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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I posted a set of midseason grades for the hockey team when the blog was still eating carrots from a jar, so it only seems appropriate to do likewise post-season. I have attempted to not let my disappointment over the season's end cloud my judgement... all in all it was a pretty good year, with the CCHA double and an NCAA tourney win. It could have been better, yes. The CC game will long linger with me as an official Stomach Punch game. The way the team was playing, the firepower they had... it could have been a Season For The Ages. Now it was just pretty good and fun to watch.

There are worse things.

Again, to recap the way this works: Grades should approximately average out to the overall grade for the season, which is sitting at B+. Players are graded on overall impact mixed with expectations... a fourth liner who performs admirably in his role can't get an A because he's a fourth liner, but he won't get a D just because he's a fourth liner.

Jeff Tambellini: Why yes, I do take personal responsibility for the fact that Tambellini turned on all sorts of awesome after the midway point. If Sharp can take credit for MSU's Final Four run, I can take credit for Tambs. After all, gave him a harsh B+ and said that he was "capable of dominating like TJ but hasn't." And then... he did. Even though TJ Hensick was the Hobey candidate, Tambellini was the team's MVP, finishing third in the nation and first on the team in points with 57 and leading the team in plus/minus with a ridiculous +30. Tambellini managed to do this without dominating the puck nearly as much as Hensick and while backchecking furiously all season. Tambellini was a one-dimensional goal scorer as a freshman but a terrible season-long slump as a sophomore taught Tambellini all the things he could do without putting the puck in the net. This year Tambellini A and Tambellini B met and joined together Voltron-style, creating one hell of a hockey player. A. Probably going to return next year. If he does, a mortal lock for the C and a favorite for the Hobey Baker.

TJ Hensick: Michigan's designated Awesome Center Who Can't See Over A Steering Wheel got dogged in various quarters for being soft, hating physical play, hogging the puck, and playing crap defense. And I'm here to say that... well, all those things are basically true. But there isn't a player in college hockey who dares challenge him at the blue line on the power play, and when the puck is on his stick you had best be on the edge of your seat lest you miss something spectacular. Hensick's 23-32-55 line netted him a Hobey Baker nomination and the focus of every team Michigan played. A-. Deserved his benching after the Minnesota game but established himself as one of the nation's premiere offensive players. Flaws in his game may catch up to him in the pros but expect another Hobey candidacy next year.

Eric Nystrom: Nystrom never turned in to the kind of player you expect a top-ten NHL draft pick to be. His point totals decreased every year he played at Michigan and it looked like that would continue for a third straight year at the midseason point, when he had three goals and six assists after the GLI. Still, no one was upset with him. Nystrom had been moved to center on the checking line with nary a peep and had been busy playing the other end of the ice. He was what he was, and no more. Then a funny thing happened: pucks started going in all over the place. They were never pretty, never slick, but they were deserved. All the things that Nystrom did that never showed up on the scoreboard, well, started showing up on the scoreboard. And he picked up the team, and drove it, and Michigan was composed, firey, and cruising... until the collapse. When the dust cleared, though, you could see what the Flames saw in Nystrom. How could he not play in the NHL? A-. A worthy successor to Jed Ortmeyer, and that's the highest praise I can give a player.

Milan Gajic: About two and a half years into his Michigan career the light went on for Gajic and he turned into what Michigan fans expected when he arrived after lighting up the BCHL as an overager: a point-per-game scorer. Or close, at least. Gajic's patented left-faceoff-circle one-timer became a regular feature of the Michigan power play and chicks started wearing "Gajic Is Majic" t-shirts even though is name is pronounced "geish" (-ish). Gajic ended up a good second-liner for Michigan. B-. Still never figured out that defense stuff... Gajic's final shot in a Michigan uniform somehow found Curtis McElhinney's stick.

Andrew Ebbett: Can't shoot! Just can't! Doesn't! Won't! But he can pass and stuff. Witness his line this year: 6-31-37, mostly without the benefit of Hensick and Tambellini on his line. Ebbett did get benched for a weekend for unecessarily crosschecking a Western Michigan Bronco in the face immediately following a Bronco goal (which led to another power play, another goal, and a tight game in what had previously been a laugher), but after he returned he blew up, scoring 21 points in his final 18 games. He even scored a couple goals and stuff. When he isn't crosschecking opponents in the face, Ebbett can take those faceoffs: his 55% led Michigan this year and is an impressive number by itself, but especially so compared to Michigan's other centers. Ebbett is an effective player who'll find himself playing all phases of the game as a senior. A-. Leading candidate for the David Moss unsung hero award next year.

Kevin Porter: Porter finished an impressively diverse freshman year, playing in several different roles on several different lines throughout the year, eventually ending up as the guy riding shotgun with Tambellini and Hensick on the Line of Doom. Porter played on the second line with fellow freshman Chad Kolarik, on Eric Nystrom's checking line, on the penalty kill, on the power play--basically everywhere except defense. In doing so, he accrued a nice stat line: 11-13-24 and +11. Porter doesn't have the offensive creativity of fellow freshman Chad Kolarik, but is a much more rounded player than Kolarik who is effective on both ends of the ice. B+. Porter's already one of the better forwards on the team but isn't the kind of player opponents have to gameplan against.

Brandon Kaleniecki: Kaleniecki took a step back numbers-wise this year but that's not entirely unexpected. His 20 goal sophomore campaign had career year written all over it, and sure enough Kal dropped back to 13 as a junior. Kaleniecki can bury chances he's provided with and scrap for goals in the crease but can't do much to create his own chances. C+. Good as a crease-mucker and shooter and plays with grit but lacks ice vision.

Chad Kolarik: Kolarik filled the stat sheet out but his freshman year was a lot hollower than Kevin Porter's. Porter actually outscored Kolark at even strength17 to 15, as 18 of Kolarik's 35 points were on the power play. Kolarik didn't kill penalties either, and never will. That said, Kolarik is a creative, smart offensive player who has a knack for taking tricky shots. He's the better offensive player of the two freshman by a long shot--he's sort of a cross between Tambellini and Hensick. B+. Poised for a huge sophomore year flanking either Hensick or incoming goal-ninja Andrew Cogliano.

David Moss: As previously mentioned, there's a David Moss Unsung Hero award. This year it goes to David Moss. Moss is the kind of player who, say, ends up with 30 points at the end of the season without doing much except getting in the right positions at the right times and making intelligent decisions, which is exactly what happened this year. Moss bounced around from wing to center his entire career, from checking lines to scoring ones, played on the penalty kill and on the power play. He was effective at everything, but not a standout at anything. B+. Failed to reel in cousin Phil Kessel and got dinged up at the end of the year, but everything else was good.

Mike Brown: Really fell off after a very good freshman season, regressing in points (from 13 to 8) and leading the team in minors with 35 despite missing seven games and not playing extensive minutes. Last year Brown's speed and hard-nosed, physical play were noticable on the ice and he quickly became a fan (read: mgoblog) favorite. mgoblog even predicted that Brown would captain Michigan as a junior (ie, now), which looks sort of silly at the moment. Hopefully Brown can bounce back, with or without a letter on his jersey. C-. Brown was just not much of a factor this year unless he was heading to the box.

Jason Ryznar: Ryznar's career will always be what-might-have-been. He could not stay healthy for any of his four seasons at Michigan and could only occasionally flash hints at the massive potential lurking somewhere deep beneath his hulking frame. The story of Ryznar's career: coming off an early-sophomore-season injury, he took over the NCAA regional game against CC, annihilating the Tigers almost singlehandedly. He then continued his dominance into the Frozen Four against Minnesota--he would have scored the gamewinner if not for an amazing diving stick save by Gopher defenseman Keith Ballard (with mgoblog sitting right behind that net, mouth agape, hopes shattered)--and then immediately got injured again to start his junior year. Aye, what might have been. As it ended up, Ryznar was an effective checker and penalty killer who, when healthy, was dominant on the boards in both ends but never asserted himself offensively like he might have. B-. Good luck in the NHL, Ryz. There will always be a place for guys like you there.

Michael Woodford: Woodford was in and out of the lineup as a senior, but that wasn't entirely his fault. Michigan had more capable forwards than they knew what to do with and someone who could play defense but not much else got passed over in favor of more rounded players. Though prone to bad penalties and not much of a threat to score, Woodford was effective in his role and played capably down the stretch when he drew into the lineup after the move of David Rohlfs to defense. B-.

Charlie Henderson: Henderson was always a sentimental favorite of mgoblog since he seemed to sit out for most of the season and then score two points the first game he managed to get in by working his tail off and finding himself in the right place at the right time. On another team in the CCHA he would have been a regular. Hell, on most Michigan teams of the past decade that weren't healthy-scratching NHL draft picks he would have been a regular. Charlie, whose father is a die hard Spartan who may or may not actually be Tom Izzo (mgoblog research assistants are looking into it right now), opened the scoring in Michigan's wild and wooly 5-4 win over MSU this year and thus has eternal bragging rights in his family. Irrational B. Best walk-on in recent Michigan history. (Also, if mgoblog ever finds a second life as a whiteass rapper, that's his name: Irrational B. Yo.)

David Rohlfs: Rohlfs will face my judgement next year (tremble!) in the defensemen category, but since he did play most of this year at forward, he goes here. Hopes were high for Rohlfs going into this year, as Berenson had shown some affection for the jolly giant late in his freshman year, playing him on the second line and the power play despite his underwhelming numbers. The year definitively revealed that Rohlfs is a very large guy with decent mobility but little ability to play the puck. Next year he have new life on Michigan's bottom defense pairing, where his lack of hands won't be as much of a factor and his 230 pounds will help immensely. C+.


Eric Werner: I'll miss Eric Werner, even if I did frequently want to kill him. He represents everything I love about Berenson's high seas adventure style of hockey, and given the choice between remembering him skating back into his zone furiously after giving up yet another two-on-one or plunging into the slot--cutlass gripped between his teeth, eyepatch askew, parrot panicking, singing a song with lots of "yo-ho-ho"ing--to fire one past a confused landlubber of a goalie, I'll take the latter, dammit, and something for my scurvy while you're at it. (How about that sentence? Take that, Faulkner!) Werner was always limited by his size but was never a huge liability in the defensive zone. He occasionally made bad decisions, but proved over time that he made enough good ones (8-23-31 this year and +21) to forgive his gaffes. B+. Hyaaarrr! Avast! The only thing that consoles me about Werner's departure is that I expect Jack Johnson to be a cross between Werner and Godzilla.

Brandon Rogers: Rogers made a major leap between his freshman and sophomore years and then levelled off for the rest of his career. Fortunately for Michigan, the level was proficient offensively (5-22-27) and defensively(+21)--and nearly all-conference (second team as a junior, honorable mention this year). Rogers has been a consistently good performer for three straight years now and will be missed next year. He was never a dominant force like Komsarek, but he ends his career as one of the better Michigan defenders of the past 10 years. B+.

Jason Dest: Hello. My name is Brian, and I have a problem. Every year I pick a Wolverine defenseman and hate him with burning intensity for his various fobiles, screwups, and turnovers while completely ignoring anything positive this designated whipping boy may do. It's a sickness. Dest was that whipping boy for the first half of the season, but the screwups got so infrequent and the positive plays got so common that I had to shift my Palpatine-esque hatred to fellow sophomore Tim Cook (more on him later). Dest... actually played really well the second half of this season. He was able to cut down on his turnovers, step up his physical play, and generally play a very solid, capable game next to whirling dervish Eric Werner. By the end of the year, Dest was by far Michigan's most physical defenseman and became very effective shutting down opposing rushes. Dest had only eight points on the year but that's excusable since he saw almost no power play time and had to play good cop next to Werner. B. Would be higher but a poor first half holds him down. Actually a player I like seeing on the ice now, a remarkable in-season turnaround.

Matt Hunwick: Hunwick defines the term "quiet effectiveness" as it applies to defensemen in hockey. Did he really score 25 points? Yes. How? Dunno. He did end up with a +15, which was actually sort of low for a Wolverine defender (it's a good year for plus-minus when you play a team as bad as ND six times), but since he was invariably tasked with shutting down the opposing team's top line, I wouldn't place too much emphasis on that stat. Rogers and Hunwick took the toughest minutes Michigan's opponents could throw at them and came out sunny on the other side. B+. Look for more of the same next year.

Nick Martens: Full disclosure: I know a guy who knows Martens' brother. You don't really need to know that but I always wanted to say "full disclosure" like a big shot. Anyway, Martens was a mostly solid bottom-pairing defenseman who would occasionally make a glaring error. His job was to go out there and not screw up against middling opposing forwards and he did it for the most part. C.

Reilly Olson: Well, Olson finally got on the ice for Michigan and didn't play too badly, though it's clear by this point that he is very limited with the puck and has some issues with his skating. He'll probably return for a fifth year and compete with BU transfer Adam Dunlap to see who gets to be the guy who plays in the GLI and when Berenson gets pissed off at Cook. Incomplete.

Tim Cook: This season was a disaster for Cook, who managed to go the whole year on the nation's best offensive team without collecting a point and then got benched because Michigan decided that a forward could play defense better. Cook proved absolutely unable to stay in front of any forward with flash and/or dash and was finally bumped at the end of the year to make way for David Rohlfs. F. Nothing redeeming in this season for him. He must bounce back in a big way next year, as Michigan will have to play him.


Al Montoya: Anyone who's read this blog for longer than, oh, about four minutes knows that it has dogged Montoya all season for playing sloppy, unfocused hockey. That won't change here. Montoya did have a very good game against Ohio State in the CCHA final, but one game shouldn't overshadow a season of erratic play and soft goals against. Montoya would occasionally emerge to show everyone what the big deal was with a monster save--most notably robbing WMU's Brent Walton with a second remaining to preserve a 5-4 Michigan victory at Lawson--but often the reason the monster save was relevant was because Montoya had allowed a goal or two that he absolutely should not have.

Montoya managed to get away with this and not sink the team's fortunes solely because Michigan had a historic season when it came to lighting the lamp. Can his awful save percentage (.895, good for 61st nationally) be explained by similarly awful defense? No. Michigan returned the exact same team Montoya played behind last year minus average defenseman Andy Burnes and checking center Dwight Helminen. Helminen was an excellent defensive player, but when 16 of the 18 skaters return you can't expect the team's average shot quality yielded to skyrocket. Can it be explained by simple random chance? Perhaps in some part, yes, but Montoya had 940 chances to prove himself this year. The likelihood that his save percentage doesn't reflect his performance this year is very low. There's no getting around it: Montoya was not a good goaltender this season. D.

I don't mean to come off like one of those guys who's main goal in life is to trash the things purportedly enjoys. I think Montoya is a fine person who can potentially be an excellent goalie. He was not this year. That much I believe is black and white for anyone who watched Michigan play. The numbers support that opinion. Montoya is capable of much better if he returns--which I had assumed was unlikely, but given the continued NHL turmoil is looking like a possibility.

Michigan's overriding theme next year will be redemption, and if Montoya returns, it will start with the man behind the mask.


Anonymous said...

Those grades were about as fair as you can get. Great job! I'm honestly not sure that I'd change a single one of them (including the D for Montoya). Pimp this on thewolverine if you haven't already....everyone over there needs to read it too.

Anonymous said...

Very nice recap. Update Paul Martin for Keith Ballard in the '03 Minnesota game.

Anonymous said...

I think those grades are for the most part, fairly accurate. I do find it inteteresting, though, that there is no grading of coaching performance. We are left to only wonder what may have been, if some of this talent had been used in the right way. Better yet, what may have been, if it wasn't for them having to cover for so many, that had so many deficiencies in their game. ie: what would it have really been like if Nystrom, Ryznar, and Moss, had been allowed to really use their talents? Why wasn't Al held equally accountable? How about a power play that isn't so predictible? Simply stated, Michigan is a very easy team to coach against in high profile games, simply because they are so prdictible. What was successful 7-8 years ago, may not apply to today's game. Why do so many leave the program early? Perhaps there are others that recognize these flaws. Otherwise, great job on gradings!!