Posted at 4:00pm -- 12/9/2009
Mailbag question: Where do you see this team going from here on out?
Hey guys where do you see this team going from here on out? I really thought they would have turned it around by now, but they either keep looking bad on defense, keep taking stupid penalties and seem to be lucky to even split with teams on the weekend.
How bad will this weekend be facing Notre Dame.
Thanks for the question, Jeff.
Michigan has traditionally started out most seasons slow, and then really pick it up in the second half of the year. This season is unusual in that their play is still erratic entering the last conference games of the first half. That can be attributed to a few factors:
1. They haven't played as well as early season publications predicted they would. When a team is picked to finish first by the media and coaches, it adds a ton of pressure. Soime teams embrace it. This team didn't. Then, take an inflated top five ranking and a great deal of travel early in the season, and it made for a difficult start. They have the talent to compete with most teams in the country, but their chemistry and execution has been a problem.
2. The roster is dotted with inexperienced talent. Outside of Chris Brown, none of the other freshmen (Treais, Lynch, Rohrkemper, Sparks) have been able to step up and perform consistently. On top of that, this team lacks a "finisher", a go to guy that is dangerous every time he is on the ice. Jr. Carl Hagelin and Jr. Matt Rust (along with Brown) are starting to put up points every game, but other guys like So. David Wohlberg and Jr. Louie Caporusso are disappearing in stretches.
This happens when the pressure to produce offense permeates the bench. You look at the third and fourth lines and there are no real threats... just solid players-guys like Jr. Winnett and Jr. Vaughn. Keep in mind, too, that Alternate Captain Luke Glendening is only a Sophomore and is in a leadership position!
There are five Seniors on this team: Ciraulo, Lebler, Summers, Elmblad and Kampfer. Two are regular defensemen that have just begun to play to their capabilities. One has been benched for his poor play and lack of discipline, one is not a regular (but plays with heart every time he plays) and the other may only see very limited action due to injury or during the GLI. This team has to be led by these guys AND the large (8) Junior class, and it hasn't happened every night. The capper was the departure of So. Robbie Czarnik, which may have been a blessing in disguise. His leaving hurt Michigan's depth, especially after losing a major talent like Aaron Palushaj to the pro's, but his (Czarnik's) presence was a major locker room disruption, and if you are producing or leading, then the smart decision is to encourage a player like him to either change or leave. He chose the latter.
3. The defense was suppose to be the strength of the team. When I say "team" that means that the forwards have to do their job also. Our defense is experienced: Summers, Kampfer, Llewellyn and Langlais are all upperclassmen that have not only failed to support the offense, but have frequently been victims of poor positioning, poor decision making or poor penalties. That's unacceptable.
Burlon is a Sophomore, as is Pateryn, so there is still room to grow- even though Burlon came in with a high pedigree. Moffie's play has been admirable as a freshman. Vaughn was moved up to forward and Elmblad has seen little ice time this season. Just the same, if the forwards aren't coming back to fore check, or is too late to prevent a rush, the defense can only do so much, and too frequently that has been the case.
4. Our goaltending has been average. Bryan Hogan is a solid D1 goaltender. He proved that the last two seasons. But for some reason he has not performed as well as he is capable of, save a few games. Some of that is on team defense, some of that is on the soft goals and/or rebound chances he has allowed. We saw stretches of brilliance during the CHS. Maybe the Campbell thing weighed on him, maybe the offensive struggles are putting more emphasis on his mistakes. Either way, until he steps up, Michigan will not be able to beat the teams they should and will get solidly beat by other teams with equal or better execution. If this team is going to make another NCAA appearance, it will because Hogan carries them.
5. The CCHA has improved dramatically this season. When was the last time fans have seen teams like Ferris, UNO and Alaska remain in the top 25 polls? These are good teams, and Michigan has yet to see two of them. Michigan got spanked by a vastly improved MSU team, and Miami is certainly worthy of the #1 ranking in the country. Notre Dame has suffered similar execution issues as Michigan, but is chock full of talent.
Our schedule has not been easy, but it is no excuse for losing five straight at Yost, especially to a program on the brink like Bowling Green. The bull's-eye is on Michigan every game, no matter who the opponent is. But overall, our league is much better this season and our talent/execution level has become average. Combine that and you have a 10th place club.
These aren't excuses, it is the things that I have observed. One change I would make is to de-emphasize the up tempo offense for a more disciplined defensive effort, similar to how they played against Wisconsin and the Saturday game against OSU.
This will help relieve some of the pressure from the defense and goaltending, and will put the forwards in a more responsible position to back check and cover up the barrage of turnovers or penalties plaguing our team. Our team is not big on the boards, along with the fact that our forwards are young, so we need to re-focus on defense. If they do this, then playing a team like Notre Dame that is very strong and defensive oriented, will allow then the chance to compete with them.
Thank you for following Michigan Hockey on GBMW.
Written by Yostmeister
Go Blue -- Wear Maize!