Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

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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Three Things I Think: NCHC, Dec. 16

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

We’re heading to a quiet stretch in the schedule, following a weekend where CHN Team of the Week Nebraska-Omaha made a big statement with its sweep of St. Cloud State. Western Michigan also performed well, taking an overtime win and a shootout win over a desperate Colorado College team still looking for its first NCHC win of the season.

Instead of looking at UNO’s or WMU’s reasons for success, here’s a closer look at three teams who suffered defeat this past Saturday night.

Kaskisuo pulled

Sure, the Finnish freshman didn’t have the best start on Saturday evening against Michigan Tech, allowing two goals on four shots in the first five minutes of the contest, especially as the second goal came as the result of a weak rebound that followed a mis-play by the netminder. Still, it may have surprised some that UMD coach Scott Sandelin pulled his star goaltender, who had been awarded multiple weekly and national accolades throughout his 14 consecutive starts from the upstart Bulldogs. Kaskisuo was pulled in favor of junior Matt McNeely, who earned a shutout win over Notre Dame at the start of the season. McNeely played regularly as a freshman and only sporadically as a sophomore before giving way to Kaskisuo this year. It was a great decision by Sandelin on Saturday to switch to McNeely for many reasons — above all, it prevents Kaskisuo from being too comfortable as the designated No. 1 starter, reinforcing the need to be sharp at all times and to avoid the sometimes natural letdown the night after a big road win (UMD, of course, beat Michigan Tech a night earlier). McNeely is also a veteran who was able to weather the storm until the Bulldogs tied the game in the third period. Michigan Tech did win late, on Mike Neville’s game winner — his first goal of the season — with less than 20 seconds to play, but the decision to pull Kaskisuo, to wake up a sluggish team on the road, is the type of calculated decision that could pay dividends later in the season.

St. Cloud’s struggles

The memory of St. Cloud’s (6-9-1 overall, 2-5-1 NCHC) back to back wins over Union and Minnesota seems a lot more distant than the reality that those wins came less than two months ago. Now, the Huskies have lost three straight, and four of five, coming off a sweep in Omaha. Yes, the offense has been surprisingly (given the talent) erratic, but more concerning has been the defensive play of St. Cloud’s top lines. On Saturday, like Friday, St. Cloud led heading into the second period and again gave up the lead en route to a 5-3 loss. Saturday was an up-and-down night for the Huskies’ line of Jimmy Murray, David Morley, and Patrick Russell, a line that’s second in scoring on the team and that tied the game on Saturday at 3-3 in the third period. However, the trio was on the ice for four of Omaha’s five goals, in many cases missing defensive opportunities to limit goal-scoring opportunities. Many of St. Cloud’s forwards — particularly their top six — are exceedingly talented. This year, for whatever reason, they’ve given up a ton of goals. Leading scorer Jonny Brodzinski, for instance, has 3 even-strength goals but is a minus-7. Brodzinski also has seven power play goals, and indeed the Huskies have played well in man-advantage situations. The key to turning things around seems to be a need to improve their defensive effort and efficiency in front of goaltender Charlie Lindgren.

DU line change

Friday, Denver earned one of its biggest wins of the season, a 4-1 win over North Dakota in a game where, simply, the Pioneers showed just a bit more poise than UND in what was a physical series all weekend. UND returned that favor on Saturday, then used a couple of creative stretch plays to defeat Denver 3-1 and split the weekend series. Friday, three of Denver’s four goals came from defensemen, and coach Jim Montgomery changed up his top two lines for Saturday, switching Danton Heinen and Ty Loney’s spots on the right wing and thus breaking up the top line of Heinen/Daniel Doremus/Trevor Moore — the top three scorers this season for the Pioneers. Certainly, it seemed like a brilliant move by Montgomery, a surprise change that could give the North Dakota coaching staff more to think about with its defensive pairings and matchups on the road. But neither line produced a point on Saturday, in part because of a more physical and defense-oriented game overall. Also, it was the new Heinen line (paired with Quentin Shore and Zac Larraza) that got caught in a bad second period line change, allowing a quick transition play for North Dakota that culminated in Nick Schmaltz converting a 2-on-1 rush. So, the move may not have worked quite as planned, but it was a bold decision by Montgomery, as we rarely see major lineup changes the night following a big win. Perhaps Montgomery realizes that some periodic changes may help prevent the offense from becoming too stagnant, a problem that the Pioneers have had in the past (though not this year). DU continues to have the luxury of offensive-minded defensemen who can provide goals even when the forwards struggle; four of Denver’s 5 goals this weekend came from the blueline.

Coming soon: On Friday, we’ll preview the only NCHC games (and in fact, the only NCAA Division I games, period) of the upcoming weekend, when Nebraska-Omaha hosts Alabama-Huntsville for a two-game nonconference series.

 

 

Three Things I Think: WCHA, Dec. 9

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

With four overtime games, high-scoring contests, upsets and near-upsets, it was a pretty exciting weekend of hockey in the WCHA. After the dust settled, Minnesota State emerged in a tie with Michigan Tech at 20 points apiece at the top of the standings. Bowling Green remains right behind them with 17 points. All three of those teams will resume conference play next month.

Rapid Recap: Alaska ended No. 2 Minnesota State’s six game winning streak with a 5-4 OT win on Friday before junior forward Dylan Margonari’s hat trick on Saturday salvaged a split for the Mavericks. Bowling Green went on the road an took three of four points from Northern Michigan, drawing a high-scoring, 5-5, battle in the opener before blowing out NMU, 5-0. Bemidji State and Alaska-Anchorage split a pair of ties and Lake Superior State gave North Dakota all it could handle, but was swept.

In the Polls: In the latest USCHO.com rankings, the Mavericks dropped a spot to No. 3, idle Michigan Tech moved up to No. 4, Bowling Green jumped to No. 13, and Northern Michigan dropped out of the top-20. Two WCHA teams are receiving votes: the Wildcats (51) and Ferris State (3). The WCHA is the only conference in the country with two teams ranked in the top five.

The WCHA also has three teams in the top 10 of College Hockey News’ first official look at the PairWise. Minnesota State is No. 1, followed by Michigan Tech at No. 5, and Bowling Green at No. 8. The rest of the league ranks as followed: Alaska (No. 25), Northern Michigan (No. 29), Bemidji State (No. 37), Ferris State (No. 39), Alaska-Anchorage (No. 41), Alabama-Huntsville (No. 45), and Lake Superior State (No. 54).

(After the jump: My three stars of the weekend and three thoughts on what went down)

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ECAC Weekend Preview: 12/4

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

One last conference weekend before the break should shake up the standings even more in the ECAC. With everyone so close from positions 1-9, as a mere five points separate the top nine in the standings, movement up and down should be aplenty. Cornell and Colgate have big non-conference tests this week, as Cornell hosts Denver for a weekend series and Colgate travels to Providence for a lone game against PC. There should be tons of action around the conference this weekend and here is what I think is important to watch this weekend.

Clarkson Looks to find Consistency, while St. Lawrence looks to continue its great play

Whenever Clarkson and St. Lawrence meet on the ice it is a spectacle. It is always heated and being the third meeting of the season should make this game even more event-filled. The Saints took home a 4-0 win from Cheel Arena on November 1st and the two teams tied the night before at Appelton Arena. Those games didn’t mean as much as this one does because it was non-conference, but the season series is still up for grabs. For these teams bragging rights are ever important in the North Country. (more…)

ECAC Power Rankings 12/2

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Because of the holiday last week, I was unable to find the time to do a power rankings but much has certainly changed in two weeks. Colgate’s struggles for consistency have continued, while Quinnipiac’s inconsistency has also come forward. The Bobcats dropped a decision to Clarkson two weeks ago, defeated St. Lawrence and dropped a home decision to UMass. It recovered, but damage has already been done because other ECAC teams had great two week stretches. The league standings tell us nothing about how the league is going because everyone is still too close to call. Quinnipiac sits at the top with ten points, but a four way tie for second place contains Harvard, St. Lawrence, Clarkson and RPI. Colgate, Yale and Cornell all sit within a weekend either three or four points behind.

The conference has been impressive of late in non-conference. Despite Clarkson’s 0-4-0 record against Hockey East and Quinnipiac’s 3-3-0 record against that other eastern conference, the rest of the league has put together quite the impressive 14-2-2 record against the usual “best conference in the country.” Note the quotation marks, because all of my ECAC fans will get the joke in that. Both Dartmouth and Harvard picked up huge wins against Boston University last week, with the Green doing so at home and the Crimson pulling out an overtime decision at BU’s, Agganis Arena. Overall the league is set up for future success in the Pairwise and has the possibility to get more than four teams in the tourney, because of its 35-27-4 record against the other conferences. That mark is good for second among the nation’s conferences. If the tournament began today, both Harvard and Yale would be in comfortably because of their 6th and 11th ranking respectively in the Pairwise. St. Lawrence sits on the bubble, but in, in 15th, while Quinnipiac, Colgate and Dartmouth all sit within distance in the top 20.

As for the power rankings, I am starting to see some trends that make my life easier. Harvard has proven it is the best team in the conference at this point, a thought I have had for a few weeks now but now I am comfortable to say it. Yale is the only team that has beaten Harvard this season and it has won four of its last five games. Its goaltending will get it far this season and its built from the net out nature makes it a dangerous team going forward. Those teams seem to be the clear top two and the rest seem to be really close together behind them. I feel more confident in these rankings than I have at any point this season. The league will again shake out this weekend, as eight conference games and teams will play league games. (more…)

Three Things I Think: WCHA, Dec. 1

Monday, December 1st, 2014

This weekend in the WCHA didn’t have as much sizzle as the last, but still featured some important match-ups. Michigan Tech and Minnesota State are still neck and neck at the top of the standings. Both teams earned sweeps, leaving the Huskies still just two points ahead of the streaking Mavericks.

In this week’s USCHO.com poll, Minnesota State – winners of six-straight — was the big jumper, sliding up five spots to No. 2. Michigan Tech moved up one spot to No. 5, idle Bowling Green jumped one spot to No. 14, and Northern Michigan held firm at No. 19. Ferris State (7) and Alaska (2) are both receiving votes in the poll.

WCHA teams now occupy the top two, and three of the top five, spots in the KRACH ratings. Minnesota State remains No. 1 this week, while Michigan Tech moved up three spots to No. 2, and Bowling Green jumped up one place to No. 5.

Rapid Recap: In league play, Minnesota State continued its recent roll with a dominating sweep of Lake Superior State, Michigan Tech bounced back with a road sweep of Alabama-Huntsville, and Northern Michigan closed out its Alaskan road trip by splitting with Alaska. Elsewhere, Bemidji State snapped its seven game losing streak on Saturday to split with St. Cloud State, and Ferris State continued its roller coaster season by going winless against previously winless Wisconsin. The WCHA’s non-conference record now stands at 23-19-5 (.543).

(After the break: My WCHA Three Stars of the Weekends and three thoughts on what went down.)

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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.

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…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Nov. 19

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Penn State beat Massachusetts-Lowell, 4-1, on Saturday in the second game of two at Tsongas Center over the weekend.

The night before, UML cruised by PSU with a 5-3 win that really wasn’t that close. PSU added a pair of goals late in the third period after C.J. Smith gave UML a 5-1 lead at 8:21 of the period.

Seeing a fledging program like PSU knock off one of the nation’s best team in UML was a bit jarring, it seems, to many. The River Hawks’ 6-1-2 start before last weekend’s games was the best the program has seen since moving to Division I.

Losing to Penn State won’t be great for UML’s Pairwise standing later in the season. However, it’s not exactly a devastating blow either.

Freshman goaltender Jeff Smith, who’s split time with Kevin Boyle to this point, was due for bad start. In his three starts prior to Saturday, he’d stopped 73 of 76 shots. Some pucks were going to sneak past him eventually, and it just so happened to come Saturday night. Moreover, UML as a club wasn’t quite as dominant as its record suggested.

In his first three seasons at UML, Norm Bazin has found a way to make sure his teams are at their best once the second half begins. UML is 38-11-5 in regular-season games after winter break in his three years. There’s no reason not expect UML to get even better than it’s been to this point.

Some things haven’t come together as they will for the River Hawks. A split with Penn State, however, won’t prevent any of that from happening. Relying on a .750 winning percentage in the second half to get favorable league and national tournament seeding can be a dangerous proposition. For UML, though, it just seems like standard procedure. (more…)