Friday, October 27, 2006 - Matt Ranville
Every hockey season starts with questions, but there is one, and really only one, question that should be on the minds of UM Hockey fans as the maize and blue icers kick off another season: is UM still one of the top hockey programs, and can it take a shot at another national championship?
Of course, people are asking a lot more questions than that. Does Michigan have the talent? Does it have the goaltending? Should UM have Olympic sized ice to compete with the WCHA teams? Will the student section be banned for naughty language, and if so, will Jack Johnson’s dad use the extra space to increase his dancing? And speaking of dancing, will the band director ever dance again?
Who’s Who and What They Need To Do:
The most important off-season question for UM Hockey was, as usual, who’s coming back, and what does it mean for the team.
Red Berenson signed a 3 year contract extension earlier this year, squelching the annual rumors of his retirement. Red’s challenge this season will be to get an extremely talented squad to play with defensive responsibility and discipline. That’s not an easy charge, even for such a talented coach. The UM team has amazing raw talent, but also a tendency to show more interest in creativity than responsibility. The high-flying offense should be able to drown the bottom half of the league in goals, but Red will need to step up the team’s defense to make a real dent in the national picture. Also worth noting: Red was named as a recipient of the NHL’s Lester Patrick Award for outstanding service to hockey in the US. You can check out an article on it at the UM Athletics web site.
Red Wins Lester Patrick Award http://mgoblue.com/document_display.cfm?document_id=22238
Jack Johnson was as good as his word, and has returned on the UM blue line this year. Johnson should be an impact player, despite being only a sophomore. His speed, and shooting ability were already evident as a freshman, as was his love of dolling out a little abuse to opponents. Johnson’s size and hitting ability make him a power on the defensive side of the puck, and his stick handling and shooting make him a threat in the opponent’s half of the ice as well. Look for him to make rushes from his defensive position and to play on the power play, where he can act as both an extra forward in the attack and a defenseman in case of turnovers. Johnson has all the talent to be a first rate hockey player, and the real question now that he’s back is whether he has the discipline to be a leader.
TJ Hensick, the high-flyingest of the high-flying UM offense, has also returned for another season. Many feared that TJ would be tempted into the pros, but the high-scoring forward has returned to his spot as an alternate captain for UM. Hensick put up 52 points last season, 55 the year before, and should continue to be a major scoring threat. The biggest question surrounding Hensick really isn’t Hensick, but, well, the guys surrounding him. TJ will draw lots of attention from other teams, and better teams will isolate him and bottle him up. Hensick will pull defensemen to him like a magnet, which should open up chances for other Wolverines to net goals. If the other Wolverines don’t get in position to support him, or if he feels that he has to make plays alone, Hensick will have a frustrating season.
Billy Sauer. I once thought I would trade places with any UM goalie, but I’m not sure I’d want to be in Billy’s skates right now. Sauer came in on the heels of some very popular and capable net minders like Turco, Blackburn and Montoya, but without the solid defense or high scoring offense in front of him that some of those guys had. Add to that Ann Arbor’s proximity to Detroit, from which it contracted Hockeytown Goalie-itis; the tendancy of ignorant fans to blame any loss on the goalie. There is no doubt about it, Billy Sauer is under a microscope. Is it him? Yes and no. He’s not Turco, who specialized in facing few, but impossible, shots, and coming up with impossible saves. He’s not Blackburn, who could sprawl and dive his way to dozens of saves a game. He doesn’t exude Montoya’s cockiness. Then again, his fundamentals are better than Turco, he’s more consistent than Blackburn, and he’s not as over-the-top and distracted with himself as Montoya could get. In short, Billy Sauer is a good, solid, working-man’s goaltender, and if his team plays good hockey, he won’t let them down.
The Weird, Wild and Way, Way Out There…
Ok, the strange, nutty and silly things people have asked me about...
Yes, Size Does Matter
In answer to questions that more than one person asked, yes, I would like to see UM have Olympic sized ice, and no, I don’t think it’s going to happen. I have played on various sizes of ice, ranging from a one-zone sized pond rink to the full Olympic rink, and yes, it makes a difference in how the game is played. Big ice favors offense and speed, and UM would probably benefit from it, since Red and the boys favor an offensive game based on speed and talent. Of course, defending on Olympic ice, especially on penalty kills, means more space to cover, and frankly, UM doesn’t need anything else to worry about on the defensive end, they have enough problems already.
Ultimately, our beloved Yost wasn’t built for Olympic ice. Actually, it wasn’t built for hockey at all. Fitting ice and dressing rooms into Yost has it pretty well packed, plus there are issues like losses in seating and reworking the refrigeration system in the floor of the rink that would make it unpractical. We can dream, though.
Watch Your Mouth!
There was notable pre-season buzz about the language of hockey fans across collegedom this summer and early fall. Boston University, one the college hockey’s premier programs, announced a crack down on profanity, and that got everyone wondering, will they boot students at Yost? Some even asked, could we see the student section removed en masse?
Judging by the first few games, no, we aren’t going to see large numbers of people carted out of Yost for their use of some very colorful language. The students are still at it, chanting things ranging from creative and fun, to just stupid and mindlessly obscene. The C-Ya cheer was still intact as of last weekend. I also very seriously doubt that UM could or would remove the whole student section, both because of practical and legal concerns.
On the flip side: Don’t be surprised if Bill Martin and company decide to tighten up enforcement, and don’t be shocked if the UM Alumni back him on it. Lots of people who helped start the chants that students use, me included, are tired of seeing it degenerate into a series of profanities punctuated by a “You Suck!” It’s not interesting or creative or fun, it’s just dumb and grating. I would like to see the students keep (but shorten) the C-Ya cheer, and add some new material. Something that uses clean language, but still gets point across.
And for the record, no, I don’t have a mullet.
You Can Dance If You Want To
Here’s my quick run down of some winners (who should be dancing) and some losers who don’t.
A happy jig for Johnson! That is, Johnson’s father. Jack Johnson’s dad is back, and even the addition of a cane to his routine can’t stifle his enthusiasm. Nothing like a little clean fun and silliness from a parent to lift the crowd.
While we’re at it, hats off to Jack Johnson and TJ Hensick to return. They could have gone, they didn’t, and I think they are better men for it.
Topping my big losers list, the UM Hockey Band, and the decision to not have the band leaders dance. For years, this was a great UM hockey tradition. We saw good dancers, bad dancers, alumni dancers, and occasional dances with brooms. In a world where people tend to take the wrong things too seriously, the Hockey Band was, and should be, an island of fun. Lighten up, folks, you’re not playing Bach in Carnegie Hall, you’re playing Bon Jovi in the corner of an ice rink.
Also a big loser, having refs add comments about which body part was hit when the penalty was committed. It’s roughing or high sticking whether it’s to the head, the chest or the elbow. Stop making the poor refs do the Macarena (one dance we can all do without) , and have them use the traditional hockey calls.
Finally, The Shake Your Money Maker Award Goes To…
I want to send a big “Thank You!” to the folks at the UM ticket office. I needed help with both football and hockey ticket changes this year, and those folks really came through. If you see me, or one of my guests, dancing in our new seats at hockey games, it’s because ticket folks took time during their craziest part of the year to help me with ticket renewal issues. Good service takes the sting out of handing over a couple thousand Frostys for sports tickets, and makes for some very happy customers. Ticket Office folks, you rock!
See you on the ice!