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Friday, January 25, 2008

Really should have ramped the hockey up last week, but better late than never.

We're... #1. As you might expect when you're 22-2-0, Michigan is atop every poll of significance (PWR, RPI) and insignificance (those voted on by hoo-mans, KRACH). The RPI gap is fairly sizable but not impenetrable, as Miami is hot on Michigan's heels and the two Colorado schools in the WCHA have fought through brutal schedules. Each is about 2 hundredths behind.

However, North Dakota, the current 5th place team, is almost 5 hundredths behind, which is about equal to the gap between NoDak and #18 Minnesota-Duluth. That's a long way back and the PWR is mostly an RPI-correction mechanism, one that Michigan has a huge number of advantages in with winning records against the WCHA and HE.

The upshot: barring a total collapse down the stretch, Michigan has locked in a one-seed.

HOWEVA, there's still a lot to play for. Banners are always nice, and staying in the top two is important because two autobids go to the CHA and Atlantic Hockey winners. These two teams are invariably seeded #15 and #16. While a small conference autobid foe is not a guaranteed win by any means -- ask Minnesota about that -- the last two teams in are always a considerable step down in talent from #14.

Current bracketology is totally meaningless, but FWIW the prevailing scenario has this as the Madison regional:

1. Michigan
8. Clarkson
9. Boston College
16. RIT

Boston College is an unpleasant prospect in the second round, but if they keep playing at the level they have been they'll move on up and out of Michigan's way.

Madison is the closest regional to Michigan this year, which is really frustrating. Michigan should be submitting bids every year for wherever: Yost, The Palace, Fort Wayne, Kalamazoo... anywhere. There's no CCHA regional this year at all, which is outrageous. At least Madison in its current incarnation would be slightly pro-Michigan (and mostly empty).

However, Wisconsin is one of four WCHA teams currently lurking just outside the tourney. If they make it, they'll be placed in Madison and Michigan will either be playing a bunch of Eastern teams out east or Wisconsin in Madsion. Congratulations, #1 seed.

Every year the NCAA screws something or another up and ends up with a largely abandoned regional, and now that the tournament is at 16 teams there's little reward for picking up that precious top seed. One-and-done hockey is such a random way to decide things that top seed should be given as many benefits as they can. Isn't it time for home regionals? Attendance problems: solved.

Patchwork. (HA!) Max Pacioretty should be back this weekend:

“It looks better every day. It looks good. I’m optimistic that he’ll be ready to play,” Berenson said after practice on Wednesday afternoon.

“He brings a physical game and good puck touches. His passing is excellent. He’s a threat to score. As you’ve seen, he’s one of our more physical forwards. He gives that line some real stature as far as being able to contribute offensively.”

“It’s feeling much better,” Pacioretty continued. “I haven’t had much contact in practice so I can’t tell if it’s really ready to go through a game yet, but it’s definitely an improvement from last week.”
That's good. I like Tim Miller and all, but Pacioretty is a clear upgrade.

Well, which is it? TJ Hensick was passed over for the Hobey Baker award last year in favor of North Dakota's Ryan Duncan, a sophomore who scored 12 fewer points than him despite playing in two extra games. Compounding the insult was Hensick's exclusion from the "Hobey Hat Trick". The other two finalists were Air Force's Eric Ehn -- the hockey equivalent of inviting Colt Brennan to the Heisman ceremony -- and Notre Dame goalie David Brown. (Since LSSU's Jeff Jakatis was inexplicably passed over, Brown was a deserving-ish candidate on a very strong Notre Dame team, but that's neither here nor there.)

The general defense for this was that the Hobey Baker award "isn't just about statistics". O RLY?

YearPlayerPosPtsScoring Rank (PPG)
2006Matt CarleD11-42-5310th (T-1st amongst D)
2005Marty SertichF27-37-641st
2004Junior LessardF32-31-634th
2003Peter SejnaF36-46-821st
2002Jordan LeopoldD20-28-4828th (1st amongst D)

In Carle's winning year the other defender who had that many points 1) only played 33 games and 2) played in Atlantic Hockey. In Lessard's winning year everyone in front of him played at least four fewer games than he did; in terms of raw points he was the nation's top performer.

In 2001, Ryan Miller's sick 1.32 GAA and .950 save percentage won; College Hockey Stats only goes back to that season. However, IIRC, Chris Drury, Jason Krog, and Brendan Morrison were all the nation's leading scorers the years they won; only BC defenseman Mike Mottau stands out as a Hobey winner without preposterous statistics, and even he put up 6-37-43.

In the decade before TJ Hensick was passed over every forward who got the Hobey Baker led the nation in points. When defensemen won it, with one exception, it was because they had extraordinary offensive seasons for defensemen. When a goalie won it, it was because he had extraordinary statistics.

TJ came along and he was short and had a rep for selfishness and got a ten minute misconduct in Michigan's loss to North Dakota and then all of a sudden it was just about the statistics despite the copious evidence that, yes, it was basically just all about the statistics. Then they gave it to a sophomore who wasn't even the best player on his line. (That would be Jonathan Toews, now in the NHL. Toews was injured for a significant portion of last year, during which period Duncan's productivity fell dramatically.) It was a travesty.

That travesty was justified because the Hobey "wasn't just about the statistics," right? So how irritating is stuff like this from Elliot Olshansky*?
So here we are, talking about Gerbe in the Hobey race, and obviously, there are some people who are very unhappy about it, largely because they really can't stand Gerbe.

Well, guess what? It really doesn't matter.

To his credit, a large reason Olshanksy thinks it doesn't matter is because Porter, as the nation's leading scorer and captain of a 22-2-0 team with one, count 'em -- everybody now, even Ohio State fans can get to one --, one other senior, is the appropriate choice. This isn't really about Porter. It's about Hensick, because people's personal feelings damn sure mattered last year.

Hensick was widely regarded as a lock for the top three and a very strong contender just two weeks before his infamous misconduct (because we all know that the standard of refereeing in college hockey is just killer.) Then he said the wrong thing and the wrong time and was dropped from consideration.

As Olshansky noted when the "Hat Trick" was announced:
I'm just as surprised by Hensick's exclusion as I am by Ehn's inclusion. Really, when do you see a senior who's leading the nation in scoring wind up out of the Hat Trick? I guess the 10-minute misconduct that kept him out of action down the stretch in the North Dakota game really hurt him. I don't know if he'd have won if not for that, but I have to imagine it kept him out of the top three.
Hensick got a misconduct for talking to a referee and the fancypants Hobey committee decided he was no longer suitable for its award. If they don't turn their nose up at a guy who was suspended for a series of unsportsmanlike acts that culminated in the butt-ending of an opposing player, they'll be a bigger joke than the Heisman. The Hobey committee established that last year; to go back would be the rankest sort of hypocrisy.

In other news, I am still really, really mad about Hensick getting shafted last year.

*(Would like to make it clear here that I don't mean to rip on Olshansky, who was confused and maybe a little upset about the Hensick exclusion a year ago; this makes his position on Gerbe consistent.)

Ah, right. State comes to town Friday for what should be a racuous Yost crowd on par with some of the late 90s ones; Michigan will visit the Morgue on Saturday. State has a shiny record and high ranking, but there's one ugly series of numbers that points out some hollowness in their achievements: 1-5-3, State's record against TUCs.* Their schedule rank is 26th, worse than Michigan's 22nd. They've had some embarrassing losses, foremost among them getting swept at the GLI. They appear good, but not great.

MSU has no standouts but does have a number of quality forwards spread across two scoring lines: Bryan Lerg, Justin Abdelkader, Tim Kennedy, Matt Schepke, Tim Crowder, etc. They've got a ton of guys around 20 points; Kennedy leads the team with 27. Midget superman Jeff Lerg continues to play well in goal with a .922 save percentage and a 2.28 GAA.

Michigan faces a couple of difficulties against State: Lerg (goalie version) is quick as hell from side to side, which makes Michigan's favored power play tactic of one-time bombs less effective than normal, and the diffuse nature of MSU scoring makes it difficult to throw Mark Mitera on the ice and direct him to destroy all chances. (Also: frankly, Mitera had an off weekend against ND.) I'm less concerned about the freshman somehow not being prepared for a game of this magnitude after the 2-0 clawback against Notre Dame in a frenzied Yost; this will be something new for them but not that new.

I think a split is likely with a Michigan sweep far more probable than vice-versa.

*(TUC == Team Under Consideration == the top 25 teams in RPI.

Etc.: Speaking of Hensick, -- now up with the Avs -- the Denver Post had a chat with him about Michigan's remarkable season. Also, MLive has a standard "hockey plays State" article.