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What's the Deal with Michigan?

This season hasn't exactly been business as usual for the Michigan Wolverines. For the first time in over a decade, they failed to finish either first or second in the CCHA. Before last weekend, they hadn't won a series since mid-December. I got the chance to watch Michigan play against Ferris State last weekend, and here were my thoughts.

First and foremost, anyone who thinks this season's result is a sign of doom and gloom to come, I think they're crazy. I loved the direction that Red has his team heading in.

Michigan's biggest problem right now seems to be that they're young. They've got a lot of freshmen players like Jason Bailey, Tim Miller, Travis Turnbull, and Danny Fardig who are going to tough, very good four year hockey players at Michigan, and should be very difficult to deal with when they're juniors and seniors. The problem is that they're just not there yet physically and mentally. Even Tyler Swystun, who was originally recruited as a scorer, showed the potential to be a tough two-way player.

Travis Turnbull continued to impress me. He works hard and creates scoring opportunities, which is all you can ask for from a forward.

I finally understood the Andrew Cogliano hype. He had looked fairly pedestrian in the previous games I had seen him play, but he was a dominant force on Saturday night. I don't think another year of college hockey would hurt him, but I also think he could just as easily turn pro over the summer.

Jack Johnson played a much more controlled game than he has lately. He didn't make any jaw-dropping hits, but he also didn't get caught out of position. On a weekend when the elbows were coming up on both sides, JJ was fairly quiet. This summer should be quite an interesting saga. Jack and his family have been so adamant about him staying that it's tough not to believe, however unlikely it may be.

Goaltending looked like less of a question mark with the way Noah Ruden played last weekend. Billy Sauer will still be very good some day, but I think the team is a little more confident having a senior playing behind them than having a young freshmen. I think Ruden is a little more mentally ready for playoff hockey than Sauer is right now.

The biggest concern Michigan has had all season is getting the puck out of their zone, especially late in games. From what I could tell, the biggest problem Michigan had was that they got too fancy at times. When they got control of the puck in their own end, they were always looking to make a pass through the center of the ice to give a teammate an opportunity at a rush up the ice. That strategy works well when teams back off and just try to defend. But when teams are more aggressive with their forecheck, they start clogging up those passing lanes and creating turnovers, which turn into goals. That could correct this by just keeping things simple and doing whatever it takes to get the puck out of the zone, and worry about offense later. Instead of making a pass through the center of the ice, they could just chip it off the boards out to center and then go attack the other team and force them to try and set things up all over again. Sometimes I think it's better to trade possession for position.

In a perfect world, I'd say this team will be ready for a national title run in two or three years when the current crop of freshmen has completely matured and they bring in some young, talented scorers to play around them. But with college hockey, you can never play for the future, because it's too easy for a great team to lose, and not that unlikely that an average could win it all.

Perhaps I just happened to catch Michigan on the right weekend. Now that they've established themselves as a high three seed or low two seed in the tournament, I could see extending their NCAA quarterfinal streak, though some match-ups, like playing North Dakota at the Ralph would be pretty difficult. After that, I think it depends on who they get placed in a regional with. I can't see them beating Minnesota right now, just because I don't think their defense could stand up to that kind of pressure over the course of a game. I don't think they match up well with Wisconsin either. You never know with playoff hockey in a single elimination tournament. Anything could happen.