Sunday, September 25, 2011

Michigan Hockey Preview 2011

Once the puck didn’t get dumped into the Duluth zone, you knew. Once you saw Chad Langlais scramble to get back into defensive position to continue what was already almost a three-minute shift, you knew. Once Travis Oleksuk threw a pass across the front of the net to Kyle Schmidt and Shawn Hunwick couldn’t quite get back to the far post you really knew. It was over, a run made as the last effort of an impressive, if slightly underperforming, recruiting class ground to a screeching halt just inches from the their ultimate goal.

In what can only be described as a heart-breaking defeat the University of Michigan Wolverines lost 3-2 in overtime to the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul to fall just short of the NCAA Championship in Men’s Ice Hockey. We waved goodbye to Langlais, Carl Hagelin, Louie Caporusso, Scooter Vaughn, Matt Rust, Ben Winnett and the too often street-clothed Bryan Hogan. This was a class that could have, and probably should have, produced more than a loss at all four levels of the NCAA Tournament. The early departures of Aaron Palushaj and Max Pacioretty didn’t help and they did manage to lose each of those games in a different fantastic fashion: an OT almost comeback after pulling a starting goalie for a freshman(Hogan) against Notre Dame; one of the more ridiculous goaltending displays against the Air Force’s Andrew Volkening; a game stolen away and again lost in overtime to Miami(OH), and finally the closest they came to the ultimate prize in a contest that provoked even the most mild mannered of coaches to criticize the officiating. Each of these hurt in its own way mixing together shock, anger, and the emptiness that comes with ending a season without a trophy being held overhead. It has been a very unstable time to be a fan of Red Berenson’s program.

But this is a new season and a new team that will once again be setting their sights on not just another NCAA tournament appearance (they have 21 straight), or a Frozen Four trip (24 of those, the most all time) or even another shot at big one (11 title games played). No the Wolverines will accept nothing less than a tenth National Championship as a successful season, as a program with the tradition of U of M should. Whether or not this is a realistic goal for this specific group remains to be seen, but looking at what Coach Berenson is going put out on the ice there is potential for greatness, but there are also a significant amount of question marks.

The front line of the Wolverines consists of a lot of unproven talent and talent that has yet to live up to expectations. This could be one of the strongest offensive forces Michigan has seen in a long time or it could be a complete bust, we know that little about the Wolverine attack. Of the fourteen forwards on the roster only five were guaranteed to be in the lineup when healthy last season. That is not a lot of experience even for a college team – for example last year’s team had nine. There are also five freshman forwards on the roster, at least three of whom are expected to play regularly. This lack of real experience makes it very difficult to predict what kind of offense we will see at Yost this year but the veteran players have a lot on their shoulders. None more than second-year captain Luke Glendening who will most likely anchor Michigan’s top line. Glendening is certainly the most experienced returning forward if not the most prolific. The senior’s talents are more defensive and he will be the team’s best penalty killer and is the unquestioned leader in the locker room. If there is one player that might want to return to the national title game more than any other it has to be senior alternate captain David Wohlberg, who watched from the stands as his teammates fell to Duluth after suffering a broken collar bone against Bowling Green in the second round of the CCHA Tournament last year. Despite missing the last 7 games of the season, he was still second on the team in goals, so the Wolverines will be depending on him to keep putting the puck in the net. A source of goals that hasn’t seemed to ever find its groove is Chris Brown. The junior scored only nine goals last year while taking the third most shots on the team. Brown will hope to see more of the Texas flag flying in the Michigan student section this season. Other than those three players Coach Berenson will be expecting his forwards to start living up to their potential. Kevin Lynch scored eleven goals last year but was in a deep scoring slump for too much of last year. AJ Treais was fantastic at times last year and provides a spark when Michigan gets sluggish but he was still too undisciplined and needs to have more control over his finesse game if he wants to become a top end scorer. Luke Moffat has the potential to fire a lot of pucks home for the Wolverines as well but as a freshman he sometimes looked lost out on the ice and had a problem regaining composure after a couple bad plays. The rest of the bunch has to see more playing time before any real determination can be made, but look out for freshman Zach Hyman to make a big impact. The Panthers draft pick was a dominant force in the Ontario Junior Hockey League on his way to being named the Canadian Junior A player of the year, an honor he shares with Mike Comrie and Jeff Tambellini. That’s some good company.

The blue line is a little more stable than the front end but still provides a few question marks. At least one freshman will have to play but I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point we saw three new kids suit up in the same game. In any case the blue line will be built on youth, with only one returning senior and one returning junior. Underclassmen will carry the load on this defensive corps. One of the underclassmen happens to be John Merrill who might have been the best defenseman on this team a year ago and now is unquestionably the top defender the Wolverines have. They were lucky to keep him away from the New Jersey Devils and if not for a poor performance in the national title game last year and a lackluster tournament overall, Merrill probably would have made the jump. He certainly looked like an NHL ready defenseman for the majority of last season next to Chad Langlais but now Langlais is gone and Merrill is the guy. Whether or not he has the ability to lead this group and even the whole team remains to be seen. The leadership load should be shared with senior Greg Pateryn who, despite coming into the team as a freshman having already been drafted, has never been able to establish himself firmly in the lineup. Pateryn played in 40 of the Wolverines’ 44 games last year but still was always teetering on the edge of being dropped. That won’t be a problem this year and the most defensive-minded defenseman on this team will be an integral part of the team on the ice and off. Mac Bennett and Lee Moffie could be two of the most exciting defensemen in the CCHA but last year I never wanted to see them on the ice together. Both are fantastic at moving up into the play offensively and can create problems for opposing defenses but also have the tendency to leave the their partner exposed, creating the potential for odd man rushes the other way. If they can play with more discipline they could be fantastic. The freshman to watch in this group has to be Brennan Serville, the Winnipeg Jets pick. He tallied 30 points in 36 games in the OJHL as a defenseman and with his size could be one of Michigan’s top defenseman right out of the gate.

The goaltending situation will look very familiar to any fans of the Wolverines over the last two years. Shawn Hunwick returns to his place between the pipes as a fifth-year senior and for the first time in his career he should be the unquestionable starter. Having to wait until Bryan Hogan got injured two years ago and then battling again with Hogan for playing time last year until the injury bug struck again has given Hunwick a chip on his shoulder. That coupled with his less than average size for a goalie gives him a “me against the world” type of attitude that can be great for a goalie when he is hot. When he has to compete for time however, like he did for the beginning of last season, that confidence can erode quickly. This is why the most important player to Michigan’s goaltending won’t actually be suiting up for the Wolverines this year, former commit John Gibson. Gibson bolted for the OHL after giving fans another false hope that a top Goalie would join the long line that included Al Montoya, Marty Turco, and Steve Shields. Like Jack Campbell before him Gibson could have come in and gotten solid time as a freshman but decided that college wasn’t for him so Hunwick returns to the crease. It is possible that this is the best thing that could have happened when you take just this year into account because now Hunwick doesn’t have to worry about his job and history tells us that he will play better in that situation. The problem for the future is that Hunwick will not be granted a sixth year of eligibility and backup Adam Janecyk has about as much time in competition at Yost as the people who play score-o in between periods.

So what is a realistic goal for this team? It is very difficult to say but I can’t see this team missing out on the NCAA tournament no matter how inexperienced they are. Another trip to the Frozen Four is a legitimate possibility if the right pieces fall into place. But for Wolverine fans, the wait for that tenth national title will, in all likelihood, last at least one more year.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

LISTEN: Michigan v. SDSU

LISTEN LIVE as Michigan takes on SDSU at 12 pm in Brady Hoke's first matchup with his former team. The Wolverines look to stay perfect in September the last three years.

Andrew Goddeeris, Bill Rothwell, Adam Wilensky, and Kevin Carpenter on the call.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Figuring Out The Madness

With the official defections of Pitt and Syracuse from the Big East to the ACC, a new round of re-alignment madness is officially touched off. Everyone expected the Big 12 to be the first domino to fall, but it seems now as if the Big East will be the conference that initiates the armageddon that has seemed certain since Texas A&M announced its intent to leave the Big 12 for the SEC.

Now all that's left is to see how the dominoes will fall. Which conferences will become Super Conferences and which will be enveloped in the madness? Below are my personal predictions for how everything will end up, eventually. Some of these changes will be in effect for the 2012 football season, while some likely won't be finalized for another season or two after that. This is especially true in the Big 10, which may wait until its TV deal runs out to expand.


1. Pitt, Syracuse, UConn, and Rutgers leave the Big East, join the ACC.

This move destroys the Big East as a football conference, something that has seemed inevitable ever since Miami, BC, and Va Tech left the conference in 2005 for the ACC. This move would leave the ACC with 16 teams, 2 divisions of 8. I believe these divisions will be as follows:

North: Boston College, Maryland, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Pitt, Syracuse, UConn, Rutgers
South: Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, UNC, NC State, Duke, Georgia Tech

2. Texas A&M and West Virginia leave the Big 12 and Big East, join the SEC.

This move is already in motion, as Texas A&M has already accepted their invitation to join the SEC, while West Virginia is a logical 14th team with the Big East in shambles after Move 1. I see the SEC holding firm with 14 teams rather than moving to 16, as no other teams outside of the ACC make good sense to join the SEC (although I have heard rumbles about some of the Big 12, such as Mizzou). I don't see the SEC divisional alignment changing much, with A&M joining the West division, and West Virginia joining the East division.

3. Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma St leave the Big 12, join the Pac-12

This has been the most heavily publicized and debated move, and with the other pieces in motion, the two big boys in the Big 12 (Texas and Oklahoma) abandon ship and take their little brothers with them to the newly christened Pac-16. This essentially dooms the Big 12, and I see it folding, with the leftovers scrambling to find Major conferences to join. I see the divisions shaping up like this:

Pacific: UCLA, USC, Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon St, Washington, Washington St
Southwest: Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, OK St, Colorado, Utah, Arizona, ASU

Interesting wrinkle here is that the new divisions could be the old Pac-8 teams versus the new additions (the new conference may split up the newcomers for revenue reasons, but this alignment makes the most geographic sense IMO).

4. Missouri and Notre Dame join the Big 10.

Missouri is left on the sinking ship of the Big 12 and is forced into joining the Big 10. Notre Dame finally agrees that it's time to join a conference and picks the obvious choice as well. Here's how I see a 14 team Big 10 looking:

Lakes: Michigan, MSU, Notre Dame, Northwestern, Minnesota, Illinois, Penn State
Plains: OSU, Nebraska, Missouri, Iowa, Wiconsin, Indiana, Purdue

5. Kansas, KSU, Baylor, Iowa St (from Big 12), TCU (from Big East), BYU (Independent), and Nevada, Hawaii, and Fresno State (from WAC) join Mountain West.

With the Big 12 and Big East ceasing to exist (at least as football conferences), the leftovers will be left scrambling. I see the Big 12 remainders ending up in a new, super Mountain West, in addition to some teams that were already scheduled to join (WAC teams) and the re-addition of TCU and BYU, who probably should have never left in the first place. That would leave the new Mountain West with 16 teams, two 8-team divisions that would be as follows:

West: Hawaii, Nevada, Fresno St, BYU, Boise St, UNLV, SD St, Wyoming
East: Colorado St, TCU, Air Force, New Mexico, Kansas, KSU, Baylor, Iowa St

6. Louisville, Cincinnati, and South Florida (from Big East) and Louisiana Tech(from WAC) join Conference USA.

The Big East leftovers join the C-USA, which is a kind of geographic mash-up, and wouldn't mind adding former members such as Louisville to form a 16 team conference with two 8-team divisions, with La Tech and Louisville going West and Cincinnati and USF going East.

7. WAC, Big East, and Big 12 fold as football conferences, remaining WAC teams go down to FCS level or join Sun Belt.

Most of the WAC plays at a D1-AA level anyway, wouldn't be a huge change for the leftovers of that conference (Idaho, Utah State, SJ State, NM State).

The Final Consequences

2 BCS AQ conferences (Big East and Big 12) would be kaput as football conferences, meaning that their auto-bids would have to go elsewhere. I would vote that one become and at-large bid and the other go to the new Mountain West. That would leave the ACC, Big 10, Mountain West, Pac-16, and SEC as the new AQ conferences. A ton of other issues would still need to be resolved, such as conference scheduling (9 in-conference games for sure, more than 2 BCS bids per conference most likely), but this new alignment works for the most part. It isn't as ideal as the old setup maybe, but the times they are a'changing, and we need the best possible solution.

Comments/questions/other plans are welcome.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

LIVE: Michigan Football v. Eastern Michigan

LISTEN LIVE at noon as Michigan takes on the Eagles of Eastern Michigan in the Battle of Washtenaw County. Brady Hoke looks to move to 3-0 in the 2011 campaign.

Andrew Goddeeris, Bill Rothwell, Jack Warner on the call.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Instant Classic

Wow...what a finish. The Wolverines win one of the wildest games in Big House history in a fantastic way to christen night games here in Ann Arbor. Denard started 2/11, then finished 9/13 to lead a thrilling come-from-behind victory. Denard put up 446 yards of offense, 338 in the air with 4 TDs and 3 INTs and 108 yards rushing with one TD (that's 948 yards alone in the last two games against Notre Dame for Shoelace). Hemingway had a massive 165 yards on three receptions, and one 43 yard TD. Tommy Rees was Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, with 315 yards passing and 3 TDs, but 3 TOs (2 INT, 1 fumble). But the most stunning aspect of the game was the final 1:12: 21 yard TD pass to Vincent Smith for Michigan's first lead of the game, 28-24, then at :30 Notre Dame re-takes the lead with a 29 yard TD pass to Theo Riddick to make it 31-28, before Denard finds Jeremy Gallon for a 64 yard pass to put Michigan on the 16 with 0:09, and then with 0:02 left
finds Roy Roundtree for the 16 yard TD pass to win the game. More to come this week on Extra points and Daily Sports Reports...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

LIVE: Michigan Football v. Notre Dame

Tune in at 8:00 pm as the Michigan Wolverines take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish under the lights in the first ever night game at the University of Michigan.

Bill Rothwell, Chris Kudialis, and Jeff Turner on the call.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Notre Dame starting QB

Just a quick update before the Michigan-Notre Dame game this Saturday night, as Brian Kelly has announced that sophomore QB Tommy Rees will start the game against the Wolverines. Rees was the superior quarterback over Senior QB Dayne Crist in last week's game against South Florida, going 24/34 for 296 yards with 2 TDs and 2 INTs while Crist produced a mediocre line of 7/15 for 95 yards, 0 TDs, and 1 INT. Rees saw very little action in last year's Denard emergence, going 0/2 with an INT. Much more to come about Michigan Stadium's first night game as the week progresses...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

LIVE: Michigan Football v. Western Michigan

Tune in at 3:30 pm as the Michigan Wolverines take on the Western Michigan Broncos to open the 2011 season and Coach Brady Hoke's tenure.

Andrew Goddeeris, Bill Rothwell, and Kevin Carpenter on the call.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Podcast: 2011 Michigan Schedule Breakdown

The WCBN crew breaks down the 2011 Michigan football schedule. Special guest Tim Rohan, Sports Editor at the Michigan Daily, joins us in studio. Follow him at @TimRohan on Twitter.

Unfortunately we lost the part of the preview in which we broke down the roster, but it may have been for the best. Stay tuned for more podcasts throughout the year.