1. Michigan plays in spurts and stretches.
The Wolverines have all the talent necessary to put together an excellent season with potential for some postseason success. Michigan’s overall team defense can be a bit leaky, but this is a squad that can roll four lines and sometimes score at will. A quick look at Michigan’s schedule and its numbers don’t tell the whole story. Coach Red Berenson has talked about the team needing more consistency, but it’s not merely consistency from game to game; the Wolverines need to play consistently within given games.
Sure, it’s fun to watch a team unload three power-play goals within a five-minute span, as the Wolverines did in the second period in their 8-3 win over Ohio State Dec. 5, or to roll out four unanswered goals as they did during the third period of their 8-1 win over Penn State Nov. 22, but Michigan is also capable of letting down for stretches within games, and that leads to deficits the Wolverines cannot overcome. In a 3-2 loss to Penn State Nov. 21, the Wolverines let their collective guard down for three minutes late in the first period, costing them the game. In a 5-1 loss to Boston College Saturday, Michigan allowed two goals within two minutes before the game was 10 minutes old, creating an insurmountable obstacle while playing an opponent that knows how to play with a lead.
Fits and starts, spurts and stretches. This may be Michigan’s season.
2. Michigan State will surprise people in the second half.
I know that Big Ten opponents won’t be underestimating the Spartans in the second half, given that Michigan State took points from its first two conference series, including a win on the road against Ohio State and a tie with the extra shootout point at home versus Minnesota at home Dec. 6 — especially impressive after losing to the Golden Gophers 5-0 the night before — but people who haven’t been paying close attention to Michigan State so far this season may be surprised by the team’s tenacity and skill.
The Spartans overcame a first-period deficit to beat visiting Clarkson 6-4 yesterday, and while coach Tom Anastos can’t be happy with how the team allowed four goals, he is undoubtedly pleased with his team’s four special-teams goals — including Thomas Ebbing’s game-winning power-play goal late in the second period — and the Spartans’ utter refusal to be rattled. In the second period of that game, the Spartans did what good teams do when they took advantage of power-play opportunities and turned up the proverbial heat on an opponent that they could and should have beaten. In a span of just over three minutes, Joe Cox scored two goals and Ebbing scored that third to give Michigan State a 5-3 lead, and when the Golden Knights scored early in the third period to make it a 5-4 game, the Spartans refused to relent; junior Ryan Keller’s first goal of the season (fourth of his career) gave Michigan State insurance late in the fourth.
Good things happen for hard-working teams, and Michigan State has a pretty good work ethic.
3. My life is better because the Nittany Lions play hockey.
I led last week’s column with Penn State because the Nittany Lions will head into the holiday break on top of the Big Ten standings. It became pretty clear to me early in the first half that the Nittany Lions were able to bring some of the lessons they learned from last season into 2014-2015, making them a much-improved team and no one’s doormat this year. Their sweep of Wisconsin in Madison the week before was impressive, even if the Badgers are struggling mightily this season. Those two wins were Penn State’s first Big Ten sweep. All of this is noteworthy, and when the column appeared on USCHO’s front page, Penn State noticed and sent out this via Twitter. It was retweeted and favorited repeatedly by the Nittany Lions faithful.
— Penn State Hockey (@PennStateMHKY) December 10, 2014
When I thanked them for all the kind words and free publicity, the folks at Penn State and I had this exchange:
— Penn State Hockey (@PennStateMHKY) December 12, 2014
And suddenly, everything I never knew was clarified. Had I just been writing better column for years prior, I could have avoided all manner of unpleasantness: unfortunate relationship choices, the Oldsmobile Achieva I drove for a while, that Christmas spent with the stomach virus (and my now permanent aversion to eggnog). So much makes sense now that never made sense before.
Had the Nittany Lions joined the Division I fold years ago, I would not have had to have waited for middle age for life to become so golden.
And it is. My life is golden, without question. I get to cover college hockey, interact with awesome fans, teach, love, laugh, run and bake cookies.
As we head into the break, here’s hoping that your life is at least as golden. Happy holidays to you and yours. Be safe and warm and well, and hug everyone who matters.