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Three Things I Think: ECAC 2/2

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

I was able to take in the Hockey Haven rivalry, penned notably by the New Haven’ Register’s Chip Malafronte, on Saturday night at Yale’s famed Ingalls Rink. You should also check out his column from the game, which talked about how unsatisfying the result was for both sides. I was able to watch two of the better teams in the league fight toe to toe. While Yale was the better possession team and better in the neutral zone, Quinnipiac’s transition game was on full display. This transition led to both goals for Quinnipiac, who may or may not have been the best team on Saturday. I would argue they were a step behind its cross town rival for much of the first two periods and were lucky to leave the Whale with a lone point. Both teams played well in third period, which made for an entertaining last 20 minutes. for me just being in the Yale Whale makes me happy, what a great place to watch a game.

Although I think it is a bit overblown on how big of a rivalry it is, one can tell that Rand Pecknold and Keith Allain just do not like each other. That made for cinema in the first period when Allain caught Pecknold cheating in a player off an icing call, Allain flipped and pointed. Looked as though Allain wanted to say bad things to Pecknold, but in the end the deed was caught and the refs made it good. Other than that there was little hatred in comparison to some of the other more traditional rivalries and for a rivalry game the crowd didn’t seem any more jacked up than it would have been without Quinnipiac in town. And to make matters worse, both bands were in the house but both seemingly had off nights. I guess take that for what it is worth. It may not be up to the level of a BC-BU, Harvard-Cornell, UNH-Maine, or North Dakota-Minnesota but the signs were there that it is almost there. I have heard I will see a totally different atmosphere in Hamden, which I am totally looking forward to.

This weekend I plan on heading to the North Country for my premiere visit to Appelton and Cheel Arenas, barring more snow of course. Right now, the North Country is proving to be the toughest travel partner combo in the league. Clarkson and St. Lawrence played an entertaining game last Saturday night at Cheel Arena, which St. Lawrence was able to eek out a key road win. The win marked SLU’s fifth in a row and Clarkson’s first loss in four games. Both SLU and Clarkson sit in the top four of the ECAC standings, with the Saints in second place and Clarkson tied for fourth with Yale. Tech also holds the tiebreaker with Yale. Of course this gets me thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be cool if both those teams made it to Lake Placid? Personally, I think one of the two actually will but we will see what happens going forward. Better chances than last year for one or both to make it. (more…)

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Feb. 1

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

In a battle of defense vs. offense on Friday night in Detroit, defense won. Michigan State limited Michigan to one goal in the win, snapping Michigan’s seven-game winning streak. The Spartans are now on a three-game winning streak, and both teams will play in Chicago next weekend.

The Gophers and Badgers resumed their rivalry just a couple weeks after a series-ending brawl. After a 7-5 Gopher win on Friday, the teams played a wild match on Saturday that ended in a 4-4 tie. The Gophers held a 2-1 lead in the third period, but Grant Besse tied the game. Christian Isackson gave the Gophers the lead back 30 seconds later, but Kevin Schulze tied it – thanks to a great play from Adam Rockwood – less than two minutes later. Cameron Hughes scored his first collegiate goal with less than two minutes left, giving the Badgers a 4-3 lead. But this is Minnesota-Wisconsin, so of course Seth Ambroz tied it with two seconds left in regulation.

The Badgers went on to win in the shootout, because Minnesota doesn’t win shootouts.

Penn State and Vermont faced off in Philadelphia. Again Penn State fell behind, but the Nittany Lions responded with four straight goals to defeat Vermont 4-2. Penn State scored three goals in the final period, and has scored eight third-period goals over the last three games.

Michigan is first in the conference, and Michigan State and Penn State are tied for second.

(After the jump: The truth about Michigan, a PairWise check in and the no-defense league) (more…)

Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Jan. 30

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

This weekend features two rivalry Big Ten series. Michigan and Michigan State face off at the Joe Louis Arena for the second time this season, while Wisconsin hosts Minnesota.

Penn State faces Vermont in the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff, and Ohio State sits out with a bye. This is an important off week for the Buckeyes, who are trying to get healthy. When Ohio State returns to action, they’ll be without Matthew Weis. He was given a one-game suspension for a contact to the head hit on Spartan captain Michael Ferrantino.

The Wolverine-Spartan match is the biggest of the weekend. Michigan’s offense has averaged almost a touchdown per game over the past five contests, but hasn’t faced a good defensive team over that stretch. The Spartans have the best defense in the Big Ten, and limited the Wolverines to two goals during the GLI. But, Michigan played that weekend without Dylan Larkin and Zach Werenski.

While it’s only one game, Penn State’s tilt with Vermont is also a big matchup. The Catamounts rank 14th in the PairWise. The Big Ten has struggled in non-conference games, and a win help Penn State’s current PairWise ranking.

Minnesota hits the road after dropping both games at the North Star College Cup. To be fair, Minnesota State and Minnesota-Duluthare both good teams. The Gophers have won four of their last 14 games, with wins over Boston College, RIT, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

The Gophers dominated the Badgers when these teams met last (and ended with a brawl), but the Badgers managed a tie in the first game of the weekend.  (more…)

WCHA Weekend Preview, Jan. 30-31

Friday, January 30th, 2015

With only six weeks left to go, the WCHA races are turning the corner for the stretch run. While Minnesota State, Michigan Tech, and Bowling Green vie for the MacNaughton Cup, the other six teams have their eyes on the last home ice spot for the playoffs. Ferris State and Northern Michigan are currently tied for the No. 4 spot, but No. 4 and No. 10 are separated by just six points.

Last year, the WCHA playoff races came down to the final day and it looks like this season has that same potential, meaning league points will be at a premium from here on out.

Before this weekend’s games, be sure to check out CHN’s WCHA content from this week: After their outstanding performances at the North Star College Cup, Bemidji State was named the Team of the Week and in his feature, “Minnesota State-ment,” Avash Kalra took a look at how Minnesota State’s program has grown, culminating in the success they have had this year.

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Three Things I Think: NCHC, Jan. 29

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

McIntyre preserves both UND wins vs. CC

It seems odd to even suggest that, with North Dakota, it’s easy to forget about North Dakota goaltender Zane McIntyre. But in this case, that’s meant as a high compliment — for a goaltender that backstopped UND to the Frozen Four last season and now has the fifth best winning percentage among goaltenders this season. He also ranks in the top 10 nationally in save percentage and goals-against average. Clearly, there’s plenty of room for praise. But with such a versatile offense and balance defense, it can be easy to forget about the steady and technically sound junior netminder — until, of course, he simply forces you not to.

Last weekend in UND’s weekend sweep over CC — essentially a pair of one-goal wins when discounting a Saturday night empty-netter — McIntyre made last-minute saves in each game to preserve the wins for UND. Sure, most goaltenders are forced to make saves to preserve one-goal wins, but McIntyre — especially on Friday — made saves that most others might not. On Friday, having already used his right leg pad to thwart Cody Bradley with about 8 minutes left in the third, McIntyre’s instincts took over in the final minute, when the Tigers (who by the way continued to show team improvement despite the losses) were buzzing with their net empty. With traffic clouding his view, McIntyre slid to his left, covering a previously empty portion of the net and in doing so made a game-saving stop on CC’s Sam Rothstein. North Dakota won the game 2-1.

The next night, with UND up 4-3, a key left pad save by McIntyre on the Tigers’ Jaccob Slavin with about 1:40 left in the third, solidifed UND’s first NCHC weekend sweep since Oct. 17-18 (also against CC). Overall, North Dakota has won five straight.

Touchdown, St. Cloud

When St. Cloud and Western Michigan faced off on Friday night, the matchup featured a St. Cloud team struggling on offense after being swept a week earlier by Denver and a Western Michigan team that headed to St. Cloud with a five game winning streak. So Friday’s final score, 7-0 in favor of the Huskies, was one of the more surprising conference results of late — on one hand, reflecting the parity in the league, but on the other, calling into question just how much progress Western Michigan had made of late. The Broncos bounced back the next night for a 3-2 win, though not before falling into a 2-0 hole heading into the third period. WMU looked stale on Friday, while St. Cloud was inspired, but the take-home points for the Broncos seemed to be that:

a) they rely heavily on the power play to jump-start their offense (Western’s power play, converting 23.5 percent of the time, is fourth-best in the country, and a power play goal on Saturday proved to spark the comeback), and

b) Andy Murray seems to have maintained confidence in goaltender Lukas Hafner. Hafner started Friday’s debacle and was pulled after allowing two goals in the first 14:30. Of course, backup Frank Slubowski wasn’t much better, allowing five the rest of the way, as the Broncos were noticeably slow to acclimate to St. Cloud’s Olympic-sized ice sheet, which the Huskies used to their full advantage. Hafner rebounded Saturday night in the Broncos’ 3-2 win, stopping 33 shots.

Scoring from the blue-line

Here’s a look at the top 10 scorers in the nation among defensemen (courtesy: collegehockeystats.net):

Points Per Game (Defensemen):                               GP    G- A- P    P/GM
  1 Mike Reilly (CLB)          Minnesota         JR D       22    4-20-24    1.09
  2 Patrick McNally (VAN)      Harvard           SR D       15    4-12-16    1.07
  3 Jeff Taylor (PIT)          Union             SO D       24    4-21-25    1.04
  4 Robbie Russo (NYI)         Notre Dame        SR D       26   11-14-25    0.96
  5 Joey LaLeggia (EDM)        Denver            SR D       22    8-13-21    0.95
  6 Mike Paliotta (CHI)        Vermont           SR D       25    7-16-23    0.92
  7 Zach Werenski              Michigan          FR D       20    5-13-18    0.90
  8 Casey Nelson               Minnesota State   SO D       25    5-16-21    0.84
  9 Jordan Schmaltz (STL)      North Dakota      JR D       25    3-17-20    0.80
 10 Nolan Zajac                Denver            JR D       23    5-13-18    0.78

Certainly, one thing to notice is that three NCHC blueliners — North Dakota’s Jordan Schmaltz and Denver’s Joey LaLeggia and Nolan Zajac — are featured. The other is that there are seven NHL draft picks on the list, including each of the top six. Compare that to the top scorers overall in the nation (3 of the top 10 and 6 of the top 20 are NHL draft picks). Obviously, there are plenty of factors that partially explain this (e.g. some of the nation’s top scorers, most notably BU freshman Jack Eichel, haven’t been drafted yet but certainly will be), but it’s worth noting that top-level defensemen prior to college seem to a) be bigger/stronger (and more appealing to NHL teams), and b) translate their offensive skills to the college game a little bit more easily. Another reason for the trend is that these players tend to score a lot on the power play, placed at the ever-important point positions to “quarterback” power play units.

Either way, beyond this trend,  it’s worth noting that North Dakota and Denver rely heavily on scoring from defensemen, but it’s often said of UND and Pioneers that their success is tied to offensive production form the blueline. Suggesting that, though, might be a mistake. After all, one reason UND (No. 2 in the current Pairwise) and Denver (No. 11) have been so successful this season is that the scoring from the blueline complements well-balanced scoring lines up front, and that’s been a dangerous combination for opponents to face.

Each team (UND at Omaha, Denver vs. UMD) now have big tests this weekend, which we’ll preview here, along with all this weekend’s NCHC series, tomorrow.

Three Things I Think: ECAC 1/27

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015

Another week of conference action and the standings are as close as they have been in a while. Quinnipiac continues to lead the league, while St. Lawrence and Harvard are tied two points back. All in all the top six are separated by just six points, while the top ten are separated by ten. The North Country was again a tough place to play over the weekend, as Clarkson and St Lawrence swept Yale and Brown respectively. St. Lawrence has been hard charging this half, I explained why in last week’s edition of this blog. The Saints have now won four games in a row and five of its last six, its lone loss being to Colgate. Clarkson meanwhile has won three games in a row, which followed a three game losing streak. Both those schools have more home games upcoming than they do road tilts, so one should expect the good play to continue in the North Country.

The national picture is again on the bleak side for the conference, but it is not horrible as many of the league teams are lurking on the outside looking in. Harvard continues to sit in the top five of the Pairwise, as it has pretty much from the outset of its season. Yale and Colgate are in 16th and 17th in the Pairwise, while five others are in the top 33. The Crimson have the Beanpot upcoming, which could help the conference with two big non-conference games. All in all, having one team in would be bad, but in the end the league will have tons of opportunities to pick up big victories against each other. (more…)

Three Things I Think: WCHA, Jan. 26

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Both Michigan Tech and Bowling Green had chances to make up ground on first place Minnesota State this weekend, but only the Huskies took full advantage. Tech took all four points from a hard-fought series with Alaska to cut the Mavericks lead in half. The Falcons managed just two points at home against Lake Superior State and now sit three points back of the Huskies and seven back of MSU, albeit with two games in hand on both of them.

We got an all-WCHA final at the North Start College Cup in St. Paul, Minn., with Bemidji State prevailing over Minnesota State for the Beavers’ first NSCC title in their first appearance in the tournament. BSU freshman goaltender Michael Bitzer was fantastic in the two games. More on the Beavers NSCC triumph later.

In other news today, The Mining Journal sports reporter Ryan Stieg is reporting that Northern Michigan head coach Walt Kyle is no longer on administrative leave and is allowed to return to his position behind the bench. Kyle and NMU Associate Athletic Director Bridget Berube were placed on leave last week for mysterious reasons. In Kyle’s absence, the Wildcats lost to and tied Penn State on the road.

Rapid Recap: In league play, Michigan Tech pulled off a pair of one-goal victories at home against Alaska, 4-3 (OT) and 3-2. Senior forward Blake Pietila scored the OT-winner for the Huskies on Friday as part of a three-point weekend. Bowling Green stumbled a bit, splitting with Lake Superior State at home, losing, and winning, 3-1. Friday’s loss was BGSU’s first at home since mid-November. In non-conference action, Bemidji State won the North Star College Cup with a pair of wins over top-10 teams. The Beavers knocked off No. 7 Minnesota-Duluth, 4-0, in the semifinals before stymieing then-No. 1 Minnesota State, 3-1, in the final. The runner-up Mavericks defeated then-No. 17 Minnesota, 4-2, to reach the title game. Without the services of head coach Walt Kyle, Northern Michigan lost, 5-4, and tied, 5-5, Penn State on the road. The Wildcats did win the exhibition shootout on Saturday, though. Finally, Alabama-Huntsville was swept, 2-1 (OT) and 4-2, by the USA U-18 Team at home in a pair of exhibition games.

In the Polls: Minnesota State’s loss to Bemidji State ended the Mavericks’ two-week reign at the top of the USCHO.com poll. MSU checks in at No. 3 this week. Bowling Green held steady at No. 6 and Michigan Tech moved up two spots to No. 8. The Beavers’ tournament win was enough to garner them three votes in the poll.

Minnesota State remains the No. 1 team in the Pairwise, while Bowling Green and Michigan Tech are No. 6 and No. 10, respectively.

(After the jump: My three thoughts on what went down this past weekend in the WCHA)

(more…)

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Jan. 26

Monday, January 26th, 2015

After throwing up 13 goals on the weekend in a sweep over Wisconsin, Michigan is now first in the Big Ten. The Wolverines have scored 34 goals in their past five games, and average 4.36 goals per game.

Eventually Michigan will face a strong defensive team (Ohio State and Wisconsin aren’t exactly defensive stalwarts), and their offensive numbers will go down. Next weekend will be telling, as the Wolverines will host the Spartans.

Speaking of the Spartans, they unsurprisingly stymied Ohio State’s offense, surrendering just one goal over the weekend. Matt Berry returned to the team after a force leave, and had a goal and an assist on Friday. He added an assist on Saturday. Berry now leads Michigan State with 16 points, and averages a point per game. Also, Matthew Weis was given a 10-minute misconduct for this hit on Michael Ferrantino. It definitely looked like contact to the head.

Until they get healthy, the Buckeyes have little chance of defeating any of their Big Ten opponents (except for Wisconsin). They’re missing some of their offensive power, and don’t have the defense to stop teams with poor defenses (like Michigan).

The Gophers lost both their games at the North Star College Cup, and have lost five of their nine games against Minnesota teams, and haven’t won since Nov. 1. I was actually expecting Minnesota to lose to Minnesota State. At the end of this game, Maverick goalie Stephon Williams knocked his net off so the referees would blow the whistle as his teammate late injured on the ice. Seth Ambroz took the penalty shot, and Williams made the save (not surprising considering the Gophers are terrible at shootouts).

This was my first time watching the Mavericks, and they looked excellent against the Gophers – like a true No. 1 team. But I was even more impressed with Bemidji State, which took down both Minnesota-Duluth and the Mavericks. I was pretty impressed with some of the skill, especially this goal from Kyle Bauman.

While we’re on the highlight reel, some of my favorite tallies from the weekend were this goal from Bryce Gervais (and a great pass from Matt Leitner), Evan Rodrigues’ end-to-end rush, Eric Scheid’s shorthanded goal on Saturday, another breakaway from Scheid, this hit on Travis Boyd from Minnesota-Duluth, and especially this huge hit from P.J. Musico, Penn State’s goalkeeper.

Michigan moved up to No. 12 in the PairWise, now Big Ten’s highest-ranked team. Minnesota is No. 20, while Penn State is No. 24. Michigan State is very low at No. 38, but I think they have a chance at winning the Big Ten tournament – especially with the offensive boost Matt Berry brings.

(After the jump: Penn State’s problem, quite the comeback(s), and why Michigan isn’t built for a tournament run)   (more…)

Big Ten: A Look Into Corsi, Week 15

Monday, January 26th, 2015

Over the week, College Hockey News released in-depth metrics for each game. This allows for a better breakdown of who the shots are coming from. But I still calculated total Corsi the way I normally do – by going through the play-by-play sheets for the games so I can have numbers for each individual period as well as 5-on-5 and special teams.

After looking at the Corsi stats for this weekend, Wisconsin still has the worst in the league. Michigan is nearing the best, and I don’t think it’s a strategy to take more shots (like Penn State has) and just a bi-product of their high-powered offense. The Wolverines also convert more of their attempted shots than Penn State.

The Corsi stats are listed below: (more…)

Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Jan. 23

Saturday, January 24th, 2015

In conference play this weekend, Michigan and Wisconsin square off while Michigan State hosts Ohio State. Minnesota participates in the second annual North Star College Cup, and Penn State hosts Northern Michigan.

Michigan’s high-powered offense will be a difficult challenge for Wisconsin, which was dominated by the Gophers last weekend. Ohio State was impressive last weekend despite its numerous injuries, but should have a tougher time against a much better Michigan State defense.

The North Star College Cup features Minnesota-Duluth, Minnesota State and Bemidji State. The Mavericks are ranked No. 1 in the PairWise, and have been strong all season. They’ll be Minnesota’s first matchup of the tournament, but don’t forget – Minnesota-Duluth gave the Gophers trouble earlier in the season.

Senior CLASS Award candidates were announced this week, featuring Ohio State’s Tanner Fritz, Michigan’s Zach Hyman and Minnesota’s Kyle Rau. Hyman was also named a finalist for the Hockey Humanitarian Award, along with Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel.

(more…)