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NCHC Weekend Preview, Nov. 28-29

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Half the league’s teams are in action this weekend (Denver, CC, Miami, and Minnesota-Duluth, meanwhile, enjoy the Thanksgiving week off).

Here’s a look at this weekend’s sole conference series, as well as St. Cloud State’s and Western Michigan’s non-conference forays:

North Dakota (9-3-1 overall, 4-2-0 NCHC) hosts Nebraska-Omaha (7-2-1 overall, 3-1-0 NCHC)

This is the NCHC’s best Black Friday deal — a matchup featuring two of the top three league offenses and two of the top three league defenses. UND and UNO are both coming off weekend splits a week ago (North Dakota against St. Cloud State, and Omaha against Minnesota-Duluth) and enter the weekend looking for an opportunity to distance themselves from the rest of the top league teams. Of course, the coaching staffs know each other well, with UNO coach Dean Blais returning to Grand Forks this weekend, where he resided as head coach of UND from 1994 to 2004, including four seasons with North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol as an assistant. Hakstol’s teams have traditionally started slow and picked things up right around the Thanksgiving break. This year’s been different, led by a balanced offense and predictably strong goaltending from Zane McIntyre. Earlier this week, Drake Caggiula — UND’s leading scorer — offered his thoughts on why North Dakota has been better in the early stages of the season this year, compared to seasons past.

“We changed the way the way we started off our preseason,” Caggiula told me. “My first two years here, we did a lot of hard conditioning, and guys were getting tired heading into the season. So we made some adjustments off the ice in terms of that. I think that’s given us more of an opportunity to perform well on weekends. The biggest thing though is that we have a lot of returning guys to lead the way, and we know what it takes to be competitive.”

UND will have to deal with an equally strong Omaha team boasting a senior goaltender in Ryan Massa who has, simply, been outstanding so far. His .951 save percentage is second-best in the nation. Sophomores Austin Ortega and Jake Guentzel have led the way for the Mavericks’ offensive output, but freshman Tyler Vesel has emerged in recent games as well. The reigning NCHC Rookie of the Week, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick, had three points in last weekend’s split with UMD. This is usually the time of year that the top freshmen in the country prove themselves as able to produce consistently (yes, we know BU’s Jack Eichel has been doing that from day one) — with the type of game-to-game output that we see out of the veterans on these teams. UND freshman Trevor Olson, who scored the first two goals of his career last week, will be looking to do the same. Prediction: A weekend split

And in non-conference action:

Bemidji State (3-9-0 overall, 2-6-0 WCHA) hosts St. Cloud State (5-6-1 overall, 2-3-1 NCHC): Bemidji State is winless in its last six games as the Beavers prepare to host a Huskies that split its series with North Dakota last weekend. St. Cloud has the clear edge in this series, especially if they can limit Bemidji sophomore center Brendan Harms, who has a four-game point streak entering the weekend. That hasn’t been an easy task, though. Harms had two goals in the season’s first game, a win over North Dakota. St. Cloud comes in with the usual suspects (Jonny Brodzinski, Joey Benik, and the rest of its junior class) playing well in front of sophomore goaltender Charlie Lindgren. Curiously, the top lines have been prone to occasional defensive lapses, and that’ll likely be a focal point in the week of preparation for the Huskies. The aforementioned juniors are great two-way players, and they’ll be expected to play just as well defensively as offensively. Prediction: St. Cloud State sweeps.

Western Michigan (3-8-1 overall, 1-6-1 NCHC) at the Shillelagh Tournament: The Broncos are winless in their last four games and face an Ohio State team in South Bend this afternoon that, overall, has been struggling as well — though put together a nice game last weekend, a 3-0 shutout of Michigan State. WMU has yet to play well both offensively and defensively in a single game, struggling to score goals most of the time — and when they do, their defense and goaltending has let them down. Western Michigan will take on either Notre Dame or Union tomorrow. Prediction: WMU wins Friday, loses Saturday

WCHA Weekend Preview, Nov. 28-29

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Eight WCHA teams are in action this weekend, including six conference showdowns and a pair of non-conference match-ups.

Bowling Green is on bye, but No. 6 Michigan Tech and No. 7 Minnesota State will be in action, against Alabama-Huntsville and Lake Superior State, respectively, as the fight for the league’s top spot continues. The Huskies and Mavericks enter the weekend with just two points separating them in the standings.

Northern Michigan travels to Alaska to face the Nanooks and seeking to re-assert itself as the top defensive team in the league. In non-conference play, Bemidji State faces yet another ranked team in No. 16 St. Cloud State, while Ferris State visits struggling Wisconsin.

(After the jump: Previewing this weekend’s WCHA match-ups)

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Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Nov. 27

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

After Big Ten play started last season, all teams are back to non-conference slates this Thanksgiving weekend. Each team is in action, and a few are on the East Coast. Minnesota, Michigan State and Penn State are making trips to Boston, New Jersey and New York.

This weekend should be easy for Minnesota and Michigan State. The Gophers will play Boston College and Northeastern, while the Spartans will head to Baker Rink and Princeton for the first time. Minnesota is on a two-game losing streak, its first of the season, but are facing a considerably different Boston College team than last year’s Frozen Four contestant.

After a split with Penn State, the Wolverines host RPI. Both teams have been inconsistent this season, but Michigan should at least be able to take one at home. After allowing eight goals last weekend, Penn State travels to MSG to face Cornell. Ohio State will participate in the Shillelagh Tournament and the Badgers host Ferris State.

Wisconsin is still winless, but they’ve played better of late. It’s hard to tell what kind of teams Ohio State and Michigan are due to inconsistency, although the Buckeyes looked fairly strong last week against Michigan State, and they could make a statement at the Shillelagh Tournament. The offense is coming for Ohio State, and their goalkeeping situation has settled down.

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The Takeaway: Leonard and Diebold Lead RPI to 2-1 Non-Conference Win at UNH

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Durham, NH - Rensselaer made the 200 mile trek to UNH for a Tuesday night tilt in which it frustrated the home team to no end. UNH controlled play for a good portion of the game and got the game’s first goal. John Furgele sent in a point shot from the right point, in which RPI starter Jason Kasdorf gave up a rebound. Warren Foegele found the rebound and buried it into the empty net giving UNH the 1-0 lead at eight minutes, nine seconds of the first period. Rensselaer responded six minutes later, as Curtis Leonard sniped a shot from the high slot to the top corner of the net knotting the game. A mere two minutes later, RPI took the lead for good off the stick of Parker Reno. The 2-1 lead held to the third period, as the Engineers frustrated UNH in the period, stifling most quality chances with sticks and bodies.

The third period saw the Engineers hold on with Scott Diebold putting on a show late. Diebold made 6-8 saves in the game’s last two minutes to preserve the win for RPI, which was its fifth in eight games after 1-5-0 start to the season. With the 2-1 win, Rensselaer improves its record to 6-7-1, while UNH’s record fell to 4-8-0 overall on the season. To view highlights visit this link, via the UNH athletics website and youtube channel. (more…)

Three Things I Think: WCHA, Nov. 25

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

The big news in the WCHA this past weekend was Michigan Tech’s fall from the ranks of the undefeated. The Huskies were swept at home by Minnesota State in a pair of tight games, ending MTU’s 10-0-0 run to start the season.

They were the close, defensive type of games that Tech has won all season, but the Mavericks found a way to get it done. Michigan Tech was either tied or led heading into the third period of both games, but the Mavericks outscored MTU 4-1 in the final frame in the series. to secure the program’s first sweep of a No. 1-ranked team in its history.

As a result, the Huskies toppled from the top spot in the national polls down to No. 6. Minnesota State, which has won four straight and seven of its last eight, moved up two spots to No. 7. Bowling Green moved up three spots to No. 15 after sweeping Bemidji State, while a split with Alaska-Anchorage moved Northern Michigan down two spots to No. 19. Ferris State, which split with Alabama Huntsville, is the only WCHA team receiving votes in the poll (4).

College Hockey News also released the KRACH ratings this week and the WCHA boasts three teams in the top-10, including No. 1-ranked Minnesota State. Michigan Tech follows at No. 4 and Bowling Green is at No. 6. Next closest is Bemidji State at No. 21, followed by Ferris State (No. 29), Northern Michigan (No. 33), Alaska (No. 38), Alaska-Anchorage (No. 42), Alabama-Huntsville (No. 50), and Lake Superior State (No. 54).

Rapid Weekend Recap: Minnesota State stated its case as the league’s top team, sweeping Michigan Tech in a pair of close games in Houghton. Bowling Green kept pace at the top of the standings, sweeping Bemidji State. The Falcons have now won six of their last seven games. Alabama-Huntsville and Ferris State, Lake Superior State and Alaska, and Northern Michigan and Alaska-Anchorage all split their series to further clog the middle of the conference standings.

(After the jump: My three stars of the weekend in the WCHA and a few thoughts on what went down.)

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Three Things I Think: NCHC, Nov. 25

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Seven of the NCHC’s eight teams — all but a struggling Western Michigan — head into Thanksgiving feeling thankful for experiencing at least one win (two each for Miami and Denver) this past weekend.

Now, a quick look back at three of the many take-home points from an eventful weekend:

Benik on the goal line

St. Cloud State and North Dakota played one of the more entertaining series in recent memory within league play, and it was fitting that this one concluded with a weekend split, with the Huskies taking the first game before UND rebounded to win on Saturday. Friday’s most memorable moment, for me, was the Jonny Brodzinski power play goal that put St. Cloud State up 3-1 in the third period — memorable most of all because of Joey Benik’s impressive goal-line stickhandling around the typically sure-footed Paul LaDue, UND’s sophomore defenseman. Benik drew two more penalty killers to him before sliding the puck across the top of the crease to a wide open Brodzinski, who one-timed the eventual game-winner past UND’s Zane McIntyre for his second of the game and team-leading seventh of the season. Benik continued to play well Saturday, despite the loss — again from the goal line, scoring over McIntyre’s right shoulder on an almost impossible short-side angle, pulling the Huskies at the time to within a goal. Benik seems to benefit playing on a line with Brodzinski and classmate David Morley, as the Andover, Minn., native is proving to be a critical component of St. Cloud’s offense. Benik has six goals thus far this season.

In this series, both goaltenders played well, but did so especially — strange as this may sound — in the games they lost. On Friday, McIntyre made several key saves to keep UND within striking distance of St. Cloud, and on Saturday, the Huskies’ Charlie Lindgren did the same. Saturday’s biggest save for Lindgren, arguably, came when he stopped a 3-on-0 breakaway featuring UND’s Michael Parks, Connor Gaarder, and Brendan O’Donnell.

Denver offense versatile

The Pioneers followed up their 8-1 win over Colorado College with a 7-0 drubbing of another in-state rival on Friday night, this time Air Force. DU then toppled Wisconsin, 3-2, on Saturday. Sure, the last three games for Denver have come against three of the worst teams in the country (a combined 7-23-2 and among the bottom in most statistical categories), but regardless, Denver’s offense has been notable not just for the sheer number of goals scored but also for the versatile manner in which they’ve been scoring. It’s clearly been a focus, too, to turn last season’s No. 6 league offense into what’s now the No. 1 offense in the league and the No. 4 offense in the nation (3.64 goals per game, trailing only Robert Morris, UMass-Lowell, and Boston University). One consistent part of the offense has been the ability for DU players to find room behind the net, below the goal line, and be able to keep their heads up to see open players streaking into the slot, or at the top of the crease. Combined with quick hands by its veteran forwards around the net, and lightning-fast passes in odd-man and power play situations, Denver has clearly found a nice rhythm in the offensive zone. It doesn’t hurt, either, when your players can make moves like Quentin Shore did on Friday (a toe drag around a helpless Air Force defender who was then used as a screen on a shorthanded goal) or like Daniel Doremus did on Saturday (a behind the back pass while lying flat on stomach, right to leading scorer Trevor Moore). Shore, an Ottawa Senators draft pick, was named the NCHC’s Offensive Player of the Week after amassing five points, including a natural hat-trick in the second period of Friday’s shutout win.

Sticking with one

Until this point of the season, we’ve seen a few goalie platoons on display in the league — for instance, Jay Williams/Ryan McKay (Miami), Lukas Hafner/Frank Slubowski (Western Michigan), and Tyler Marble/Chase Perry (Colorado College). Elsewhere, an anticipated rotation between Denver sophomore Evan Cowley and freshman Tanner Jaillet hasn’t come to fruition because of how outstanding Cowley (6-3-0 with a 1.85 goals-against average and .929 save percentage) has been so far — though DU coach Jim Montgomery is more than laudatory any time Jaillet’s name comes up. This weekend saw the Miami, Western Michigan, and Colorado College coaching staffs all stick with the goaltender who’s played better until this point in the season — Miami’s Williams, WMU’s Hafner, and CC’s Perry — with each getting both weekend starts.

The move worked for Miami, where Enrico Blasi (despite historic tendencies to suggest otherwise) may be forced into sticking with Williams, who’s been in net for all 10 of the RedHawks wins this season. Unfortunately for CC and Western Michigan, the votes of confidence didn’t go as smoothly — especially for the Broncos, who lost both their games at Miami with Hafner in net each time. Perry, meanwhile, earned a win on Friday over Wisconsin — a game that showed improved effort from the Tigers as a team — but lost Saturday to Air Force. In Miami’s case, they seem to have found their No. 1 for the season, while the search has been less clear for Western Michigan and Colorado College.

As an aside, the other four teams in the league have had a clear-cut No. 1 established starter, and all have been successful in the early going this season (Kasimir Kaskisuo for Minnesota Duluth, Zane McIntyre for North Dakota, Charlie Lindgren for St. Cloud State, and Ryan Massa for Nebraska-Omaha).

Coming soon: Check CHN before this weekend’s games for feature articles on North Dakota’s Drake Caggiula and Miami’s Sean Kuraly. And on Friday, we’ll preview the North Dakota/Nebraska-Omaha series, Western Michigan’s trip to South Bend for the Shillelagh Tournament, and St. Cloud State’s upcoming two-game series at Bemidji State.

Big Ten: Big Ten: A Look Into Corsi, Week Seven

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Big Ten play finally kicked off this week. Given how the teams have played against non-conference teams, I was intrigued to see what their Corsi numbers would look like. For the most part, 5-on-5 play Corsi numbers hovered around 50 percent.

Michigan State and Ohio State faced off, as did Michigan and Penn State. Both series were split, although Michigan’s win over Penn State on Saturday night was very lopsided. The last few minutes of the game were disastrous for Penn State, which allowed five goals in the third.

Since we’re getting into Big Ten play, I want to note that these stats don’t represent how good a team is, just what their possession looks like. And when you’re looking at possession, think of quality scoring chances. Michigan State rarely out-possess opponents, but they’re still able to win for multiple reasons. Jake Hildebrand, their goalkeeper, is very good, and so are some forwards like Mackenzie MacEachern. The most important reason is the Spartans are very good at finding quality scoring chances when they have the puck.

The stats and context are provided below. Because it’s Big Ten play, I listed the stats a little bit differently this week: (more…)

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 24

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Well, that was an interesting weekend.

Both Big Ten conference matchups ended in splits, except Michigan rebounded from a 3-2 loss with an 8-1 win. Yes, they scored eight goals against Penn State, and five of those goals came in the third period. After rewatching Michigan’s 8-1 win, the final minutes of the game was a disaster for Penn State. The Wolverines were aggressive in their loss, and continued that play in the victory on Saturday.

The weekend confirmed my suspicion about Big Ten play: I will never know which team is going to win on a given night. Except for Minnesota.

The more the season progresses, the less I know what to expect from any team — except Wisconsin. Even though the Badgers are winless and lost to Colorado College, they still have a legitimate chance to finish high in the Big Ten conference. That’s how inconsistent and questionable the conference is right now.

As far as Ohio State and Michigan State goes, I still don’t know which team is better. The Spartans won 3-1 the first night, but fell to Ohio State 3-0 the second night. From the first game, I learned why Michigan State can win without possessing the puck. They generate quality scoring chances and Jake Hildebrand is good. And so is And Mackenzie MacEachern.

Hildebrand wasn’t the only Big Ten goalkeeper to start both games over the weekend, as Penn State’s Eamon McAdam, Michigan’s Zach Nagelvoort and Ohio State’s Matt T0mkins also played in both games. Joel Rumpel was the only netminder who didn’t, as he only played in the 3-2 loss to Denver.

McAdam has appeared in net for Penn State after replacing a pulled Matthew Skoff on Nov. 14. McAdam has started in three straight games, and his save percentage dropped from .952 to .906 after Saturday’s eight-goal game. Nagelvoort didn’t look too shaky for Michigan, and has started four straight games. Tomkins earned his first shutout of the season in Ohio State’s 3-0 win on Friday.

The only guarantee in the Big Ten is that Minnesota will finish first. But anyone could finish from second to sixth. The scary part is there’s a chance Wisconsin, the worst team in the country, could finish higher than last place.

Also, KRACH is out — the best way to rank reams. Minnesota is fifth, and the next highest team is Penn State at 20. Ohio State is 27, Michigan 31, Michigan State 40 and Wisconsin dead last. Yes, just after winning the Big Ten tournament, the Badgers are dead last. Given the confusing nature of the Big Ten, that order sounds right.

(After the jump: I will never understand Michigan, why Michigan State can win without the puck and Corsi things)
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Three Things I Think: ECAC 11/24

Monday, November 24th, 2014

With some teams having last weekend off while others played conference games, the league got a whole lot closer. Quinnipiac jumped to the lead after a weekend split but second place is a four team log-jam. Clarkson, with a four point weekend was the biggest mover as it jumped into the tie for second, which puts them just two points behind Quinnipiac. RPI, St. Lawrence and Harvard are the other three in that tie with Clarkson. All in all, the top eight are seperated by just four points. It is early, but early parity shows it could be a battle to the end in a wide open league.

Cornell got on track at home last weekend, as it swept Ivy league rivals Brown and Yale. Harvard is the early leader in that race with five points. Brown’s struggles continue, as it is now 0-6-0 ECAC play. The most telling stat of Brown’s struggles comes against its Ivy League rivals, where it has been outscored 16-2 in just three games. The Ivy League race, as much as most of us ignore it, is huge to those schools and thus I am going to try giving it a mention at least once a week. Brown’s struggles, though, probably wont fly for long and won’t be that bad as the season goes on.

St. Lawrence had Quinnpiac on the ropes on Saturday night. With a win the Saints would have left the weekend with the ECAC lead. I talked a couple of weeks back about SLU’s possession and in the last two weeks there has been improvement. SLU is so young that it can only get better. What I saw on Saturday bodes well for it too because the improvement is being seen almost by the minute. Quinnipiac is still the most impressive possession team in the league, but others are catching up to it. SLU and Clarkson both stayed with QU in possession. In all honesty, Clarkson’s performance was a memorable one for me and I mention below as to why. SLU though looked impressive late in that game but couldn’t find a way. The parity in the league is phenomenal right now. As fans of the league, we can do nothing but enjoy it. (more…)

The Takeaway: No Gillies, No Problem for PC. Friars Blank UNH 1-0

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Durham, NH- Jon Gillies, the much celebrated Friars goaltender didn’t start because of a violation of team policy. His replacement, Nick Ellis, had a night as he shut down a struggling UNH team. The first two periods, were stalemates, as UNH and Providence used strong defensive systems to shut each other down. UNH came out in the third period flying, but Ellis had its number and stopped everything that was sent its way. Despite being outplayed early in the third, Providence found a way. Shane Luke sent a beauty of a pass to Trevor Mingoia, who was wide open in front of the UNH net and at eight minutes, exact, Mignoia beat Clark to break the scoreless tie.

The 1-0 lead would hold until the end, as Providence defeated UNH on the road. Providence improves its record to 5-5-2 overall and 4-3-0 in Hockey east. UNH falls to 4-7-0, and 1-4-0 in conference play. UNH now sits in a tie for last place in Hockey East with UMass, while Providence sits in a tie for fourth place. (more…)