Archive for November, 2016

Three Things I Think: ECAC 11/29

Tuesday, November 29th, 2016

It seems like it has been forever since I have done one of these, because well it has been. I hope everyone had a great holiday and was able to check out some of the great hockey over the last two weekends. I was in the UK the week before the Friendship Four and for the people that crossed the pond for the SLU/Quinnipiac visit to Belfast, I am sure that was a great experience because Europe is such a great place to visit, no matter where you are.

In watching the games the last few weekends, there seems to be a big divide between the top half of the league and the bottom half. Struggling teams such as Yale, Brown, RPI and Princeton seem to be struggling to keep up with the offense of teams like SLU, Harvard, Quinnipiac, Union, Cornell and Clarkson. SLU and Clarkson are unbeaten in a combined 16 games, with the Saints unbeaten in nine and the Golden Knights without a loss in seven games. Quinnipiac is unbeaten in five league games, but dropped a 5-1 decision to Vermont on Saturday in Belfast.

To speak to this lack of parity so far, one can look at the records of the top teams in comparison to the bottom of the league. SLU, Quinnipiac, Clarkson and Union are a combined 18-3-6 in ECAC play thus far, with the Saints still undefeated approaching the halfway mark. SLU already has an 11 point lead on the bottom team in the league, Princeton, and a nine point lead on ninth place, Yale. One team near the bottom will make a run, it always happens but the difference between top and bottom certainly seems larger then normal.

Without further ado here are my thoughts for the week, which includes St. Lawrence, Clarkson and Princeton. (more…)

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 28

Monday, November 28th, 2016

The biggest storyline from the weekend was Michigan State taking three out of four points in a series against North Dakota. But we’ll talk more about that later. This was a big weekend for the Big Ten and the last one before conference play starts. The Gophers, Wolverines and Badgers all split their weekends.

Wisconsin earned a 2-1 win over Colorado College and followed with a wild 6-5 loss to Denver. The Pioneers had a 5-2 lead heading into the third, but the Badgers scored three goals in the last frame to come so close to tying it. Jack Berry started both games and Trent Frederic did not play.

Minnesota had a two-goal lead as the third period began but gave up four goals in the third period to lose the game. The Gophers have been a team to make comebacks late in the game, not lose them. It’s more proof that the Gophers are struggling with consistency and figuring out how to put everything together. The Gophers then beat BC. While the Eagles aren’t the strongest team, but Joe Woll is a good goaltender.

That win over BC was also Don Lucia’s 700th win. Per Minnesota, Boston College was also the team Lucia earned his first win over on Oct. 29, 1999.

The Wolverines split their series with Lake Superior State, and it was Zach Nagelvoort who was in net for Michigan’s 4-1 win. Jack LaFontaine took the other start but only allowed two goals.

(After the jump: Let’s talk about Michigan State, Jerad Rosberg and when will Minnesota be consistent)


More on North Dakota (CHN Team of the Week)

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

Four of the first seven CHN ‘Teams of the Week’ this season have been NCHC squads (first Denver, then St. Cloud State, then Minnesota-Duluth, and now North Dakota). You can read the full story about North Dakota’s back-to-back shutouts of St. Cloud State here.

I spoke to UND goaltender Cam Johnson on Tuesday evening. Johnson returned to form with a 62-save performance during the weekend, and the NCHC Goaltender of the Week propelled North Dakota to its first sweep at St. Cloud since 1998.

The performances helped quell some of the anxiety surrounding the Fighting Hawks’ six game winless streak heading into the weekend, especially with the pressure of trying to meet the highest of standards set by the 2015-16 national champions.

“We have a way different team than last year,” said a candid Johnson. “The standard people hold us to, which is tough, is that they expect us to be as great as we were last year. I think we have a really good team this year, but we have a much different recipe.”

That’s indisputable. Last season’s team was fueled by a series of dramatic Frozen Four losses and was led by a dominant top line of Drake Caggiula, Nick Schmaltz, and Brock Boeser. Caggiula debuted for the Edmonton Oilers last week, while Schmaltz has played in all 21 Chicago Blackhawks games this season. That left Boeser — now a sophomore — behind, and if this past weekend’s performance is any indication, players like Shane Gersich and Austin Poganski are helping shoulder the burden offensively.

Gersich, after a hat-trick on Friday, leads UND in scoring with 10 goals and 8 assists.

The last meeting between St. Cloud and North Dakota at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center was a 6-1 Huskies win last season — a game in which Johnson allowed three goals on 13 shots.

So the redemption, understandably, felt good.

“It felt unbelievable,” he said. “Especially because St. Cloud is a really quality opponent. They’re a team the last few years that we’ve had wars with. Obviously to get back-to-back shutouts, I don’t think that’s been done in their building, so that’s a pretty cool accomplishment. It was huge for our group.”
Indeed, after outscoring St. Cloud 7-0 over the course of the weekend, North Dakota became the first team to shut out the Huskies on consecutive nights in the history of the National Hockey Center, which opened in 1989.
In the big picture, though, the wins — to Johnson — were meaningful for what they represent for the Fighting Hawks going forward.
“It’s something that helps our group,” said the junior. “It fuels us to continue to get better and not get complacent. Day in and day out, it’s going to be a battle, and we’re going to see every team’s best every weekend.”

Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Nov. 24

Thursday, November 24th, 2016

If you’re searching for some post-Thanksgiving hockey, look no further. Four Big Ten teams are playing this weekend – Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota and Ohio State. It’s the last weekend before Big Ten play, so it’s the last chance for teams to get a tune up.

The toughest challenge of the week is definitely for the Spartans, who will face North Dakota. But the young Badgers also will have a tough weekend in a road trip out to Denver. Minnestoa’s trip to Boston may also be difficult though, as the Gophers are still struggling to find their identity.


Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 21

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016

Four Big Ten teams were in action over the weekend. Minnesota split with Minnesota State, rebounding for a 1-0 win after a 4-1 loss. The Badgers also split their series, a home contest against Merrimack. Wisconsin won on Friday and Jack Berry made 17 saves. In Saturday’s 2-0 loss, Berry and Matt Jurusik split the game.

Ohio State won both games at RPI. Friday’s contests was a 4-0 victory, but Saturday’s game was much closer. The teams were knotted 2-2 until freshman Tanner Laczynski scored the game-winning goal midway through the third period. Matt Tomkins started both games.

Penn State swept Arizona State, scoring 15 goals on the weekend. On Friday Penn State won 7-4 and on Saturday the Nittany Lions won 8-0. Chris Funkey got a chance to start, making 18 saves on Saturday. (Yes, Penn State took over 50 shots in each game).

Also a brief injury update – per the Wisconsin State Journal’s Todd Milewski, Trent Frederic was injured and miss the series against Merrimack.

(After the jump: Big Ten offenses, Michigan’s best goaltending, things each team should be thankful for)


Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Nov. 18

Friday, November 18th, 2016

This weekend features four Big Ten teams in play. For some, this is the last weekend of non-conference action before Big Ten play begins. Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin all have easier slates than Minnesota, which faces Minnesota State in a home-and-home series. Michigan is playing the NTDP while the Spartans have a bye week.


Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 14

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

The weekend featured a couple of interesting wins from Big Ten teams, including a 4-3 victory by the Spartans over Ferris State. Penn State swept Alaska-Anchorage (shocking, I know) and holds the longest unbeaten streak in the country along with Boston College. But, the Nittany Lions aren’t that good (more on that later) and this is another great reminder that a) polls mean literally nothing and b) it is way too early to look at the Pairwise.

The win was Michigan State’s first “real” victory (I say “real” because beating a team that has not played a regular season game yet when you’ve already played four seems a little skewed). The Spartans lost 4-1 on Thursday, with Ed Minney in net. He was in net during the win, though, and made 20 saves. In not surprising news, Mason Appleton is Michigan State’s leading scorer.

The Wolverines split their home series with Boston University, but the Terriers were without Clayton Keller. It was more impressive that Michigan shut BU out 4-0 on the first night, but the Terriers rebounded with a 4-2 win. Again it was Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine who split netminding duties, and the freshmen seem to be doing well so far.

Ohio Sate defeated UConn 7-4 and then tied the Huskies 3-3. The Buckeyes are now 1-2-1 in their last four games but are still undefeated in their last three. Christian Frey is healthy and started both games over the weekend. Frey’s consecutive starts are probably less a sign he’ll take the starting role and more a sign that Steve Rohlik is trying to make up some of the playing time that he missed.

(After the jump: Penn State is not good, Ed Minney musings and a possible end to the North Star College Cup)


Three Things I Think: ECAC 11/15

Tuesday, November 15th, 2016

Another great weekend and many standouts have started to take shape. Quinnipiac, Cornell and Clarkson all took home four points, while SLU continued its hot ECAC start picking up three. Although, it is too early to start making assumptions it appears that those four teams and Harvard are standouts. I will talk about why I included the Crimson in that list below. RPI, Colgate and Yale have struggled in the early season. Yale probably the biggest surprise in that list, but it seems like it should have been expected with all the losses it had in the offseason.

After defeating Yale at Ingalls rink on Friday night, Colgate struggled to find traction at Brown the next evening. The Bears picked up their first win of the season in the process and now only Princeton is without a win in the ECAC this year. I still feel as though Princeton is much improved and the possession stats in the early going will show that. It is always tough for a young Ivy team to find traction, I assume they are just off to a slow start.  It held tough against Harvard on Friday night, until it fell off late. It picked up a tie against a Dartmouth team that has found some great results in the early going on Saturday and I feel as though the Tigers will still pick up more wins than the last few seasons. It will be interesting to see how they progress. RPI, Brown,Princeton and Colgate are a combined 5-22-6 on the season, with each having a similar possession problem that puts them under a ton of pressure.

Dartmouth slowed a bit in a loss and a tie to Quinnipiac and Princeton, respectively. The Big Green held an early lead against the Bobcats on Friday night, but key penalties cost them dearly. Once QU got the lead, Dartmouth struggled to find the early game rhythm. They ended up dropping that game, with Devin Buffalo making 48 saves in a 6-3 loss. Mike Vecchione’s unreal start slowed a bit over the weekend with just a pair of assists, but he has been really good and still leads the nation in both goals and points. Union had a tough weekend, but still lead the league, with a loss and a tie on the weekend. Without further ado, here are my thoughts.

Watch Out For Harvard

One of the things that have plagued Harvard over the years, has been the inability to move the puck through the neutral zone from the defensive end of the ice to the offense. Interestingly enough, the one year Patrick McNally provided that wrinkle, the Crimson won the ECAC championship. This season, along with the plethora of talent up front, the Crimson have added two pieces on the blue-line that have instantly made them better not only in the defensive end but also on offense, which makes Harvard extremely dangerous.

For 40 minutes, Harvard utterly dominated Quinnipiac on Saturday. In the first 13 or so minutes of the second period, QU probably had about a minute in the Harvard zone in that time frame. The Crimson sent many shots, 33 in fact towards the QU net but were just unable to bury it. It is very rare for any team to do that to the Bobcats and it has probably been Harvard’s biggest bane against them in recent seasons. It is much like they have done in many games in the early going, including a Colgate game which it sent over 90 shots towards the net. For Harvard, all this is an improvement and it is all because the defense is that much better.

It is rare, a defensive talent like Adam Fox comes into the league. As a freshman, he is well rounded. On Saturday, in a big game, he played first pair minutes played on the power play and killed penalties. Him and John Marino, have fit well into a team that struggled for consistency in its own zone the past couple of seasons.

Technically, on the sheet, Marino, was paired with Wiley Sherman on the top pair and Fox on the second with Jacob Olson. Fox and Olson played a ton on Saturday, both played really well and both were noticable. Marino did as well but Fox was clearly a standout, with the amount he was playing. Both freshmen can move the puck, with Fox being very confident at all aspects of his defensive game. This should only lead to a boom in posession, and it already has. The Crimson are fourth in the country in corsi for, at 58.5%. Last year Harvard was midpack and against decent hockey teams, it struggled mightily. This is mostly because the defense does better limiting chances, while it also does better on getting the puck to the neutral zone.

As I said above, Harvard has struggled to move the puck from defense to offense over the years, this season the fruits of this new found wealth will probably be a good thing. Despite losing to Quinnipiac, it was the better team. It was nice to see a Harvard team move the puck from defense to offense, despite the struggles to finish and get those opportunities late.

One should watch Harvard, they still have a ton of talent up front and Merrick Madsen in net. Madsen seemed a bit off on Saturday, but he will get out of the funk. Harvard is an extremely dangerous looking team and if anything fun to watch.

Cornell Finds its Way

I remember looking at the scores early Friday and at that point saying well maybe Cornell isn’t the team I thought they were. But I checked again about an hour later, to realize they had scored the next four goals against Brown to take a 4-1 lead. The Big Red held on to defeat the Bears 4-2, to pick up the first win of the young season. On Saturday, Cornell find its rhythm in a big way, scoring six times in a 6-3 win.

Although Yale seems down, scoring six against that system is a big positive for Cornell. There was always the question of where the scoring would come from for the Big Red but it had arguably the best first line returnig in college hockey. Although, Jeff Kubiak remains sidelined with an injury, Jake Weidner has been fitting in with Mitch Vanderlaan and Anthony Angello just fine. In Saturday’s game, Vanderlaan scored a hat- trick, which was the first one for Cornell in over five years.

Despite a slow start over the few weeks, I still felt the Big Red would turn a corner. It still has Mitch Gillam in net and its defense will always be good. It appears that the early season troubles have passed and if Cornell can continue to score like they did over they weekend, they too are a team to watch.

Yale Swept

Given where Yale has been in the past five seasons, it probably would have been a shock that they would have started a season 1-3-0 in league play. But here we are as the Bulldogs were swept by Colgate and Cornell over the weekend. Even in its one win, it took a remarkable comeback against a struggling RPI team just to tie it and eventually win it. To say the Bulldogs have struggled defensively and in net would be an understatement.

Although the Elis have possessed the puck a ton and have taken many shots, they have struggled to keep the few chances out of its net. This is a common theme with most teams that struggled in situational defending and teams that have shaky goaltending. It is second in the country in corsi for at 61.3%, but it is 50th in the country in goals against per game played. It allows 3.60 per game, while its goaltender Patrick Spano has a 3.45 GAA and a .879 save percentage. Spano was never going to match the numbers of Alex Lyon, who departed in the offseason for the Flyers, but it was expected that he would hold the fort. It certainly doesn’t help him, Yale lost its top three defensemen to graduation and its fourth to a career ending injury. There was always going to be growing pains, but it is still surprising.

Yale has more talent up front this year than it has in recent seasons, but there are notable holes on the blueline. It is able to generate the pressure it has been able to, but it makes sense the defense wouldn’t be able to hold up to pressure the other way. The offense is scoring at the same rate it was last season and just a tick higher than it did the year prior. Everyone figured, Yale would be a top offense in the ECAC, but I didn’t think it would be. Everyone seems to have forgotten just how much offense, Yale’s defense contributed over the last few years. It has been a catalyst and now those pieces are gone the struggles will be there. So far, it is seventh in the ECAC in scoring with 2.80 per game. John Hayden has scored five goals in his first five games and has a been a big piece.

Although Yale has scored at the same rate this year, its goals against per game has skyrocketed. Last season the Elis led NCAA hockey, allowing just 1.78 goals per game. This year, that number has blossomed to 3.60 against per game. It is easy to pinpoint the troubles so far. They will probably continue, as the schedule gets even tougher. It is just interesting to see Yale in this position after two years of being the best in the nation.

Hockey East Random Thoughts (11/11)

Friday, November 11th, 2016


Let’s take a look at some surprises around Hockey East when it comes to scoring. There are several players among team leading scorers that no one predicted back in September. First, let’s start at BU, where Patrick Harper is the leading scorer and not first-round pick Clayton Keller. At BC all the talk was Colin White and Ryan Fitzgerald, yet there are four players who top them on BC’s list. Mitchell Fossier, not touted freshman Chase Pearson, leads the scoring at Maine. UNH is being led by rookie Patrick Grasso, and not returning 50-point scorer Tyler Kelleher. Up in Vermont, sophomore Craig Puffer has almost matched his point total from all of last season, leading the Catamounts in scoring to start the year.


Three Things I Think: ECAC 11/7

Monday, November 7th, 2016

Entering conference play with a clean slate is always a nice beginning to the season.We probably didn’t learn much over the weekend, because it is so early in the season and most teams are getting into their systems with new faces. While Harvard looked really good in both games, it only escaped the weekend with a win and a tie. Ditto to Dartmouth, that has surprisingly begun its season 2-0-1 overall and 1-0-1 in ECAC play. Cornell has struggled in its three games to begin its season, while SLU came up with a big weekend sweep of Quinnipiac and Princeton. For the Saints, it appears that its stalwart netminder, Kyle Hayton, has left his early season struggles behind him. Over the weekend Hayton had two shutouts, stopping everything the Tigers and Bobcats threw at his net. Hayton with the two shutouts, set the SLU program record for shutouts in his career, as the junior now has 10.

Union has rocketed out of the starting gate with a 4-0-0 record in ECAC play, while rival RPI is 1-3-0 after it defeated Brown on Friday night. Union is a tad of a surprise but they have, arguably, the best offense in the conference and right up there with Harvard. There will always be questions about its defense and goaltending, but at least so far it has been able to score enough goals, most nights to not have to worry about that. The Dutchmen have scored the most goals in college hockey, with 45, and scores more than four goals a game (4.09). Its top line, which I will write more about in a feature on Mike Vecchione this week, has been dynamite and has put itself into conversation of the best line in the country. The statistics can certainly prove that. If the Dutchmen can get better in its own zone, it will be a serious contender in the ECAC this year, but then again that will be deterrent. (more…)