Friday, March 27, 2009

Season Over: Air Force 2, Michigan 0


I thought I'd be more upset. I thought I'd be more shocked. But it just had the feel of one of "those games" didn't it? Right off the bat Kampfer came streaking in, Volkening got the pad on it, Lebler had an empty net and the dman blocked it. It was a sign of things to come.

Final shots in the game were something like 42-13 and Air Force wins 2-0. There was a reason that I wanted no part of them in the first round last year and his name was Andrew Volkening. When you play in the AHA and I've heard of you, that means you're good. And boy was he good tonight. Not all of Michigan's 40+ shots were quality. We had a lot of "Red Wing" shots that were fairly harmless, but there were some great chances and he made every save he had to make (and a bunch that he wouldn't have been faulted for not making).

At the other end, Bryan Hogan wasn't busy. He faced just 12 shots. But on this day he needed to be perfect and he wasn't. The first Air Force goal was a gorgeous, gorgeous shot far side right up under the bar, but it was a shot that had to be stopped when you're dominating a game against a #4 seed. It was a shot from the boards out by the faceoff dot. Beautiful shot for sure, but you shouldn't be able to score from there.

Don't get me wrong, you can't blame Hogan for this one. It was kind of strange: The first goal was a gorgeous shot and I'm pissed he didn't stop it. The second goal was a dribbler and I don't fault him for not saving it. But he didn't make the save that a championship goalie needs to make. Volkening did. Air Force advances.

Michigan had a LONG 5 on 3 right out of the gate and got absolutely nothing going. Lots of passing, not much shooting. They were looking for the perfect play and it wasn't there. Credit Air Force for defending it well.

Tim Miller was stoned shortly after the penalties ended. He was wide open in the slot but Volkening was there. Then started the parade of penalties. Glendening took a guy down off a faceoff. Lebler blew up a guy who didn't have the puck.

Hogan flubbed a soft shot from the point. It was sitting right by his pad, the AFA guy had a whack at it but fanned. It wouldn't have mattered because the whistle went anyway. That was still too close for comfort. I don't know why our goalies struggle to catch the puck. Sauer had problems with that early in his career too.

Caporusso had a sweet little feed to the late man, Naurato, but Volkening got it with his shoulder. Then Michigan took their third offensive-zone penalty of the period when Turnbull got the gate. I don't have the foggiest clue what they called there. He checked the guy, knocked him off the puck a little, and the guy kept playing. Rust and Wohlberg made sure nothing came from it in the early going of that penalty. They had some amazing work down in the Air Force zone. But the Falcons got on the board 1-0 when Burnett took it to the boards and put a beautiful shot into the top corner, far side. He had an inch to shoot at and he hit it, but there's no reason that goal should have been allowed. You can't give up a goal from the boards, no matter how good of a shot it was.

Air Force went to the box and Volkening made another huge save. He got his glove on a Summers wrister and the rebound went right to Turnbull. He got the right pad down and stoned Travis. Caporusso had a really awesome series of moves to get free. He tried to get it to Palushaj, but it just got broken up.

The Wolverines kept the play in the Air Force end. They were down there for probably 3 and a half minutes with sustained possession, Air Force was scrambling, Michigan kept holding pucks in and getting chances, and they bailed them out on a horsecrap slashing call. Rust had his stick on the AFA player's, but when a team is scrambling like that and, really, they had no chance of getting the puck out there, you're going to bail them out like that? Man. Fourth offensive zone penalty of the period.

Turnbull off for charging early in the second and he wasn't happy about it. (Shocker.) Another offensive zone call, though we didn't have possession. The guy played the puck, Turnbull hit him hard. We didn't get a replay of it and the live shot was just switching camera angles. Hard to tell on that one. But you can't keep putting a team on the power play.

Air Force scored a power play goal in the first period, but it wasn't the power plays that were killing us. It was the fact that our two best offensive players (Caporusso and Palushaj) don't kill penalties. We were short-handed for 10 of the first 24 minutes. Hard to get your top guys into the game when they're sitting on the bench.

Michigan had the best chance on that Air Force power play. Wohlberg had the puck on a 2 on 1 and it was played perfectly. The defenseman took away the pass until Wohlberg was in pretty deep, then he slid over and knocked Wohlberg down and knocked the puck away.

Michigan went back to the PP and the best chance was a 2 on 1 for Air Force that Summers made a diving backcheck to break up.

Air Force came in 2 on 2, Mitera went for the hit and missed (just like Langlais last week against ND), leaving Llewellyn on a 2 on 1. He dove to try and break up the pass but missed, it got through to Lamoureux and he had all day. Whether it was intentional or not (it probably was), he waited for Hogan to slide across and then slipped a soft shot back to Hogan's left. Crafty play and Air Force had a 2-0 lead seven minutes into the second period. On 5 shots.

Palushaj had a great look at a rebound and sent it wide. He had Volkening down. Air Force came back and it looked like Hogan got just enough of an Olson shot to send it off the bar. Hogie then made another strong stop on a tip in front.

Mitera got back to break up a 2 on 1, then Langlais hit Wohlberg on a partial breakaway. He got slashed in the knee, fell, and got called for diving. Because guys like to dive when they're on a partial breakaway.

Michigan got another power play and did absolutely nothing. They pretty much looked like a warm turd for the next 7 or 8 minutes after AFA made it 2-0. Palushaj then had a spin-o-rama, had an opening to shoot at, and the shot hit the defenseman's skate. That was the first time I wrote "We ain't winning this one, folks" in my notes. Shots were 25-8 at this point.

Late in the period Turnbull dug the puck out of the corner and threw a no-look pass right to a wide-open Burlon in the slot. Burlon couldn't get it teed up quick enough and Volkening got over.

Michigan started the third on a power play and this is where you could pretty much guarantee we weren't winning. Turnbull took a shot into a crowd and it tipped out to Volkening's right. Turnbull picked it up, had literally the entire net to shoot at..............and the whistle went. Lost sight of the puck. I thought Turnbull's head was going to explode. He went bonkers, it looked like he was getting a penalty for it. But the ref knew he screwed up. The camera caught him saying as much.

Another Michigan power play a second later. A couple chances, but nothing special.

Then: Time of death, 10:47 of the third period. Hagelin brought it out of the corner and had his stick lifted as he was shooting. Turnbull went after it and could have circled around for a possible great scoring chance, but he flubbed it. It deflected back to the other side where Naurato had an empty net.....and the puck hopped over his stick. Done. No bounces, and a hot goalie whenever they got something through to him.

Hagelin took a penalty (good call) with about six minutes left and Rust darn near got us back in the game. Burlon intercepted a breakout pass and hit Rust in the slot. Rust backhanded one and Volkening got just enough to tip it off the post. This was a "No way in hell" game. I would've reached for the reset button about 5 minutes in if this was NHL 09.

Air Force hit a post of their own shortly thereafter. Summers pinched, Fairchild skated right around Burlon, got the pass through, and the guy drilled it off the bar. Michigan pulled the goalie with about 2 1/2 minutes left, Burlon blew one wide. And that was all she wrote.

Final thoughts later. I've gotta go to my playoff game now. We're playing the lowest (highest?? The worst one) seed. Hopefully this wasn't an omen.



Unknown said...

My take on the game goes something like this:

It seemed that the team as a whole didn't take Air Force too seriously on an individual basis. I saw Michigan hustling, but they were uncharacteristically trying to stickhandle too much through a crowd instead of making passes, which is the basis of their entire offensive game. The defensemen were really bad at starting the breakout the whole game (especially Langlais) and they made multiple bad clearing passes which resulted in a good amount of Air Force's chances on the night.

Hogan was terrible on the first goal. At that angle, if he just stands there, its almost physically impossible for that goal to go in. Instead, he went down and made himself smaller. The second goal, however, was Air Force's best player wide open and with time to shoot (which happened 3 times in the game from varying distances IIRC) You can't blame Hogan at all for that. He did make a few huge saves to keep the game in reach.

1 bad goal did not cost Michigan anything. It was the brutal approach to offense in this game.

As I mentioned before, Michigan's passing was the worst I have seen all season. Too much individual effort. Often the stickhandling worked on the first and maybe second guy, but Air Force was playing 4 guys on the blue line, better passing was necessary. There weren't any adjustments, either, and Michigan struggled all day with Air Force's style.

A high percentage of Michigan's shots were straight on, and that makes it easy for a big goalie like Volkening. When you are playing a hot goalie, shots in volume without a lot of cross ice movement or deflections/screens is a bad thing, it allows the goalie to get into the zone with a string of make-able saves.

I just thought Michigan played right into Air Force's hands, and they were disciplined, conditioned, and well-coached, exactly what you'd expect from a service academy. Basically, they were a better version of many of the mid-tier CCHA teams. Definitely a team you can lose to.

Its a disappointing end to the season, to say the least. Because of this, its hard to say this was a good season.

Brad said...

Nah, it was still a good season. A sophomore-dominated team should not generally be winning league or national titles, and we had a shot at both. It's disappointing for sure, but this wasn't supposed to be the year anyway.

Like Tim I thought this one wasn't too shocking, it was apparent early it was just going to be one of *those* games. Whatever happened in the 2nd intermission of the CCHA championship game, we need to exorcise it.

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge Michigan hockey fan and 1994 grad (never missed a game while I was at school). I'm a big fan of this blog. Always great insight and analysis Tim. In terms of today's game, I was extremely disappointed, but I wasn't surprised. I knew coming in that our confidence would be weak. I thought Hogan played bad against Alaska in the CCHA semis and horrendous against ND, so he was not the same goalie going into this game as he had been most of the year. I had a bad feeling about lingering effects after blowing the CCHA final. Let's face it, they choked and didn't show enough heart once broken. So, with that background, I knew it was going to be a battle and getting ahead was paramount. It didn't happen. In my opinion, the team's energy was okay, but there was no sense of urgency the entire game. I felt that we went through the motions at times, which should never happen.

I totally agree that Hogan should never have given up that first goal. Like you both said, bad angle and he got too low. The second goal was because Mitera was either lazy, stupid or slow. But, the game was more than Hogan.

We didn't get any bounces and we definitely stick-handled way too much. There was way too much individual play and AF did a great job in the defensive zone. I think the team became totally frustrated by the lack of productivity on the power play and that resulted in us taking bad penalties. You could see the frustration on every player. It became a mental thing and they go 4+ periods of not scoring since the ND game.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems that the poor power play is a systemic problem. Perhaps its Berenson's tactics? It was monumental to capitalize on that 5-3, but just like the OSU game, we failed again. (Do we even practice the 5-3? It sure seems like we don't know how to attack it). And, then to see such poor scoring opportunities on the other power plays, I really started wondering whether it's partially Red's fault for drawing up a bad power play strategy. Tim, maybe you have historical data saying its not systemic, but I feel like we've had only a few teams with dominant power plays or maybe our power play in the NCAAs is just just always feels that we never score. The fact that our team was so bad on it all year makes me think that Red needs to spend the entire off-season watching film of other strong power play teams so he can fix that problem.

Lastly, I will say that our defense seem to struggled with Mitera in the lineup. I know he's a great player, but I feel that the chemistry wasn't the same on the blue line for the past 6 games.

So, 19 straight NCAAs and only 2 titles. Michigan and Red are the DUKE and Coach K of hockey. Always great, always Top 5, always favored, but rarely win the big one. I love Red. I love Michigan hockey. But, I'm frustrated as hell. And, we'll probably lose 1-3 underclassman to the NHL like we do every year (we have 13 NHL draftees - 13 on our roster...and we still sucked today).

I'll give AF credit, but we shoot ourselves in the foot every year.

Tom said...

I have this memory from my junior or senior year (I don't remember which) of Northern coming into Yost and shutting down Michigan pretty much the entire game. Easily the most frustrating game of hockey I've ever watched. Until today anyway.

This one had it all. Michigan failed at every level. The only guy who I really thought had an above average game was Turnbull and even that may have just been because he was hustling. With about two minutes left in the second period Michigan just looked beat. They recovered about a minute later, but I can't ever remember a Michigan team looking so downtrodden.

So, to summarize, we had Michigan looking like they were skating and passing in peanut butter, weird penalty calls, whistles when the puck was still live, more faceoff dismissals than I've ever seen and ESPN's craptastic hockey coverage (no replays of the weird penalties, moronic announcers, no HD). Yep, this is one that I'd like to forget but suspect will remain in my memory for a long, long time. Maybe I can finally let that Northern game go..

wolverinepucknut said...

Quick whistels crappy calls no bounces hot goaile equals a tough one to swallow for me. I'm Ann Arbor born and raised and still a season ticket holder living in Albany ny. I made the 3 hrs drive to the game and what felt like a 10 drive home. I'm really not shocked we lost but I am crushed. Does anyone think we will lose any underclassman or will everyone return? I'm hoping loui and arron take a page from porter and company and return to take a serious run next year. Go blue

wolverinepucknut said...

Also I really thought hogan over played the short side post on the first goal should have had that one

bluetell said...

i noticed 2 things:
1) terrible passing for much of the game
2) the D was being way too offensive minded and kept giving up a lot of AF fast breaks because they were so far in the offensive zone

tremendously frustrating to lose like that. i dont even feel like volk was that great. he just made the saves he had to. and it was game where if we had gotten a break or two, it could've been another 3-0 first period lead. i mean if a few little things had gone differently we could've won it 5-1. it's just mind-numbing that we had that kind of luck in the tournament.
plus i'm pissed that all these upstes are happening. the tourny just seems like a big joke now. pretty much a path paved for a BU-ND final. fuun

Becky said...

anon@ 11:04 p.m.:

I agree with you about the power play. In the seven years I've been watching Michigan hockey, they've had consistently good penalty killing and weak power plays. (I swear there was one year were were more likely to score on the penalty kill than on the power play -- and more likely to give up a goal on the power play. At least we've stopped putting the offensive guys with no defensive skills on the point.)

I still remember the Frozen Four game against Minnesota in 2003 (which was an especially bad year for the power play). My mother only watched the third period of the game, and called me before overtime to complain that Michigan couldn't score on the power play. "I KNOW!"