Archive for October, 2011

The Midwest Coast Bias: CCHA Weekend in Review

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Welcome, all, to the first edition of “The Midwest Coast Bias” — the newest and trendiest CCHA blog, at least while the CCHA still exists. Thanks to my colleagues, including Joe Meloni and Scott McLaughlin (Hockey East), Justin Churchill (ECAC) and Dan Myers (WCHA), the new CHN blogs have you covered from coast to coast … and now, in this space, even in between.

Some initial thoughts from the first weekend of play:

The Murray Era Begins

Fresh off their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1996, the Western Michigan Broncos kicked off the 2011-12 campaign by sweeping Alabama-Huntsville in convincing fashion — outscoring the Chargers 11-1 and holding UAH to just 22 shots all weekend. Enjoying the wins the most, perhaps, was “rookie” head coach Andy Murray, who now has a pair of NCAA wins to go along with his 333 as a former head coach in the NHL.

Alabama-Huntsville, meanwhile, has to feel like the kid who always loses in musical chairs. But that’s another story.

Though reading too much into this particular nonconference game is entirely unwise, it’s still worth keeping an eye on WMU sophomore forward Chase Balisy, who scored a goal and added four assists over the weekend. An NHL draft pick of the Nashville Predators and a CCHA All-Rookie Team selection a year ago, the California native helped spark a line that accounted for 13 points over the weekend. Just as impressively, they held the puck for long periods of time, playing ‘keep-away’ so effectively that Murray spoke of “time of possession” after the game — as if he had just won a football game.

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The Takeaway: BU, Millan Blank UNH in Opener

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

It was about as good a start to the season as Boston University could’ve hoped for. The first two periods were fairly even in terms of play, but the Terriers found the back of the net twice on goals by Wade Megan and Corey Trivino, both of which came on nice setups from Chris Connolly. Matt Nieto scored the backbreaker 1:15 into the third, Alex Chiasson and Kevin Gilroy tacked on insurance markers, and Kieran Millan stopped all 35 shots he faced as the Terriers came away with a 5-0 win over UNH.

What I saw

  • BU’s top two lines were dominant. The lines of Chris Connolly-Corey Trivino-Sahir Gill and Matt Nieto-Charlie Coyle-Alex Chiasson seemed to be buzzing around the UNH net all night. Parker moved Gill from center to wing and Coyle from wing to center during the week, and the changes seemed to benefit everyone involved. The Trivino line registered a goal and four assists, while the Coyle line finished with two goals and three assists. Regardless of how Parker arranges up his top two lines going forward, those are six very talented players — four of them are first- or second-round NHL picks — who could give opponents fits all season.
  • The Terriers got to the net. This applies to not just the top two lines, but the whole offense. At times last season, BU seemed incapable or unwilling to get to the dirty areas in front of the net and fight for deflections and rebounds. That wasn’t the case Saturday. UNH goalie Matt Di Girolamo rarely had a clear line of vision, and there were Terriers in the vicinity of most of his rebounds. BU wound up with 23 shot attempts from grade-A areas.

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The Takeaway: UNH Out of Sorts in 5-0 loss to BU

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

by Joe Meloni

Little went New Hampshire’s way in its season-opening loss to Boston University Saturday night. The Wildcats played even with BU for the first half of the game.

Beginning the period down, 2-0, UNH opened the third looking to start a comeback, but Matt Nieto’s 1:15 in essentially put the game away for the Terriers.There were certainly some growing pains for UNH, but the Wildcats managed to create some offense early. Senior goaltender Matt Di Girolamo was good despite the four goals allowed — the fourth BU score came on empty-net — with 32 saves. On the other end, Kieran Millan frustrated the UNH offense with some spectacular saves, earning the shutout.

What I saw

  • UNH’s speed that is always present gave BU some problems in the early stages of the game, leading to a couple power plays in the first period. The UNH man advantage, though, struggled to finds its rhythm as so many do in the first few games of the season.
  • Matt Di Girolamo allowed four goals, but the senior goaltender kept New Hampshire even as long as he could. BU created six Grade-A opportunities in the first period, but Di Girolamo stood strong. Poor defending resulted in most of the looks.
  • A few tough penalties stymied any comeback chances for UNH, but the penalty kill prevented the Terriers from extending their lead earlier than they did. Di Girolamo played a major role in that. BU didn’t get many shots through, but created quality chances when they did.

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The Takeaway: Northeastern Ties UMass, 3-3

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

by Joe Meloni

Ultimately, they won’t be satisfied with the point, but the Huskies will take it right now since they were two seconds from beginning the season with a loss. Given the way things are looking at Maine right now — NU trailed the Black Bears, 4-1, in the second when I started writing this — that point Braden Pimm’s shoulder stole from UMass is looking pretty good.

Pimm received credit for the goal, but UMass junior Rocco Carzo’s failed clear with 12 seconds left in regulation gave the Huskies that final chance to best UMass goaltender Kevin Boyle.

What I saw

  • Boston University transfer Vinny Saponari’s comfort with his new teammates grew with every shift. While he called Agganis home, Saponari made it clear he was capable of being an impact player in this league. He picked up a pair of assists in the game, including the key play on the sequence that led to Pimm’s game-tying goal with 2 seconds left.
  • The Huskies showed some serious potential on offense. The mistakes that plague early-season games where certainly there, but they pieced together some fantastic breakouts and extended possessions.
  • On the other end, Northeastern’s defensemen struggled to close down UMass forwards, allowing the Minutemen to make plays in space and along the half-wall. Against teams relying on their speed, giving them too much space is just asking for problems. The sheer size of the Northeastern defensemen will be an asset down low, but the NU blue liners showed little mobility.

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All the Hockey East coverage

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Joe Meloni and his crew of Hockey East writers are all over it. Check back here throughout the season for their thoughts, notes and ramblings.

WCHA Week 0 Power Rankings…

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

… Plus a look at this weekend’s match-ups from around the league.

Remember folks, this is just one writer’s opinion. This week’s rankings reflect my WCHA Media Poll ballot. These are obviously very fluid, and I will post new power rankings on a weekly basis.

Without further delay, here are my Week 0 power rankings:

1 — Colorado College
• With the Schwartz bros. leading a deep group of forwards, the Tigers could be the 2011-12 version of last season’s Minnesota Duluth squad.

2 — North Dakota
• They don’t rebuild, they just reload. Aaron Dell might be the best goalie in the conference and while UND is young, they’ll be dangerous by year’s end.

3 — Denver
• Perhaps the best overall team in the conference talent wise, the Pioneers lack a proven goaltender.

4 — Nebraska-Omaha
• The Mavericks are almost entirely made of Blais guys, and the ones that aren’t, know what to expect now. No team works or hits harder.

5 — Minnesota
• Don Lucia needs to win this season or else he’s in jeopardy of being unemployed. To do that, he’ll need his young forwards to put the puck in the net.

6 — Minnesota Duluth
• There’s still plenty of weapons up front in Duluth, but is there enough talent and depth on the blueline to sustain the defending champs?

7 — Wisconsin
• There’s always top-end talent in Madison and perhaps no team is better coached. Can Wisconsin’s get enough goaltending from their freshmen netminders?

8 — Minnesota State
• Don’t sleep on the Mavericks. Yeah, they lost their top three defensemen, but they also return their top three forwards and both goalies.

9 — St. Cloud State
• Guys that underwhelmed in support roles last season will be counted on to lead this season. Can they do it? Mike Lee will keep this group competitive by himself.

10 — Alaska-Anchorage
• The talent is young in Anchorage but it is undeniable. Can Chris Kamal prove the guy towards the end of last season was the real Chris Kamal?

11 — Bemidji State
• The Beavers return their leading scorer, their best defenseman and their goaltender, but what else is there in Bemidji?

12 — Michigan Tech
• Mel Pearson has the Huskies on the right track but it will probably be a year or two before this team is ready to push for home ice.

That said, here is a look at this weekend’s match-ups from around the league and some random jottings that come to mind about each series:

Minnesota State at RPI
• The Mavericks are tested immediately with a road series against a ranked opponent. MSU head coach Troy Jutting said in a perfect world, his young forwards wouldn’t be so stiffly tested early in the season. On the other hand, he said, it should be good for his team in the long run. If MSU can get a win in Troy, N.Y. this weekend, it would also go a long ways towards helping their Pairwise Ranking.

American International at Michigan Tech
• The Pearson era begins with a couple of very winnable games at MacInnes. Win twice this weekend and the Huskies have half of last year’s win total before conference play even begins.

Bemidji State at Miami
• A tough task for the Beavers to open the season, but if you’re going to win in Oxford, early in the season is the time to do it. At the very least, BSU will get a see how they measure up against one of the nation’s best teams in one of the nation’s toughest arenas to play in.

Notre Dame at Minnesota Duluth
In perhaps the series of the weekend, the defending champs open against this season’s top-ranked team. It’s sure to be an emotional weekend at AMSOIL, as the ‘Dogs will unveil their championship banner before Friday’s game. One would think that should be good for at least one win.

Northern Michigan at Wisconsin
The youthful Badgers will open at home — a fact sure to help a Wisconsin team with 20 underclassmen on the roster. The Kohl Center is as big a home ice advantage as there is in the country, so playing in front of the Cardinal and White should help Wisconsin’s kids get acclimated early.

Sacred Heart at Minnesota
The Golden Gophers must get a couple of wins to help ease the pressure on head coach Don Lucia. In a season where fans expect results or walking papers, losing at home to the Pioneers would not be a good way to start.

Nebraska-Omaha hosts Mutual of Omaha Stampede
The red Mavericks should have no trouble winning twice this weekend. With games against Mercyhurst and either Robert Morris or Colgate, at least that what fans in Omaha should be thinking.

North Dakota hosts the Ice Breaker
The Fighting Sioux open with a game they should win against Air Force before a great second game match-up against either Boston College or Michigan State. UND is inexperienced up front, so scoring early on Dell and/or Eidsness would certainly help the Eagles or Spartans chances of scoring a tournament victory.

Alaska-Anchorage hosts St. Cloud State, Fairbanks, Clarkson at Kendall Classic
UAA opens with Clarkson before hosting conference foe SCSU in a nonconference game. If Anchorage can win twice, it would go a long ways towards giving an already confident team even more confidence. SCSU begins with a bunch of early season road games, and head coach Bob Motzko says its as good a time as any to spend time in Alaska. A couple losses this weekend may change his tune.

As always, be sure to follow me on Twitter (@CHNDanMyers) for the latest news and notes (plus random thoughts and musings) about the WCHA. See you at the rink!