Thursday, January 31, 2013

Know Thy Enemy (Blogger): Michigan (BTYB)

Michigan State. Michigan. Need I say more?

The best rivalry in college hockey hits the ice this weekend for their last two regular season meetings against each other. It should be a barn burner as both teams are once again next to each other atop the standings in the CCHA. So many times the two teams play each other with a lot on the line in the league and this weekend is no different......

.....What?..... I'm looking at the CCHA standings upside down? Michigan is really in second to last and Michigan State is in last?

Crazy times.

This might be the first time the two teams have faced each other - this late in the season - with both teams so low in the CCHA standings. There is still a lot on the line as home ice in the first round is very much in play for both teams. For example, Michigan State is only four points behind eighth place Northern Michigan, and the Spartans have 2 games in hand. In fact, over the next three weekends, Michigan State plays the three teams directly in front of them in the standings (Michigan, Bowling Green, and Northern Michigan).

The two teams will play the 293th meeting at Yost on Friday at 6:35 pm (Big Ten Network), and the 294th meeting at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday at 4:05 pm (Fox Sports Detroit). Michigan leads the overall season series 2-1, but the CCHA series is 1-1. The two teams split a home and home back in early November - both teams holding serve with big home ice victories. Michigan comes into the weekend on a three game losing streak and a 2-7 record over their last nine games. One of those two wins was over MSU at the GLI. The other was at LSSU. Michigan lost to the U-18 team as well, 5-3. Friday's game at Yost is Michigan's last home game until March 1st. I think it is safe to say it is a must win for Michigan.

Leading Scorers

A.J. Treais              11 goals, 18 points
Jacob Trouba           8 goals, 17 points
Alex Guptill            7 goals, 17 points
Cristoval Nieves      4 goals, 16 points
Phil Di Giuseppe     5 goals, 14 points

In Goal:

Steve Racine     4-5-2, 3.11 GAA,  .880 save %
Adam Janceyk  3-7-0, 3.46 GAA, .892 save %
Jared Rutledge  1-4-0, 4.33 GAA,  .849 save %

Interesting MSU stat vs. Michigan: MSU has scored 16 first period goals this season - 6 have been against Michigan. MSU has also scored 10 of its 54 goals this season against Michigan.

In the spirit of - well, I don't know what.....But I thought bringing in the opposing blogger for some thoughts worked out well - which means it's time to turn the blog over to a Michigan fan.

This week The Munn Minute welcomes Tim Williams. Tim is behind The Blog That Yost Built. If you feel the need - he does offer up some good hockey thoughts - albeit about that program down the road. So without further ado:

Know Thy Enemy Blogger Edition:

TMM: So, it's Michigan-Michigan State week. I often tell people that the MSU-UM rivalry is the best on the ice, because (at least under Berenson & Mason) the teams are usually good. Compare this rivalry in hockey, from a UM perspective, to some of your other rivalries.

BTYB: I think it's for sure the top rivalry we have in hockey. Every now and then it seems like we'll get a strong one going with another CCHA team, but no one has been good consistently for long enough to really get the hatred going. I would root for you guys over Minnesota. I friggin' hate the Gophers, but we don't really play them often enough to consider that one a top rivalry either. We play you guys 4+ times a year, and generally its meaningful. Sigh. 

TMM: What is your favorite Michigan-Michigan State hockey moment?

I think I see Tim.
BTYB: One of my favorite Michigan/Michigan State hockey moments has to be from my freshman year (00-01) when we played at the Joe. You guys were unbeaten in 23 games (I knew it was 20+, but I did have to go look that up), and Ryan Miller was at the top of his game. That game at the Joe was phenomenal and it's a game I'll never forget being at because of what it meant to knock off a Ryan Miller team that had been playing so well, but The Big Chill was quite possibly the best weekend of my life (outside of my wedding, of course). 

The weather was perfect, the game was perfect as a Wolverine fan, it was like Homecoming with how many people came back for it, and I got to play in the media game earlier in the week and notched a goal, which will forever be the highlight of my sports-playing life. 

Yeah. Winning 5-0 in front of that many fans is my favorite Michigan/Michigan State moment.

TMM: Who is/was your favorite (current or past) MSU player to watch play?

Miller would laugh at the sieve chants at Yost
BTYB: Ah geez. I'm probably going to have to say Miller. As much as it pains me, that guy was unreal. There have only been a couple of guys since I started closely following college hockey that gave me the "Awww s***, we're playing that guy" feeling that I used to get when the Packers would play Barry Sanders. Miller was one of them. (Mark Hartigan is the other that jumps to mind.) I hated when Michigan would play against him, but you had to respect someone being that freaking good. 

TMM: Back to the teams - Michigan sits in 10th place right now, do they have a long winning streak in them to keep the NCAA streak alive?

BTYB : A small part of me wants to say yes, just because I think the team is WAY more talented than they've shown and because by nature I'm an optimist. Truthfully, though? I don't think so. There's a lot wrong with that team. Red used the word "Fragile" a few weekends ago and it's a great description. They can play some decent hockey but as soon as anything bad happens they completely fold. They don't have the goalie to bail them out like they've had in years past. They don't have the forward that can turn a game in an instant (like a Hensick, Tambellini, Porter, Cammalleri, etc.) and the defense has really underachieved (and has been really banged up). If they could get a goalie to play consistently, I could see them winning a first round series and, who knows, maybe that sparks something. But they haven't won 2 games in a row since the 3rd and 4th games of the year. It's hard to imagine them stringing together that many good performances in a row.

TMM: Every year there is always that one Michigan player that I really won't mind seeing graudate - A.J. Treais is earning that honor since he has about 500 points in 15 games against MSU. Currently, he is Michigan's leading scorer. What do you feel are his strengths?

BTYB: He's the guy that's most in the vein of a Hensick-type. A high-end offensive guy that can pile up points. He's got the ability to score a highlight reel goal, or dish off a highlight reel assist. His goal totals and point totals have gone up every year he's been at Michigan, and even though he went through a cold streak after a great start, he's still got a chance to match his total from last year.

TMM: Michigan has been hit hard by early departures and the OHL - which goaltender on the team do you feel can give Michigan a chance to make a run from here on out? How do you see Michigan recruiting going forward with the influence that the OHL has over hockey athletes?

BTYB: It sounds weird, but I really want to see Rutledge in there again. He's been downright awful (1-4-0 with a 4.33/.849), and yet, you brought him in for a reason. He put up good numbers with the NTDP and that typically doesn't happen by accident. In theory he's your most talented goalie. He might not be the best goalie, but he should be the most talented. I kind of feel like we've seen Racine for stretches, we've see Janecyk for stretches. We know neither one of them is the answer--and it's certainly not just their fault. But what do we know about Rutledge? He got shelled in his first start when he had barely practiced and he promptly lost the starting gig. We saw him for a weekend against Michigan State with mixed results (1 goal allowed, 7 goals allowed) and since then he's only started one game. He hasn't had a chance to get on any kind of a roll, and for all we know he could be a guy that just performs better when he isn't looking over his shoulder. Since there's really no point to the rest of the regular season games outside of trying to get home ice in the first round, give him a shot. Play him 4 or 5 games in a row (and make it know that you're going to) and hope that the goalie you recruited actually shines through at some point. That really is their only hope because I don't see the other two taking them on a run.

As far as the OHL, I think it's always going to be a win some lose some game when you're trying to recruit the high-end talent. They could go for some lesser guys who would stay 4-years, but I'm not sure that's a better idea. I think you'll start seeing them cover their bases a lot more and take more commits than they could possibly cram on a team, knowing that they all won't make it to campus and there will be NHL departures too. If Lohan comes in next year, that's potentially 30 players committed for next year's team. It's a game I'm sure they'd prefer not to play, but you have to cover your bases. It's just tough with goalies because it's not like you can get multiple top-notch commits and take one. That's a tough sell because you're already only playing 40-45 games in college. If you're telling a goalie he'll be splitting time, it makes the NHL-sized season in the O kind of appealing.

TMM: What are your thoughts on the Big Ten Hockey Conference starting up next season?

BTYB: I'm excited about it. I've always told anyone who would listen that I'm in favor of the BTHC as long as the littler programs stay afloat. It's not worth it to me if we're going to lose a Bowling Green, a Lake State, etc. Tragic is too strong of a word, but it would be tragic for the sport to lose a former national champion because of money. That said, I'm geeked to get to play Minnesota and Wisconsin more. I'm really excited for more hockey on TV and more hockey in HD on TV. I just hope the programs raise the level of play for the inaugural season....
TMM: Will anyone take down Minnesota next year?

Imagine if they had this logo on their jerseys instead - I doubt anyone would take them seriously

BTYB: I sure hope so. Did I mention that I'd root for you guys in a second over Minnesota in hockey? Because I would. It's too early to say. There's plenty of time for departures, I haven't studied up on who is losing which players and what the recruiting classes look like (beyond that Michigan's is really good, assuming they Say No to the O). I'm really intrigued by the reports that Michigan is looking at a goalie for next year. That could be a fortune-changer if they can hit on one at this late of a date... 

TMM: If you could have one Spartan on Michigan's team right now - who would it be & why? 

BTYB: Hildebrand and I don't even have to look at the rest of your roster. Dude has something like a .940 save percentage. He's almost ten percent higher than Rutledge at this point. That's absurd (on both ends). That's why you have to feel at least okay if you're a Michigan State fan. This season has been a disaster, but at least you have a goalie. Maybe he's not a cure-all, but if you've got a great goalie you're going to go into every game with a chance to win, and there's always a chance he can get hot long enough to make something special happen (like Lerg did a few years back). We don't have that, and you only get so many shots to bring in a goalie. Michigan has to find one or next season might be a write-off too, even though I think the team as a whole will be better. Gimmee a guy that can stop 94% of the shots against him on a fairly bad team, and I think I can win a National Title with Michigan's roster next year if the incoming freshmen make it to campus. And my answer to question 4 is drastically different about this year. Michigan State is a scarier team to play than Michigan in a playoff series solely because of Hildebrand.

TMM: Predictions on the rest of the CCHA season?

BTYB: I'm going to keep drinking. I like Western to hang on because they have Miami and Notre Dame at home. Ferris has 2 fewer games to play, but they get WMU at home and the rest of their schedule is pretty weak. If they could get 4+ points from WMU they could be a little scary, because I could see them running the table after that. Michigan does win their first round playoff series against an LSSU or an NMU, but that's it and the tournament streak comes to an end.

TMM: I'm not sure there are many confident fans on either side of the fence this weekend - Predictions on this series?

BTYB: Hildebrand stymies Michigan in one game, the Wolverines take the other. Just because I'm going to be in the house Friday and my luck sucks, I'll take Michigan State at Yost and the Wolverines at the Joe.