Saturday, February 02, 2013

Off the Mat: Wolverines Sweep the Spartans!

For the first time this year, the sweet sounds of "The Victors" have emanated from the Wolverine locker room. Michigan put together their first winning streak since the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th games of the season with a 3-2 win over the Spartans at Yost last night followed by a 5-2 win today at the Joe.

Boo Nieves, Derek DeBlois, and Phil DiGiuseppe were particularly awesome for Michigan this weekend. Nieves had a 3-2--5 line on the weekend, DeBlois scored three goals and was ridiculous on the PK, and PDG added five assists. 

Jared Rutledge was in net for both games and had a solid weekend. Two of the goals he allowed should have been stopped, but unlike previous games where a bad goal would snowball into 2, 3, or 4 in a period, he responded with some really nice stops and has clearly earned a spot between the pipes next weekend against Notre Dame. Michigan has only allowed fewer than 3 goals on 8 occasions this year, so it was nice to see it happen in back-to-back games for the first time all year. Also, it's worth pointing out that the Wolverines have only allowed more than three 15 times this year, but only once in the last five games. Progress. If you give up three or fewer you'll have a chance to at least be in the game. 

It was a late-arriving and fairly subdued crowd at Yost last night, and in the early-going the team matched the lack of enthusiasm of the fans. Rutledge made one nice stop in the early-going, but it took less than five minutes for the Spartans to get on the board last night at Yost. Serville had his pocket picked by Brent Darnell and Darnell lifted one up over Rutledge's glove from a sharp angle. 

Michigan started to turn the tide in the mid-to-late section of the period and ended up outshooting the Spartans 14-10 in the frame. DeBlois and Nieves were Michigan's two best players in the first period and it would later pay off for them.

Nieves mentioned that in the locker room, the team decided that this was the time where they would usually fall apart and it wasn't going to happen. The team came out in the second period and played what had to have been one of their top 5 periods of the season. The Wolverines only scored one goal, thanks to some great goaltending by Jake Hildebrand, but they outshot the Spartans 14-4 and largely took control of the game. 

Trouba rings one off the post
Photo: Tim Williams
The Wolverines swarmed the Michigan State net for large parts of the period. Trouba hit the post off a faceoff win, Moffatt nearly hooked up with Hyman just before Michigan's goal, and finally the Wolverines were able to capitalize. PDG kept the puck in the zone and got it over to Nieves in the middle of the ice. He slid a pass over to DeBlois who absolutely sniped one up into the top corner to even the game at one.

Before intermission, Sinelli had a partial breakaway but a nice play by the Spartan defense forced a shot wide of the goal. 

After the Children of Yost did their thing:

...the third period started with a bang as the teams combined for three goals in the first five minutes. A Spartan clearing attempt hit a teammate in the back and the puck stayed in the zone. PDG centered for Nieves who slapped it past Hildebrand. 

The Spartans answered less than a minute later, however. The Spartans won a battle in the corner and Kevin Walrod was able to get the puck to Jake Chelios just before he was hit by Mike Szuma. Chelios had a step on Rohrkemper and was able to pull the puck cross-crease and sneak it past Rutledge's pad to even the game again.

It took Michigan just over two minutes to get back on top. A big hit by Kevin Lynch in the defense end freed up the puck for Nieves. He sent it up-ice to PDG and the DiGiuseppe hit him streaking into the slot. He one-touched it past Hildebrand for his second of the game, sixth of the year. That would be all she wrote. Michigan was able to kill of a Spartan power play in the last few minutes.

The question then became how would Michigan respond? When they last defeated the Spartans at Yost, they followed it up by getting shelled the next night at Munn. They had three other chances to sweep a series but hadn't be able to finish the deal.

The game got off to a poor start as Moffie was whistled for a penalty--his fourth of the weekend--in the first twenty second. The PK again did their job, aided by two or three really nice saves by Rutledge, and the Wolverines were soon awarded a power-play of their own. DiGiuseppe's shot was turned aside, but Luke Moffatt was able to get three pops at the puck in front of the net, eventually shoveling one past Hildebrand to give Michigan a 1-0 lead. 

Mid-period, the puck once again didn't lie. Andrew Sinelli was whistled for charging on what appeared to be a good, hard check. On the ensuing power play, Derek DeBlois stole the puck from a Spartan, skated in, and destroyed Hildebrand's water bottle with a shot for his second snipe of the weekend. 

Hildebrand had a couple of big stops late in the period to keep the game from getting out of hand early-on. He made another great stop on Kevin Lynch early in the second, off a great feed from Guptill. With Michigan on the power play, a Moffie turnover led to a rush the other way and Forfar beat Rutledge 5-hole to cut the lead in half. Merrill slashed Forfar as he was coming in, and the Spartans got a power play on the "and-one". After the PK did their job again, Andrew Sinelli was behind the net and found Andrew Copp in the slot. Copp tapped it through the wickets to put Michigan back up by 2. Nice to see two of the hardest working guys in the business rewarded for their efforts!

The Spartans had the Wolverines on their heels for the last five-minutes or so in the period and they looked to grab some momentum as Wolfe dove for a loose puck and got it under Rutledge's pad. That one needed to be stopped. His pad got off the ice and the puck snuck underneath. A lot of times this season, Michigan has failed to respond in situations like this, but tonight they did and it was Derek DeBlois again. Moffie flipped a shot toward the net and Hildebrand left a soft rebound. DeBlois was there to knock it home and the Wolverines went into intermission with their two-goal lead in tact. 

In the third, Nieves had a chance at the side of the net but hit it into the side of the goal. Rather than try to stuff it in again with Hildebrand out of position and a defenseman closing, he opted to take the puck around the net and throw it out front. His centering attempt deflected off of Travis Walsh and bounced into the Spartan goal. 

The Spartans had a couple of looks after that, but nothing major. Michigan outshot FYS 45-28 in the game and got to celebrate their first sweep of the season with a 5-2 victory. Rutledge was named the third star of the game, which is really nice for him and has to do wonders for his confidence.

The Wolverines now head to South Bend, and it will be really interesting to see if this little spark can ignite a fire. They're getting the Irish at a good time. After a great start to their year, the Irish would actually miss the tournament if it started today. They snapped a five-game losing streak with a win over Ferris State last weekend, but they've lost 6 of 7 and 7 of 9 heading into tonight's action. Michigan lost 3-1 and 4-1 games to Notre Dame at Yost earlier in the year, but they were competitive in both of those games before fading late.

Talk of next week can wait. For tonight, the team just needs to enjoy their first sweep of the season and make sure it's not the last time this year that they get to sing "The Victors". 

In addition to the video above, I snapped a bunch of pictures this weekend with my Samsung Galaxy Note 2 and I'm pretty happy with how they came out. We were packed in pretty tight so it was nice to be able to just pull my phone out and get some quality shots when it was hard to dip into my pocket to get my camera out.


I love the guys on the back of the net

The anthem. This is the new background on my phone.


One of the best traditions in sports


Celebrating with Rutledge

Saluting the fans

It is a grand old barn

Friday, February 01, 2013

Scouting the Spartans With "The Munn Minute"

The Munn Minute, written by "MSUStudent" from the Yost Post, thought it might be fun for us to have a little back-and-forth in light of this weekend's series between Michigan and Michigan State. I answered a bunch of questions about the Wolverines for his site, and he returned the favor by discussing the Spartans for me to post here.

I freely admit that the questions that were similar between the two interviews were totally ganked by me.

Yost Built: Okay. So Jake Hildebrand has a GAA that's almost half that of Yanakeff. His save percentage is 64 points higher. His winning percentage is almost 10% lower. What gives? They just not giving him any goal support whatsoever? Are they inflating his save totals like they did with Jeff Lerg? How are you not winning 30% of your games when a guy is stopping 94% of the shots that the other team puts on goal? Like....I kind of feel bad for the guy. Can we have him?

The Munn Minute: First off, no, you can't have him. If it wasn't for him, I'm not sure MSU would have a win at this point in the season. I don't believe the Jeff Lerg shot inflation is going on, though the first night against Penn State made me wonder if it was. The problem is offense. If you thought MSU football had no offense, the hockey team is setting new limits on just how inept you can be. 54 goals scored in 26 games. Hildebrand has lost three 1-0 games this year. Yes, you are reading that correctly - MSU has lost three games this year by a 1-0 score in which Hildebrand was in goal. And I'm not counting the 2-1 or 2-0 games either. MSU has been shutout five times this year (six if you count the game against the US Development team), and only one of those five games the team scored more than two goals, and in that game the final goal was an empty net goal. Now with that said, I do believe MSU has some guys in place that look like they could turn into something down the road. Kevin Walrod had a pretty good weekend against Penn State, and if he can get going, MSU might actually have a second line develop. Just take a mental note of how many quality chances MSU gets this weekend and then count how often they miss the net. Even Coach Anastos has said the team needs to hit the net more. It has been interesting to see how many close opprtunities go wide.

YB: Clearly this season hasn't gone the way that either of our fanbases (or either of our teams) would have wanted. Who is the most pleasant surprise on your team? Any major disappointments?

TMM: The biggest disappointment has been the injuries. Bondra and Chelios (Dean) being out hurts the depth up front. Maybe we can get their dads to come in and play a little. Hildebrand actually has been a surprise, because I don't think he was a highly rated recruiting target. His numbers weren't bad in the USHL, but they weren't eye-popping either. I believe he posted a .913 save % and 2.79 GAA in his final year. Solid numbers. His rebound control has been spectacular this year, and he really seems to be calm under a lot of pressure. It gives me a lot of hope that MSU can build around him for the next few years. Draeger on the blue line seems to be getting more comfortable and improving - but again, the offense needs to come. The offense in general has been disappointing. You can probably go right down the list, but the upperclassmen haven't been producing a lot.

YB: A lot of people mocked the Anastos hire when it happened. There were also a lot of people who swore up and down that it was a brilliant move. You're on year 2 now, so it's probably still too soon to say for sure, but which side of the fence are you on? Do you think he's the right man for the job?

TMM: I will admit I wasn't exactly jumping up and down with the hire, but I wasn't in the room when he interviewed, and Anastos has brought people back to the program despite a struggling season. He got the team to the NCAA tournament the year before - something Comley was struggling to do. He played at MSU, and he knows the program. He basically said all the right things at first, and I think that got a lot of people in his corner. I heard a stat a week or two ago that Michigan State was leading the CCHA in attendance. I never did check to verify it, so it might not be true, but if it is then I think that shows what a good job he is doing bringing the University back to the program. Attendance had suffered under Coach Comley. But now if a team that is in last place in the CCHA is leading the league in attendance, then he must be doing something right.

I also like some of the kids that it looks like he has coming into East Lansing in the near future. I'm wondering if hockey fans are going to be patient enough to give him enough time to finish the job, and I think people are willing to give him a pass on this season given the circumstances of injuries and having so many freshmen on the roster. It's going to be important that MSU has a rebound year next year though.

YB: I have a major hatred for Bryan Lerg because of the whole decommit-and-then-go-to-State thing. Also Corey Tropp and Andrew Conboy for obvious reasons. Is there/Are there any Michigan player(s) past or present who someone could say their name to you and your immediate reaction would be, "Aww man, screw that guy"?

TMM: T.J. Hensick. Couldn't stand the guy. Great player, but it seemed like he would destroy MSU and was at Michigan for 15 years. Treais is getting up there on this list, but I don't have quite the same "Wow, didn't he graduate 3 years ago?" feeling with him that I had with Hensick. Then he went to play for the Avs - which made it worse (as a Wings fan). I think he's in the Blues organization now too right? That isn't any better. Al Montoya was fun to mess around with at Munn. It didn't seem like he ignored your comments either.

YB: What is your favorite Michigan/Michigan State hockey moment? Beside The Cold War, clearly. (Ed Note: This was originally supposed to be a snarky comment. I meant to say "Beside The Big Chill, clearly", but I was writing these questions at 3 in the morning and completely stuffed it up.)

TMM: The Cold War was a great experience at Spartan Stadium. It also made everyone instantly like Jim Slater since he said something either before or after the game (I think) that any MSU fan would love to hear "I hate Michigan." Plus he scored the goal that tied the game late in the 3rd period. (Thanks to a blatant penalty that went uncalled. Just saying. -YB) The 2008 game at Munn when Michigan was #1 and unbeaten on the road was fun to be at. MSU used a couple quick goals in the second period to turn a tight 2-1 contest into a 4-1 blowout. The ultimate 5-2 win kept MSU in the CCHA title race too. One of my favorite moments happened during team introductions at Munn. I forget which year (I want to say early 2000s - since Mason may still have been coaching, and I was in my first or second year at MSU), but the first Michigan player introduced skated out and fell down at the blue line. He got a standing & laughing ovation from the crowd at Munn, and he actually did a good job shaking it off putting his stick in the air to acknowledge the crowd. We thought it'd be good if his next teammate intentionally fell just to make him feel slightly better.

YB: If you could have one Wolverine on your team right now, who would it be?

TMM: Probably Trouba. MSU always seems to have d-men that can create offense (Krug being the latest example). We need that this year, since it really hasn't happened yet. Trouba certainly could fill that role.

YB: Thoughts on the Big Ten Hockey Conference?

TMM: I love the idea. I think the casual hockey fan turns up for the big name schools, so getting Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio State, and Penn State on a regular basis will put more people in the seats and eyes on the TV. I think the teams within the conference need to improve, or we might as well hand the trophy to Minnesota for the first couple of years. My one concern though is if the shoot-out follows us into the Big Ten. I'm not a fan of the shoot-out in the CCHA. But then again, I was never one of those hockey fans that really thought it was a big deal to end a game in a tie. I guess at the NHL level I've gotten used to it, but I feel like the impact of it isn't as great over an 82 game schedule.

YB: Does your team have a winning streak in it to keep their season going into the NCAA Tournament?

TMM: It would surprise me. The only way this happens is if we win the CCHA tournament, and the odds of that are simply not good. If Hildebrand continues to play well or gets even better then I suppose we'll be in some games, but right now MSU would have to go to Columbus and play Ohio State to win 2 out of 3. Ohio State swept MSU in East Lansing this season. If we manage to win that series, we'd have to go to Western Michigan for a pair. MSU is technically unbeaten against Western in like 3 or 4 games (GLI game counting as a tie) - which includes sweeping them in K-Zoo last year, but yeah - Hildebrand would need to put on a show. At that point it's single elimination which a good goalie can win you a game. But that point seems like it's a very, very, very long ways away. MSU is entering a key stretch to their schedule - State is only four points out of eighth place. And MSU plays Michigan, Bowling Green, and Northern Michigan over the next 3 weeks (the 3 teams ahead of MSU right now). Plus MSU has two games on hand Michigan and Northern Michigan, so the Spartans control their own destiny. If we can manage to get home ice in the first round, I think our chances improve.

Here's a stat for you that might make your jaw drop: MSU has not been to Joe Louis Arena for the CCHA Tournament since the 2006 - 2007 season. (Whoa. Yeah, I didn't realize that. -YB) Since that season the CCHA tournament has been a short lived one with zero series wins, and only one playoff victory (game 1 vs. NMU in 2008):

2008 - CCHA Quarterfinal loss vs Northern Michigan in 3 games
2009 - CCHA First Round loss at Northern Michigan in 2 games
2010 - CCHA Quarterfinal loss vs. Michigan in 2 games
2011 - CCHA First Round loss at Alaska in 2 games
2012 - CCHA Quarterfinal loss at Miami in 2 games (MSU was #5 - earning a bye, but having to play at #4 Miami)

In fact, if you include the NCAA tournament, MSU has now lost ten straight post season games (MSU beat Colorado College in the first round of the 2008 NCAA tournament, but lost to ND in the regional final)

YB: What's been the single biggest reason for Michigan State's lack of success this season and what would be the single most important thing they could do in order to turn it around?

TMM: Offense & more offense. MSU needs better production from its second and third lines. I also think MSU needs better production from the blue line (top d-man in scoring has 7 points) and power play. Unfortunately, I only think this is going to come with time and recruiting, and I do believe MSU has more offensive style recruits coming in, but we'll have to see if it's enough to turn things around. Berry, Delbouw, and Darnell can't do it by themselves. Tanner Sorenson has started to pick it up which has been good to see. If a guy like Chris Forfar or Kevin Walrod really get going (Walrod had a good weekend against Penn State), then MSU could still turn this season around a little bit - and at least be a tough out in the CCHA tournament. This means hitting the net when they have those good scoring chances, and it means taking care of the puck heading out of their own zone. I think I just gave you a few different things, but it just all revolves around putting more pucks in the net.

YB: And lastly, your prediction for the weekend?

TMM: With the way both teams have been playing this year, I suppose a split is the logical way to go. But I'm actually going to say Michigan gets five of the possible six points with a shoot-out win down in Detroit. Note: the last time I did this with a team was Ferris State and MSU won #reversejinx. One last thing - just to see if you'll put it on your blog.....Go [Derrick -YB] Green!