After being spotted at a Plymouth Whalers game last weekend, optimism seemed low that Jon Merrill would ever skate for the Michigan Wolverines again, but it's being reported that Merrill will stay at Michigan, though he may not see game time until after the Christmas break. The increasing length of that suspension has raised some questions about Merrill's status for the World Junior tournament. Would USA Hockey want to take a defenseman that hasn't played in real game action since last April? I still say yes. The US is deep on defense this year, but not that deep, especially if Justin Faulk remains up with the Carolina Hurricanes and isn't available.
Speaking of the World Juniors, USA Hockey had scouts on hand to watch Sunday's Minnesota-Vermont game. Minnesota's Nick Bjugstad is a lock to make it as a returning forward. Vermont's Connor Brickley made last year's preliminary roster before being one of the final cuts, so he would seem to have an inside track, especially when toughness was one of the big missing elements from last year's team. But the most intriguing darkhorse candidate would have to be Minnesota's Kyle Rau. Before the season, I would have said no chance, but Rau has already vastly exceeded my expectations with 6 goals and 3 assists in his first six collegiate games. Rau has found a niche hanging out on the side of the goal and using his excellent hands to finish off plays. At least four or five of his goals have come within a two-foot radius of a spot right outside the left crease. The tough question for USA Hockey will be if Rau can continue to find open space there playing at a different level. I would tend to think the way he has adjusted so quickly to a higher level of play, both at the USHL and NCAA level would be a solid indicator that he's worth a spot on the team.
Ferris State is off to a perfect 6-0-0 start. The first four games against weak non-conference opponents could be written off, but a home sweep over Miami can't be ignored, even if the RedHawks are off to a disappointing start to the season. Leading the charge for the Bulldogs has been some amazing goaltending. Freshman CJ Motte leads the nation with a 0.33 goals against average and .986 save percentage(1 goal allowed on 70 shots). Incumbent starter senior Taylor Nelson has been almost equally as good with 1.43 and .943 numbers. The Bulldogs play at Michigan this Thursday and Friday in a series that could come back to have huge implications later in the season.
In the third period of their game on Saturday, Minnesota State's bench correctly asserted that a slow stoppage by the clock operator cost them 3 seconds of power play time. Why was asking for those extra 3 seconds back so comical? A) The Mavericks were down 7-0 at the time, B) At that point in the season they were 0-for-25 on the power play C) Earlier that game they had had nearly five consecutive minutes on the power play time thanks to a major penalty where they failed to register a shot on a goal and gave up a shorthanded goal. D) All of the above. On the plus side, it did delay the inevitable, which was the offending Denver player coming out of the box and scoring a shorthanded goal 13 seconds after his penalty had expired.