Thursday, April 17, 2008

Yankee Doodle

Michigan Basketball's Anthony Wright last night at the meeting with the Maize Rage:

"Well every now and then a really good pump-up song will come on, then 10 seconds later the band will come in playin Yankee Doodle."

Certainly a disparaging way to describe your classmates who volunteer their time to motivate you. But let's give him the benefit of the doubt here: Anthony Wright is a smart guy and is just describing the team's performance with a historical metaphor. Wikipedia:

"The song's origins were in a pre-Revolutionary War song originally by British military officers to mock the disheveled, disorganized colonial "Yankees" with whom they served in the French and Indian War. At the time, the most common meaning of the word doodle was that of "simpleton" or "fool".

Sounds about right. So, Anthony, let's not bite one of the few remaining hands that feeds you.

(HT: UMHoops)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Next Year In DC

This is how Thursday went before the Michigan game:

  • I had to get up at 5:15AM to guarantee I'd make it through Chicago traffic to O'Hare in time for my flight
  • There was no Chicago traffic. I got to ORD 2.5 hours early. My flight was promptly delayed an hour and a half.
  • When it finally took off, we had an Olympic-level screaming kid (6-ish?) who went off intermittently for the next 2.5 hours.
  • Heading to the arena, my brother opted to leave his GPS in our hotel room. Consequently, we got horribly lost for 45 minutes and didn't get to the Pepsi Center until halfway through the first period of BC/NoDak
  • I dropped my soft pretzel on the ground.

In between periods of North Dakota/BC, I ran into a friend of mine from the MMB, then met up with a friend from undergrad at Michigan and another friend who went to BU for law school, so things were looking up there for a minute.

Then the first period happened. Seated a row behind Joy Berenson and a row in front of Brian, I didn't know what to do. The game started with Michigan getting good pressure, even if they didn't have anything to show for it. This left me worried, to be honest. I think Sauer's the kind of goalie who needs to see a few harmless shots early to get his head in the game. The first goal was a great move and a nice shot from Ridderwalle, but it left me worried about our team getting settled. The tournament had seen a ton of teams score one goal and then another while its opponent was still reeling from the first. Sure enough, ND scored another quick one. I began thinking about our first game against the Irish, how we were outplayed in the first but clawed our way back for a win. The third goal was like a horrible dagger. A 3-0 hole is almost impossible to escape.

Hogan coming on for the second was a decision I completely agreed with, and you could see the way the team rallied around him, and the Michigan contingent that had been shell-shocked by the first period livened up. We didn't get the quick goal like we had in January, but we started to climb back into it, despite Notre Dame's defensive commitment. Chad Kolarik got us on the board first, and we counterpunched with a Matt Rust goal just 15 seconds later.

It was Chad again early in the third, tying it up and sending the Michigan crowd into a frenzy. Still, Kevin Deeth's goal halfway through the period, putting the Irish up 4-3, seemed inevitable. But we had over 9 minutes left to go, and Carl Hagelin got the lucky bounce that had eluded us all night. He threw the puck at the net and Jordan Pearce left just enough room for the puck to deflect off his skate and into the net. There was a moment of dumbfounded shock and then: ecstasy. We only needed one more. Just one more.

But Notre Dame had the legs and we didn't. After we couldn't get anything off a late powerplay, the game slipped into overtime. After the full 15-minute intermission, the Irish came out blazing. In the 5:44 played in OT, the Irish took 8 shots to Michigan's 4 and spent a ridiculous amount of time in the Michigan zone as our exhausted defenders couldn't clear the puck. Finally, Hogan made a good initial stop, but the rebound landed between the circles on Ridderwalle's stick. He didn't miss.

Other things:

  • Brian mentioned it too, but the bands were ludicrously placed at the opposite endzone from where their fans were seated. This had to be deliberate; since we saw it at all three games. Friend of HSR Mike goes to every Frozen Four and said that this was the first time he'd seen an arrangement like that. Does anyone know why the NCAA did this and how to get them to stop?
  • Both bands were miked and broadcast through the speakers at center ice. This made for weird phasing in the arena and things like the ND band being amplified as they heckled Sauer. Oddly enough, they never forgot to cut our band's microphones.
  • As per usual at the Frozen Four, neither band was allowed to play until there were only two minutes left in intermission. Instead, NCAA promos, trivia, and "Ask Myles Brand" videos were up on the jumbotron. I hate this policy. Unless you're Colorado College, you have a pep band, so there's no good reason not to let them play. If the NCAA is worried about unfairly favoring one band, block out 5:00 for each band during the first intermission and reverse their order during the second one. The NCAA still gets 3:00 for their promos and we get to hear Blues Brothers. Win-win-win.

I've sent an email to the NCAA asking about the placement and the intermission policy. We'll see if they respond.

Another thing Brian wrote about was how the Frozen Four acts as an annual convention for people who love college hockey. After the games on Thursday, and again on Saturday, I went to the bar with fans of Michigan, BU, North Dakota, Michigan Tech, UNH, Maine, Alaska-Anchorage, and Wisconsin. From Thursday through Sunday, it seemed like anywhere I looked around Denver there was someone in North Dakota gear. Around the arena I saw people in the following team jerseys:

Bemidji State
Boston College
Boston University
Bowling Green
Colorado College
Ferris State
Lake State
Michigan State
Michigan Tech
Minnesota State-Mankato
New Hampshire
North Dakota
Notre Dame
Ohio State
St. Cloud State
Wayne State

I saw the entire WCHA represented, all of the CCHA but Western and Northern (though I did see a guy in a Northern sweatshirt), 70% of Hockey East, and a few other teams. Had I seen the Wayne State jersey after the game, I would have bought the poor guy a drink. A wide variety of NHL jerseys were also represented, along with a few more random jerseys: A Jim Craig "Miracle On Ice" one, two from Syracuse, an Illinois, a Soviet team jersey, a Hasek Czech Republic jersey, a Pacioretty one from juniors, etc. Michigan Berenzweig, Halko, and Nick Martens jerseys were also sighted.

Even though we didn't pull it off, I was proud of how our team responded over the final 2+ periods of its season. And I managed to have a better time in the Mile-High City after we lost than I'd been having before it. I hung out with people I hadn't seen in years, met new people to drink with, watched three college games live and three NHL ones on TV, geeked out at Wings Over the Rockies, and headed out into the mountains for a couple hours before my flight home. Not a bad experience.

Most of the people who had been in the Michigan section showed up for the championship game on Saturday night. As people drifted off after watching Boston College easily deal with a much shakier Notre Dame, you heard a common refrain: "Next year in DC."

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Best Laid Plans...

As both Geoff and I are traveling today, admittedly in different time zones, we don't have time to do a full post-mortem on last night. I do want to mention one thing that has been gnawing at me for the past twelve hours, even as I tried to sleep.

Last night was another visceral reminder that sports are, in many ways, the purest reminders of the whims of fortune and the ledger sheet's thin line that separates victory from defeat. A full range of emotions were encompassed in last night's game, from dismay, to shock, to anger, to faith, to hope, to redemption, to despair, to earnest steadfastness, and finally to agony. There's the old story about you never see the shot that kills you, but as that rebound flew back into the slot in front of Bryan Hogan, I knew Michigan was finished, and I was, as always, powerless in the moment. We live vicariously through what might be, and we take the pain with the joy because no pain can hurt as much as sheer joy that one experiences in triumph. But, both sides of the coin are there, so we can recognize each for what they are, diametrically opposed, yet forever intertwined.

So we thank you maize-clad men for the ride you have given us this year. We salute your effort and know that you'll live on in memory, though perhaps not in the way you had hoped. As fans, we'll brood over the summer, we'll think of what might have been, and we'll come back next October. Because next year might be the year.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Jeff Jackson Is Only 52. Seriously.

I meant to have this up after our series back in January, but now it works even better. At the Palace, we were almost directly across from the benches and I couldn't help but think that Jeff Jackson looks way too much like a slightly younger Pope Benedict XVI. Maybe it's just because he's the coach at Notre Dame, but they both share that look like every interaction is somewhere between a competition and a threat. These rare photos actually show them "smiling"; you can see the resemblance better when the habitual scowl is there.

WTI: Frozen Four

Craig:  Hello all, and welcome back once more to "Whatever This Is" our irregular conversation about whatever. I'm Craig Barker...
Geoff:  And I'm going to Denver tomorrow
Craig:  And I'm hating you a little bit more each day...
Geoff:  I know. Who wouldn't want the opportunity to see a gut-wrenching loss in person?
Craig:  Wow, more stuff Maize and Blue people like...
Geoff:  I'm trying to manage my expectations. I'm barely hanging on as it is. Anyone on the American 10:45 out of O'Hare tomorrow, remind me to breathe
Craig:  I was pondering what the appropriate expectation is, and sadly, I'm not even close to "tempered"
Geoff:  Neither am I. You don't buy a plane ticket in January with tempered expectations.
Craig:  But let's start by hopping in the way back machine for a bit and looking at the CCHA playoffs, briefly.
Craig:  I think that we saw in the UNO series that Michigan can score in bunches, in the NMU game that it can win a barnburner, and in the Miami game, can win a tight one.
Geoff:  We got a chance to rest on our laurels for one weekend before going up against a Nebraska-Omaha team that had barely survived against Alaska. Our series showed how different a pair of hockey games can be.
Craig:  Agree. Also, that fighting is never the answer.
Geoff:  The NMU game was frightening. We weren't responsible in the neutral zone. And it seemed like every turnover ended up in the back of the net.
Craig:  Exactly. And yet, there it was and Michigan was able to match and then eventually surpass. But I want to give a lot of credit to NMU, they may have been one of the best teams in the country since the New Year.
Geoff:  They definitely were peaking at the right time.
Craig:  The NMU game, by the way, also had the awful weather, which restricted the walkup crowd and I think contributed to the weirdness of that night.
Geoff:  If I hadn't driven down for the last couple periods of ND/MU, I might have reconsidered.
Geoff:  The championship game felt very different to me. I felt like Sauer was on the top of his game and that it was only a matter of time before we took the RedHawks down. Which is ridiculous, but there you have it.
Craig:  And what I liked about that championship game is that, while evenly matched, I never doubted that Michigan would win it.
Craig:  But Tim Miller man, he loves the Joe.
Geoff:  We're going to tell Tim that the Pepsi Center is just another NHL rink, right?
Craig:  Works for me!
Geoff:  I still can't believe what Matt Rust did on a broken leg.
Craig:  Yes, Matt Rust, that's pure guts.
Craig:  Now, in the NCAA Regionals, we saw a little bit of everything. Michigan did what it was expected to do, which, in and of itself is a surprise, as that is not the usual Michigan MO of late.
Craig:  The Niagara game looked like a potential trap until Kevin Porter decided he really really wanted the Hobey.
Geoff:  Porter proved anyone who doubted him that it should be his.
Geoff:  The week leading up to the Niagara game was worrisome. The flu sweeping through the team, poor practices, and Niagara well-rested and going in off a good week of their own.
Craig:  The flu on the team is one of those things where you can't defend against it, but it's not an excuse either. And if it was the flu I had, I am surprised any of those guys could stand, let alone skate
Craig:  But then Clarkson, other than the parade of two minute penalties, Michigan looked excellent. Sauer looked like a goalie possessed.
Geoff:  The Clarkson game was a nail-biter. Sauer was un-frickin'-believable. That sequence of six saves, one block, and a post has got to be on everyone's top plays.
Craig:  Oh absolutely!
Craig:  And while the East held to form during Hockey Christmas, chaos ensued around the rest of the country.
Geoff:  I've freely admitted it before, when I saw New Hampshire score in the first minute, I declared game over.
Craig:  Yes you did, I was there, I heard you, I agreed with you.
Geoff:  And when they went up 2-0, I thought the Irish had packed it in
Craig:  And then, well, chaos!
Geoff:  Holy crap, was I wrong!
Craig:  I know, next thing we have, 7-3 win for Notre Dame!
Geoff:  They hung 5 on Regan and added a pair of empty-netters for good measure
Craig:  And then, in what I think was a bigger shocker, Michigan State beat Colorado College, on their big home ice, to ensure at least one CCHA team in Denver. But in the MSU/Notre Dame Final, Jeff Lerg came up short.
Geoff:  *rimshot*
Geoff:  Again, I underestimated the Irish. You figure Lerg is the goalie you want in the biggest games.
Craig:  And yet, The Pope of South Bend, Jeff Jackson, gets his team back to the Frozen Four.
Geoff:  In one-and-done hockey, anything can happen tomorrow.
Geoff:  Last week I heard Frank Deford say one of the dumbest things he's yet put on NPR. He was arguing that the NHL and NBA should go to a single-elimination tournament. NBA, whatever. But hockey is subject to what a hot goalie can give you on any night.
Craig:  Exactly. Exciting, perhaps, but not meaningful.
Craig:  And so here we are in Denver. Facing the Irish.
Geoff:  Scoring the first goal in this game would be huge. You know ND won't give up, but we've been excellent this year when playing with a lead.
Geoff:  The other thing is not letting them win *every* faceoff. We got murdered on them in the first period of the 3-2 win at Yost, and Tim (link to TBtYB) showed how we got destroyed on faceoffs in our own zone.
Craig:  So basically, control the zone, control the game?
Geoff:  I think so. ND is without their top scorer in Condra. Van Guilder and Hanson have been playing good hockey, but our blueliners played one of their best games of the year a couple Saturdays ago.
Geoff:  Now, not to get ahead of ourselves, but just because I'll be watching it tomorrow, we also have North Dakota vs. BC to look at. It sounds ridiculous, but this is the third time in a row NoDak and BC have squared off in a national semifinal.
Craig:  That is mildly insane. Will the third time be the charm for the Sioux?
Geoff:  I think they have the better team, with Lamoreux in net, Duncan and Oshie up front, and Joe Finley being 6'7" of pain.
Craig:  I think that it should be a fantastic game, and somehow, I suspect, BC will find a way. It's what they do.
Geoff:  Gerbe's a phenomenal college player, though. I'm excited to be able to watch him.
Geoff:  Whichever one gets through, it's not someone you really want to face in a final. As Friend of HSR Mike said, BC will be hungrier than Marlon Brando at a one-trip salad bar.
Craig:  But, if you want to be the best, you've got to win when it counts.
Craig:  Thank you ESPN featured commenter!
Geoff:  Whatever happens, it should be a great end to the best tournament of the year.
Craig:  Agree. Well Geoff, I wish you a safe trip, fair winds and following seas. Let's go Blue!
Geoff:  Thanks. Hopefully I'll see Michigan climb another mountain. Go Blue.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

This Is Why You Can't Have Nice Things

It's doubtless that you've heard about the bit of trouble they had up at Cedar Fest in East Lansing over the weekend. Of the 52 arrested, 28 were MSU students, as were half of the 48 ticketed by the officers. We've already heard the usual excuses that it wasn't the students who were really at fault, that mostly it was other people looking for trouble. Still, we feel comfortable in calling this a Michigan State riot. Let's take a look at the board:

We're using the '89 basketball title as the last time a riot broke out at Michigan. We know there was also some sort of disturbance following the '93 loss in the title game, but I don't have any numbers on that (For the record, that would still have us at riot-free days). For Ohio State, there were only 15 arrested following the BCS loss, but 10-12 fires were set, so your mileage may vary on that one. If you want to be more generous, we know they breached the 40-arrest barrier following the '06 UM-OSU game, which would put them days from their last riot.

We do have to give some credit to Little Brother. We don't think we'd take a loss in the Final Four of the Women's NIT quite that hard.

Static numbers from April 9, 2008:

Days Since Last Riot
Michigan:  6946
Ohio State:  93
Michigan State:  4