Friday, September 28, 2007

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Anthony Ciraulo

Next on the list is walk-on sophomore forward, Anthony Ciraulo.

Last Season: Despite not dressing for a game until December 1, Ciraulo played in all but two games the rest of the way (including the final 23) after the departure of Jason Bailey. In his 24 games, he had a line of 1-1--2, 2 PIMs, +3. He obviously didn't play heavy minutes and wasn't counted on for his offense. But he played his role, hit some people, and didn't hurt us when he was out there (he was only a minus in 2 of the 24 games that he played). He's not a faceoff guy, however, winning just 42.8% of the 173 faceoffs he took. Which unfortunately still ranked him ahead of three other guys on our team who took heavy numbers of faceoffs (Rohlfs, Kolarik, and Fardig).

Expectations: As I pointed out in Brian Lebler's break down, there are going to be a few guys fighting for playing time. I have it pegged where Lebler, Naurato, Fardig, Ciraulo, and Fragner will be competing for two spots. Right now, you have to list Ciraulo as fourth in that battle. He'll play some this year (injuries, GLI, etc.) but it's going to be tough for him to see the ice when everyone is healthy.

When he's in there, it'll be more of the same. He's more than likely not going to play on the special teams, and he won't play more minutes per game than he did last year. He'll forecheck, he'll hit, he'll block shots (8 in 24 games isn't bad at all for as many minutes as he played), and like I said earlier, he won't hurt us when he's out there. It's nice to have a depth player like him around, who you can put in when you need him and not worry when he's on the ice.

Level of Necessity: 3 out of 10.

He's not going to play all that often, barring a few injuries (he's probably the second reserve forward in line, but if all four freshmen defensemen can play, I have to wonder if Summers would move up front again if there were some casualties at forward), but he'll probably get 10 games or so.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Brian Lebler

Before we get into one of the returning forwards, Brian Lebler, let's talk about yet another example of how God hates this hockey team.

Bryan Hogan, freshman goaltender who will be previewed in a couple of weeks, has apparently come down with mono. I swore. A lot.

It was bad enough when Mike Cammalleri contracted the disease during the stretch run of a season where we were on the tournament bubble. It was amazing when Andy Burnes came down with it when we were already struggling with depth on defense back in 2002. When David Rohlfs and Mike Brown came down with it at roughly the same time, part of me was amused. But Hogan? Shit. I don't even know how good this kid is, but he's getting a 10 out of 10 in "Level of Necessity" because he represents hope.

The good news is that he's still got 2 weeks before the puck drops and symptoms typically go away after about a month. The bad news is that it can take some time after the symptoms go away to be ready to play again. When Cammalleri had it, he missed ten games and started skating around Valentines Day, but didn't dress until March 1.

If the diagnosis is confirmed, it's a huge blow to a kid who had an excellent chance of stealing the starting job away from incumbent Billy Sauer, or at worst splitting time. Not to say he won't get that chance when he returns, but these two weeks of practice could have been huge.

Now onto the main subject of this post, Brian Lebler.

Last Season: Lebler came in as a decently regarded freshman--he had a Wisconsin offer and was listed as a "B Level" player from NHL Central Scouting. He didn't end up getting drafted, but he playing pretty decently as a freshman. He scoring 7 goals and had 4 assists for 11 points in 37 games. He was worst on the team amongst the scholarship players in +/-, but was still +2 on the year and had 34 PIMs.

He started the year paired with Andrew Cogliano and Chad Kolarik, which obviously didn't suit him. He's not fast enough to keep up with those guys and is much better suited for a role banging away on the checking line. After they moved him to a line with Turnbull and Bailey, he started to play better. His offensive game took a downward turn after the GLI. He scored just 1-1--2 over the 2007 portion of the season. Perhaps not coincidentally, he was seeing time with Cogliano and Kolarik again.

Unfortunately, the biggest memory that I have of Lebler from last year was Jim O'Brien skating away from him on a breakaway. It's quite possible that I've never seen someone skate that slowly in my entire life. Maybe he was at the end of a shift, but yeah....slow.

Fun random stat: He's second on the team amongst the returning players in shooting percentage. He scored on about 15% of his shots on goal last year.

Fun random stat #2: He somehow managed to not be on the ice for any of the 13 goals scored in the NCAA Tournament Game against North Dakota.

Expectations: It's pretty clear from last year that Lebler's game isn't to put the puck in the net. He scored some in Juniors, but he was playing in the BCHL, so that may be the hockey equivalent of Derek Anderson throwing 5 TD passes in a game.

He's much better suited to be on a checking line where he can put his size to good use. He's the biggest guy on the roster apart from Eric Emblad and Mark Mitera. He might actually find himself in a battle for ice time, though, if all the freshmen earn shifts. Right now, I would say that there are 9 forwards guaranteed to be in the lineup: Palushaj, Turnbull, Porter, Winnett, Miller, Rust, Kolarik, Caporusso, and Pacioretty. That leaves three spots open. From the sounds of it, they really like Hagelin. That leaves Lebler, Naurato, Fardig, Fragner and Ciraulo fighting for the last two spots. I imagine they'll go to Lebler and Naurato on most nights, but it really wouldn't shock me to see Danny Fardig get in there on some occasions. So it's possible that Lebler will really be fighting with Naurato to be an "every night" forward.

If he's in, I see more of the same from last year. Solid checking line player, who they sometimes try as a power forward on a scoring line. I don't think he sees as much time on the power play as last year (he had 3 PPGs) because of the skilled forwards coming in. As a wild-ass guess, I'll say he plays closer to 30 games than 40 games and has offensive numbers similar to last year, which accounts for improvement, but less ice time.

Level of Necessity: 5.5 out of 10.

Our forward depth is enough that if Lebler goes out, you're looking at plugging in a guy with quite a bit of experience, like Fardig or Naurato. One thing that Lebler does provide us with is that big body. If his offense has improved and he can show that he's able to play as a power forward on a scoring line and not look out of place, this number goes up a point or so because we only have so many guys that have his size. His freshman year wasn't so different from Jason Ryznar's (7-4--11 vs. 9-7--16). Ryznar never really upped his point totals all that much (but he also had trouble staying healthy). He did improve as a player over his four years, though. I think Lebler's upside is to end up being a Jason Ryznar type. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Other Stuff: Checking In with Chad Langlais has been posted at MGoBlue.

The basketball blog at MGoBlue has an unfortunate name. Really? It's a good read, but they need to change that name... (HT: Michigan Sports Center)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Carl Hagelin

Next up is the first Wolverine to come from Europe/Asia since 1992, Carl Hagelin.

Last Season: It's a bit of a chore to find the real stats for his league in Sweden. I think I had four or five different profiles for him on the sidebar at one time or another and they all had different numbers. A friend of mine described it this way:
His league, J20 Sodra has a regular season of like 10 teams. Then the top four teams, which his team was not one of, go on to this Elite 8 type of thing that takes the top four teams from the J20 Norda or whatever it's called. Then the 6 shitty teams from the Sodra division play each other in the J20 Sodra Var. They have their little playoff against each other and then the best 3 of the shitty teams in sodra play the best 3 shitty teams from Norda and they have like the not good enough to be elite, but not shitty enough to go home playoffs.

So what ended up happening is that he played 25 regular season games, and 18 playoff games. Or something like that. Anyway, based on the stats that MGoBlue has for him, he had 13-17--30 in the regular season (tied for first on the team) and led his team in scoring with 12-19--31 in the playoffs. He may have even led the league in scoring, but who knows. Elite Prospects says he did, so we'll go with that. He was second in scoring and first in playoff scoring the year before. So that's good. He was also the team captain last year, and the New York Rangers thought enough of him to make him their sixth round draft pick.

Expectations: Of all the players in this class, Hagelin is the biggest unknown. It was hard to find stats for him and most of the articles about him are in Swedish. From his Checking In profile, he says he's a great skater and uses his acceleration. He also apparently likes to forecheck and hit people.

So you got me. He could play on the first line because of his speed and forechecking ability, plus the fact he can put the puck in the net. He could play on the checking line because of those same attributes.

Colin had a post about him awhile back and figured that he has about a 40% chance of making the NHL or contributing mightily to the national team.

To be on the safe side, I'm going to temper my expectations to this: He works his butt off, forechecks like a demon, hits a bunch of people, and chips in with some goals here and there. Is that general enough for ya? Bob Miller was at Captain's Practice today and liked the looks of him playing with Matt Rust.

So for expectations I'm going with "key member of a really effective third line". Jason Bailey had 7 points in 27 games as a freshman. Mike Brown had 13 points in 42 games. He'll better both of them, because it sounds like he's a more skilled player. But hopefully he brings the same tenacity that they did at times. Without the whole "being -11 in 19 games like Bailey last year" thing.

I guess more than anything, it depends what line he lands on. If he ends up on one of the top two lines, his numbers will obviously be higher. I think matching the 18 points that Travis Turnbull put up as a freshman would be a nice benchmark.

Level of Necessity: I don't have a friggin' clue on this one. I have Turnbull as a 6.5 so we'll go just a tick lower and say 6 out of 10. I'd also like to take this opportunity to raise Chad Langlais's rating up a half point to 6.5 since it sounds as if Coach Berenson feels there might be a bigger adjustment period for Kevin Quick than some of the others, which wouldn't be shocking given that he's coming from prep hockey. In the line chart in my mind, I had Quick pegged as a second-pairing guy, but now I'll amend it to Langlais. At least early on. And as always, take these ratings with a huge grain of salt, because I'm an idiot.

From all indications, Hagelin is going to play. And it wouldn't shock me if he sees decent minutes, especially if he stays on a line with Rust, who I think we're really going to like. He sounds like a guy who is probably not going to play on the power play, but I bet he sees some time on the PK, even if he's not a regular on the special teams. It's always nice to have a speedy forechecker out there to disrupt the breakout.

Other Stuff: As I linked above, Bob Miller was at Captain's practice. Well worth a read.

Peabody over at Michigan Against the World took some time out from trying to justify to himself that the Patriots' actions really weren't that big of a deal, and has figured out why there's been an outbreak of extremely attractive females in the Michigan Cheerleading Squad and in the stands.

The Michigan Ice Hockey TV schedule came out today. For those of you who get all the channels, the Wolverines will be on TV 24 times. Of those, I should be getting at least 19, which will go a long way toward helping me manage some decent hockey coverage despite not being in the state of Michigan any longer. That number goes up if my Comcast stations on Dish Network pick up any of the games that the Ann Arbor/Boston networks are airing. Seven of the games will be away from Yost/Joe Louis.

Lastly, JMFJ's old nemesis Steve Downie is up to his old tricks. He threw a flying elbow into the head of Dean McAmmond and McAmmond had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher. Downie isn't going to last in the NHL pulling crap like that. His reputation precedes him, and hits like that aren't helping matters.

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Kevin Porter

The next profile is of the Captain of the Wolverines, senior Kevin Porter.

Last Season: Porter was second on the team in scoring with a line of 24-34--58 in 41 games. His 24 goals tied him with Andrew Cogliano for the top spot on the team. He ranked a distant second to Chad Kolarik in shots with 128 and was +23 on the season. And despite being counted on for his excellent defense, he only took eight penalties the entire season. He also led the team in Game Winning Goals with 4.

The top line of Porter, Hensick, and Rohlfs was arguably the best line in the country, with Hensick and Porter ranked #1 and #3 in the country in scoring, respectively.

He was also a member of the All-CCHA Second Team.

Expectations: Porter is the top offensive threat returning to this team. According to an interview with Red Berenson by The Wolverine's Mike Spath that was conducted at the CCHA Media Day today, Porter will be making the move to center--at least at first. Based on some of the things that Berenson said, I imagine the top line with be Pacioretty-Porter-Kolarik. Obviously they'll be expected to produce quite a bit.

It will be interesting to see how Porter does offensively without TJ Hensick getting him the puck. I'm sure he'll be with talented linemates, and I don't expect a huge dropoff in production, though I think it might be optimistic to expect him to repeat last year's ranking of #3 nationally in scoring.

Even if the forward depth is enough that they aren't counted on as heavily as last year, I don't think high 40s or low 50s in points is unreasonable. As long as he's in the ballpark of 1.25 points per game and continues his excellent defensive play and penalty killing, his job is done.

He's never played center before, but putting him there should allow him to use his defensive talents a little bit more. He took just 18 faceoffs last year and was .500. (Sidenote: Hensick was absolutely incredible in the faceoff dot. Do you realize he won 21 out of 25 against North Dakota in the tournament? That's insane.)

There's no reason that he shouldn't be an All-CCHA First Team forward this year. He was voted one in the preseason poll that came out today.

Level of Necessity: 9.5 out of 10.

Porter is vital to this team. He's going to be the top-line center. He's their #1 penalty killer and the #1 defensive forward. He's the top returning scorer, and tied as the top returning goal scorer. He was second in power play goals, first in game-winning goals. It was a very small sample size, but it at least appears that he doesn't suck at faceoffs. And he doesn't take penalties.

Not to mention, he's the captain.

It would be extremely hard for this team to overcome him going down with an injury for any extended period of time. There's no single player more important to the success of this team based on what he provided in all aspects of the game.

Other Stuff: There will be a transcript up later, but Spath's interview with Coach Berenson, which I linked above, was pretty candid. Red spoke highly of all the freshmen forwards. It sounds like he really likes all of them. He compared Langlais to Eric Werner (hopefully more defensively responsible and better in school than his predecessor) and Llewellyn to Jason Dest.

It sounded like he's somewhat concerned with the increase in level of play from prep school to the NCAA for Kevin Quick. He referred to Quick as an "unknown".

The most candid part of the interview was when he spoke of the goaltending. He didn't rip Billy Sauer, but he also didn't go throwing him a vote of confidence. It sounds like Bryan Hogan will have every opportunity to win the job, and he's curious to see Shawn Hunwick in action as well. Berenson was also open to the possibility that we'll split goaltenders, if it gives us the best chance to win every night.

A transcript will be up later, but the stuff about the goaltending was pretty interesting.

Checking In: Speaking of goaltending, after profiling Bryan Hogan yesterday, MGoBlue has posted the Checking In feature with Shawn Hunwick. He's got a nice story to tell. He's played all over the place (Honeybaked, Victory Honda, Western Ontario, the NAHL), and was speaking with Northern Michigan, Holy Cross, and a few other schools before a concussion (he got hit in the head twice during warm-ups...the first shot knocked his mask off, the second shot hit him) basically put an end to that. It's a good read.

I especially love hearing players tell the stories about who their favorite player is, and why they wear the number that they wear. Hunwick was/is a big Ron Tugnutt fan.

Hockey Picked to Finish 4th in the CCHA

The Michigan hockey team was picked to finish 4th in the CCHA by both members of the media and the CCHA coaches today. If that comes to fruition, it would mark the lowest that Michigan has finished in the conference since the 1989-90 season, which is the last year that we didn't make the NCAA Tournament.

The coaches picked Miami (OH) to finish in the top slot, while the media went with defending NCAA Champion Michigan State (did that really happen?). Somehow, four members of the media voted Michigan in the top slot, which basically means that either they aren't paying attention or they know of Michigan's secret plan to stick Marty Turco in a #36 jersey and just tell everyone that he's been practicing.

Kevin Porter, who I'll be previewing today at some point, was voted onto the Preseason All-CCHA First Team. His classmate Chad Kolarik was a Second-Team forward. Defenseman Mark Mitera was honored as an All-CCHA Honorable Mention.

And since goalie fights are always fun, here's Rick DiPietro vs. Al Montoya from last night. This one doesn't go so well for Al. I don't think that he was afraid to take his mask off, as the announcers were implying. I think he just forgot. It seemed like he didn't really know what to do, which surprises me.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Around the Sports World

Since today's Michigan Hockey Preview was so short, and I don't feel like doing Kevin Porter's yet, let's take a cruise around the sports world, because there's been some pretty great stuff out there lately.

Michigan Football: Michigan has now--in the words of Ed Rooney--beating Penn State niiiine....timmmmes in a row. The natives are getting restless. To BWI's credit, most of the posters over there were directing most of their anger at Joe and Jay Pa rather than the officials. I thought for sure that we'd see a lot of complaining about Hart's last touchdown (I thought it should've at least been reviewed), but JoePa was doing more bitching than their fans. At least when I popped in over there. Some people seem upset about the PI call in the endzone and I'm not sure why. That one was completely legit. He held him when the ball was in the air. Done and done. And I mean done.

Ryan Mallett deserves all the credit in the world for his performance. He was erratic in the first half, but was dead on balls accurate in the second half. Those passes on third and long in the fourth quarter were extremely impressive for a true freshman making only his second career start.

I'm officially impressed. I'm not on the "Keep Chad Henne on the Bench" bandwagon like some people seem to be, but the future is definitely bright for this kid. He has it. A lot of people compared him to Favre, and it's easy to do, what with his arm strength and the amount of fun he seems to be having. Even if it's back to the bench in another week or two, this experience will help him a ton next year when it's his team. Instead of breaking in a sophomore QB with next to no game experience, along with a freshman running back, we've got a guy who has a couple of wins under his belt, and led the team to a victory over a top 10 opponent.

And then there's our running back. Just when I think I couldn't be more impressed by Mike Hart, he has a performance like that. If you read this blog, it's 99% that you've already seen this, but Mgoblog's piece on Hart today was just perfect. It can't be said any better than that, so I'm not going to try. But I love that kid. He's officially in my pantheon of Michigan Athletes with Jed Ortmeyer, Jack Johnson, David Terrell & his B.A.D., and whoever finally replaces Billy Sauer.

I think it's safe to say at this point that our defense is pretty good, they just have that fatal flaw that they can't stop mobile QBs or the spread. So, pretty much every other year for the past decade. And after watching the Wisconsin/Iowa game, I'm pretty unafraid of going into Madison late in the season. The fear factor goes up a little bit because Donovan can move around a little bit, but the Badgers really didn't look good. And they haven't looked good most of the year thusfar. The Citadel played them even in the first half before Wiscy pulled away in the second, like good teams typically do against Division I-AA schools ::mutter:: and UNLV almost knocked em off. Ohio State is still (somehow) the team to beat, but this team can still contend for a Big Ten Title. It seems kind of weird to be saying that after the way this season started, but I guess we've done the same thing twice before....minus the whole losing to a I-AA team.

Packers: Holy shit, they're 3-0. I'm as big of a homer as there is and I never in my wildest dreams thought that this team would be sitting 3-0 right now. 1-2 was what I expected, I could've seen 2-1, but to beat three playoff teams from last year, including the Chargers, is really impressive.

People are going to hate seeing it, but Brett Favre is going to keep being slurped by the media and rightfully so. He's playing great football right now. He's taking care of the ball--both INTs he's thrown this year were more on the receiver--and the short passing game has been extremely effective in lieu of a running game.

Plus, now we get to see what having a healthy Greg Jennings can do for this offense. He had 80 yards or so and a touchdown this week, but they didn't know he could go until the day before the game, so I'm guessing they didn't have a whole lot in the gameplan for him.

Chad Clifton deserves all the credit in the world for yesterday's game. He had a rough couple of weeks to start the season, but he was absolutely fantastic against Shawn Merriman. The guy had 2 assists, no solo tackles, and more importantly didn't come near The Legend all game.

This is a far cry from previous efforts against the 3-4 defense. And even though it was the preseason last year, this same Chargers team made the Packers look like a high school squad. It just goes to show how far this team has come in a short while.

After this win, the Packers have to become one of the favorites in the NFC, along with the Cowboys. Though the Packers have been more impressive in the early going of this season: Both teams beat the Giants, though Green Bay did it by more points and on the road. The Eagles are superior to the Dolphins, and San Diego is better than Chicago (they proved that Week One).

They still need to find a running game. Currently, they rank dead last in the NFL in rushing yards, and are second-to-last in rushing attempts. The running game did show signs of life yesterday, however, but I don't blame the coaches for sticking with the pass since it was working so well. They ran effectively when they tried it though. And after the first couple of weeks, I can see why they wouldn't want to risk possessions in the name of establishing the run, especially when the data shows you don't need an effective running game to beat San Diego.

NHL: Scott Burnside had an article about the story lines for the upcoming season, and there were a couple of interesting tidbits in there: One was that the league, it appears, has finally decided that this current scheduling format has got to go. This isn't really news, since it came out last week or the week before, but I'm happy about it nevertheless. I've hammered on the schedule plenty of times on here. It's idiotic not to have guys like Crosby and Ovechkin in every market in the league at least once. Especially when the alternative is 32 games against the Blues, Blackhawks, Blue Jackets, and Predators. Yuck.

The other thing that I found interesting, however, is that it also appears that expansion is on the way to the NHL. I think it's a bad idea because the league is pretty watered down as it is, particularly in goal, but it's hard to tell all the owners to turn down a free $20-30 million in expansion fees.

The best part of this is the cities that Burnside cited as possible destinations for the two teams: Las Vegas, Kansas City, Winnipeg, Portland, Seattle, and Houston. What do all those cities have in common? They're all west of Detroit. Which means that the Wings could finally move into the Eastern Conference where they belong. And the Blue Jackets could come too, which would mean that there would be no Eastern Time Zone teams in the Western Conference.

If expansion has to happen, I'm all for it if it involves the Wings heading East. Enough of this travel BS. You can't tell me it doesn't make a difference over the course of a season that ends up being close to 110 games between the preseason, regular season, and playoffs.

Other News: It's not just football where we own! Penn State! That makes 8 out of 11 in that series, though they have a huge lead overall. I've talked about this before, but I have a hard time believing that too many sports teams have played a schedule harder than Michigan's field hockey team at this point. They're 6-4 on the year. The wins have been against two unranked teams, along with #3, 7, 9 and 16. The losses have been to #1 (ot), 2, 3, and 3. That's brutal.

MGoBlue has an interview with Bryan Hogan, our best hope for salvation this season. His family is friends with Ed Belfour. There's no truth to the rumor that Michigan had to offer Hogan $1 billion to come to school here. Though I wouldn't complain if he gave one of these to Benedict Lerg.

The friendship also led to him training with Belfour, Ilya Bryzgalov, Evgeni Nabokov, and Vladislav Tretiak for a week or so. Not bad company to be in!

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Chris Fragner

Next up is senior walk-on Chris Fragner.

Last Season: With Michigan's forward depth depleted due to Brian Lebler's injury and Jason Bailey's departure, Chris skated in four games in February, with a -1 rating his only mark on the stat sheet.

Expectations: He's a depth guy. We were kind of short last year and he ate a couple of minutes here and there when we needed him to. He's best remembered for getting ejected from his first career game, roughly 30 seconds after he stepped onto the ice against Colorado College two years ago.

With 15 forwards on the roster, it would take a rash of injuries for him to see the ice apart from the GLI. I'm not sure how many guys we'll be missing for that tournament, but I'd imagine that Pacioretty, Winnett, Caporusso, Palushaj, and Rust will all at least get looks. Maybe Hagelin for Sweden? I don't know.

Level of Necessity: 1 out of 10.

He likely won't play apart from in the GLI, and even then we'll probably play three lines most of the game. Eat minutes, don't put us on a five-minute penalty kill, and we'll be fine.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Travis Turnbull

Continuing on, we come to the first upperclassman on the roster. #9--Yes, #9--Travis Turnbull.

Last Year: Travis continued to do what he does: Hit a bunch of people, be a solid checking forward, and chip in 15-20 points. Nothing special offensively (8th amongst forwards in points) but he's a guy you can play in most situations, and he'll rarely hurt you. "Dammit Turnbull" is not an expression that I uttered more than a couple of times last year. He's not a "glamor" guy, but he's the type of player that's nice to have around. He also matured, toning his penalty minutes down from 67 (third on the team) as a freshman to 52 last year (tied for 5th).

Expectations: It's pretty clear at this point. He's been here two years. His freshman year he had 9-9--18 with 74 shots on goal in 41 games. Last year he had 8-9--17 with 75 shots in 41 games. He's only had 3 PPGs in his career, and with the incoming depth at forward, I don't imagine his PP time will increase much. I'd pretty much bank on more of the same: 8-10 goals, 15-20 points, 2 shots on goal a game, a +/- slightly below average on the team, but still pretty good considering he doesn't put up a ton of points, top five in PIMs, pretty solid defense, some good hard checks.

One thing about Turnbull is that he's actually fairly streaky offensively. Despite putting up just 17 points last year, he had a pair of 5-game point streaks, accounting for 13 points. The year before, he scored almost half his goals over a four game span. He also had a knack for GWGs as a freshman, which kind of went away last year. Not that you can read a whole lot into that in any way, it's just something that I thought was interesting.

I also think that he'll fall down a little bit more, since I'm fairly sure that Milan Gajic cursed #9 in that regard.

Level of Necessity: 6.5 out of 10

Turnbull is good at what he does. He's a checker and a good one. Because I'm worried about the defense and goaltending, perhaps this ranking is a touch higher than some people would put it for a third-line player. But I think we're going to be able to put the puck in the net. I'm worried about keeping it out, and guys like Turnbull can help in that area.

I also added an extra point because he was our second-best faceoff man last year. And he's the only returning guy who wasn't a complete disaster in the dot (Turnbull was 51.5%...the other returners are Miller at 44.2%, Ciraulo at 42.8%, Kolarik at 38.9%, and Fardig at 32.9%, which is low enough that you almost have to be trying to lose draws). And you all should know by now that I'm a whore for people that can win faceoffs. Hopefully the reports are true and we're bringing in a lot of freshmen capable of winning draws, because the rest of the team? Not so much. If the freshmen struggle, Turnbull's value goes up exponentially, because he'll be the one out there in the crucial situations, just because he gives you a chance to gain possession.

Offensively, Turnbull is not going to be an overly important cog in this team. What he brings in the other areas of the game is where he'll continue to make his mark. I'm pretty sure we know what we're going to get out of him at this point. He's not going to make the highlight reels, but he's a solid player for us, and one whom I've always liked.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Aaron Palushaj

Next up is the first forward we'll preview: #8, freshman Aaron Palushaj.

Last Season: Palushaj was a big-time scorer in the USHL. He finished the season 7th in scoring with a 22-45--67 line in 56 games. He was a +5 with 62 PIMs and posted a whopping 39 points on the power play. He was second on the Des Moines Buccaneers in scoring, but is three years younger than the player who finished ahead of him. He was also a participant in the USHL All-Star Game.

Palushaj's outstanding season carried over into the playoffs, as he scored six goals and five assists in just eight playoff games, good for the team lead (and 7th overall).

McKeen's ranked him as the #19 winger available in the draft, and the #74 overall player. He was praised for having a heavy and accurate shot, lethal inside 15 feet. He apparently also has excellent stick-handling ability. As I pointed out in my "Looking Ahead" piece, he seems to be viewed as a somewhat selfish player, despite the huge assist numbers that he puts up. That seems very T.J. Hensick to me. They compare him to Tomas Vanek, which would be just fine by me.

Max Giese had him ranked as the #47 player available in the draft. The negatives were that sometimes the effort isn't there, and he's not great in his own end. He listed Palushaj as the #5 "Goal Scorer" available in the draft.

He ended up being picked higher than either of those articles had him. The St. Louis Blues grabbed Palushaj in the second round, #44 overall.

Expectations: They're pretty high. As I pointed out earlier, these articles about him just have that TJ Hensick-vibe to them. Great in close to the net, ability to undress people with his stick-handling, great passer, cited as "selfish" despite his passing ability, questionable defensive effort at times (Hensick grew out of this).

As a freshman, Hensick led the team in scoring with 46 points in 43 games. Tambellini had 45 points in 43 games to lead the team as a freshman. As Colin pointed out in his inaugural blog post, only five of our 34 since the 99-00 season have scored above .8 points per game and only three scored more than 1 point per game. If you were to remove defensemen and the forwards with lower offensive expectations (Bailey, Turnbull, MacVoy, etc.), you might find that the chances are much better that guys like Pacioretty, Palushaj, or Winnett could reach that plateau.

As a second-round pick with many of the same qualities that led to TJ Hensick being an amazing college player, I don't think it's unreasonable to think that Palushaj could reach .8 ppg or so (That'd be what? 33-34 points?). He should see quite a bit of ice-time, as he appears to have star potential, and we lost our two forwards with that attribute in Hensick and Cogliano. He was lethal on the power play for Des Moines, and I expect him to see plenty of time on the ice when Michigan has the man advantage. It's a nice luxury to have a guy with a sniper's shot as well as wonderful passing ability, and they should be able to put that to good use when we're up a man.

Level of Neccessity: We're going pretty high on this one: 7.5 out of 10

The reason for that is that we lost five of our top seven scorers from last year, three of which were forwards. For a team that has a young defense corps and shaky goaltending, scoring goals is absolutely critical, because we figure to be in some shootouts this year.

As I mentioned earlier in the post, Palushaj sounds as if he could be an elite college player. If he can come in and put up numbers approaching the Tambellinis and Hensicks of the world, it would be a big help to the cause. He doesn't have to match what those guys did--and it's probably unreasonable to expect him to do so--but 30-35 points isn't, and shouldn't be, out of the question for a player with this level of talent.

Some Other Good Stuff: As Western College Hockey pointed out to the world last night, the Wolverines have landed a verbal commitment from Uber-1992 forward Luke Moffatt. He currently plays for Compuware's Midget Minor team, where he's a teammate of Michigan verbal Jared Knight. He was a high (#2 overall) WHL draft pick, but at least at this time appears headed to Ann Arbor, joining what is shaping up to be a top-notch class for 2010. This article indicates that he might have gone #1 had he been willing to commit to the WHL right then. He'll be headed to the NTDP for the remainder of his pre-Michigan playing career.

WCH reported that he had interest from a who's who of the college hockey world: BC, Maine, Colorado College, Notre Dame.

Despite being 15 years old, Moffatt is listed at 6'0" 165. They don't have statistics up yet, but the Compuware team stands at 8-0-0 on the year and has outscored their opponents 50-5.

Here's an article with a video of him from a practice session. I haven't looked at it yet, because my laptop would likely croak at the thought, but hopefully it's more useful than the Pacioretty scouting video that came out in the lead-up to the NHL draft. And some of his accomplishments. A poster over at HockeysFuture claims that he's special, and "similar to Kessel at the same age". Yes please!

Additionally, has started posting the "Checking In" profiles of the freshmen that they've done the past couple of seasons. They're usually a pretty good read, and a pretty entertaining way to get to know the newbies. The profiles of Louie Caporusso and Carl Hagelin are up, and they're both great. Caporusso sounds like just the type of player that you want on your hockey team. It's silly to say this after a couple of quotes, but he seems like he could be future captain material. What a great attitude toward the game! I love reading quotes like this:

» On how he sees himself as a player...
"I'm the type of player that's not going to be the fastest or highest scorer. I am a fast hockey player, but I'm probably not the fastest. I have a nice shot, but probably not the nicest. The thing is I like my all-around game, that's what I like about myself. I can play both ends of the ice. I win draws. I can score. I love playmaking, though. If a player is in a better position than me, I'll always make that pass. I am not a selfish kid at all. I think an assist is better than a goal. I'll set up anyone for a goal into an empty net any day over going top-shelf. I love doing that."

Hagelin's profile is fun, because he gives a look into the differences between the US and Sweden, as well as what it was like growing up across the Atlantic. Monday will be Bryan Hogan's profile.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Chad Langlais

The fourth member of the Wolverine defensive unit that we'll look at is #7, freshman Chad Langlais.

Last Season: Chad was a teammate of goalie Bryan Hogan with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL the last two seasons. He posted a line of 6-40--46 in 51 games with 118 PIMs. He was fifth on his team in scoring, and played in the USHL All-Star Game. It appears that he was a big part of the Stars' power play, with thirty of his points coming with the man advantage.

He was interested in Boston University as well, but the Wolverines offered him in-part due to the recommendation of Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios.

Here's a quote from Lincoln's Head Coach/GM: "He's highly skilled, but can play it tough as well. He anticipates very well, and know how to jump into the play."

His PIM numbers suggest that he can hit and isn't scared of physical play, despite not being very big. Because if he was just hauling people down, I doubt he would've had interest from programs like Michigan and BU.

He was only +3, but the +/-s on the Stars were very spread out. Looking at the list, I believe that the Stars were a fairly top-heavy team; that the second, third and fourth lines just weren't that good. Langlais's +/- is pretty in line with the other defensemen on the team. Most of the articles I've read about him indicate that he's an offensive-defenseman for sure, but that he's responsible in his own end.

Expectations: Langlais comes in as a 21 year old freshman. Michigan doesn't offer kids significantly older than their class all that often (Gajic, Kaleniecki, Ortmeyer and a bunch of non-scholarship guys jump to mind). A quick look at the roster verified that Langlais is the only scholarship player that is more than a year or so older than the typical student in his class. As such, I have a feeling that Langlais will be a pretty good player for us. It might be a leap in logic, but the coaches don't usually go for the guys who have spent a couple more years in Juniors, so they probably feel that he can step in and really help.

He may not have the upside of the typical freshman due to his age, but he should be more mature, more experienced, and ready to play from the get-go. And if there's one thing that this defense corps needs, it's experience. Langlais actually becomes the oldest player on the blueline (apart from Emblad). Hopefully he'll be able to bring some leadership to a group that has just one junior, two sophomores, and three other freshmen.

I would expect that Langlais will be counted on to chip in offensively and make up some of the points that we lost with the departures of Matt Hunwick and Jack Johnson. He was extremely effective on the power play for Lincoln (only 2 players had more PP points, and he tied for the league in PP assists). Over half the points in his USHL career came with the man-advantage, so I'd expect that he'll see some power play time for Michigan as well. It wouldn't shock me to see him play quite a bit, as long as he's as defensively responsible as his past coaches have said.

Level of Necessity: 6 out of 10.

Due to his age and--I assume--his maturity, Langlais will probably have a chance to play more minutes than the typical freshman defenseman. We're going to be forced to play some "young guys", so why not play one who was a USHL All-Star and isn't really young.

He and Kevin Quick bring the offensive ability along with the defensive responsibility. If one freshman defender has to play in our top four (and it might be two, depending on if they split up the returning defensemen), those would be the two guys I would bank on battling for the job. And Langlais might have the edge, since he's coming from the USHL vs. Quick who played in the prep school ranks.

We don't return much offense from our defensemen, and Langlais appears to be a guy that can chip in in that regard. Kampfer was a USHL All-Star too, but he never put up big offensive numbers in that league (and has continued to not do much offensively). Langlais had 68 points in 110 games. He can distribute and he's an effective power play guy. I think he's going to have a chance to play quite a bit and be an important cog on this team.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Steve Kampfer

Our trek through the 2007-2008 edition of the Michigan Hockey team now makes its way to the third member of the defense corps: #5, Steve Kampfer.

Last Season: Recorded a line of 1-3--4 in 35 games to go with 24 PIMs and a +3 mark, which was second-worst on the team amongst people that actually played and stuck out the year (Lebler was the worst at +2 if you don't count Jason Bailey's astounding -11 in 19 games).

At times he was pretty solid, if not ever really noticeable. At other times, he was a turnover machine and I never really felt comfortable with him having the puck in our own end.

And yet, the NHL scouts were in agreement that he has a good amount of natural ability and was worthy not only of being drafted, but of being drafted in the Top 100 (he went 93rd to Anaheim). Max Giese, a writer for McKeen's, wrote the following about Kampfer in the lead up to the Draft:

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.

That's one I'm going to disagree with, but I'll defer to the people who get paid to do what they do. I don't see poise as his #1 trait, and I'd definitely list "Turnovers" as a double-minus. I also kind of take issue with listing a defenseman who was next-to-last in +/- on a shoddy defensive team as "reliable". That doesn't mean he can't get there. I don't doubt he'll be improved for the upcoming season, and increased ice time should help as well. As I wrote before, I like Kampfer. It's just that I never once watched him and thought to myself, "There's a guy that I could see playing in the NHL someday." The scouts disagree, and I hope like hell they're right. Because a much-improved, more comfortable Steve Kampfer would be a huge help to our blueline.

Expectations: As critical as I was at times, it is hard to step in as a freshman and play defense. Especially when you don't have a goalie to bail you out at times. With a year under his belt, his poise with the puck should increase. His ability to get the puck out of the zone should be improved as well. I can't recall having too many issues with his defensive play in our own zone.

He does have the skill to be a good defenseman, we just haven't seen it consistently. I love his skating ability. He's got good size--even if he's not tall--and he's not afraid to hit. Getting the puck out of the zone is his biggest issue, and if he's improved on that, I think he'll be a solid defenseman.

He's never put up huge numbers offensively (12-23--35 in 103 USHL games), but he may get a chance to play on the power play more this year. If not, he'll at least see more ice time. That alone should lead to a jump in his numbers, even if only up into the 10-15 point range. He's much more Jason Dest than Jack Johnson. But if he turns into a solid defensive defenseman, that's perfectly fine by me.

Level of Necessity: 7 out of 10

As one of only three returning defensemen (counting Chris Summers), Kampfer is going to be counted on more than he was last year when he was a freshman in a veteran-laden group. Everyone knows my feelings about our goaltending, and my position that if this team is going to be successful, we need to be a lot better in our own end. He's going to be a Top 4 defenseman on this team, and as such, it's pretty crucial that he show significant improvement over his freshman season.

I'd like to see him at least in the middle of the pack in +/- and in double-digits in points. More importantly, he needs to show the poise that Giese was touting him for. He doesn't have to be Jack Johnson. He just needs to be solid in his own end. Get the puck, get it out. Don't turn it over.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Chris Summers

Last Season: Summers's freshman year was a mixed bag. He spent the first 30 games of the year on the blueline, and was pretty good for a freshman, but despite being fairly solid, he didn't flash any of the offensive skill that he was lauded for having (and that many of us witnessed at The Cube when he played for the NTDP). He scored a goal (which was an empty netter), had 5 assists, 44 PIMs, and was +11 (which ranked him 4th amongst Wolverine defenders). Then they moved him up to forward, where he showed the ability to be an impact player. Over the final 11 games of the season, he tallied 5 goals and 3 assists, including an outstanding effort against Michigan State.

For the season, he had a 6-8--14 line in 41 games, with 58 PIMs and was +13.

Expectations: It appears that for this coming year Summers--a first round draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes in 2006--will be moving back to the blueline. It's understandable why. The Wolverines lost four defensemen from last year, including two big-time scorers in Hunwick and Johnson. With Summers's offensive gifts, he should be able to compensate for the back-end offense that we've lost.

And while I'd prefer to see him back at forward, where he was excellent, a fair compromise would be to turn him back into a defenseman, but give him the leeway to jump into the offensive end that Jack Johnson had. While Summers doesn't have the moves Johnson wowed us with, he flashed the ability that he has coming down the wing. Plus he's fast as hell, so he can rush the puck and still get back on defense. I imagine that he'll be counted on to be the offensive defenseman of the group (though Langlais and Quick should contribute as well). It's unreasonable to expect him to match Johnson's offensive output (16-23--39 in 36 games? Seriously?), but it wouldn't shock me a bit if Summers broke the 20 point plateau and approached the numbers that Hunwick put up (6-21--27).

If all four freshmen defenders can play, it wouldn't shock me to see Summers get some more time up front. It's hard to ignore his production up front, even if he's just skating the odd shift as a forward on the power play (or when someone is injured). If he was in NCAA Football, he'd be the recruit who you really want to play at WR, where he's an 87 overall. But based on the needs of your team, you almost have to move him to RB, despite his 78 ranking.

That being said, I don't think an All-Conference selection is out of the realm of possibility. Alec Martinez (Miami) is the only returning defender from the six named to last year's All CCHA Teams. The door is wide open to gain recognition.

Level of Necessity: 8 out of 10

This is a big year for Summers. With so many defensemen gone, he'll be given more ice time and likely more of a green light to show his offensive ability. While he didn't stand out on the blueline last year, that's not necessarily a bad thing. Especially with a freshman defender. He's adjusted to the college game now, and hopefully his natural ability will start shining through. He closed the year on a role, albeit at forward, and hopefully the strong finish to last season will carry over to this year.

We need someone to step up and grab some of those minutes that Johnson and Hunwick logged, as well as replace the points that we lost. Summers has the ability to do that. The idea of a slew of freshmen defenders playing in front of a shaky goaltender scares me. We need both of our first round draft pick defenders to have good seasons, eat up minutes, and contribute more offensively.

In my opinion, of all the players returning, Summers should make the biggest improvement from last year to this year. That's not to knock his play last year. He was pretty good. But he has the ability to be a great college hockey player, and with his skill and the increased ice time he should see, I fully expect an outstanding year out of this young man. No matter what position he's playing.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Breaking Down the 07-08 Wolverines: Scooter Vaughan

Counting today, there are 25 days until the first real game of the 2007-2008 Michigan hockey season. There are 26 players on the Michigan hockey team. I figure that gives me just enough time to write a breakdown for each of them. Of course, that means that I have to do things like "Write every day" and "Not take a week off" which haven't exactly been features of this blog since its inception two years ago.

For the freshmen, a lot of this was covered in my "Looking Ahead" series that I wrote in April. Part One and Part Two.

I'll go numerically, which is lazy I know(I once wrote a paper ridiculing teachers who do things alphabetically. My professor to this day picks names out of a hat to set the order for the "Workshop" essays).

We'll start today with #3, Charles "Scooter" Vaughan, a freshman defenseman out of the NAHL.

Last Season: As a member of the NAHL Champion St. Louis Bandits, Vaughan was 5th on the team in scoring with a line of 8-27--35, 115 PIMs in 58 games. In their run to the championship, however, Vaughan was second in scoring with 3 goals and 9 assists in twelve playoff games. He was a member of the All NAHL Second Team and the NAHL All-Rookie Team. He also considered Western Michigan. Vaughan is also a past member of the Detroit Honeybaked program, which has--and continues to--produce future Wolverines.

Expectations: Vaughan is one of two members of the Wolverines defense corps (Eric Emblad is the other) who did not sign a letter of intent, which indicates that he was brought in as a preferred walk-on. His MGoBlue profile indicates that he is on scholarship, however, so I assume that an extra one became available with the attrition of the past season (Johnson, Cogliano).

Anyway, it's easy to assume that because of that, he'll likely be the second defenseman sitting. But with Michigan losing four defensemen from last year--three of whom were more than willing to hit--they could be looking for someone who plays with the edge that Vaughan does. He once cited Kelly Chase as his favorite player because, "He shows no mercy". With JMFJ off to the pros, a spot could be open for a player who is willing to inflict pain on opposing forwards. And as the heaviest of the incoming freshmen defenders, Vaughan could be that guy.

If Vaughan can be a CCHA-caliber defenseman from the get-go, it would at least give the coaches the option of moving Chris Summers back to forward, where he showed the ability to be an impact player. If the goal is to get the best 19 players on the ice, it might be an option they'd think about. It's easy to pooh-pooh the idea because it would leave us playing four freshmen defensemen every night, but the alternative is to have Summers back there. He's a sophomore who played forward for a big portion of last year. It's not like he brings a breadth of experience.

And despite the fact that it appears he was coming in as a preferred walk-on, Vaughan was speaking with teams heading into the NHL Draft. Although he didn't get picked, he was on the "Watch List" for NHL Central Scouting. His coach said that he "has as good of feet for a defenseman as I've ever seen. Couple that with his skill and a mean streak and you have a hockey player."

Level of Necessity: 4 out of 10.

We've got some question marks on the blueline with this many new players. If Vaughan plays himself into the lineup, I could see him making an impact as you can't go wrong with a mean, fast, skilled defenseman. What could get him in the lineup is his toughness and willingness to hit, because we lost a lot of that in the offseason. When he's in, he could get some power play time as well, since Kampfer is the only other right-hand shot on the team.

I'd also prefer to see Summers back at forward eventually, because I think he could be really great up front (I'll get more into this tomorrow). Vaughan, Llewellyn, and Langlais are the key to making that happen (as I'm pretty confident Quick is going to be solid).

I think we've got seven defensemen that can play. With four freshmen coming in, it's all about who can adjust to playing at the next level the quickest.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Michigan 38, Notre Dame 0

After two straight disappointments at the Big House, the Wolverines made sure that not even the most pessimistic fan had a moment of worry on Saturday. Or should that read, "Notre Dame made sure that not even the most pessimistic Michigan fan had a moment of worry on Saturday"?

Wow that team is bad. So bad, in fact, that it's hard to use this game to say anything about the Wolverines beyond: "Mike Hart is good", "Jake Long is big", "Ryan Mallett has a strong arm but isn't very fast", and "Carlos Brown fumbles a lot".

Again, I think this game said a lot more about Notre Dame than it did about Michigan. I saw a stat over at The Wolverine which was pretty remarkable. The poster, I believe it was Chewbacca, indicated that this is the 5th straight game that Notre Dame has lost by 20+ points, and the 16th time since 2000 that they've lost by such a margin. By contrast, the Wolverines have been downed by 20+ points six times since 1970 (the poster said five, but I doubled checked those numbers and I believe it to be six). Yikes.

But even if you can't take too much away from this game if you're a Wolverine fan, there is at least some reason for optimism. Notre Dame's line couldn't have been worse if they were starting Courtney Morgan, but that being said, the defense was really, really solid in their first test against a "conventional offense". Donovan Warren looks like he's going to be a darn good one at corner. Mike Hart is still amazing. And if he keeps doing his thing, it takes a lot of pressure off of Mallett.

This coming Saturday is the big one. This is the week where it will become evident if Michigan has a chance to make a BCS Bowl as the Big 10 Champion or if last week was simply a function of Notre Dame being horrifically bad. Penn State comes in as a Top 10 team, though they haven't been overly impressive thusfar (which means that they let Notre Dame score). If the Wolverines win, first-and-foremost, it'll really send the PSU fans off a cliff. And that would be funny, as it always is. Additionally, it'll make a statement to the world that you may make fun of us for the whole App State thing, but we're still a contender to win the Big 10 Championship.

Win, and we've still got a lot to play for. Lose, and the main goals for the season are officially gone. The only things left to play for would be the chances to beat Ohio State, keep little brother at bay, and win a bowl game finally, even if it is the Champs Sports Bowl.

A couple of other things that aren't football related:

Marty Turco looks to be wearing gold pads this upcoming season, and they're pretty sweet:

Volleyball finished the non-conference portion of their schedule with a 12-0 record and a top 10 ranking.

Matt Hunwick will likely be in Providence, but he wants to make it tough on the Bruins coaches to send him down.

TJ Hensick has been great in the camp thusfar for the Evilanche. He's turning heads, but also has a battle on his hands because the Avs are pretty deep at center. Good thing we drafted Justin Abdelkader and a guy who we relinquished the rights to instead.

Mike Van Ryn has two working wrists again.

Edit: I can't believe I forgot to mention this. It's not as big of an issue because they won, but Kentucky's head coach nearly made one of the biggest blunders I've ever seen. They were trailing Louisville by a single point late in the game. The Wildcats scored on a long touchdown pass to make it 39-34, and they kicked the extra point. It amazes me how after all these years, coaches can still bungle when to go for two and when not to go for two. Going up by 6 vs. going up by 5 doesn't really matter, unless it's Tecmo Bowl and you have Lawrence Taylor on your kick block team. I imagine that in the excitement of the go-ahead touchdown, they didn't get the right unit on the field. There's still no excuse. If that Hail Mary would've worked (and the guy got to the 10 yard line), Kentucky loses. Plain and simple.

All That Needs to be Said Tonight.....


Friday, September 14, 2007

Brandon Naurato = NHL Dominance

Courtesy of Mgoblog, comes a feature story from which ranked the top 10 college hockey teams for getting guys to the pros. They have Michigan as #1, which is fair enough (though I have a feeling Minnesota would disagree--and I'm not sure I'd blame them), but in their comment about the school, they wrote:
Class of 2008: Forward Brandon Naurato has a sweet lefty scoring stroke and with a little bulk could dominate NHL first lines.

I'll let the Geico Caveman sum up my reaction to that one:

We're talking about a guy who last year I commented on by saying, "I'm honestly not sure he consistently dresses next year." It probably won't be the case, since he is decent in his role, but still, that article has to be a mistake right? Did they screw up the double-number and mean to talk about Kevin Porter? Or even Chris Summers?

They also spelled Lerg's name wrong in the Michigan State section. "Brian" should actually be spelled "B-E-N-E-D-I-C-T" (or at least "Bryan"). And is Aaron Broten really the best guy they could come up with to exemplify Minnesota's hockey prowess?

Other stuff:
Red Berenson is up in Traverse City at Wings camp helping out.

Lost in the "ARRRGH MICHIGAN!" football disaster is that a lot of our non-rev sports are doing really, really well to start the season. Volleyball is 10-0 and has moved up to a program-high #10 ranking (now if they can avoid the disastrous Big 10 start they had last year). Men's soccer is up to #18 after a 4-0 start. Women's Cross Country is #2 in the nation. Women's soccer tied #2 Notre Dame, and even though they stand just 2-4 on the season, field hockey has played the best teams in the country tough. Their losses are to #1 (in OT), #2, #3 and #3 and they beat #9.
Hockey season is getting close, everyone! The ice is down and the boys are skating. I figure I'm going to get at least 16 or so games on TV this year thanks to the wonders of Dish Network, so hopefully the level of coverage won't drop off too much now that I'm no longer living in Michigan. Expect lots of live-blogs.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Another Changing Attitude

This kind of fits in with my last post about how quickly attitudes and expectations can change. Cd4me over at Red Wings Central dug up a gem of a video on Youtube.

And the hate was mutual. Probably about the time he made those comments to the Chicago media, I would've said something along the lines of "Yeah, well I wouldn't want you in Detroit." Now I own a friggin signed jersey of the man.

I still can't believe that we thought we were getting a rental when the Red Wings acquired Chelios at 1998-99's trade deadline--someone who would play a year or two and retire--and here we are getting ready to start the 2007-08 season and he's still playing for us.

Chelios played 402 games for the Canadiens, 664 for the Blackhawks, and if this season he plays the same number of games he did last year (71), he'll have played 552 for Detroit. It's amazing to think that the Red Wings acquired him at the age of 37 and he'll likely play more years in Detroit than he did with any other organization. If it weren't for the lockout, he'd be going on his tenth season as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.

Not bad for a rental who said he would never play for Detroit.

Update: Thanks to a link on Michigan's official ice hockey site, I found this excellent article on Jack Johnson from the NHL's site, featuring a lot of great quotes from Red Berenson. There were two things in the article that I found pretty interesting:

“He’s as ready as any player I’ve had as an underclassman,” he said, high praise from the coach that also mentored Marty Turco and John Madden. “There’s not many players that I would endorse and say it’s time for you to turn pro. But Jack is. He has been in that mode and he needs a challenge at the next level, whereas most kids have to stay and play at least four years before they’re ready for that. And even then, they may wind up playing a year or two in the minors. But Jack is a special player and he’s worked hard to get himself where he is, and he needs that challenge.”

I thought that it was kind of funny that the author mentioned John Madden, following a quote about Berenson thinking that a player was "ready for the NHL" given past history and all.

Also, it seems that JMFJ has flipped his thinking about whether he'd rather lay someone out than score a big goal. His quote from the article--

“That’s a tough call,” he said. “It probably depends on the person. I’d probably want to score a big goal instead of the big hit though, because goals win games. Big hits are momentum swingers and give you more of an intimidation factor, but being able to score goals and stop goals wins hockey games. That’s pretty much my job, to stop goals from being scored and being able to contribute on offense is a bonus.”

--goes in contrast to what he said a couple of years ago as he was getting ready to enter the University of Michigan. His quote back then--which has been my signature on the forums at ever since--read:

"I would much rather [break someone's jaw with a hit than score a goal], assuming we're not talking about the type of goal that would clinch a championship. My reasons are not sadistic, however. I simply feel that a big hit energizes a team more than a casual goal. A goal lifts the individual; a big hit lifts the entire squad. You never aim to injure somebody, but assuming the hit was clean, I would have to go with that over a goal."

I guess I need a new signature.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Tale of Two Teams

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

On one hand, you have multiple takeaways on special teams, a defense that dominated the #2 ranked offense from a year ago, and a rookie kicker nailing his third field goal of the game to lift a team that no one was talking about over a team that some described as Super Bowl Bound.

On the other hand, you have two of the most embarrassing losses in the history of the team. Both at home. In back to back weeks. Combine that with the rumblings that the starting quarterback may be done for the season (or at least at substantial part of it) and the team that many had pegged as a National Championship Contender might be fortunate to keep their consecutive bowl streak in tact.

It's amazing how fast expectations can be raised or lowered. What once looked to be a very promising season for the Wolverines has quickly turned into a disaster that actually has me looking forward to (gulp) basketball season. Or at least hockey season.

I'm not sure what more can be said about the Wolverines. I take solace in the fact that we're one of the only (if not the only) football power than hasn't ever really fallen off this cliff. Maybe it's time. And if this disaster is finally the thing that snaps the program out of the 1970s, then it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make. I can't imagine anyone from the current staff will even get a sniff when it comes time to find a new coach, and that's a good thing.

Mike Hart is the guy that I feel for. He's dinged up, and he's still in there with Michigan down by 30+ points in the fourth quarter. I wondered aloud why he was still in the game and my girlfriend replied, "Maybe they can't make him come out." And truth be told, that's probably what it was. Hard to not feel bad for a guy like that.

The defense was expected to be well....not as good as last year. But when the offense can only put up 7 points against a joke of a defense like Oregon's, you've got major problems. And even though Henne didn't exactly help us these last two games, it's hard to believe that Mallett will be an improvement. In the long haul, maybe it's better. Since this season is basically a write-off anyway (hard to believe I'm saying that when we haven't lost a Big Ten game yet), at least Mallett can get his growing pains out of the way now instead of at the start of next year.

The thing that kind of bugs me is that they were talking in the telecast about how much the offense would be limited with Mallett in there. That means that either Mallett doesn't know the playbook (which is kind of hard to believe since he enrolled early and all) or they're just afraid to take the kid gloves off of him. I understand that he isn't going to have as good of a command of the offense as a fourth-year starter in Henne, but shouldn't he at least know enough (or shouldn't they trust him enough) to not take the offense back to the days of Tecmo Bowl (2 passes, 2 runs)? And if not, then should he really be our backup QB in the first place? I have a hard time believing that making a predictable offense even more predictable is going to be successful. Maybe there's no other way to do it.

All-in-all, it's been a pretty depressing season and it's only two games old.

Then you have my Packers.

I'm as big of a homer as there is, and even I didn't think they could/would beat Philly. In the Eagles, you're talking about a team that has absolutely OWNED Green Bay the last few seasons. When they weren't blowing the Packers out (47-17 in 2005, 31-9 last year) they were winning in heartbreaking fashion (In 2004, the Packers trailed the Eagles for something like 13 seconds and went 0-2).

Then, when you factor in Greg Jennings and Vernand Morency being hurt and the fact that the Packers are a notoriously slow starting team (1-4 starts the last three seasons), it was easy to see why I had the same feeling heading into this game that I usually get when the Wolverines hockey team plays Minnesota.

But what a performance out of the defense and special teams. They held the league's #2 offense of a year ago to under 300 yards and to 13 points. The Eagles managed just 13 first downs on their 12 drives. Also, after being gashed by "explosive play" after explosive play last year, Green Bay gave up just two on the game.

The front four (and with the rotation along the defensive line, it should really be the front 9) were able to pressure McNabb while not letting him break contain. The sustained pressure allowed Green Bay to drop 7 into coverage for the most part and not use any of the LB or Safety blitzes that were so effective against Seattle in the preseason. Atari Bigby, starting his first game, made 8 tackles and didn't have any of the blown coverages that were all too common last year with Marquand Manuel back there.

And the special teams. Oh the special teams! Statistically, the Packers had the worst special teams in football the last two seasons. But yesterday, they won the football game. The Eagles muffed two punts (one was a horribly bad attempt at a fair catch, the other was perfect timing by Jarrett Bush), resulting in a Packers touchdown and the game-winning field goal. Additionally, rookie kicker Mason Crosby hit all three of his field goals including a 53 yarder and the winner from 43 yards out. That 53 yarder would've been good from 65.

The offense did struggle, but even in doing so, Brett Favre provided two plays that were the perfect example of why I don't care if they go 1-15 this year, I'm happy he came back: The first, his underhanded pass-handoff to Wynn while he was being sacked may have been the play of the game not involving the special teams. Instead of being forced to punt, it kept the drive alive that ended in the Packers tying the game at 13. On that same drive, Favre was being sacked and as he was falling, he threw a rope to Donald Lee (I believe) to convert another first down.

The running game is a concern. Philly isn't especially stout against the run and the Packers couldn't do a darn thing on the ground. I keep telling myself that they're still missing their starting running back, but if the offensive line doesn't create any holes, it doesn't really matter. Also concerning was the number of times Favre was hit and/or sacked. Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher, usually two of the best the NFL has to offer, were both horrible. If the problems on the offensive line aren't fixed, it doesn't matter how good the defense is.

Especially in light of the way the Michigan season has started, I couldn't be happier about what the Packers accomplished yesterday. It was a game that I truly didn't expect them to win, but they pulled it off. The division and conference are both wide open and the Packers just took down one of the NFC's best. The other favorite, Chicago, looked terrible offensively against San Diego (though SD will do that to a lot of teams....probably including Green Bay in two weeks) and lost two defensive starters for the season. I'm not drinking the Kool Aid after one week and claiming SUPER BOWL!!!!! but if the problems on the offensive line and in the running game can be fixed, it's a realistic goal given the state of the conference. They could still just as easily end up 8-8, but the window of opportunity is there.

Ted Thompson has clearly done an amazing job reworking the defense and special teams and the Packers are suddenly a young team with a load of potential. It's just a matter of how quick they can realize that potential and if the offensive line issues are a one or two week problem, or a fatal flaw in the team.

Either way, yesterday was a statement game. The Packers are relevant again.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Wings Sign Sopel?

Bruce MacLeod is reporting in his blog that the Red Wings will bring in veteran defenseman Brent Sopel for a tryout in training camp. I think this is a really solid move. He might be the guy to push Andreas Lilja into the "healthy scratch" department, and we don't really have a veteran guy to bring in when Niklas Kronwall has his annual injury.

I don't know a ton about him beyond the stats, because let's face it, I've never watched a Kings or Canucks game and been like, "You know who I'm going to focus on today? Brent Sopel." But looking at his numbers, he looks to be a solid signing. TSN's profile of him (linked above) says that he owns a "booming shot from the point" which is the one thing that we lost out on in the Mathieu Schneider/Brian Rafalski exchange.

Additionally, he put up 28 points in 64 games and managed to be a +2 despite playing 20+ minutes a night for LA for 44 games last year. By comparison, most of LA's defense was -10 or worse. And for most of this decade he's been a solid 25-40 point guy.

So we're bringing in a guy for a tryout who had more goals and more points than Kronwall, in roughly the same amount of ice time, and who had a better +/- despite playing on a much worse team. And we're paying Kronwall $3 million a year for the next five.

And if nothing else, Sopel fetched a 2nd and 4th round pick at the trade deadline last year. If Kronwall turns into the player that he's supposed to and we end up with some extra depth at the deadline, maybe we can sell him (or Lilja) off in another deal to replenish some of what we give up for that top-six forward that we still desperately need.

I'm actually surprised that he wasn't snapped up by someone already. You'd think that some bad team would be looking to sign him, if for nothing more than to bring in a couple picks at the deadline. If I were running an NHL team that was likely not going to be in contention, I'd be looking to sign as many of those type of players as I could. By moving guys at the deadline, you can rebuild the depth in your organization in 1-2 years with the picks/prospects you can accumulate.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Todd Collins has Life Figured Out

According to ProFootballTalk (scroll down to 9-5-07 at 5:00 permalink), Todd Collins has beaten out Mark Brunell for the #2 quarterback job on the Washington Redskins. Upon seeing that article, I had the same reaction that I have every year about this time: "Wow, Todd Collins is still in the league, and he's still not going to play."

That is one guy who has life figured out. I honest to God think that he has the best job in the world. He never gets hit in practice, because the quarterbacks are hands-off. He never gets hit in games because he never gets in. Therefore, later in life he's probably not going to have the same problem with his knees, shoulder, etc. that a lot of starters have. And because he's been around for so long, his salary just keeps going up and up.

He cleared $800,000 last year and his base salary is $1.25 million this year. Not bad at all for a guy who has thrown 27 passes in the last 10 years and went three years in there without playing in a game.

Passing Stats


14 29 48.3 112 0 1

55 99 55.6 739 4 5

215 391 55.0 2367 12 13

3 4 75.0 40 0 0

5 6 83.3 73 1 0

9 12 75.0 74 0 0

1 5 20.0 42 0 0

0 0 0.0 0 0 0

Career 41
302 546 55.3 3447 17 19

I say good on ya, Todd. We should all be so lucky.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Why Didn't We See This Coming?

The more I think about the unthinkable happening on Saturday, I keep coming back to the same thing: Why didn't we think it could happen?

We all knew that playing App State was probably more like playing a strong MAC team than playing the typical I-AA doormat. Not a team that you should be scared of by any means, but a team that can beat you nonetheless.

We knew that Michigan tends to not exactly put out their best effort against the teams that they're supposed to blow out.

We knew that by nature, Michigan is a fairly conservative team and isn't prone to blowing out opponents.

We knew that App State had a mobile quarterback and ran the spread offense--two of the things that have given Michigan fits consistently for the last 10 years.

We knew that our defense had some major question marks in the secondary.

We knew that this game was App State's Super Bowl. That they have been pointing to it since the minute it came on the schedule as their chance to make a statement and do for their program what beating Oklahoma has done for Boise State's (seriously, did you ever think that you'd see a Boise State player on the cover of NCAA Football?). Alternately, Michigan probably cared about this game less than any other on their schedule with the possible exception of Eastern Michigan.

We knew that Michigan would likely play it pretty vanilla, with the upcoming slate of games against Oregon, Notre Dame and Penn State. It wouldn't be the first time.

We knew that our field goal kicker was not only a walkon, but not even the walkon that we all thought it would be. (Not to pin the blame for this loss on him by ANY stretch. I never saw the first blocked kick, but there's not a kicker in the world who could've made the second one.)

And yet, with all that out there, we all still thought that this was going to be an easy win, because let's face it they're a Division I-AA team and we're a top five team in the country. I threw the 49-9 number out there, more as a joke than anything, but I did think it would be fairly close at halftime and Michigan would end up winning by 25-30.

Never did I see this coming, and now I feel stupid for not expecting at least a battle. Look at the past history:

-Against an eventual 4-8 team in Vanderbilt last year, it was 13-7 until late in the third quarter.
-4-8 Northwestern had us in a 10-3 game late in the third quarter and we ended up winning 17-3...granted the weather was awful in this one.
-5-7 Ball State (who lost to North Dakota State and Indiana) had 5 shots inside Michigan's 10 yard line (as deep as the 2) with a chance to tie the game late in the fourth quarter of that tilt.

-4-7 San Diego State (whose wins were against Air Force, UNLV, Idaho State and Nevada) led 21-17 at halftime, and missed two field goals in the second half that would've tied the game back up.

-Utah, who ended the year at 5-6 and only beat Indiana, Utah State, UNLV, BYU, and Wyoming, only lost 10-7 and had the ball on their own 32 with a chance to tie or win in the closing minutes.

-Miami (OH) (who did end up 7-6) trailed 17-6 in the third quarter and was driving, but had a pass picked off in the endzone. That was their last real threat as Michigan then won going away.

Like I said, it's not like it's anything new for Michigan to screw around with opponents who are theoretically cupcakes. That's six times in the last six years where the Wolverines have played fairly tight games against bad opponents. And three of those games (Utah, San Diego State, and Ball State) we legitimately could have lost.

It shouldn't have been a shocker that this game was close or that Michigan actually had a chance to lose to one of our "cupcake opponents". After all, it happens about once a year where we're in an unexpected nail-biter.

The shocker is that the red flags were there, and no one seemed to pick up on it.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Sometimes a game comes along that makes me wonder exactly why I invest so my time, energy, and money on following sports. I'm not talking about going to the games, or being a fan. That much will never change. You love your team win or lose, undeafeted or winless. I'm talking about the other stuff: Reading season previews, following recruiting, paying any attention at all to spring practice reports. Because the fact of the matter is that no one really knows anything. And with a program like Michigan, which doesn't let reporters into practice, all you're getting from them are puff pieces. I mean, is Mike Hart really going to say "I'm pretty sure our defense blows"? No. All you get is bravado. And we lap it up.

I made some cracks a couple days ago about how I wasn't going to the game and that I wanted my first real football-watching experience of the year to happen against a real team like Oregon. How I couldn't get excited for football since we were playing a Division I-AA team. Well I hope that my team has been humbled as much as me.

This loss changes everything. Hopefully it knocks our football team down a few pegs in their own minds. Hopefully they realize that rather than planning out how many freshmen backups we can get into the game once it's out of hand, they focus more on winning the game. Rather than trying to "not show anything to future opponents" they PLAY! TO WIN! THE GAME! I don't know that it was the case yesterday that they played vanilla, since I wasn't there. I do know that in past seasons they have done so against "weaker" opponents (remember how everyone was freaking out last year that we couldn't throw the ball during the lead up to the Notre Dame game?).

It's hard to emphasize just how bad this loss is. The whole sports-watching world is laughing at this program right now, and quite frankly it's deserved. For all the cracks I've made about Minnesota getting beat by Holy Cross, I deserve anything I get. And that's fine.

This game is evidence of a couple things:

1) Preseason polls are stupid. We already knew that, but this might be the crowning example of why it is so.

2) There is no benefit to playing a Division I-AA team. Especially if you're going to play a good one. You have all the risk & then some of playing a high-MAC team, with none of the reward. If we lost to Central or Toledo or something, everyone would be making fun (and rightfully so) but there'd be no "Biggest Upset Ever" talk. And if we won by 60 points and played lights out football in the process, it was only a Division I-AA team, so that's what we should do. ASU was a team with nothing to lose. This was their Super Bowl. They were 41 1/2 point underdogs. No one would've batted an eyelash if Michigan had gone Louisville on them. And that's a scary situation to be in if the opponent you're playing has some talented players.

To go one step further, it's evidence that we probably shouldn't be scheduling teams that we're expected to absolutely destroy--if it's at all possible (which it might not be). Michigan's not the type of team to hang 70 on someone, and that's the only way to "win" in a game like this. If you win 35-3, no one is impressed. If it's a close game, everyone laughs. If you're a laughing stock.

And based on past history, it's pretty evident that our team doesn't meet the expectation of scoring ten touchdowns in games like this. Ball State should have been a wakeup call that no matter how "bad ass" they think they are, other teams can beat them. And that game was definitely not the first time we've gotten a scare against an "inferior" opponent.

Lloyd should take all kinds of heat for this debacle. I'm not going to be one of those people that goes all "OMG FIRE CARR!" or anything, but it's really disturbing to me that he can come out after the first game of the season and say "We just weren't prepared." You had 7 months to get them prepared. The implication there is that they completely looked past this team and were more worried about getting ready for Oregon, ND, and PSU. Every coach I've ever heard speak loves to throw around expressions like "We've gotta take it one game at a time" and "The most important game is the next one". And yet, they weren't prepared for the opening game of the season? Against a team that spreads out the defense and has a running quarterback? There's just no excuse. It's one thing for the fans to look ahead (me to not care about watching/attending the game, Brian to not write an App State preview, etc.), it's another entirely for the coach and the team to do it.

This one isn't going away. We could win the next 11 games, win the Rose Bowl, and all anyone will talk about is the loss to App State, which derailed another shot to go to the BCS Championship. It's going to be mentioned every game this season when TV shows each team's record. It's going to be mentioned over and over whenever we play a "cupcake" opponent--this year or ten years from now. Spartan fans, Buckeye fans, PSU's all we're going to hear, even if we beat their team.

It's been a long, hard offseason with all those players getting arrested and doing generally dumb things, along with the Jim Harbaugh controversy. And on the first day of the season, the football team just proved that the season itself isn't going to be any easier.

This isn't the "end of the world" as I claimed before. Crable was right in his postgame comments: They still have goals and it's very possible to all of them save for a national championship. (I wish he had said "WHY'D IT SEEM LIKE WE ONLY GOT TEN GUYS ON THAT LAST FIELD GOAL???!!!") But it is the end of any real satisfaction with the outcome of this football season. I've got to believe that any Michigan fan on the planet would've happily taken 12-1, Rose Bowl win, undefeated Big 10 season in the lead-up to the season.

Now, if that happens (and I'd have to say it's very unlikely), I'll be thrilled, but at the same time it will be strangely unsatisfying because all I'll be able to think about is "If only we hadn't stuffed up against ASU".

I was very wrong about the score yesterday, but I was right about one thing: I made the right decision about what event to attend.