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11-14-2012, 02:09 AM
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This will probably end up being a long winded post, but bear with me while I indulge myself.

If the NHL schedule had held, the Devils would have played in Detroit this Thursday. This hatched an idea over the summer where I could catch that game along with University of Michigan hockey/football following. I had previously debated going to Michigan's outdoor game in 2010, but it didn't quite work out. A friend whom I hadn't seen since ~2000 started grad school at Michigan this fall and offered up a place to stay.

With the NHL's cancellation, I bumped this trip up a week. This worked out well in that Michigan played Michigan State at hockey and I could also fit in an OHL game in nearby Plymouth.

After lunch on Friday, I walked down to Yost Ice Arena to check out the building. I expected it to be closed off to the public. To my surprise, I saw a couple guys walk into the building. I decided to poke my head in and it was basically like any public rink.

Definitely was cool to see the rink during the day time with the sunlight coming through.

My prospect nerdiness really took off after I got NHL '95 for PC. Unlike the SNES version, you could create new players and I was very particular about keeping rosters updated.

A high school buddy of mine was from Michigan and was raving about Brendan Morrison. Paul Kariya was breaking out in the NHL and was seemingly the first superstar to come from the NCAA in awhile. Morrison was putting up fantastic numbers.

Since I didn't have the Internet yet, I didn't learn immediately that Morrison was a Devils prospect. After finding out, I would watch Michigan whenever I got the chance.

And this was perfect timing as the Wolverines would go onto win the National Championship that year. I remember having my jaw drop when Mike Legg scored the lacrosse style goal in a tournament game. The context of that goal was tremendous.

Here's a fun article about that goal which includes quotes from Morrison and John Madden:

And many of us know the story of how the Devils' braintrust would come to Michigan to keep tabs on Morrison. By osmosis, they came to love his undrafted teammate John Madden.

Atmosphere was tremendous. Dare I say this was the most pure fun I've had at a sporting event ever.

With Jon Merrill hurt, I spent most of the game with an eye on Jacob Trouba who should be a fixture of Team USA's blueline for the next two WJCs. Trouba's stock dropped slightly last year due to worries about his puckhandling abilities.

Trouba was tremendous in the first. Joined the rush and crashed the net which caused the goalie/D to get out of position. This freed up a teammate to score into a virtual empty net. Later he'd thread a 100 foot breakout pass to spring a teammate on a breakaway.

In the second, he was a turnover machine and got pylon'd on another shift. In the third, he'd get called for kneeing although in real time I thought the hit was a result of both players not realizing they were on a collision course. The Michigan State player took the worst of it. The refs may also have their eyes locked on Trouba already as he was suspended a game for a hit to the head last week. Trouba would finish the game with a PP goal. Overall, I thought he looked a little too eager to deliver a big hit but he's got Rob Blake upside.

During the game, a small army of teenagers made their way to their seats. They were all wearing matching blue jackets with the Finland logo. Gentleman behind me said that it was the Finnish U-18 team who were in town for a tournament. Those kids looked young. If he hadn't told me they were on the U-18 team, I would have guessed some of them were 13.

I had completely forgot that the US National Development Team also plays out of Ann Arbor. Last weekend was the Four Nations tournament with USA/Sweden/Finland/Switzerland. If I had known, I maybe could have fit a game.

Handful of draft eligibles would have played there. Team USA took first place:

Football game at The Big House was fun. I got to make the requisite "Home of the 2013....correction, 2014 Winter Classic" joke a few times.

Plymouth happened to be hosting London later that night. London might be the most intriguing OHL team in terms of 2013 draft eligibles. Pictured are Max Domi and Nikita Zadorov.

Domi is small but has great stickhandling. Set up a teammate for an easy backdoor PP goal. But Plymouth did seem to keep him contained at even strength. Kept him to the perimeter and out-muscled him along the boards.

Zadorov came with a reputation of being a big open ice hitter. He lined up a Plymouth forward with a terrific hit. They later tried to goad him into a fight but Zadorov kept his composure. Then he skated by Plymouth's bench and chirped at everybody. Question will be how much offense he'll provide. Seemed to have a heavy wrister but never got it on net. Got some junk PP time at the end of the game and parked himself in front of the net. At 6'5, he did provide a formidable screen.

London has another smallish draft eligible forward in Bo Horvat. Doesn't quite have the dangles that Domi had, but generated more offense than his teammate did. Sniped a nice goal on the rush from 40 feet out.

Plymouth has a potential first rounder in Ryan Hartman. Scouting reports seem to indicate that he's a blue collar forward with a good motor and some offensive upside. Not particularly noticeable in this game, but I think that is more of a compliment to London's defense. Plymouth has a trio of first round picks (Tom Wilson, Stefan Noesen, and Rickard Rakell) who also didn't do much in the 5-0 loss.

Oddly enough, it was a standing room only crowd. I met a friend at the game and he lamented that there was nobody at last week's game against Sarnia. Despite the sellout (it was Boy Scout's night apparently), the atmosphere wasn't anything close to the Michigan game. London's effort also took away from the crowd's enthusiasm.

This might become an annual pilgrimage for me if I can find that weekend where I can cram in Michigan/Plymouth/USNTDP.

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