Sunday, February 26, 2012

Michigan Splits with Bowling Green, Finishes Second in CCHA

This weekend the Wolverines needed to sweep Bowling Green and have Western Michigan sweep Ferris in order to earn a share of the CCHA Championship. They got neither. On Friday night, the Falcons scored twice in the last seven minutes of regulation to down the Wolverines 3-2. It didn't matter from the CCHA Championship perspective as the Ferris State Bulldogs took WMU to a shootout to earn the one point that they needed to clinch the title.

On Saturday, the Wolverines rebounded with a tougher-than-the-score 3-0 victory. That was enough to tie WMU for second in the conference. Michigan gets the #2 seed via their one-win edge in conference wins over Western.

What does that mean? Michigan will have a bye in the first round of the CCHA Tournament and will then play one of the following teams in a best of three at Yost: LSSU, Notre Dame, Ohio, or Alaska. If all the home teams win in the first round, it will be LSSU.

The matchups in round one are:
Bowling Green at NMU
Alaska at LSSU
Ohio at Notre Dame

We know FYS will travel to Miami in round 2.

On Friday night, the Wolverines got off to a quick start, with Phil Di Giuseppe scoring just 38 seconds into the contest to give Michigan a 1-0 lead. Bennett got the puck up ice to Treais who slid it over to PDG. The lead was short-lived, however, as Chad Sumison scored his first of the year just six seconds later.

David Wohlberg knocked in the rebound from a Bennett shot to put the Wolverines back on top at the 4:58 mark of the first period, but once again the Falcons had an answer. Cameron Wojtala beat Hunwick over the blocker with about six minutes left in the opening frame. Moffie may have screened Hunwick on that one.

Late in the second, Brown worked it down low to Wohlberg who sent a centering pass in front that Guptill was able to tip home for his team-leading 16th goal of the year.

Adam Berkle tied things up for BGSU with just under seven minutes left in regulation. Cameron Sinclair put a shot on net and Hunwick left the rebound. Berkle jumped on it and got it past a diving Hunwick to make it 3-3. That's one that Hunwick would want back. The initial shot didn't seem particularly difficult.

The game seemed headed for overtime, but with just over a minute remaining Bryce Williamson picked Jon Merrill's pocket as he was bringing the puck out of the zone. Williamson turned around and sent one over Hunwick's glove for the game-winner.

It was a rough night for Moffie and Merrill, who were each -3. Pateryn and Bennett were +3 in the game.

If you're so inclined to watch the highlights, here they are:

On Saturday, it seems the goalies were the stars of the show. Hunwick and Andrew Hammond were the first and second stars of the game, which ended in a 3-0 Michigan victory.

The game was tied 0-0 after two periods, despite a 31-15 shot edge for Michigan and eleven power plays between the two teams. The Wolverine penalty killers again did their job, surrendering just five shots on the seven BGSU power plays through two. At one point, power plays were 6-1 in BGSU's favor. In one stretch the Wolverines killed five straight BGSU power plays without surrendering a single shot on goal.

Granted the CCHA officiating is, in large part, incompetent, but this is an alarming trend where Michigan ends up spending significantly more time in the box than their less-talented opponent. (I didn't see either of these games, so I have no idea as to the quality of these calls or if it was more Gongshow.)

After going 0-for-3 on faceoffs the night before, Alex Guptill won a big one five minutes into the third. He drew it back to David Wohlberg who let a shot go that somehow found its way past Hammond.

A few minutes later, Kevin Lynch gave the Wolverines a two goal lead. He won a draw back to the point. The shot deflected around and Moffatt got a stick on it. The puck sat just to Hammond's right and Lynch found it before anyone else, diving head-first toward the net and knocking it home.

Michigan would add an ENG from Mac Bennett for the final margin of victory. Hunwick made 22 stops for his 10th career shutout. Hammond stopped 46 Michigan shots in the loss.

AJ Treais put ten shots on net in the game. Kevin Lynch had seven of his own. Only Hyman, Travis Lynch, Rohrkemper, and Sparks were not a plus on the night. All the other Wolverines were on the ice for one of the Michigan goals.

Highlights are here.

As MGoBlog predicted, a split wasn't too damaging in the PWR. The Wolverines sit 2nd in the RPI, .01 behind BC, and rank third in the PWR behind Minnesota-Duluth and BC. If the tournament started today, North Dakota and Merrimack would be the last two teams in. Cornell would be the first team out, closely followed by 4 CCHA teams (WMU, Ohio, Notre Dame, and LSSU).

Tory Krug and TJ Tynan tied for the CCHA Scoring Title. Reilly Smith's 18 goals were good for the conference crown in that category (by 5). Alex Guptill was tied for 2nd in goals and tied for 6th in points.

Connor Knapp led the CCHA in GAA (1.41 to Hunwick's 1.93) and save percentage (.945 to Hunwick's .937), but also only played half the minutes that Hunwick did. Hunwick was second in GAA, Save %, and minutes played. He led the conference in shutouts with 5.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

JMFJ Traded to Columbus

Jack Johnson was traded to Columbus as part of a deal that sent Harvick family-favorite Jeff Carter to the Kings. The Kings need help offensively as they are dead-last in the NHL at just a hair over 2 goals per game (125 goals in 61 games). Helluva team you've built there, Dean Lombardi!

It's a cruel fate for Johnson, who now has to live in Columbus, Ohio and play for that crappy team. On the bright side, Michigan fans will get to see him play more often and he gets away from Lombardi.

JMFJ ends his Kings career with 30-94--124 in 343 games. His numbers have been down this season, largely because it's hard to get assists when no one on the team can score. His best season was one year ago, when he had 42 points, including 28 on the power play.

Cue the haters in the comments....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Bowling Green Preview

Have you voted Shawn Hunwick for Hobey today? Here's the link. It literally takes 2 seconds. 

The final weekend of the regular season takes the Wolverines down US-23 to Bowling Green, Ohio. After giving up just six goals in a 4-0-1 start, the Falcons have struggled to a 9-20-5 record this season (4-18-4-3 in the CCHA). Just four of those wins have come at home. They've beaten LSSU, Alaska, WMU, and Notre Dame in conference play.

BGSU comes in having lost their past four games. Last weekend they went up to Big Rapids and were handed 5-1 and 4-1 losses by the #1 Bulldogs.

They've given up 4+ goals on fifteen occasions this year, and haven't scored more than 3 since a 4-4 tie against Miami back on November 19th. They've scored just 26 goals in the 20 games since. In 14 of the 20, they've been held to 0 or 1. They rank 57 out of 58 in offense at 1.65 goals per game. Alabama-Huntsville is the only team below them (with a dreadful 1.19). They haven't won a game when they've given up more than 2 goals.

As you'd expect with that kind of offense, the numbers aren't pretty. Jordan Samuels-Thomas, the leading scorer the past two years, took his 46 carer points and transferred to Quinnipiac. The Falcons have just five players who have cracked the 5-goal barrier and five players who have double-digit points.

The good news for BGSU is that 43 of their 56 goals have come from underclassmen and their five leading scorers are made up of three freshmen and two sophomores. They're led in goals, assists, and points by freshman Ryan Carpenter who has 8-12--20. Camden Wojtala is right behind him with 7-11--18.

Lee Moffie has outscored their entire defense corps by 2 goals and 6 points. Robert Shea is the top-scoring blueliner with 4-4--8.

CCHA Commissioner Fred Pletsch's son Ted is a freshman forward. He has 5-1--6 on the year.

The power play is 55th at 9.5% and they haven't scored with the man advantage in their last 35 opportunities, dating back nine games. Both Wojtala and 7-goal scorer Alan Williamson have 3 PPGs to lead the team.

Defensively they aren't that bad. They rank 32nd in the country at 2.82 goals per game, tied with Notre Dame for last in the conference (but still fairly middle-of-the-pack overall). The PK is 25th, despite having given up a goal in five-straight games.

In net it's been Andrew Hammond all the way. He's started every game this year and has every decision but one. He has a 2.67 goals against and a .896 save percentage. He's done his part, despite a 19 point drop in his save percentage from last season. He currently ranks 4th in the CCHA Perani Cup Three Star Award standings.

Andrew Wallace is a 60% faceoff guy, but no one else on the team is higher than 50%.

Michigan has won seven straight in the series and was 4-0 last season, outscoring the Falcons 17-5. No Falcon player has more than one career point against the Wolverines. Wohlberg (9), Moffie (4), and Merrill (4) all have averaged one point per game against BGSU. Shawn Hunwick has faced the Falcons on three occasions and is 3-0-0 with a 0.72 goals against and a .963 save percentage.

The Wolverines can wrap up a share of the CCHA Title with six points against the Falcons, combined with Western Michigan sweeping Ferris State again. Michigan has locked up a bye in the first round of the CCHA Tournament and will clinch home-ice in the second round with two points this weekend. There is no video for either Michigan game, though the Friday night WMU/Ferris game will air on FSN-Detroit.

A Few Links of Note

VOTE SHAWN HUNWICK FOR HOBEY!!! Here's the link. It literally takes 2 seconds. 

AJ Treais and Lee Moffie were named CCHA offensive and defensive players of the week, respectively, for their performances against NMU. Treais had 1-3--4, including the game-winner in OT on Saturday. Moffie also had 1-3--4 on the weekend. It's kind of funny that the Defensive Player of the Week award tends to be given based on offensive stats, but whatever. Congrats to them both!

Matt Slovin from The Michigan Daily covered Shawn Hunwick's Hobey chances. Chris Peters gives his take on Hunwick's chances from more of a national perspective. I'd agree that the chances aren't great. Only two goalies in history have won the award and Hunwick's numbers aren't nearly as good as Ryan Miller's were. That said, Peters is right, you'd be hard-pressed to find a player that is more important to his team. He needs to at least be a finalist. He's clearly the top goaltender in the country and the field should be wide-open this year. I'll break it down more once the finalists are announced. Call me conference-ist, but man I don't care about Austin Smith. Like, at all.

The Daily also covered the defensive-zone turnover problems and AJ Treais's metamorphosis into a sniper.

MHNet has the weekly recruiting update and a chat with Evan Allen.

Bob Miller from College Hockey PROSPECTive has a profile of JT Compher.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Michigan Sweeps NMU, Still Has a Shot at CCHA Crown

It wasn't the model of perfection for a hockey weekend, but this weekend the Wolverines swept the NMU Wildcats at Yost. The wins jumped them past Western Michigan into second place in the CCHA.

On Friday, the Wolverines were perfect on special teams (2-for-2 on the power play and 6-for-6 while short-handed) en route to a 4-1 win in a game that was closer than the score.

Michigan jumped out to a 2-goal lead in the first period thanks to goals from two freshmen. Phil Di Giuseppe scored a goal for the first time since December 2nd, and Alex Guptill notched his team-leading 15th of the year. Treais skipped a pass off a defenseman's foot and it ended up on PDG's stick right in front of the net. He popped one upstairs to give Michigan a 1-0 lead one second shy of the halfway point in the first period.

With Reed Seckel in the box for "elbowing", which could have easily been five the way they've called contact to the head this year, Pateryn let a shot go from the point and Guptill got a gorgeous tip on it to put Michigan up by a pair. That was a great-looking power play. Michigan had three good scoring chances, four shots on goal, and one found the back of the net.

Most of the rest of the game was me seething about the officiating. Michigan didn't play well in the second period, but that was at least partially influenced by them killing so many penalties. This is the part of the article where I point out that I was really happy we won that game going away so this doesn't sound like sour grapes. Red was diplomatic after the game, but admitted he hadn't seen the penalties. I suspect he had a different opinion when he saw the tape. It was bad enough at times that I had to dig this guy back up:

In the first period, DeBlois was sent off for cross-checking on another one of those "the forward pushed him and so he fell into the goalie a lot harder than he should have" plays that Miami worked to perfection. Then in the second, Sparks was pushed into Coreau. He was sent off for goalie interference. Of course he was. Midway through the third, Luke Glendening was pushed into the net. He was called for high-sticking the goalie. Mac Bennett was called early in the second for "cross-checking" on a perfectly clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit that prevent a scoring chance as a guy drove the net. It was amazing to see some of the decisions that Hall and Miller made. That said, I'd take both of them over Sergott.

To their credit, they called a pretty good game Saturday. It just amazes me how officials consistently get calls around the goalie wrong. I can see the DeBlois one going against him. The ones against Sparks and Glendening were absurd, and the Bennett call was worse than either of them. It didn't matter, though, because the penalty killing was fantastic. Northern had four shots on goal combined on their six power plays. 

NMU did make it 2-1 on Ryan Daughterty's first career goal, and it was a beauty. Hunwick made the initial save and the rebound came to Daughterty. He basically shot it from between his legs. That made it 2-1 with about 8 1/2 left in the second. Sparks was called for goalie interference immediately afterwards, which was special. Michigan killed that one off pretty easily.

In the third, Glendening was called after a great-looking give and go with PDG. Coreau absolutely robbed Glendening. NMU didn't come anywhere close to the net on that power play.

DeBlois gave Michigan an insurance goal off a great feed from Merrill. That was a nothing play at center ice, but Merrill got into position to spring DeBlois on a partial breakaway. DeBlois went five-hole.

Tyler Gron was sent off on a "make it look good" penalty (we didn't get a could have been legit) and the Wolverines implemented what we'll call a power-kill, since running two minutes off the clock was just as important as scoring. But they did the latter as well! Merrill over to Moffie for a one-timer and Michigan iced it with a minute and a half left.

Shawn Hunwick made 26 stops in the game, but the penalty killers were the story of the game. They were absolutely phenomenal. They only gave up multiple shots on goal on one of NMU's six power plays. The Sparks and Glendening penalties were complete garbage calls and it was a one-goal game. In those four minutes, Michigan outshot NMU 1-0. Two huge chances for the Wildcats to tie things up and Michigan didn't give up a shot. That's championship-caliber penalty killing right there.

Saturday's game was alarming because Michigan got back to their struggles in getting the puck out of the zone. Chiasson had a brutal turnover early in the game, but Hunwick was able to stop Daughterty. Both goalies made some good saves in the first period. Hunwick had a beauty with the right pad and then Ellingson stoned Guptill.

The Wolverines took a 1-0 on a goal by Luke Glendening. Moffie brought the puck into the zone then made a beautiful pass back to Glendening out by the point. The NMU defenseman tried to block the shot and ended up deflecting it past Ellingson into the net.

DeBlois nearly made it 2-0 moments later. He walked out from behind the net and Ellingson made a fantastic save on the first shot. The rebound went off the goal post.

The Wildcats tied it up off a Michigan turnover. The puck was centered for Florek and he doesn't miss too many chances like that.

Gron snapped a Wolverine player's stick in half almost immediately after the goal and Michigan would capitalize on the power play. Jon Merrill got a shot through a Luke Moffatt screen for his first goal of the year.

Michigan had a chance to pull further ahead but Brown missed an empty net and then Andrew Cherniwchan went end-to-end, walking Merrill, and roofing one over Hunwick. Great goal, 2-2.

In overtime, the Wildcats turned it over, Glendening sent it cross-ice to Treais, and Treais sniped yet another one for the game-winner. It seems like all he's done lately is fire lasers from the top of the circle past goaltenders. His 15th of the year gave the Wolverines another dramatic Senior Night win and kept them in contention in the CCHA.

Greg Pateryn was absolutely fantastic in the game. He leveled no less than four Wildcats with clean checks (and to the officials' credit, they didn't call penalties on any of them!) and late in the game beautifully broke up a 3-on-1. He didn't get a star in the game, but he very easily could have.

The officiating was much better on Saturday. The only play that really got me up in arms was when Guptill was racing Ellingson for the puck. Guptill got there, Ellingson dove into his knee, sent him awkwardly into the goal, and there was no call. It's ridiculous because he didn't get the puck (and in college I don't think it matters), and he took out a player's knee. They called Hasek for flipping Gaborik back in the day, and Hasek did get the puck first (and in the pros that matters). But they let the teams play Saturday. NMU had one power play, Michigan had two. Again, the Michigan penalty killers came up big. Moffie was called for boarding in the middle of the third period and the Wolverines didn't give up a shot.

Hunwick had 26 stops for the second straight night. 

Michigan is still six points behind Ferris State with two games to play. A Michigan sweep of Bowling Green and a WMU sweep of Ferris would give the Wolverines a tie for the CCHA crown. They would win the tie-breaker and take the #1 seed into the CCHA Tournament.

It's not as unrealistic as it sounds. Michigan should sweep the Falcons, who have won just four conference games and have only scored 3+ goals on three occasions since Thanksgiving. You'd like to think that happens. The WMU sweeping Ferris piece is a little tougher, but the Broncos did sweep the Bulldogs in a home-and-home earlier in the year, so it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Wolverines, Spartans Split Late-Season Series

Michigan and Michigan State split a pair of 3-2 contests in their late-season series. The Spartans won at Munn on Friday night, while the Wolverines rebounded in overtime at the Joe on Saturday.

Friday night's game was wide-open early on. There were only 2-3 stoppages in the first nine minutes. Michigan State held a 10-8 edge in shots, but the teams went into the intermission 0-0. In the first frame, the best sequence was a 4-on-2 for Michigan State that was broken up by Hyman. That led to a 3-on-2 the other way for the Wolverines and Sparks had a good chance that was denied by Yanakeff.

Early in the second, Mike Chiasson had to hook Merrifield after he split the defense. The Spartans kept the puck in the Michigan end for a good 1:50 of that power play, but outside of a chance by Krug, the PKers kept the Spartans at bay.

Just after the Spartan power play ended, DiGiuseppe and Treais came in 2-on-1. PDG got it over to Treais and he buried it to give Michigan a 1-0 lead.

Michigan nearly made it 2-0 moments after another Spartan power play. Sinelli was sprung on a breakaway and got denied by Yanakeff.

Kevin Lynch actually did make it 2-0 midway through the period. Moffie got deep into the zone to dig a puck loose. He got it to Lynch and Lynch was able to sneak it underneath Yanakeff.

The Spartans responded in a big way just a couple of minutes later. FYS won a faceoff in the Michigan end. They tried to center it through the slot, but no one was home. The puck bounced back to Torey Krug at the point and he ripped one past Hunwick. Merrifield would hit the post before the end of the period, but it remained 2-1 Michigan after two.

The third period was a reminder of how wildly inconsistent CCHA officiating can be. The officials had really let them play for the first two periods and I was actually thinking how well-officiated the game had been. The third was characterized by weak calls all around. The Spartans capitalized on the ones in their favor. Michigan didn't, when an awful call gave them a late chance to tie the game.

Just 27 seconds into the third period, PDG was called for roughing on what was a completely-clean hit. Initially it looked like a possible hit from behind, but he clearly got him shoulder to shoulder. It was a hard hit, but completely legal. Not sure how they got roughing out of that. It was just another example of an alarming trend in college hockey where any hard hit is liable to get you sent to the box, if not ejected. This one was a game-changer.

It took the Spartans just under a minute to tie the game. Hunwick was run into, no call. Play continued, the puck got back to Krug at the point and he ripped another one past Hunwick to tie the game.

The Spartans momentum continued and Hunwick was forced to make a good stop on Buttery. FYS went back on the power play after a soft offensive-zone trip on DeBlois. He tapped the guy on the shin pads and he went down like he was shot.

That one came back to bite Michigan as well. Krug walked through the defense and got the puck to Berry by the back door. He had an empty net to shoot at and made it 3-2 Spartans.

You knew Michigan was going to get one opportunity with the man advantage to tie things back up after three Spartan power plays in the third, and that chance came with about 4 minutes left. Brett Perlini was called for elbowing on as poor of a call as you'll see all year. There was absolutely nothing wrong with that hit. The announcers described it well, saying that he was "winding up that elbow" as he went in for the check, but he didn't use it. They anticipated what was going to happen.

Unlike the Spartans, however, Michigan wasn't able to capitalize on a poor call in their favor. They only had one decent chance on the power play, PDG centered to Moffatt in front. The Wolverines got Hunwick out with about a minute left in regulation, but didn't have anything resembling a chance and the Spartans got the victory.

The next night at the Joe, Michigan was able to rebound from the loss. It wasn't easy, however. Both teams swapped periods of dominance. Michigan State had the edge in play through a large chunk of the third period, but Shawn Hunwick was fantastic. Michigan scored on a fluky goal in OT to get the victory.

Out of the gate, Michigan controlled the play. Clare had the first really good chance of the game as the late man on a 3-on-2. Treais got it to him with PDG driving the net. Yanakeff made a good collarbone save.

Hunwick made his first big stop of the game on Walrod, and Perlini sent the rebound off the side of the net.

Michigan took a 1-0 lead at the 12:12 mark of the first. PDG sent a behind-the-back pass to Glendening and Glendening found Treais in the slot. Yanakeff made the first stop but Treais corralled his own rebound and was able to tuck it into the net.

The next five minutes were much more back-and-forth. Walrod hit the post.

Early in the second period, Wohlberg turned it over, leading to a 2-on-1 for the Spartans. Bennett played it absolutely perfect and broke the play up without them getting a shot away.

Hunwick then made a great stop on Wolfe, but Wolfe got his revenge moments later off a pass from Walrod to make it 1-1.

Hyman ran into Yanakeff and knocked him over. The CCHA showed that they are willing to call goalie interference after all, and sent him off. Weird. I thought goalies were fair game...maybe that's just when Sergott is reffing.

On the power play, Perlini got the puck by the side of the net on the goal line. Hunwick cheated a little bit and crouched low. Perlini got a great shot away--put it right up over him and the Spartans had themselves a 2-1 lead.

Moments later, Hunwick made a game-changing stop on a Perlini breakaway. The would've made it 3-1 Michigan State. Instead, we got a TV timeout and a chance to calm things down a little bit. Right out of the TV timeout, Glendening fed Treais just inside the blueline. Treais ripped a wrist-shot from the top of the circle top-shelf, far side. He got it past Yanakeff's blocker to the tie the game at 2.

The teams would trade opportunities for the remainder of the second period. Michigan State nearly got back on top but Hunwick stopped Sorenson on a 2-on-1 and then the Spartans hit the post.

Late in the period, Guptill had himself a breakaway. He made a great move and when he got the shot away, it looked like it was destined for the back of the net, but Yanakeff got his blocker down and somehow kept it out. Jake Chelios was sent off for elbowing with about a minute left in the first. Merrill had a couple of keeps at the blueline, but nothing much came of it. Walrod had a great pass breakup to keep Guptill from being in all alone again in the waning seconds.

The first 16-or-so minutes of the third were as bad as Michigan has looked since before the GLI, but their Hobey Baker-candidate goaltending saved their bacon time and time again. Moffie made a good play to break up a potential Merrifield goal. Hunwick stopped a 2-on-1. Moffie turned it over and Michigan State had several good chances, but nothing really got through. Hunwick made a great little right pad save on Berry, and then Moffatt was called for hooking after another Moffie turnover.

Even though the PK struggled this weekend, they had a big, big kill there. Some good work by K. Lynch and DeBlois.

Mac Bennett then had a horrid turnover and Hunwick was right there to rob Trevor Nill and deny him a potential game-winner. Pateryn then rushed the puck and rung one off the post. The rebound came out to Bennett and he had the entire net to shoot at. He went high and may have caught iron as well.

Shots were 14-11 FYS in the final frame, but neither team was able to break the 2-2 tie and the game headed to overtime, just like the last time they met at the Joe.

And just like the previous overtime game at Joe Louis, it was the Wolverines coming out on top. Hunwick stopped Nill on a tough backhander and Wohlberg hit Guptill on a shot after a nifty little toe-drag around the defense.

Kevin Lynch just missed being the overtime hero once again off a feed from Travis Lynch, but Yanakeff was there. The puck came out to center and DeBlois dumped it back in. Crandall bent down to stop the bouncing puck, but somehow it got through his legs. Kevin Lynch had cycled back into the offensive zone and was right there to pounce on it. He fired it past a surprised Yanakeff and the Wolverines were victorious!

That was certainly not the gold standard for victories. There were way too many odd-man rushes allowed, the defense turned the puck over way too much, and the top line wasn't as effective as they need to be. But Hunwick was there when they needed him and they were able to gut out a victory to keep themselves in the CCHA title hunt.

Ferris State swept Notre Dame this weekend, so they lead Michigan by 6 points (and WMU by 5) with two weekends to play. Ferris and Western play each other the last weekend of the season, so it's probably unlikely that Michigan wins the conference title even if they sweep NMU and BGSU, but there's a chance, and they should certainly be able to get second place.

In the PWR, the Wolverines currently sit in 4th, though they're second in the RPI. Ferris State is tops in both at the moment. Nine CCHA teams rank in the top 20 of the PWR at the moment. Six would make the tournament if it started today. Miami is the last team in. Notre Dame (!), second-place Western Michigan (!) and LSSU would be three of the first five teams out.

Next weekend, the Wolverines have Northern Michigan at Yost, and again, both games will be on TV. The Big Ten Network will have Friday night's game. Saturday's game will air on FSN Detroit as part of Hockey Day in Michigan. Note the odd 5:05 EST start time on the Saturday game.

Lastly, vote for Shawn Hunwick for Hobey! He's 14% behind the lead right now, but there have only been 76,000 votes cast, so it only works out to about 10,000 votes. It seriously takes 2 seconds and you don't have to register for anything.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

FYS Preview

It's fitting that Michigan is playing against Little Brother this week, given that Brian Hoyer got to be Tom Brady's water boy in another Super Bowl, Mario Manningham made a game-changing play that gave Greg Jones a chance to propose to his girlfriend, and the eyes of the hockey world were on Ann Arbor as the NHL wants to play their Winter Classic at Marcia, Marcia, Marcia's stadium! It's not fair, dammit!

Anyway, Friday night's game is at Munn Library and Ice Arena while Saturday's contest will be at Joe Louis Arena. The Big Ten Network and Fox Sports Detroit will air the respective games.

The Wolverines will play Friday night without Chris Brown, who was suspended for his altercation with Miami's Will Weber on Saturday night.

The Shartans sit in a tie with LSSU for seventh place in the CCHA, though FYS is just one point behind Ohio and Miami and has two games in hand on both of them.

Sparty returns home after playing their last four on the road. They were swept by Ferris State and then swept the Buckeyes in Columbus, as Ohio continues their free-fall from the top spot in the rankings to possibly landing out of the NCAA Tournament.

They rank 15th in the nation in offense at 3.13 goals per game, but have just one player with 10+ goals, and that's Mike Merrifield with 11. They do, however, have six players with 8+ goals. Sophomore forward Lee Reimer leads the team in points with 8-19--27. Torey Krug has 8-16--24 from back on the blueline, including five goals on the power play.

Merrifield got off to a very fast start, but has only put up 3-1--4 since the start of December. Assist-leader Reimer has been in a slump as well. He has just four assists in 2012 and hasn't scored since a 1-1--2 performance the last time these teams met at Munn. Krug has 10 points in his last 7.

In net, it's been almost a dead-split between DREW PALMISANO IS FROM ANN ARBOR and Willie Yanakeff, who played for the NTDP in Ann Arbor. Yanakeff has outperformed the senior, however. He has a 10-5-1 record to Palmisano's 5-6-3. Yanakeff leads in GAA 2.37 to 2.77 and has a .927 save percentage compared to Palmisano's .914. That said, the Wolverines put four past Yanakeff at Yost, and Palmisano has given up 7 on 87 shots in two games against Michigan (a shootout win when he acted like they won the Stanley Cup and an overtime loss in the GLI).

Palmisano has only played three games since the GLI Championship game, and has given up 11 goals, including 9 in his last two starts. Yanakeff has played in seven games this calendar year and has three 40-save performances to his credit in that span. I'd imagine we'll see both goalies.

The Spartans have a 15.9% power play, which is actually one slot in the rankings behind Michigan's 16.1%. They've scored one fewer power play goal on five fewer chances with the man advantage. They're very good on the PK however. They rank second nationally with an 89.1% (and the team ahead of them is Robert Morris, so for all intents and purposes, the Spartans are the best penalty killing team in the country). They've given up 13 power play goals on 119 chances. Michigan has climbed the ranks up to #15, as they've been phenomenal since these teams last met. Michigan has given up 20 PPGs on 127 short-handed occasions (84.3%).

David Wohlberg has been an absolute Spartan-killer in his career. He is far and away the tops on the team against FYS, with a 9-8--17 line in 18 career games. The next highest on the Wolverines in points is Chris Brown, with 8 in 13 games. He'll only get one crack at them this weekend.

Shawn Hunwick is 6-2-1 with a 1.94/.929 against Michigan State in his career.

Winter Classic Official; GLI Outdoors

At long last, the outdoor games over the Christmas season are now official. After the Regents voted yesterday to rent Michigan Stadium to the NHL, the NHL announced today that the Red Wings and Maple Leafs will play at the Big House on January 1, 2013 in the Winter Classic. That is, if the CBA situation is settled. #buzzkill

Additionally, a second rink will be constructed at Comerica Park. Among the games featured on that rink will be the 2012 GLI, which will include Michigan, FYS, Michigan Tech, and Western Michigan. St. Cloud State was previously thought to be the fourth team involved, but were reportedly told that the organizers wanted a fourth Michigan team.

Both days of the GLI will be outdoors at Comerica Park, which means that the outgoing senior class will have played in five outdoor games by the time their careers end.

Also, of particular interest to me, the Red Wings and Maple Leafs will have an alumni game. The goalies for Detroit are rumored to be Chris Osgood, Mike Vernon, and Dominik Hasek. Hasek is my favorite player ever outside of Yzerman, and is probably the funniest player to watch that I've ever seen. It greatly excites me that there might be another opportunity to see him strap on the pads. No word on if CuJo will play and switch teams in the middle of the game.

There has been a lot of talk about outdoor games losing their appeal and I just don't see it. I get that the novelty is wearing off, but I've been to all four that Michigan has played in, and I'm going to do everything in my power to be at Comerica and the Big House this Christmas season. Having two Original Six teams playing in Michigan Stadium is special. Having the GLI outdoors is special. According to College Hockey Inc, it will be the first tournament title decided outdoors since the 1950s. It probably wouldn't be the worst idea for Michigan to give it a break for a couple of years after the GLI. That said, outdoor games in general: If they're shifting the teams around, the novelty isn't wearing off for the individual fanbases. There's something about your team participating in one of these games that really is special. I hope the trend keeps up and more clubs have a chance to host, because it really is an awesome way to engage people that might not otherwise come out, and it's a unique experience for players, coaches, and fans.

As part of the deal for Michigan Stadium, the NHL will pay Michigan $3 million and will also donate a significant amount of money (reported to be at least $250,000) to the University of Michigan for scholarships. Like it or not--and from the sound of it, most people are on board--Dave Brandon found an additional way to pack the Big House, outside of the Michigan football home slate. It's a huge amount of money for the Athletic Department, and will help with the renovations, buildings, and new sports teams. It's also a huge boon to Ann Arbor. Brandon said he expects it to generate $14 million for the local economy. I'd imagine this will be more than the Big Chill, since we'll have a bunch of visitors from across the border spending their loonies and twonies.

Gary Bettman said that they expect to have more demand for tickets than they can satisfy with the 115,000-or-so tickets that will be made available. Bettman also went on:

“Based on what we’re doing for this Winter Classic and Detroit, I’m not sure if anyone’s going to be able to top it. (That’s) both in terms of the number of events and the sheer enormity of how fans can connect to it.”

This is going to be a huge event for the city of Detroit, the city of Ann Arbor, and the University of Michigan. Anyone who was at The Big Chill knows how great the stadium can be for hockey. It was a first-class event, and the NHL has some work to do if they're going to live up to that one.

Turning attention to the Great Lakes Invitational at Comerica Park, College Hockey Inc posted a picture of a possible rink configuration. The sight-lines (at least from this spot) look great!

Other News: 
Max Pacioretty had a hat trick tonight for Montreal in a 4-2 win over the New York Islanders. It was his first career hat trick and also gave him the first 20-goal season of his career. He has 22-19--41 in 52 games to lead the Habs in both goals and points.

Speaking of Max Pacioretty, this story will make you proud that he is a Wolverine. Pacioretty started a foundation which is trying to raise money for the hospital where he was cared for after the vicious hit he took last year. 

Earlier this year, I suggested that it's time the NCAA fought back against the dirty recruiting tactics of the CHL, and it appears that they're doing just that. According to the Grand Forks Herald, College Hockey Inc. is working to enact legislation to prevent players from jumping to the CHL for one year after they've signed their National Letter of Intent. The United States of Hockey has been covering the story and explains how the transfer agreement between the US and Canada could play a role. Chris also covers some of the pros and cons. Bravo to College Hockey Inc. Here's hoping that they can find a way to make it work. I'm okay with kids changing their mind. But once they sign the Letter of Intent, it's officially too late to find anyone else if they bail. Making the LOI binding would at least allow coaches to know how committed a kid was, and recruit as if he wasn't coming if he didn't sign when he was able to. Love it.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Michigan 3, Miami 0

If it wasn't already there, I'd like to think that Shawn Hunwick thrust his name right into the thick of the Hobey conversation with another sparkling performance--this one a 29-stop gem that led the Wolverines to a sweep of Miami. Lee Moffie scored twice, Chris Brown added as pretty of a goal as you'll see all season, and the CCHA officials peed down their legs once again. All in a day's work.

If you don't like 5-on-5 hockey, you loved the first period of this game. Of the first 14 minutes, ten of them were played with one team up a man. Usually it was Miami. Pateryn, Hyman, Brown, and Wohlberg were all called for infractions in the first 12 minutes of the game (and Miami got whistled for too many men).

The RedHawks weren't able to generate a shot on their first power play of the game. On the second, Hunwick made a sparkling stop on either Vogelhuber or Murphy, sprawling to the ice and somehow managing to keep the puck out of the net. While shorthanded, Kevin Lynch started a Michigan rush with a great breakout pass that led to a 3-on-1 for the Wolverines. Glendening went cross-ice to Moffie who sniped one past Connor Knapp to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead.

Miami nearly tied it up right away, but Hunwick made a great stop on Murphy. The penalty killers kept up their good work. Brown hit a player from behind and the RedHawks managed two shots and nothing more. Then Wohlberg threw a shot toward the net after the whistle, got violently cross-checked in the back by Weber, a scrum ensued and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Wohlberg ended up being the difference there. Once again, the Wolverine PK was stellar, holding Miami without a shot and managing two of their own.

So after the first 13:50 of the game, the RedHawks had had nearly eight full minutes of power play time. In that 7:57 span with Miami up a man, shots were 5-5 and goals were 1-0 in favor of the Wolverines. That is some penalty killing!

Hyman nearly scored on a wraparound shot that bounced around in between Knapp's legs, but stayed out. The period ended with Michigan leading 1-0.

Early in the second, Vogelhuber was called for hitting Wohlberg from behind. Michigan's best chance on the PP was Guptill backdoor, but neither team was credited with a shot on goal during that power play. Just six seconds after the penalty ended, however, Moffie was at the right point and went down low to Moffatt. Moffatt sent it to Treais in the middle of the ice, who laid a pass perfectly for Moffie who was cruising into the slot. He buried it for his second of the night, and Michigan led 2-0. Really, really pretty play there.

Hyman set up Moffatt for a good look and Knapp made a great save. Then Hyman fed Sparks, who rung one off the post.

Pateryn was called for high-sticking late in the period, but Michigan held the RedHawks to one shot, and took a 2-0 lead into the second intermission. The Wolverine penalty killers had to come up big again in the third, this time on a bench minor for too many men. They held Miami without a shot on a power play that was abbreviated when Brian Paulazzo hooked Kevin Clare. Clare went hard into the boards very awkwardly, but luckily he was okay.

That power play led to the turning point in the game. Jon Merrill took a slapshot and broke his stick. While he went to the bench to get a new one, Miami was able to break the puck out and spring Matt Tomassoni on a breakaway. Hunwick made a nice save and Moffie was able to clear the puck away as it inched toward the goal line. After play continued for a couple of minutes, there was finally a stoppage and Brian Hill reviewed the play. The replay showed that it was about as close as it could possibly get. We didn't have access to the overhead look, but it appeared that Moffie cleared the puck out when it sat right on the goal line. It was probably more over the goal line than not, but you couldn't see any white space. Hill waived the goal off and Blasi, who was able to see the replay on the Megatron, went bonkers.

After Blasi's rant, Hill went back into the penalty box for another look. The commentators commended him for taking another look to make sure he got it right. I feel the exact opposite. Going back to take another look completely undermined his credibility. All it said was, "I didn't do a good enough job the first time and I'm not confident in my ruling." If the video was inconclusive, it was inconclusive and it's no goal. If it showed the puck in the net, call it a goal. If it didn't, call it no goal. You already made the decision that there was no angle that showed the puck in the net. Tell Blasi to STFU and let's play.

Shockingly, no new video evidence surfaced from the last time he stepped into the penalty box, and Hill again ruled it no goal. I have a feeling the roof would have blown off of Yost if he had changed his mind after being argued into taking another look. Even if the puck did go in, we're still about 499 missed calls against Miami in our favor away from making up for the hose-job in Fort Wayne. Just saying. But that puck wasn't in the net. I whole-heartedly support a verification line. Or lasers.

Michigan then iced the game on as pretty of a goal as you'll see this season. Brown took a pass from Wohlberg and brought it into the zone one-against-two. He puck the puck through Will Weber's legs, stepped around him, and ripped it past Knapp. Brown Tebowed. Weber broke his stick over the net, much to the delight of the Children of Yost who had serenaded him with "Weber sucks" for much of the game after his fairly dirty play this weekend.

Then all hell broke loose. Spinell planted Bennett with hands to the face and was ejected for contact to the head. Almost immediately afterwards (like, 20 seconds), Pateryn was ejected for contact to the head. The RedHawks pulled their goalie down by 3, and after a defenseman made a save on Travis Lynch, Reilly Smith was called for charging.

The Wolverines got another shot on goal and Alex Guptill took a light poke at the goalie after the save. Three RedHawk players went after him and Guptill slashed at one. A melee ensued that resulted in Chris Brown and Will Weber dropping the gloves. When the penalties were sorted out, both Brown and Weber were given DQs for fighting, Guptill was called for slashing, and four other players were given roughing minors. We were treated to some rare 3-on-3 hockey, and the game ended with a 3-0 Michigan win.

After the game, Red Berenson opened his press conference by instruction reports to not ask him about the officiating. He later criticized Blasi for not controlling his players, and suggested that Miami took some liberties, knowing that they've got a pair of games against the worst team in the country next weekend.

All in all, it was what I've come to expect when Keith Sergott is officiating a series. There will be dangerous plays that go uncalled, wildly inconsistent officiating, a couple periods that are almost entirely power plays, and he'll ultimately completely lose control. Luckily we got out of this one without anyone being assaulted. Add in Hill's complete unprofessionalism by allowing a coach to badger him into re-evaluating a judgment ruling that he had already made, and you've got a duo that really doesn't need to be calling any more important games this year. Or ever. There's a reason that things blow up every time Sergott is around. He can't handle heated rivalries and he shouldn't be calling these type of games.

The wins, combined with OSU's continued struggles, and surprising losses by Notre Dame (to BGSU) and WMU (to Alaska), jumped the Wolverines up into 3rd in the conference. They now sit just 3 points behind CCHA-leading Ferris State and just one point behind Western Michigan. The top 8 in the conference are separated by a mere 6 points, though Miami and Ohio have played two more games than everyone else (they both have 36).

It was also a very good weekend for the Wolverines in the PWR. Minnesota-Duluth plummeted after a loss to Alaska-Anchorage and the Wolverines moved into a tie for second behind BU. They edge out the surprising UMass-Lowell (who now has the best record in college hockey) in the RPI tie-breaker.

Miami is in 18th in the PWR. Good.

Lost in the fisticuffs was the fact that Red Berenson moved into 5th place all by himself on the all-time wins list.

Hunwick moved into 4th place in the history of the program with his ninth-career shutout. He also now ranks second nationally in wins, is fifth in save percentage, and ninth in goals-against. Hobey. Seriously.

Of the eight guys in front of him in GAA, four come from minor conferences (Union, Niagara, RIT, Quinnipiac), and he's played twice as many minutes as Knapp and CJ Motte. Only Douglas Carr from UML and Kent Patterson from Minnesota are from major conferences, have played around as many minutes, and have a better GAA. And Patterson is only .01 ahead.

The four guys ahead of him in save percentage play for Niagara, Union, RIT, and Robert Morris. And none of them are within 225 saves of him.

The PK gave up 6 shots on 6 Miami power plays. Once again, the RedHawks spent more than a half-period's worth of time (11:05) on the power play and came away with -1 goals to show for it. Michigan has now killed 31 of 32 penalties since Jon Merrill has returned, and, with the short-handed goal, is actually net-even when killing off penalties over the last eight games. They're up to 16th now, and are within .7% of cracking the top ten, which is remarkable.

The Wolverines will now head to East Lansing to take on FYS in a road/Joe series. Chris Brown will have to sit Friday night due to his suspension. BTN and Fox Sports Detroit will carry the games.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Michigan 4, Miami 1

It's a big game when Denard is in the house!
Photo Credit: Bill Rapai
The birthday boys stepped up in a big way for the Wolverines last night. Chris Brown and Jon Merrill both turned a year older on Friday, and today is AJ Treais's birthday. Those three players combined for 3 goals and 2 assists as Michigan drew ever-closer to getting back into the race for a CCHA crown by downing the Miami RedHawks 4-1.

Michigan got on top early, used a strong first period to build a three-goal lead, and never appeared to be in any danger of relinquishing it, outside of a 1 1/2 minute span in the early second period. Shawn Hunwick stopped 24 of 25 shots and the special teams were fantastic in the victory.

Chris Brown got things started 1:40 into the contest. Just moments after Alex Guptill narrowly missed on a goal-mouth pass from Brown, Brown took it himself on a 2-on-1 and beat Cody Reichard 5-hole to give the Wolverines a 1-0 lead. The Children of Yost raised the Texas flag, the band played "Deep in the Heart of Texas" and Yost was rocking!

Photo Credit: Bill Rapai
Luke Glendening planted a RedHawk player, won the battle for the puck, and got it over to AJ Treais. He had PDG with him, but ripped a shot past Reichard to make it 2-0. That was a snipe right there.

Reilly Smith took a high-sticking penalty and early in the Michigan power play, Will Weber was called for roughing after the whistle. That was an interesting situation. He drilled one of the Wolverines from behind (Wohlberg I think). It could have been five, was certainly two, and it went uncalled. Something happened behind the play, and Weber was given a penalty. From the sound of it, Wohlberg took exception to the hit and there was a scrum? We didn't get a replay of it. Anyway, Blasi was pissed, but if they hadn't missed the original call, we would have had the same result: Long 5-on-3 for Michigan.

And the Wolverines capitalized. Treais had the puck in the corner and centered a pass for Luke Moffatt. It deflected in and Michigan took a 3-0 lead into the first intermission. Blasi was pissed.

Blasi was less than thrilled with Keith Sergott. Join the crowd.
Photo credit: Bill Rapai

The RedHawks changed goalies after one and came out with Connor Knapp. Early in the second it looked like Miami was going to get back into the game. Their star, Reilly Smith, took a shot that looked like it handcuffed Hunwick a little bit. It found its way into the back of the net and Miami got back within 2 just 30 seconds into the second period.

If that was just what the RedHawks needed, they certainly didn't need the too many men on the ice call a minute later. It took the Wolverines just twenty second to capitalize with the man advantage. Jon Merrill took a shot from the point and Luke Moffatt got a gorgeous tip on it. It went up over Knapp and Michigan had their 3-goal lead back. That would be the only shot the Wolverines would put on net in the second period. Miami outshot Michigan 11-1 in the frame, but the goals ended up 1-1.

The third period was mainly Miami gooning it up and Michigan getting called for it. Hunwick was run over for the third or fourth time in the game and Pateryn was called for cross-checking. This was the Miami MO: With any contact around the net, take it as an opportunity to plow Hunwick and blame it on the defenseman. It worked, largely because Keith Sergott and Brian Hill are nincompoops. Anyway, the puck don't lie, the penalty killing was terrific, and Michigan kept Miami off the board.

With 1.2 seconds left in the contest, Blake Coleman ran over Hunwick yet again. It was at this point that the officials decided to make him pay. Coleman received a five-minute major for charging, which, with 1 second left in the game, they might as well have really sent him a message and given him an eleventy-billion minute penalty. Quite honestly, that was probably the least-severe of all the times Miami ran into Hunwick in the game. You know what would send a message? Call the same thing the first time they do it tonight, and give them a penalty that they actually have to serve.

You'll remember that Sergott was the official a few weeks back at Notre Dame, when he let the Irish run Hunwick at every opportunity and usually just evened things up on the rare occasion that he did call anything. He was also the official when Steve Kampfer was attacked by Andrew Conboy and Corey Tropp. He was also the official of the ND/WMU game when the wrong player got ejected. Even if you set the bar for your officials at "Don't endanger players with your incompetence", Sergott fails in a big way. He shouldn't be reffing BGSU/Alabama-Huntsville, let alone high-profile games.

Let's talk about the Michigan special teams. Much-maligned for most of this year, both units were special (in the good way) last night. The power-play was two for their first three, and ended the game 2-for-5 with five shots on net. The penalty kill killed off 10:12 of Miami power play time. They did surrender 10 shots on goal, but kept the RedHawks off the board. This was especially crucial during the second period when it was "Get Miami back into the game because Rico is mad" time, and Miami spent 40% of the period with the man-advantage.

How big has the return of Merrill been? When Merrill made his return after the GLI, Michigan was 76/95 on the PK (80.0%). They have gone 25/26 (96.1%) since then and are now 23rd in the country at 83.5%.

Before Merrill's return, opponents were averaging 2.6 goals per game (57 goals in 22 games). Michigan has given up just 10 goals in the seven games he's been back (1.43 goals per game) and now ranks 10th in team defense (2.31 goals a night). It would be a mistake to give him all the credit for the turnaround, but when you add your best player back into the lineup, it certainly is a boost, and the numbers have shown that.

The teams return to the ice tonight at 7:35. The game will air on the CBS Sports Network.