzei is winning an incredible 66% of his faceoffs this year, and he's taken almost 200. I might have finally found someone worse than Danny Fardig! Derek Whitmore is 11/44 this year.

This looks like a much tougher matchup than it was "supposed" to be. I'm hoping that it will pan out that BGSU just hasn't played anyone apart from ND this year. We still should be able to get two wins, but I expect them to play us very tough and, especially Friday night, they might be able to steal one.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Media Roundup: Ohio State Split

The winning streak had to come to an end sometime. It sucks that it was against OSU, but it's really not all that surprising, given the nature of that series as of late. We saw a senior almost single-handedly will us back Friday night, and a slew of freshmen re-emerge on Saturday, including a goalie making his first career start. Let's check out the general reaction to the weekend. We also get to see if anyone in Columbus remembers that they have a hockey team:

The Michigan Side:
Colin wrote a pair of articles: One about the team's play this weekend and one giving his thoughts on Bryan Hogan. Enjoyable reads as always. Completely agree with him that our passing was just off Friday night. Colin was also very complimentary of Pacioretty's play this weekend. We do miss Caporusso on draws, especially against a team like OSU that's great on faceoffs.

The Daily says that they're looking to switch things up a little bit on the power play since teams are starting to catch on. Seems like that happens every year. Eventually teams caught on to us sending the puck to Gajic for the one-timer a couple years back and we never adjusted. Hopefully things work out a little better this year.

Also in that article, they talk about Chris Summers moving back to forward. It sounds as if it's an experiment for next weekend only, and then they'll consider it in the future if it works out. I'm thrilled about this move. I think I advocated it in the season previews for Summers, Vaughan, Quick, Langlais and Llewellyn. I love Summers's game up front, and our freshmen have been very good. As Colin pointed out, it's readily fixable should our youngster start running around or if we need to protect a lead "OK, you're on D now". As I said earlier, it's almost like dressing 12 forwards and 6.5/7 defensemen. Reportedly, he's been skating with Turnbull and Miller. That's one helluva checking line and it actually has some offensive upside.

Chad Kolarik quashes the idea that there's a goalie controversy. Chad's comments don't entirely mesh with what Red Berenson said, but "goalie controversy" is still too strong of a statement. Sauer has earned the right to be the #1, but I do expect Hogan to get his starts now and then. It wouldn't shock me a bit if we see him against Bowling Green this weekend. If we prove to have two good goalies, then bully for us. They'll both get to play, but barring a letdown/meltdown, Sauer is the guy. He's been outstanding this year and one good performance out of Hogan doesn't change that. All Hogan's performance means is that he's probably earned a few more starts, and Red doesn't have to be scared to yank Billy if he's struggling, as Red was during the NoDak game last year.

The Daily
reports on Hogan's first start, including Red's comments. Apparently Sauer was getting fatigued. Having a quality backup goalie will help him. And even though I think Josh Blackburn is quite possibly the best goalie coach in history, I'm not sure how a goalie has a "fifth gear". BTW, check out the picture included in this article. Hogan's pads are kind of sweet. Montoya still wins for coolest mask though. That thing was amazing.

Here's The Ann Arbor News's take on Hogan's performance.

It was a frustrating weekend at times for both teams.

Good article about the freshmen, but c'mon Nate, it's Canadiens. Sacrebleu! The Ann Arbor News also had an article about the lineup changes.

Our student section really chanted "filthy inbreds"? That's classic!

TJ Hensick made his NHL debut over the weekend. He and Mike Brown also scored their first career goals.

The Buckeye dominance in the faceoff circle played a big role in the game. Corey Elkins was 13-2 on draws on Friday night. Can't score if you don't have the puck. I'd really love to see the Daily do a piece on the anatomy of a faceoff. There are a lot of things that I'd like to know, because I'm sure it's not as random as when I take draws. How do you practice for them? Is there an advantage to the visitor getting to put his stick down first? Are there any particular attributes that make someone a good faceoff man? Why have we sucked at them for 8 years? I feel like it'd be a pretty fun story. But maybe I'm just a nerd that would read an article about winning faceoffs.

Berenson won't say why Kampfer sat Friday night. At his press conference, he said something along the lines of "In house. It's been dealt with."

Nice feature on one of the freshmen I've been most impressed with: Chad Langlais

Awards: Porter was CCHA Player of the Month while Pacioretty was CCHA Rookie of the Month

Stat Hunting:

Kevin Porter's 26 points already would have placed him 8th on last year's offensive juggernaut.

Aaron Palushaj leads the team in assists with 13 and already has more points than any freshman last season. He's on pace for 34, which would match Porter's total from last season. Pretty damn impressive for a freshman that doesn't play on the top line (though he gets most of his points by being on the top power play unit).

Scooter Vaughan's +7 ranks him #1 amongst our freshman defenders.

We have 7 players with 5 or more goals.

We're outscoring opponents by a 2:1 ratio, 66 to 33.

Our penalty kill is now at 88.6%, which is kind of amazing.

After the struggles this weekend, our faceoffs are down to 48.4%. Fardig is back at 39%. Even Rust is only 50.0% now.

Pacioretty has had points in 11 of his last 12 games.

Hogan is the only player that has dressed for a game and doesn't have a point. None of our four freshmen defensemen have scored a goal, but all six forwards have.

The Ohio State View:
They really don't know they have a hockey team--or they just don't care. There was nothing in the Dispatch beyond a one-paragraph wire report about Friday's game. There were no articles period in the student newspaper The Lantern. I understand the excitement over being in the BCSCG, but it kind of makes me sad that hockey doesn't even get a mention. Makes my job a little easier I guess.

The Commit That Wasn't:
Earlier in the day, the Canadian Hockey News reported that Toronto Junior Canadiens forward Devante Smith-Pelly had commited to the Wolverines. The Wolverine checked with some sources, after there were indications that this wasn't true, and were able to confirm that the story was false and that Smith-Pelly isn't likely to be a Michigan player in the future. The CHN has since posted a retraction saying that their source was "completely and utterly wrong".

What's interesting is that Smith-Pelly's teammate, Tyler Toffoli, was at Yost last weekend wearing a Michigan sweatshirt. Apparently he's got 1st round OHL potential.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The Damage for World Juniors

As I reported earlier, Carl Hagelin will miss the GLI so that he can play for Team Sweden and the US has just announced that Chris Summers, Max Pacioretty, and Matt Rust will also represent their country.

MSU, Michigan Tech nor Providence will be short-handed for the annual holiday tournament.

I still think with the depth on this team--particularly in light of the news that Louie Caporusso should be 100% by the GLI--this is a year that we can finally win this tournament again, and I'll be extremely disappointed if it doesn't happen. I don't deny that the attrition has been a big factor in the past, but at some point you have to stop using it as an excuse and suck it up to beat a team that might be more talented, due to outside factors.

This team has been full of surprises. It's high time they surprise us with a win in the GLI. That banner has been stuck on "1996" for far too long.

Hagelin to World Juniors

The Swedish Ice Hockey Association, or Svenska Ishockeyforbundet, is reporting that Carl Hagelin will be a member of their team in the World Junior Championships. Not a big shocker there. He's been a solid player and he seems like a guy who you'd like to have on your team in an international tournament.

The United States team will be announced tonight, so we'll find out just how short handed we'll be for the GLI. I don't expect it to be awful: Wild guess (which comes from no inside knowledge whatsoever--they don't want it leaked and I want to be surprised anyway) is that we lose Summers, Pacioretty and Rust.

The good news is that Louie Caporusso should be back 100% in time for the GLI. Red said that he expects Caporusso to begin skating on Saturday.

The other news to come out of Berenson's press conference is that they're skating Chris Summers at forward in practice. Red thinks that he has the ability to jump start his line and that he'll be one of our best penalty killers up front with his ability to fore-check. I love the move. If the goal is to get the best 18 skaters on the ice, then it makes perfect sense to move Summers up front. Vaughan and Quick have been pretty solid on the blueline. Llewellyn has been less so, but even he hasn't been bad and he's playing 2 out of every 3 games as it is.

Summers brings more to the table at forward than probably everyone outside of the top line, Rust, and Caporusso--and he clearly brings more than Lebler (who has been playing pretty dumb hockey as of late), Naurato and Ciraulo.

As long as our youngsters can handle playing every night, I love the idea of putting Summers back up front, where he showed the ability to be an impact player last year. Against the better offensive teams--or if we're in a pinch--you can slide him back. It's almost like we'd be dressing 12 forwards and 7 defensemen.

More later in the media roundup, including a commit that wasn't, but I've got to run errands before I get snowed in again tonight. If you think I'm going out with Wisconsin drivers during a snowstorm, you're insane.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Michigan 4, OSU 2

After all the talk during Friday's telecast about how the freshmen had cooled off substantially, it looks like they got the message. Freshmen accounted for all four goals and all but one of the eleven points tallied in the game. Additionally, freshman goaltender Bryan Hogan made his first career start and did it in style, stopping 26 shots including a penalty shot in the first period en route to a win.

Friday night the Wolverines failed on several scoring chances in the early going, hitting 3 or 4 posts in the first eight minutes. Saturday they made no mistake, scoring 3 goals in a 7 1/2 minute span, all of which were set up by Aaron Palushaj. Ohio State never got within two goals the rest of the night, and Michigan got back in the win column.

Another freshman, Max Pacioretty, was named the #1 star of the night with two goals, including the game winner, which was a laser of a shot. His second goal came on a 2 on 1 late in the second period and Kevin Porter made an absolutely gorgeous feed.

Hogan was a surprise starter in net, but they've got to be happy with the way he played. He stopped a penalty shot in the first period and made 15 saves in the final stanza to preserve the win. From the sound of it--the highlights on MGoBlue don't show the goals he allowed--it would be hard to fault him on either goal. The first was a partial breakaway and the second came on a goal mouth scramble after he had made a few stops. By his own admission, he gave up a few more rebounds than he would've preferred, but not bad at all for a first start. And not a bad time by Coach Berenson to throw him in there. Despite the loss to them the night before, Ohio State doesn't have a great offense and he would be in front of the home crowd.

Steve Kampfer was back in the lineup a night after being a mysterious healthy scratch. Coach Berenson wouldn't reveal the reason for his absence, which leads me to believe it was just a minor violation of team rules (slightly worse than Caporusso's missing a meeting) that was handled in house. He's played too well for it to be performance-related. If it was an injury, Berenson would've said so. If it was a major academic problem, it's probably unlikely that he got it taken care of Friday night/Saturday afternoon. And the fact that he played Saturday means that it likely wasn't serious. Unless we hear anything more, I'd write it off as an issue that's been dealt with.

It was disappointing to drop a game to the Buckeyes, but we were due for a game like that where maybe the effort wasn't as good as it's been and the bounces didn't go our way. Add in a great performance by Joesph Palmer Friday night and it was the right mix for an "upset". I think every team will probably have a couple over the course of the season that they would like to have back, and that was one for us.

The big news this week will come on Tuesday. The US World Junior Championships team will be announced during the first period of the Wings/Canadiens game which will air on Versus. So we'll get to find out just how short-handed the Wolverines will be for the GLI. The good news is that, even though it was just one game, Hogan's performance Saturday gives me faith that we'll have a shot even if Sauer is named to the US team. It's high time Michigan wins a GLI. It's pretty incredible that, even with all the attrition, we haven't been able to win back-to-back games over the Christmas holiday since 1996.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Michigan vs. OSU Game One Live Blog

We're ready to faceoff in Game One of this weekend series between Michigan and Ohio State. The Buckeyes have a 13 man freshmen class. Strangely enough, they didn't have to pretend that any of them couldn't get into school there (riiiiiiiiight) since they oversigned.

Joe Palmer apparently goes by Joseph now. He's starting in goal for the Buckeyes.

First Period:
19:45: Porter has a chance right out of the shoot but flips it wide. Timmy Miller says "biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiitch" to one of the Bucknuts while on the forecheck. Nice start for the good guys. OSU realized finally that their football helmets don't really transfer to hockey as well as ours have. They're just going with the reds tonight.

17:30: Quick gets a shot through and Kolarik dings one off the post on the rebound. I have a feeling Kolarik would roll anyone in the country in 3-bar. Wait a minute...Llewellyn, Vaughan, and Quick are playing tonight? That means that Kampfer isn't in the lineup after a pretty strong weekend in the Showcase. I wonder what the deal is there.

15:41: Tom Goebel goes off for elbowing. At least he's gotten a stellar education during his time at MSU and OSU. Big stop with the left pad by Palmer on Kolarik! Porter off the post! Pretty darn impressive looking power play. How'd Winnett not score there? Tough angle.

13:23: Power play is over, but we had our share of chances. POST. Geezus. That's three already and the game's eight minutes old. Not even Gordon Bombay and the Iceland coach were that adept at hitting the iron.

10:12: Mark Mitera's off for holding. This'll be an interesting penalty kill. With Mitera in the box, we've only got one non-freshmen to put out there on the blueline. Tim Miller breaks his stick and then holds a guy with his free hand. Buckeyes to a long 5 on 3. Wait, what dude? They put Chris Summers in the box. We now have a bunch of freshmen defenders left. Buckle up.

9:00: The Buckeyes have a couple of chances back door but nothing comes of it. 30 seconds left on the 5 on 3. Great job by the penalty killers diving into the shooting lanes. The Buckeyes had a couple of nice looks and couldn't pull the trigger. Summers is out of the box and the 5 on 3 is over. The crowd comes to their feet to applaud the efforts of the penalty killers.

7:30: Fred Pletsch indicates that Sauer is "right in the mix" to be named one of the USA goalies for World Juniors. I believe the team is going to be announced on Tuesday during the Wings game on Versus. He also said that Palushaj is "right there" for a roster spot. We'll see if that's accurate or if he's just pimping the conference a little bit.

5:25: Michigan to the power play. The OSU jerseys actually look like the same style Michigan and MSU were wearing at the GLI last year. I absolutely hated ours, but I think they work really well for the Buckeyes. Those are nice looking. Kolarik's dump in attempt is blocked and Goebel is off to the races. Sauer gets most of it and it appeared that it just trickled over the line. 1-0 Buckeyes on a shortie. Sonofa. Ken Daniels points out that that's the first short handed goal we've given up this year, after giving up 12 a year ago.

3:20: Power play is over and the Wolverines probably got away with too many men. That was a pretty lame power play. We didn't get anything going and gave up a SHG. Interesting story relayed by Pletsch. Last year, Elkins for OSU had a hat trick against Bowling Green and each goal came against a different goaltender. Michigan's offense has been stagnant ever since they had to kill off that 5 on 3. The first period ends with the Wolverines trailing 1-0.

Second Period:
20:00: Someone the little scrum at the end of the first period resulted in the Wolverines going on a power play. First shift ends with a lot of crisp passing but no great scoring chances. The second unit doesn't fare any better and we're back five a side. Great call by Sergott coming up here. A Michigan player dropped his stick. He went to pick it up and Albert kicked it away from him. Not a smart penalty and hopefully the Wolverines can capitalize on this one.

16:50: Buckeye penalty killers again doing a nice job. Langlais has resorted to firing the puck into the nearest shin pad. They're blocking a lot of shots. Mitera flubbed the puck at the blueline and Goebel nearly broke away again. Mitera got just enough of him to not let him get away and not draw a penalty, but the power play ends.

12:00: I'm starting to get frustrated. The Bucknuts are doing a really nice job not letting Porter or Kolarik get going. I think we really miss Louie Caporusso. I'd have to look at the numbers to confirm this, but I don't think our second and third lines have been nearly as effective since he left the lineup. Quick's going off for interference and the Buckeyes will head to the power play. He levelled a guy who never touched the puck.

11:00: Fox Sports says that Kampfer is a healthy scratch. That's gotta be a team rules or academic issue doesn't it? Kampfer has really been playing well for us. He's more than doubled last year's point total and he's been pretty good in his own end from what I've noticed. I'll be curious to hear what the story is. Albert comes down the left wing and rings one off the bar. Sauer reacted like he thought it was in. On replay it looked like it rolled right down Sauer's back. Probably caught a break there. Another chance and the puck is right on the goalline but it looks like Mitera might have kept it out. Sergott was right on the play and waived no goal. Mitera got a nice right hand punch in on Albert. Mitera saved a goal right there. That puck was going in and right on the goal line. Markell wants a review but Sergott isn't going for it. This discussion is taking just as long as the review would have taken. Porter sprung Kolarik but the puck just rolled off his stick. Penalty to Quick is over. We're lucky to get out of that one only down a goal.

8:27: Pacioretty with a nice feed to Kolarik and Palmer makes a nice save. That was a great scoring chance. Damn. I'm pretty sure Langlais just got hooked or slashed six times bringing that puck up the ice. Sergott called one of them and Michigan heads back to the power play. I think this is the first time I've seen Sergott do a game as a head referee. He's doing a nice job. I haven't had a problem with any of these penalties and there's only been like one no-call that I've noticed.

6:30: Naurato just had a wide open net and the puck bounced over his stick. Nothing else happens and we're -1 for 5 on the power play. Kolarik with a breakaway, he gets hooked but I guess he didn't have control of the puck enough for there to be a call. On replay, that's a pretty good no call. Great pass by Porter. They just show the stat that Joe Palmer hasn't given up a goal in 95:13 and Ken Daniels mentions the "s" word. That's a good sign.

4:51: Penalty coming to OSU and we'll head to our sixth power play of the game and at least the fourth of this period. Sims got his stick caught between Winnett's legs and spun him around. Brian Lebler gets called for a penalty. He hit that guy really late. Stupid, stupid penalty, especially with Michigan already on the power play. Lebler's not helping himself a whole lot by spending so much time in the box and getting ejected from two games. Great feed from Porter to Pacioretty and Palmer gets his right pad on it.

2:00: Sauer with a nice pad save on a shot from the point. He hasn't really been tested all that often tonight. Penalty's over and the Wolverines have another kill. Sauer fell behind the net but luckily there was no one forechecking. The second period ends and the Wolverines have some work to do if they want to win this game, let alone keep their streak of 3+ goals alive.

Third Period:
We're back underway and the third is Michigan's best period. They'll need to bring it strong here. Great give and go from Palushaj to Rust back to Palushaj and he sent it just high. Miller goes off for a hit to the head. Well that's a buzz-kill. Wow Travis Turnbull had a great opportunity and Palmer got over to make the save.

17:27: Wow Billy. He and Mitera got crossed up behind the net and neither one of them took the puck. Sauer nonchalantly skated back into the net and Goebel wrapped it around into the goal for his second on the night. 2-0 Buckeyes and we're officially in trouble.

12:40: We just kept the puck down in the OSU end for a good minute and a half but didn't get a good scoring chance out of it. What a frustrating hockey game. Any given night, eh boys?

12:10: Palmer just made a nice save on Hagelin and then robbed Tim Miller. Michigan goes back on the power play. We really need to capitalize if we're going to get back in this game. Block, block, block. Block. Block. Block. Block. I think Ken Daniels is having a relapse to the 2004 Red Wings. He's called Joseph Palmer "Joseph" on three occasions that power play. Either they're buddies or he thinks it's CuJo. Palmer made another couple saves. Palushaj had some nice chances. Great call by Sergott as Porter got knocked down when he didn't have the puck. That guy has really called a good game. Our last power play had some life to it. Maybe they can get one across the line this time.

9:09: More shots, traffic in front, but nothing doing. Shots on goal are the same as one of the great numbers in the history of the Michigan/OSU rivalry: 24-12. Unfortunately, the scoreboard is still 2-0 Bucknuts. Llewellyn big drive misses the net. Naurato had it in the high slot and fanned. Awesome. Sauer with a big save on Fritsche. This has been a pretty uninspiring effort. I guess we were due for one of those. Especially after a huge win last weekend over the Gophers.

5:38: Shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout. Shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout. Shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout. Shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout. Shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout. Shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout. Shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout. Shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout. Shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout, shutout. Can I jinx it? Porter in all alone, big stop Palmer. Guess not.

4:40: BIG save by Sauer on Elkins right there. That's been the first really huge one he's had to make tonight, but that keeps us alive. Not much time left, but 2 goals is still a manageable defecit if can find a way to get that first one. Naurato great feed to Llewellyn and Palmer denies him. Great stop there. Geezus. Did someone sneak Craig Kowalski in here? Breakaway feed for Kolarik, just couldn't quite handle it. That pass had to have some heat on it to get through two defenders and Chad couldn't find the handle.

2:40: GOAL!!! Kolarik puts one in and we've got a shot! Nice feed by Patch and Chad chipped it in. Let's go fellas!

2:09: Easy come easy go. Somma makes a great fake to get Miller and Sauer down. He pulled it back and put it high glove. Game over.

1:18: Or not! Kolarik breaks in again and pots another one! 3-2 with just over a minute to play. What the hell has happened in this game?!

0:53: Sauer on the bench but the Bucks have possession. Michigan gets a couple pops but nothing major and we've got a stoppage with 5.8 seconds left. Damn. Rust loses the draw and game over.

Gotta give Ohio State credit. They played the perfect game for a team with a lousy record going up against a highly-ranked squad. Solid defense, great goaltending, lots of blocked shots, and very good on the special teams. Their first two goals weren't pretty, but they were both off effort plays. Joesph Palmer played a great game and Michigan couldn't crack him until late in the game. We managed to get two in, but Somma scored a great goal in between them and that was the winner. The power play absolutely sucked tonight. The first and last advantages were the only ones that even looked like real power plays. The others were awful efforts.

This team clearly misses Louie Caporusso. Guys like Turnbull and Hagelin haven't been nearly as effective since he's been out. Faceoffs are key for a puck-possession team, and we've been losing more than we've won since his injury.

We were due for a downer. It's too bad it came against that team, but we really shouldn't be too surprised based on the track record of this series. Gotta regroup and get the game tomorrow.

Hoover Street Rag was Live Blogging the game as well. Geoff had the same thought watching the game that I did: It just seemed like Michigan was a hair off the entire night.

10 Things to Know About the Ohio State Buckeyes

1. They're really really bad. (Edit: I guess I should've worded this "Their record is really really bad) They currently sit at 3-10-1 and are 1-7-0 in the CCHA, ahead of only Alaska and LSSU in the conference standings. The wins came against Mercyhurst, Wisconsin (?!) and Western Michigan. They somehow managed to only take "one point" from a weekend series against Robert Morris. That said, we lost to BGSU last year when we weren't yet a lock for the tournament. I keep waiting for the youngsters to have a truly crappy game against a team we should slaughter. I'd prefer that this weekend not be it. These teams have split the last 3 series, so we'd be wise to take them very seriously, even though their record sucks.

2. OSU has one player who is a +, and he is +1.

3. They are scoring on 7.4% of their shots on goal this season. Michigan's team shooting percentage is 14.7%. OSU is averaging 2.1 goals a game, Michigan is at 4.3.

4. The special teams are at least respectable. 15.2% on the power play, 81.9% on the PK.

5. Student section: Tom Goebel is the guy you should hate. Not only is he the Buckeyes' leading scorer, he played for MSU for 2 years. A Spartan and a Buckeye? Make fun of him, and make fun of him lots. He's short, that's a good place to start, especially since Dirty Hobbit is gone.

Another target: Tom Fritsche, who missed half of last season with an intestinal problem. You probably shouldn't make fun too much because it was pretty serious, but if someone could yell "Blow it out your ass, Fritsche" for me, that'd be great. Those two combined are -19. Strong defensive work there, boys. Chris Kunitz would be proud.

Backup goalie Phil Lauderdale was born in 1983. Dude, get a job!

6. Goalie Joseph Palmer is better than his numbers--gotta believe the defense sucks. He has a 3.43 and a .877 save percentage. Eww.

7. Goebel leads the team with 5 goals, and 4 have come on the PP. They've scored just 30 goals this season (our top line alone has 28).

8. OSU's worst period is the 2nd, where they've given up 26 goals and have only scored 11.

9. They're very good on faceoffs, winning 56% as a team. McIlvane and Albert are their two main faceoff guys and they stand at 61 and 59 percent respectively.


Go Blue!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Thoughts on Packers/Cowboys

This is the first time since 1990 that two teams 10-1 or better have met in the regular season, so I have to get a few thoughts down about the Packers/Cowboys game.

It really surprises me that so many people aren't giving Green Bay a chance in this game. Maybe it shouldn't surprise me, since the media is so in love with Dallas and some people still think that Green Bay can't run the ball (Grant has 3 100 yard games and an 88 yard game in his 5 starts--he now has more 100 yard games in his career than Cedric Benson, which is kind of funny even if it isn't saying much).

For me, and I do realize that I'm a homer, I like Green Bay's chances just because I think they match up really well with Dallas. Maybe tonight's not the night due to the injuries to Woodson, Jolly, KGB, Rouse, Collins and Franks (especially Woodson) but I like how we match up (and many of these reasons are why I think GB matches up with New England as well as any team in the league).

Dallas is effective running the ball because they can pound you with Jones and then bring in Barber once the defense is softened up. Green Bay has a very deep rotation on the defensive line so I don't think they'll get as worn out as normal teams.

They've got the cover guys to neutralize Owens and Crayton as well as you possibly can, and their ability to get to the quarterback just by rushing 4 will let them drop a lot of guys into coverage.

The weakness of the Cowboys defense is their secondary. Roy Williams and Ken Hamlin simply aren't that good in coverage. The Packers have the personnel to exploit that with their Big 5 set (Driver, Jennings, Jones, Robinson, Martin). Donald Lee has the speed to stretch the field and you have to believe that's another guy they'll be looking to tonight against Roy Williams. When Bubba Franks comes back, that also opens the door for the 3 WR/2 TE set that was so effective earlier this season.

The one matchup that Dallas has which really worries me is with Jason Witten. Green Bay has only allowed one WR to crack the 100 yard mark this year, but three tight ends have turned the trick against them. They've struggled for the past couple of seasons with covering TEs, particularly good ones, which Witten is. Rouse is a guy I'd love to have in the lineup tonight against him, but he's probably not playing. They'll have to use Hawk and Bigby in coverage, which isn't the strength of either player.

This game is for homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The winning team goes a game up in the win column and takes the tie-breaker, which means that for the losing to team to still have a shot at HFA, the other team would have to split their remaining 4 games. Dallas is at Detroit, has Philly at home, and then goes to Carolina and Washington. The Packers have Oakland at home, are on the road against Chicago and St. Louis, then finish with Detroit at home. I don't see either team dropping two games, so tonight is going to decide the #1 seed.

Things I expect to see tonight:
-Brett Favre throwing the ball 40-45 times to exploit mismatches in the Dallas secondary (this is the biggest advantage either team has in this game)
-Jason Witten with 100+ yards
-A big night for Greg Jennings, not so much for Donald Driver (who should have Newman on him)

If Woodson is healthy enough to be effective, I like the Packers. If he's not, then the Cowboys take this one. But either way, I'll like our chances in a rematch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Media Roundup: College Hockey Showcase

No matter the records, it's a big weekend anytime you can get two against Wisconsin and Minnesota back-to-back. Here's what the MSM and the blogosphere are saying about it:

The best article of the bunch is about how the WCHA and CCHA are talking about how to provide more games between Big Ten teams. It's even possible that they'll eventually award a trophy to the "Big Ten" champion. I think it'd be a great idea to have some semblance of a Big Ten round robin, even if it's not a series against each team as the article suggests. Michigan and MSU already do play the other four Big Ten teams and Wiscy and Minnesota always play everyone but OSU (though they both met the Buckeyes this year). Sounds good right? Well, it's not this first time that this idea has been floated.

If I remember to do it, I'll compile the final stats at the end of the season since everyone plays everyone else at some point this year.

The Michigan Side:
MGoBlog doesn't really talk about the game as much he provides a typically well-written post about why this game meant more than the typical regular season game. At least to us fans. It sounds so very MSU-little-brother, but we needed that one. Even with the Gophers sub-par start, this win validates our excellent early season record.

WCH was able to get to Ann Arbor for the Showcase and Chris has a recap of each game. His sentiments about Turris ("wasn't that noticeable") were echoed by a friend I hit up for info about the game Friday night. "Noticed him maybe twice" was what my friend said. The Wolverines did a great job this weekend against the top players on the opposing team. Turris, Okposo, Barriball, and for the most part Wheeler didn't do very much.

I agree with Chris that the much-improved coverage in our defensive zone is a big reason for our success, but I think Sauer has improved by leaps and bounds over last year. The soft goals have been virtually non-existent thusfar. He's had maybe 5 (and only 2 or 3 that were truly bad). That was a weekend last year. It is helping to not have to face 4 odd-man rushes a night as well.

Kevin Porter and Billy Sauer were again honored as conference players of the week. I'm not sure when the last time was that a goalie won the award three times in a row (especially midseason when everyone is playing), but it can't have happened recently.

Edit: I neglected to include the Michigan Daily articles in my media roundup (How? Don't ask), so I've added them.

As was the case several weeks ago, the Wolverines still want to cut down on penalties, particularly amongst our fourth-liners. When you don't get a ton of ice-time and you're not counted on to score goals, the last thing you want to do is put the team on a penalty kill. Michigan's averaging 3 penalty minutes more per game than they did a year ago.

The good news is that we're pretty adept at scoring when a man down.

Billy Sauer is like me. He hates Minnesota.

More about our dynamic duo up front.

Antoine Pitts has been writing up a storm lately. The rest of the articles in the Michigan section come from him and the Ann Arbor News:

Anthony Cirualo has been effective in the lineup with injuries to Fardig and Caporusso.

Billy Sauer wasn't at the summer evaluation camp for the USA World Junior Team, but he has to get some consideration after the start he's had. Summers, Pacioretty, Quick, Rust, Palushaj, and Hagelin (Sweden) could also be named to the teams. Summers and Pacioretty probably have the best shot.

Red Berenson is as laughably pessimistic to the media about his team as Brett Favre. We're now "perhaps a top 10 team" and the Packers might be "pretty good" at this point.

Kolarik said that despite beating Michigan earlier in the season, the Gophers might have been a little intimidated Saturday.

Recap of the Wisconsin game. Maybe I missed it, and maybe the holiday had something to do with it, but I'm surprised there wasn't a little more about the Sauer/Connelly angle in the lead-up to the game.

The top line has scored at least one in every game of this twelve game winning streak. That's kind of dirty.

Kevin Quick doesn't think he'd repeat the mistake he made in the earlier Minnesota game, where he took one quick stride to try and get to the puck and it was just enough for Wheeler to beat him around the corner.

Yost Built favorite Carl Hagelin is adjusting to this country, and the size of our hockey rinks.

Stat Hunting:
All stats are culled from the MGoBlue stat page as well as the full PDF that accompanies it.

-Kevin Porter has 16 goals on 47 shots. To give that some context, if he had the same shooting percentage last year, he would have tallied 43 goals. Kolarik would have had 55(!) using that same shooting percentage. But Eric Ehn would still be in the Hobey Hat Trick ahead of them.

-Steve Kampfer has more than doubled last year's point total.

-Want proof that Aaron Palushaj is lethal on the PP? He's third on the team in points, but is the only player on the team with a minus rating (-1).

-Porter has 8 PPGs. The rest of the team combined has ten.

-Mark Mitera is a team-high +12 through 14 games.

-Billy Sauer now has a GAA just a tick below 2.00 with a .918 save percentage. By comparison, opposition goalies are stopping just 85.3% of the shots Michigan puts on net.

-Our 4.3 goals per game is actually ahead of last year's pace. And our goal differential is +2.3 (!!) compared with +1.1 last year.

-We're back below 50% on faceoffs (the loss of Caporusso doesn't help), but Porter and Fardig are the only players below .500 out of the eight who have taken more than 30 draws.

-Our top power play unit (8, 24, 39, 11, 7) have combined for 38 points on the power play so far this year.

-Porter has been held without a point just twice this season. Three times for Kolarik.

The Wisconsin View:
The official article.

Wisconsin put the "special" in special teams on Friday night. Kind of like our football team does on a weekly basis. Berenson said that he "can't remember the last time we lost a third period like that". True, true. Michigan has been money in the third this year.

Michigan fans weren't the only ones who didn't notice Kyle Turris. He's been invisible--along with the rest of his line--during their 5 game winless streak. Coach Eaves drew a comparison to Joe Pavelski and the way he cooled off after a hot start his freshman year.

More on the Badger special teams and a couple of "thank you Captain Obvious" quotes from captain Ben Street.

Wisconsin started their freshman goalie against the Spartans largely's quiet in Munn. No, really, that's why.

The Capital Times was blogging about the game.

The Minnesota View:
Gopher fans are split on if Frazee is the problem or not. I haven't watched them enough--and I haven't seen Kangas--to comment, but in the game against Michigan I don't think he was the problem. He didn't play well (and that third goal was horrible--great play by Porter though)
but they didn't give him a lot of help. And I have a hard time blaming the goalie under any circumstance when you only score once.

In addition to Connelly not playing, Sparty didn't see Frazee (good thing or bad thing??) or Wheeler this weekend. MSU tied both games this weekend, giving the CCHA a 2-0-2 weekend.

The STrib points out that the Gophers aren't exactly the model of perfection on special teams either. I'm not sure if these are just WCHA stats, but the Gophers have just eight PPGs and have given up five shorties. (This seems like an appropriate time to mention that if I were running things, you would subtract short-handed goals when figuring out PP% and add them in when calculating PK%)

Jeff Frazee said his stick got caught in the boards when he gave the puck away on our third goal.

Lucia credited the Wolverines with being hungry to win that game after the past history between these teams. The Pioneer Press has Porter as their early-season favorite for the Hobey. After what happened with Hensick getting hosed last year I wouldn't bet on it, even though he's clearly the best player in the country at this point. He leads the country in goals, points, and PPGs, is the best captain we've had since Ortmeyer, and is a great defensive forward to boot.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Weekend Recap: College Hockey Showcase Champions

I'm just getting back into the swing after attending that debacle of a football game, heading to Kentucky for Thanksgiving, and then coming home to witness our hockey team finally getting one against the Evil Empire. I've got a lot to catch up on, including an unexpected development on Signing Day, but first comes a recap of a weekend sweep against a couple of our traditional WCHA foes.

Saturday night's victory was about as big as a regular season, non-conference win can possibly be. We finally beat the friggin Gophers. And not just beat them, opened a can on them. That was a biggie because it keeps the momentum going, and it also gets the monkey off this team's back by finally beating a team that has absolutely owned them for the better part of the last decade. It's also good for the sanity of yours truly. I almost broke my foot from kicking a wall on the concourse the last time we lost to the Gophers at Yost. I'm not sure how I would've reacted to a 12-2 record with both losses coming against Minnesota.

Thankfully it was never really in doubt. It was obvious that the team circled this game after losing to the Gophers in Saint Paul, when we outplayed them for a good portion of the game. They wanted this one and it showed. Thanks guys!

By and large, this was an exhibition of how well our captains can play. Chad Kolarik got things going with a very strange goal when Kolarik sprung Kevin Porter, Porter was poke-checked and the puck went right back on to Chad's stick and Frazee couldn't get himself set to make the save. Porter found Kolarik again with a sweet pass as the late man on a rush and Kolarik lasered a shot past Frazee for a 2-0 lead.

The next goal was all Kevin Porter. He knocked the puck away at our blueline and then busted his ass to get in on the forecheck when Frazee came out to play the puck. When the Gophers' netminder fanned on a pass, Porter lifted his stick, stole the puck, and was able to quickly wrap it around and put it in the empty net. I was really hoping that Frazee would react by firing his mask in to the glass as he did when Michigan scored late to beat the NTDP when he was at USA, but it sadly wasn't to be. Add in another Porter goal on a gorgeous pass from Kolarik, a great feed from Aaron Palushaj to Ben Winnett, and a few timely stops from Billy Sauer and it was Michigan's biggest win over Minnesota since 1993, and their first at home since 1997.

The newly remodeled has video highlights which are awesome. Watch the Minnesota highlights, enjoy the fastest version of Hail to the Victors you'll ever see, and pay attention to Red in the background because it's pretty funny. Here are the Wisconsin highlights as well. Also, I know there are some readers who haven't gotten to see much of our team this year, but if you go back through the archive you'll find that they've added video highlights for a good number of the games this season and they're well-worth watching.

-4 guys that deserve all the credit in the world for their play this year: Kevin Porter, who has modeled this team in his image; Chad Kolarik, who has been a great leader as well as a great scorer; Billy Sauer, who would likely be in line for Most Improved Player if the NCAA gave out such an award; and Mark Mitera--the captain I didn't mention above--who is consistently in position, blocking shots, and making great outlet passes (and he does it despite not having the luxury of playing with the same defense partner every night).

-Blake Wheeler is an absolute monster. He had the puck, Porter got up a little steam and tried to hit him in the open ice, and Wheeler never broke stride as Porter bounced off him. That guy has NHL written all over him (I guess he should, being a top-5 pick and all), but I thought we did a pretty nice job against him.

-Despite 27 shots against, I thought the defense was pretty solid. You're going to give up some scoring chances when you play a team as talented as the Gophers but I thought they were pretty solid for the most part. Sauer had to make a few saves, but again, you're going to see that any time you play a good offensive team. I thought Minnesota had many more quality scoring chances the last time these teams met. Barriball did nothing apart from one chance coming out of the corner (BTW Billy, good job staying with him!), Wheeler was held in check for the most part, and we held them to 5 SOG on 5 power play attempts (and no goals). The one goal they did score was a weak shot that hit off Kevin Quick's skate and just eluded Sauer.

-Steve Kampfer is playing like a guy who deserved to be a mid-round NHL draft pick. I was skeptical, but he's really been good this season and the offensive part of his game is starting to reveal itself. He made a great outlet pass on Michigan's first goal of the night.

-Chad Langlais saved a goal in the first period, getting over to tie up a man in front of the net just as the pass was getting there. He scares me at times in our own end, but he's been a really, really great pickup. He had a rough shift in the third period, blocking a shot off his knee and then getting boarded by two Gopher players who were both penalized.

-That might have been the best game I've ever seen Steve McInchak officiate. The call on Flynn, which put us on the power play where we tallied our 4th goal, was really impressive. Flynn tried to slew-foot Naurato on two occasions at the drop of the puck and then subtley (is that a word?) rode him into the boards when Naurato tried to get to the outside of him. That happened by the near boards around the offensive blueline. McInchak was positioned on the goal line at the far side of the ice and there were four players between him and Flynn. I have no idea how he saw it, but it was absolutely a penalty and I was shocked he called it. It made it even better that they made Flynn pay because he was gooning it up in the third period.

-Ben Gordon played a pretty good game for Minnesota, but getting third star was a little much, especially since his goal was a total fluke. Sauer should've been #3.

-He got victimized on a bad, bad pinch on Wisconsin's second goal Friday night, but Vaughan also played a real good game Saturday. He's been a pleasant surprise.

-Aaron Palushaj is an assist machine. That kid is fantastic at finding guys cross-crease. He did it twice over the weekend. He makes a pretty, pretty pass. I love our top power play unit. We get our whole top line out there (Porter on the point) along with two great passers in Palushaj and Langlais. Amazing that a unit with three freshmen can be that effective.

For the Wisconsin game, I can only go by the box score and the video highlights but that's a game that we could've put up 8 or 9 goals very easily. Connelly made some dynamite stops and we hit at least a couple of bars. If you watch the highlights, pay attention to the number of stellar outlet passes by our defensemen and how often they spring guys on breakaways/odd-man rushes. I said this a couple of weeks ago: I don't remember the last time our defensemen were so able to hit on those homerun passes. It's really impressive. Also, check out that save Sauer makes at 2:40. Wow. That's an athletic play right there.

All of last year, Sauer gave up two or less goals 18 times and 1 goal or less nine times. This year, through 14 games (roughly a third of a season), he's given up two or less ten times and 1 or less on four occasions. He also just won CCHA Goalie of the Week for the third straight time.

It's still really early and they're yet to face the likes of Michigan State or Miami, but this team has the look of a group that could contend for a national championship. They're scoring a ton of goals, playing good defense, getting very solid goaltending, doing well on special teams, and they're doing most, if not all, of the little things right. The passing is crisp, they're playing smart hockey for the most part, apart from Saturday's game they've done pretty darn well in the faceoff circle, and quite frankly, you'd never know that Michigan is dressing as many freshmen as they are. But what I love the most is the heart. This team goes balls to the wall every shift, no matter if they're playing Minnesota or NMU. And the coaches and captains deserve a lot of credit for that.

Four more games--all of which we should win--until the GLI. And it would sure be nice to win one of those mofos. It's going to be interesting to see how many players we end up losing. I was commenting Saturday night that Sauer might even be a candidate with his play so far this year (Easy to forget that he's still young enough to play). It was discussed at length today on the Yost Post, and those who know better than I don't think it'll happen. But it's amazing that it even needed to be discussed!

I've been drawing parallels between this team and the Green Bay Packers all season. At this point I'm not sure which start I'm more shocked by. But hopefully the trend continues, and this monkey-killing victory over Minnesota is a sign of things to come against the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday.

Still to come this week: An update on the players who have signed LOIs for next year, the media roundup, 10 Things to Know about the Ohio State Buckeyes and maybe a few comments about the rest of the sports world.