College hockey’s most stacked team falls short

A weird college hockey experience ended last night. The Michigan Wolverines lost 3-2 in overtime to the Denver Pioneers in the Frozen Four semifinals. Michigan’s roster this year included the first, second, fourth and fifth overall picks in last summer’s NHL Draft. Filling out the rest of the range was several—quiver— laggards in the first and second rounds. What could this collection of elite talent accomplish? The question has hovered over the program all year.

I was curious about the NHL school team in my backyard, and a lot of people too. All season, I’ve shared a press box at Yost Ice Arena with NHL editors checking prospects, and with team scouts and executives with mystery intentions. Steve Yzerman showed up for a game against Minnesota but dived in the second period, when Minnesota had a full blowout. (Elliotte Friedman reported last week that the Red Wings are after Ben Meyers, the Golden Gophers’ leading scorer and the NCAA’s top undrafted free agent.) Another night it’s Sabers general manager Kevyn Adams, who escaped early; he stopped to thank the kind press ushers before leaving.

Adams has been to Ann Arbor a few times this year because Buffalo’s defensive future may be there. In July, he picked Owen Power, a 6-foot-6 defenseman, with the first draft pick. Power plays a style that I can only describe as half-asleep, which is reassuring in a defender – the high panic threshold and all. His height and mobility have earned him pre-draft comparisons to Victor Hedman, though I’ve never actually seen him. (In prospect land, every tall defenseman is Victor Hedman.) Two years prior, in the third round, Buffalo also drafted Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo, who was much more under siege this season than expected. one would expect from a star guardian.

That Michigan ever iced this stacked list was an accident of the pandemic. Power, winger Kent Johnson (fifth overall by the Blue Jackets) and center Matty Beniers (second overall by the Seattle Kraken) all played their draft year in Michigan, but the pandemic had denied them the real college experience , the chance to play in front of a crowd and a shot at the NCAA tournament, which Michigan lost last year due to positive test results in the program. So the news that they would all be back for another shot at a title thrilled Michigan fans accustomed to what MGoBlog called the “Michigan Hockey Summer,” when you usually see someone turn pro sooner or later. that a great recruit had changed his mind or been blocked by the admissions office. (A Michigan team opting out could probably hold their own in the NHL. In the net alone, you’d have a choice of Jack Campbell or John Gibson. Maybe that team wouldn’t hold up, ha ha.) Not only the Michigan return those three, they would also add freshmen Luke Hughes (from that Hughes family), a dynamic defenseman taken fourth overall by the Devils, and Mackie Samoskevich, a forward taken 24th overall by the Panthers.

Championship dreams can be dangerous in a sport where results are often poorly correlated to inputs. Expecting “most skilled team” to mean a lot in playoff hockey is like assembling the basketball team with the best calligraphy. Each year, the Frozen Four expose a schism that casts doubt on the value of all those draft picks on the roster. A philosophy says that with only so many lanky teenage phenoms tied to the NHL, you’re better off recruiting more physically mature players who have aged out of the junior leagues. The average DI men’s varsity hockey freshman is around 20 years old. Last year, The Athletic’s Corey Masisak joked that the Mankato State forwards frosting in their Frozen Four semifinals might be older than the New Jersey Devils forward group playing that night. one of his disciples did the math and said he was right. Before the face-off, I sometimes scanned the opposing team’s printed line charts, and it always brought me a bit of comfort to see a date of birth before mine.

Earlier this season, the Wolverines were downright physically outplayed by a tough Western Michigan team. That October loss would haunt Michigan for the rest of the year, especially after it emerged that head coach Mel Pearson may have tried to quit playing Western a few months later when many of his best players played away. junior world championships in Alberta. Michigan canceled a scheduled December game against Western, citing “health and wellness protocols.” But oddly, they had enough skaters to play a game against another opponent the day before.

A month after the teen western, the Ann Arbor News reported that the university was investigating the team for “among other allegations, an attempted cover-up of COVID-19 cases prior to last year’s NCAA Tournament.” Other allegations included “creating a toxic work environment for female support staff” and “retaliating against a student athlete for ‘raising concerns’ about hockey team culture.” The investigation, which is still ongoing, was not mentioned on ESPN yesterday, but it likely puts Pearson’s future at Michigan in jeopardy. His contract expires at the end of the month and he declined to say after the Denver loss whether he would sign an extension. Michigan’s hockey summer is finally coming to an end now too: Higher-ranked rookies are on the way, but Power, Beniers and Johnson would sign their contracts with the NHL in the coming days.

If I was going to these games hoping to find out what the market for each was – who was destined for stardom and who was going to die out – the quest failed. It quickly dawned on me that I would write the craziest blog: the kind without conclusions. One evening, I left Yost convinced that I had seen the next Bobby Orr in Luke Hughes. On a different night, he got spun around, downright faked, by Leafs prospect Matthew Knies of Minnesota, and I looked around in horror at the other reporters, all slamming on their keyboards, like Hello? Does anyone else see this? There is a scene in The big court where the hedge fund guys take a field visit to a new, mostly abandoned Florida subdivision—everyone is in default—and they realize they’re the first witnesses to a catastrophic fraud.

I was left with deep admiration for scouts, public and private, being asked to consider both types of nights, imagine a future for a 17-year-old, and then stake their professional reputations on it. I think I’d rather be a dunk-tank clown; it might save me a bit of embarrassment.