Friday, November 10, 2006

Hockey Round Card Table

I was hanging around our tailgate on Saturday afternoon, discussing the essential off-ness of the football game, when it came up that a friend of my dad's had an extra ticket to that evening's hockey game against Michigan State. I didn't know what to expect: the team voted #1 in the CCHA preseason poll or the one that lost to hockey power Northeastern in our own building and the one that had given up 7 goals the previous evening to the Spartans.

Things started quickly. Porter and Hensick jumped on a turnover in the neutral zone and turned it into a 2-on-1. Porter flipped it to Hensick, leaving Lerg with little chance and putting Michigan up 1-0 only 0:17 in. I've seen an early Wolverine goal turn into a 2-1 loss, so I was disappointed later in the period when we failed to capitalize on a 5-on-3 power play we held for a full 1:41. My wariness seemed to be justified when Billy Sauer allowed an almost comical wrap-around goal to even the score. But it turned out to be a momentary lapse.

Michigan continued to carry the play for most of the period, getting quality opportunities in the Spartan zone. Finally, with 1:39 left to play, Hensick returned Porter's favor from earlier, passing from behind the goal for Porter to flip it in and put Michigan up 2-1 going into the second.

Life in the second period was initially difficult. The Spartans were playing much more aggressively, spending a lot more time in Michigan's zone, and then Chris Summers took a crosschecking penalty. After fighting through the penalty kill for about a minute, Tim Miller knocked the puck away from a Spartan and it took it down for the short-handed goal. However, the Spartan powerplay wasn't over, and things got worse when Jack Johnson was called for roughing (contact to the head) with 30 seconds left in the Summers penalty, and still worse when Jason Dest was whistled for crosschecking. Rather than continuing to play actual defense on the delayed penalty, Dest just looked at the ceiling in frustration while Tim Kennedy skated around him and beat Billy Sauer for his second goal of the night.

The second goal was a wake-up call for the Wolverines. They clamped down for the remainder of the MSU power play and started turning the tide, carrying the play back into the Spartan zone and getting better opportunities. It paid off, and in just over 5:00 of clock time the Wolverines turned the game into a rout, burning Lerg for three goals to make it 6-2 at the end of the second.

That's how the third period finished up, too. Lerg was replaced for the entire frame by backup sieve Bobby Jarosz, who stopped all 8 shots he faced. Sauer finished it out for the Wolverines and made some nice, quality saves as MSU turned up the heat on him.

GDZ: I don't know what to make of Billy Sauer. Last year I saw him beat an excellent Boston College team and lose to an Alaska (Fairbanks) team that was, to put it mildly, Not Good. The only collegiate team this season he kept under three goals before Saturday was Alabama-Huntsville. This game, he gave up just one quality goal on essentially a 5 on 2 and stopped several rushes, turning aside a total of 34 shots. He also fell asleep on one play, not realizing that the puck had been liberated from behind the goal and allowed the easy wrap-around.

From what I've seen, he gives up one baffling goal a game and then is some varying degree of On for everything else. Usually we have the offense to overcome it – ours is not a Win With Defense team – but he hasn't won a single game where we scored fewer than 3 goals, and occasionally you're going to run into someone on the other end having a good night. So: From what you've seen, is Sauer actually getting better? If he isn't Turco, can he at least be Blackburn? Are we going to be able to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament?

CDB: Realizing I have only been to one game this season, and 80% of that time was spent hitting the refresh button on my phone, but in that game, Michigan staked itself to a 6-0 lead only to see that they needed all six of those goals to beat UConn at home, which scares me a little. The problem with this Michigan team, as I have seen thus far, is that inconsistency is their watchword, and that worries me. I don't want to rip Sauer, he's not even 20 yet, but he does seem to have lapses of concentration. But, I also think that Michigan's defense is not as rock solid as previous ones.

GDZ: Jack Johnson is a bit of a lightning rod. It got a little chippy in the third period, and there was a little extra-curricular throwing down. Somehow Michigan ends up with an extra man in the box, and it looked like Johnson was whistled for Standing Around and Being Jack Johnson. Why don't the refs like him? Is he the 'Sheed of the CCHA? Also note this: Johnson didn't play on Friday and Michigan lost 7-4 at Munn. Johnson comes back, Michigan takes the Sparties behind the woodshed at Yost, 6-2.

CDB: He's a lightning rod, that is for sure. Some of it is of his own making (see last year's World Juniors), but I do think some of this also is that he is considered to be one of the best prospects, he's well known, he's tall, and he seems to end up around the middle of things. So, I'm not sure. I also don't know that Jack Johnson is worth a seven goal turn-around, I think he's a part of that, but I also think Yost is worth something, especially about Michigan State.

GDZ: Last year, I thought Andrew Cogliano was the new Milan Gajic, right down to the #9 on his uniform. He was wicked talented with the puck, but he loved making that one extra move that either resulted in a spectacular shot or (more often) resulted in another opportunity for the defender to take the puck away or him coming up too close to the goalie without a shot to take. I'm no expert, but he looked a lot better on Friday. He looked fast and, on his goal in the second, he made one move and went right in. Is he going to be the new Jeff Tambellini instead?

CDB: I'm not ready to make him the Tiger II, but I think we're seeing the usual growth and progression of a player, an potentially exceptional player, between his freshman and sophomore years. The level of competition jumped up and I think maybe #9 has figured out that things he could get away with on pure talent in year's before now require more skill and less finesse. Is it better hockey smarts, or is it better hockey wisdom? I'm not sure, but when you're filling the #9 sweater, you have some very large shoes to fill, Milan Gijac excepted.

GDZ: How long before Red Berenson decides he's done?

CDB: Firstly, let me take a moment to congratulate Red on winning the Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. Red's been at Michigan as head coach for 23 seasons now, and during that time, he's won two out of every three games (seriously, his winning percentage was .666 coming into the year) since he came back to Michigan.

But that isn't your question. I think Red will decide he's done when he's done, but he's 66 years old and I think he wants to be in a position to ease the transition from him to his chosen successor. I do know this, Red looks older this season than he has in the past few (though that's about the hair), but by the same token, if hockey is what you truly love and you still feel up to the grind, why not keep doing it. (By the way, Red's only 6 years older than Lloyd, but because of Bobby Bowden and JoePa and the fact that Bo's still with us, though not on the field, Lloyd doesn't feel like he's "old". I'd be curious what the odds would be on the prop bet of "Lloyd retires before Red." Though I know only what I read and nothing more on this situation, I might still take that bet. One quick question for you: Is this the year Michigan finally wins the GLI again, since the drought has been on since "the run".

GDZ: This would be the year to take a run at it. At this point in the season, Harvard and Michigan Tech are both out of the ranked teams, and we've proven we can beat Sparty. A lot will depend on who loses what players to World Juniors, something that's hit Michigan pretty hard in recent years.

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