Saturday, December 29, 2012

GLI Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Wolverines Earn Split with Western

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 07, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good luck to all, and thanks to Verizon!