Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hunwick to Columbus!

Earlier this year, the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired Jack Johnson from LA. Now Wolverine fans have another reason to pay attention to that NHL team down South.

Shawn Hunwick is a Blue Jacket. Steve Mason took a puck in the head in warmup, leaving Columbus short a goalie for their game against the Red Wings tonight. They called Michigan to find out if Hunwick was available. So he's on his way down there to be the backup tonight. Columbus said that he could be signed for the rest of the year if Mason will miss more time.

Maybe this Cinderella story didn't end with the clock striking midnight in Green Bay. The goalie who sat the bench for 2 1/2 years only to become arguably the best goalie in the nation is headed to The Show. Similarly to how he was talking to D-3 schools and wound up at Michigan, he had just been discussing going to play overseas before getting this call. Maybe it will just be for this one game and he'll still end up in Europe. Or maybe history will repeat and this opportunity will lead to another chance state-side.

If Hunwick remains with the Jackets, he may face his brother Matt in their game against the Avalanche in the near future.

Congrats, Shawn

Monday, March 26, 2012

Offseason Questions

As is always the case, now that the season is over, the question has to be asked: Beside the four seasons, who else are we going to lose? There are some obvious flight risks: Merrill, PDG, Bennett, Brown, and Trouba from the incoming freshman class.

The writers from The Michigan Daily got a hold of some of those players today and here are the current statuses:

PDG: Is coming back.
Merrill: Hasn't decided what he is going to do. He'll talk with Red Berenson, amongst others, before making a decision "soon". 
Bennett: "I'm not ready to leave this place yet. I love it too much. I'm coming back for sure."

Spath says that Red believes Merrill will return for his junior season. And that makes sense. If he was going to bail this summer, why hang around all year to only play half a season? Spath also mentioned that PDG has learned from some friends in the OHL, including Lucas Lessio, that they don't really like it there as much as they thought they would. That's not the first time I've heard that about Lessio, though that may have also come from The Wolverine.

Lou Lamoriello, GM of the New Jersey Devils, who hold Merrill's rights, says that, "As far as we know he's staying in school, unless he tells us otherwise. It's his decision."

As for the guys who have exhausted their eligibility, Wohlberg has signed a tryout contract with the Devils and will head to Albany of the AHL. Montreal wanted Pateryn to sign, but he's going to finish out the school year and graduate.

Red believes that Glendening could be an NHLer someday and that Hunwick will get a shot in the AHL/ECHL. They'll also be voting on captains for next year and the smart money seems to be on Brown with Treais and Bennett wearing letters.

The Daily had an excellent article about Hunwick's career and legacy. For the record, the blog Hunwick references was not this one. Though, just for giggles, I dug up a few things that I wrote about him when he committed.

Right when Shawn committed, Bryan Hogan had been rumored to either be spending another year in the USHL or heading to Erie of the OHL. If you read the message board at The Wolverine, you'll remember that Hogan was my signature picture with a caption that said something along the lines of, "Please save us." I was really down on Sauer. (To Billy's credit, he had one helluva junior season and a solid senior year even though the team couldn't play in front of him.) So here was the initial post:
Personally, I'm still hoping that Hogan is coming and can get back to last year's form to contend for the starting gig. It appears less likely with today's development, however. Then again, it's also possible that this is more of a "I'm probably not making the NHL, so I might as well go get a great education at Michigan rather than play for a D-3 school, and maybe I can play some in practice" decision rather than a "They need a 3rd goalie for a year or two since Hogan isn't coming, so why not?" decision. Either way, best of luck at Michigan to Shawn.
Over the weekend, I was able to get confirmation that it was Steve Jakiel who was leaving and that Hunwick had put up impressive numbers in the MWEHL and got off to a good start in the NAHL before being injured. 

Before the season I broke down the entire roster in individual posts over the span of about a month--this was when I didn't have a job and could do things like that!--and I wrote the following:
Expectations: I expect him to be the third goalie, but with Hogan's illness and Sauer's problem with not stopping the puck, the goalie position has been listed as wide open. Unfortunately, Shawn came down with an illness before the Blue/White game and didn't get into the Western Ontario game, so he hasn't had a chance to show what he can do in game action.

He'll be the backup until Hogan is well again, but I don't expect him to see a lot of playing time.

It is fair to point out that, despite lesser competition, he did have the best save percentage last year out of all three of our goalies.

Level of Necessity: 3 out of 10.

Probably a higher rating than your typical third-goalie would normally get because there's so much of an unknown at that position. I don't expect him to play, but if the other two falter and he shows something in practice, you never know what can happen.

If nothing else, maybe shooting on a shorter goalie (Hunwick is 5'7") in practice will help them better prepare for Jeff Lerg.
At some point in there, I know I said that I never expected Matt to get a sniff in the NHL. I'm never doubting a Hunwick again. I still can't believe that it was 2 1/2 years before anyone realized that he could play and then he turned out to be Hobey-contender good. That truly was a remarkable story. I just wish he had gotten his Cinderella ending.

Some other good stuff I've read this week:
Hoover Street Rag goes with the Hockey Christmas thing and points out that sometimes Christmas ain't all that great. Really well-written piece.

MGoBlog has his typically excellent thoughts on the Cornell game.

Melissa from The Yost Post has her thoughts as well and seems to be just as stunned and saddened by the premature end to the season as I am.

Bob Miller's College Hockey Prospective has a fun read from Mike Bagley, firing a shot at the OHL and their recruiting practices. Bob also covered Connor Carrick in his countdown of the top NHL Draft prospects that appear to be college-bound.

In other news, Michigan commit Dylan Larkin became one of the first to sign with the NTDP for next year. (HT: Chris Peters)

Also, Travis Turnbull scored his first NHL goal the other night for Buffalo. It was the type of goal you'd expect Travis Turnbull to score in the NHL, and I mean that as a compliment. He also threw down for the first time and won that one against Nick Johnson.

Here's the goal:

Atta boy, Travis!

I think that's all I've got for tonight.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

This is Why I Drink

You actually might not want to read this post. 

Has any school in the country had as many gut-punch losses as Michigan over the past decade or so? Miami's National Championship loss in 09 probably still takes the cake for one single loss, but when you look at the body of work I don't think there's any competition.

Going back to my freshman year at Michigan when I first started really following the team...check this out:

2001: Boston College 4, Michigan 2 (Frozen Four): Michigan gets down 3-0 before rallying and missing several chances to tie the game. BC scores an empty-netter.
2002: Minnesota 3, Michigan 2 (Frozen Four): Similar to the year before without the ENG. Got down 3-0, rallied very late, just missed tying things up.
2003: Minnesota 3, Michigan 2 in overtime (Frozen Four): Michigan dominated early, pulling out to a 1-0 lead in the first that should have been more like 4-0. They led 2-0 late in the second, but Minnesota scored a pair to draw even. Michigan scored a potential game-winner late in regulation that was waived off for no reason. Gophers win in OT.
2004: Boston College 3, Michigan 2 in overtime: Michigan had no business being in this game but led late due to a sensational performance out of Montoya. If Tambellini had taken one more stride before dumping that puck......
2005: Colorado College 4, Michigan 3: Blew a 3-0 lead. Nuff said.
2008: Notre Dame 5, Michigan 4 in overtime (Frozen Four): After playing outstanding hockey all year, Billy Sauer reverted to the Sauer of old, giving up three terrible goals in the first period and getting yanked with Michigan down 3-0 after one. The Wolverines tied the game up before ND took another lead. Hagelin sent it to OT, but after the furious comeback, it was the Irish coming out on top.
2009: Air Force 2, Michigan 0: Outshoot Air Force something like 42-13 and can't put one in. We didn't have a goal waived off, but we did have an inexplicable "lost sight of the puck" whistle when Turnbull had the puck on his stick with an empty net to shoot at.
2010: Miami 3, Michigan 2 in overtime: With a Detroit Frozen Four berth on the line, Kevin Lynch scored in overtime. It was waived off for absolutely no reason. Miami won.
2011: Minnesota Duluth 3, Michigan 2 in overtime (National Championship): Played pretty crappy, still sent it to overtime. Lost again. Had another goal waived off.
2012: Cornell 3, Michigan 2 in overtime: Would have had a 2-0 lead in the first 1 1/2 minutes but for a waived-off goal. Played crappy, but somehow tied it late. Lost in overtime.

In the last twelve tournament ousters, only the 2006 (5-1) and 2007 (8-5) losses to North Dakota weren't complete punches in the gut. That's eight one-goal losses, and a ninth that would have been a one goal loss but for an ENG with 20 seconds left. 6 of those losses came in overtime. We had goals waived off in at least four of those games, including the last three years.

I'm really not sure this is fun. I also never want to see another 3-2 game.

Wolverines Fall to Cornell

I love every player on this team. I'm in no way, shape, or form blaming any specific individual for the loss just because I may think they made a bad play or mention specifically that I didn't think they played very well. Just a reminder.

Michigan's season--and the Michigan careers of Shawn Hunwick, Greg Pateryn, Luke Glendening, and David Wohlberg--came to an abrupt end. The Wolverines bowed out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, falling 3-2 in overtime to the Cornell Big Red.

Things looked great out of the gate. Luke Glendening scored on a Treais rebound 1:10 into the contest. Before the Michigan contingent even had a chance to let Andy Iles know it was all his fault, it appeared to be 2-0 as Kevin Lynch crashed the net and banged in a rebound from a Moffatt shot. The official right on the play signaled goal emphatically, Iles didn't seem to argue, the official gave the goal and assists to the official scorer, and the arena announcer announced the goal. But during a Cornell timeout, the officials reviewed the play and said that Moffatt made enough contact with Iles to prevent him from making a play on the rebound. The goal was waived off and it completely changed the momentum in the game. The shell-shocked Big Red suddenly had new life.

The ice tilted in Cornell's favor and the Big Red tied the game halfway through the first period on the power play. John McCarron blasted a shot past Hunwick from the top of the faceoff circle.

Despite a 9-8 shot advantage in the first period, it felt like Cornell dominated. Michigan just didn't have anything after the goal was waived off. It seemed like they took things as poorly as I did.

The Wolverines started the second period on the man-advantage, but after a Merrill turnover, the Big Red had a 2-on-1. Merrill got back on defense, but the pass got across to Joakim Ryan and Hunwick had no chance. Moffie was coming back on defense, but stopped skating. He may have been caught between going for the guy driving the net and sticking with the late man. He may not have gotten there anyway--it just looked really strange. In any case, Cornell had themselves a 2-1 lead.

The Big Red had another odd-man rush moments later. Clare wasn't able to completely break up the pass across, but he was able to bother it enough that they couldn't get a shot away. The Big Red player sent it back in front and Moffie got back to break it up.

Michigan spent a good chunk of the second period on the power play, but couldn't solve Andy Iles, who was outstanding between the pipes. In the second frame, Michigan had 17 shots on goal, 13 on the power play, but couldn't score. That included two 5-on-3s (one short and one long) and a five-minute major.

Michigan's golden opportunity came just moments after killing off an unnecessary holding the stick penalty on Merrill. Armand de Swardt was kicked out for contact to head. Just seconds into the major, Moffie took a penalty for checking from behind. After the teams played four-on-four, Moffie threw a pass behind Merrill. Merrill kept it in the zone but it skidded away from him and Cornell's Locke Jillson rushed up ice on a partial breakaway. As he cut in, Merrill was called for tripping (?????!!!!!) and they awarded Cornell a penalty shot. Fortunately Hunwick didn't bite on Jillson's fake and was able to keep Michigan in the game.

In the third, there just didn't seem to be the jump that you'd expect from a #1 seed with their season on the brink. Cornell seemed pretty content to dump the puck and line up three guys across the neutral zone. The teams would have six shots apiece in the frame. Michigan had another power play and didn't manage a shot on goal. When hope was dwindling, it was Michigan's big game player, Kevin Lynch, who came up huge once again. With only four minutes left in regulation, Greg Pateryn sprawled on the ice to keep the play alive, Bennett took a shot from the point, Moffatt got a tip, and Lynch was there to tap in the rebound.

Michigan nearly won the game in the waning seconds as Treais intercepted a clearing attempt. Glendening had a great pop at the rebound and I'm not sure how it stayed out.

Three and a half minutes into the extra session, Cornell rushed the puck up ice on a 4-on-3. Moffatt and Merrill tried to cut off the rush, but the pass got through, leading to a 2-on-1 with Moffie down low. Moffatt is the guy at the left of the shot, Merrill is the middle Wolverine. You can just see the puck getting past Merrill and through to Dustin Mowrey.

Moffie spun to his right (facing Hunwick) and Mowrey dropped the pass back to Greg Miller--it looked like Moffie thought that Miller was going to go to the net. Moffie recovered, but Miller got the shot away and Hunwick absolutely robbed him, saving Michigan's bacon one final time. Rodger Craig has curled out of the corner and Moffatt is on his right shoulder.

The last save of Hunwick's career
The rebound snuck out and Moffatt just wasn't back-checking. Craig was between Moffatt and the goal and the rebound came perfectly onto his back hand. Moffatt made a late effort to get Craig's stick, but it was too late. Craig had an empty net, and sent Michigan into an early summer. Moffatt slammed his stick to the ice. I've made that exact play more times than I'd like to admit (clearly on a much smaller scale) and it's as bad of a feeling as you can have. You stop moving your feet for even a moment, you realize in one horrific instant that you don't have your guy and the puck is coming to him, and it's just too late to recover.

The end.
The difference in the game was without a doubt the special teams. This season, Cornell's penalty kill was as bad as Michigan's power play. For the night, though, the Big Red won that battle. Michigan had 11:33 with the man advantage, registered 13 shots on goal, but couldn't get one past Andy Iles. Cornell also managed a short-handed goal (the only shortie Michigan gave up this year), and were able to force a penalty shot as well.

The other way, Cornell was able to do what Michigan wasn't--capitalize on the power play. And it took them a whole one shot on goal to do so. That goal was big. Michigan had been on their heels after Lynch's goal was waived off, and that PPG was Cornell's reward for tilting the ice.

Hunwick's reaction to the end of the Michigan career? He fished the puck out of the net and took it to the Cornell bench, for the staff to give to Craig. Pure class. Cornell coach Mike Schafer called it "one of the classiest things I've seen in 25 years of coaching".

It was a disappointing finish to a roller coaster season that saw the Wolverines rise from their worst stretch of hockey in years to nearly win the conference and secure the second overall seed in the tournament. In the end, a lack of a true go-to scorer and the complete lack of a power play did them in. Two goals just isn't enough this time of year, especially when two of your best defensemen play their worst games of the season.

For the season, Michigan managed just 23 goals with the man-advantage, an anemic 14.6% which ranked 48th in the country. The only teams that were worse (along with their conference finish): RPI (10th of 12), Dartmouth (9th of 12), Northeastern (9th of 10), Army (11th of 12), Robert Morris (7th of 12), Bentley (6th of 12), Bowling Green (11th of 11), Sacred Heart (12th of 12), Canisius (9th of 12), and Alabama-Huntsville (Independent, and unquestionably the worst team in the country). We're talking the dregs of college hockey. They also gave up their lone short-handed goal at the worst possible time. 

I was left to, once again, do college hockey's version of the walk of shame. Find the nearest bar/liquor store, drink a bunch, and then head home, tail between my legs, with tickets for the next day never to be used.

Mike Spath had a great take on the end of the season that is well worth reading.