Oh, hell. Even thinking about the most recent North Dakota game has been the mental equivalent of touching a hot stove but the thing must be confronted and slain, and then we can move on.
THE STEAMING HORROR OF THE THING ITSELF
Penalties. I spent most of the game cursing out the referee in a wild, confused rage. It was the perfect storm of crappy college hockey officiating, featuring all the Save The Children penalties available: weak roughing calls when a forearm got too high and the like. My favorite was the linesman-called penalty on Hunwick that the referee had stared directly at and decided not to call. The crack production crew didn't even show us replays of many off-screen calls, so I have no idea how mincing the particular application of the rules was in this particular instance.
What I do know is that you have to be a very special kind of asshole indeed to give a player a ten minute misconduct in the third period of an NCAA tournament game. Yeah, TJ probably said something, but his recollection is as follows:
"The ref was chirping at me more than I was chirping at him," Hensick said. "I don't want to get anybody in trouble. I didn't really say much to him except at the end when I was getting sick of hearing what he was saying."Unless Hensick threatened something truly vile, and that doesn't seem to be the case, the ref was way out of line. But I can't say I was even a little bit surprised. College hockey referees are too often determined to make themselves the show.
Stupidity. Standard college hockey reffing bitch aside, there were some completely inexcusable penalties Michigan took. The standout was Brandon Naurato highsticking a guy to the ice after play had stopped. I hesitate to criticize Red Berenson for a lot of reasons -- built the program with his bare hands, could kill me with his glare alone, etc. -- but Michigan has been a stupid, undisciplined team for a while now. This year's surfeit of unnecessary penalties and awful turnovers was the worst it's ever gotten. If Berenson was Tommy Amaker he'd be getting roasted for never teaching Matt Hunwick when to pinch (never, if you're Hunwick) and when not to (always). He was the captain and he symbolized the team: indisputably skilled but dumb as hell.
Even though the referee was obviously an enormous tool, Michigan should have been able to adjust to that and keep their arms down when they went in for a check.
Sauer. Undid a half-season's worth of goodwill in 30 minutes. Was sold out on a few goals but gave up some howlers. The Oshie wraparound was a weak shot that went between Sauer's arm and his body. The Bina goal was a an unscreened snap shot from the blue line. Oshie's second goal was shot from behind the goal line and bounced off him before going into the net. A couple other goals were savable, if tough. The difference in the game came halfway through when UND's own horrible goalie briefly turned into Patrick Roy and shut Michigan down. Probably the second worst game of his career (the Notre Dame game in which he gave up a laugher from the blue line on the first shot of the game is still the king tuna) and the worst time to have it. I doubt we see much of Bryan Hogan, as Red's proven it takes a crowbar to separate him from his starting goalie, but God I hope he's for real.
- TJ. Obviously a huge blow. Kevin Porter, if he returns, is going to see his points fall off a cliff.
- David Rohlfs. Shockingly effective at forward after two seasons pressed into duty as a mediocre but safe defenseman. Provided a power presence in the corners totally lacking elsewhere on the team except on certain nights when the third line was going. Lack of an equivalent senior on next year's team will be a smallish problem, but the three junior grinders below will probably pick up most of the slack.
- Jack. Two years was all we could expect, really.
- Hunwick. As noted above: a skilled player but one prone to mental breakdowns. Hard to believe he actually warranted the CCHA's defensive defenseman award, as by my count he was only the third best defensive defenseman on his team. Will miss his minutes because of the huge turnover Michigan is experiencing but won't miss all the odd-man rushes and breakaways that were his fault.
- Cook and Dest. Functional by the end of their careers. Also will be missed. Though it's likely the incoming freshmen will easily match their talent level, these guys were unlikely to turn the puck over in inopportune places. It's unlikely we'll be able to say the same for their replacements.
Kevin Porter. I personally doubt he returns. The Coyotes will want to sign him after his big year -- the alternative is to wait and risk losing him for nothing if Porter wants to shop himself around after his senior year -- and Porter might be wise to take a grab at a signing bonus now, as I can't envision his points going anywhere but south when he's not playing with the best passer in recent Michigan history.
Chad Kolarik. Supposedly a good bet to return. Needs to work on his defensive game and learn that it's okay to pass the puck once in a while. Could go if he gets offered one of those "don't walk" contracts, but I don't think anyone in the NHL saw Kolarik play last year and saw a surefire NHLer.
Mark Mitera. No read on him. Had a disappointing year between last year's and this year's WJCs and ended up not making this year's team, but also had a ridiculous dozen-or-so-game streak in which opponents did not score when he was on the ice. A first rounder of Anahiem's a couple years ago, is certainly a threat to get signed. Would be a devastating loss, leaving Michigan with Kampfer and a hastily re-switched Summers as the only returning defensemen. A lock to play Jack minutes if he returns.
Andrew Cogliano. Oiler fans, once confident that Cogliano would return to school next year, have changed their tune and I'm leery. One of those guys who swore up and down he'd be here for four years upon arrival; those guys have a zero percent accuracy rate about their own futures to date. Obvious top-line center and centerpiece of the powerplay if he returns. Working against this: Edmonton has acquired an AHL affiliate and needs to stock it. Working for it: the trades of Chris Pronger and Ryan Smyth have garnered a bounty of picks and prospects and Edmonton may put Cogliano on the back burner for a year.
Lebler, Miller, Naurato, Turnbull. All quality players that aren't ever going to be stars. Lebler will be a sophomore, the rest juniors. With the incoming class consisting of a lot of smallish offensive centers, are likely to find themselves as Rohlfs-esque wingers on scoring lines, especially if Cogliano's back. A key part of next season will be finding someone on this crew capable of playing on the top line.
Summers. Was a bit of a nightmare at defense, plagued by turnovers and bad decisions. Was far more effective at forward. Unfortunately, Michigan is unlikely to have the luxury of playing him there without Johnson's return.
Fardig. An effective fourth-liner and penalty-killer, but will be in tough for playing time if Porter, Cogliano, and Kolarik return. Six forwards come in this recruiting class and at this moment only two are outgoing. Has dabbled on defense both for the NTDP and at Michigan and may get moved if there's a surplus at forward.
Ciraulo. Has likely seen the most playing time he's ever going to, but became a fiesty little contributor on the fourth line by year's end. Will probably see Charlie Henderson minutes from here on out.
THE GREAT WIDE OPEN
For two years Michigan has been the same team, a top heavy array of scorers with prone to stupid faith-shattering breakdowns and shaky goaltending. This has been good for not much: first-round exits in the NCAA tournament and watching other teams raise CCHA and GLI banners. In a sense, the departure of the defensemen and TJ is a relief. The team next year might be terrible. It might be fantastic. But it will definitely be different.
Sometime soon: a recruiting class breakdown.