Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Power Play Opportunity Analysis

As I said yesterday, because I've been thinking so much about power play opportunities lately, I decided to take a look at the data over the last 5 years (well, four previous years plus this season) to see if there are any trends based on official or opponent.

One important thing to mention is that I do not believe that you can look at a box score and say "That was a poorly officiated hockey game." It's not fair to the official, who does have one of the hardest jobs in sports. I'm not trying to make a judgment upon the competency of an official solely based on this data. I've got opinions on most of these officials already, however.

I do believe, however, that as a general rule of thumb, the higher-skilled team should generally end up on the power play more often than its opponent. It's not always the case--I'm on record as really liking the games that Sergott has called this year and he didn't exactly favor us in that regard--but I've said for years that I don't understand how we always seem to end up short-handed so much when we play LSSU.

Basically what I wanted to find out is if there are any trends as to which referees tend to give Michigan more power plays, which refs have left us short-handed more often, which refs tend to let us play, what opponents do we take more penalties against, what teams should we expect to be playing a man up against, do we have a home ice advantage with the refs, etc. In the long run, I would fully expect a team as talented as Michigan to end up with significant edges in power plays over most of the teams in the CCHA, with the exception of Michigan State. Michigan and MSU are the only CCHA teams that have proven to be able to sustain success over the long haul, though Miami and Notre Dame are up at the moment. Time will tell if they're here to stay.

I considered including the score of the game as well as the shot totals to see if the team that "carried the game" was getting the benefit of more power plays as well, but I decided that's still not necessarily fair--and it would've been a huge undertaking. There are examples, however, that blew my mind. One that jumps to mind, which wasn't included since it was an exhibition game, came in 2004 when we played Windsor. We won the game 12-1, outshot them 59-14 (including 20-1 in the second period), and yet we had less power plays (9-8). Justify that one to me, Aaron. They had almost as many PPs as shots.

Onto the data. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

The first thing to look at is the number of power play opportunities we've gotten versus our opponents over the years. Following the totals, I've expressed the number of games that we've received more PPOs, the # of times we had less PPOs, and the number of times they were even (I'm calling this the "record" for the duration of the article).

2007-08: Michigan: 132, Opponents: 141, 8-14-4
2006-07: Michigan: 241, Opponents: 241, 18-19-4
2005-06: Michigan: 254, Opponents: 233, 22-14-5
2004-05: Michigan: 273, Opponents: 244, 21-12-9
2003-04: Michigan: 241, Opponents: 175, 33-3-7

The first thing that jumps out is the 2003-04 season. Holy crap. We were only short-handed more than our opponent on three occasions: The tournament game against BC, a game at MSU, and a game at Alaska. It was the 28th game of the season before we faced more power plays than we were given.

But as much as that jumps out, look at this season. Michigan is (was?) off to the best start in the history of the program, has been #1 for a fair portion of the season, is one of the fastest and most-skilled teams in the country, and, I would point out, they don't have a player that takes an absurd number of penalties. Yet, in over half their games, they've had a deficit in PPOs. This includes games against NMU, UNO, LSSU (twice, including an absurd -7, which I'll get to later), BGSU (twice), and WMU, which is a rarity for that team.

What does it mean? I'm really not sure. Boston College, North Dakota, and New Hampshire also are in the negative, and DU and CC are close. But in the league that seems to call more penalties than any other, the CCHA, the elite teams have benefited. Miami is +20, Notre Dame is +26, and MSU is +24. And yet we're -9. I find it very strange, especially with the "Officials love Michigan" notion that is bandied about by fans throughout the conference.

The analysis of games at home vs. games on the road is probably what you'd expect. Over the five years studied, Michigan is +8 in PPOs on the road with a "record" of 28-24-12. At neutral sites, we're +10 at 17-12-5. But at home, the Yost advantage comes into play. We're +89 in PPOs at home and are 57-26-12 in that span. We've been negative once under each of Aaron (5 games), Hall (9), Hill (2), Hoberg (2), Kotyra (4), Lisko (4), and Murphy (1). Piotrowski has done 22 of our games, we're +52 in that span, and we've been negative just three times--never more than -1. Disclaimer: The road/neutral numbers may be slightly off. I'm fairly confident I counted some of the neutral site Joe Louis games as road games. It likely wouldn't change things though.

Strangely enough, even though Hall has had us in the negative just one time in nine game at Yost, at the six neutral site games and two road games he's done, we've been positive just twice, and even once.

Breaking it down by referee and by opponent is where it gets really fun, however.

I'm sure it will shock no one to hear that Hoberg was the most whistle-happy official that we've had more than once or twice. He's called an average of 16 power plays in the five games he's done, and never less than 11. The CCHA ref that lets teams play the most? Matt Shegos actually, at 9.6 power plays per game. For the record, this "Wolverine lover" has done 26 of our games in the last 5 years, and we're +13 in power plays (about one additional PP per weekend). Amazingly, since it's the Sparties that love to accuse him of being Wolverine fan #1, we're actually -4 in the nine Michigan/MSU games that he's done.

Here's the breakdown by referee (PPO/game numbers are for the teams combined):
Aaron: 12.2 PPO/game, +11, 10-3-4 over 17 games
Brown: 11.2 PPO/game, +4, 3-0-2 over 5 games
Hall: 10.8 PPO/game, +4, 7-6-4 over 17 games
Hill: 11.3 PPO/game, -7, 1-3-0 over 4 games
Hoberg: 16 PPO/game, +2, 2-2-1 over 5 games
Klosowski: 8.7 PPO/game, +4, 1-0-2 over 3 games
Kotyra: 10.8 PPO/game, +3, 2-2-1 over 5 games
Lisko: 10.6 PPO/game, -8, 3-4-0 over 7 games
McInchak: 13.4 PPO/game, +9, 15-9-3 over 27 games (that's too much McInchak FTR)
Murphy: 18 PPO/game, -4, 0-1-0 over 1 game
Piotrowski: 10.4 PPO/game, +66, 27-7-4 over 38 games
Pochmara: 14.5 PPO/game, +7, 3-3-0 over 6 games
Sergott: 13 PPO/game, -1, 1-2-0 over 3 games
Shegos: 9.6 PPO/game, +13, 16-8-2 over 26 games
Wilkens: 10.8 PPO/game, +6, 6-7-5 over 18 games

Since, at least to my knowledge, everyone around the conference has viewed Piotrowski as the standard of excellence in officiating over the years, I think it's pretty telling when you look at the numbers by his name. None of the other refs that we frequently have (double digit times over 5 years) is higher than +.65/game, whereas Pio is at +1.74/game for Michigan. Dare I say that's probably closer to how it should be, given that Michigan is always in the top 3 in the conference?

And before he's accused of being nothing but a Michigan-lover, he did 4 Michigan/MSU games (that's all?) and we're -3 in those games.

Hill and Lisko (at least on paper) deserve the biggest punches in the face. Brian Aaron would be up there but I can't track waived-off goals. We're 4-7-0 in PPOs when we've had Hill or Lisko and are -15 in those games. So you figure they've done some games where we've played against top-notch competition and we took some penalties due to the opposing speed right? Wrong. Here are our opponents in those games: BGSU four times, WMU three times, LSSU three times, and Quinnipiac. We were negatives in all five road games that those two did.

As for the breakdown by opponent, this stems from my anger over the fact that it seems like we always seem to be short-handed when we play LSSU. It's completely inexplicable. My theory has been that officials can't possibly call a team for everything when they clutch and grab all the time, so they wait for a flagrant violation to whistle them. Meanwhile, when they've got a team that doesn't play that way, the little things are more obvious, so they get called for those. Personally I think there's some merit to it.

But yeah, so I was mainly curious to see what the breakdown of our games against LSSU has been. And I was right. In the last 10 games against LSSU, we're incredibly -7, and are 4-4-2 with regard to PPOs. Less surprisingly, we were +4 and 2-0-0 when Piotrowski called our games with them.

The breakdown by opponent:
Alabama-Huntsville: 17 PPO/game, -5, 0-1-0 in 1 game (thanks, Hoberg)
Alaska: 13.4 PPO/game, +14, 7-3-3 in 13 games
BC: 9 PPO/game, +4, 2-1-1 in 4 games
BGSU: 13.1 PPO/game, +5, 6-5-1 in 12 games
BU: 10.7 PPO/game, +2, 2-1-0 in 3 games
CC: 12.5 PPO/game, -5, 0-2-0 in 2 games
Connecticut: 20 PPO/game, -2, 0-1-0 in 1 game
Ferris: 11.3 PPO/game, +12, 6-3-3 in 12 games
LSSU: 10.1 PPO/game, -7, 4-4-2 in 10 games
Mercyhurst: 11 PPO/game, +1, 1-0-0 in 1 game
Merrimack: 18 PPO/game, +6, 1-0-0 in 1 game
Miami: 12.4 PPO/game, +10, 7-3-0 in 10 games
Michigan Tech: 12.6 PPO/game, +7, 4-1-0 in 5 games
Minnesota: 10.8 PPO/game, -1, 3-2-1 in 6 games
MSU: 9.0 PPO/game, -9, 9-10-3 in 22 games
Nebraska-Omaha: 9.6 PPO/game, +6, 6-5-4 in 15 games
New Hampshire: 10.5 PPO/game, +1, 1-0-1 in 2 games
Notre Dame: 11.6 PPO/game, even, 6-6-3 in 15 games
Northeastern: 16.3 PPO/game, +3, 1-2-0 in 3 games
Niagara: 11 PPO/game, +3, 1-0-0 in 1 game
NMU: 10.8 PPO/game, +23, 10-2-2 in 14 games
NoDak: 11.5 PPO/game, -1, 1-1-0 in 2 games
OSU: 10.8 PPO/game, +19, 10-2-2 in 14 games
Providence: 9 PPO/game, -1, 0-1-0 in 1 game
Quinnipiac: 13.5 PPO/game, +8, 3-0-1 in 4 games
St. Lawrence: 15 PPO/game, -1, 0-1-0 in 1 game
Western Michigan: 10.8 PPO/game, +8, 7-3-2 in 12 games
Wisconsin: 10.8 PPO/game, +7, 4-2-0 in 6 games

Now that I think about it, you can't really use PPOs to determine which games are the most chippy, as I had stated yesterday. Those type of games are going to have a lot of scuffles after the whistle which, unless Shegos is reffing, don't usually lead to a team being short-handed. Proof: The games against MSU actually have the least amount of power plays.

The teams which we have a significant edge against: NMU, OSU, and Alaska. We've got decent edges over Miami, Ferris, and Western. Seems appropriate for the most part (especially when you consider that the Notre Dame and Miami series have swung back in their favor since they got good recently).

It's data like the above which makes that LSSU number so odd to me. I can see being in a deficit against MSU (though we've never been above +2 in those games, and that's only happened three times, whereas we've been -3 or worse on four occasions). We've been short-handed lately against Miami and Notre Dame. But Lake State? I don't understand that one. The degree of those negatives is strange as well: -4, -6, -7, -2. How exactly is this happening? How does that team get power plays? Let alone 7 more than a team like Michigan. Weird...

The Bowling Green one seems a bit low too. Then again, we've been -3, -1, -3, and -3 the last four times we've played them.

I think most everyone agrees that we've got a problem in the CCHA: The only good ref (Piotrowski) has retired. And the data, at least in my opinion, seems to back that up. I'm not asking for Michigan to always have the upper hand, but it seems that the other officials around the league try and even out the penalties more often than not, regardless of the skill level of the teams or how the game is going. I also believe they have the tendency to "ref the score" so to speak, which is equally annoying.

It's pretty telling to me that in the 38 games that Pio--largely known as the best ref in the CCHA--did, we were given more PPOs 20 more times than our opponent was (27-7-4). In the 155 games that Pio didn't officiate, we were given more PPOs 20 more times than our opponent (75-55-25). It's kind of amazing.

I've uploaded the spreadsheet here, if anyone else would like to play around with it and see if anything jumps out that I've neglected to mention. I plan on maintaining my local copy so that I can use the data in weekend previews and whatnot.

Media Roundup: MSU Series 1

It was disappointing to only get one point out of four from Michigan State, but it's my hope that this weekend was a good learning experience. It gave the team a chance to play in two tournament-style games against a team with a lot of tournament experience. It let the youngsters get a taste of the MSU rivalry, plus it let them face a lock-down defensive team that is also very talented. I fully expect that the next series against MSU will go better for Michigan.

The Michigan Side:
Game stories and highlights (if you're so inclined).

Brian and I were on the same wavelength about this weekend. Namely that the officiating sucked and that we had seen Friday night's game too many times before.

Michigan Daily LiveBlog of Friday night. MHNet LiveBlogs Friday and Saturday. It really is painful to relive how many missed opportunities there were. BTW, I have my laptop back (accidentally left it in Michigan over Christmas) so my liveblogs and livetapedelayblogs will come back at some point--provided the damn thing will turn on.

Short game story about Saturday in the Freep--I include it in the Michigan section because of the "Blue Wall". Comley bitches about the cross-check, fails to mention the weak-ass calls that gave his team a nearly 2 minute 5-on-3 and led to two goals.

Less Daily articles than possibly exist due to server problems with their site. I was able to find some:
Red thinks that Sauer is every bit as good as Lerg right now, even though Lerg became just the second player in CCHA History to win a Player-of-the-Week award four straight times. Lofty praise for a guy that wasn't even guaranteed to be our starter this year.

Kolarik was embarrassed by the loss Friday. Rust and Berenson were happy with the effort on Saturday. Comley bitching.

Despite a lucky goal to tie the game, Porter doesn't feel lucky about Saturday's game. Just a frustrating weekend...

We've got a tough schedule the rest of the way. Comley bitching.

As pointed out by a commenter and confirmed here, Vaughan was out of the lineup due to illness. Winnett got dinged Friday night, hence Ciraulo coming in. I thought Llewellyn made the most of his opportunity. He played pretty well this weekend, IMO.

Michigan doesn't really get shut out by teams that aren't MSU.

Nice feature on Scooter Vaughan. He seems like a really good kid.

Random article I have to mention: Michigan is the top "Champion Factory" in collegiate sports according to Forbes.

The Michigan State Viewpoint:
State News article about the game Saturday night. Comley bitching.

State News Friday night game story. Red talks about how that game was probably good for the team moving forward.

The Spartans were disappointed in leaving a point on the table Saturday night. Red was disappointed in the officiating during the weekend. Pretty impressive job by Shegos to piss off both coaches. That's not easy to do.

The Spartans really wanted Friday's game. Michigan took 67 shots, but 41 didn't make it to the MSU net.

Apparently Michigan "wasn't coming close" until their last goal. Don't know that I'd go that far, Rick. We had some great chances both nights. It's interesting how neither team is happy with the results of the weekend.

MSU was perfect when leading after 2 periods until Saturday night.

Lansing State Journal Saturday game story. Comley bitches. Commenter says that Shegos is a notorious "sixth man" for Michigan. See below. I guess we'll find out about that. FTR, he kind of helped out the Sparties as well.

MSU had a nice gameplan to take Michigan out of what they like to do offensively. By the way, I'm ready for Benedict Lerg to leave.

Feature on Yost from the LSJ. I miss that place.

Upcoming Article:
I've talked so much about power play opportunities in the last couple of weeks, that I decided to put together a massive database of all our games for the last 5 years. It will allow me to break it down by official, by opponent, and by location to see what the trends are. There's some very interesting stuff in there--at least it's interesting to me.

A teaser: I'm not crazy for thinking that it seems like we're always shorthanded when we play LSSU. There's a reason that so many of us miss Piotrowski. There's an unexpected name at the top of the list of refs that we shouldn't like. And we'll see how much of a friend to the Wolverines Mr. Shegos really is.

I'll have the analysis for you Wednesday or Thursday.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Michigan 2, MSU 2

I was SO happy when that goal light went on. Obviously, the most important thing was that the late goal allowed us to salvage a point out of this weekend, but it also allows me to come here and bitch about the officiating and include the point that MSU got screwed too, so it's not just me whining. When we were down 2-1 late, I was actually thinking to myself "Man, I wish I didn't bring up Shegos last night, because it's going to sound like MAJOR sour grapes when I do it again tonight."

He is a friggin' idiot. I watched the replay a couple times of the first penalty that ended up leading to the 5 on 3, and I have no idea how 2 Michigan players ended up in the box. Usually it has to be something pretty obvious to not have those things be evened out, and there just wasn't anything. A couple of MSU guys had our players in headlocks, and they were a little more aggressive with the shoving, so I figured if anything we'd get a power play out of it (though I didn't think one was warranted). I have no idea how he found two Wolverines to call there. It looks like he called Mitera for tripping and evened up the roughing calls. You got me...

As for Rust's penalty which put MSU up two men, he slashed the guy, but the only reason he was out of position in the first place was that an MSU player clamped down on his stick and it took him a minute to get it out. No idea how they missed that one.
Pretty weak call to put a team down two men anyway. And not ten seconds before that happened, Tim Miller (I think) was hit "from behind" in very similar fashion to Jack Johnson's hit on Howells a couple years ago (minus Kolarik being there to add the coup-de-grace). Same spot on the boards too.

Then there was the one where Abdelkader took a flying leap into our guy, they called it, and he somehow grabbed Ciraulo, who wasn't in the play, for slashing as well. FSN never showed a replay of that one, but I'm sure it was a legit call.

And going the other way, Rust interfered, cross-checked, whatever you want to call it on the tying goal. I'm calling that one revenge for the Cold War though, where Vancik was mauled trying to get out to Slater and Pio looked the other way. So that's three of the four goals which either shouldn't have counted, or were a power play tally off an absolute horsecrap call.

It's a sorry state of officiating in this league right now. Hall's probably the best they've got, and two or three years ago I would've preferred to see the teams call their own penalties over having him do a game.

It's a shame the officiating took so much away from my enjoyment of the game because I thought tonight's game was much better than last night's and much more entertaining. Lots of back and forth action, some big saves on both sides, some missed opportunities both ways. Aaron Palushaj had one labeled for the corner and Lerg robbed him, but if he could've gotten the puck up even slightly it was in the net. Tim Miller had a golden opportunity to win it in OT and fanned on the empty net (we'll get to him in a bit). And how bout that one Kennedy missed at the start of the third?

MSU kept up their forecheck even when they took the lead. It wasn't really until very late in the game that they went back into their shell and lined 4-5 up along the blueline. It was a lot more enjoyable to watch.

I think these games are really going to help us down the road. The comeback against ND last Friday and the games this weekend were tournament-style games. Now they've got a taste of it, and they'll get at least 4 more games like that (plus probably 4-5 in the CCHA playoffs) before we play for keeps. And they showed they could rally despite adversity back-to-back weekends. It would've been nice to tie yesterday's game up, but they did it on the road tonight and I think we'll be much better prepared next time we see MSU.

Our defensemen were a little out of sorts tonight. Mitera had some nice defensive plays (that guy has such a nice stick), but he also had some bad giveaways. Quick wasn't all that good again, though no plays really jump to mind. Summers had that pass he tried to throw off the boards behind his own net and he ended up putting it right to the MSU guy in the slot. Strangely enough, you know who was REALLY solid tonight from what I could tell on TV? Tristin Llewellyn. I thought he had a very nice game. Solid in his own end, and he's actually a pretty good stick-handler.

I also have to give a call to Langlais who busted his butt to get back and break up a breakaway. It's not easy to do that in college hockey without taking a penalty, but he did it to perfection. I can't say who was at fault for the breakaway happening (didn't think to look) but he completely took care of it.

I wonder why Vaughan sat this weekend. I thought he had been playing some pretty good hockey as of late. I guess it's possible that they're keeping with the defensive rotation, but doing it a weekend at a time rather than game by game. That would put Quick out next weekend. It's also possible that they just knew it was going to be physical this weekend and wanted Llewellyn's size out there.

Sauer was solid again. He made some big big stops, though he scared the begeezus out of me when he got out to the side of the net and then slid back into his crease with his back to the play.

Tim Miller is just snakebit. On TV they thought that he could've taken a second to tee that one in OT up, but with as fast as Lerg is post to post, I don't blame him a bit for trying to one-time it. It's just too bad he didn't bury it. It wasn't 30 seconds before that I said "Timmy, if you're ever going to get one this year, now's the time to do it." That goal could've gotten him going. They need to find a way to get him a garbage goal somehow. He's too good of a player to produce so little offensively.

And how nice was that feed from Kolarik to Pacioretty for the first goal? Kolarik on the rush meant that the dman couldn't shadow Patch. Max was aware enough to slide out a little to give himself some room and Chad made a great feed.

We had a lot of missed opportunities this weekend. Porter was quiet, our passing wasn't great, and yet we still had a lot of chances that we didn't bury (though credit Lerg and the MSU defense on a lot of those, too). I don't feel that we played all that badly...much better tonight than last night. I think we should be able to have a positive weekend next time we see this team. The young guys have a taste of the rivalry now and we'll have a few weeks to adjust to what they were doing to clog the middle.

Faceoffs have to get better. I don't know how much you can really work on it or how much you can improve in a short time, but when you play puck-possession, you really make it hard on yourself not having the puck. We're like the anti-Red Wings as of late. Part of the reason they're so tough is once they get the puck, they don't give it up...and they've always got the puck since I think they're the best faceoff team in the league. You make it really hard on yourself losing so many draws.

BTW, I don't think he did all that much this weekend, but that Ratchuk is a special player. I really think a lot of that kid...

That was a fun hockey game. And like I said...I think it really helps us down the line to have a couple games like this weekend's contests. Now they need to regroup, resist the urge to look ahead to Miami, and focus on taking four next weekend. We still control our own destiny in the conference.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

MSU 1, Michigan 0

I had my own hockey game tonight, so I caught this one on the DVR. I managed to not hear anything about our game. So it was kind of amazing that I knew what the final score was by the end of the first period. I believe my exact words were, "We're going to lose this ****ing game 1-0, aren't we?"

It ain't the first time we've seen this. MSU gets the first goal, goes into their bitch-ass-albeit-very-effective trap, and sits on the lead the rest of the game. It sounds like sour grapes, and it most definitely is, but I hate that kind of hockey. And I hate more that it always seems to work.

That's a disciplined hockey team right there, and they clearly have benefited from the experience they brought back and the run to the championship last year. Our team seemed out of sorts tonight, especially a few of the freshmen. It was a young team's first taste of the rivalry against a veteran group. Not really a shocking outcome.

Sauer played well again. Not a whole heckuva lot he could do about the lone goal and he made a couple of huge saves, particularly on the breakaway not even a minute into the game, which was a gorgeous toe save. He left some rebounds and he seemed to slide his way out of position a few times, like last Friday against Notre Dame, but neither of those things bit us in any way.

The biggest problem was that it seemed like our players were panicking with the puck. MSU got out on our guys and they didn't respond. So much of the game was spent turning the puck over or just blindly firing it into the slot.

Not to single him out specifically, but I thought Kevin Quick was really lousy with the puck tonight. He didn't do anything especially wrong in our own end, but I was going to dive through the TV if he turned the puck over again. The most glaring error was when he brought it into the zone moving to his left, one of our forwards criss-crossed behind him, and instead of leaving it for the forward, he carried it to his left, then threw a lazy pass at the forward. It was picked off by Kennedy, and he took it end to end and nearly scored.

We did have a few grade-A scoring chances, but the Wolverines obviously didn't make the most of any of them. MSU's defense and Jeff Lerg had quite a bit to do with that, though I felt like we made it too easy for them a lot of the time.

One thing that they're going to have to adjust to when playing better, more defensive-minded teams, is that they aren't going to be able to hit on nearly as many of those homerun passes out of our own zone. We've been good for 3 or 4 breakaways a game on most nights, but State does such a nice job of clogging the middle that it just wasn't working.

He didn't play a big role in the outcome of the game, but I wish we could go back to having the other Shegos. Matt is awful, and I get reminded of it more and more every time he does one of our games. He really wasn't especially bad tonight, but I had a big problem with calling the hook late in the game (and it was a penalty, don't get me wrong) when he let two very similar plays go at the other end (Porter got hooked off the puck then slashed as he was shooting on his breakaway, and not 3 minutes before the call on us, Quick made a very nice move around the defenseman and got tripped--to be fair, he might not have been able to get back to the puck...hard to tell on the replay). On those, my immediate thought was "Swallowing the whistle late in a one-goal game", but then he blows that one. Not happy.

Over at the Yost Post, BigTenKing compared playing MSU to getting squeezed to death by a python. Pretty good analogy if you ask me. It's really important to come out and get the first goal tomorrow night so that MSU can't get back into their suffocating defense. Hopefully the nerves calm down a little bit, especially with the young guys, and tomorrow night we get back to playing our game.

Friday, January 25, 2008

10 Things to Know About Michigan State

First, an article from today's Battle Creek Enquirer about Michigan commitment Jared Knight.

MGoBlog talks hockey, and kills the Hobey voters once again for leaving Hensick out of the Hat Trick last year--and for not voting him the winner. I'm still pissed about that too.

Now, ten things to know about the Sparties from East Lansing:

1. They come into this weekend's matchup #6 in the country at 16-5-4, 12-2-2 in the CCHA. Losses were to North Dakota, Miami twice, Providence, and Michigan Tech. The four ties were against Minnesota, Wisconsin, LSSU, and Notre Dame. Their win over Notre Dame, however, is the only notable one that they have. It's actually their only win against a team receiving votes in the USCHO poll, which runs 31 deep.

2. Jeff Lerg is playing well once again, having posted a 2.27 goals against and a .922 save percentage. He has won the CCHA Goaltender of the Week (I guess that would be Goaltender of the WEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEK for the Sparties out there) three times in a row.

3. The Spartan offense is stout, ranking #5 in the country at 3.48 gpg. They actually have more ten point (12-11), twenty point (6-3) and ten goal (4-2) scorers than Michigan. But they also don't have anyone like Porter or Kolarik. Tim Kennedy has 13-14--27 on the season. Porter could do that blindfolded, with one hand on his stick. They rank 16th nationally in scoring defense.

4. As for the special teams, they have the #4 power play in the country, which is clicking along at 22.9%, thanks to contributions from guys like Kennedy (7 PPG), Benedict Lerg (5 PPG) and somebody named Matt Schepke, who has more power play goals this year (6) than he had points in his career coming in (5 in two years). He has 10-14--24 overall. Weird.

5. The penalty kill is kind of meh. 84.3 isn't bad by any means, but it ranks just 34th in the country. They're +23 in power play opportunities, whereas Michigan is -8. Totally makes sense. No McInchak this weekend, please. I know people weren't overly thrilled with Hall last weekend, but unfortunately he might be the best this conference has to offer. I doubt they'd let him do games of this magnitude, but I'd like to see Sergott again. He was great when we had him before.

6. MSU has killed off 28 straight penalties, and hasn't allowed a PPG in their last seven contests.

7. Tim Kennedy has been the Wolverine-killer with 10 points in 11 games against Michigan. Lerg, Crowder, Abdelkader, and Mueller have 5+ points in their careers against scUM (LOLOLOL!). We've actually had some success against Jeff Lerg. He's 4-3-3 in his career in this rivalry (yup Dantonio, I said it!) but has a 2.74 goals against and a .908 save percentage, which are both well down from his career marks.

8. MSU is 14-1-2 when scoring first and 2-4-2 when they don't get the first one. They also have not come back to win a game when trailing after the first or second period. They get out to fast starts. Michigan State has outscored their opponents 34-17 in the first period, but their margins are +7 and +2 for the second and third, respectively.

9. Here's a weird stat for you: They're 9-0-0 when they have more penalty minutes than their opposition or the tally is the same, but are 8-5-2 when they take less penalties.

10. They're yet another good faceoff team, sitting at 53.6% on the year. The players below 50% on the roster have combined to take just 44 faceoffs this year. Chris Mueller is their best, at an impressive 58.2%.

Also notable, the Wolverines should have Max Pacioretty back this weekend. He's missed the last 3 games with a shoulder injury.

Finally, a fun stat from the MGoBlue release. Red Berenson is just 5 wins short of second place on Michigan's all-time, all-sport coaching wins list. Carol Hutchins is far and away #1 with over 1,000 victories.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Media Roundup: Sweep of Notre Dame

For those out there who were waiting on Michigan to beat somebody to prove that they're legit, it's now safe to consider this team for real. After sweeping the Fighting Irish, Michigan is now off to the best start in the history of the program at 22-2-0. Let's see what the media had to say about this one:

The Michigan Side:
MGoBlue stories about both games, including a link to the highlights from Friday night.

The Daily liveblogged both games.

The Daily's article on Friday's game compared it to a playoff game, and I'd have to agree. That was an unbelievable hockey game. Though I'd point out that you can say that this is "arguably" Billy Sauer's best season as a Wolverine in the same way that you could "arguably" say that Tom Brady had a pretty good regular season. By the way, I love Louie Caporusso's goal celebrations.

Here's a short article about the snoozer the next night at The Palace. Not a competitive game, bad ice, crowd that only filled half of the arena, no Michigan band....

Tuesday's edition featured a more in-depth story about each game. Red pointed out that Notre Dame doesn't play a top-four CCHA team the rest of the way, so it was huge for Michigan to sweep them. As I pointed out last week, that basically buries Notre Dame in conference. They're 7 points back of Michigan with 10 to play. Michigan has 12 games left. They'd have to run the table and hope that Michigan plays .500 hockey the rest of the way to have a chance. Not gonna happen.

Michigan went with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen on Saturday night. They apparently did it as a response to Chris Summers getting ejected the night before. So it looks like they're going to keep Summers back on the blueline, as they didn't just dress Llewellyn, and move Summers to forward for the game--then have him drop back if anyone got tossed.

The Wolverines are playing it safe with Max Pacioretty, who has missed the last three games with a shoulder injury.

Kevin Porter called Friday's game maybe the best Yost experience of his career. Games like that really make me miss being there for this season. If you listened hard, you could hear me screaming in Madison though.

If Notre Dame wants to keep moving games to the Palace, they're more than welcome. Michigan's not interested in returning the favor, however. Rightfully so. I'm sure the recruits were impressed.

The Ann Arbor News's game story about Saturday's game.

Despite a record-breaking start to the year, Antoine Pitts points out that as the 2005-06 Pistons learned, regular season success doesn't mean much. Thankfully, from everything I've been told, this team is remaining humble and not paying attention to their ranking.

Edit: I was remiss in failing to mention two very good blog articles. Hoover Street Rag used some math to project the rest of the season based on the remaining strength of schedule. It obviously won't play out in this exact fashion but it's interesting to see the numbers anyway. A commenter posts what the KRATCH projects for Michigan the rest of the way: About 50 points in the CCHA. Which...yeah.

Also, Colin chimes in with his thoughts on the game Friday night. I always like hearing what he has to say. Sauer was having an intersting game with his positioning. It seemed like when he was going post-to-post, he was almost sliding too far and taking himself out of position at times. It never bit us, but there were a few "Holy crap" moments. Did anyone else notice that?

Stat Hunting:
Friday night was the first time Notre Dame lost a game when scoring the first goal of the game. They also had not been defeated when leading after the first period.

Billy Sauer now has a 1.70 goals against average (3rd in the nation, the leader has a 1.55) and a .935 save percentage (#2, .941).

Kevin Porter is still the nation's leader in goals, points, and PPGs, though Nate Gerbe leads in the nation in points per game.

Chad Kolarik is fifth in goals and sixth in points.

Our power play is +26 (PPG for - SHG allowed) and we're just -7 on the Penalty Kill (PPG allowed - SHG for). Last year at this point, the power play was +17 and the penalty kill was -21. We've given up just 13 power play goals on the season, compared to 29 at this point last year. If you want one of the biggest reasons for our success this season, it's that our special teams are almost a goal per game better (+19 vs. -4 over 24 games).

Faceoffs = struggling again, though Caporusso and Rust being back in the lineup full-time should help that back up. We're sitting at just 48.5% for the season, which is just a tick better than last year at this point.

Our penalty kill is now 90.2%. Yikes. If you factor in short handed goals for as a part of PK% (as I like to do), it rises to 94.7%. That's kind of absurd. Last year at this point, it was 80.1% (or 85.6 modified).

We've now gone 9 straight games without giving up more that two goals (9-0-0 in those games). Michigan's given up more than two goals just five times all season. We've been held to two or fewer goals just twice.

Travis Turnbull has points in six straight games (4-4--8). Brandon Naurato also has points in six straight (1-6--7).

After just one point in his first 15 games, Kevin Quick has 3 points (2-1--3) in his last four.

Since getting on the scoresheet for the first time (in his 5th game after an early season broken hand slowed him down), Max Pacioretty has been held off it just one time when he's played. Get well soon Max!

The Notre Dame Viewpoint:
Official game stories from Friday and Saturday. Michigan's PKing during that 5 minute major was unbelievable. The Irish didn't get a shot on goal, despite having possession in our end for much of the time.

What's cooler than being cool? Notre Dame's power play.

South Bend Tribune writer Steve Wozniak may be lamenting the fact that there's no Tim Horton's near South Bend after having one of their wonderful beverages, but he's not panicking about the team. I hear ya Steve. I can't get Timbits in Madison either. It's a major bummer. Apparently the Irish practiced outdoors on Monday--more to get back to having fun with the game rather than as a punishment. Pretty cool idea, and they all loved it.

The Irish hit "rock bottom" on Saturday night. At least they hope so. Apparently all four goals we scored with a goalie in net on Saturday were of the soft variety.

SBT article on Friday's game.

I really enjoyed reading Wozniak's take on the games. He does a nice job.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Michigan 3, Notre Dame 2

What a fricken hockey game! That was as good of an all-around game as I've seen in a long time.

Louie freaking Caporusso, give yourself a tongue. How clutch is that kid? He had a couple of missed opportunities in the first period, but he rebounds, wins the faceoff against Notre Dame's guy who was 9 and 1 on the night, then scores the winner with 20 seconds left. He's a player, and he has a knack for scoring BIG goals. That's a nice trait to have.

And how bout that little touch-pass from Naurato to Caporusso for the winner? Great play by a kid who I thought had a really good hockey game tonight. Actually both of our guys who have been in and out of the lineup, Naurato and Lebler, played well. We're reaping the benefits of competition for forward spots right now. Ciraulo steps in during the GLI and plays great, now these guys get their chance and played really well. I didn't realize, Naurato actually has points in five straight games.

Kolarik was quiet for most of the night, but he single-handedly ran the last 20 seconds off the clock, and didn't even give ND the chance to pull Pearce. And there aren't too many players in the country who are more dangerous short-handed.

I love having Rust and Hagelin together, because they're both excellent defensive players and they might be the two hardest workers on the team. They're a bitch to play against every time they're on the ice, and they've both got some skill offensively too. Pretty much any time tonight when I rewound the DVR to see who it was that just made that excellent back-check, it was either 19 or 12.

And Billy Sauer. He was a little off in the first period. It wasn't just that he gave up two, one of which was on the soft-side, one of which he couldn't be blamed for in any way...he seemed uncomfortable in net and he was fighting the puck somewhat. But he rebounded in a big way, absolutely robbing Notre Dame on a couple of occasions, most notably when he stoned Ridderwall. Honestly, I think the kid should be on the Hobey ballot for Michigan. It'd be hard to leave Kolarik off, with how great he's been this year (especially in a leadership role) but when a goalie is 19-2 and has the GAA and Save % he has, you gotta give him some love. If there was a Most Improved Player award, he'd be an absolute shoo-in.

The team as a whole did a nice job responding from a tough start. Notre Dame got the jump on them early in the game, got up a couple of goals, quieted the crowd a little bit (they were awesome tonight by the way). But Michigan responded...that goal they got early in the second period was huge for the remainder of the game.

I gotta give a call to Aaron Palushaj as well. That kid's stick-handling ability in tight quarters is as good as advertised. He had a play by the offensive blueline where I swear he deked himself around 3 guys to keep the play alive. He was strong all night. You'd actually be hard-pressed to find a Wolverine that didn't play well tonight.

Notre Dame is a darn good hockey team. That forecheck is relentless, and I respect a team that gets after it as much as they do. They aren't winning games by just sitting back and playing defense. And Jordan Pearce was every bit the equal to Sauer tonight. Both gave up one they'd like to have back, but both responded and made some unbelievable stops.

ND's power play sucks, but our PK did a fantastic job tonight. They had a lot of opportunities, including that five minute major, and on that opportunity, Kolarik actually had the best chance of anyone. All those guys can be really proud of themselves.

Overall a really impressive performance against a good hockey team in a tournament-like atmosphere. They sacked up and found a way to come from two goals down against a team that hadn't lost a game all year when they scored first (or led after one).

The crowd tonight was just 2 people short of the post-renovation attendance record at Yost. So if you were a no-show tonight, shame on you.

It's silly to keep referring to this as a "start" since the regular season is like 2/3rds of the way done, but with a win tomorrow night, this would officially be the best start in the history of the program. That's a huge accomplishment that they're playing for tomorrow night. Though I'm sure all they care about is two more points. That's the best thing about this team.

I'm not sure I'll have anything for you guys about tomorrow night's game. We're having people over so I probably won't get to listen and then I'm 99% sure I'm driving to Green Bay for the NFC Championship on Sunday. I'll post if I get a chance, but I might be in Packer-mode. Should be a good one though.

And yeah, GO PACK!

Friday, January 18, 2008

10 Things to Know About Notre Dame

Sorry for the lack of a media roundup this week. If I had done it, it would've read: "Packers. Packers packers Packers Packers Packers. Packers packers pack pack pack Packers pack packers scored pack pack pack Holmgren Sucks. Packers. Packers. PACKERS!" Even though this is a huge weekend for the Wolverines, forgive me if my mind isn't on Notre Dame. But here are 10 things to know about them, anyway:

1. They're a bunch of bitches. As The Hoover Street Rag pointed out, they aren't allowing our band to play during the game at The Palace. That's really, really petty.

2. The Irish have 23 points in CCHA play (11-4-1) which is three behind Michigan and Miami, but the Wolverines have two games in hand on each opponent. They're 18-7-1 overall. Losses have come to Wisconsin, Ferris, Denver, Miami, UMass, NMU, and MSU, with the tie against MSU as well. Notable wins: Denver, Miami, and 2 against Princeton (who I have to include since they're somehow ranked now).

3. Jordan Pearce has gotten the majority of the work in net, and has a 2.00 goals against and a .911 save percentage.

4. Egads! They have an offense (I don't know why this shocks me...they were #10 in offense last year). ND ranks 12th in the country in goals per game, scoring 3.15, right about a goal less than Michigan (#2). They've spread out the offense though. Their leading scorer is Erik Condra, who ranks just 49th in the country in points per game with 27 in 26 games. He has also been the Wolverine killer with 9 points in five games against Michigan. Kyle Lawson leads the defense this year with 3-12--15. Ten players have five or more goals, which is more than they had all of last year. In the last six games, Notre Dame has only scored 11 goals. Michigan had 11 last weekend.

The defense is still very good. They're #4 in the country in goals allowed per game at 1.92. Michigan is #2 in that category as well (Miami is #1 in both).

5. While Michigan's goal margin is fairly even throughout the three periods (+16, 15, 19), Notre Dame is much better in the second than they are the rest of the time. They're actually even in the first period and +8 in the third, but they are +24 in the second period.

6. OMG the refs love Notre Dame! They're #49 out of 59 in penalty minutes a night, averaging about 6 minutes less per night than the Wolverines. They've only been short-handed four times more than the Wolverines though. Apart from Miami, the Irish have been on the power play more than any team in the country (27 more times than Michigan, though we have more PPGs). Thankfully their power play is a woeful 15.2%. As expected with a team that doesn't give up many goals, their PK is very good at 89.2%. And they actually are tied for the nation's lead in short handed goals with 7. Be careful, Langlais.

7. Michigan/ND at The Palace has been a HUGE draw in the past. Twice they've drawn over 20,000 people (one game at the time was the largest crowd to see an NCAA hockey game), and also have crowds of 18,000+ and just over 11,000. Michigan has won all four games between the teams in Auburn Hills.

8. Our Swede is better. Notre Dame freshman Robin Bergman just left the team to head back to the USHL. He had 1-6--7 in 20 games.

9. My favorite stat of the week: Faceoffs. Notre Dame is very good, winning 55.5% of draws. Ryan Thang is the only player on the team that has taken any amount of faceoffs and hasn't won half. He is at 32%, but he's only taken 34 draws. Pretty impressive overall.

10. The first goal is crucial. Notre Dame is 12-0-0 this year when scoring first. Michigan is 18-0-0 when doing the same. Additionally, neither team has lost or tied when leading after the first or the second period.

Based on the fact that MSU took 3 points from them in a home-and-home, I like the Wolverines for a sweep in what basically amounts to two home games. 2 points is a must, 3 would be fine, I'd obviously like 4. A sweep buries Notre Dame, putting them seven points behind the Wolverines with just ten games to play (UM would have 12).

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"The Rocket" Review

Palm Pictures, the company which made the movie "The Rocket: The Legend of Rocket Richard" asked me if I might like to review a copy. After getting through the Christmas holiday and all the mess that goes along with that, I finally had a chance to view it.

Quite honestly, it's a great flick. The hockey scenes are well done, the plot moves along, and it tells a great story: How Richard went from being a machinist in a Montreal factory, who was turned away from the military due to various injuries suffered in Juniors, to the greatest goal-scorer of his era, and one of the greats to ever play the game.

Richard is a guy that I didn't know that much about, beyond the fact that he was a great, great player. I didn't realize that he had to deal with rampant prejudice because he was a French-Canadian, even one playing in Quebec. The theme of this picture is Richard's fight for acceptance, from the Canadiens, from the NHL, and even from his father-in-law. The film does a great job of presenting the bias against French-Canadians as well as Richard's decision to finally fight back.

One of the coolest features of the film, at least to me, was seeing the depiction of the old rinks (with the fencing above the boards rather than glass) as well as the old hockey sweaters and skates. So awesome!

The film was originally made in French and dubbed into English, but I never really noticed that the lips weren't matching with the speech. That speaks highly for the quality of the movie, because generally things like that irk me to no end.

It covers a breadth of the famous moments of his career: The "Richard Riot", hockey's version of Willis Reed, the time he spent the entire day moving and scored 5 goals that night, as well as the time he was forced to defend himself against threats and cheap shots and made Bob Dill of the Rangers pay. Dill was played by Sean Avery in a brilliant bit of casting if I've ever seen one. It also includes performances by Vincent Lecavlier, Pascal Dupuis, Ian Laperriere, Mike Ricci, and Stephanie Quintal.

This thing cleaned up at the Canadian Academy Awards, and it's easy to see why. It's a really well-done movie.

I have a hard time believing that any fan of the game wouldn't enjoy "The Rocket". You can purchase the DVD at the Palm Store for just over $18. It's well worth it. I'd also recommend heading over to the official site to play the very hard, but extremely fun, Flash game. You're trying to score goals, but there's a pesky defenseman in the way blocking shots. I didn't score many, but that defenseman isn't going to have a pleasant evening. I also believe you get a discount on purchasing the movie if you play the Flash game.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

A Couple of Cool Stats

With Saturday's win over Western Michigan, the Wolverines reached the 20-win plateau for the 21st consecutive year. We now have the longest such streak in the history of college hockey, breaking the record of 20 set by the Minnesota Golden Gophers from 1977-1997.

It goes without saying, then, that we have the longest current streak. For the record, the next longest active streak is held by Michigan State, which has won 20+ games for 16 consecutive years. They haven't yet reached the 20 win mark this year, but they will likely extend it to 17 shortly. Fire Comley.

Western College Hockey went one step farther with the "Wow the refs hate Western" stat I had last week. By receiving 6 power play opportunities to Michigan's four on Saturday night, that was the first time the entire season that Western has had the man advantage more than their opponent. That's so weird, especially for a team that isn't all that heavily penalized. Of course, it's also more support for my theory that the CCHA refs really don't love Michigan.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Michigan Sweps WMU, Moves to 20-2-0

After beating the WMU Broncos 6-1 and 5-1 over the weekend, the Wolverines now stand at 20-2-0 on the season. Let's put this in perspective a little bit:

Those 20 wins match or exceed the total of four teams that participated in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, another 4 had 21-22, and Miami had 23. After biting our nails down the stretch the last few seasons, it's pretty impressive that by the middle of January, the Wolverines have already likely punched their ticket to the Big Dance--or are very close to doing so.

Also in 2007, the #1 seeds had 25, 26, 30, and 31 wins. Michigan's and BC's 26 wins were the most by any team that didn't get a #1 seed.

The year before, the top seeds had 24, 25, 26, and 27 wins. Three teams got in with 20 wins or less, three more had 21-22 wins, and one had 23. There were, however, four 26 win teams that weren't given #1 seeds.

In 2005, the top seeds had 25, 26, 28, and 29 wins. Two teams made it in with 20 or less, two made it with 21-22, and 3 made it in with 23. Michigan's 30 wins were tops amongst teams not receiving a #1 seed.

So with at least 16 games left until tournament time (but likely at least 18), two more wins will give them as many as half of the 2007 field, and 7 more wins will give them more than half of the #1 seeds, plus every team that wasn't given top billing in their regional. 11 wins (and that's only a .611 winning percentage) virtually guarantees them a #1 seeding.

This year, the Wolverines hit the 20 win plateau on January 12th. The last four years, that mark was reached on February 2, March 11, January 29, and February 13. Pretty impressive, especially considering how powerful that team three years ago was.

On to thoughts about the WMU games:

I wasn't able to watch the Friday night game, so I'm sure I'll talk about it more in the media round-up, once I've had a chance to read other peoples' impressions. From the sounds of it though, there wasn't a whole lot of drama. With Rich Rodriguez in the house, dropping the ceremonial first puck and giving a valiant effort in Score-O, the Wolverines led 1-0 after one, scored two quick ones in the second before taking a 4-0 lead into the intermission, and despite giving up a goal seven seconds into the third period, came out of there with a 6-1 victory, outshooting WMU 44-22 in the process. That was probably the longest sentence I've ever written.

Stop me if you've heard this before: Kevin Porter and Chad Kolarik each had 3 points in the game. Travis Turnbull, Chris Summers, and Matt Rust all contributed a pair of points. Billy Sauer had an off-night, allowing a goal and only stopping 21 shots.

Kevin Quick deserves a pat on the back as well, scoring his first career goal. He'd later add #2 on Saturday night.

And on a sad note, Mark Mitera was on the ice for an even-strength goal. I believe that was the first time since the season opener, which...I'm not even sure incredible is the right word for that.

The next night it was more of the same, only it didn't take as long for Michigan to start running a train all up in 'em. Kolarik scored 30 seconds into the game and added three more for the first hat trick + 1 Michigan has seen since Dwight Helminen did it a few years back against Ohio State.

After Kolarik put us up 2-0, the second coming on what looked like a kick-in, Western got back into the game with an absolute bullet from Nathan Ansell--some of those WMU defensemen can fire it! Michigan regained the two goal margin just 19 seconds later on a goal from Quick that Riley Gill quite simply can't give up. Kolarik's third of the night, which pretty much sealed the deal, also fell into that category. Chad just slapped the puck toward the net on a faceoff, rather than drawing it back, and it went in. Cool goal, but an awful one nonetheless.

Kolarik's fourth came on a beautiful pass from Brandon Naurato, who had a nice game with two assists and a couple other nice feeds.

For the record, Chris Frank finished the weekend -4. Ha.

Brian Hill did both games, and I wasn't overly impressed Saturday night. He called Tim Miller for elbowing on one of the prettiest hits you'll ever see--and on one of the dirtiest players in the CCHA to boot. There were a couple other plays that had me laughing, though I've forgotten what they were. Not the worst ref we've ever had, but he still caused me to say "This two-referee system is going to be an absolute disaster" on at least one occasion.

I thought Saturday was kind of a rough night for Langlais. He didn't do much in the way of offense and had a couple of bad giveaways, including one where he fell behind our net and the WMU player walked right out in front.

Matt Rust: So nice to have him back. He had a pair of assists Friday night, and may have saved a goal on Saturday with an absolutely gorgeous back-check to steal the puck from a Western player who would've been in all alone.

Sauer was very good again. Couldn't fault him on the WMU goal and he made 31 saves, including a few dandies.

The big downer of the weekend was a shoulder injury to Max Pacioretty. He didn't play Saturday night and I haven't heard how he's doing. Hopefully it's not serious, but I'm guessing Rivals/The Daily will have something for us sometime today on his status.

It's nice to have Caporusso and Rust back in the faceoff circle. They were a combined 39 and 26 on the weekend, which is 60% and very helpful to the cause.

The power play was definitely effective, going 4 for 10 on the weekend and 3 for 4 on Saturday night.

I also have to point out that even though Michigan was the more-talented team, obviously dominated the weekend (outscoring the Broncos 11-2 and outshooting them 82-54), and were playing a team -45 in power play opportunities so far this season, we were still -1 for the weekend. I can't figure it out.

In the CCHA, Nebraska-Omaha couldn't give us any help against Miami, so we remain tied with the Redhawks, but with two games in hand. Michigan State took 3 of 4 points from the Irish, so we lead the Irish by 3 points with 2 games in hand, and the Spartans by 4, with the same number of games played.

Now the schedule starts to pick up. In the last 14 games of the regular season, 8 are against the other three "elite" teams in the CCHA, including 6 of the next 8. Next up is Notre Dame, with a game at Yost and then one at The Palace of Auburn Hills. A Michigan sweep would pretty much bury the Irish, with Michigan up 7 points and having twelve games to play to ND's ten.

Friday, January 11, 2008

10 Things to Know About the WMU Broncos

Time to preview the first conference game that Michigan has played in over a month. Rich Rodriguez will be on hand (the story is actually on "The Wire" but since there's no permalink to the story itself, I figured it'd be more fun to link the front page where there's a photo of RR in his new hockey jersey--do I have to become the head football coach to get one of those maize jerseys with the diagonal Michigan on it?) tonight to drop the first puck and take part in Score-O. That man should be able to shoot from as close as he wishes.

Saturday night's contest will air on CSTV, and the lack of a TV broadcast tonight means that the game will stream live on courtesy of WOLV-TV.

So on to it, here are 10 things to know about the Western Michigan Broncos:

1. They come into this game at 6-13-1 overall and 2-10-0 in the CCHA, and have yet to face Michigan or Miami. They have 2 wins over something called Bentley, 2 wins over Wayne State, and single victories over OSU and NMU. The tie came against Holy Cross. They got swept by Niagara, Ferris, and UNO and also lost to Quinnipiac and the NTDP amongst others. Notre Dame, the closest team to us that they've played, beat them 4-1 and 5-1.

2. They feature one point-per-game scorer in Patrick Galivan, who has 7-15--22 in 20 games. They have 3 other guys with more than 10 points.

3. Riley Gill has played in 15 games, but freshman Jerry Kuhn has played 4 of the last 6 and has much better stats to show for it. Gill is 4-10-0 with a 3.21 goals against and an .896 save percentage. Kuhn is 2-3-1, with a 2.15/.918. Still, Gill has played Michigan three times, going 1-2-0 and allowing a respectable 11 goals, considering he allowed 6 in one of the games. In one of the losses he allowed just 2 goals on 44 shots. Based on the fact that Kuhn is playing well and Gill has had some success against Michigan, I'd expect to see both of them this weekend.

4. Chris Frank is still there, and still likely a douchebag. He'll try to start something at some point this weekend, probably at home when he's in front of his own crowd. He's only taken 28 PIMs this year, and no majors or misconducts. That's actually kind of impressive after having 127 and 109 PIMs the last two seasons.

5. They rank 8th in the CCHA in both offense (2.45 gpg) and defense (3.05 gpg allowed). Michigan is second in both to Miami.

6. Western's power play ranks sixth in the conference at 16.5%, but they've been on the man-advantage just 79 times this season, which is far and away the least in the conference. By comparison, Miami has had 145 opportunities on the power play. In those 79 chances, they've given up 4 shorties, so they are vulnerable in that area. They're 5th in the conference on PKs, killing off 84.7% of the 124 times they've been short-handed, but they've scored just one short-handed goal. In the strange "Combined special teams" stat, the Broncos actually are tops in the conference.

Random stat are the differentials in power plays for/against this year:
MSU +24
Notre Dame +21
Miami +20
BGSU +11
UNO +7
OSU +1
Alaska 0
Ferris State -3
Michigan -5
NMU -7
WMU -45

So much for the "refs love Michigan" argument that a lot of schools in this conference like to use. Though, they really freaking hate Western it seems. How is a stat like that even possible, especially when Western is only in the middle of the pack in terms of penalty minutes? One guess is that they don't have any particularly high-end forward that's drawing penalties, though you could say the same about a team like LSSU, who is +52 up the list.

7. Western's best period is the third, where they're +3 in goal differential. They're even in the first, and -12 in the second. Side note, Miami has scored as many or more goals in the third period than two teams in the CCHA have scored all season. Michigan is closing in on LSSU in that regard.

8. This probably goes without saying, but Saturday's game at Western is a lot tougher than the game at Yost. WMU is 1-6 on the road this year, but 5-6 at home. Of course, they haven't really beaten anyone....let's keep that statement accurate, kay?

9. They block almost 10 shots per game. The team leader has 60 shots on goal, which is a weekend for Chad Kolarik. Not really. It doesn't appear that they track faceoffs, or at least it's not public, which is kind of disappointing.

10. Freshman Max Campbell was the OHA Junior B Player of the Year and was picked in the 5th round by the New York Rangers. He has 3-10--13 in 20 games. Sophomore defenseman Tyler Ludwig is the son of ex-NHLer Craig.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Idea for the NHL All-Star Game

I've heard rumblings that the NHL might add a shootout skills competition to its All-Star Festivities. It would be judged, similar to the NBA's dunk contest.

I love the idea. I know the dunk contest has sucked lately, because everything has been done, and when guys try to push the envelope, the dunks are too hard and it takes them 15 tries to do it. But it used to be great. The league got a bunch of attention for it and it was a big thing for awhile.

This contest will never get to that level but I still think it could be really fun, and if nothing else, it gets the league a little more attention because crazy goals draw it. It might not be a long-term event, since, like the dunk contest, there's only so many things that you can do. But I think for a couple years it could be an entertaining competition.

For added fun, they could let Hasek be the goalie in the skills competition and allow him to randomly Gaborik someone. Might I suggest Paul Kariya.

But I have a better idea. One that would draw a ton of attention to this great game:

Play the All-Star Game outside.

Think about it. A Penguins/Sabres game--two teams that even the masses who like hockey don't care about beyond Crosby and Malkin--just drew the highest ratings of any NHL game in the last decade because it was outdoors. They packed 70,000+ into the stadium, and I bet they could've sold twice that many tickets if the facility would have accommodated it.

They've already got the date: The off weekend before the Super Bowl. Meaning no NFL Playoffs to deal with. The eyes of the world would be on that game. They drew a nice audience for a fairly meaningless regular season game that was up against a couple of bowl games. I've got to believe a lot of eyes would be on the All-Star Game in that situation. And what would they see? A game that caters to the masses, because it's usually high scoring. A game which showcases the best players the NHL has to offer--at least offensively. They'd see a huge crowd on hand. Presumably the camera angles would be designed to show the huge crowd on hand a little more than the game in Buffalo did. And the players would absolutely love it.

The other thing that would be great? Get mics down by the ice and mic a lot of the players. You'd have to have a small delay, but it would be outstanding to get to hear the players communicating. And there'd probably be a lot less profanity in a game like that.

Maybe you're not going to convert everyone in the country into a hockey fan. Maybe some would bail after watching a few more regular season games, seeing that not every game is wide-open like that. But some would likely stick. And I sure as heck guarantee that it would do more for the league than a weakly-publicized game that airs on Versus, as the ASG is currently.

The downer to this plan is that a weather cancellation would be an absolute disaster. But the only real threat is if it's too warm to play. And if you hold the game in late January in a Northern city (Montreal has it next year), if the weather is too warm to hold the game, then it's proof that God just doesn't want this league to succeed.

Tell me that wouldn't sell out the Big House in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Michigan 5, USA NTDP 1 (exhibition)

Tonight's game against the Under 18 team may have not counted in the standings, but it provided yet another teensy-tiny bit of evidence that maybe things are different this year. I know this isn't the best team the Americans have iced by any means, but unlike previous years where we've struggled against our "cross-town rivals", this year the Wolverines showed up and dominated from the get-go. The USA kids are almost always jacked up for this one, so it was nice to see Michigan take it to them.

Amongst the regulars, Billy Sauer, Travis Turnbull, Carl Hagelin, and Chad Langlais were given the night off. I believe Turnbull hurt his ankle in the GLI Championship, but he scored the game-winner that night, so I imagine it's not too bad.

It was nice to see guys like Naurato and Lebler making an impact offensively. I imagine they got more ice-time than normal tonight, and they made the most of it. Ben Winnett also got into the act, scoring a PPG.

Scooter Vaughan has been playing very well as of late and he was a game high +3 tonight (and was actually on the ice for four of our five goals).

Even the "bad" was kind of a good thing. USA's only goal was scored by Robbie Czarnik, who will be at Michigan next year, and one of the assists went to David Wohlberg, who will be joining him.

Bryan Hogan was perfect in 40 minutes, stopping all 14 shots he faced. Shawn Hunwick got in for the first time, and he allowed 1 goal on 12 shots in the period he played.

One thing that was different is that for this game, they experimented with the soon-to-be-disastrous 2 referee system. I didn't watch the game, so I don't have a comment on it, but I don't see how this is going to work with the state of the officiating in this conference.

Last item of note for tonight: Future defenseman (2008 or 2009? Who knows...) Greg Pateryn
was named to the USHL All-Star Team. He has 2 goals and 8 assists in 27 games this year and is a -2 for a pretty bad Ohio team. He also leads the team with 70 PIMs.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Sports World Wrap-Around

With no real need to write a preview for an exhibition game tomorrow, I figured today might be a good time to post some random thoughts bouncing around in my brain.

-Maize n Brew Dave provides a case for rooting for OSU tonight. It ain't happening in these parts. I appreciate that it would make the conference as a whole look better, but I fail to see how the benefit Michigan might gain by some people being like "Hey, maybe the Big Ten isn't that bad" wouldn't be off-set by OSU being able to claim 2 national titles and 3 title game appearances in what? 6 years? People have their stereotypes about the Big Ten. Michigan keeps beating SEC teams in bowl games and every year we hear about how the SEC is better and how Michigan won't be able to match-up with the SEC speed. Would an OSU win over LSU really make people change their tune? Or would we just hear, "Yeah but in a playoff system, Georgia would've smoked them"?

Plus, no matter what you think of him as a coach, the way the job search went down, or even if you wanted him as our coach, I have to root for a guy like Les Miles, who loves U of M as much as he does.

-Next up, Mike Tomlin. Is he getting killed in media? He should be. I haven't read too much about the Steelers/Jaguars game, but based on what I read on ESPN and in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the night of the game, I can't believe he's not getting skewered over that completely indefensible decision to go for 2 from the 12 yard line with a ton of time left and down by 5 points. I didn't agree with the decision to go for it from the 2 yard line, but it was at least understandable. But after you get called for holding, you have to kick the football.

What are the chances of making a 2 point conversion in the NFL? Probably 40%ish? What would the chances be at making it from the 12 yard line? It has to be under 10%. And the only benefit you gain is if there's no scoring (or you match scores) the rest of the game and you need a FG to tie. It was unnecessary and the odds were so far against them making it, the decision was asinine. If you kick the PAT, then on the next TD, you're also kicking the PAT, and then you're up 3 rather than 1. Then Jacksonville either has to take some shots at the endzone, or settle for OT.

It blows my mind how coaches still find a way to bungle when to go for two and when not to go for two. Quick rules of thumb: Don't do it before the fourth quarter (preferably deep into the fourth quarter). Don't do it unless it's absolutely necessary. If it's a high scoring game, there are probably going to be more points, and take into account the ramifications if you miss. Realize that the odds are against you making it.

-Speaking of the Jaguars, I'm one of the people who was really pulling for a Pats/Jags matchup in the second round, because I like a lot of the things that the Jaguars bring to the table. I'm less excited now. I'd still give them a chance in that game, and I think the Pats giving 13 (Gotta plug BetUS right there) in that game is way too high, but I'm less excited about that matchup than I was when I saw the score at the start of the 4th quarter in the Steelers/Jags game.

-One of my childhood favorites is back! American Gladiators started up again last night, and I know a lot of people didn't like it, but I enjoyed myself.

No, it's not as good as the old one. I think they're trying to hard to make it all dramatic, and I almost had a seizure from the way they change camera angles but overall it's still pretty great.

That event, the Pyramid (or whatever it's called), is amazing. People getting rocked all over the place on that one. The skinny Asian dude got literally thrown off of it at least 3 times. I don't remember it being on the show before, but someone said that it was. Either way, it's sweet!

And the new Eliminator? Awesome. That's just mean to put the hand bike toward the end (when your hands are wet) followed by the reverse treadmill, when your shoes are wet. There aren't going to be too many people getting through that thing on the first try. I do wonder why the contenders even bother with the hand bike. There doesn't seem to be a "penalty pit" anymore and it's a lot quicker to just fall and go up the ladder.

I was really disappointed that neither of the contenders won in Assault last night. I wanted to see the Gladiator go flying into the water. That's a really nice touch.

I didn't like the new Hang Tough because the course just isn't long enough. One time the contender and gladiator went right at each other and they hit when they were both reaching for their second ring.

The gauntlet is always fun. And there's no better event for people getting rocked than Powerball.

I love that show...I don't think they ruined it at all. I just wish they had more "classic" camera angles--particularly on Powerball and Assault.

-In light of the fact that they just promoted the guy that headed up one of the worst offensive lines in the league, shouldn't the Lions have waited to see what would happen with Cam Cameron before bringing in a new Offensive Coordinator? It is the Lions....

-The Wings are a machine, and both of their goalies are playing great hockey. Osgood probably deserves to be an All-Star and Hasek has played every bit as well over the last month and a half. Check out these numbers over each of their last ten starts:
Hasek: 8-1-1, 1.47 GAA, .930 save percentage, 2 shutouts
Osgood: 9-1-0, 1.70 GAA, .934 save percentage, 1 shutout

That's not even fair. And the team as a whole is making good hockey teams look really bad. Look what we just did to Dallas in that home-and-home. The Stars are right up there with the (second) best in the West, and they didn't even belong on the same ice as Detroit in either game. It makes me wish the playoffs were starting now, because no one in the league is even close to the Wings at this point.

Rather than just winning another Norris (which is a foregone conclusion barring injury), isn't it high time Nick Lidstrom wins the Hart or Pearson? He leads the league in defense scoring, he's the best defensive defenseman in hockey, and he has been for years. He plays 30+ a night, and he's ::knock on wood:: out there every night. I'd have a hard time picking a more valuable player in the league, and I'm not so sure that he shouldn't have a couple of those trophies in his case by now.

-The NHL's outdoor game was a success--the highest rated game in a decade. I still have to wonder what kind of number it would've drawn had it not been on New Year's Day, and if it had included one team that people care about. These outdoor games are awesome. The sight of the snow coming down, the massive crowd around the rink, the hats over the goalie's all amazing. I'd be curious to know how much it costs to put one of these games on, and if the huge crowd offsets it enough to make it more profitable than a normal game. They need to put on more of these games and involve some bigger name teams. I don't know that I'd go as far as Mike Wilbon's suggestion to play an outdoor game every Sunday or Kornheiser's suggestion that every team play 5 of these a year, but I do think they need to have more outdoor games.

Since the new schedule will allow for every Original Six team to play the others at least one time a year (NOT ENOUGH) I'd like to see them schedule a yearly informal round-robin tournament between the teams (maybe I could expand this idea in a future post), and have a few of the games outside at least for the for the first year. Leafs/Canadiens at Skydome or Molson Stadium where the Alouettes play, Wings/Blackhawks at the Big House, Bruins/Rangers at Giants Stadium or'd be awesome.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A Good Night For Michigan Hockey

Sometimes having a bye is a good thing.

Both Miami and Notre Dame lost tonight. The Redhawks went down 4-2 to Bowling Green and Notre Dame fell to the NMU Wildcats 2-1. Those losses mean that Michigan now leads both teams by 2 points and has a game in hand on each of them.

I don't know if Michigan had any input on their CCHA schedule, but if they did, it was a brilliant move to have the bye this week. Playing in the GLI is one thing, playing conference games short-handed is another animal altogether, and I'm glad we avoided it. Take the case of Wisconsin, who is a bubble team at best right now: They had to play Colorado College this weekend minus Turris, Geoffrion, and McBain. They fell 2-0 at home tonight. That could end up being a big loss down the road.

I suppose that game ending in a Tiger victory was good for us in two ways: One, as long as we keep winning and CC keeps winning, we won't be in the same Regional as them, since they are hosting. Two, Wisconsin losing hurts their tournament chances, and for selfish reasons I wouldn't mind seeing Michigan in the Madison Regional, minus the Badgers.

Media Roundup: GLI Championship

Since I apparently am not going to bed tonight due to my portable hard drive crashing, and my desperate need to find out if I can recover any of the data (like all the Packers wins from the last 2 years, Harvick's Daytona 500 win and a slew of Michigan games), now is as good of a time as any to do the Media Roundup for the GLI. While I'm at it, if anyone has any experience with data recovery programs like GetDataBack, SpinRite, or BadCopy--or tips for what I can do (I'm getting a "data error cyclic redundancy check" when I try to get to the F drive in the DOS prompt..."My Computer" just freezes when I try to select it)--any help would be much appreciated.

The Michigan Side:

Sauer has been outstanding this year, but I gotta disagree with Antoine that it was a poor performance in the NCAAs that spoiled a "good sophomore season" last year. The overall point of the article--that this GLI title was a long time coming--is definitely valid, though.

A GLI title game that is scoreless going into OT is very rare indeed. Wish I could've seen the replay of that no-goal we had. I'd like to know how close it was...and I wish that replay official had been working the Western Conference Final last year.

Random stat that I'm not sure I couldn't have been a scoreless tie due to the continuous OT, but the last time Michigan had a scoreless tie was in 1954.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good. But it helps if you're a good player and you're lucky, like Louie Caporusso. BTW, for him, national pride means more than seeing any of his teammates come home with World Junior gold. Can't blame him.

This might be the best headline to an article ever.

Ann Arbor News game story from the semifinal.

Kolarik said of all the blocked shots in the championship game, "It was just a mess out there." BTW, that 3 1/2 hour game was like 12 seconds too long. The FSD telecast allotted 3 1/2 hours, and my DVR cut off 12 seconds before we scored the winning goal. The game was on tape delay. Couldn't they have like...edited out part of the 4th intermission or something? Loud noises!

There are a lack of egos on this edition of the Wolverines. As a friend of mine would put it (and then I'd make fun of him for his word choice), "I love this team. They're such a team."

It feels kind of funny to go into a game expecting to get consistently great goaltending. I haven't done that since Montoya's sophomore year. I'm still kind of in shock really. And I'm convinced that Josh Blackburn is the best goalie coach ever.

Sauer won CCHA Goaltender of the Week (shocker there) for the fourth time this season, and was also named CCHA Player of the Month for December after posting a 3-0-0 record with a 0.59 GAA, .983 save %. That's decent...He now has the 8th best GAA in the country (1.80) and 11th best save percentage (.930--A .930? Really?).

Official game stories: Providence. Michigan Tech. In all our years of playing in the GLI, we had just one shutout coming into this past weekend. This weekend, we had two.

The Michigan Tech View:

Tech's student newspaper hasn't published since the GLI, so there's no comment from them. I did find this look back at the "Worst Year in Sports History" and I'm really not sure what to make of it. I don't typically make fun of other writers because I definitely have my faults, but this is horrible. Sammy Sosa did what this year? I found at least 6 glaring many can you find? It's like a word search or something. I think I could've written that column in 5th grade. This has to be a joke that I'm not s-m-r-t enough to figure out. Either that or the writer is really convinced that in Heaven there is no beer.......At least he didn't call Miami a dynasty in the making.

And actually, there was nothing in the Houghton or Marquette papers that I could find. Weird.

Up next is Tuesday's exhibition against the NTDP Under 18 team, which is 3-6-1 against D-1 opponents this year. They have wins over Harvard, Yale, and Duluth, and tied St. Cloud. As of December 17, Robbie Czarnik was tied for fourth on the team with 17 points in 26 games (just two points out of the team lead). David Wohlberg has 3-8--11 in 23 games.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Michigan 1, Michigan Tech 0 (2 ot)

Scooter Vaughan shot the puck. Despite the old saying that when you shoot on net, good things happen, I didn't think it was a particularly dangerous shot. Then Travis Turnbull tipped the puck. Somehow, in a microsecond, my brain registered the thought, "Holy crap, this is a great chance". The puck disappeared. Then, a flash of red behind the net. The arena exploded. And a decade plus of frustration in this tournament--this damn tournament--went away in an instant of pure joy.

I'm not like a lot of you who read this blog. Ten years ago, Comcast Local didn't exist. We didn't have CSTV. There was no thought of streaming college hockey games on the internet. I would watch the Wolverines any time they were on TV and I was aware of it. That'd be a couple times a year tops. We used to go down to the GLI, but I wouldn't swear to it that I ever saw Michigan win it.

But when I entered college, this team consumed me. Going to games at Yost is an incredible experience, and it quickly became the case that--rather than looking forward to parties on the weekend (which I did enjoy), I was looking forward to Michigan hockey games. And every Christmas break it was the same thing. We would lose 2, 3, 4, 5 players to the World Junior Championships, and the GLI would be chock full of fail.

I can't tell you how many times I've cussed this tournament out, because I was so sick of seeing our team losing at least one game every year since 1996. My first year of going to every game I was able was the Houghton/Boston massacre, when we lost badly in both games to Michigan Tech and Boston College.

So, needless to say, Michigan finally winning this thing meant an awful lot to me.

As for the game itself, what a classic! There are 0-0 games that are boring as hell, and then there are games like that. Both goalies making saves, lots of scoring chances (Get that NHL? It's not goals that make a game exciting, it's scoring chances....if you enlarge the nets I'm going to snap), end to end play, goalposts, breakaways in OT, and 38 or so players giving every ounce of themselves to win that hockey game.

What can you say about Billy Sauer? I don't know how this transformation happened, but this has the potential to go down as the greatest single-season improvement I have ever seen in an athlete. 87 saves, 0 goals allowed over the weekend? Speechless. He may have made the save of his career about halfway through the first overtime, going post-to-post to rob Kerr, who was in all alone. I think my heart actually stopped for a second on that one.

I have to give Michigan Tech all the credit in the world. That's a disciplined hockey team right there. They don't have the horses to out-gun a team on most nights, but they've got their system and they play it to perfection. They block shots, they get into passing lanes, they pack the middle and make you shoot from outside. It was pretty impressive.

Sitting behind the net in the end that we defended for 4 of the 5 periods allowed me to watch the defense a lot more than I usually do. Mark Mitera does so many things well. He's like this team's Nicklas Lidstrom (not that I want to compare the two). Always in position, plays a ton of minutes, steady, poised with the puck, never panics, makes a great first pass, and he makes it look pretty darn easy.

I though Vaughan played a really good game as well. Nothing fancy, just got the puck out of the zone in a game where we were sloppy in that area a lot of times.

Another guy that deserves a tap on the helmet is Anthony Ciraulo. They weren't rolling four lines, but they had Ciraulo out there in some key situations and he responded pretty well. There were a couple times when I was surprised to see him on the ice, but he rose to the occasion. It wouldn't shock me a bit to see him earning some extra opportunities to dress in the second half. I think he's gotten himself right into that mix with Naurato and Lebler.

Porter and Kolarik didn't score, but they were both all over the place. Porter had at least 2 breakaways, and Kolarik was able to use his speed to break down the defense and create some great chances of his own. On Porter's breakaway in the first overtime, I really thought the game was over. He tried to go upstairs, but wasn't able to raise it enough and Nolan made a great save.

So far this season, these guys have erased a lot of bad memories by beating Minnesota and winning the GLI. It really wouldn't shock me if this is the year that they make me forget about the debacle in Buffalo as well. This is a special hockey team and at this point they're playing the best hockey of anyone in the country. There's a long way to go, but at this point I see five real contenders, and we're one of them (Michigan, Miami, CC, Denver, NoDak). That's really all you can ask.