Saturday, December 29, 2012

GLI Preview

After a disaster of a first-half, the Wolverines come back from the Christmas break looking to get back to the program's usual winning ways. A shutout win over Western Michigan to close the semester was a nice start. Now they'll take on Michigan Tech and either Michigan State or those same Broncos in the 48th Great Lakes Invitational.

The tournament was originally supposed to take place yesterday and today at Comerica Park, but because this is a lockout year in the NHL it was moved back indoors to the familiar confines of Joe Louis Arena and shifted to the current Saturday/Sunday format.

Michigan's first opponent is the Michigan Tech Huskies, and this will be the first time that Red Berenson has gone head-to-head against longtime assistant coach Mel Pearson, now the head man for the Huskies, as well as Assistant Coaches Steve Shields and Bill Muckalt.

In his first year, Pearson took the Huskies to just their second 15-win season since 98-99 with a 16-19-4 record, more wins than the previous three seasons combined. This year hasn't gone nearly as well, though. They currently sit at 4-10-3, bad for 11th in winning percentage in the WCHA. They do have a win over Minnesota to their credit. The other three have come against Bemidji State (2) and LSSU.

The Huskies are winless in their last seven contests. In their most recent action, they lost 6-1 and 4-1 at home against North Dakota. They've also only scored 7 goals in their last five games.

They're led in goals by sophomore Blake Pietila's 10. Pietila, however, is playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championships in Russia and will miss the GLI. To even things up, Michigan will be missing Jacob Trouba for the same reason. The Huskies' next leading goal-scorer is Dennis Rix with five. Both freshman Alex Petan and sophomore David Johnstone have 13 points on the season (4-9--13 lines) to lead the team. Petan has gone scoreless in his last five games, but Johnstone has been on fire. He has 10 points in his last eight games. All of Jujhar Khaira's 3 goals have come on the power play. Steven Seigo has 4 goals and 8 points on the blueline. They don't get a lot of offense out of the rest of them.

In net, they haven't been so dissimilar to Michigan. Freshman Pheonix (sic) Copley is 1-6-0 with a 4.36/.851 (this is the part where you say "Oh hell, those numbers are better than Rutledge's" and start cursing John Gibson and the bank account of the Kitchener Rangers*) and Jamie Phillips is 0-1. Senior Kevin Genoe is 3-3-3 with a 3.28/.902. Copley has only played one game since early November and has given up 3+ goals in every game he's played this year. Phillips's start was on 12/4, but it's been mostly Genoe over the last two months. I'm guessing we'll see Genoe because, yeah.

The Wolverines have won 10 in a row and 18 of 19 against Michigan Tech. All of the GLI games will air on either Fox Sports Detroit or FSD+.

On Sunday, the Wolverines will draw either the 5-10-2 Spartans or the 11-4-1 WMU Broncos, in a rematch of a really entertaining series at Yost from a couple of weeks ago. I'm not expert, but it seems like we're going to need all the PWR help we can get, so it'd be a nice boost to get wins over Michigan Tech (WCHA opponent) and Western Michigan (RPI, record against TUC), even if realistically the Wolverines are probably going to need to win the CCHA Tournament to make the NCAAs unless they get on a mega-run.

In other news, Mike Spath reported that Jon Merrill is skating with the team, and could return as soon as next weekend, pending the outcome of a doctor visit on 1/2. Again, that would be huge for Michigan's chances of getting this thing turned around. The defense has been part of the problem and adding one of the best defensemen in the country certainly helps with that.

Trouba is over in Russia at the World Junior Championships. Team USA is 1-1-0 after dropping a 2-1 decision to the host team today. Trouba has goals in both games, and was named Team USA's most outstanding player after today's game.

There have also been a couple of recruiting tidbits bandied about. Spath mentioned that the team is evaluating options in net for the future. As he said, it's too late for 2013 and they'd have to get cracking to find someone for 2014, but the play in net has been too poor and too inconsistent to chance it that one of the two will be the long-term answer. I still think it's too early to give up on either Racine or Rutledge (though I firmly think that Janecyk should be given every chance to steal the job). We saw how bad Sauer was when he started out and he was a pretty darn good goalie by the end of his time at Michigan. Some improved team defense combined with a couple of good outings in a row would probably do wonders. The problem is that they probably waited too long for them to play their way out of it and the margin for error is completely gone. Berenson has indicated that it isn't a given that Janecyk will get the start (he wanted to see something in practice today) but I'd be shocked if he's not between the pipes given how the season has gone for the freshmen and how Janecyk fared in his last start.

The other tidbit is that Keith Tkachuk and his son Matthew were at Yost visiting. Spath thinks there's maybe a 30-40% chance they land him.

*Because who likes people with money? I'm certainly not implying that the Rangers paid Gibson or did anything untoward in getting him to come play for them. Don't sue me, bro.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wolverines Earn Split with Western

Yeah, you're damn right I found a picture of Janecyk from last year! (Thanks, Bill!)
Photo: Bill Rapai
On Friday night, the Wolverines were again beaten on their home ice in front of a national-television audience as the Broncos took a 4-1 victory. Michigan got off to a good start, registering the first six shots of the game, and then generated next to nothing else over the next 40 minutes or so. The Broncos tallied 21 of the next 25 shots in the game and built a 3-0 lead on goals by Ben Warda, Luke Witkowski, and Justin Kovacs. The Wolverines would draw back within two on Phil Di Giuseppe's second of the year, but despite a 13-3 shot advantage in the third period, they were unable to get the puck past Frank Slubowski again. Dane Walters added an empty-netter to reach the final margin of victory.

One the Broncos' first goal, Steve Racine was screened in front by Brennan Serville and Kovacs, but Warda's shot trickled through his five-hole as he went down. Then with the Broncos on the power play, Witkowski snuck in front the right point and Racine got most of his shot from the middle of the ice, but it had enough juice to make it over the goal line. I think he'd probably want both of those goals back even if he didn't really see the first one. It'd hard to see something go five-hole when you're already down on the ice and not sliding in one direction or the other. 

In the second, just to show that there's plenty of blame to go around, the team completely hung Racine out on the third goal. WMU had the puck around their own blueline and a good 3-4 of the Wolverines went for a line change, leaving Chiasson back by his lonesome. He couldn't do anything to take the pass away as Western hit the late man and Kovacs deked his way around Racine. 

Di Giuseppe had a really nice goal to give the Wolverines some life. He won a battle in the corner, then circled back out by the left dot. They got the pass to him and he ripped one into the top part of the net. That one looked like it felt really good. They need to get PDG going again. 

The story of the game may have come in the first period when the Wolverines had a long 5-on-3 power play. Not only did they not score, they didn't generate a shot on goal. Not only did they not generate a shot on goal, but WMU had the best scoring chance. On a breakaway. By a defenseman. Haar made a nice read and got to a pass in the direction of the point man that wasn't nearly had enough. He chipped it by and was off to the races. Racine forced him to go wide and Haar hit the post. 

Racine did make a few nice saves in the game, and 3 goals on 28 shots (especially with 9 of them on WMU's high-powered PP) isn't bad. This team isn't good enough right now, though, to overcome many goals period, let alone soft ones.

Now, I don't get to say "I told you so" very often. It's exceedingly rare as a matter of fact. But I was firmly on the "Give Janecyk a shot" bandwagon from about the 6th game on. I'm well aware that Michigan's problems are a lot greater in number than just the goaltender(s). We've seen it too many times in the past, though, how a new goalie can spark a team (Hunwick coming in three years ago) or how sometimes a team will play in front of one guy and not another (Billy Sauer's senior year). It was clear something had to change. You had two freshmen struggling to stop pucks with a sluggish team in front of them. At the end of the bench, though, you had a guy who was really solid in two of his three appearances last season, who has at least shown that he can keep the team in the game on a given night (and who has a nice goaltending pedigree in the family--his dad played about 100 games in net in the NHL). It made sense to me that you should throw him in to see if he can spark something.

On Saturday night Adam Janecyk finally got that chance. He made his first start of the season and it went really well. The game wasn't televised (at least not in Wisconsin), but from the sound of it it was one of the best team games they've played the entire season. Janecyk was solid between the pipes, making 25 saves in a 2-0 win, earning the #1 star for his first career shutout. He quickly credited the team's play in front of him, but part of the team playing well is having a goalie making the saves that he should make, and Janecyk did at least that. 

After two scoreless periods, Brennan Serville got the Wolverines on the board with the first of his career, a shot up under the bar after Copp's initial shot was blocked. 

One of the hidden plays that doesn't really show up in the boxscore but was critical in the game: Trouba tried a wraparound but slipped coming around the net and the puck laid right out in front. WMU had a chance to clear the zone, but PDG picked Haar's pocket and kept it in. He was hooked, which put Michigan on the power play. Trouba would blast one home to give the Wolverines some breathing room. It was a nothing play but Di Giuseppe makes a nice play, turns it into a power play chance, and Michigan finally was able to capitalize. PDG showed up in the highlights on quite a few occasions this weekend. Maybe the goal he had on Friday night helps get him going again.

They were able to complete the shutout and head into the GLI being able to feel good about themselves. And maybe, just maybe, they found the spark that will start the turnaround. 

What I really loved seeing was the confidence expressed on Twitter after the game, and the number of guys who voiced their happiness for Janecyk. (I especially loved seeing Rutledge and Racine tweet support for him. Pure class all the way out of those two. That's being a great teammate even when your own seasons haven't gone the way you'd want them to.)

They'll be off for a couple of weeks again. The next game will be against a struggling Michigan Tech team in the GLI, and then they'll either get WMU again or FYS in the championship/consolation game. This is a very, very winnable tournament, though Michigan will be without Jacob Trouba (World Juniors). Win the GLI and it could spark something in the second half. 

Their room for error is completely gone and they may have to win the CCHA Tournament even with a great second half, but at least for one night there's hope. They needed something to go right for them, and getting solid goaltending and a full team effort in taking down one of the better teams in the country just may be it. It's probably expecting too much for lightning to strike twice and for Janecyk to turn into another Hunwick, but if he can stabilize the back-end, maybe they can get this season turned around. They've still got problems. The power play is 1 for their last 34. There are still plenty of guys not producing offensively like they need to. But if you keep the goals against down to 2 or so, you're going to be in the game most nights. It all starts on defense and they got that phase working against a good offensive team. 

There's still a long way to go in order to right the ship, but I'm not quite ready to write them off just yet. Friday I was close. I really thought Janecyk was the last hope to get it turned around and it looks like he'll have a shot.

In other news, I picked the winner in my Verizon Droid RAZR HD giveaway. After picking a couple of numbers for ineligible entries (one person didn't comment about the device itself and one was my comment), here was the winning number:

Congrats to Holly Marie on winning the RAZR and the $50 Verizon gift card. Be sure to let me know how you like it! Thanks again to Verizon for offering my readers this opportunity. That was a lot of fun.

Just a reminder: I have a relationship with Verizon through their Midwest Sports Blogger program. They've given me a couple of devices and service for five months in exchange for bringing my readers my honest opinions about the devices. Periodically I get to do fun things like giveaways as well!

Friday, December 07, 2012

Verizon Wireless Giveaway - Win a Free Droid RAZR HD + Gift Card

As you all know, I'm a big fan of Verizon Wireless. They sponsor Will Power, my favorite racecar driver, I love their service, and earlier this year they offered me an opportunity to be a part of a group of bloggers who get to try out some of their devices for free in exchange for bringing our readers our honest opinions about them.

I've been playing with the Droid RAZR M for the past couple of months--I'll have a post coming before too long about that--and now they've given me a prize pack to give away to a lucky reader of this site: The winner will receive a new Droid RAZR HD as well as a $50 Verizon gift card

The RAZR HD launched as the most compact 4.7" smartphone on the market and contains such features as:

  • An 8-megapixel camera and HD display that makes movies, photos, magazines and websites appear with vibrant clarity.
  • Circles Widget makes it easy to view battery life, text notifications, missed calls or weather updates, right on the home screen.
  • Near-field communications-enabled, so customers can use Android Beam to share contacts, documents and maps directly to compatible phones.
  • A battery that allows for up to 32 hours of normal use and double the internal storage (of older RAZR phones) to 32 GB.
  • Runs over 4G LTE, combined with Chrome for Android, meaning customers can enjoy blazing fast speeds that make downloading documents or surfing the Web a breeze.
  • Device is Global Ready, so calling home or sending emails is possible from more than 205 countries around the world.
It's also built with Gorilla Glass and KEVLAR fiber, so it's a durable little bugger! 

In order to enter the sweepstakes, all you have to do is leave a comment on this post before December 14th (I'll cut off entries at 8 am CST on 12/14) that answers the question: "What Droid RAZR feature are you the most excited about?" 

To enter, you must be a resident of the United States. Also, given that I allow anonymous comments on this blog, you must either log-in to leave your comment in a way that includes your email address or otherwise leave me some way to get in touch if you win. Also, please only enter one giveaway and only leave one comment. Duplicate entries will be disqualified. 

Each comment will be numbered (comment 1 = #1) and at the end I will use a random number generator to pick the winner. I won't re-number the comments in the case of ineligible entries or comments that aren't actually entries into the contest, I'll just draw again should their comment number be pulled. And my decision is final.

I've really enjoyed using the RAZR that Verizon Wireless gave me earlier this year. It's fast to load everything, the service is awesome (even in the semi-rural area that I live in), the camera is solid, it's got a lot of memory, and the screen is really nice. It just got upgraded to Jellybean and that's an awesome operating system. 

The phone that I'm giving away a step up from the RAZR I've been using, so I'm sure whoever wins it will really enjoy it! 

Good luck to all, and thanks to Verizon!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Looking Ahead to Ferris

Photo: Bill Rapai
After a semi-fairly comfortable win over Bowling Green last Wednesday, Michigan traveled to Madison Square Garden to take on Cornell, the team that knocked them out of the postseason last year. They did not come away with the same result as their basketball-playing classmates, getting rolled 5-1 by a Cornell team that hadn't won in almost a month.

What do you even say at this point? Is the problem the goaltending? Team defense? An offense that's suddenly ice-cold and has fallen to 10th nationally? Unfortunately it's probably all of the above, which means there's a lot of work to do if the Wolverines are going to keep their NCAA-record tournament streak alive.

This week Michigan goes on the road for a two-game series against Ferris State. Last year's national runners-up is 6-4-2 on the season and sitting at 5-3-0-0 in the CCHA, which is good for a three-way tie for second place, one point behind Miami (or, more accurately, two games in the loss column behind Notre Dame). The Bulldogs are coming off their first sweep of the season, against Bowling Green, and have won three in a row. They've actually played an exceptionally weak schedule to this point (RPI, Mercyhurst, Alaska, Miami (the one tough opponent), LSSU, BGSU), so they may not be as strong as the CCHA standings indicate. RPI beat them and tied them, and just recently won another game.

The outstanding Taylor Nelson is no longer on the team, but they are still just fine in net. CJ Motte, brother of 2012-13 Michigan signee Tyler Motte, has played all but 20 minutes for the Bulldogs. He has a 2.20/.928 on the year. He hasn't given up more than 3 goals in a game, but he has done that on seven different occasions. He has shut out Miami twice in two years, so he can step it up when it matters. He posted very similar numbers a year ago, despite most of his action coming on the road.

Chad Billins (a 29 point-scorer from back on the blueline) is also gone, as is leading scorer Jordie Johnston. The Bulldogs' top returning scorer, Matthew Kirzinger, hasn't played all year. 19-goal scorer Kyle Bonis is back, and in fine form. He leads the team with a 6-5--11 line in 12 games, with 4 PPGs. Cory Kane had 11 points as a sophomore, but already has 9 this year. Simon Denis had 13 points in 30 games on defense last year. He's already got 8 points.

The Bulldogs rank 17th in scoring at 3 goals per game and 20th in defense at 2.5 goals per game. They're fifth on the power play, largely thanks to Bonis, at 25.6%. The PK is pretty good as well at 85%.

Michigan needs to start getting sweeps, but this feels like a split. And it feels like I'd be happy with that.

Ferris offers streaming video, so each game can be purchased for $7.95. Yup. Even a bitch-school like Ferris can offer streaming video..........

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Wolverines Swept By Irish, Now 4-6-1

Trouba in happier times, against FYS
Photo: Bill Rapai

After looking like they may have turned a corner with a 5-1 win over Michigan State last Friday night, the Wolverines have lost three straight and now find themselves two games below .500 and with an ugly 2-5-1-1 record in CCHA play, bad for 9th in the conference.

This past weekend, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish came into Yost and skated out with 3-1 and 4-1 victories, both of which were closer than the final score indicated, though that's small consolation. With something along the lines of 80 former players in town for the Yost rededication ceremony, that wasn't the weekend Michigan was hoping for.

On Thursday night in a nationally televised game, the Wolverines came out and played an excellent first period, They took a 1-0 lead on the first goal of Justin Selman's career after Robbie Russo's clearing attempt went right to him. Selman walked in alone and put one past Steve Summerhays and up under the bar. Shots were even at 9, but the Wolverines largely carried the play.

After that, though? It was all Notre Dame. Just as in the first period, the shots were even (13-13) but one team more or less dominated, that being the Irish. They tied the game up on a Mike Voran short-handed goal early in the second, and Michigan seemed fortunate to get out of the second period with the game tied. On the goal, the Irish took control deep in their end and hit on a long pass to Tynan at the far blueline. It looked like Michigan had gone for a change, so it was Voran and Tynan against one Wolverine. The pass got across and Voran blasted a one-timer past Racine.

In the third Michigan never seemed to get anything going in the offensive end. The Irish outshot Michigan by a 10-3 count and added two goals late in the contest to earn a 3-1 victory. Bryan Rust scored on a wraparound with just over five minutes left in regulation and then Peter Schneider was given credit for an insurance goal with about 1:30 remaining when a shot that was well wide deflected in off Mike Chiasson's shin pads. It's been that kind of season so far for Michigan.

Steve Racine made 29 saves in the loss and was decidedly not the problem. He was spectacular at times, keeping Michigan in a game that they had no business being in after the first period. He made a couple of fantastic post-to-post stops. At one point, I made the joke on Twitter that he had committed so many robberies that Mark Dantonio told him he could be on the practice field on Monday.

The Wolverines actually missed a few chances to get out of the first period with a much larger lead. Jacob Trouba ripped one off the post, Justin Selman just missed a post by a couple of inches on a puck that slid through the goalmouth, Boo deked his way to an empty net and had the puck roll off his stick, Copp rung one off the bar, and that was all in the first period. After that? I don't know what happened. The SHG had to be deflating, but they never mounted anything resembling an offensive attack the rest of the game.

The next night was pretty similar. We're 1-1 after two periods, shots are 15-12 Michigan, and things just came apart late in the third period. This time, the Irish scored 2 1/2 minutes apart to build a 3-1 lead and then added an empty-netter for the final margin of victory. Jacob Trouba scored unassisted for the Wolverines off another ND turnover. The puck rolled to the faceoff circle and Trouba absolutely uncorked one into the net. Michigan nearly took a lead when PDG came in on a partial breakaway, but after a nice move he hit it off both goalposts. Again, that kind of season.

The Irish regained the lead off a bad turnover by DeBlois that got dumped into the Michigan end, where Moffie had a brutal turnover behind the net. Rust centered it for Costello and he easily slid it by Racine. Mario Lucia added another goal when Chiasson tried to shovel the puck out of the slot and put it right onto Lucia's stick. He roofed one. No chance for Racine, and another home loss for Michigan, making 4 on the year.

On the plus side, Racine was really good in net Thursday night and you couldn't fault him for the goals that got past him Friday either. They also had tie games deep in the third period against a really solid Notre Dame team when they weren't really playing that well. I suppose that's a positive, even though both games got away really quickly.

In the minus column? Sloppy turnovers and absolutely nothing in the way of offense outside of the first period Thursday. (I didn't see Friday's game, but there weren't a whole lot in the way of highlights of scoring chances, outside of one Selman look.) Both goals were off bad ND turnovers, so they didn't create a whole lot on their own.

It's still only a quarter of the way through the season and there's plenty of time to right the ship (North Dakota does this every year, seemingly). But with a road-heavy schedule in the second half, they really need to start playing better sooner rather than later.

Michigan returns to the ice on Wednesday for a single game at Yost against Bowling Green. The Falcons have struggled this year, but they do have Andrew Hammond in net, so they're always an upset threat. They haven't scored more than 3 all season, so hopefully this will be a good way for Michigan's beleaguered defense to get back to playing sound hockey in their own end. There is no more College Hockey Showcase, but the Wolverines will head to Madison Square Garden to play Cornell on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Hopefully the Maize and Blue faithful will get to see three wins at MSG this holiday week, with the basketball team playing there twice as well.

Last thing: The signing period is underway and the Wolverines have recieved LOIs from Evan Allen, Bryson Cianfrone, and Michael Downing at the very least. Those are the three that have posted on Twitter that they've signed. Allen, though, is said to be considering going the OHL route. Unfortunately one of the usual suspects, Windsor, holds Allen's rights, so I'm sure that's a battle that will be going until the very end.

Zach Hyman will be playing in the Maccabiah Games, the "Jewish Olympics", over the summer.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Michigan State Preview

Wrapping up NMU:
Michigan took just two points against the Northerns last weekend, and they were probably lucky to get that much. On Friday night they trailed 4-1 after two periods before mounting a miracle comeback that culminated in AJ Treais's goal with 0.6 seconds left in regulation. Michigan then won in a shootout on another Treais goal. Saturday it was more of the same. The Wolverines trailed 4-1 after two for the second straight night and for the second straight night they mounted a comeback. They fell just short, however, by a 4-3 score.

The big story of the weekend was Jacob Trouba getting a five-minute major and a DQ for absolutely wrecking Reed Seckel. Video has surfaced:

With the way the game is called these days and with the emphasis on preventing concussions, that's going to be a DQ. Truth be told, though, the guy has his head down, he's leaning forward, and Trouba is a big dude to start with. He's going to hit him in the head whether he wants to or not. I get that they are putting the onus on the hitter to do it safely and with the way the rule reads that's the right call, but man....get your head up, son.

That's the way I skate, and I could never play in a checking league because I would die within five minutes. I don't have a problem with the DQ and subsequent game suspension, especially because the hit was with just over five minutes left in regulation, but if he had gotten any more than that I wouldn't have been happy. It's going to end up being just like in the early 2000s when they ejected players for any hit from behind, no matter how insignificant it was. I remember Porter getting tossed for one that was just comical.

In other news, AJ Treais has seven goals in seven games, which puts him third nationally in that category behind guys from Dartmouth and Yale. So that puts him first nationally in that category. Only Giancarlo Iuorio from Niagara has more goals. Mac Bennett is second national in points per game amongst defensemen with 9. Trouba is first amongst rookie defensemen and 6th nationally amongst freshmen in points per game. And destroyed Northerns.

So. Remember in my season preview when I wrote this:
What I'm getting at is that this isn't likely to be a Michigan team that is going to win games 5-4. The strength of this team is unquestionably the blueline as opposed to having blue-chip talent up front or a Hobey-candidate between the pipes.
That couldn't possibly have been more wrong. Currently the Wolverines rank first in the nation, scoring a whopping 4.43 goals per game. The downside? They're 50th nationally allowing 3.43 goals per game.

Jared Rutledge will be back between the pipes Friday night and we're going to see what he's made of. It's hard to imagine more pressure being on a young goalie in a regular season game in the second month of the season. He needs a good performance and it's a rivalry game against FYS. I really hope the crowd is supportive and doesn't get on him or get audibly anxious if he gives up a bad goal in the early going.

The Spartans rank 38th in offense (2.50 goals per game) and 39th in defense at 3.00 goals per game. As I'm sure you can imagine with numbers like those, it hasn't been a good start to the year for the young Spartan team, which features just four NHL draft picks. Minnesota did to them in their opening weekend what Alabama did to our football team. The only difference is our players weren't on Twitter saying that Jerry Sandusky would be proud of what Minnesota was doing and saying that Mike Szuma could play goal for them. Since then, they earned a win and a tie against Niagara before splitting with LSSU and BGSU.

They're led offensively by sophomore Matt Berry and freshman Matt DeBlouw, a draft pick of Calgary, with 3-4--7 lines in the eight games they've played. They combined for 8 of those 14 points in their 6-1 win over BGSU last Saturday. All of Berry's goals have come with the man advantage. In fact, 9 of FYS's 20 goals have come with an extra attacker. Their PP is 25.7%, good for 9th nationally. The PK is 23rd at 85.7%.

The Spartans also have a freshman named David Bondra. Like, Bondra Bondra, son of 2x 50-goal scorer and former Detroit Viper Peter Bondra. He has 1 assist in 8 games.

On the blueline, freshman John Draeger has chipped in with four points. Matt Grassi is their senior leader. In net, DREW PALMISANO IS FROM ANN ARBOR has graduated. Will Yanakeff WHO ALSO PLAYED IN ANN ARBOR AT USA is still there and is 2-3-1 with an ugly 3.49/.884, which was no doubt hurt by that awful weekend against the Gophers. Freshman Jake Hildebrand is 1-1-0 with a 1.72/.938. He picked up a win against the Lakers and was in net for a 1-0 loss to Bowling Green last weekend.

Friday night's game is at Yost. Saturday's game will be at the Munn Memorial Library. Both games will air on Comcast, grumble grumble.

As always, FYS.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

NMU Preview

Jack-O-Latern Johnson (courtesy of my friend Natalie
Michigan travels to Marquette this weekend to face their first road test of the season with a pair of games against the Northerns. #20 NMU is 3-3-0-0 on the young season with a sweep of Wisconsin, a split at Nebraska-Omaha, and a 5-2, 3-2 sweep at the hands of Notre Dame last weekend. They follow that up with a series against Michigan and then a series vs. Miami. Who'd they piss off in the CCHA office? Yikes.

The Wolverines will be without Brennan Serville this weekend. He's not making the trip and Red said he has a "facial concussion", whatever the hell that means. Mike Szuma will dress, and it's especially critical that no defensemen get hurt, as the Wolverines are once again back down to six.

Steve Racine will get the nod on Friday night and apparently if he plays well he'll go again on Saturday. Take that for what you will.

As far as the Wildcats go, Junior Jared Coreau is manning the nets full-time this year after Reid Ellingson graduated. Coreau was gradually stealing playing time away last year and now he's the unquestioned #1. Despite his current 2.78/.907, he's a hoss. Last year he went 12-7-2 with a 2.22/.928. Michigan got to him last year, however, scoring 7 goals on 56 shots in a win and a tie.

Back on the blueline, the Wildcats return their entire defense corps from a year ago, including CJ Ludwig, son of NHL veteran Craig and the winner of NMU's top defenseman award a year ago. Kyle Follmer had 4-22--26 a year ago and was named to this year's CCHA Preseason Second Team.

Matt Thurber put up thirty points last year and he's off to another good start this year, with 6 points in as many games (1-5--6). Sophomore Ryan Daugherty has already matched last year's goal total (3) to tie for the team lead with freshman Cohen Adair, a big forward out of the BCHL who has been a pleasant surprise.

NMU's power play is 2/22 on the season and they've allowed a short-handed goal, so their net total is actually under 5%. (Speaking of, Quinnipiac is 0/24 and have allowed 4 short-handed goals. Ouch.) The PK is 17 for 20.

A year ago, AJ Treais had 2-3--5 in four games against NMU. Lindsay Sparks and Lee Moffie also averaged a point a game. Moffie leads the Wolverines with six career points against the Wildcats. No Wildcat player has scored more than two against Michigan.

Unlike SOME SCHOOLS THAT I KNOW OF, Northern offers streaming video of their games for $7. You can also buy a season pass for $75, and if you're reading this blog, don't have season tickets, and claim that you wouldn't fork out that much for a Michigan version of the same thing, I will call you a damn liar. It's 2012 and this is Michigan fergodsakes. We shouldn't have less access to video of games than Northern Michigan fans. Just saying.

Other Stuff:
-The Daily caught up with Shawn Hunwick, who is playing for the South Carolina Stingrays in the ECHL.
-Mike Legg's goal made #7 on Sportscenter's list of the Top Ten Trick Plays of all-time. Too low, but it was also the only hockey representation on the list. #1 was the Music City Miracle.

Michigan Splits with Miami

Excited Moffatt is excited. Photo: Bill Rapai

Michigan and Miami split the series at Yost this past weekend with the Wolverines winning Friday night's tilt by a 4-2 score and the RedHawks scoring three times in the final frame of Saturday's game to take the finale 4-3.

Miami got out to an early lead on Friday night when Cody Murphy scored a goal that was originally disallowed but awarded after video review. Racine came out behind the net to play the puck but Miami intercepted and centered. Murphy had an empty net to shoot at and it he put it in just before the net was knocked from its moorings.

Michigan answered on a power play later in the first period with Treais firing home a laser from the point. Treais added a second goal at 6:32 of the second period with a little snapper through a defenseman.

Miami knotted the game back up shorthanded when Michigan had a sloppy turnover behind the net trying to set up a breakout and Czarnik jammed it past Racine.

Mike Chiasson of all people scored the game-winner as he got deep into the offensive zone and kind of swung at a loose puck that Guptill had knocked free and chipped it into the net. He had a good laugh about that one after the game.

Guptill added some insurance with just over seven minutes left in regulation as he slammed home a loose puck after a shot by Trouba. Travis Lynch got down the ice to negate an icing and keep the play alive. He then got it back to Trouba for the shot.

Steve Racine made 30 saves in the victory to run his record to 3-0. I only saw what they showed in the highlight clip on MGoBlue, but even in that video he had 4 of 5 blockbuster saves. Trouba had a couple of turnovers in deep and Racine committed absolute larceny to keep the puck out of the net. The goals he allowed were both flukey, but as MGoBlog pointed out on Twitter, he stopped every shot that he was actually in the net for!

The power play wasn't great in the game, going 1 of 7 (14%) and giving up a shorthanded goal, but they did generate ten more shots on goal, and are pretty clearly a lot more dangerous than they were last year. If they keep firing away they're going to get goals.

Photo: Bill Rapai
 On Saturday, despite 31 saves from Jared Rutledge, the Wolverines were unable to hold on to a third period lead and fell 4-3. Miami scored three goals in a 2:41 span early in the third, captializing on an "and-one" situation where they scored on a delayed call and then scored on the ensuing power play.

There aren't highlights on MGoBlue, so I can't speak to what I saw, but from some of the accounts that I read, Rutledge actually played pretty well and just didn't get a lot of help. Coach Berenson was much more complimentary of his young netminder after this one, saying, "He gave us a chance."

Guptill, T. Lynch, and Sparks had the goals for the Wolverines, as Sparks, Lynch, and DeBlois continue to get it done on the "third line" or whatever it is that you want to consider them.

Treais and Trouba both had 4-game point streaks snapped on Saturday.

The Wolverines go on the road to Northern Michigan this weekend for a pair of games.

Other Stuff:
-The Wolverines were poor on faceoffs this weekend, including an awful 1-for-12 effort in their own end on Friday. Yikes.

-The goaltending position is still up in the air after the weekend, though Racine probably has an edge.

-The Winter Classic will likely be canceled on Thursday because the NHL is run by stupid people. This also means the games at Comerica will be called off and the GLI will move back to Joe Louis, which is lame. Hopefully it's a no-brainer to try this again next season, assuming hockey is back by then, which I wouldn't bet my life on. The only people that could screw up hockey worse than Gary Bettman has are the members of the Hulman-George family.

-Matt Slovin went up to Toronto and wrote a stellar story about Zach Hyman. There are some great stories in there about meeting Gordie Howe, the OHL pushing for him to sign, Zach wanting no part of that league, and his transformation into an all-around player. It sounds like the Panthers still think he's a potential NHLer. The lesson here is when you let the Daily kids travel to Toronto, you get great stories. Remember the one about St. Mike's a few years back?

Lastly, I've been playing around with the CHN Go! (College Hockey News's Android app) on the Droid RAZR M that Verizon is letting me test out (Reminder: I was given a device as well as five months of service in exchange for my honest opinions about the product and the things it allows me to do), and it's a pretty solid effort. They've added news stories to it, they have a nice live scoreboard feature, and you can set teams as your favorite and easily view their season results along with detailed boxscores for each game. The screenshot above is their "Tale of the Tape" for Friday's upcoming game against NMU.

There are some things that they still need to work out (the Standings section is kind of a mess) and there are some features that I'm sure will be added later (it'd be MONEY if they had stats for each team) and that I can dream about (if you could easily get to game audio/video if available). Overall it's a very nice app and a good addition to the college hockey coverage that's out there!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Having a Seat Over There: Nolan De Jong

When Brian Wiseman tweeted over the weekend that he was in the Seattle airport, I wondered if he was possibly doing some recruiting out West. Coincidence or not (I don't know if he was recruiting, and if he was I don't know who he went to see), the Wolverines have landed a player from the Pacific Northwest.

According to his Twitter account (@JongShow), Victoria Grizzlies defenseman Nolan De Jong (6'2" 180) has committed to the Wolverines. He was originally a Cornell commit for 2014-15, but says that he will be enrolling next year at Michigan.

In 15 games this year, De Jong has 2-9--11 with 2 power play goals and six penalty minutes. He's fourth on his team in scoring, the top-scoring defenseman, and he's a 95-birthday, while the guys in front of him are all 93s or older. There are only four defensemen in the league with more points at the moment. A year ago, he had 2-15--17 in 56 games for the Grizzlies, en route to winning the team's Rookie of the Year award (along with the Scholastic Award and the Governor's Award).

The Grizz Roar Blog wrote the following about his performance last year:
Nolan Dejong, had a tremendous rookie year last season, playing like seasoned BCHL vet rather than a 16 year old rookie. Dejong, is a defender who doesn't make a lot of mistakes, has great hockey sense and creates opportunities for the team whenever he's part of the attack. A solid two way player.

The Grizzlies play in the BCHL. They're 10-4-0-1 on the season and sit in first place in the Island Division. They are currently 12th in the CJHL top 20 rankings, the second-highest BCHL team listed.

It doesn't look like the full roster has been released yet, but De Jong was named to Canada West's roster for the World Junior A Challenge selection camp, which will take place November 5-11. He was also named a "B" skater on Central Scouting's watch list, pegging him as a potential 2nd-3rd round pick. There were six players from the BCHL on that list, which also included Michigan-commit Dexter Dancs.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Bentley Preview

Photo Credit: Bill Rapai
Just one game for the Maize and Blue this week and it's the Bentley Falcons, out of Atlantic Hockey. The Falcons got off to a great start, downing Sacred Heart 7-1 on Tuesday in their lone game of the season. That result shouldn't have been a shocker--USCHO picked the Falcons to finish third in Atlantic Hockey and Sacred Heart to finish last. Odd stat: All seven of Bentley's goals in that game came on special teams--four on the PP and three shorthanded. The takeaway from that: Sacred Heart is really, really bad.

This won't be a cakewalk for Michigan. Bentley was projected to finish ahead of RIT by USCHO, Inside College Hockey and the Atlantic Hockey Coaches, and the Tigers came in to Yost and knocked off the Wolverines last week. Last year, Michigan swept the series with the Falcons by 5-1 and 4-1 scores, but the games were much closer than the final scores indicated.

Bentley's website recaps:
In the first game, Alex Grieve scored a power play goal in the first period as the Falcons led 1-0 after 20 minutes. Michigan scored twice in the second period, and held a 2-1 lead until there were less than five minutes left in the third. Michigan then scored three goals in a three minute span to put the game away.

In game two, the Wolverines led 1-0 after the first period, but Jared Rickord evened the score at 9:21 of the second period before Michigan's Phil Di Giuseppe gave them a 2-1 lead at 14:31 of the second. The score stayed that way deep into the third period, until Michigan's A.J. Reais (sic) scored at 17:49 and Alex Guptill added a late empty-net goal.

Here was my recap of last year's series.

They finished just 16-16-7 last season but they were a young, young team. Their top seven scorers all return, including the Atlantic Hockey scoring champion, Brett Gensler (23-27--50 in 40 games--13th nationally in points per game). Alex Grieve won Rookie of the Year in the league last year, scoring 34 points and just edging out fellow freshman Brett Switzer (33 points). That duo was 7th and 8th nationally in freshman scoring a year ago. Their top players are off to a good start. Gensler had four points in the win over Sacred Heart and Grieve had a pair of goals.

They're strong in net as well. Junior Branden Komm had a strong season last year (16-14-7, 2.41, .923) after an injury-plagued freshman season. Bentley does, however, have to replace three of their six regulars on the blueline from last year. They bring in the #1 recruiting class in the league to help with that.

The Falcons were middle of the pack in offense (25th nationally) a year ago, but the power play was absolutely dreadful. They ranked 54 out of 58 in power play % at 11.4%. (Michigan was 46th.) They were about where you'd expect on the PK (20th) given their team defense (26th).

Michigan will likely be without Kevin Clare, who injured his shoulder in last Friday's win. Mike Szuma is expected to enter the lineup and play with Brennan Serville.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Michigan Gets the Split - Michigan 7, RIT 2

Photo Credit: Bill Rapai
Like the night before, the Wolverines entered the third period of the game with a 3-1 lead. Unlike the night before, however, there would be no comeback by the feisty Tigers from RIT. After RIT cut the lead to 3-2 5:18 into the final frame, the Wolverines responded with a goal 47 seconds later and didn't let down, adding three goals in a 2 1/2 minute span in the middle part of the period.

13 of the 18 skaters registered at least one point for Michigan, with PDG, Boo, DeBlois, and Treais all registering multiple points. PDG had the game-winner and an assist on the big Treais goal that made it 4-2 right after RIT had climbed within one. He was named the #1 star of the game.

Lee Moffie got the Wolverines started 9:11 into the game. Nieves chipped the puck back to the point and he let a shot go through a K. Lynch screen that beat Jordan Ruby. Travis Lynch made it 2-0 Wolverines with a short-handed goal late in the period. Derek DeBlois made a nice play to keep the puck alive in behind the RIT net and fed Lynch streaking into the slot. It was Lynch's second in as many games.

RIT cut the lead in half in the first five minutes of the second on an unassisted goal by Jeff Smith. It remained 2-1 for about ten minutes before the Wolverines would light the lamp again. Boo Nieves intercepted an outlet pass from Elliot Raibl and sent PDG into the zone. Di Giuseppe wristed one from the top of the circles and it found its way through Ruby. He may have been screened on that one.

After RIT again cut the lead to one, it was Di Giuseppe getting a defenseman to dive at him, then wrapping around to the other side of the net and somehow getting a pass through two more defenders to Treais, who used a quick release from the slot to put the Wolverines back up by 2.

Andrew Sinelli then scored the first of his career, on a very nice half-slapper into the top corner to give the Wolverines some insurance. Less than a minute later the Wolverines were on the power play and Jacob Trouba added his second goal of the weekend. Guptill won a draw to Treais, he sent it over to Trouba for a one-time bomb and it was 6-2. I feel like that's something that has been missing from Michigan's arsenal for a few years--the ability to just win a draw and have the defenseman bomb one home. While the power play pretty much had to be better than it was last year, the presence of Trouba adds so much.

Michigan wasn't done. Lindsay Sparks would add a goal on a wrister to the far side of the net a minute and a half later to get to the final margin of victory.

Photo credit: Bill Rapai
Steve Racine got his first start and had a solid game, stopping 21 of the 23 shots put on him. Neither goal was included in the highlight package (obvious?) but neither was said to be one that he was expected to stop.

Mac Bennett had a great weekend. He had a goal and an assist, was +2, had five shots on goal, and blocked seven shots, half of the entire team's total through two games. Mike Spath said that through five periods he was Michigan's best player.

It's hard to complain about the production out of the third line of Lindsay Sparks, Travis Lynch, and Derek DeBlois. That trio combined for 4 goals, 3 assists, and a +11 rating on the weekend.

The Wolverines put 51 shots on net, including 20 in the third period. Every player who dressed recorded at least one shot on goal this weekend. For the series the power play was 3-for-13 (23%) and generated 27 shots on goal (!!!). The PK was 9-for-9 and added a short-handed goal. Good weekend for the special teams.

It wasn't all perfect for Michigan on Friday, though. Defenseman Kevin Clare left the game and reportedly had his arm in a sling after the game. Red expressed concern about his status. With Merrill already out of the lineup, if Clare is out for any period of time, the Wolverines will likely turn to Mike Szuma. Szuma got into two games a year ago.

Photo Credit: Bill Rapai
Around the web:
Mike Spath posted his thoughts on who should start in net. ($ link)

Yost Section 25 is quickly turning into a must-read blog. He posted his thoughts on Friday's game, as well as some thoughts on the goalie situation:

In goal, I thought Racine was steady.  He wasn’t spectacular and he gave up a lot of rebounds.  He also seemed to lose sight of the puck at times, and the defense helped him out.  I didn’t get to see Rutledge against RIT, but I did see him for a period against Windsor and thought that he just seemed a bit nervous in the crease.  I think both of these guys with a little seasoning are going to be good goalies for the team.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Friday/Saturday platoon from these guys at least for a few weeks until Red can see how they actually perform in game situations.  In the meantime the defense will have to clear away the rebounds and make sure we don’t give up soft goals.
MHNet has post-game quotes from Red as well as thoughts from Geoff Chiles. He was impressed with Nieves.

What stood out for me?  Speed.  He has it, and lots of it.  The freshman might not have Hagelin-esque speed, but it’s definitely there in good supply.  Up and down the ice all night, disrupting passes from RIT players, and finding his teammates.  Humble, and not arrogant or garish about his draft selection.  I feel like we’re all going to love this kid, and what he’s going to bring to Michigan.

Nieves skated on the second line on Friday and recorded two assists.

The Daily has their usual assortment of quality articles: Game story Thursday, game story Friday, the struggles of the defense on Thursday, comments on the goalies, an article about the offense coming from a variety of sources, and the dominance of the power play.

Michigan will take on Bentley in a single game this Friday.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

RIT 5, Michigan 4 (ot)

It was a rough debut for Jared Rutledge and the 2012-13 Wolverines. Michigan led 3-1 and 4-2, but RIT tied the game with 4:40 left in regulation and scored 14 seconds into overtime to knock off the #3 Wolverines 5-4.

Things were great in the early-going. Derek DeBlois scored from Lindsay Sparks off an RIT turnover just 2 minutes and change into the season to give Michigan a 1-0 lead. The Wolverines were then given a 5-on-3 advantage and Jacob Trouba and Mac Bennett worked it to perfection out at the point. Bennett's shot got past the RIT goalie to make it 2-0.

Trouba then went end-to-end on a power play and scored on a wraparound. That goal has drawn rave reviews from all who saw it. Michigan's radio color analyst, Bill Trainor, simply said, "Wow". Just before intermission Rutledge misplayed a puck and RIT got on the scoreboard to make it 3-1 after one.

Alex Guptill appeared to make it 4-1 in the second period, but upon further review the goal was waived off. Bennett took a shot from the point, Guptill tried to knock it out of the air, the ref right on the play fanned his arms out to indicate it was not a high-stick, then Guptill shot it in off the ice. When they reviewed it, they ruled a high stick. It didn't look like he made contact with the puck, but apparently he did. And, as is inevitable when Michigan has a goal waived off, it came back to bite the Wolverines.

Edit: Actually, let's talk about this one a little bit more. When Guptill waived at the rebound his stick was high, no doubt. It didn't look like he made contact with the puck and the ref indicated that he did not. Then the puck was on the ground (or at least close to it) and he shot it in. How can they go back, review the play, and then waive off the goal for the high stick (even if he DID make contact with the puck)? What's the threshold for how far you can go back in a play to see if something happened that should have resulted in a whistle? I've never seen them review something that didn't directly result in a goal and change the call because of it. I'm pretty sure that's not allowed. It wouldn't be the first time they've completely made things up as they went along, but I'm pretty sure that was yet another blown call. Again, not that it should have come down to that, but I'm getting tired of Michigan having goals waived off and then losing in overtime. Play better, it doesn't matter. But let's not make up rules either....

In the third period, Rutledge stopped a wraparound, the defenseman (Serville?) stopped a backdoor feed, but the puck came back out into the slot and Saracino bombed one into the top of the net. Michigan quickly responded after an RIT turnover in front of their net ended up in the goal before their goaltender could move. Travis Lynch pounced on the loose puck and snapped it home to put Michigan back up by 2.

RIT cut the lead back to one with a shot to the (very) short side that got over Rutledge's blocker. A few moments later there was a lot of traffic down low and a soft backhander found the back of Michigan's net to tie the game.

The Tigers had a power play late in regulation and Kevin Lynch had the best chance of anyone. He had a beautiful toe-drag around the defenseman but Josh Watson made a nice save and Zach Hyman couldn't quite stuff in the rebound.

The game went to overtime and it didn't last long. A weak shot trickled between Rutledge's legs. One of the Michigan defensemen got there and tried to hold it out, but Adam Hartley was able to jam it home for the game-winner 14 seconds into the extra session.

The positives: Jacob Trouba was outstanding. In the first period he had a goal and an assist. He was extremely active running the point on the power play and came close several other times. He's got a really good shot and great vision. We're going to love having him for the season (?) that he's in a Michigan uniform.

Kevin Lynch also had a really good game. He obliterated a guy who was looking in his feet for the puck in addition to going 15 for 21 in the faceoff circle. He and Zach Hyman did a really great job on the penalty kill. Michigan was perfect on the PK and those two were a big reason why.  It's kind of interesting that they're trying Hyman on the wing when he's one of Michigan's two best faceoff guys. He was 54% last season on a lot of draws, but he only took one tonight. They must think playing on the wing with Guptill and Lynch will get him going offensively.

I thought Treais looked really good running the point on the power play as well. I don't typically like having forwards on the point on the PP, but Treais had a nice game back there tonight. In the third he had an absolutely gorgeous keep and it resulted in a really good scoring chance for Trouba walking in.

Even strength was a little bit of a different story. I didn't think the Treais/PDG/Moffatt line did a whole lot. They combined for 8 shots (don't know how many were even-strength) but were -7 and I didn't think they were overly noticeable in the second half of the game (the part that I saw rather than listened to, thank you Shawn Hunwick).

The big negative was Rutledge's performance. He was solid through the first two periods, but the third wasn't a good period. After Michigan led 3-1 after two, they gave up 4 goals on the next ten shots and Saracino's was the only goal that didn't range from soft to avert-your-eyes. Clearly I'm not getting down on him. It was his first game and he's barely been on the ice, but that was a disappointing way to end the opener, and I'm sure he'd be the first to tell you that. After the game Red Berenson said he may go with Racine tomorrow. I guess it depends if he wants Rutledge to get back on the horse. In the middle part of the game, when things were going well, I figured we'd see Racine tomorrow (just to give both goalies a shot early on in the year). With it going this poorly, though, he may come back with Rutledge to show confidence in his young netminder. He'll be okay.

It's hard to point the finger at the offense when they score 4 goals, but they could have easily had double that. There were a lot of missed opportunities--and of course the Guptill waived-off goal. Still, four goals should be enough to beat RIT. They barely scored any goals last season and they were down their top three scorers from last year (including their top returning guy tonight).

The teams are back on the ice tomorrow night and Michigan will look to even their mark at 1-1-0.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

RIT Preview

Michigan kicks off the 2012-13 season for real against the RIT Tigers. The Tigers won their exhibition game against the University of Ottawa by an 8-1 score. Eight different players scored for them in the game, and they went 4-for-8 on the power play.

Last season, the Tigers went 20-13-6 and finished in a three-way tie for third in Atlantic Hockey (two points out of first). They went to the AHA Championship Game before losing 4-0 to Air Force. Against teams from the major conferences, they lost beat Ferris State 3-0, beat LSSU 3-1, and got swept 6-3 and 2-1 by Wisconsin.

From that team they return 16 players including leading scorer Mike Colavecchia (14-18--32, with 8 PPGs), but Colavecchia will not play for the first month of the season due to injury. Because of that, they'll be down their top three scorers from a year ago. They also lost three senior defensemen, including two captains. Additionally, goaltender Shane Madolora, who put up Hunwick-numbers in his sophomore and junior years, graduated and is now playing in the ECHL.

Matt Garbowsky, an alternate captain, will be their top returner in the lineup tomorrow night. He had 9-11--20 a year ago. Adam Mitchell had nine goals a year ago as well, but five of those were game-winners. Bryan Potts had 4-1--5 in seven games before being injured and missing the rest of the season.

On the blueline they're led by captain Chris Saracino, who had 2-7--9 in 14 games a year ago before missing the rest of the season with an injury. He was their best defenseman last year and runs their power play and is on the penalty kill. Greg Noyes had six goals and 20 points from back on the blueline.

Anthony Hamburg is the first-ever draft pick to play for the Tigers. He was a 7th round pick of the Wild back in 2009. He played seven games for Colgate before going back to the USHL. He'll help them.

RIT was 44th in offense a year ago at just 2.54 goals per game. They were eighth in team defense, but again, they lost a lot on the back-end. Their PP and PK were about where you'd expect them to be given the offensive and defensive stats.

According to the USCHO team preview, it sounds like they'll be platooning in net. Josh Watson was 1-1-1 with a 1.63/.940 a year ago. He was in net for their win over Lake State. Jordan Ruby was 1-3-0 with a 3.03/.904. He got to play against Union as well as one of their games at Wisconsin, so he had a little taste of a hostile environment. Watson and freshman Ken MacLean split time in their exhibition win over Ottawa. MacLean had a 2.76/.911 for Kalamazoo in the NAHL last season.

These will be the first meetings between the teams.

Blame Canada: Merrill Out Six Weeks with Cracked Vertebrae

Per NJ Devils General Manager Lou Lamoriello (through and later confirmed by Red Berenson, junior defenseman Jon Merrill will miss the next six weeks after fracturing a vertebrae last night in the exhibition game against Windsor. Merrill was at the rink in a neck brace today. He will not require surgery, but will require time to heal.

You can't replace a Jon Merrill--especially when you're breaking in a new goalie--but thankfully defense is one position where Michigan is very deep. They were looking at scratching a player every single night who played 30+ games a year ago (Clare, Serville, Chiasson), so they'll be able to plug in an experienced player in Merrill's place at the very least.

Make no mistake this is a big blow early on, but thankfully it sounds like Merrill will be able to return this season (and earlier than he did last year). Best wishes to him in his recovery.

Update: Mike Spath talked to Red, and Coach says that they'll pair Clare with Trouba, Serville with Moffie, and Bennett with Chiasson.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Exhibitions and the Final Part of My Season Preview

The exhibition season is in the books. The next time the Wolverines takes to the ice at Yost, they'll be playing for real!

Having not seen either game thanks to the lack of streaming video at Yost these days, I have to go off of internet reports, but it sounds like things were mostly good for Michigan in the exhibition season.

First, the downers: Jon Merrill left tonight's game against Windsor after getting his bell rung on a hit early in the second period. Late in the contest, Justin Selman was also helped to the locker room with what was said to be a bad cut on the back of his leg.

Clearly that's not what Michigan wanted to have happen in an exhibition game. The game sounded like it was fairly hard-hitting for an exhibition game. Hopefully both guys are okay, especially with a quick turnaround before RIT comes to town on Thursday.

Other than that, it's hard to complain about what we saw. If you were going to make a list of guys that you'd want to shine in the early going, you'd probably have to include Kevin Lynch and Luke Moffatt on the list.

Lynch had a pair of assists on Guptill goals in the Blue/White game to stake Blue to a 2-0 lead. The first was a feed to Guptill on a 2-on-1. Gupill was able to lift one over the goaltender (I believe it was Rutledge). The second one, Guptill walked out from behind the net and stuffed one home. White tied the game up thanks to a pair of goals from alum Mike Knuble (one from Andy Hilbert and Matt Hunwick). Guptill completed his hat trick in the middle part of the second period on an absolute SNIPE from the right wing before Derek DeBlois added some insurance on a similar shot.

Yost Section 25 had some thoughts on the scrimmage as well as his view of some of the freshmen.

Tonight Michigan took on Windsor in the usual exhibition-against-a-Canadian-team. Unlike last year, which saw Michigan fall to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, the Wolverines took it to their opponents from south of the border.

Michigan scored early in the game but the goal was waived off--nice to see the CCHA is in midseason form already. Windsor scored on the power play and took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.

Steve Racine took over for Rutledge for period two and kept the Lancers off the scoreboard. Michigan responded with five in the second stanza. Moffatt got things going just seven seconds into the period off a goalmouth feed from PDG. A couple of freshmen gave Michigan the lead when Daniel Milne fed Justin Selman.

Moffatt then notched his second of the night, this one on the power play off a rebound from a Trouba shot. PDG then scored from Moffatt and Trouba and the floodgates were officially open. Just over a minute later Andrew Copp got on the board. Trouba got the puck behind the net, fooled the goalie, and got it to Copp for an easy tap-in. That made it a natural playmaker for Trouba (is that such a thing? Assists on three straight goals?).

The onslaught continued early in the third as DeBlois scored from Travis Lynch and Lindsay Sparks in the first minute. Windsor got one back on a wraparound that Janecyk wasn't quick enough to get to. DeBlois, Sparks, and Lynch hooked up again later in the third as a DeBlois one-timer regained the five-goal lead for the good guys. Windsor added one more goal late and Michigan skated off with a 7-3 win.

From the sound of it, Moffatt, Treais, and PDG looked very good on the top line and Trouba was as advertised (three assists, a couple of bomb shots, a couple of nice hits). It's nice to see Michigan generating offense from a lot of different sources, especially with Guptill, Kevin Lynch, Moffie, Bennett, and Hyman given the night off. They gave up way too many shots in the third period (18), but that could just be a let-down in the third period of a blowout exhibition game.

Moving on, it's time to unveil my picks in the CCHA. These were made before the start of exhibition play. Ryan Kennedy from The Hockey News can vouch for me. (Speaking of Kennedy, Michigan made his list of five teams he's excited to see this year.) Here's what I've got:
1. Western Michigan (Lots of the contenders have question marks in net. Western does not with the Big Slubowski.)
2. Michigan (Lost a lot of good players, but the freshman class is one of the nation's best. Should have the defense to allow the goalies to get their feet wet. Maybe the best D corps in the country.)
3. Notre Dame (Added some top-notch forward prospects. Don't trust their goaltending at all.)
4. Ferris State (CCHA regular season champs last year, NCAA runner-up. Lost top scorer, top D, and their goalie. CJ Motte was solid when he was in net a year ago, though.)
5. Miami (Talented but so young. Lost Reilly Smith, both goalies, Biggs, and more. Bring in the USA Hockey goalie of the year.)
6. NMU (Lost some good players, return Coreau in net, and he's a good one.)
7. Michigan State (Lots of new faces on the blue line. Lost Krug. Yanakeff is a good goalie. Some upward mobility here.)
8. Ohio State (Great first half, awful second half last year. Lost Heeter and Dries. Really solid recruiting class, including the 3x leading scorer for Des Moines in the USHL.)
9. LSSU (Offseason defections hurt, otherwise they were looking solid. Can Kapalka regain his freshman form?)
10. BGSU (Hammond is really good in net. Their top freshman is suspended for most of the year.)
11. Facing the wrath of HOCKEYBEAR, but......Alaska (Lost an awful lot, including Greenham. They do bring in a stud dman.)

Really I think the middle part of the conference is going to be a complete CF again, like it was last year. Paula Weston agrees that it's going to be really competitive. She has the Wolverines coming out on top in the league's final season.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

2012-2013 Season Preview: The Defense and Goaltending

Photo: Bill Rapai
The blueline is unquestionably the strength of the Wolverine roster. They return seven defensemen from last year's solid group and add Jacob Trouba, who is arguably the top recruit in the country.

When you think about it, it's easy to see why Connor Carrick opted for the OHL. Where would he have played? Trouba, Merrill, Bennett, and Moffie are playing every night. Clare played 39 games last year, so he probably isn't coming out of the lineup either. Then you've got two other guys who played 30+ games in their freshman seasons last year (Chiasson and Serville). Plus Mike Szuma for depth (2 GP last year). That's a tough group to crack.

Really, that illustrates the depth of this team. Even without Carrick, who sits? You're going to have a guy who played 30+ games last year sitting out every single night.

So here's a look at the guys we've got:
Jon Merrill decided to come back for his junior season when it would have been really easy for him to bail. He had 11 points and was +11 in 19 games after being suspended for the first half of the year. He was phenomenal out of the gate (Michigan gave up just 10 goals in his first seven games back, and the PK was 96.1%) before faltering late in the year. One would expect that without a long layoff, he'll have a monster season for the Wolverines.

Merrill will be paired initially with Jacob Trouba, the ninth overall pick in the NHL Draft. The freshman has drawn rave reviews from practice, and it sounds like he's poised to wreck anyone cutting through the middle of the ice. They've actually had to reign him in in practice so he doesn't hurt anyone. Several guys from the team have referred to him as JMFT, and if that's not praise, I don't know what is. Red Berenson was asked about his freshman and he responded, "You never know. The only one I'm sure of is Trouba. Trouba is ready."

Mac Bennett, one of the alternate captains, was about a half-point a game guy last year (4-17--21 in 41 games). He's a steady, puck-rushing/puck-moving defenseman who stays out of the penalty box (14 penalties in two seasons).

Lee Moffie had a breakout season last year with 32 points (good for 10th nationally in points per game by a defenseman) and a +22 rating. He was named to CHN's All Second Team in the preseason, as one of the projected top-four defensemen in the country. He, too, is wearing a letter this season and taking on additional leadership. Like Merrill, he faltered down the stretch and didn't play his best hockey in the NCAA Tournament.

Knowing that Merrill and Trouba will be one pairing, I would expect Moffie and Bennett to be split up, and anchoring pairs 2 and 3. They're both offensive-defensemen, so I'd expect each of them to be paired with a more-defensive partner.

Photo: Bill Rapai

After playing only 18 games as a freshman, Kevin Clare was a mainstay in the lineup as a sophomore. He played in all but two games and earned a +10 rating. He's a solid, stay-at-home type of defenseman, but he has only sat in the box for ten minutes in his career. He'll be a perfect guy to pair with a Bennett or Moffie to let them rush the puck when they want to. Clare actually got into the offense a little bit last year, scoring three goals, including the GLI Championship-winning goal against the Spartans.

Mike Chiasson, son of the late long-time NHLer Steve, came in as an older freshman and they plugged him in right away. Chiasson saw action in 30 games, put up 9 points and a +12 rating, and blocked 45 shots.

Brennan Serville is an interesting one. He's got really good size (6'3", 202), can definitely skate, and was a third-round draft pick of Winnipeg back in 2011. He came in fairly highly-touted and had kind of a rough freshman year, getting benched mid-game on several occasions. He seemed like he struggled to adjust a little bit, but man, if you're looking for a defenseman who could take a big leap forward maybe he's the guy. Great size, good speed, really talented. If the lightbulb goes on for him, that'd be pretty huge. He seems to be a pretty under-the-radar guy. Maybe I'll see if one of the guys with access to the coaches can get some comment about him. I'm curious what they're expecting out of him.

Mike Szuma only saw action in two games last season and I don't know that I actually got to see him play. He's a depth defenseman, and probably won't see a ton of time given the loads of talent in front of him. (That's not a knock on him because I certainly have no idea how good he is or isn't. It's just a testament to the defensemen on this team.)

That's a solid group. If you checked out the link to The Wolverine that I posted above, Moffie had some really good comments about how they are challenging themselves to be the best defense corps in the country.

That would certainly be welcomed, because there's a whole batch of unproven behind them, between the pipes.

Gone (tear) is Tiny Jesus, Shawn Hunwick. The greatest story pretty much ever rose from walkon-who-we're-scared-to-put-in-the-net to the freaking NHL, winning a whole helluva lot of games and setting a whole helluva lot of Michigan goaltending records (GAA and freaking save percentage) along the way.

Replacing him are freshmen Jared Rutledge and Steve Racine, and returning players Adam Janecyk and Luke Dwyer.

Rutledge played for the NTDP and posted solid numbers, even though he was frequently overshadowed by teammate (and now-Buckeye) Collin Olson. Rutledge was 17-8-4 with a 2.55/.904. Olson's GAA was a tick better; his save percentage a tick worse. He comes in as the presumed starter, but, as I mentioned yesterday, he hasn't practiced because of an eye issue that required surgery and may miss the start of the season.

I would assume that Racine gets the next crack in Rutledge's absence. He has good size (6'2") and, despite moving around a lot in juniors, had a fantastic finish to his season last year. After transferring to the OJHL's Georgetown Raiders, Racine went 15-0-0 with a 1.66/.938 in the regular season. He finished second in the league in shutouts, despite only playing 15 games. He's 21 and also brings some USHL experience to the table.

Adam Janecyk, the son of an NHL goalie, saw action in five games last year and was the goalie of record in two games. He posted a 3.17/.897, largely because he got shelled coming off the bench against NMU after Hunwick was ejected when he clocked someone after he had enough of the refs giving opponents free reign to run him. That 28-minute span accounted for four of the seven goals he allowed last year. In his one start, with Hunwick unable to go after taking a puck in the mask the night before, he made 34 stops in a 2-2 tie against LSSU and was a big reason Michigan stayed in the game. He can't be written off.

And really Dwyer can't either. I know when he arrived on campus, the coaches were said to really like him (and they must if they're keeping four goalies this year). We haven't really seen him, but after Hunwick's rise, you can't count any goalie out.

Next up: My CCHA predictions. Then we drop the puck!

Lastly, we lost The Yost Post blog during the offseason, but we've gained a new Michigan hockey blog: Yost Section 25. He's got some great photos of the new Yost, and I'm looking forward to reading what he has to write. The more, the better.

YostMeister from GBMWolverine has posted the first part of his season preview as well. His game previews absolutely blow mine away, so if you haven't yet checked that site out, I highly recommend doing so.

MHNet has your recruiting update for the week.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Rutledge Out For a Bit With Eye Injury

It's thought that expected starting goalie Jared Rutledge is going to miss a bit of time after an eye problem was discovered in his initial exam. Red Berenson told reporters today that he hasn't been able to take shots in practice yet and that it wasn't a guarantee that he'd play in the opener.

From @MattSlovin

Per CCHA media call, Michigan presumed starting goaltender Jared Rutledge has had contact issues and hasn't faced shots yet.  
Berenson said Rutledge's eye injury "could definitely" preclude him from being the starting goalie at season's beginning. 
Sounds like team doctors found something wrong with Rutledge's eye during initial exam. Needed retinal surgery to fix.
It doesn't sound serious, though you never want to see the words "retinal" "surgery" used with anyone, particularly your supposed starting goalie. Best wishes to Jared on a quick recovery!

I haven't seen any comments from Berenson yet as to if fellow freshman Steve Racine or junior Adam Janecyk would be the likely starter in Rutledge's absence. (Luke Dwyer is also on the roster, and I guess we should know better than to rule any goalie out!). I suppose it depends how they look in practice and the exhibition game. I'll have more on the goalies in the season preview.  

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

2012-2013 Season Preview: Focus Mainly on the Forwards

The run for #10 starts all over again a week from tonight with an exhibition against the University of Windsor. Two days later, RIT will come to town to officially kick off the 2012-13 season. Here's the first part of my season preview, covering mainly the forwards. I'll get to the defense and goaltending as well as my CCHA preseason rankings a little bit later in the week.

The Wolverines bring in seven freshmen (including high draft picks Jacob Trouba and Boo Nieves) to help replace Shawn Hunwick, David Wohlberg, Luke Glendening, Greg Pateryn, and Chris Brown. Michigan "only" lost five players, but those are five big players to lose. You're talking a Hobey Baker candidate goalie who accounted for 39 of the 41 decisions last year, a guy who was tied for the team lead in scoring, a player who wore a letter for two seasons and most of a third and contributed double-digit goals and 20+ points, probably your best defensive-defenseman and certainly your top shot-blocker, and a prototypical power forward who had just set a career-high in points.

In terms of scoring, well, it's not too ugly in terms of what needs to be replaced. 40 goals and 100 points go out the door, but Michigan returns 70% of their goal scoring and 72.7% of their points.

By comparison, last year Michigan had to attempt to replace greater than 41% of their goals and over half their assists. They also lost 50% and 46% of their goals in 08-09 and 07-08, respectively).

Now for the bad news: They don't have to replace that many goals, but they also didn't score very many goals to start with. The 132 goals Michigan scored last year was the lowest single-season total for the program since 1981-82 (i.e. the lowest total of my lifetime). That said, it seems like offense was down in college hockey as a whole last year, and their 3.22 goals per game still ranked 10th in the NCAA.

The previous season, 3.22 gpg would have ranked them 21st nationally and they would have been around 17th/18th the year before that. Last year no team hit the four goal per game mark or even came close. Minnesota led the nation with 3.60 goals per game. I went back over a decade and outside of last year, the lowest goals per game total by a team that led the nation in goal-scoring was BC with 3.93 in 08-09. Is that a sign of a talent pool depleted by a mass exodus to major junior or a one-year blip? I guess time will tell.

The happy side: Michigan's defense has tightened up in recent years as well. Of the past 45 seasons, Michigan has only been below 90 goals allowed three times and those have all come within the past five seasons. (Granted they likely don't hit that mark last year if they advance out of round one.)

What I'm getting at is that this isn't likely to be a Michigan team that is going to win games 5-4. The strength of this team is unquestionably the blueline as opposed to having blue-chip talent up front or a Hobey-candidate between the pipes.

They scored by committee last year and I expect more of the same this year. Wohlberg and Guptill tied for the team lead in points last year with identical 16-17--33 lines. That's an ungodly low total for Michigan (hell, when Porter won the Hobey, he had 33 points on goals alone!). Since 2000, the lowest point total for a player that led Michigan in scoring was Tambellini with 45 points in 02-03.

So where does that 40-50 goal improvement come from if Michigan is to get back into the 140s in goals scored? I think most of it is going to have to come from returning players. They'll get some help from the freshmen, but Nieves, Selman, and Milne all had ~2:1 (or higher in Nieves's case) assist-to-goal ratios last year and offense isn't really Copp's game.

Nieves was singled out by Red as someone who could contribute (in the video I linked yesterday), but I would still think that PDG's totals from last year (11-15--26) would be an absolute best-case scenario, and I feel like I wouldn't be at all disappointed in something like 8-13--21.

Who else then? Amongst the obvious targets, clearly you're hoping that Guptill and PDG improve on their freshman seasons and that Treais breaks out into the 45-50 point guy that he probably has the talent to be.

Guptill was a bit of a surprise last year, winning CCHA Rookie of the Year after leading the team in goals and points. He cooled off late in the year (6 points in his final 12 games) but was absolutely on fire in the middle part of the season when he went for 20 points in a 16-game stretch, including 11 points during a 7-game point streak.

Di Giuseppe had multiple points in 6 of Michigan's first 17 games, then went 14 games without a goal over 2 1/2 months. He did have points in 10 of Michigan's final 14 games, however, and that bodes well for his sophomore season. Also, keep in mind that as an October 1993 birthday, he's young for his class. Serville (June) was the only other 93 we brought in last year period, and Justin Selman is actually a week older than PDG. Most of the freshmen are early 94s. I don't think it's unreasonable that he could approach a point per game this year and be up in the high-30s, low 40s.

The captain, Treais, has improved by about 10 points every season he's been at Michigan, going from 13 to 22 to 32 last year. He had a breakout season last year with 15-17--32 and a +24 rating that actually led the team. Like PDG, he had a rough middle part of his year. He got off to a great start with 13 points before Thanksgiving, but after a DNP against Northeastern, had just two points over the next twelve games. He filled up the stat sheet late in the year, however, with points in 13 of Michigan's final 14 games. Again, I think he should be up around a point a game.

Outside of the top three forwards Moffatt (6-10--16), Kevin Lynch (8-5--13) and Zach Hyman (2-7--9) seem to be the most likely targets to emerge from the guys who didn't do a ton of scoring a year ago.

Moffatt has shown flashes of being a high-end offensive talent in his two seasons in Ann Arbor, but hasn't been able to string together a lot of results. He did set career highs in all the scoring categories last season and I would think he'll get more of a look on the power play, where he had a couple of goals last year. Red did cite him as someone that he's looking toward to help generate offense.

Kevin Lynch has always been someone that I've been waiting on to really break out. Not to go all Kevin Porter, but to be up around the team leaders in goals and kind of in that 25-point range. He seems to always come up big in big games (OT winner against UNO in the tournament, early goal against Cornell, the late goal to tie up the GLI final last year, the incorrectly waived-off overtime goal that would have sent Michigan past Miami into the Frozen Four) and I've been waiting on that to carry through a season. After 11 goals as a sophomore, I think he'd consider the 8-5--13 he had last year to be disappointing. He just never could seem to get untracked after a slow start.

Hyman is the third guy that I could see having a semi-large jump in numbers. He didn't have the kind of year offensively that anyone was expecting, but I thought he was good in his own end (much better than his team-worst +/- would indicate) and matched K. Lynch as the best face-off guy on the team at 54%. I honestly can't remember too many guys, though, who had worse puck-luck than Hyman did last year. I felt like he did a lot of good things in the offensive zone and just never got a break. Like. Ever. He went the final 16 games of the year without a point, but I keep going back to the fact that literally every single player who won the CJHL Player of the Year award and played college hockey (going back to Mike Comrie) went on to become a solid offensive player at some point in their career. All eleven of them posted at least 30 points in a year at some point. The guy who had the fewest goals out of all of them in his freshman year went on to win the Hobey (Lessard). I highly doubt that happens, but Hyman is going to score more than 9 points and if you're looking for a guy who could potentially make an 8-10 goal jump, maybe he's that guy.

There's also the enigma, Lindsay Sparks, who I have no clue what to think about at this point. Nothing would surprise me from him. Literally anything from "scratched 80% of the time" to a 40-point season, I swear to God I wouldn't bat an eyelash. Sparks had 13 points in Michigan's first 10 games (including 11 in the first 7) and then didn't record a point the rest of the season and was a scratch for 8- and 5-game stretches. Dude had 4 multi-point games in the first seven of the year and then wasn't able to get it going after that. He proved he can play at this level. He didn't just beat up on the weak sisters of the poor. He had multi-point games against Ferris State and Western, both of whom had great years. Ferris won the conference and made the National Championship game. So yeah. I have no clue.

Then you've still got Sinelli, DeBlois, Travis Lynch, and Jeff Rohrkemper. None of those guys are "supposed" to be scorers, but Lynch had 15 points as a freshman (which is nothing to sneeze at--hell, he outscored all of the guys that I mentioned in the last section) and DeBlois hit 14 last year as a sophomore. Either of them could step forward, and T. Lynch may be pretty far up the underrated list.

Rohrkemper and Sinelli aren't going to be scorers, but they're both good at what they do defensively. I thought Sinelli had some real nice games around the middle of the season.

Red thinks he has as many as 15 forwards who can play at this level. Competition is a good thing, and they've certainly got plenty of options for who could be the guy to step up and contribute in a big way.