It's been a long hard wait since Calle Ridderwall's shot found the back of the net in the Frozen Four, but the offseason is finally over! The Wolverines kick off the 2008-09 slate in an exhibition against the NTDP Saturday night at Yost.
Gone is the entire top-line from the team that was ranked #1 for most of the 07-08 season, but an excellent group of freshmen supplements an already deep core.
First thing's first. An examination of the goaltenders that will be backstopping this edition of the Wolverines.
Incoming Players: None
My postseason report card of the position from last year.
Last year was the first time since Al Montoya's sophomore season that Michigan actually received consistent play in net. Whether it was Al's "You know I don't actually want to be here right?" performance, the Ruden/Sauer combo, or Billy Sauer's "Does hockey have a Mendoza Line for save percentage" sophomore season, the red light had been turning on with much more frequency than Red Berenson would probably have liked.
The 2007-08 season promised to be more of the same. Bryan Hogan, expected to compete for the starting job, came down with mono at the start of camp and pretty much had to write off the first half of the season. That left Billy Sauer, who in his most recent appearance received five goals of support in the first 21 minutes and still had the Wolverines down by a pair of goals 28 minutes into the game.
But amazingly enough, Sauer turned into a damn fine goalie and when Hogan came back, Sauer was firmly entrenched as the starter. He went on to lead the Wolverines to a GLI title with back-to-back shutouts, a regional title (with a shutout of Clarkson that featured one of the great sequences of goaltending in history), a CCHA title, and a CCHA Tournament title. And on the way he had the greatest statistical season a Michigan goalie has ever had. He posted a 30-4-3 record with a 1.95/.924.
And yet the goaltending is once again probably the biggest question mark surrounding this team. After Sauer choked on applesauce in the first period against Notre Dame and Bryan Hogan turned in an admirable performance in relief, it seems all but certain the coaches will give the sophomore more chances to play this year. From what I've heard, we can expect Hogan to play about 1/3 of the games, unless either goaltender's play dictates that they adjust that number.
Honestly though, I'm more optimistic than a lot of people are about Sauer this season. The way last season ended was no doubt a disappointment, but I have to believe he's more entrenched as the starter than he was heading into last year. Look at those numbers again. He was 30-4-3! He gave up less than 2 goals per game, despite Michigan regularly playing three rookie defensemen.
I simply don't buy it that last year's exit was more traumatic than giving up 7 goals in less than half a game, especially in light of the season he had. If he bounced back from the NoDak debacle--and he did, in amazing fashion--I have no doubts that he'll be fine this year. I also don't buy it that he can't play in big games. He was phenomenal in the GLI and even if he wasn't tested a lot against Clarkson, he made some big stops in a game that Michigan was not in control of. Remember that big stop right off the opening faceoff? Then there was the unbelievable sequence toward the end of the game.
And if Sauer does falter, we've got Hogan, who was very solid in his limited appearances. His numbers weren't great, though the team didn't exactly help him in that regular season ending loss to Ferris State (after we had everything locked up). I know some people disagree with me on this and this it was a no-pressure situation, but I think he was put into about as bad of a position as a goalie can be in against the Irish. He was down 3-0 in the national semifinals, he had played like 4 games all year, and here he was, in a situation where he simply couldn't afford to give up another goal while Michigan attempted a comeback. He rose to the occasion and held Notre Dame off the board long enough to give us a chance. Hogan also provided one of the most exciting moments of the season when he shot the puck at our opponent's empty net and hit the outside of the goalpost.
I'm anxious to see what Hogan can do this coming season, because it will have a big impact on my optimism/pessimism heading into 09-10. It seems that every goalie the coaches like is a part of the 2010 class, so it's very likely that Hogan/Hunwick is the duo for next season. It's important for Hogan to show that he can be a legitimate starter in the NCAA. He hasn't looked out of place by any means, but I'd love to see him seize the opportunity that he's getting this year.
The third member of the goaltending group is Shawn Hunwick, who made a couple of saves against Nebraska-Omaha in the CCHA Playoff massacre. If memory serves he also gave up 1 goal on about 10 shots against the NTDP. We probably won't see too much of him, but if I'm Red, I get him in during any blowout I can (rather than Hogan, who will be starting games) since he's likely going to be our backup in 09-10. We'd be wise to let him face some rubber.
This is the 500th post I've made since starting The Blog That Yost Built a few years back. I'd like to thank everyone who has supported the site. It was incredibly gratifying to see the traffic increase like crazy last year.
I'll be moving the site to its own domain (though still on the Blogger platform) in the very near future and I hope you'll all continue to read, and interact in the comments (leave more comments! Hockey talk is fun!). Also, now that I have something called a disposable income, I'm going to be trying to get the site to look a little more....professional? So if you have any suggestions, shoot me an email because I'd love to hear them.
Lastly, I'd like to single out Brian Cook as someone I'd like to thank. MGoBlog inspired me to get started in the blogosphere and his support of this site is a big, big reason why people even have a clue who I am.
So yeah, I look forward to a great 2008-09 season and I'm excited about the changes that will be taking place around these parts. As always, thanks for reading and GO BLUE!