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Monday, January 22, 2007

So hey! At least for things that weren't football recruiting, this weekend was the anti-last weekend. I managed to miss the basketball game but did see the hockey team perform this "sweep" operation that is all the rage in Minnesota these days. Though it was hard to draw many impressions from the low-quality ESPNU feed -- it looked like it was delivered via caribou herd, though it's hard to get on anyone for televising college hockey games from Alaska -- and the sound-free broadcast, some bullets on the weekend.

Billy Sauer. I believe these will be the first unambiguously positive words I've ever written on they guy: unambiguously positive! Though he gave me the flaming heebie-jeebies at times on Saturday versus Northern (one sequence where Sauer was stuck in his net for seemingly forever, flailing around uselessly while play was going on elsewhere, stands out), he hasn't allowed a soft goal since at least the GLI. That's only four games, but that's something. Also he saved Michigan's bacon early in both games versus Fairbanks. At one point Saturday Michigan trailed 1-0 and was being outshot 22-8. He looked so poised late in that game that the panic about every shot heading towards the net that emerged midway through Montoya's junior year disappeared for a time.

Brandon Naurato? No... seriously, Brandon Naurato? A friend who shall remain shamefully anonymous said "there's a guy who won't play next year" after a goal from him -- it's been the kind of year where everything gets sarcastically assessed, even the good things -- earlier in the season. At the time it seemed plausible: Michigan brings in five forwards who are going to play and loses only two. If Cogliano, Porter, and Kolarik all stay he'd have to compete with Fardig and Hagelin for the last spot on the fourth line... as long as he doesn't spend the rest of the year scoring sick partial breakaways worthy of Hensick, firing critical cross-ice passes to set up tying-goal tap-ins, and having four-point weekends. The line on Naurato has been "boy, can he shoot... too bad he can't do anything else" for a year and a half now, but we may have to reassess him. Submitted that he's on a hot streak right now and he's not likely to keep up this torrid pace, but like Sauer he's had a bangup last four games. Now has 9-6-15.

TJ! I think TJ Hensick might be the best player I've seen at Michigan, a subset of players that goes back to '98. There's only one player in the conversation as a forward, and that's Mike Comrie. Even during the miserable 2-1 loss to Northern, your depressed correspondent found several tiny moments of pure joy watching Hensick do everything exactly right, setting up his teammates for scoring chances they couldn't finish. He's now the country's second-leading scorer; the leader plays for Air Force and thus against poor competition. (Nate Davis of Miami is tied with Hensick, but TJ has two games in hands.) I guess what I'm saying is: can we get a "Hobey Baker" chant at Yost? It's the least TJ deserves.

Hoback or Hoglind or whatever. Question for anyone in the know: is there a special Alaska ref who just does UAA and UAF games? I'd never heard of the guy they had doing the games this weekend. He seemed to do an all right job except for a tendency to put Michigan down 5x3 for two-minute chunks for little reason.

A friendly note amongst friends. As mentioned, I'm loathe to criticize anything when the luxury of a televised Michigan away game is kindly provided by ESPN or CSTV or whoever, but good Lord it can't be that difficult to get a penalty clock up. Combined with Ho-something's 5x3 carnivale, the U crew's inability to get Hockey Broadcasting 101 down would have caused several heart attacks if hockey was really popular. As it is, it just caused great irritation localized in me.

Huh? At least for the moment, Michigan is in position to receive an at-large bid to the NCAAs. USCHO's current pairwise has them in a tie for tenth with CC. I'll take a closer look at the individual comparisons sometime later in the season and attempt to determine our range of potential results; the pairwise is a notoriously flaky system prone to inexplicable swings.

Four CCHA teams are in the tournament as of right now: #4 ND, #8 MSU, #10 Michigan, and #12 Miami. No one else is in the top 25 in RPI. Interesting wild-card: the CHA's Niagara is on the cusp of an at-large bid. At #16 they'll have to move up at least two spots and hope that upsets don't happen in the major conference tourneys, but it's a possibility.

So: tourney streak has a shot, but Michigan's weak schedule down the stretch means they have precious little room for error. Hensick for Hobey. Naurato for Regular Contributor, 2007. Sauer for I'll Take Average And Like It.