ALL I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS…

…is this.  Please hurry back…please, please, please!

WHAT I GOT FOR CHRISTMAS…

98 Championship print

About a year and a half ago I had someone do some work in my basement and cut some copper piping.  A few days later I went downstairs and noticed water all over a corner of the floor.  The valve on the pipe was never shut and water had been dripping out for the past 48 hours.  Items on the floor were damaged, including the above limited edition print Michigan sold to celebrate the 1998 NCAA national championship (only 500 were made).  We stashed the print away in one of my wife’s art portfolios to dry off and I totally forgot about it.

My wife stumbled upon this not too long ago, so for Christmas she had the print restored to remove the water damage and got it custom framed.  And SHE decided to hang it above our bed (important to note because she’s a Notre Dame fan).  Totally awesome gift and wife!

UNCERTAINTY BETWEEN THE PIPES

Interesting discussion on The Wolverine right now about the state of Michigan’s goaltending situation, who’s at fault (the goalies or the players in front of them), and where it goes moving forward.  The harshest comment comes from The Wolverine’s own Michael Spath as it pertains to recruiting another goalie:

And options are being considered. Problem is it’s too late for 2013, and it’s borderline too late for 2014. But I know Red doesn’t want to go out with a whimper because of poor goalie play. The other problem is that in his 28 years, U-M has never had two goalies on full scholarships and they’re not about to run Rutledge out the door. It would really help if the kid just packed up and left on his own.

Ouch.  Can’t fault Michael for his honesty.

Rutledge was recruited to be the #1 goalie, and from Day 1 he hasn’t played up to the expectations we all had.  He’s played in six games and has a 1-4-0 record, 4.57 goals against average, and .847 save percentage.  You can say what you will about the play of the team in front of him, but if you remember the season opening loss against RIT, Rutledge gave up five goals which Red Berenson said were all soft.  He’s certainly been plagued by his own performance just as much.

Spath did correct himself later in the thread in that Michigan has had two scholarship goalies on the roster once during the Billy Sauer and Bryan Hogan era.  Sauer’s erratic early career play pretty much forced Berenson’s hand to find another goalie.  At what point do you pull the trigger on handing out another scholarship for that position?

If it’s me there’s no question you have to do it.  One aspect I’ve never been a fan of is only having one goalie on scholarship. Going back to who, Warren Sharples (?)… Steve Shields, Marty Turco, Josh Blackburn, Al Montoya… we were spoiled. There was never a need for a second goalie on scholarship with those guys around, however you didn’t know that until they stepped foot on campus and proved it. We recruited them to be the #1 goalie and, thankfully, they were all able to walk right in and pick up where their predecessor left off. They also had the advantage of fully loaded offensive powerhouses in front of them and defenses that could actually play defense adequately. But if any one of those guys ends up being a bust or suffering a long-term injury, perhaps we’re not having this discussion today.

By recruiting with this mindset of one scholarship goalie to be the #1 goalie for four years (or less), we’re essentially putting all our eggs in one basket that he is going to live up to expectations. Remember, Billy Sauer was a highly touted recruit, too, and at one point early in his Michigan career he was considered a potential first-round draft pick. He started out his U-M career strong up until the College Hockey Showcase disaster. Then the egg cracked and we were left scrambling (thank you, thank you!). Sauer had to split with Noah Ruden, then Hogan, and really nothing was settled until the emergence of Shawn Hunwick (and even then Hunwick split with Hogan for half a season and looked to be on the outside looking in until Hogan’s groin pull prior to the Big Chill). Getting burned by Jack Campbell and John Gibson didn’t help matters. And now, like Sauer, the eggs were put in the Jared Rutledge basket expecting him to be the #1, and we’ve seen how that’s gone so far.

As I also said, though, previous goalies had the advantage of powerhouse teams in front of them.  This year’s crop does not.  The offense has struggled and the defense, which was expected to be the strong suit, has been horrid.  You can put fault on both sides.  How much opportunity do you continue to give your young struggling netminder to turn it around?  Go back to Sauer again.  Struggled his freshman and sophomore years, then his junior year he showed when the defense isn’t leaving him constantly hanging out to dry that he could hold the fort down with a 1.95 GAA and .924 save percentage, which I believe were both Michigan records at the time.  How much would things be different for Racine and Rutledge in the same situation?  How long do you wait to find out?

To me, ideally I’ve always wanted to see Michigan bring in a top goalie every two or three years to avoid situations like this.  You’d have a junior/senior goalie with a true freshman joining the ranks who you could break in before he takes over, not just get thrown to the wolves and hope he succeeds.  I think we tried going that route once, though, with Campbell and Gibson and they both opted for the OHL.  But even if you bring in a kid who isn’t as highly touted as those two, but still considered a good prospect, again at least you’re giving him time to adjust and not put all the weight on his shoulders immediately.

With the way recruiting is these days, you can’t wait to pull the trigger on offering a scholarship with kids committing sooner and sooner.  I’d much rather spend another scholarship on a goalie than another 3rd/4th liner, too. Besides, we’ve had pretty good luck finding quality walk-on forwards over the years who can easily fill that role (e.g. our last captain Luke Glendening).

I look at a team like Boston College, who’s like the Alabama of the college hockey world over the past decade. Every year they’re pulling in top recruiting classes and making the Frozen Four/championship it seems, and they’re not skimping on the goaltending, either. They got a top senior netminder right now, a pair of sophomore backups waiting in the wings, plus they also just secured a commitment from Thatcher Demko out of the NTDP for next season, and they got another top goalie committed for 2015.  They’re constantly reloading at what is such a crucial position.  I’ve always wondered why we don’t do the same.

Meanwhile, we’ve got six forwards coming in next season, to go with the 11 forwards we’ll have returning (if they all come back).  That’s 17 forwards on he roster…one shy of six (!) full lines.  Uh, overkill?  I know they’re not all on scholarship, but still…you’re telling me we can’t spare a scholly somewhere? Get us a goalie, please!

MASTER VS. APPRENTICE

The annual Great Lakes Invitational kicks off Saturday with Michigan playing Michigan Tech at 7 p.m.  This will be the first meeting between Michigan coach Red Berenson and long time assistant-turned-Michigan Tech head coach Mel Pearson.  The Huskies also sport another pair of former Wolverines in assistant coach Bill Muckalt and volunteer goaltender coach Steve Shields.

Pearson is in his second season with the Huskies, and it’s not going as well as his first.  MTU sports a 4-10-3 overall record, and they’re 0-4-3 in their last seven games.  They’ll also be without the services of leading goal scorer Blake Pietila, who’s off at the World Junior Championship.  Pietila easily leads the Huskies with ten goals (and they’ve only scored 45 goals so far, so he’s accounted for 22 percent of their goal scoring).

On the flip side, Michigan will be without top defenseman Jacob Trouba, who is also off at the WJC.  I imagine junior Adam Janecyk will get the start in net after getting his first start right before the break and shutting out Western Michigan.

MHNet’s Geoff Chiles will be at Saturday’s game, but we’re not sure yet if they’ll have a press box seat available for him to blog.  If not, I will run the live blog, so stop on by!

WHERE I’VE BEEN THE PAST MONTH

Been a while since our last update.  More than I like going without an update.  I’ve posted a little on Twitter, but that’s it.  Real life was catching up and needed priority.  Geoff would have blogged the Western games but opted to vacation out in Phoenix for a few days instead.  He blogs for two months and he’s already getting more vacation time than me!