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Tuesday, January 03, 2006

As expected, the walkon-laden Wolverines got waxed by CC in the GLI. They did manage to squeak by Michigan Tech with a third-period rally to finish third, again. The good news is that the split did not heavily impact Michigan's PWR ranking, which remains a surprising third. How is this the case?

Michigan has played a ridiculous schedule to date. Michigan has a Teams Under Consideration (abbreviated TUC and defined as anyone with an RPI of > .500) record of 6-6-1, which is fairly good. Of note is the sheer quanitity of TUC games, though: fully 13 of Michigan's 19 games to date. That coupled with the CCHA's much stronger performance (more on that later) out of conference has buoyed the Michigan RPI to third in the country--and the PWR is really just an RPI adjustment scheme.

The good news for Michgian is that the CCHA continued it's strong nonconference play during the holiday tournament season. Ferris State was credited with a tie by NCAA rule after losing a shootout to BC in the Denver Cup, then beat DU in the consolation game to take home a 1-0-1 record against two teams that would have laughed Ferris off the ice last year. UAF swept UAA. UNO won against Alabama-Huntsville and Yale. Previously inept BG went 3-1 against a nonconference selection of eastern teams, including a win over PWR #4 St. Lawrence. Northern and Western both ate it versus Wisconsin, but just about everyone is doing so thus far. With nonconference play just about over, the CCHA appears to be the premiere conference in the country to computers who can't actually see WCHA teams play.

To say this is a surprise is an understatement. The CCHA has gone from the ECAC + Michigan to a conference with 5 teams--Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Nebraska-Omaha, and Lake State--in the top 14 of the PWR (14 is generally the cutoff since the CHA and Atlantic Hockey teams get autobids) and the first two teams out--Ferris State and Alaska-Fairbanks. No fewer than nine CCHA teams are TUCs. That probably won't last when conference play arrives--expect at least one and probably two teams to drop from the TUC ranks--but in any case, Michigan is almost certainly going to end the season with the nation's toughest schedule. That will buy the Wolverines a significant amount of leeway when the tournament is seeded.

Meanwhile, Jack Johnson is public enemy #1 in Canada after cheap-shotting Canadian Steven Downie after a late game EN goal gave Canada a 3-2 win in the group stage of the WJC. After exchanging slashes, Johnson gave Downie an elbow which was either vicious or glancing, depending on how you feel about A) the USA and B) the University of Michigan, and got booted. I didn't see the play in question and thus can't comment, but both Jack and Andrew Cogliano did. Jack:

"I saw the way Downie had played all game and I knew he was a player who played with an edge," Johnson said. "We exchanged slashes, I saw him skating toward me and I was trying to be prepared. I didn't want to put a guy out of the tournament, but I didn't want him to pull anything on me."

Johnson said he didn't connect with the full force of his elbow/forearm, and Kyle said video supports that. "It wasn't like his head snapped back," Johnson said.
Canadian centre Andrew Cogliano, who is Johnson's teammate on the University of Michigan team, had a different view.

"I don't think he should have done what he did and I think he should have been punished," Cogliano said of the third overall pick of the Carolina Hurricanes last summer.

"He's a top defenceman and he's going to be an NHL player some day, but I think sometimes he has to control his emotions. But that's him and that's what kind of person he is."
The incident prompted a flood of bitching from Canada, which is amusing given that the guy on the receiving end of the glancing/vicious elbow crosschecked a teammate in the face after he refused to be hazed and some guy named "Bertuzzi" is going to be playing for Canada in the Olympics, but expecting a Canadian to be rational about hockey is like expecting ninjas to not flip out and kill stuff. Second chances for all! Unless they're American!

Johnson was not suspended and assisted on Phil Kessel's opening goal against the Czechs in the USA's 2-1 victory yesterday. Tonight the US takes on Russia in a semifinal at 11 PM; if you have Comcast it should be somewhere on your (free) Center Ice package. Canada plays Finland in the other semi; a Canada-USA rematch for the gold would be straight dope, especially given the whole Downie debacle.

Exhale about those forwards for next year as Michigan picked up a commitment from the USHL's Trevor Lewis. They also picked up an '07 commitment from Lewis's teammate Aaron Palushaj. Michigan College Hockey has an article on the pair (and a teammate heading to Vermont):
Lewis, a native of Murray, Utah, will join the Wolverines for the 2006-07 season. He is currently leading the Buccaneers in goals (19) and points (35). He is also second on the team and in league with a plus/minus rating of +20.

"This was one of the toughest decisions of my life," said Lewis of his decision to go to choose Michigan. "All of the schools that recruited me (Boston College, Maine, Minnesota, Ohio State) have outstanding hockey programs, but my gut feeling was to go to Michigan."
Bob Miller of the Wolverine has scoop on both new commitments, digging out this article from the USHL's website on Lewis...
During the Buc Bowl, when scouts from all over the country came to scout the USHL talent, nearly every scout and coach noticed Lewis' play. Head Coach Regg Simon said that he took about 100 calls about Lewis after the three-day tournament.
... and this snippet from Hockey's Future ...
9. Trevor Lewis, C
Ht: 6’1 Wt: 195 Shoots: Right
Born: January 9, 1987, Murray, Utah
Des Moines Buccaneers

Des Moines has yet another player in the top 10 in center Trevor Lewis. Similar to Nodl in that he had an underwhelming rookie season in the USHL, at least statistically, Lewis has made a major impact in 2005-06 as one of the leading goal scorers in the USHL. After 19 games Lewis has 12 goals 13 assists, tied for fifth in the USHL with Nodl. Lewis has good hands and a hard shot, but a lot of his goals come down to hard work and a willingness to venture into the crease and take a beating from opposing defenseman. This is even true on the penalty kill, where Lewis as a USHL-leading four shorthanded goals.

Lewis is not just a goal scorer though. He’s a crisp passer with good vision and can use his speed to create space. At 6’1 195 pounds, Lewis has decent size, which he uses both offensively and defensively. Like Okposo, Lewis is a staple on the Des Moines penalty kill, a testament to his commitment to a solid two-way game. Lewis also has a physical edge, be it the occasional open-ice hits, finishing his checks along the boards, or even dropping the gloves. Leading by example, Lewis is one of Des Moines’ alternate captain.

Lewis will be joining Okposo and Buccaneer goaltender Brian Foster on Team USA for the Viking Cup. An older ‘87, Lewis was barely eligible for the team, and he may still be a longshot to be drafted in the new seven-round draft. However, an NHL team looking for a player with a good combination of speed, skill, awareness and effort, who has a few years of college hockey to develop, may look to Utah’s best prospect yet.
INCH had a Buc Bowl feature its own self and it contained this brief, tantalizing scout quote:
"This kid's amazing. He's the total package. He competes, he has a nose for the net, he's physical, and he has the ability to finish."
Miller also offered something on Palushaj:
From Paul Shaheen's Research on Ice:

Formerly with Honeybaked, Palushaj has six goals and 21 points in 26 games thus far for the Bucs, who keep playing impressively and presently stand 19-5-4 (OTL).

"He's a deceptively strong player," said one scout ROI ran into while watching this year's Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit. "He may not look like a great skater, but he has a very good shot, can pass, and knows how to find people. He has all kinds of upside."
There's also some more in this thread. So yay and stuff. Michigan is likely done with the '06 class and is waiting on Pat Kane's word to wrap up '07.