Wednesday, November 22, 2006 - Matt Ranville
It hasn’t been the best week for Michigan Wolverines, but the Maize and Blue Icers have done what they could to lift our spirits in the wake of losing the legendary Wolverine.
I could probably just put his name there, and the Michigan faithful would take a quiet moment, nod, and know what I meant. That tells you better than I can put into words what he meant to this university; how much he loved it, how much we loved him in return.
Friday, November 17, one of our lunch party got a two word text message on his phone: Bo’s dead. Right on queue, a bunch of people scoffed, Yeah, right, that’s not funny. The man was so immortal in many of our minds, such a constant in our life as a university, and the timing was so weird, that it just didn’t seem possible. Bo seemed as permanent as the Big House. The realization that he was gone made even the sport he loved, the rivalry game he helped create, seem unimportant somehow.
I will always have two memories of Bo. One is of the man on the sidelines, the man in the interviews. It’s the Bo that railed against bad calls, broke down the big games, and exhorted people to be something more tomorrow than they were today. I just see a picture of that man, and I feel like I need to work harder, stand up straighter, do better. For most of my life, Michigan represented a goal, an ideal, something individual and collective to strive for, and for many of those years, Bo was there, the epitome of Michigan.
My other memory of Bo is this: I was leaving a hockey game, and as I was about to pull out of the driveway nearest Schembechler Hall, an older man in a leather jacket and felt hat, an aging Indiana Jones, walked out in front of my truck. The man’s hat was tipped down hiding his face. Just as I was feeling really annoyed that the cheeky old fellow had just stepped out like he owned the place, his head came up, and he gave us that grin. That smile. That smile that managed to be humble, a little arrogant, proud, and warm, all at once.
He smiled at us for just a moment, and then he was gone. Gone to do whatever great men do after they are done with the moment they have with us.
In Keeping with Tradition, Defense Leads the Way
While the UM football team battled to a very un-Bo-like 39-42 loss to OSU, the UM Hockey team stepped up it’s game, giving us something to cheer for last weekend and Tuesday night. Michigan finally put together not one, not two, but three complete games, culminating in a much needed win over the Spartans. The way they did it, with solid defense, would have made Bo proud.
Ferris got on the board first in the Friday night match up, but UM stormed back, scoring two goals within the next minute to take the lead. Chad Kolarik scored his second goal of the night early in the third to extend the lead to 2. Ferris pressed for a late goal to cut the lead to 1, but the Wolverines held on for the win. A surprising stat in this game was that Ferris nearly equaled Michigan in shots (35 to UM’s 37). Happily, Billy Sauer stopped 33 of 35, including 19 of 20 in the third period.
Night two saw Michigan get on the board first, and then saw UM score right on the heels of Ferris’ first period goal, to take a 2-1 lead into the dressing room at the first intermission. UM then struck early in the second, late in the second, and again early in the third, while blanking Ferris in the last two periods. Probably the most interesting thing to note, however, was that both teams put up 34 shots, with Sauer stopping 33 of the ones he saw. For those playing at home (or writing for other hockey-covering media), let’s do some math: Sauer faced 69 shots in two games, stopping 66 of them, which is something like a .957 save percentage. Go ahead and call our boy “sub-par” again. Jerks.
But wait, there’s more…
Tuesday night, Michigan hosted the Spartans in what could best be described as a bad idea from a league that’s full of them. Don’t get me wrong, having UM and MSU play in Yost is genius; it’s the Tuesday night thing that isn’t so bright. Back-to-back weekend games, two days off, and then a huge, televised rivalry game? Not too bright. Not only does the time suck for fans (7:35, on a work night, plus the delays of being on tv), but that is just not much time for athletes, even young ones, to recover.
Lucky for us, Wolverines are known for being tireless as well as vicious.
After what seemed like a ten minute warm up period, the two teams started to loosen up, and the bodies started flying. What could have been the usual UM-MSU low-scoring caution-fest, turned in to a brilliant, and brutal, display of checking, punctuated by the occasional cheap shot (most of them not called). The ref wisely let the rough stuff go as often as he could, and if I question the CCHA’s scheduling decision, I applaud their choice of officiating team. UM fans can say what they want, but I was down near the ice and one blue line, and I can tell you that a number of difficult calls were made well, allowing the game to be played as it should be: mean, but fair.
Period one was tight-checking, with neither team hitting the back of the net. Sauer was called on to make only 4 saves, while Jeff Lerg measured up to the higher pressure at his end of the ice, making 9. The game got notably rougher in the late first and early second period, and the extra physical play opened up more opportunities for both team. Tim Kennedy struck for MSU just under a minute into the second frame, scoring the only even-strength goal of the night. Michigan threw a lot of rubber at the acrobatic Jeff Lerg, who stoned us until the middle of the second, when Kevin Porter netted a power-play goal. Shots were 14-10 in UM’s favor, with most of the good scoring chances being Michigan’s.
By period 3, MSU was looking like one would expect on a Tuesday night, on the road, after two periods of hitting. Michigan took advantage of this, and TJ Hensick scored on the power play early in the period. Hensick’s quick stick handle and release caught Lerg dropping, beating the MSU goalie over his shoulder. It is obvious, but worth noting, that in this one instance, Lerg’s diminutive size worked against him, as TJ’s shot would have simply hit a goalie of even average height. It was a good thing for Michigan, as we managed only 5 shots in the third to MSU’s 11. At the other end of the ice, Sauer turned away all 11 of those shots, many of which came on a late Spartan power play which ended the game. All together now: 94 shots, 90 saves, and (roughly) a .957 save percentage in two road games and one big rivalry game. Man, imagine what would happen if Sauer wasn’t a “sub-par” goalie.
Losers of the Weak
First and foremost, to all those people that can’t keep their mouth shut, and teach their spoiled kids to put down the game boy, during an anthem or moment of silence. If I had my way, we’d take your tickets and toss you in the dumpster outside the back door. If you and your brats are too special to shut up for a minute, sing the anthem with us, and show a little respect to the people that made your life as an American and Wolverine possible, you’re just too flippin’ special to be here with the rest of us. Losers.
UM and OSU’s defenses. Holy cow, guys, 42-39 in the match up that reminds us of Woody and Bo?
The BCS system. Everyone knows there is only 1 number 1 team, and only 1 number two team that might be able to beat them. Trojans are for protection, and Notre Dame best refers to a saint, not a football team. To hell with your “system,” give us the match up we deserve.
Winners – Leading the Leaders and Best
I’m not going to say Bo, because that would be like a football writer saying Herb Brooks was a “pretty good” hockey coach. Bo doesn’t need guys like me to declare him a winner. I will, however, declare us, The University of Michigan, to be a winner. Of all the things a man like Bo could have done, he chose to spend a huge chunk of his life with us. Thanks, and God bless you, Bo.
Also, to the kid with the white board, nice show of class. Sometimes one word says it all.
Jack Johnson and Billy Sauer. How Jeff Lerg got a star of the game and neither of you did, I just don’t know. Johnson played one of the best games at defense I’ve seen from a UM defenseman on Tuesday against MSU, and Sauer defied his critics to lead his team to three much needed wins in a row. Luckily, the CCHA had honored Johnson for his play two weeks ago (Defenseman of the Week), and Sauer for last weekend at Ferris (Goalie of the Week).
The 9 young men that signed with Michigan Hockey. For those that don’t follow such things, UM has signed up 9 new players. Seven of those 9 are listed as top prospects in the next NHL draft. I’m not sure who got the early holiday gift in all that, but I know that someone must be a winner.
Last, but not least, Brian Lebler and Steve Kampfer, who made the preliminary list of top prospects for the NHL draft (along with those 7 fellows mentioned above). It’s always good to see our boys getting some recognition.
Next up, Michigan plays in the College Hockey Showcase in Wisconsin and Minnesota in what will be their toughest test of the season. Check out the preview in the Features section, and get ready to cheer.
See you on the ice!