Friday, January 30, 2009

Looking out for the no. 1

Jeff Jackson's Irish fighters have finally discovered the keys to having a good offense in college hockey, getting lots of shots on goal and having goal scorers. With guys like Christian Hanson (son of one of the infamous Hanson Brothers of Slap shot) and Calle Ridderwall, the second and fifth leading goal scorers in the CCHA. On top of that they still have the second best goaltender in the conference in Jordan Pearce.

Notre Dame is not ranked No. 1 for nothing they haven't lost since before Halloween, and the only blemishes on their record since then have been three shootout wins against Lake Superior State and Western Michigan. Granted the most challenging teams they've beaten are an overrated Boston College team and an Alaska squad who have traditionally had problems winning on the road.

That being said this is going to be the toughest home and home for the Wolverines all year. They have to beat a team that has a strategy that has frustrated them two years in a row, and now they've added something extra to that strategy, goal scoring. Michigan has to score first in each game they can't afford to fall behind against them in any case, playing behind a Jeff Jackson team is always costly. In this case they absolutely have to come out aggressive and alert at the same time. They can't afford to make mistakes, something that the Irish thrive on making their opponents do. Last but not least the winged helmets on ice have to be confident that when the going gets tough their tough get going. If they have to play without Kampfer use him as an inspiration for a victory do not let him be hurt in vain.

And where do you go when it's all done?



Sunday, January 25, 2009

Downer on a great day

Everything was going so well that evening for the Michigan athletic department. The basketball team had beaten Northwestern and pulled even in their conference record making their case for the NCAA tournament selection committee stronger. The hockey team was playing a great game against their arch rival Michigan State, they were up by two goals with less than a minute to play, thank you.

The Wolverines were about to wrap up their sixth straight victory over their little brothers the Spartans. The latter were not pleased about this outcome, but what could they do? A lot of damage that's what.

Steve Kampfer had a so so game, he assisted on an early goal in the first period and then he got juked in the second period on State's first goal later on in that period he had been playing either lethargic or tired, depending on your definition. But he was playing hard in the third period when he made a clean open ice hit on Corey Tropp in order to separate him from the puck. From my understanding of the rules of hockey there is nothing wrong with doing that, as long as the guy has the puck you can check him. Kampfer didn't have the puck, but that didn't stop Andrew Conboy from clotheslining him. As if that weren't enough, Tropp decided to get in on the action and hit him on the head with his stick, i guess it was for "good measure."

The melee that ensued was not as noteworthy, the fans got upset and started chanting "**** you State" and "sore losers." I was told later in the game that Kampfer's dad found out it was his son who had just been the victim of the on ice assault, he ran out of the parents section of the arena and started screaming at Rick Comley from behind the bench, and later allegedly stormed into the visiting locker room to confront Conboy, Tropp and Comley.

Profanity and chants and open ice hits are all part of hockey at Yost, but what Conboy and Tropp did was not normal. Personally i'd go so far as to call it aggravated assault, a felony under state law. I think that not only should Rick Comley move to expel those two players from the team the Washtenaw County prosecutor Brian L. Mackie should start drafting charges for aggravated assault on them as well.

What could have been a great day for the Michigan athletic department turned into a day of great shame for college hockey in general as we see it's greatest rivalry devolve into senseless violence. Hopefully somebody will make some sense out of this and see that Kampfer returns to the ice and to the classroom where he is working on a bachelor's in political science like me.

It's times like these when we realize how vulnerable we are as human beings.



Friday, January 23, 2009

Coming back from the worst week ever

Aside from the winged helmets on ice's absolutely unacceptable loss to Bowling Green AT YOST on Friday. Michigan also suffered greatly at the hands of the hoops teams of Illinois, that school in Columbus, and the cherry on top of this sundae of vomit was a fifteen point loss to Penn State, one of the Big Ten's perennial cellar dwellers.

First Michigan hockey. The icers are in a mini goal scoring slump that they had better break out of quickly, because they are going into the coldest of all wars. They have to beat Jeff Lerg who despite having less support from his teammates is still a great goalie. The Wolverines have to score plenty of goals against MSU to win this one, they have to maintain the pressure they got on him earlier in the season and they have to get over the godawful performance of last Friday, in which i might add it looked like Chris Summers was playing like a bored drunk and was leading his team by example into a loss.

Michigan cannot afford another loss to another down team with upcoming games against Notre Dame, Nebraska Omaha and Ohio State, all of whom are in the top four in the CCHA. There is no excuse for them not getting four points out of this weekend series, if they want to have a first round bye in the conference tournament they have to start with a sweep of MSU.

Turning our attention to the hardwood, the loss to Penn State was the worst loss i've ever seen the Michigan basketball team play in, and i've seen a few. It was so painful to watch that i watched most of TNT's new show Leverage instead, primarily because i couldn't deal with the fact they were losing to the Nittany Lions.

They lacked the will, swagger, and the never say die attitude that i saw in the non conference schedule and in the Indiana game recently. They didn't just play tentatively, they played as if they had loss that sense of urgency that drove them to upset Duke and UCLA, as if that was enough to make the NCAA tournament all on their own.

What i have to say to that is, WAKE THE HELL UP PLEASE!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Wolverines still have a shot at making the Big Dance due to the absolute insanity that is going on in the Big Ten tournament this year, if they can still squeak out a .500 record and make it out of the second round of the conference tourney they should be going to the dance. But they have to finish the regular season with the same intensity they started it with in order to get into the madness of March. They can start by beating Northwestern the team that just beat seventh ranked Michigan State at the Breslin Center for the first time since 1984.

p.s. those of you who actually watched the game this is what you're missing.



Thursday, January 8, 2009

Michigan vs. Miami series hype blog.

Disclaimer: i'm kinda drunk right now, so please excuse the way i might come off here.

The winged helmets on ice are going into what seems like the most important series of the regular season. They're coming into it pretty pumped up from winning their second straight GLI with Inside College Hockey's new hidden Hobey Louie Caporusso. Judging from that and the "Hobey Baker" chants i heard at the Joe after the death of the Spartans it wouldn't surprise me if he got some consideration for the hockey version of the Heisman trophy.

The Wolverines are hoping to capitalize off a win two weeks ago against a team that was limping through their season. Miami is hoping to recover from a loss to a team that hadn't won in 56 days. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly Michigan ended that team's season last year in the game that sent them to the frozen four.

There are many factors in this game, not the least of which is vengance. Last year that was a big enough factor in getting the Wolverines over the Redhawks in Miami with three hard earned points, especially considering how crazy that second game was.

Other than that there are the scorers. Michigan boasts two 25 point getters in Aaron Palushaj (who played in the World Junior Championship) and Louie Caporusso (who did not). Miami has the leading scorer in the CCHA in Carter Camper with 27 points 12 of them from goals. Louie trails him in points but is considered more deadly with his shooting as 18 of his points come from goals. He will probably start and he will probably get the old Bobby Hull treatment, wherever he goes, the Redhawk defenders go with him. With him and probably Camper being constantly trailed both teams will have to look to other options that are more likely to be open.

Special teams will also be a factor, Miami has a decided advantage in that department with three of the top seven power play goal getters in the CCHA. Staying out of the box will be absolutely crucial for the Wolverines if they want to win. They have to be able to play the type of disciplined hockey that Red Berenson has been preaching since he came back to Ann Arbor from the pro ranks in 1984. They need to play like they are ready to give their coach a championship in his last season. In order to execute that latter statement they have to get at least two points out of this series in order for them to be taken seriously by the selection committee, and that will also go a long way to get the team to make a first round bye in the CCHA tournament for the umpteenth year. They need all the help they can get they can get it from everybody who's available.



Indiana game: a retrospective.

There is no way Michigan should have been down by 17 at the half against the decidedly un-vaunted for a change Indiana Hoosiers. As a matter of fact the way i saw it, i was surprised that they weren't down by more at that time period. When i left my apartment at halftime to go to an undisclosed location where i ended up watching the second, I was considering writing a tirade about how the Michigan basketball team should be forbidden from scheduling games on Wednesdays.

Michigan's miraculous run back to tie the game was shocking to say at the very least. I'm so used to seeing the wolverine basketball team collapse under the weight of a huge deficit but this turned out to be the second time that they turned a 20 point deficit into a victory. They needed overtime this time just like against Savannah State. But this was on the road in conference play, and a win against Indiana in basketball is still a win against Indiana no matter how you look at it. It doesn't matter that the Hoosiers are on probation, it doesn't matter that they're starting four freshman for the first time in school history. What does matter is that Michigan basketball is back, they have beaten the Hoosiers at Assembly Hall for the first time since Jimmy King and Ray Jackson were seniors.

What matters is that the wolverines are back in consideration for their first Big Ten title since 1986 after being in danger of falling to the last place team in the conference, as well as falling to 1-2, putting them in dangerous territory to drop out of the race entirely. Now they have space to recover, space that allows them to beat Michigan State in Crisler Arena. Space that might afford them another loss which might hurt, but won't kill the maize and blue's tournament chances. All that matters this year for the athletic department this year is that Michigan make one of the major money making ventures in college sports, the last ten years they've made bowl games but not the NCAA men's basketball tourney. This year could be the first time since 1974 that vice versa is the case.

stay tuned for my Miami hype blog next.



Sunday, January 4, 2009

Review of the first two Big Ten games.

Michigan showed both inexperience and poise in their first two conference matchups. Against Wisconsin they seemed to be completely lacking in the ability to stop the Badgers offense. When they played Illinois they wore their opponent down over the course of the game and eventually took the fight out of the Illini.

One thing i have noticed about Beilein's system is that not only do they execute a shoot threes to set up the inside game on offense, they know how to defend against teams that do the same thing. However, when the Wolverines played the Badgers they had a problem in the fact that they were playing a team that was thinking, pound it in first, then go outside. This left the maize and blue guessing where the Badgers were gonna take their shots, and ultimately guessing wrong. The lack of multiple post presences in the Michigan defense has made it vulnerable all season to the inside post game. On top of this i really think they stijavascript:void(0)ll have a long way to go to executing a good man-to-man defense in order to complement their superb zone play.

However i was able to see some hopeful things out of that particular game. The first was that Zack Novak is one of the most resilient players in the nation, hitting three pointers with multiple hands in his face and playing uneffected by the struggles of Manny Harris and then injured Deshawn Sims.

Everybody knew Illinois was going to be a big test for this team, they were a good team but some people were unsure how good they were. They had lost to a top ten Clemson team and beaten a top ten Purdue team a few days earlier in overtime on the road. Michigan however was not impressed, they came out and decided to throw the kitchen sink at them with the three point shot which kept it close as the Illini shot 58% from the field during the first half yet led by a single point.

In the second half, the 1-3-1 defense that Coach Beilein is famous for took over and forced turnovers and bad contested shots. On top of that there were a few moments during that game where i saw Michigan playing a very solid man to man defense, especially on in bounds plays, they were forcing Illinois to scramble to find open men and when screens were set, someone was always around to help pick up the slack.

I was glad to see Deshawn Sims playing like a man again, after fighting through the Wisconsin game with a bad toe, and Zack Novak is a warrior out there after getting hit by a moving screen from Alex Legion that ended up forcing a turnover for a fast break to Manny Harris as Novak's eyebrow bled. Fortunately he came back which shows not only how resilient the Wolverines are, but also how they play with so much of a sense of purpose that silly things like bleeding eyebrows can't hold them down. Hopefully the maize and blue machine will continue their rolling through the big ten schedule with games against Iowa and Indiana this upcoming week, before going to Champaign for the rematch of today's game and the hosting of the Ohio State Buckeyes on January 17.