Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dwight Helminen to Finland?

I stumbled across a reference to one of our old players when I was looking for some info about Carl Hagelin. Eliteprospects has a rumor section of their site, and a familiar name was on there: Dwight Helminen, rumored to be going over to Finland to play. The article that they linked to was in Finnish (understandably), so I contacted a translator at freelang.net to explain to me exactly what this means:

Voisikohan kolmas mies olla Dwight Helminen? IS Veikkaajan mukaan pari suomalaisseuraa on kiinnostunut pelaajasta, joka nimensä takia on jäänyt suomalaisten penkkiurheilijoiden mieleen pelatessaan USA:n paidassa 20-vuotiaiden MM-kisoissa. Velipoika Lars Helminen teki juuri sopimuksen Jyväskylään.

Dwight Helmistä, 24, kuvataan sellaiseksi kahden suunnan sentteriksi, jota Lukko hakee: nopea, taitava, puolustaa hyvin, pelaa joukkueelle. Viime kaudella hän teki AHL:ssä vähän enemmän pisteitä (39) kuin Peters ja Doell (kumpikin 33).

Basically it translates as follows....a team in Finland has signed a couple guys this offseason and are looking for another:

Could the third guy be Dwight Helminen? According to IS Veikkaaja (a
newspaper) a few Finnish teams are interested in the player, who is
remembered by Finnish players because of his surname, while playing in
the world championships for 20-year-old under the American flag. His
brother Lars Helminen has just made an agreement with the Jyväskylä

Dwight Helminen has been pictured as a center of two dimensions, which
Lukko is looking for: fast, capable, defends well, plays for the team.
During the last term he did more points in AHL (39) than Peters and
Doell (each 33).

Thanks to Cemre Güngör for the translation!

Dewey has had a couple of pretty good years in the AHL--two years ago being better than last year--but if he's reached a point where it doesn't look like the NHL is going to be an option, playing in Finland might be a good backup plan. I don't know a ton about those European leagues, but I imagine the money isn't too shabby.

Anyway, best of luck to him. I still wish he had been able to hang around for a fourth season with Michigan. He was a fun player to watch, and we really could've used him. Or we could've used him to decide he was leaving a week sooner so we could've gotten Bryan Lerg, but that's another story.

Monday, June 25, 2007

2005 Michigan/BC Game Now Available

Thanks to the wonderful new tracker mgovideo.com, I was able to upload a torrent of the 2005 Michigan/Boston College game, which can now be downloaded by clicking here.

In case you've forgotten, this was the wonderful 3-2 victory over the Eagles early in the 2005-06 season. It was probably Billy Sauer's finest hour as a Wolverine. I'll leave it up to you to determine how much that really says.

Here were my thoughts about the game when it happened. Rest assured, this is one that you're going to want for the collection, if you're a Michigan hockey fan.

I'd also encourage everyone to check that site out. There's some great stuff on there, with more to come (I've got the 1998 Michigan/BC Championship game and the Cold War somewhere in my archives. Those will be the next ones I upload). Lots and lots of football games as well. It'd be nice if people with huge libraries of games would upload a few. We need a full version of the 2003 Michigan/OSU game, the 1997 Michigan/OSU game, any of the Regionals at Yost (I've still never seen the Michigan/NoDak game), etc. This is a great resource and I look forward to the number of games available growing and growing.

Local Perspectives on the Draft

I thought it might be a fun idea to cruise the websites of the teams that drafted our players to see what is being said about them. Strangely, there's next to nothing on several of the websites about any of the guys they drafted after the first couple of rounds but there are a couple of tidbits on the Rangers and Panthers sites.

The Rangers took Carl Hagelin, the wildcard of this incoming class since we know pretty much nothing about him. There were a couple things in the Rangers draft article that were interesting, though.
Drafting in the sixth round, the Rangers chose University of Michigan recruit Carl Hagelin, a Swedish left winger who scored 24 goals and 55 points in 40 games for the Sodertalje Under-20 team. Hagelin had been asked to play for Sodertalje's top team in the Swedish Elite League, but he declined the offer in order to protect his NCAA eligibility.

Hagelin, picked 168th overall, was not ranked by any of the major scouting services, but the 18-year-old was a favorite of the Rangers scouting staff and was seen often by Christer Rockstrom, the team's chief European scout. He will get a chance to adjust to the North American game when he arrives in Ann Arbor this fall to play for the same Michigan program that produced Rangers forward Jed Ortmeyer.

I didn't know that he had been asked to play in the Swedish Elite League. It's kind of telling about his desire to play in North America that he passed up that opportunity to retain his college eligibility.

Another Rangers-related tidbit that Russian5 pointed out over at The Yost Post: At least according to Larry Brooks (Read: MAJOR grain of salt), talks between the Rangers and Jed Ortmeyer haven't been going all that well. It's surprising to me that they wouldn't want him back. He's not the best player in the world or anything, but there aren't too many people who work harder than he does (coming back from that embolism), he blocks a ton of shots, he's great on the PK; he's the type of player that you need. I'd love to see him in a Wings jersey, but the (strange) signing of Maltby pretty much eliminates that need.

Scott Luce, the director of scouting for the Florida Panthers, had this to say about Matt Rust:
Center Matt Rust (4th round, 101st pick), 5-9, 192 pounds: “A very good skater who had more of an offensive side prior to joining the US Under-18 Team, where he took on more of a defensive style. He brings a complete game. He’s very good on the draw (faceoffs). No, he’s outstanding on the draw.”

My reaction: Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy! Faceoff guy!

Mike Komisarek signed for 2 more years with Montreal. Hopefully he'll have to sign a new contract before he gets to play with Mad Max Pacioretty.

Canadiens blog Eyes on the Prize comments on the selection.

Habsworld.net chimes in as well.

All Habs has some things to say as well.

The Blues comment on Aaron Palushaj in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

One common denominator in the Blues' picks is that several of the players are headed to lofty college programs next season. They include Cole to Notre Dame, Palushaj to Michigan, Fairchild to Minnesota, Erstad to Wisconsin and Nill to Michigan State.

"If we didn't think a program was a good program (the player was heading to), we wouldn't go there," Davidson said. "At the end of four years, we may have something."


The Blues took Palushaj with the pick they got in a trade Friday with San Jose. Palushaj scored 22 goals and had 67 points in 56 games for Des Moines in the United States Hockey League.

"He comes to play every night," Blues scout Mike Antonovich said. "If there's a knock on him, it might be his skating, but I didn't see it. I think he's going to play hard and score."

Palushaj was asleep when the Blues picked him.

The chief scout for the Ottawa Senators was "adamant" that they take Louie Caporusso.

The Ottawa Citizen isn't thrilled with how the Senators handled the Andrew Ebbett situation.

Unless you have the desire to see Matt Rust dance in his underwear to Glamorous by Fergie don't click this link and fast-forward to 3:56. He is in fact G-L-A-M-O-R-OUS. I definitely didn't need to see that. (Via SporTech Matter)

There's not a whole lot else out there, so I offer up one final link:
Bill Simmons doesn't know anything about hockey, but his draft diary was pretty good (WCH begs to differ). He makes fun of Bettman a lot so even though the jokes were kind of stale, it's still funny.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Wolverines Flying Off The Board

It's been a good day for Wolverines early on Day 2 of the NHL Draft. Aaron Palushaj continued his climb up draft boards and ended up going #44 overall (2nd round) to the St. Louis Blues. In somewhat of a shocker based on his ranking, Louie Caporusso was drafted at the end of the third round by the Ottawa Senators.

Additionally, Steve Kampfer (93rd to Anaheim), Matt Rust (101 to Florida) and Ben Winnett (104 to Toronto) have all been picked in the fourth round and Carl Hagelin was just picked by the New York Rangers in the 6th round (#168). Add that to Kevin Quick, who was picked in the third round of last year's draft, and it appears that the Wolverines have a very nice haul coming in this year in the eyes of the NHL, with 1 1st, 1 2nd, 2 3rds, 2 4ths (Kampfer is on the roster, he'd make 3 4ths) and a 6th rounder. Tristin Llewellyn and Bryan Hogan have yet to be drafted. I believe if either of them are picked, this will set a record for number of Wolverines drafted in any single draft.

Here are some articles from the Canadiens site about Pacioretty. The Montreal Gazette talked to Patch...here's the audio interview.

The big winner in this draft is clearly the Chicago Blackhawks, who have landed Pat Kane, Bill Sweatt, Akim Aliu, Maxime Tanguay (Alex's brother), and two guys from the USA NTDP in Josh Unice and Joseph Lavin.

Colorado also had what appears to be another nice draft, sticking to their usual strategy of taking college players and North Americans.

The Red Wings have had 2 picks since last night. They took their token Swedish center in Joakim Andersson (he's big though, 6'2") as well as Randy Cameron, a center out of the QMJHL.

It wouldn't shock me if the division standings look something like:
1) Detroit
2) St. Louis
3) Chicago
4) Nashville
5) Columbus
next year....the Blues started playing very well late in the year and the Blackhawks should be a much-improved team. I doubt either of them challenges Detroit for the division (though there's a lot of offseason to go) but they both should be in the hunt for playoff spots.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Pacioretty to the Habs

So the mock drafts that had Max Pacioretty going somewhere between 16-26 were pretty close. Even with several players being picked from "off the board", Patch was still selected 22nd by the Montreal Canadiens. As a Hab, he would join ex-Wolverine Mike Komisarek.

Pacioretty represented Michigan well by wearing a maize and blue tie to the event, which is being held in Columbus, OH. The crowd immediately booed him and started a "O-H! I-O!" chant. Enjoy your bottom of the CCHA, bottom of the Central Division finishes assssssssssssholes.

Aaron Palushaj, Tristin Llewellyn, Steven Kampfer, Matt Rust, and possibly Ben Winnett and Louie Caporusso figure to be drafted this weekend.

TSN says the following in their draft tracker:
There is no real mystery to Max Pacioretty's game with Sioux Falls of the USHL. He is an up and down winger who goes hard to the net, provides some physical play and is not without some offensive ability. He doesn't necessarily excel in any one area of the game but does a lot of things well enough to get first-round consideration, although a number of teams view him as more second-round material.

The Detroit Red Wings have just selected Brendan Smith out of St. Mike's (teammate of Louie Caporusso and Brandon Burlon). Previously he was a player that Michigan was interested in, but he ended up committing to Wisconsin. That's exciting to me because I'll get to go see him play. Imagine that, we actually took a guy out of college hockey. He's 6'1", 170 and had 12-24--36 in 39 games with St. Mike's.

TSN says the following:
The St. Michael's Buzzer defenceman will get discounted a little because of the level of competition in the Ontario Provincial Jr. A League, but there are few defenceman at any level that can skate the puck up the ice like Brendan Smith. He has a tendency to try to do too much with the puck but scouts like the raw potential.

I like that pick out of the Wings.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

More Draft Stuff

I've dug up a few more links relevant to this weekend's NHL Draft.

The Philadelphia Flyers are profiling players that could be picked with one of their two first-round selections. Pacioretty's profile is up. Nothing earth-shattering...it seems to be the same text that we've read a bunch of times already. Good skater, good on draws, works hard, nice wrist shot. There's a quote from the Director of Hockey Operations about him on the page, as well as a "Scouting Video" which is worth watching if only to wonder why they even put it up in the first place. Put it this way...if you want to see a 5 minute video of Patch where he touches the puck about 4 times total, you're in luck. He does make a couple nice passes, but this is not the video to show if you're trying to fire your fan base up about the idea of drafting someone. It will teach you how to properly say Aaron Palushaj's last name, though (and the PA announcer is correct with the pronunciation).

I also found a link for Max Giese's Draft Preview. I knew the name sounded familiar, and I realized that it was linked earlier by WCH. Max writes for McKeen's, who I've linked here many times. It's a nice read. He has top 5 lists for things like "High Risk/High Reward", "Safe, But Limited" and "Diamonds in the Rough".

He lists Aaron Palushaj as the #5 "Top Goal Scorer" in the draft and says that he has a "Tomas Vanek like ability to bear done in front and finish." I liiiiiike! High Five!

Patch is listed as the #5 Play Maker and is said to have a "deft passing game" which "exploits the open creases in the defense". Patch is also ranked as the #3 Most Underrated: "Big, fast, skilled, and a fine play maker".

Here's what he says about Pacioretty in his profile:

16. RW Max Pacioretty, 6-2 205 11-20-1988, Sioux City USHL, 52 gp – 19 g – 36 a – 55 points.

++ Vision and play making (Ed: The ++ means that these are his standout qualities)
+ Size, top gear, work ethic, hands
- questionable finishing ability.

The best forward available for the 2007 draft out of the USHL and deserves a selection in the first round for his intriguing blend of size, speed, and play making ability. He owns a power forwards body at 6-2 205 with long limbs and strong lower and upper body strength. He’s sturdy on his feet and shows good footwork to fend off checks as well as impressive leg strength. Displays decent agility with good stops and starts. His first step is a bit awkward but once he gains momentum he has a commanding stride as he can really fly with a superb top gear.

Pacioretty’s hands are soft with some impressive quick moves. He’s strong on his stick and covers the puck well with his big frame. He’s blessed with exceptional vision and impressive creativity as he emerges as a gifted play maker. Max can thread the needle with a crisp pass through a small lane and displays good touch as he can execute a nifty saucer pass in limited space. He owns a quick shot with good velocity and a quick release, although accuracy still needs to be upgraded as he gets his shots on net but doesn’t pick corners. He does a good job stopping at the net for rebounds and is a useful big body in front to create traffic in front of the goaltender. He began to use his size more away from the puck late in the season. He tracks the puck well as he anticipates the play well and maintains good positioning at both ends of the ice. Pacioretty back checks adequately and marks his man well as he’s a decent two way player. Can get feisty at times but isn’t a power forward. Will attend the University of Michigan next fall.
There are also profiles for Palushaj, Kampfer, and Llewellyn who are all ranked in his Top 100:

47. RW Aaron Palushaj, 6-0 185, 9-7-1989, Des Moines USHL 56 gp – 22 g – 45 a – 67 points.
++ Ability to finish or create near the net in heavy traffic
+ Long reach with soft hands and can stick handle through traffic.
- Skating, inconsistent effort, poor defensive play.

Palushaj is a team player who communicates positively with coaches and teammates that will do the dirty work for his linemates and displays good body language on the bench. His skating needs improvement as his first few strides lack power and appear sluggish and his turns can be sloppy but with his superb anticipation and economical approach he gets where he needs to and can slip around the opposition. Is as dangerous as they come from within 15-feet of the net. He has a long reach, is a patient puckhandler with soft, quick hands that can really dangle and can make something out of nothing in heavy traffic using the toe drag to slip off the opposition. Scores many goals with his willingness to get his nose dirty.

Has a knack for pouncing on loose rebounds using his quick release to finish and displays hunger, bears down and finishes his chances. He can also make a deft pass through heavy traffic and can draw the opposition and execute a creative pass with defenders draped all over him. Aaron shields the puck well and can maintain possession allowing his teammates to get open. Ever improving defensively, it just has not come full circle yet as he needs to backcheck harder and leaves the defensive zone too early but picks up his man well and will come down low to help. Palushaj pursues the puck adequately, clogs passing lanes, and maintains proper positioning. He handles traffic well and is very effective battling along the board. He fits the mold of a real offensive threat if he fixes his skating concerns. Palushaj had a phenomenal playoff in which he displayed that he can elevate his game in the critical moments and that there is more upside to him. Aaron will play for Michigan next fall.
It sounds like we've got a really nice duo in Patch and Pal. Since Pacioretty is said to be a great passer, a pretty good back-checker, and a good faceoff guy (though he only did it on PKs apparently) I wonder if he couldn't play some center for us.

74. D Steven Kampfer, 5-11 200, 9-24-1989, Michigan NCAA 35 gp – 1 g – 3 a – 4 points.
++ Poise, vision, hockey sense
+ Skill
- Does nothing special.

Plays a mature two-way game that goes unnoticed by the untrained eye but he’s the type of reliable defenseman that the more you see of him the more you like. He’s mobile with exceptional lateral mobility and a strong stride heading forward. He sees the ice well and distributes the puck crisply. Possesses underrated skill that shines through every so often, and it is something that should be on display more next season with increased ice time. His defensive positioning is impressive and he can skate with anyone making him a formidable one-on-one defender. He’s not a big guy, but is sturdy on his feet and can land the odd nice open-ice body check. Steven is a smart player with superb two-way awareness. While he’s not a first-round prospect he definitely deserves to be drafted before the mid-rounds.
This is definitely not the first place I've seen Kampfer listed as a third round pick or so. I wonder what I'm missing. I like Kampfer ok. I think he'll be a good defenseman for us in time (hopefully sooner rather than later). When he's not being The Human Turnover in his own zone, I like him quite a bit actually. But never once did I watch him and say to myself, "Now there's a guy I'd like the Wings to draft early" or even "There's a guy that I definitely see playing in the NHL in a few years." I'm kind of caught by surprise on this one.

97. D Tristin Llewellyn, 6-1 195, 5-2-1989, Tri-City USHL
++ Physical defensive game, confidence
+ Character, untapped upside
- Decision making without the puck.

At one point Tristin was a phenom in the American Hockey system as a possible top 5 pick in this years draft as he was playing in the USHL at the age of 15. Playing against players up to five years older then himself stunted Tristin’s development and now he’s a mid to late round pick. He likes to stand up his man at the blue and for the most part does an effective job but he does caught flat footed every now and then, as he can be beaten to the outside. He usually maintains a tight gap and takes the proper angle to his man before standing him up with a nice body check. Can get too aggressive seeking the open ice hit but that presence he brings is a plus. Skating is in need of improvement as he lacks that initial burst forwards or backwards and his turns are a bit choppy although his feet are adequate. His composure with the puck has improved and he makes a strong first pass. He makes good decisions with the puck for the most part but his decision making without the puck is the question mark. He uses a long stick and has adequate hands and escape moves. He was sensing danger better by the end of the season. He possesses a heavy shot but he must improve his shot selection as he’ll force shots into traffic.
Giese seems to like Llewellyn a lot better than Kyle Woodlief does. The only thing that is worrisome to me in this profile is that it says he'll shoot into traffic--but also that he doesn't have a burst forwards or backwards. To me, that spells "lots of breakaways going the other way". Might be a good idea to pair him with someone that has wheels. Thankfully that seems to be a common theme with the guys we've got coming in. As long as they don't put him with Mitera, he's going to be with someone that has speed. It's nice to see a positive review of Tristin. I don't doubt that playing in the USHL as long as he did hurt his development somewhat. He was so highly touted when he committed...hopefully he can get some of that back.

The best news in all of this is that we've got some guys coming in who won't be high draft picks (mainly because of their size) but who have the potential to be excellent college players. Winnett, Caporusso and Rust all fall into that category. We've got a really great crop of forwards coming in. We're going to be young, but there's a lot more depth up front than we had last year I think.

Giese also picked Palushaj in the third round of his Sharks Mock Draft and had this to say:

3rd Round 84th overall: RW Aaron Palushaj, Des Moines Buccanears USHL

Sharks should take a chance on a pure offensive talent and this is the guy they should take that chance on. Palushaj can be best summed up as a poor mans Thomas Vanek who will play for the Michigan Wolverines next fall. He has a long reach with velvety hands and can stickhandle through traffic. What separates him is his ability around the net. Aaron is exceptional at bearing down and finishing as well as creating a play by threading the needle with a pass through heavy traffic near the net. He’s patient, creative, and just oozes offensive upside.

Also there's an online version of the NHL Draft Media Guide (PDF file). I had an absolute blast reading this last year. Certain players have tidbits in their profile about who they'd invite to dinner if they could invite 3 people, and why they wear the number they wear. Sometimes it's very interesting (and it's amazing to see how many kids list Steve Yzerman as their hero) but they must've printed all the replies they got because some people said "I wear this number because it was assigned to me." That's deep.

This year's wasn't nearly as entertaining, but here are some favorites from this year's guide:
Arron Alphonso wears #71 because "Wendel Clark wore it when he played for the Red Wings". (Really??) He also lists the 72 Summit Series as his most memorable game watched. I wonder if he watched it with Greg Oden.

Keith Aulie patterns his game after Eric Brewer. That sound you just heard is him dropping off of draft boards. Why not just go ahead and list Tom Poti too and be done with it. He did save his dad's life though, which is cool.

Jon Blum says that part of his pregame ritual is "Sleeping and eating at the same time." Not sure what to make of that one.

Bryan Cameron also lists the Summit Series as the most memorable game he's watched. He also says that he would invite Andrew Raycroft to dinner so that he could learn how to score more goals. That's easy....make Andrew Raycroft play goal.

Luca Caputi says that his favorite game watched was the 1995 Game 7 between the Wings and Leafs because "If you watched it, you would know." I think Luca is in his own little world. They didn't play each other in 95. He might be referring to the 1993 series when Borschevsky scored to knock Detroit out, but he would've been like 5 years old at the time. And I can't remember jack from 1987. Confused.

Things got a little bit boring after that unfortunately, so here's a couple tidbits about two of our new players (Patch's has been covered).

Aaron Palushaj lists the Avs' 2001 Stanley Cup win as his most memorable moment watching hockey, yet his favorite team is the Red Wings. More confusion. He patterns his game after Ryan Smyth.

Ben Winnett is nicknamed "Jet", he likes Darcy Tucker and apparently has committed to Cornell. Uhh....

Edit: MGoBlog posted his take on the NHL Draft as well. He shares my shock at seeing Steve Kampfer listed that highly and also includes some stuff from the HF Boards about Winnett and Caporusso. Also, on his sidebar he has links to Redline and TSN's mock Drafts.

Edit #2: ESPN has a mock draft done by Mark Seidel (ex-ISS scout and Assistant GM in the OHL) that has Pacioretty going #26 to the Florida Panthers. Though I think that pick belongs to the Blues. Actually, I'm not sure where he got this stuff. He doesn't have the Wings as having a pick in the first round. I'm kind of confused.

By the way, if you want some more fun, check out his player comparisons and think to yourself how pissed you'd be if your first round pick was compared to some of these players. Really? Pacioretty is compared to Taylor Pyatt. Zack Torquato is compared to Mike Sillinger...what does that mean? He'll play for 19 NHL teams and be traded at the deadline every season? I know I'd want to draft someone early that's a Paul Mara clone.

Via WCH, here are the Fox Sports and SI mock drafts. Pacioretty goes 18th to the Flames in each of them.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Pre-Draft Stuff on Patch

A couple of stories about Max Pacioretty from NHL.com and Hockey's Future have come out in the last couple of days. Thanks to the posters at The Wolverine for pointing them out.

The one from NHL.com has a couple of things that I just love hearing. It says that Patch is great in the faceoff circle and that "he models his game after his favorite player, New York Rangers' forward Jed Ortmeyer, 'because he does all the little things right on both ends of the ice.'" Gotta love a kid like that! If you have to model your game after someone, might as well model it after the best captain Michigan has had in a long, long time. Jed was awesome.

Patch sounds like a really good kid. I just hope he doesn't go Trevor Lewis on us and get drafted too high.

Here's the article from Hockey's Future.

A couple other things:
As a follow-up to my vent-session last week about ESPN ruining the IRL race at Texas by putting the results on the Bottom Line, I got an email back from ESPN's Ombudsman:

"I received many complaints like yours and forwarded them to ESPN's Viewer Response team to get an explanation. Here is what they said:

"The result was added to the other Bottom Lines when the race ended, but also mistakenly networked to ESPN2, thereby allowing it to show under the coverage until the mistake was caught. Production has been alerted and addressed the issue to make sure this doesn't happen again."

I sincerely hope that is the last time a race will be ruined in that way.

Le Anne Schreiber"

Pretty much the response I expected. Hopefully they got enough emails this time that it actually will be the last time a race is ruined like that. As I said last week, it's at least the third time in the past two years that it's happened. And there's really no excuse for it. What's the hurry to get the results up on the Bottom Line anyway? It's the fricken IRL. Anyone who cares about it is watching the damn thing. Still, I appreciate the response, and hopefully they're going to be more on the ball in the future.

Charles Woodson came to the last week of the Packers' organized team activities. Packers.com had an article about him and how he gives a lot of the credit for his resurgence to Al Harris, the guy on the other side. I love Chuck, and I love how he's basically shoving it in the face of anyone who hated on him when the Packers signed him. It sounds weird, considering the Packers pass defense wasn't anything to write home about last season, but both of our corners deserved Pro-Bowl berths. Football's coming!

Lastly, Detroit Bad Boys points out that not everyone in the organization is as enthused about Amir Johnson as I am. Dumars and Hammond think that he's going to be a special player, but there are those on the coaching staff that don't think he'll ever be more than an "end of the bench role player".

If there was anything that makes me have less faith in our coaching staff than I already had after that whole "playing Flip Murray and Lindsey Hunter together at the start of the fourth quarter in a tied elimination game" thing, this is it. If you can't find a use for a 6'11" player who is faster than Rip Hamilton (per Dumars on 1270 last week), who can jump out of the gym, block shots, energize the crowd and his teammates with dunks, makes his free throws, and actually shoots the ball better than he's given credit for, then you need to be in another line of work. How can you not find minutes for a guy like that? Hell, one of the worst coaches in the NBA can deploy a no-talent assclown like Anderson Varejao in a strangely effective manner. There's no way he's a better player than Johnson will be. Every time Johnson has gotten significant minutes, he's risen to the occasion. A guy goes for 20-12-3-4 in 37 minutes on 10-14 shooting but you don't think he'll ever be more than an end of the bench role player? He's also gone for 8 and 6 in 13 minutes, 12-10-3-6 in 35 minutes, and was only 18-22 from the field in the preseason when he got to play. Not to mention his performances last year.

Flip, you're a moron.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Night The Celebration Stopped

Has it really been 10 years?

I still remember it like it was yesterday. I was in our dining room playing IndyCar Racing 2 when our phone rang. I didn't pay much attention as I was lapping my car around one of the fantasy tracks that someone with more computer knowledge than myself had come up with. A couple of minutes later, my dad appeared in the doorway. He had tears in his eyes. He informed me that that was a relative on the phone. A family friend of theirs worked in the ER at Royal Oak Beaumont Hospital. He had just called their house to break the news. My dad told me, "There was a limo crash with some of the Red Wings inside. Two of them are in surgery and they're not sure if they're going to make it. One of them is Konstantinov. The other one is so bad they're not sure who it is."

My IndyCar went straight up into the wall.

An hour or so later, the story broke on the news and Metro Detroit came to a halt. What was looking to be a fun summer filled with celebrations, appearances by the Cup at every random party/concert/event suddenly was put on hold. When less than a week before we were crying tears of joy over our Red Wings' first Stanley Cup in 42 years, we were now crying tears of sorrow and sending up prayers by the thousands for our "Broken Wings".

Woodward Avenue--the sight of the accident--was suddenly filled with teddy bears, photos, flowers, cards, in a makeshift memorial for the men involved. Though the tree that they crashed into is no longer there, I can't help but think of them every time I drive by the street sign near the sight.

There's still a hockey stick in my basement which--through the dirt and dust of 10 years--you can still dimly read "16" and "SM" written in black pen on the knob. I still look at the Championship Banner Raising poster that's hanging in my bedroom back in Michigan. There's a collage of pictures from the previous season and one of them is Konstantinov, dressed as the Vladinator, at the Championship rally. It's hard to look at that photo, knowing that less than a week later he would be near death, and his life would never be the same again. It's hard to watch that clinching game of the Stanley Cup Finals, knowing that it was the last time Konstantinov would ever lay out an opponent.

The next season there was no way that team was going to be denied. With "Believe, VK/SM" patches on their jerseys (and with those patches selling like hotcakes around Detroit--I've got them on my Doug Brown and Tomas Holmstrom jerseys), the Wings weren't simply on a quest to defend their title. They were on a mission to win it for their fallen comrades.

Who could ever forget that championship run? The incredible ovation the first time Konstantinov was spotted at a Wings game after the accident? And let me tell you, it got really dusty in Metro Detroit when Steve Yzerman took the Stanley Cup and placed it on the lap of Vladimir Konstantinov, in his wheel chair, the next June.

10 years. It's hard to believe.

In honor of Vladdy, I present the following video clips. Try not to cry when you watch the first one. I dare you:

Two Quick Things

This post was actually written a few hours later than the date-stamp, but I rolled it back to get it beneath my Konstantinov tribute, since that's more important to me today.

Dominik Hasek's rumored return is now pretty much official. He hasn't signed a contract, but Holland says that he's returning and they don't anticipate any problems getting him signed. Whoo-hoo!

Deadspin just put up a very interesting article. The New York Islanders are going to credential bloggers, section off an area in the upper bowl for them to sit (meaning that cheering is still allowed), watch the game, and then allow them to ask questions to select players after the game.
It's a pretty great idea if you ask me. It's a way to encourage people to start blogs--and specifically blogs about the team. They appear to be the first organization in this struggling sport to realize that the more people there are covering the team, the better. This is in stark contrast to the NCAA, who booted a reporter at the University of Louisville for live-blogging the NCAA Baseball game. The NHL needs all the coverage it can get, and this is one way to accomplish that. I applaud the Islanders for doing something that fan-friendly. I don't expect the Wings to adopt a similar policy for a couple of reasons: 1) Their press box is too small to accommodate anyone as it is. 2) Games are almost always sold out, meaning that it'd be very difficult to block off a section of seats for the bloggers like the Islanders are doing.

It'd be cool though.

Anytime U of M wants to start giving me credentials to go sit in the stands for games, I'd be more than happy to accept when I'm in town.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Couple Offseason Comments

Neither of these items are all that new, but I've been out for a little while so I didn't get a chance to comment when they became public.

The Schedule: Michigan released their 2007-08 schedule and...well...ouch. Kicking off the season against Boston College and then Minnesota or RPI might not be the best way for a young team with a shaky situation in net to get started. Then again, the BC game a couple years back was quite possibly Billy Sauer's finest moment as a Wolverine. Worst case scenario is that we lose to BC and Minnesota plays their typical game against an inferior opponent and loses to RPI, setting us up to give up 12 the next night and start 0-2.

Red has talked before about how he likes to get a road trip out of the way early when he has a young team, so they can bond. He's gonna get his wish. 6 of our first 8 and 8 of our first 12 are on the road, and they're all fairly lengthy trips (Minnesota, Marquette, Nebraska, Sault Ste. Marie). Then we come home to play Wisconsin and Minnesota.

We could be in for a really ugly start to the season if they don't get the defense/goaltending situation figured out in a hurry. At least the home games are spread out this year. Another plus: the game against the NTDP is the only Tuesday game this year. None of that 6 games in 11 days crap.

I'm curious to see how many games I'll be able to get on TV in Madison. I've got ESPNU, CSTV, and all the Fox Sports channels, so I have to believe there'll be quite a few. Count on a lot of live-blogging this year, since I won't be at the games (for the most part).

Eventually I'll break it down and make a WAG at a record for next year. I ran through it in my head really quickly and came out at 22-14, 19-9 in the CCHA, but that puts us ahead of our point total last year in conference so I want to revamp things a tad. That'll have to wait for another day.

Pio Is Gone: The other thing that needs to be commented on: As Mike Spath brought to our attention, Steve Piotrowski has stepped out of the rink to become the CCHA's Director of Officials. As much as I hated seeing him 3 or 4 years ago, I'm sorry to see him go. He was the one guy that the CCHA could put out there who I truly felt knew what he was doing. Sure he'd screw ya sometimes, but by and large he called a pretty good game. His departure leaves the CCHA in a sorry state as far as officials go.

Who would you even consider to be the CCHA's best official at this point? It's gotta be Kevin Hall or Mark (gulp) Wilkens now doesn't it? Last year convinced me that Matt Shegos belongs nowhere near the top of that list. Brian Aaron is a flippin' moron. Steve McInchak doesn't have a clue. The games Scott Hoberg called were a complete disaster. The first game Barry Pochmara called at Michigan was a good one, but he threw it away the next night. Then you've got Sergott, Kotyra, Lisko, and Murphy who don't usually do our games so I can't comment. I've never liked Hall, but he just might be at the top now. And with Wilkens, at least you know that the incompetence will be consistent. You're both getting 5 on 3s. There'll be a stream of players to the box. Deal with it.

Unfortunately, based on his hometown on Clinton Township, MI, I have to believe this means Michigan fans will be seeing a lot more of Scott Hoberg next year. We got Pio an awful lot, and at least part of that had to be due to the fact that Yost is the closest arena to Troy, MI. Clinton Twp. is out that way as well. I wonder if the Sun-Belt has anyone they aren't using......

The Bottom Line: I had to edit this post to add in one more comment. I was watching the IRL's Bombardier 550 from Texas Motor Speedway this weekend. The race was on tape delay by a half an hour, which I actually was unaware of at the time.

It was a great race. Lots of wheel-to-wheel action, an incredible camera shot out of Tony Kanaan's onboard camera when he threaded the needle between a spinning car and a loose tire, and in the closing laps Kanaan (my favorite driver in the series) was closing in on Sam Hornish Jr. (Who I happen to really dislike) for the lead of the race. Then, with about 15 laps remaining, what do I see crawl across the bottom line during the race telecast? "Sam Hornish Jr. wins the Indy Racing League's Bombardier 550 at Texas Motor Speedway"

Are you fucking kidding me, ESPN?

Since I was flying through the race on my DVR, I actually had a giant WTF moment until I realized that No Tim, it's not possible for the bottom line to have updated during your taped race. It was only at that moment that I even realized the race was on tape delay.

Seriously though, if it's a game being shown on tape delay on another network, and I just happen to stumble upon the score when I'm flipping channels at commercial, then shame on me. But there is absolutely no reason that I should see the results of the event that I'm watching on the bottom line, when you're showing the original telecast of the event.

It completely spoiled the end of what turned out to be an excellent finish. I had no interest in watching the last 15 laps after I knew what was going to happen. What made it especially infuriating was that this is at least the third time this has happened during an ESPN tape delayed event. It's inexcusable. And it's too bad, because ESPN's telecasts of auto races are typically very good, IMO.

While I'm complaining about ESPN, let me yell at Barry Larkin for a minute. After Gary Thorne went specifically out of his way to NOT say the words "No hitter" at the top of the ninth inning ("Look at the top line. That's all I'm going to say."), Larkin proceeded to say it roughly 17 times in the next 3 minutes. And he went to MICHIGAN! He should know better. I'm surprised he didn't go all the way and put a ladder above our dugout exit, and throw a black cat in front of Putnam.

How much of a heartbreaker was it to lose that game though? To give up one hit--a single to boot--and come away with a LOSS? Ugh. You had to know that was coming though, when Michigan kept failing to capitalize on opportunities. Once that first guy in the top of the 9th walked, I was pretty sure we were going to lose. By the way, did you know that the guy who drove in the winning run was ALSO the guy that stopped that throw at first base that was headed into right field?! I think he also boxes in the offseason and is dating Brady Quinn.

My favorite past-time during our game was to glance up into the upper-right hand corner to see if Oklahoma State was changing pitchers again in their game against Louisville. I swear that it said "Pitching Chg" more often than it was indicating there was action going on in the game. 20-2? In an elimination game? At least they came to play for that one! That game started at the same time Michigan's game did. When our game ended, Louisville was batting in the bottom of the 5th.

Also, if you think Oregon State's field turf baselines are weird, you should've seen the UCI/Wichita State game. The Shockers have an Astroturf infield, grass outfield. I'm really not sure how that came about. Or how people don't fall....

Saturday, June 02, 2007

One Happier Tidbit

I don't want this to get in the way of my rant about Flip Saunders below, but I have to mention this. I'm back in Michigan this weekend for my cousin's graduation. My parents gave me my birthday gifts and one of them was a Hasek jersey. My dad told me that the owner of the store where he got it is a good friend of Hasek's. So my dad asked him, "What's the scoop? Is he coming back?" to which, the guy replied, "You've got nothing to worry about. He's coming back." Take it for what it's worth, but I was happy to hear it.

Fire Flip

I have to preface this post with a couple of things: 1) I'm emotional right now. 2) I don't know a ton about basketball strategy.

That being said, I can't fathom how Flip Saunders stays on as Pistons coach after tonight, unless Bill Davidson just decides he can't pay $15 million to someone again to not coach anymore.

The glaring mistake was playing Flip Murray and Lindsey Hunter together at the start of the fourth quarter in an elimination game. Neither of our all-star guards re-entered the game until after the Cavs had built a 9 point lead. Saunders's justification in the post-game interview was that he wanted to buy our guards a couple of minutes and get them a breather. It's sound reasoning to want to keep your guys fresh, but we have to remember something here: There was a 21 minute break after the first quarter along with a 20 minute break (halftime) after the second quarter. I could be wrong, but I doubt that both our guards were gassed since they essentially got two halftimes.

Wouldn't the smarter substitution pattern be to take them out one at a time? How on earth do you get yourself into a situation where you have Murray and Hunter on the floor together in the fourth quarter of a tied elimination game? Stupid. Especially when you didn't play Flip Murray at all in Game 5 and only 7 minutes in Game 4 after he was very effective in Game 3 (8 points on 2-3 from the floor, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover in 20 minutes).

Additionally, did Webber see the floor after he picked up his fourth foul? I appreciate that Dyess is the better defender, but he shot the ball terribly in these playoffs. Webber was on offensively tonight.

The other thing that is absolutely inexcusable is that the Pistons got jobbed on calls the entire series and our coach didn't get a single technical foul called on him. When McDyess got ejected, nothing. When the Cavs had--at one point tonight--a 42-19 free throw edge? Nothing. Larry Brown used to tell Rasheed Wallace "Let me get the techincals for you". And it worked. The players knew their coach had their back. Flip didn't say shit this entire series. Nothing in the media, nothing with some of these absolutely absurd calls against us. No comments about the flopping, where it might have actually had a chance to change something.

How do you face officiating like that and not blow a gasket at least one time? Why let it get to the point where Rasheed needs to get tossed in an embarassing blowup? Why let Webber be the one to make a comment on the flopping in the press?

Double-teaming LeBron to make him give up the ball was a sound strategy. But we went too far to the other extreme with it and it was one game too late. When a guy drops 25 straight points and 29 out of 30 on you, you can't just sit by and watch. You have to change up something. Throw the double team at him THEN. Don't let him get shots for a couple minutes, disrupt his rhythm.

Then tonight, they go with the double team almost exclusively. LeBron was quieted, at least on the scoreboard, but they did it at the expense of leaving a jump-shooter open constantly. After Gibson nailed 2 or 3 in a row, they needed to find a way to adjust and stop letting him beat us. Switch back to your normal defense since LeBron was off on his shot tonight. Change the looks up a little bit.

It's ridiculous that this team lost 4 straight to an inferior team. When you get coached around by Mike Brown, there's a problem. Change something up. Hell, since you're not playing Dale Davis anyway, dress Amir Johnson and see if he can't shake things up a little bit. He's answered the bell everytime we've called on him. Would he be the guy to take over the series? Let's not Chuck Norris-ize him yet, but he can block shots, he can dunk, and you get 110% out of him every single time he's out there. Sometimes those energy guys can spark something. Like Jason Maxiell did in Game 2 (of course, our genius coach played him 3 minutes in Game 3). At least it would've been making an effort. If nothing else, it forces the Cavs to have to guard a big man that can run the floor. That could cause some problems for Ilgauskus. I don't think it's asking too much of the kid to throw him out there for 5 minutes to see if he can't turn the tide a little bit. Hell, if we were in a position to throw Nazr Mohammed out there late in the first half, why not give a minute or two to Amir? What the hell does Nazr provide beyond protection for our bigs in foul trouble? Guess what? Amir can do that too. But he also has the potential to provide a spark to the team.

They lost this series in Game 5, but when LeBron is unconscious and making video-game type shots, you have to find some way to stop him. You can't just sit there in a man-to-man and LET him beat you. You have to do something to make him give up the ball, since his supporting cast went 0-10 in that span. At that point, who cares if you leave Gibson or Marshall open. Even if the guy scores, at least LeBron isn't shooting for a couple minutes. When a guy is in a groove, you have to do something to shake him out of it. How do you let him keep the ball down the stretch in that game when he's on fire like a guy in NBA Jam?

The officiating was felonious in this series. You have to tip your cap to LeBron for Game 5, and to Gibson tonight (though we left him wide open) but they had some major help out there. People can say it's sour grapes and that Pistons fans are whiners all they want to, but they didn't call those games equally. That said, it was our coach's responsibility to do something about it. It may not have mattered, but at least go down swinging. Get a tech. Take shots in the media about the flopping. The NBA hates bad pub, so if you call attention to an injustice like that, things could very well change. And if it doesn't, then you have to actually adjust to the game and not let the best player in the world play man-to-man against a guy that he's got 6 inches on, when he's in the process of scoring 25 straight points.

I feel like some of this stuff is elementary. I don't know a whole lot about basketball strategy (though I do watch a lot of games), but I'm smart enough to know when I'm watching something that doesn't make any sense. And this didn't make any sense.

When you have the players openly questioning the strategy in Game 5, followed up by something stupid like tonight, there are problems in the room. And I can't imagine that anyone on that roster still respects Flip Saunders after he let them go down without a single explosion on the sideline. I sure as shit don't.

If I'm off-base, feel free to tell me so. There are plenty of people out there that know the game better than I do. But Charles Nelson Reilly could've done a better job of coaching in Game 5 and Game 6. "With the game on the line, don't let the best player in the world [BLANK] twice." I'm pretty sure even he would've written "dunk" on that one.