Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

A Rebuttal To Every ‘We Got Screwed’ Column You’ll Read This Week …

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

In a blog post earlier this week on the website for The Lowell Sun, which covers UMass Lowell, a writer admitted that he didn’t “know squat” about the Pairwise. That’s fine. Unless you’re a college hockey diehard, you probably wouldn’t know the difference between the Pairwise and a pair a shoes.

But that didn’t stop the newspaper from publishing a front-page column on Tuesday, where the lede was “The UMass Lowell hockey team got screwed,” and calling the River Hawks “victims of a computer” in its headline.

Before I sat down to write this blog post, I asked my laptop if it had any bias against any particular college hockey programs. It didn’t answer me.

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Thoughts on Frank Vatrano Signing with the Boston Bruins

Thursday, March 12th, 2015

News broke on Thursday that undrafted free agent Frank Vatrano will forego his final two seasons of eligibility at Massachusetts, and has signed an entry-level contract with the Boston Bruins.

At first the news took me by surprise. It’s not that Vatrano, who scored 18 goals and amassed 28 points in his first full season in college hockey, wasn’t talented enough to take his game to the next level. Far from it, in fact. But I never gave much thought to Vatrano leaving UMass after one season, especially not after essentially sitting out two years in order to get there.

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How Important is Scoring First?

Monday, February 23rd, 2015

For the past few weeks, it seems like every player or coach I’ve spoken to has brought up the importance of scoring first. How important is it, though?

Truth is, it’s pretty important.

Across the nation this season, the team that has scored first has won almost 70 percent of the time (69.8%). Atlantic Hockey drags that percentage down, actually. In every other conference, the winning percentage for teams that score first is over 70 percent. In Hockey East, it’s the highest at 74 percent.

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WCHA Weekend Preview, Feb. 20-21

Friday, February 20th, 2015

There are only three league series this weekend, but still plenty on the line in the WCHA. There are just three weeks left in the regular season and a lot to still be sorted out in that time.

Minnesota State, Michigan Tech, and Bowling Green have already clinched spots in the playoffs, with the Mavericks and Huskies having secured home ice advantage. The Falcons can do the same this weekend against Northern Michigan. After that, though, everything is still up for grabs. Five of the remaining six playoff-eligible teams — all of which are in action this weekend — can finish anywhere from fourth place and home ice to last place and missing the playoffs. Only Lake Superior State can’t finish higher than fifth.

In the Polls: Following its winless weekend against Alaska last time out, Minnesota State dropped to No. 2 in this week’s USCHO.com poll. Michigan Tech moved up a spot to No. 4 and Bowling Green held steady at No. 8. Bemidji State (3) is the only WCHA that received votes in the poll.

The Mavericks still hold the top spot in the Pairwise rankings, though, while the Huskies and Falcons check in at No. 7 and No. 8, respectively. No other WCHA team is in the top 25.

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ECAC Weekend Preview Feb. 13-14

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

The standings are so close that with three weeks remaining any of the teams in the top ten could get a bye in the first round. Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence have run away with the league, as the Bobcats have a three point lead on the Saints and SLU has five points clear of the mess of teams in third place. Behind the two front-runners it is a mess, as four teams are tied for third with two others just a point behind in the standings. The battle for the byes and home ice will come down to the last game of the season in three weekends.

Quinnipiac and St. Lawrence meet on Friday, with the league in balance. St. Lawrence has quietly won seven games in a row, all in ECAC play, while QU is riding an overall four game unbeaten streak and eight in league play. Realistically, SLU is playing the best hockey in the league right now and its 7-1 trouncing of Union shows it but QU is playing some awesome hockey as well, mainly led by its defense. With a win on Friday, Quinnipiac can practically wrap up the league barring a meltdown with two weeks left in the season, while the Saints can make it a battle for the league title in the coming weeks. (more…)

ECAC Weekend Preview Feb. 6-7

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

From here on out, each league team will play two games a weekend. With only four weekends remaining in the regular season, every game seems to be huge. St. Lawrence is hard charging, having won five league games in a row. Quinnipiac is on a six game unbeaten streak and leads the league by three over the Saints. But the league as a whole continues to be close, as positions 3-9 in the league are separated by a mere four points and 4-9 just two points. Tenth place Union sits just three points behind Home byes, home advantage and the illustrious Cleary Cup all seem to be in play in the coming weeks.

Quinipiac and St. Lawrence have looked like the best teams this half. Those two teams look to be the favorites for the Cleary but I am sure some of the teams below them could compete for the title. Harvard got Alex Kerfoot back in the Beanpot semi, which quite frankly they should be proud of as a group. Sean Malone was also back in the lineup, but wasn’t on the bench for the thrilling end. Yale, Clarkson and Cornell all have struggled to find scoring this season, which makes me speculate whether or not any of those teams can make a run. An interesting one to me is Dartmouth, who swept the Capital Region teams at home last weekend. (more…)

Three Things I Think: WCHA, Feb. 4

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

After playing most of the season with three contenders for the MacNaughton Cup, it’s beginning to look like it will come down to a two-team race. Minnesota State and Michigan Tech have separated themselves at the top of the standings, while Bowling Green’s struggles have put them at a significant disadvantage. After another disheartening weekend, the Falcons are now 10 points back of the first place Mavericks, and six back of the Huskies, with just 10 games left to play.

Rapid Recap: Minnesota State continued to have Ferris State’s number, sweeping the Bulldogs with a pair of 5-1 wins. Michigan Tech poured on the offense in its sweep of Alabama-Huntsville, winning 5-0 and 11-1. Northern Michigan earned its first back-to-back wins since November, sweeping Alaska-Anchorage, 5-3 and 3-2 (OT). NMU senior defenseman Mitch Jones scored the OT winner with just 11 seconds left on Saturday to secure the sweep. Bemidji State ran its unbeaten streak to four, beating, 5-2, and tying, 2-2, stumbling Bowling Green.

In the Polls: After a week at No. 3, Minnesota State re-gained the top spot in the USCHO.com Div. I poll. Michigan Tech moved up three spots to No. 5 and are in the top five for the first time since Dec. 15. Bowling Green slipped two spots to No. 8. Bemidji State (8) is the only WCHA team receiving votes.

Following the weekend’s results, the Mavericks remained at No. 1 in the Pairwise, while Bowling Green stayed at No. 6 and Michigan Tech moved up three spots to No. 7.

(Following the jump: My three thoughts/observations on what went down in the WCHA last weekend)

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NCHC Weekend Preview: Jan. 30-31

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Two months from today, the only college hockey games remaining in the 2014-15 schedule will be the games to be played at the NCAA Frozen Four in Boston — the national semifinals and the national championship game. As of now, five NCHC teams sit in the top 11 of the Pairwise, certainly well-positioned for an NCAA spot if they continue to play well, but of course, for all league teams, the stretch run to the NCHC tournament and the possibility of an automatic berth are inspiring factors during these final weeks of the regular season.

Still, before any of that, to remain in the conversation two months from now will require a strong upcoming six weeks, and this weekend, with 10 games remaining for each team in the regular season, one series in particular could end up having major implications for whether North Dakota or Nebraska-Omaha can position themselves for a No. 1 seed — not just in the NCHC tournament, but in the NCAA tournament as well.

Nebraska-Omaha (15-6-3, 9-4-1-1 NCHC) hosts North Dakota (18-5-2, 9-4-1 NCHC): North Dakota, No. 2 in the Pairwise, trials UNO (No. 4) by a single point for the NCHC regular season lead heading into this significant weekend series in Omaha. Tonight’s game — televised on CBS Sports Network — is UND’s first road contest since a Dec. 13 win at Denver, while UNO has been off for two weeks since a weekend split with Colorado College (whom UND swept in Grand Forks a week ago). The teams last met in a contested and physical late November series in Grand Forks, when UNO won a shootout following a 2-2 tie in the Friday night game and UND came back for a 3-2 win on Saturday. North Dakota’s game-winner on Saturday night was a Stephane Pattyn shorthanded goal — insult to injury after UND held the Mavericks scoreless on seven power play chances during the weekend.

Aside from the obvious storylines (e.g. a matchup of two of the nation’s top teams, UNO head coach Dean Blais returning to his former stomping grounds, where he won two national titles, etc.), consider this: in NCHC play, UNO is the league’s top-scoring offense, while UND is the best defense. It’s a matchup of two upperclassmen goaltenders, UNO’s Ryan Massa and UND’s Zane McIntyre, who are No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in save percentage. Think that means it’ll be a pair of low-scoring games? Not necessarily. This series also features four of the five NCHC players — North Dakota’s Mark MacMillan and Drake Caggiula and Omaha’s Austin Ortega and Jake Guentzel — who are averaging over a point per game in NCHC play this season (Denver senior defenseman Joey LaLeggia is the other). MacMillan in fact leads the league in goals in conference play. And it’s not just the upperclassmen who have stepped up for these teams — three of the league’s top five scoring rookies are also in action in this series this weekend.

So, clearly, there’s plenty to keep an eye on in this series. Omaha coach Dean Blais told Tony Boone of the Omaha World-Herald this week, “We could play our best game of the year on Friday night and not win. But if we play our best game of the year, all the pressure is on them, not us.” It’s a nice motivational tactic by the veteran coach, but for a team looking for the same legitimacy that North Dakota (a Frozen Four team last season) already has, and with UNO playing at home trying to distance itself from the visitors in the standings, there’s plenty of pressure on the Mavericks as well. Prediction: Omaha wins Friday, North Dakota wins Saturday.

Denver (14-8-1, 7-6-0 NCHC) hosts Minnesota-Duluth (14-9-1, 8-5-1 NCHC): Plenty has changed since these teams last met in October, which resulted in a weekend split in Duluth. First and foremost, DU sophomore Evan Cowley started both games for the Pioneers, which is unlikely to happen this weekend. Freshman Tanner Jaillet has emerged as the goaltender whom Jim Montgomery has called upon most often over the past few weeks, as Cowley hasn’t seen action since being pulled 18 minutes into the first period against St. Cloud on Jan. 16 (after allowing just one goal). Jaillet picked up three straight wins before a loss at Miami last Saturday. Now, the Pioneers host a Bulldogs team that is coming off a North Star College Cup appearance in Minneapolis last weekend, where UMD beat Minnesota on Saturday (its third win over the Gophers this season) after falling to Bemidji State a night earlier. Junior Matt McNeeley earned the win over Minnesota, starting in place of freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo. Kaskisuo played well in the first half of the season, but has been much more inconsistent of late — now with a four-game winless streak in his starts. Given the recent results, it wouldn’t be surprising to see McNeeley, Kaskisuo, Jaillet, and Cowley all play in some capacity this week. I’ll be at Magness Arena for both games this weekend. Prediction: Denver sweeps.

Colorado College (5-16-1, 1-11-1 NCHC) hosts St. Cloud State (10-13-1, 5-8-1 NCHC): In a matchup of the only two teams in the league with overall records below .500 this season, the Tigers start a six-game home stretch with their first meeting of the season with St. Cloud State. CC, despite just one win in 13 NCHC games this season, has played much better of late. After beating Omaha two weeks ago tonight, CC went to Grand Forks last weekend and lost two close games, 2-1 on Friday and 5-3 (with an empty-netter) on Saturday. The improved play has come thanks to a more creative and effective power play and on-ice leadership from senior Scott Wamsganz, who has points in five straight games. Without question, the Tigers look much better than they did in November but will still have their hands full against a St. Cloud team that, while sometimes maddeningly inconsistent, has the potential to be dominant. Last Friday, the Huskies used their own Olympic ice sheet to their full advantage, creating space and frustrating Western Michigan with a 7-0 win. It was arguably the best St. Cloud had looked all season, but the weekend was spoiled by blowing a 2-0 third-period lead the following night (ultimately losing 3-2). Of course, CC plays on the larger ice surface as well, and that will play to the strength of talented forwards like juniors Joey Benik and Jonny Brodzinski. Prediction: St. Cloud wins Friday, Colorado College wins Saturday.

And finally, in a one-game series on Saturday night:

Western Michigan (11-10-3, 4-7-3-3 NCHC) hosts Miami (15-9-0, 8-6-0 NCHC): The RedHawks swept the Broncos earlier in the season, and now, with the second game of this series set for next weekend (outdoors at Chicago’s Soldier Field), both teams come into this one-game affair in Kalamazoo after wins last Saturday (WMU over St. Cloud, Miami over Denver). For Miami, the win snapped a three-game losing streak during which the RedHawks struggled to find offense. WMU met the same problem in last week’s 7-0 shutout against St. Cloud. Without question, certain players will be the focus of each team’s defensive efforts this weekend — Miami, a bit more balanced thanks to the playmaking ability of Austin Czarnik, relies on Riley Barber, Sean Kuraly, Blake Coleman, and Cody Murphy to score goals, while WMU relies heavily on its top line of Nolan LaPorte, Sheldon Dries, and Colton Hargrove. LaPorte’s eight power play goals lead the nation for a WMU power play unit that is fourth-best (23.5 percent effective) in the country, so Miami (averaging 14.0 penalty minutes per game) will have to stay disciplined on Saturday. Prediction: WMU wins in a shootout.

 

Three Things I Think: NCHC, Jan. 5

Monday, January 5th, 2015

There are a couple more weeks of sporadic non-conference action, including this weekend’s home-and-home between Western Michigan and Notre Dame, but of course, the primary focus for NCHC teams now is on conference play and on preparing for a postseason that, last year, saw the league’s No. 6 and No. 8 seeds play for the tournament title.

Miami at the faceoff dot

There are plenty of storylines to highlight when it comes to Miami’s success over the first half of the season, which the RedHawks continued with a sweep of Rensselaer over the weekend. There is, of course, the statistical anomaly of seeing Austin Czarnik atop Miami’s list of point-scorers despite having scored just one goal, and there’s Jay Williams, who has quietly become one of the top goaltenders in the league, coming off back-to-back shutouts of Cornell and RPI. Another storyline, though, that hasn’t received as much attention has been Miami’s strong faceoff play. Simply put, at the faceoff dot, the RedHawk centers have been downright dominant. Blake Coleman (166-78), Sean Kuraly (224-146), and Justin Greenberg (67-48) are the only NCHC players who have faceoff winning percentages over .580 this season, with Coleman’s .680 faceoff winning percentage the best among all NCHC players. Those faceoff wins have led to timely defensive zone clears, increased offensive zone pressure, and puck possession that’s given Miami the edge in several close games this year. The RedHawks have 14 wins as they head to St. Cloud State this weekend, where a 15th win will already match last season’s win total.

UNO block party

Joining Miami in the top 6 in the current Pairwise is Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks had a six-game winning streak snapped on New Year’s Eve with a 6-2 loss to New Hampshire (after UNO had beaten the Wildcats in overtime the night before). Senior goaltender Ryan Massa, who missed the series due to the flu, has helped steady a UNO defense that was suspect at times last season, and the defenders in front of him have clearly played harder as well. That’s evident by looking at Omaha’s shot-blocking prowess. The Mavericks defense has arguably the most prolific shot-blocking crew in the league, led by senior Brian O’ Rourke’s 2.47 blocks per game, best among any NCHC player . O’Rourke, along with junior Brian Cooper, and freshman Joel Messner, have combined for 120 blocked shots this season so far — the most for any trio of defensemen in the NCHC.

Hafner takes over

On November 14, Western Michigan senior goaltender Frank Slubowski was pulled in an eventual loss to St. Cloud State and was replaced by junior Lukas Hafner. Slubowski, a talented goaltender who goes by “Frank the Tank” as one of his nicknames, is well-liked and respected by his teammates, but it’s been Hafner who has taken control of the Broncos’ goaltending position this year. The Broncos are in need of a strong January, and Hafner’s play has put WMU in a good position. The Toledo, Ohio, native is 4-1-1 in his last six games, allowing two goals or less in all of them. Moreover, Hafner is in fact the only NCHC goaltender who’s allowed two or less in the last six games overall.

Coming soon: On Friday, we’ll preview all the weekend’s NCHC action.

Thoughts on Eichel, Demko Major Junior Rumors

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

It felt foolish even having to ask the question yesterday of some within the BU hockey program, but it was once again necessary after yet another firestorm of rumors out of Canada that Jack Eichel was “jumping ship” to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after the World Junior Championships concluded.

The response, by the way, after some laughter, was a definitive “no.”

No one at BU is worried about Eichel, yet rumors persist. SportNet’s Junior Hockey Podcast tweeted yesterday that there were “rumors” that Eichel was going to sign with Saint John after the tournament. Host Jeff Marek – who I respect, but he’s way off on this – made an argument for why, in his mind, Eichel should leave college hockey. It’s the old “he’ll play a more pro schedule” argument that we’ve heard a million times.

More games doesn’t make Eichel, or anyone else, a better player. For most 18-year-old stars making the jump to the NHL, which I’d expect Eichel to do after this season, skill isn’t the issue, it’s strength. Playing a 60 or 70-game schedule allows for very little time in the weight room. Playing two games per week at BU, along with a lot more practice time, allows Eichel the chance to get in strength and conditioning work with BU strength coach Anthony Morando, a disciple of the great Mike Boyle.

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