Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Michigan hockey down the stretch

I've had the good fortune of watching every Michigan hockey game, either in person, or on TV beginning with Notre Dame weekend, and if we exclude the Western Michigan games, everything since December 8 against Bowling Green. This is probably the most Michigan hockey I have watched in a number of seasons. This is a good thing as Michigan has been playing some excellent hockey, but it also leads me to a couple of troubling conclusions. So, before we move on to the "good", let's look at the bad.

1). Lack of Killer Instinct

Michigan has been coming out of the gate like madmen. Last weekend in Miami, Michigan scored in the opening minute of each period on Saturday, They scored four times in the opening frame on Friday night. But it's worth noting that in the last three games, Michigan has allowed the opposing team to score the last two goals of the game, and the last goal of the game in each of the last four. If Michigan is going to go anywhere deep in either the CCHA or NCAA playoffs, it's going to need to be able to finish these games...

2). The Defense Rests

With the dismissal of Kevin Quick due to gross violations of team rules and team trust, I have two concerns about Michigan's defense. The first is practical, it leaves Michigan with six defensemen, and while my boy Mark Mitera has been playing exceptionally well this season, there isn't a JMFJ among the group. Scooter Vaughan (of the California Vaughans) and Tristin Llewellyn (host of the new NBC reality show Is it British enough for you?) are being given increased minutes and while they are playing well, the team may need to raise its defensive profile across the board to prevent late game "collapses".

Again, I'm picking nits here about the #1 team in the country, a team that was not expected by many to make any noise this year. But the playoffs are a different animal , and I am just hopeful Michigan will be able to fix, or at the very least, play around the issues it may face in those realms.

Now the good. They can score. The can score from almost anywhere. They move the pick well, they pass well, and they have a fine pair of special teams units. These are all good things. They make Michigan fun to watch. And that's really all I can ask for during college hockey season.

Now, a rant in D major:
Michigan got hosed by a wacky replay rule on Saturday night. In the middle of the third period, Miami dumped the puck deep into their own zone and it looked like it would bank off the high glass, Billy Sauer reached back over the back of the net to snag it for a set down. But the puck took a strange bounce, fell behind the net out of Sauer's grasp, and Miami's Gary Steffes snagged it, and passed it to Andy Miele, who jammed it home before Sauer could reset himself. Now, credit to Miami, it was a head's-up play and it helped spark their rally. But here's the thing. TV replays showed that the puck hit the netting above the glass, which would explain the "wacky hop" in that it was a deadened drop off the netting. It was not definitive, but it looked pretty clear to me. But, under NCAA rules, officials may only review plays visible in the overhead view of the goal. Now, that goal sent Michigan from a win (and not even an assured win) to a tie, albeit it an entertaining as all get out 5-5 tie.

I know that there's no perfect solution to this because most games are not televised, so you can't look at every angle at those kinds of thing, but it was just very frustrating as a fan (and I am sure as a player and as an official.)

So, Lake State at Yost this weekend, then Sparty at Munn and the Joe, and then Ferris in a home and home to close the CCHA regular season. Michigan has a one point lead over Miami, but a tougher road to hoe than the RedHawks (who finish with pairs with Ferris, Western, and Ohio State (which is a Thursday/Friday, so Michigan will very readily know what they need to do against the Bulldogs on Saturday night if that matters) have to clinch the CCHA regular season title. And as much as #2 would not be the worst thing in the world, right now, #7 is Northern Michigan, who has been playing some very tough hockey of late. That said, UNO has 24 and Alaska has 19 and that's 5-9 in the standings, so that middle area is still pretty fluid. So, it should be a fun three weeks before Hockey Advent begins.

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