Posted at 12:00pm -- 1/28/2010
Mailbag question: Why is Michigan Hockey a mess?
What is the mess we call Michigan hockey? It seems like as soon as the team gets the hopes of the Michigan hockey fans up, those hopes are quickly dashed, just like happened on Saturday night.
What gives? Is this just a young team, is there a lack of good leaders?
Also, what is the mess on all the Michigan hockey recruiting? Have they, or will they, find a replacement goalie now and have you guys heard anything? Another thing ,it seems like a big mess with some of the recent recruits.
Thanks for the questions. Let me address them in segments.
First, the "mess" that is Michigan hockey is not what we are accustomed to, that is for sure. I am not quite sure it is as bad as it sounds, though.
I have broken the problems down before, but let me re-address them.
1. Michigan' s offense is suffering because, IMO, the roster is loaded with set-up players that are trying to set up the other set-up players (Did you get that?). In simple terms, Michigan is lacking a true NHL caliber sniper that we have enjoyed watching the last decade and a half. Louie Caporusso appeared to be blossoming into that player last season, but has been mostly irrelevant this season. Why? Maybe, because he and the departed Aaron Palushaj had such great chemistry. Coach Berenson has juggled his lines frequently this season in hopes of finding that magic again. Junior forwards Carl Hagelin and Matt Rust have been our most productive offensive stars, but again, they are not pure goal scorers. They work hard, use their speed and create that way. But none of the above players possess the kind of talent we had in the recent past with Hensick, Cogliano, Cammalleri, Tambellini, Comrie, etc. That could turn a game around for you in a blink and carry a team offensively on their back. Consistent offense has been a problem, which is why this team only sits in the top twenty at around three goals and change per game- and that stat is an average. Skew it against the better teams on the UM schedule and it will reflect a much lower result.
Don't fear, though- the freshmen we have could blossom into talented scorers- guys like Treais, Lynch and Brown are young, creative guys that will only get better with maturity, especially Brown. It just takes a bit of experience and time in the weight room, so they don't get pushed off the puck or lose battles against bigger, older opponents. Other guys, like sophomore forward David Wohlberg, Junior Ben Winnett, and Senior Brian Lebler, just aren't putting up the numbers that was expected of them. Lebler is having a decent season, but not enough to aide the anemic production outside of the first line. Sophomore Luke Glendening, Junior Scooter Vaughn (a converted defenseman), Freshmen Lindsay Sparks and Jeff Rohrkemper are more suited for checking and defensive play than scoring. Also, keep in mind that sophomore forward Robbie Czarnik, who was also counted on as a potential contributor to the offense, bolted for the OHL.
In addition, the defense, up until the last few weeks, hasn't been involved in the offense.
Coach Berenson has been stressing that they need to get their shots through. Guys like Moffie, Langlais and Kampfer have been more involved and it shows, especially on the power play, which has climbed into the top twenty-five in the country.
2. Defensive play:
Michigan's collective statistics are not that bad. They are only giving up an average of a little over two goals per game, top ten in the country. Their penalty kill has slipped a little, but has been in the top five in the country most of the season.
The problem stems from mental breakdowns in small increments of the game that have cost them. The defense has had a problem with turnovers in their own end that, in combination with the forward’ lack of coverage, has ended up in goals against. When this occurs is as much of a problem as how many times it occurs. The game shifts on emotion, and often this season Michigan has allowed a back- breaking goal at the end of the period to tie a game or extend an opponent's lead. Those are tough to recover from.
The same applies to the amount of dumb, unnecessary penalties the team has taken at crucial points in the game. (Chad Langlais and Tristin Llewellyn lead the team in penalties.) The stat line may only show that they took four penalties for instance, but if two of them occur during the same powerplay, then you know that was a major contributor to a game-changing event, especially if the opponent capitalized. Even if an opponent does not score, it affects the rotation on the bench, and taxes the energy of our key players who are killing penalties half the period and not creating offensive scoring opportunities.
This team does not have the firepower to overcome turnovers, bad penalties and other mental breakdowns that previous teams could. Michigan honestly cannot play from behind very well, at least as a habit. The good news, though, is that they compete every night- effort is not the issue. There were only two games this season where Michigan didn't compete- one was the 5-1 blow out to Miami, the other, the really terrible 4-2 loss to BG, both at home. This team has the capability of beating anyone in the country, but then again, they also have proven that they also have the inability to be beaten by anyone in the country, especially when the team is making multiple mental mistakes. Is that chemistry, maybe? Concerning the lack of leadership: unless you are in the locker room, that is hard to judge.
(I like Chris Summers, but his play has been average at best, inconsistent, and quite a disappointment coming from our Captain.)
I can't say it is youth, not at this point in the season. Talent? Well, we have seen better talent on a Michigan roster, but that hasn't always equated to success, either. Talent is usually the difference with offense, though. Defense, on the other hand, is a result of discipline, hard work and staying mentally in the game. Michigan has had trouble with both aspects.
There is no excuse for the inconsistent goaltending junior Bryan Hogan has provided this season. His numbers bare out pretty well, but experienced fans know that he can be brilliant on the most difficult chances and downright frustrating on the most simple chances. Michigan needs him to be better every game for sixty+ minutes, and he hasn't done that. Unlike past seasons, Michigan also lacks an adequate Division I back up to spell him. Shawn Hunwick and Pat Summers are probably nice kids that work hard, but do not have the size nor the talent to be Division I goaltenders. Michigan is still seeking a back up for next season with the change of heart super talent recruit Jack Campbell made. Hogan will be the man next season. Hopefully he'll bring the type of game he showed in flashes this season, especially earlier this season against Wisconsin.
This team lacks consistency in certain phases of their game- offensively, discipline, defensive coverage, goaltending. They have the talent to be better than they are, but have not corrected the same issues that have hampered them since October. Frankly, they are a slightly over average team because they have given games away they typically win and are losing games against equal or better opponents because of their erratic offense and spotty goaltending. I can't blame coaching for that, since you cannot practice certain mental aspects of the game. You also can't generate offense at the sacrifice of defense, either.
I have mentioned before that the CCHA has improved, too. Miami is a national power, rebuilding the last five years. Ferris State has risen this year because of roster talent, maturity and chemistry. MSU has done the same after one of their worst seasons in their history. LSSU is much improved. Notre Dame has national talent, but has been injury-plagued all season. Alaska has embraced a system that enhances the talent they recruit. OSU, NMU and UNO are not easy teams to beat, and have similar consistency issues as Michigan. BG and WMU are teams with limited talent, but make you work for the entire game.
Michigan cannot afford to take any games off or put in less than a sixty minute game, and they have, at least from a mental or discipline aspect, which is why they are struggling to be a top four conference team and a bubble NCAA playoff team. Maybe this is truly where they belong, compared to the lofty prognostications that the coaches and press gave the Wolverines before the season. Teams with talent stumble when they do not play with the same high level of consistency. Teams with lesser talent than once thought have even less room for error.
Now, let me address the recruiting:
Michigan is bringing in a real solid class of recruits for 2010.
The goaltending vacancy that Campbell left is still being worked on. Michigan is looking at a couple of kids that play in the USHL, one in particular from the Omaha Lancers named Jeff Teglia.
Michigan will need to replace forwards Brian Lebler, Anthony Ciraulo and backfill Robbie Czarnik's roster spot.
They have lined up the following:
Jacob Fallon, a young man that comes out of Ann Arbor Pioneer and has, up until the past month, played for the USNDT. Fallon is a very talented kid, compared to the NHL's Patrick Kane. The problem is, Fallon got into trouble (apparently he was caught and suspended due to underage drinking) this past year. Upon his return, he and several other USNDT players were accused of an alleged sexual harassment complaint at Pioneer. He has since left the USNDT on his own volition. The concern was that Fallon would jump right into the CHL (Canadian Major Juniors) with the Seattle Thunderbirds, (WHL) which own his rights, thereby foregoing his Michigan eligibility. Most recently, though, he signed with the Indiana Ice of the USHL, and has confirmed his commitment to the Wolverines next fall.
Luke Moffatt is another talented forward from the Phoenix area that is also on the USNDT.
Derek DeBlois is a frisky defensive minded forward from Rhode Island that is now playing for Cedar Rapids in the USHL.
The U-18 USNDT has ten forwards on their roster, with seven of them attending Div 1 teams next season, including BC, BU, U-Denver (2), Wisconsin and Notre Dame. Current Wolverine Matt Rust's brother, Bryan will be the forward attending Notre Dame. Robbie Czarnik's younger brother Austin has yet to commit and is rumored to be heading to the OHL like his brother.
On defense, Michigan will need to replace Captain Chris Summers, Steve Kampfer and walk-on Eric Elmblad.
They have verbal commitments from:
Mac Bennett, an offensive minded defenseman from Rhode Island who is currently with Cedar Rapids of the USHL. Bennett would be similar to Chad Langlais in size and style.
Kevin Clare is currently on the USNDT roster, and hails from New York.
Jon Merrill is another USNDT player that is from Brighton, Mi.
Both players are rugged, strong defensemen that will add size to the blue line. Unfortunately, both of them are also suspended until February 1st for their alleged role in the incident at Pioneer. Michigan still remains committed to them.
All eight defensemen on the current U-18 USNDT will be playing at the D1 college level next season for BU, North Dakota, Minn-Duluth, Notre Dame (2) and Wisconsin.
I hope this information was helpful. I want to have a preview of our incoming kids ready after they officially sign a letter of intent.
Fans come in off of the ledge. This season has been frustrating, but that is going to be the landscape of college hockey, particularly at Michigan from now on. You really don't know what you are getting (outside of the five star kids that can't miss) until they are on the ice. The pressure from the Canadian hockey league is increasing more and more not only on Canadian kids, but also on hockey talent in general. The better WCHA schools are keeping more and more of their own talent home, as does Hockey East, especially in Massachusetts. Michigan will get its fair share of talent, and Red Berenson is still committed to coaching and developing these kids properly, regardless of what a certain ignorant NHL General Manager thinks.
Enjoy the rest of the season and, as always...
Written by Yostmeister
Go Blue -- Wear Maize!