Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

Atlantic Hockey Notebook: January 14

Monday, January 14th, 2019

Here are the current Atlantic Hockey standings:

  1. Air Force
  2. Mercyhurst
  3. AIC
  4. RIT
  5. Army
  6. Niagara
  7. Robert Morris
  8. Bentley
  9. Sacred Heart
  10. Canisius
  11. Holy Cross

Who’s Hot: The RIT Tigers climbed three spots in Atlantic Hockey standings, thanks to a pair of wins over AIC this past weekend. Overall, RIT has won three in a row and hasn’t lost a game since December 8. They’re on their way up, but will face a hot Bentley team this coming weekend. Speaking of….

Bentley beat Robert Morris twice this weekend, outscoring them 10-3 in the pair of games. Those two big wins were Bentley’s first conference action of 2019 and first since December 1. Thanks to those wins, the Falcons moved up two spots in Atlantic Hockey standings.

The Crusaders of Holy Cross, meanwhile, haven’t lost since January 4. Since then, they’ve beaten Mercyhurst once (a 5-4 victory) and tied and beaten Niagara. The Crusaders may still be at the bottom of Atlantic Hockey, but they’re only two points from bumping both Sacred Heart and Canisius down in the standings. What they do going forward could help move them out of the basement.

Mercyhurst’s Lakers beat Canisius twice this past weekend, which helped move them up to second place in Atlantic Hockey standings. Those two wins are helping turn things around for ‘Hurst, who had previously split a series against Holy Cross after dropping a pair of games to Ohio State to finish out the 2018 calendar year.

Who’s Not: AIC dropped both of its games to RIT this past weekend, by scores of 6-3 and 3-2. Overall, the Yellow Jackets have lost five of their last six games dating back to December 30. These losses have brought them down in the standings, from the top of Atlantic Hockey last week to third this week. While there’s still time to make up those losses and grab some points in the final few weeks of the season, they need a strong finish if they hope to be in the top of the conference at season’s end.

Canisius followed up their stellar wins over North Dakota by losing twice to Mercyhurst this past weekend, by scores of 6-2 and 6-3. The Griffs were outplayed in both games, and their goaltending struggled. These losses dropped them all the way to 10th in Atlantic Hockey, certainly not where Trevor Large and co. would like to be at this point in the season.

Niagara hasn’t won a game since December 7 – which is obviously not good for the Purple Eagles. They tied and lost to Holy Cross this past weekend, and they’ve dropped a few games lately in the final minutes. These strings of non-wins have dropped them all the way to sixth in Atlantic Hockey, a place they’ll try to dig out of starting this weekend against Mercyhurst.

Robert Morris, meanwhile, have dropped four straight games, including the pair to Bentley this past weekend. They let the Falcons put up five goals in each of those games and have overall allowed 22 goals against in the last four games. Ouch!

Finally, Sacred Heart only played one game this past weekend, dropping a 3-1 decision to Yale. The Pioneers haven’t won since December 8, falling to Vermont, AIC and Yale in the stretch since then. They’ll hit a busy stretch here with eight games in the next 19 days, starting with a battle against the Yellow Jackets Tuesday night.

Army, Air Force Tie: In the ever-heated battle of Army West Point vs. Air Force, the winner is…. no one. The two teams tied twice this past weekend (say that five times fast). The score each game: 2-2. The weekend series marked the return to conference action for both teams; Army hadn’t played an Atlantic Hockey team since their bout with Canisius way back on December 1. Since then, they lost to Dartmouth, Brown and RPI.

ECAC Notebook: 1/9

Wednesday, January 9th, 2019

Despite minimal conference games, the last few weeks have told us a ton about a lot of teams in the ECAC. Mainly there have been some positives, but many more setbacks as teams have tried to get back in a rhythm of playing regular games. The highlights of non-conference play, thus far, have been Union’s win over St. Cloud, who is second in the pairwise, and Clarkson’s recent win over Minnesota Duluth. The Golden Knights seem to be trending in the right direction and are certainly a team to watch going forward.

In terms of the Pairwise, Quinnipiac is fifth, while Union (15), Clarkson (16), Cornell (17), Yale (20) and Harvard (22) are bubble bound. If any of those bubble teams can pick up wins in the second half, it could mean good things for their chances of getting to the tournament come March. That said, the .477 winning percentage of league teams against the other conferences will make it tough for teams to break into the top-15.

As teams head into a more consistent conference schedule, it seems like teams like Clarkson, Brown and Harvard are trending in the right direction, while Quinnipiac, Yale and Dartmouth are trending down a tad. On Brown, we have to give them credit for the job they are doing in recent weeks…
The Bears are 4-1-2 in their last seven games and over the weekend won the Three Rivers Classic. They could have beat Providence, as well, just last week but fell just short., mainly because a questionable PC goal was allowed to stand.

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ECAC Notebook: 12/12

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

Now that many teams have entered the annual holiday break, we can take a look back at the first half and everything that we have learned about the league. It is clear that power has shifted back to the Greater New Haven area, as Quinnipiac is the undisputed top dog in the and Yale will probably end up right on its heels. The Bobcats picked up a split against upstart Massachusetts over the weekend, while the Bulldogs dropped a lone game to the Minutemen.

QU has had most of the success in non-conference action in recent weeks, as the league’s record against the other conferences has plummeted. With many games still to go in the busy holiday stretch, that can improve and it will be integral for the few teams that have tournament aspirations. In terms of the conference standings, they are starting to take shape with Yale at the top with 13 points and Quinnipiac hot on its trails with 12. The Bobcats have a game in-hand, however, and in a cruel set of circumstances we will have to wait until mid-February before the two teams play in Hamden. Dartmouth, as I have nicknamed Jeckyll and Hyde this year, is in third, while Cornell is in fourth.

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Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Dec. 10

Monday, December 10th, 2018

It was the weekend of offenses. Well, only if it was the Notre Dame-Penn State series, which saw 19 goals on the weekend. Most of that came from Saturday’s game whe Penn State score nine goals.

Yes, nine goals. On Notre Dame.

Wisconsin swept Michigan State, which sounds correct. Minnesota and Michigan tied on the first night before the Gophers defeated the Wolverines. 

Penn State’s offense is really good

It’s one thing to score goals and another thing to score goals on Notre Dame and Cale Morris. While I have said before that it’s very difficult to sustain high-scoring offenses for a long time, there’s no question Penn State’s is quite powerful. 

Evan Barratt leads the country with 13 goals and 29 points. Next is Alex Limoges, who has 29 points. The Nittany Lions are averaging 5.29 goals per game — over a goal per game more than the runner-up, Minnesota State. 

The question always remains how good a team’s shooting percentage actually is, though. Because Penn State still leads the country in shots on goal and averages 41.06 shots on goal per game, almost 13 shots more per game than Minnesota State takes. 

Even so, Penn State still ranks second in goals per shots on goal with a 12.9 percent conversion percent. In that department the Nittany Lions trail Minnesota State by less that two percent. 

This is an interesting statistic to keep an eye on, because in previous years Penn State was still shooting and still scoring, but not at nearly as high of a rate. In 2016-17, when Penn State led the country in goals per game with 4.10, they also converted 9.3 percent of their shots on goal. But again, that was for the whole season.

In 2016-17 through Dec. 10, Penn State was averaging 4.87 goals per game and taking 48.27 shots on goal per game. The Nittany Lions converted 10 percent of those shots.

The Badgers are quietly getting better

Between the power of Penn State’s offense, the high expectations for Ohio State, questions about Michigan, a new coaching staff in Minnesota and the return of Cale Morris, other teams in the Big Ten were almost forgotten. Wisconsin was one of those forgotten teams and it’s easy to see why.

The Badgers were a good team with a bright future, but all of that collapsed after 2014. Since then Wisconsin struggled to win, even with high-end talent. Goaltending was supposed to solve any issues, but Kyle Hayton’s arrival last year fixed nothing. 

So this year, no one really knew what to think. But right now the Badgers are tied for first place in the league with Ohio State. They’ve won eight games overall and four in the conference. The Badgers also haven’t lost in their last six games and are on a three-game winning streak. Daniel Lebedeff’s save percentage isn’t great, but it’s above .910, which isn’t bad.

Ohio State is the best team in the Big Ten

It’s strange that the Buckeyes have been using a goaltending tandem, but it seems to be working. Ohio State is tied with Wisconsin for first has played just eight games, two less than the Badgers. Ohio State has just four losses this season and only two in the conference.

The important thing is the Buckeye defense and goaltending is still really good. That’s no surprise since Steve Miller is still there, and the team’s commitment to defense from last year is still there. 

Ohio State has only allowed more than two goals in a conference once this year when it gave up four goals to Penn State. Overall the Buckeyes have surrendered just 13 goals in eight conference games. And Tommy Nappier’s .951 save percentage is second nationally. 

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Dec. 2

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

After another season of Big Ten play, it’s evident the teams are pretty even. Wisconsin and Penn State split while Ohio State and Minnesota and Michigan State and Michigan almost split — the Buckeyes won a game and tied while Michigan State won a game and tied. Notre Dame swept RPI.

The Buckeyes are now first in the conference with a three-point lead over Notre Dame. Michigan is still fourth, while Penn State – despite its 10 overall wins, which is tied with Notre Dame for first in the conference – is last. But only eight points separate Ohio State and Penn State.

Only the Buckeyes and Fighting Irish have four wins, while every other team in the Big Ten has just two conference wins. The difference between place No. 3 and place No. 7 lies in the ties and shootout wins. 

Can Notre Dame keep up the scoring?

The Fighting Irish quickly took down RPI this weekend. They scored eight goals total, just after I wrote a story about the team trying to fill in for some of its lost scoring from last season. The Fighting Irish really aren’t that far off from where they were at this time last year, but last year they didn’t score eight goals on the Engineers.

Even if Notre Dame wasn’t going to find replacement scoring, I still wouldn’t be worried about the team. Cale Morris is Cale Morris and there is no substitute nor equal to solid goaltending. 

It seems like the Fighting Irish are in a much better spot than last season, and some of the other players who scored last year have been stepping up. But, before last weekend Jeff Jackson did say that the team is still trying to find consistency in its lines. There’s no proof yet that Notre Dame will keep up its scoring.

Offense isn’t sustainable

I spoke to Mel Pearson last week about the team’s goaltending situation. Michigan currently doesn’t have the same level of goaltending — at least when it comes to numbers — as it did last year with Hayden Lavigne’s save percentage. I asked Pearson if he thought the Wolverines can still make a run like they did last year given they have been scoring well of late.

His answer was simple: Not really. Pearson said he wants that goaltending back because offense isn’t the way to win championships. At some point, the offense is going to run out. He said it would for them and it most likely will for Penn State.

I agree. Defense and goaltending does win championships, and there’s no better proof of that than the Big Ten from a few years ago. Pearson was still in the WCHA at the time, but Michigan boasted players like JT Compher and Kyle Connor. It wasn’t enough. Like the other Big Ten teams that year, the Wolverines were stalled pretty early into the NCAA tournament.

It’s still a little early to see who’s going to fare well defensively but it’s worth noting.

The curious case of the goaltending tandems

Right now there are a few teams in the Big Ten that have been using two goaltenders. Most notably is Ohio State. After a great performance last season, Sean Romeo was presumed to be the starter by many. But then came sophomore Tommy Nappier. He played in siz games last season but has been splitting starts with Romeo and has already played in nine.

And he’s doing really well.

Nappier has a .951 save percentage, the second-highest in the country. Of the top-10 goaltenders, only five goaltenders have played in more games than him, and one of those is Cale Morris. Romeo’s save percentage is .912, but the rotation seems to be working for Ohio State. The Buckeyes seem poised to make a return to the NCAA tournament, which poses an interesting question.

Will the Buckeyes end up in the NCAA tournament with a goaltending rotation?

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 28

Wednesday, November 28th, 2018

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday. I was off in Belfast, Northern Ireland, watching the Friendship Four. It’s not a Big Ten-related tournament but was definitly a fantastic experience and I encourage everyone to go.

Now back to the league. Since Thanksgiving passed recently, this week’s edition of Three Things will be a “three things teams should be thankful for.”

Here it is:

Penn State’s Offense

Stop me if this sounds familiar. The Nittany Lions have the nation’s top two scorers in Evan Barratt and Alex Limoges. The Big Ten actually has the top three scorers, as Taro Hirose is third.

But unlike years past when the Big Ten has had some of the nation’s most prolific scorers, the Big Ten also has better goaltending than it did at that time. But while some conference games have been played, this is mostly a reflection of the non-conference schedule.

Ohio State’s Tommy Nappier

Tommy Nappier actually leads the country with a .957 save percentage. The eight games he’s started is the most in the top three. Nappier has been splitting starts with Sean Romeo and after Romeo’s season last year, Nappier’s success is a bit of a surprise. But it’s helped Ohio State so far. Nappier also has been in net for five of the team’s wins.

A good non-conference slate

The Big Ten is obviously much better than it was a couple of years ago, so looking at the conference’s non-conference record isn’t actually that shocking. But most of the teams in the league have had non-conference success, including Michigan State. So I wanted to look at it anyway.

Right now the Big Ten is 28-17-3 against non-conference teams. That equates to a .615 winning percentage, which is the second-highest amongst the conferences. The league is 4-0-1 against Atlantic Hockey teams, 11-2 against ECAC teams and 4-2 against Hockey East teams. The conference has a losing record against both the NCHC and WCHA currently, but only by a couple of games.

ECAC Notebook: 11/20

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

Quinnipiac made a big statement over the weekend with a sweep of Colgate and Cornell, while Princeton faltered twice on the same trip. This weekend Clarkson also had a really good weekend against Michigan Tech, sweeping the Huskies of the WCHA out of the North Country. The other North Country team, SLU, picked up a much-needed win against  Minnesota on Friday night in a great turnaround after its loss to Mercyhurst.

We are another week into the season, but the standings are still a mess. Although QU sits at the top with eight points, the uneven nature of the schedule means that Cornell is two points back, with a pair of games in hand. Dartmouth is also two points back and has played one less game. Interestingly enough, while QU has played six league games, the two north country schools have played just two. I wouldn’t write off Clarkson from being near the top at the end because they have played four less games and they have looked really good, at times, which I will talk about below. As I keep reminding everyone, look at standings and pairwise with a load of caution until, say, Christmastime.  

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Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 13

Tuesday, November 13th, 2018

Another week, another question of what’s really going on. There are a few teams that have been successful since October – like UMass and Arizona State, although we still haven’t figured out what’s “for real.” I actually believe UMass is for real, but I guess we’ll find out about that soon.

Big Ten play has begun, but so far it’s been hard to see who’s acrually better than who. We’ll find out soon, hopefully. 

Notre Dame has settled down 

It was hard not to wonder what happened when the Fighting Irish surrendered six goals to Mercyhurst en route to the Ice Breaker tournament championship. And it was still early enough in the season to wonder if that would be a trend for Notre Dame.

The Fightinng Irish haven’t allowed more than three goals since, and Cale Morris’ save percentage is resting at .927. Also those two three-goal games all came against Minnesota-Duluth.

The Fighting Irish that have barely allowed more than two goals per game and are mostly keeping opponents off the scoreboard more closely resemble the Fighting Irish we knew from later on last season as well as the Fighting Irish that I chose to finish first. 

It’s not unusual for teams to have uncharacteristic games at any point in the season, especially in the start, but when these games happen at seaosn’s start we don’t yet know if that’s how the team will actually play. Now we know it was just a blip for Notre Dame.

Daniel Lebedeff

Before the season started, Badgers head coach Tony Granato spoke highly of Lebedeff. The Badgers have badly needed good goaltending, especially with the young teams Wisconsin seems to be getting each year. There was hope, after St. Lawrence transfer Kyle Hayton wasn’t unable to fill the role last year, that Lebedeff will. 

I watched last Friday’s Gophers-Badgers border battle. He earned the loss but didn’t get any help from his team, which largely looked confused. One of his players also pushed a Gopher into him on a Minnesota goal, so it’s hard to fault him for that one. 

At .927 he is tied for second in Big Ten save percentages. He’s started the last three games and has played in the last six after not playing for the first three.

Penn State’s offense

The Nittany Lions have been scoring, a lot. It’s not surprising because that’s been an asset for them over the past few years. But Nikita Pavlychev and Alex Limoges have 16 points each, which currently ranks second nationally. The Nittany Lions have five of the country’s top six scorers and Penn State is averaging 5.78 goals per game, which is first nationally. 

Penn State is still averaging the most shots per game, with 42.67 shots on goal per game. They’re converting 13.5 percent of those chances, which is third nationally. That’s important, because a few years ago Penn State was shooting the puck heavily but not converting as high a number of those shots. 

ECAC Notebook: Nov. 12

Monday, November 12th, 2018

Another week, another one filled with interesting results. The Princeton Tigers appear to be the team to beat in the ECAC right now. The Tigers are 3-0-1 in the league and recently seem to score just for fun.  Behind them, a mess of teams has been on-again, off-again in recent weeks. Like Quinnipiac and Dartmouth. The Big Green lost to Brown on Friday, but beat Yale on Saturday. Likewise, Quinnipiac defeated RPI and lost to Union.

Since the RPI sweep, the Dutchmen have just a lone loss against Princeton. It is easy to see now: Those losses to the Engineers will prove costly. Cornell is obviously a team to watch, but the team has only played two league games. The Big Red swept Northern Michigan this weekend to make it four straight wins. Colgate deserved a better fate on Saturday against Ohio State, while Brown has looked better so far.

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Three Things I Think: Big Ten Nov. 5

Monday, November 5th, 2018

Happy November! The results from last weekend make minimal sense. I know it’s already November, but teams are still finding out who they are. Now if it’s still going on in December, I guess we’re just back to the usual weird inconsistency we’ve seen from the Big Ten in years past. Most likely though this will all settle down soon.

Ohio State and Notre Dame will still be the best

The Buckeyes and Fighting Irish met for the first time since their thrilling Big Ten final last year. The games went how you’d expect, ending in a couple of low-scoring, one-goal games. I know the Buckeyes were rocked by Bowling Green last weekend, and Notre Dame hasn’t exactly been stellar either so far, but these two are still some of the best and this past weekend proved that.

Some people asked me why I picked Notre Dame over Ohio State when I made my conference picks, and the reason lies with goaltending. Cale Morris is still better than Sean Romeo, and I’ll take that over the stifling defense Ohio State *usually* has. (I have to say usually because of that game against Bowling Green. Yikes). Both teams are going to have games where they stumble (like Notre Dame vs. Wisconsin in Chicago last year), which is why I always take the goaltenders. 

Outdoor games are still overrated

People can say I hate fun, which may sometimes be fair. Mostly I love fun, but I don’t think any amount of fun is worth outdoor games. It’s not even because I think they’re overdone, or boring or just a money-making gimmick (although I do think those things). Ultimately I don’t like teams playing in them because they put players at much higher risk for injuries. I was there three years ago when Denna Laing was hurt skating on outdoor ice with sub-par conditions. And last year Will Lockwood got hurt because he was also skating on questionable ice.

I get that it’s a fun event. I’ve gone as a fan once, and while I wouldn’t go again, I do think it’s something people should experience once. But it makes injuries way more likely to happen because there are factors that either can’t be controlled or won’t be controlled when it comes to ice conditions.

Anyway, the point of this rambling, angry-man-yells-at-cloud post is that the Wolverines and the Fighting Irish will be playing in an outdoor game in South Bend. 

Michigan State is on fire

I mean in a good way. The Spartans are quietly winning. Actually, almost everyone in the conference is winning, or sort of winning, because every team except for Minnesota has t least four victories. The Spartans just suffered a loss at Ferris State but had won three in a row, before the loss. Two of those wins came at Cornell, and that’s pretty impressive.

I don’t think Michigan State’s success is a fluke, and I think they can do some damage in the Big Ten this year. That top line of Taro Hirose, Mitchell Lewnadowski and Patrick Khodorenko has to be one of the most underrated lines in college hockey and they’ve already amassed 28 points so far. Khondorenko already has five goals and Hirose’s 12 points are tied for the Big Ten lead.

But the kicker — and what will define how far Michigan State’s success goes — is John Lethemon. Before the season, Danton Cole spoke a little bit about how Lethemon grew and what the team was expecting from him. So far he’s done well, posting a .919 save percentage.