Friday, April 22, 2011

Having a Seat Over There: Andrew Sinelli

I know posting around here has been light since the loss in the National Championship Game. I wasn't ready to talk about it. I'll get around to it sometime in the near future, though don't expect anything enlightening. It's hard to form coherent thoughts when you spend 2 1/2 hours pretty sure you're going to have a heart attack.
The Wolverines added a forward to next year's team. Andrew Sinelli, a former FYS commit, has pledged to join the team. Sinelli had 6-3--9 in 45 games in the USHL this season. Last year he had 6-11--17.
Back in his MWEHL days, he was a high-scorer. When he was on the Honeybaked U16 program, he was second to only Luke Moffatt in league scoring (16-31--47 in 31 games) and was invited to try out for the NTDP. He hasn't been nearly as prolific since. He was ~25th in scoring in the U18 league and hasn't put up big numbers in the USHL.
Still, people had always lauded his speed and it sounds like he has transformed his game to move of a checker/penalty killer. From the linked article:
"I am a high energy forward," said Sinelli. "I like to play physical and I am not afraid to block some shots. I will have to compete for my playing time and my work in Youngstown on the penalty kill will allow me to succeed on the college level."
Michigan needs penalty killers, as Winnett, Caporusso, Vaughan, Hagelin, and Rust all spent significant time out there with Michigan down a man.

Back when he committed to FYS, he had also visited Michigan and Miami, amongst others.
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Saturday, April 09, 2011

National Championship Preview: 10 Things to Know About Minnesota-Duluth

Ahh the words that I've been waiting to write since I started this blog back in 05. Tonight the Michigan Wolverines could become NCAA Champions for the first time since 1998--and the first time since I completely fell in love with Michigan hockey.

The only team standing in our way is the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs, who seek to become the first team since 1993 to win their first NCAA Championship. Here are ten things to know about UMD.

1) They finished the regular season in fourth place in the WCHA, one point behind our first round opponent, Nebraska-Omaha. They are 25-10-6 on the season and were 15-8-5 in the WCHA and 3-1-0 on neutral ice. They started the season on a tear, going 11-1-2 out of the gate. They faltered down the stretch and went just 4-5-2 heading into the NCAA Tournament, with two of the wins in the first round of WCHAs.

2) They did okay against NCAA Tournament Teams, but certainly not great. They were 1-2 against North Dakota, 1-1 against Denver, 0-1-1 against CC, and 1-1 against Omaha. Then they obviously beat Union, Yale, and Notre Dame in the NCAA Tournament.

3) The offense is solid. They finished the year 11th in goals per game at 3.41, which is .06 ahead of where Michigan ended up. They have three of the top 12 in points per game, however, in Jack Connolly, Justin Fontaine, and Mike Connolly (no relation). Jack averaged one assist per game, second to only Hobey Baker-winner Andy Miele in that regard. That line combined for 44% of UMD's offense this season.

I've talked to some people here in WCHA country who swear the Connollys are the two best forwards in the WCHA.

They get some offense from the blueline, but it's almost entirely due to Justin Faulk, their Merrill. He was a second-round pick of Carolina and has 8-25--33 in his freshman year. Six of those tallies were on the power play. They had gotten 12 points in 17 games out of Dylan Olsen, but he went pro around New Years. The remainder of the defense corps combines for 35 points. As a whole (including Faulk) they have 6 goals while not on the man advantage.

4) Where the offense really gets scary is on the power play. Both Connollys have 7 markers with the man advantage, while Fontaine has 12, good for second in the country. As a whole, their power play is 7th in the country at 23.3%. They've scored 49 PPGs on the year and have only given up three shorthanded.

You only have to look to the Notre Dame game to see how good they can be when they are rolling, however. UMD was 3 for 6 in that game. They were 3 for 9 against Yale and 2 for 8 against Union. All in all, 8 of their 11 goals in the NCAA Tournament have come with the man-advantage. Over the past 11 games, their power play has cashed in on 33.3% (17 of 51).

The lesson here: STAY OUT OF THE BOX!!!!!! Or kill penalties like against North Dakota if you do end up in the sin bin.

5) Defensively, the Bulldogs are 17th, giving up 2.59 goals per game. (As a reference, Michigan has risen to 6th in the national rankings, at 2.21 goals per game.) Their goalie is senior Kenny Reiter. He's 15-7-5 on the season with a 2.32/.914. He's played well in the NCAA Tournament (Most Outstanding Player at the East Regional) but gave up a major softie to get Notre Dame back in the game in the third period. I heard the other two goals weren't anything special either. He can be beaten. From the limited amount that I've watched Duluth in the NCAAs, he seems like a decent puckhandler.

6) The PK is middle of the pack: 27th at 82.2%. (Michigan is 21st at 83.4%.) They have 7 shorties, we have eight. They've been shorthanded 4 more times than Michigan all season. Duluth gets the advantage on the special teams because their power play is much better than ours.

7) The teams haven't played since October of 2001, when they beat us 3-2. I distinctly remember that we were highly-ranked at the time, they were not good. I was working at the Michigan Union Bookstore that day, and when I checked the score line I ended up being really pissed off. Let's not repeat that. Why do I remember that, and I probably couldn't tell you what I had for dinner two days ago?

8) Jack Connolly was named to the All-West First Team as an All-American. Mike was on the second team, along with Carl Hagelin. 

9) Fontaine has points in 11-straight games and has been held off the scoresheet on just three occasions since the start of 2011. He has 11 multi-point games since January 1, including four in the postseason so far. He had three assists against Notre Dame in the semifinals. Jack had an 11-game point streak of his own snapped a few weeks ago, but he has also scored in all but three games this calendar year and has 2-2--4 in the NCAA Tournament. Most of that damage came against Yale. Mike has been held off the scoresheet on five occasions in 2011, but had a five-goal game against Minnesota(!). Strangely enough, that was his only multi-goal game since OCTOBER. And he had FIVE. He has 2-3--5 in the NCAAs. Again, most of that damage (1-3--4) was against top-seed Yale.

10) Travis Oleksuk has just 13 goals on the year, but seven were game-winners. A second-generation Bulldog, he's been their Mr. Clutch.

In reading up about Duluth, it sounds like they're scary offensively, but are largely a one-line team. Michigan will have last change in this game, which is a good sign as we can get Rust's line out there against the Connollys. The defensemen don't activate often, but Faulk is as good as it gets at both ends of the ice. He's got a killer shot on the power play, and that opens things up for the Connollys and Fontaine down low.

Reiter is a pretty good goalie who was excellent in the East Regional, but struggled against Notre Dame.

If Michigan comes out with one more effort like the last three, I fully expect to have "one for the other thumb" tonight. It should be a great game and it could go either way, but I like having last change, I like the way Michigan is playing right now defensively, I love the way they've been killing penalties, they've shown the ability to shut down a ridiculous top line, and Shawn Hunwick is the best goalie in the country right now.

I'm getting ready to head out the door to St. Paul. GO BLUE!

Friday, April 08, 2011

This is How It Feels: Michigan 2, North Dakota 0

Is the above photo classy? No way. But didn't you feel like that when Andrew Volkening shut us out 2-0, despite the Wolverines outshooting Air Force 43-13? Didn't you feel like that when Ryan Miller beat us 1-0 in a game that we outshot Michigan State by a 31-13 count?

This is how it feels to have the goalie that makes opposing fans do...well...that.

Sioux fans are going to think about this game--this season--for the next decade as the one that got away. This is going to be their 1997. The year their team was near unbeatable during the year, actually unbeatable for the 2 1/2 months heading into the tournament, and that damn tiny walk-on goalie slammed the door on them. They're going to be the ones talking in their sleep, saying "F*** Michigan. All they've got is a goalie" the way a friend of mine did about the Spartans after a loss to the Miller-era squad.

North Dakota is an unbelievable hockey team. That was an onslaught for the last forty minutes of the game. After a pretty even first period, especially considering the Sioux had a pair of power plays, North Dakota just absolutely dominated the second and third periods, outshooting Michigan 26-10 down the stretch.

It's so cliche, but this was a true team victory. It sounds funny to say in a game where Michigan got outshot 40-20, but the defense was pretty darn good. Hunwick had to make 7 or 8 dandies, and you would clearly put this in the category of the goaltender stealing a game, but the sticks were active, guys back-checked like crazy and for the most part they kept the Sioux from getting those second and third chances with everyone running around. They played a really darn good game against a team with unbelievable depth. Guys like Carl Hagelin and Louie Caporusso didn't do much in the offensive end, but they were earning their scholarships in their own end of the ice. Matt Rust was a beast. That was one of the only things that Barry Melrose got right the entire night.

And leave it to maybe the most under-appreciated player on the team to score the game-winning goal. Ben Winnett. Gotta admit, never been a fan. Probably get down on him more than I ought to. But despite the fact that he never turned into the scoring threat offensively that we all kind of expected with him coming out of the BCHL and all, he has turned into a really strong defensive player--and he probably doesn't get enough credit for that. Tonight he's one of the heroes. Jon Merrill's shot from the point hit the post and came back out to Winnett. The puck hopped over his stick--I'll admit, I groaned--but it caromed around and Winnett corralled it to the goalie's left. He had nothing but the net to shoot at and he buried it.

Amazingly, that was all Michigan needed. In the middle of the second period, I was thinking that they really needed to turn the tables a little bit because there's no way that could keep up for another 30 minutes, but it did. North Dakota threw everything they had at Michigan and #31 just kept stopping them. The defense kept dumping it out and getting off the ice when they could. It's hard to describe how exhausting this game was to watch. It was like 40 minutes of watching CC's power play. The teams could have switched ends halfway through the third period and North Dakota would have had a clean sheet of ice to work with.

But then it was Carl Hagelin blocking a shot, Michigan rushing the puck up ice and making the extra pass, Scooter Vaughan popping it into the empty net, and we're playing Saturday night for the National freaking CHAMPIONSHIP!

The opponent? Minnesota-Duluth, who defeated Notre Dame 4-3 earlier today. More on them tomorrow.

Michigan's defense was at its absolute best during the four North Dakota power plays that resulted in just five shots on goal. No single power play had more than two shots in the two minutes. On the power play that I really thought was going to do us in--when Michigan was called for too many men on the ice--they clamped down and held the Sioux to one shot on goal. The two power plays early in the game resulted in just three shots. Amazingly, the Sioux offense was probably better when they weren't up a man.

Hunwick stole the show, though. He just barely got a glove on a shot from Matt Frattin from the circles after an awful giveaway, but it was enough to knock it wide. He bailed out Treais after another blind pass to the middle of the ice went awry. He went post-to-post to stop Gregoire after he got in around the defense. He stoned Genoway on what was a great scoring chance. The "Pony Express" line put an unreal twenty shots on goal and Hunwick turned away all of them. Despite all the shots, they ended up with no points and were a combined -6 on the night.

This was a team that hadn't scored fewer than three goals in a game in 2 1/2 months. And despite Gary Thorne using the s-word a good five times in the first minute of the third period, they didn't put a single puck past Hunwick. Not bad for the fourth-best goaltender in the CCHA. Scooter Vaughan called him the best goalie in the nation and it's hard to argue at this point. He's kind of going John Curry on everybody.

I figured if the Wolverines were to win, Hunwick would need to be the best player on the ice and it'd have to be a low scoring game. I wasn't counting on a performance like that, however. After being a run-and-gun team for so much of the last decade, it's really impressive to see Michigan completely transform into a defense-first team who is just doing what it takes to win hockey games. And it's nice to finally be on the right-end of one of these performances.

The complete sweep of the WCHA is in play. Time for a road trip to hopefully see the Wolverines bring home National Championship #10.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Frozen Four Preview: 10 Things to Know About North Dakota

Our opponents in the National Semifinal are those Nazi-loving, inbred hicks from the prairie: The North Dakota Fighting Sioux TBDs.

Coming into the tournament, it was kind of a toss-up for the team that everyone wanted to avoid: BC or North Dakota. The Eagles were knocked out in the first round, but no such luck with the Sioux. They dispatched RPI 6-0 in the lone opening-weekend game that I didn't watch a significant part of. They then beat Denver 6-1 to make it to the Frozen Four.

Here are 10 things to know about North Dakota:

1) They come into this weekend 32-8-3 on the year and a perfect 5-0-0 at neutral sites. They won the WCHA by 6 points and beat Denver in double overtime to take home the WCHA Tournament Championship. Somehow Yale, the second-place team in the EZAC, was the #1 overall seed. This is a perfect example of why the Pairwise is stupid.

2) The Sioux have only lost three games since Thanksgiving and have gone 14-0-1 since January 28th, outscoring their opponents 78-20 over that 15-game stretch. In that time period, they didn't score fewer than three goals in a game and only gave up as many as three on two occasions. That's the bad news.

The good news is that they weren't exactly facing Murderer's Row in that stretch. They had four wins against Denver and CC, but the other 11 games were been Anchorage (2), St Cloud (2), Bemidji (2), Tech (4), and RPI. There were 4 games decided by a single goal (or two with an ENG) and one tie. 3 of their last 5 have been decided by one goal (or two with an ENG). Still, going 15 games without losing and beating your opponent by an average of 5.2-1.33 (repeating of course) is impressive no matter who you're playing.

3) They're led by Hobey-Finalist Matt Frattin, who has had a career year in the actual sense of the word. After posting a 28-31--59 line through the first three years of his career, Frattin has put up 36-24--60 this season. He has a 15-game point streak, which not coincidentally coincides with the 15-game unbeaten streak that the Sioux are currently on. He has averaged almost 2 points-per-game over that span, granted 12 of the 29 were in the four games against Tech. He had a 9-game goal streak snapped against Denver in the Midwest Regional Final.

4) It's not just him, however. The Sioux have four other players with 40+ points on the year. Corbin Knight has 14-30--44. Jason Gregoire has 25 goals and 43 points (in 34 games). Evan Trupp and Brad Malone have also each cracked the 40-point barrier. Malone, in particular, has filled up the stat sheet. He has 5 game-winners, six on the power play, and has 108 penalty minutes for good measure.

Then beyond that you've got a 37-point scorer (defenseman Chay Genoway) and three more forwards with more than 20 points. It's going to be a hold-your-breath type game.

Michigan and North Dakota are pretty even in terms of points from defensemen. The Sioux have gotten 111 points from their blueliners. Michigan has 108.

5) They don't give up much at the other end of the ice either. After Brad Eidsness started 82 games the last two seasons, he only played 7 this year because sophomore Aaron Dell has taken the job. Dell was the First Team WCHA Goalie. He had a record of 30-6-2 with a 1.81 and a .924. He's tops in the country in goals-against average and eighth in save percentage.

6) The special teams? Also very good. The power play is seventh in the nation at 23.3%. They have given up 7 SHGs, though. They're 5th on the PK at 86.0% and have scored 11 while down a man. Overall, they're +28 on the specialty teams. Frattin has 10 with the man-advantage, and they've got four guys with at least 6.

7) They have the #2 offense and the #3 defense in the country. That ranks them second in scoring margin (+2.00 goals per game) behind only Yale, which doesn't really count since we all know the ECAC sucks.

8) The recent tournament history between these teams hasn't gone in our favor. North Dakota knocked the Wolverines out in the first round of the 06 and 07 tournaments. The 2006 game was kind of a given, though it was hard to be upset after Minnesota got beat by Holy Cross earlier in the day. The 2007 game was that strange, strange game where we scored 5 goals in the first 21 minutes of the game, and still found ourselves trailing by 2 midway through the second period because, well, Billy Sauer and our PK.....

9) Genoway leads the team with 8 points in 6 NCAA Tournament games. Frattin has 2-5--7. Malone has 4 goals to lead the team. Dell's two starts this year have been his only action in tournament games. For Michigan, Hagelin leads the team with 3-2--5 in 8 games. Kevin Lynch has 2-1--3 in four games. Chad Langlais has 4 points and is +7 back on the blue line. In net, Shawn Hunwick is 3-1-0 with a 1.59 and a .938. In postseason play (CCHA and NCAA Tournaments) in his career, Hunwick is 12-2-0 with a 1.71/.930. Stellar numbers.

10) North Dakota's "Pony Express" line of Frattin, Malone, and Trupp had 5-6--11 in the Midwest Regional and has 11-13--24 in UND's six playoff games this season. Ben Blood leads the NCAA with a +33 rating.

All in all, this is a matchup that on paper North Dakota should win. They're in the top-ten nationally in offense, defense, penalty kill, power play. They have the top goalie in the WCHA and are coming into the Frozen Four playing their best hockey. They have a huge edge on special teams.

That being said, for as impressive as all the numbers are, they've only won four more games than the Wolverines. Maybe I just bitch a lot, but I really didn't feel like Michigan had that great of a regular season. But the teams are in the same spot and it's one game with a berth in the NCAA Championship on the line.

Shawn Hunwick has proven to be stellar in the postseason. Michigan comes in having gone 11-1-0 in their last 12, so it's not like they've stumbled into this matchup. They're playing pretty darn good hockey in their own right. It's highly likely that they'll have Brandon Burlon back in the lineup after complications from strep throat forced him out of the CCHA Championship Weekend as well as the first two rounds of the tournament. And this team played as close to a perfect defensive game as you can possibly play against Colorado College in the West Regional Final.

In one-and-done anything can happen, but there are a couple of things that tilt this matchup in North Dakota's favor:
1) They have last change. That was the key to the victory over Colorado College. Red Berenson could get the match-up he wanted any time the Schwartzes were on the ice. He won't have that luxury tomorrow.
2) The special teams. North Dakota has a top-ranked power play and a top-ranked penalty kill. Michigan has struggled at times with both. They did a nice job against UNO and CC, but they've also had games where it's been avert-your-eyes bad. If Michigan can play them to a draw on the special teams, that's a major victory.
3) The crowd. While the Minnesota fans in attendance may be on Michigan's side, there is going to be a LOT of green in that crowd. Michigan was great at home this year (16-2-3) but went just 7-6-3 on the road. If it's closer to a road game than a neutral-site (5-2-0) game, that's a little more problematic as well. The Sioux just played at the XCel Center a couple of weeks ago. They're more familiar with the venue and they'll have the crowd advantage.

That being said, it is one and done hockey. Michigan's goalie is as good as anyone in the country. The defense corps is as good as any in the country. We know the coach is as good as any in the country. Maybe this isn't the Michigan team of recent memory that can afford to run-and-gun with a team like North Dakota. Maybe this is the team that has to play sound defensive hockey and try to muck out a win. They're certainly capable of piling up goals, we just haven't seen it with a ton of consistency. I think if Michigan is going to win tomorrow, it needs to be a lower scoring game. A 3-2 type of game. I don't know that they can get into a contest where they need to score 5 goals to win.

I believe in this team, I believe in Shawn Hunwick. I don't want tomorrow to be the last time I get to yell "BORK, BORK, BORK!". I really want to road-trip to the Twin Cities for the championship game on Saturday. One game, a spot in the title game on the line.

North Dakota is the best team remaining in the tournament, but as Brendan Morrison said, sometimes the best team doesn't always win.

Go. Blue.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Having a Seat Over There: Motte, Allen Lead Honeybaked to National Title

Congrats to Tyler Motte, Evan Allen, and the rest of the Detroit Honeybaked U16s, who defeated Shattuck St. Mary's 3-2 today to capture the U16 National Championship. Shattuck led 1-0 headed to the third period before Allen scored to tie the game. Shattuck regained the lead with just over 8 1/2 minutes left in regulation, but Motte scored one minute later to tie the game at two. Motte then scored the game-winning goal with 1:50 left to give Honeybaked a 3-2 win.

Motte finished the tournament with a 3-3--6 line in 6 games. He was second on the team in points.

Allen had 6-5--11 to lead the team in goals, assists, and points. His totals included a 2-1--3 line in their semifinal win and a 1-3--4 line in a 4-3 overtime win against JT Compher's Team Illinois. Motte also assisted on the GWG in that game. Compher had a goal in that contest and finished with a 2-2--4 line in 4 games.

Thanks to reader TJ for pointing out that the championship was today and that Motte had scored the game-winner.