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.