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December 12, 2006 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 2006-12-12

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com Tuesday, December 12, 2006 - 9

REPORT CARD: Daily hockey writers hand out midseason grades to the hockey team.

B-.
Defense
Goaltending
Offense

Young
guns get
eyed by
scouts

Two things are certain when you
look at the Michigan defense:
- On paper, it's a group teeming with
talent.
- On the ice, that talent doesn't always
translate into performance.
But the most recent and pressing
problem plaguing the blue line is health.
Last weekend, three defensemen
missed playingtimebecauseofshoulder
injuries (senior Jason Dest, sophomore
Jack Johnson and freshman Steve
Kampfer). Sophomore Mark Mitera has
been playing with a cast on his wrist,
and though the defenseman scored his
first career goal this weekend, you can't
help but notice the injury is hurting his
performance.
With last year's goalie controversy
behind him, sophomore Billy Sauer
started the season as the clear-cut,
undisputed No. 1 option in goal. And
until recently, he has done nothing to
lose that position.
Even though he has yet to stand on
his head in any game, the Walworth,
N.Y., native has turned in some
performances that have kept Michigan
in close contests - notably in back-to-
back late-November games against
Michigan State and Wisconsin. After
those two victories, Michigan was
Going into the season, there was
never a doubt Michigan would produce
offensively. With players like T.J.
Hensick, Kevin Porter and Andrew
Cogliano, it's practically impossible not
to score goals in bunches.
Through the first half of the season,
Michigan ranks No. 3 in scoring
nationally, averaging 4.21 goals per
game.
Much of the credit has to go
to Michigan's top line of Hensick,
Porter and David Rohlfs. The trio has
contributed more than one-third of the
team's scoring output thus far,
The Wolverines' second line also
deserves credit. Andrew Cogliano, Chad
Kolarik and recent addition Tim Miller
have gelled well and kept up the energy
Michigan's power play has been like
a stand-up comedian this season.
Some nights, as goals pour in at a
torrid pace, the crowd eats up every
moment.
Other times, as pucks bounce
over sticks and passes go astray, the
hecklers can be heard from the rafters.
The power play's capricious effort
hasn't always mirrored the path of the
Wolverines' up-and-down season.
As the rest of the team excelled
during Michigan's seven-game
November win streak, the power play
struggled to keep up with the rest of the
team's pace going 8-for-39, just above
its season average (19.3 percent).

But before the group was all
banged and bruised, the play wasn't
as phenomenal as a roster lined with
NHL draftees would suggest. "We
left (goalies Billy Sauer or Steve
Jakiel) out to dry a few times" was
a common statement in post-game
press conferences. The stretch during
November's seven-game winning streak
was good, but much of the confidence
and all-around play crumbled after
Michigan's 8-2 loss at Minnesota.
Tack the injuries onto that, and
the holiday break could not come at a
better time for the defense. The blue
liners must use this time to get healthy
and get back to where they were a
month ago.
riding a seven-game win streak, thanks
in large part to its young netminder.
But since an 8-2 meltdown at
Minnesota snapped the streak, Sauer
has allowed 22 goals in11 periods and is
not even in the CCHA's top 10 in goals
against average.
With Sauer's recent struggles,
freshman back-up netminder Steve Jakiel
has had some opportunities to show off
his talents. Although he made some
key saves in a tough win at Western
Michigan, he has not been dazzling in his
time between the posts, either.
once Hensick and Co. leave the ice.
Although the third and fourth
lines struggled in the early going,
recent weeks have also seen them
contribute offensively. The hard work
of sophomores Brandon Naurato and
Travis Turnbull deserves much of the
credit for the emergence of the lower
lines.
Michigan would get full marks for
offense,but in games like Sunday's loss
to Notre Dame, it has failed to show
the urgency required to come back in
the closing minutes. Perhaps because
scoring usually comes so easily, the
Wolverines assume they'll be able to
get the equalizer just as casually. The
reality: College hockey doesn't reward
laziness.
While the first power-play line is full
of talent - T.J. Hensick, Kevin Porter,
Andrew Cogliano, Chad Kolarik and
Jack Johnson - it struggles when
pressured by opposing penalty killers.
Michigan's short-handed play isn't
at an elite level, either. At times, it's
downright awful. Watching Notre
Dame's 3-for-7 power-play output
Sunday makes it easy to see why the
Wolverine penalty kill is third worst in
the CCHA (79.7 percent),
Too often, Michigan's penalty killers
lay back and let the opponent take it
to them. It's one thing if you're at the
end of a shift, but such play often starts
from the power play's initial faceoff.

TOP: Redshirtjunior Jake Long has gotten a lot of attention from pro scouts.
BOTTOM: Junior Alan Branch projects as a top-10 pick in this year's NFL Draft.

By SCOTT BELL
Daily Sports Editor
Every year, the bowl game
serves as the end of the road for
more than a handful of seniors for
the Michigan football team.
This season, the upcoming Rose
Bowl is no different.
Key players like seniors Leon
Hall and LaMarr Woodley will be
forced to hang up their jerseys fol-
lowing the Jan. 1 contest.
But four-year contributors may
not be the only Michigan athletes
to say "sayonara" to Ann Arbor fol-
lowing the team's matchup with
Southern Cal.
Juniors Alan Branch, Mike Hart
and Chad Henne and redshirt
juniors Shawn Crable and Jake
Long have all had their names tied
to NFL Draft speculation over the
past few months.
Even though the interest in
jumping to the professional level
varies from athlete to athlete, the
distraction is still there.
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr is in
the awkward position of balancing
the individual players' best inter-
est with the team's.
"If they need me to facilitate
them in any way, as far as that
decision or any information I can
get to them, I'm happy to do that,"
Carr said. "I'm happy to give them
my opinion if they ask for it. But
the most important thing for our
team is to deal with that in a pri-
vate way, so it does not become a
distraction for us as we pursue
this bowl game."
The Rose Bowl could serve as
an especially crucial point in one
Wolverine's decision.
Many professional scouts will
have their eyes on Long, who will
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match up with Southern Cal's
explosive defensive end Lawrence
Jackson as Michigan's starting left
tackle. Jackson leads the Trojans
with 11 tackles for loss this year,
and has 20 career sacks in three
seasons.
If Long can protect Henne's
blind side, it could be enough to
raise his stock in a draft class
already stacked with offensive
tackles.
Branch is the Wolverine argu-
ably receiving the most buzz.
Nearly all projections place the
Rio Rancho, N.M., native in the
draft's top 15. The defensive tackle
is listed as the No. 6 player in the
draft by NFLdraftcountdown.
com. The same website has Long
going ninth overall.
Branch, a first-team All Ameri-
can, corralled both an intercep-
tion and a fumble recovery against
Ohio State on Nov. 18, and has
been described as the heart of the
highly touted Michigan defense on
several occasions.
Carr acknowledged that a num-
ber of Michigan players could
potentially leave for the NFL, but
would not talk about anyone indi-
vidually prior to the Rose Bowl.
"First of all, you care about him
because you've gotten to know
him," Carr said on Friday, not men-
tioning a specific player. "You want
to have him around. You want him
to do some more things here. And
yet, I always tell them that I'm not
going to talk anyone into staying. I
don't want to do that. I want that
to be their decision."
Safety Ernest Shazor, the last
underclassmen to leave and test
the NFL's waters, went undrafted
(2004).
Even though Branch and Long

are the two Michigan players
whose names pop up most in NFL
conversations, other Wolverines
have been mentioned, too.
Henne made sure his status
wasn't up in the air for long. On
Nov. 19, just a day following Mich-
igan's 42-39 loss to Ohio State, the
three-year starter came to Carr's
office and assured his coach that
he'd return for his final year at
Michigan.
Hart said after the Ohio State
game that he would stay on for his
senior season.
"I've got one year left, and I'm
going to get them next year," Hart
said at the time.
Crable is the final Wolverine
who could potentially make the
jump. He's the lowest ranked
Michigan underclassman in NFL
draft projections, but also has
something that can't be taught:
size.
His 6-foot-5 frame, along with
his speed, could be enough to have
an NFL team draft him as a long-
term project.
"What I want to be able to try to
do, if they care aboutmyopinion, is
tell them what I would tell my son
if he were in that same position,"
Carr said. "So you try to remove
the bias out of it because when
you can get drafted at a certain
position, you have an opportunity
to do some things financially that
you'll never get a chance to do
again. But it's a complicated issue
'for a coach."
And it is for the players, too.
Just in case, Michigan fans
watchingthe Rose Bowl in a couple
weeks might want to keep a special
eye on a couple juniors - it may be
your last time you'll ever see them
donning maize and blue.

Special teams

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