Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

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…)

Three Things I Think: WCHA, Nov. 18

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

For a conference trying to re-build its image as one of the best in the country, having a team ranked No. 1 in the polls is a huge step in the right direction. The WCHA’s Michigan Tech now occupies that spot after pushing its record to 10-0-0 with a sweep at Bemidji State this weekend. With 10-straight wins to start the season, the Huskies are now off to the best start in the program’s 94-year history.

The sweep of the Beavers wasn’t Michigan Tech’s most dominant performances of the season, but good teams find ways to win and the Huskies did that. They face their stiffest test of the season this weekend in welcoming reigning WCHA playoff champion Minnesota State to Houghton.

In the latest edition of the USCHO.com poll, following bye weeks, the Mavericks remained at No. 9 and Northern Michigan moved up a spot to No. 17. After splitting with Ohio State, Bowling Green also jumped a spot to No. 18. Ferris State (53) is the only WCHA team receiving votes in the poll.

Rapid Recap: In conference play, Michigan Tech grinded out a pair of wins in Bemidji to remain the NCAA’s lone unbeaten team, Ferris State’s offense exploded in a sweep of Alaska Anchorage, and Alabama-Huntsville and Lake Superior State split – pushing the Chargers’ record in their last four games to 2-1-1. Elsewhere, Bowling Green and Ohio State split a non-conference home-and-home series, with each winning at the other’s barn. The WCHA is now 22-17-4 (.558) in non-conference play this season.

(After the jump: My Three Stars of the Weekend in the WCHA and thoughts on what went down)

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Three Things I Think: WCHA, Nov. 11

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

This week in the WCHA featured the conference’s top teams flexing their muscle. Three of the four conference series resulted in sweeps, while Alabama-Huntsville continued the league’s success this season in non-conference play.

In the polls, Michigan Tech slid up four spots in the USCHO.com poll to No. 5 after running its undefeated start to 8-0-0. Minnesota State also moved up four places to No. 13 after sweeping Bemidji State. Northern Michigan jumped two spots to No. 18 with a split versus Ferris State — which dropped out of the top-20 – and, at No. 19, Bowling Green broke into the top-20 for the first time this season after sweeping Alaska.

Ferris State (107) is the only WCHA team receiving votes in this week’s poll.

This week’s top-billed matchup, Ferris State at Northern Michigan, saw an epic goaltending dual between two of the league’s top net minders. Bulldogs senior C.J. Motte and Wildcats sophomore Mathias Dahlstrom each registered 24-save shutouts on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The Bulldogs took the opener in a 1-0 OT thriller before the Wildcats salvaged the split with a 2-0 win on Saturday.

Michigan Tech got its own solid effort in goal from junior Jamie Phillips against Alaska-Anchorage. Phillips stopped 45-of-46 shots on the weekend, including a 19-save shutout on Friday. Huskies sophomore defenseman Shane Hanna led the way for MTU with three points (1+2) as it continued its undefeated start to the season with 2-0 and 3-1 wins over the Seawolves.

Minnesota State and Bemidji State combined for 17 goals in their two games, but it was the Mavericks that proved why they’re among the conference favorites, sweeping the series with 6-3 and 5-3 wins. MSU has now won five of its past six games. Minnesota State junior forwards Bryce Gervais and Teddy Blueger combined for six goals and 10 points in the series.

Continuing the theme of strong play in the crease, Bowling Green junior Tommy Burke backstopped the Falcons to a pair of 3-2 wins on the road versus Alaska, turning away 62-of-66 shots thrown his way. Sophomore forward Mark Pohlkamp lit the lamp twice for BGSU, including the game-winner on Saturday.

In the week’s only non-conference series, Alabama-Huntsville got into the win column for the first time this season with a 4-2 road win over Air Force on Friday before battling the Falcons to a 3-3 tie on Saturday. Chargers freshman forward Brennan Saulnier earned WCHA Rookie of the Week honors for his two points in the series. The WCHA is now 3-3-1 against Atlantic Hockey and 21-16-3 overall in non-conference play this season.

(After the jump: WCHA Three Stars of the Weekend and Three Thoughts on what went down)

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Hockey East Weekend Preview: Nov. 7

Friday, November 7th, 2014

No matter what happens this weekend in Hockey East, Friday’s matchup between Boston College and Boston University will be the story around the country.

The first installment of the B-Line rivalry or the Battle of Commonwealth Avenue or whatever you prefer to call it has a bit more meaning than it usually does. With BU’s Jack Eichel and BC’s Noah Hanifin in the lineup, two of the top three picks in next summer’s NHL Draft will be on display.

At this point in the season, no one involved with either program is too keen to discuss the draft status of either player. Moreover, coaches just want their teams to get point and some quality wins under their belts. That hasn’t stopped every media outlet with even the smallest bit of time for amateur hockey from talking about Friday’s game.

Both BU coach Dave Quinn and BC’s Jerry York know their gifted young players are capable of being stars on the ice for a very long time. However, they both also know how important this game is for each program.

BU is trying to end a five-year trophy drought, while BC is in the midst of a troubling stretch. Eichel and Hanifin may be future NHL icons, but, for now, they’re just a pair of very good college hockey players trying to win games. Neither will be at their respective schools for more than one or two seasons. Eichel seems a certainty to sign with whichever team drafts him, while Hanifin, being a defenseman and even younger than Eichel, is a better candidate to get a second season of college hockey.

Either way, the buzz around Friday’s game around North America is palpable. Meetings between BC-BU are always highly anticipated, only a few other rivalries in the country match the significance of the games every year. There’s more than two points on the minds of those watching, though.

Admittedly, I’ve been a little frustrated with the constant discussion of these two players. They’re both, obviously, massive talents, and this whole season will be a showcase for them. These games always have future professional stars in them, though. These two are especially high profile, and it’s good for college hockey that this game is on national television for everyone to see just what these teams have to offer.

No matter the result, though, the story ill inevitably turn to Eichel and Hanifin. Games between BC and BU aren’t exactly starved for coverage or additional storylines every year. But they’ll certainly get some more of both this year, starting tonight at the Heights. (more…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Nov. 5

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Saturday night, Danny O’Regan scored Boston University’s lone goal at 4:38 of the third period. The goal came with a number of players in and around the crease.

There wasn’t anything illegal about the play, but Providence coach Nate Leaman wasn’t sure. So he simply asked the officials to take a look at the play. I received some questions about this on Twitter, and I went to the league and some coaches for a clarification.

It’s a pretty simple rule. I won’t bore you with the entire rule, but coaches may ask for officials to review a scoring play if they believe there was an infraction on the play. This will typically be issues of goaltender interference or crease violations, but it can extend to offsides and too many men on the ice if the puck remained in offensive zone leading to a goal. If the offside or too many men call was missed and the puck leaves the attacking zone, the goal may not be reviewed on those grounds.

Coaches must have a timeout to ask for a replay and will be charged with a timeout if they lose the challenge, similar to the NFL.

After BU beat Michigan two weeks ago, in a game with multiple replays, Michigan coach Red Berenson said he felt “victimized by the replay system.” It was a pretty weak complaint from Berenson, since all of the calls made were correct. Moreover, technology allows officials to make the right call.

Any complaint about the replay system taking too long or being used too frequently is moot if calls are made correctly. I didn’t hear Berenson complaining about replay when it won his team an NCAA Tournament game against Nebraska-Omaha in 2011. (more…)

Three Things I Think: NCHC, Nov. 4

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

Last weekend in the NCHC featured significant showdowns between some of the nation’s top programs — from Boston College’s visit to Denver to St. Cloud’s home-and-home with Minnesota. In the end, those pairs split their series, while elsewhere, North Dakota toppled Air Force (thanks to a dramatic shorthanded goal in overtime), Nebraska-Omaha swept Cornell in central New York, and Miami and Minnesota-Duluth split the only league series of the weekend.

1. Denver is deep

Not many players can be without three 20-point scorers, all NHL draft picks and regulars in the nightly lineup, and still overcome a team like Boston College. But that’s what Denver did on Saturday night, when the Pioneers were without All-American defenseman Joey LaLeggia and forwards Quentin Shore and Zac Larazza. All three were out with, according to Pioneers coach Jim Montgomery, “the stomach flu”.

In their place, others stepped up with ease, from freshman Danton Heinen (check CHN for a full feature on the rookie sensation and Bruins draft pick tomorrow) to senior Daniel Doremus (who quietly scored 24 points last season and is now an integral component to the Pioneers top line, where he centers Heinen and sophomore Trevor Moore). Before the season began, I visited a Denver practice, and afterwards, Montgomery pointed out that his team is “better prepared as a program to handle adversity with injuries.” That depth was clearly on display on Saturday.

2. Overall Player of the Week

The NCHC’s weekly awards this week went to Miami’s Blake Coleman (Offensive Player of the Week after three goals and an assist vs. UMD), St. Cloud’s Ethan Prow (Defenseman of the Week after two assists in the Huskies’ win over Minnesota), Denver’s Danton Heinen (Rookie of the Week after scoring a pair of goals on Saturday, including the OT winner, to beat BC), and Nebraska-Omaha’s Ryan Massa (Goaltender of the Week after a tie and win at Cornell).

It’s hard to argue with those choices. Of them, the overall player of the week, for me, has to be Massa. The senior is now 4-0-1 this season and in his pair of wins at Cornell, he posted a 0.96 goals-against average and a .968 save percentage. The Littleton, Col., native has helped steady a defense that was at times porous last season, especially down the stretch.

One other player worth mentioning in this space is North Dakota’s Bryn Chyzyk. The junior scored just four goals last season but already has two this year — the latest, of course, a shorthanded goal with seconds remaining in overtime against Air Force, with UND a man short after Brendan O’Donnell was sent off after a checking from behind major penalty. Chyzyk handled a terrific Michael Parks pass to slide the puck behind Air Force’s Chris Truehl. In doing so, UND heads to rival Wisconsin this weekend in good spirits and on a six-game unbeaten streak.

3. Miami’s goaltending… controversy?

Heading into the season, my guess was that Ryan McKay would outperform Jay Williams and take over the No. 1 position as the Miami netminder. Instead, Williams is 5-1-0 with a 2.02 goals-against average, and McKay is 0-2-0 with a 3.39 goals-against average. After back-to-back wins by Williams (a 2-1 OT win vs. St. Lawrence last week, then a Friday night win this past weekend vs. Minnesota-Duluth), Miami head coach Enrico Blasi went back to McKay, who took a 4-3 loss on Saturday night despite 36 saves. The game was tied midway through the third period until the Bulldogs’ Willie Raskob scored the game-winner.

Blasi has famously alternated goaltenders, with various duos, for much of the past decade, and that’s been the story for McKay and Williams — both juniors — for the majority of their career as well. Miami hosts Colorado College in a two-game set this weekend. One would imagine Williams would get the start on Friday. If he wins, does McKay get another chance Saturday? It’s essentially impossible to get an answer on the subject from Blasi, so we’re left to speculate.

Both goaltenders are, in truth, incredibly talented, and all accounts suggest that they both have been strong in practice. Time will tell if one starts to get the starting nods over the other.

Coming Soon

Check out CHN prior to this weekend’s games for features on St. Cloud’s lessons learned (from its incredible nonconference schedule against Colgate, Union, and Minnesota) and on Denver’s Danton Heinen.

 

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Oct. 20

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Last season, following a 1-1 draw against Providence at Fenway Park, Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy remarked that Hockey East’s goaltending was the difference between very good teams and the rest of the league. It’s a comment he’s made a number of times over the years, but it always starts the same.

“You’ve heard it before. The name of this game should be changed to ‘goalie,'” he said. “You can go back and look. My senior year, Scott LaGrand led Hockey East with .900 save percentage. No one was over .900. Now, if you don’t have .920, we’re going ‘next?’ You need your goaltenders to be .920-.925 to have a chance to win games at this level.”

It’s no secret that very good goaltending is critical for teams to win hockey games. Last season, Hockey East continued the trend of making it nearly impossible for players to score goals. Nationally, the average save percentage for a team was .908. In Hockey East, that number rose to .916.

Teams don’t win in this league without consistently strong goaltending. It isn’t just enough to have good goaltending, of course. Teams need to score goals. They need to possess the puck. They need kill penalties. The list goes on, but the young man between the pipes is frequently the difference between winning and losing.

In the season’s first two weeks, goaltending statistics are especially polarized. It’s really not even worth looking at them just yet with no one playing more than four games thus far and some still with just one or two under their belts. But a couple clubs have put together some good starts and their goaltending has led the way. The usual names — Boston College’s Thatcher Demko and Providence’s Jon Gillies — will be among the leaders at the end. But BC and Providence expect to compete. Clubs looking to surprise this season will need their goalies to match their more well-known counterparts.

A year ago, it was Northeastern’s Clay Witt dominating the league to compete Northeastern in contention well into February. It’s difficult to tell who will be that guy this season, but one name has emerged in the season’s first couple weeks. (more…)