Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

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…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Oct. 14

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

It’s just one game — in some cases two — but it’s hardly enough to make any sweeping conclusions about a team’s fate.

The college hockey season has barely begun. Seven of the 12 teams in Hockey East have played just one time this season, and those single samples haven’t offered much in the way of knowledge on these teams. Boston University won’t score eight goals every night. Massachusetts won’t allow eight goals every night — though, it probably won’t score more than one all that often. Boston College’s talented roster won’t struggle to generate offense all year. And Merrimack, well, Merrimack won’t have the benefit of playing mid-table Atlantic Hockey clubs every night.

There are some trends, though, that appear to have continued from last year. Northeastern still never has the puck. Massachusetts-Lowell is still relentless in transition and remarkably disciplined in its system. And Vermont’s Brody Hoffman remains an underappreciated stalwart behind a team that just lacks something compared to the league’s true contenders.

We’ll learn a lot in the coming weeks. A number of marquee non-conference matchups come this weekend with only Connecticut and Merrimack playing a Hockey East game. Little that happens in October is especially indicative of what’s to come, but it’s part of the picture. There are just some things that probably won’t change much from last season, and even a win or a loss doesn’t really suggest a step forward or back in college hockey. The way teams arrive at those wins and losses is all the more important in the season’s earliest portions. (more…)

Hockey East’s Top-10 Non-Conference Games for 2014-15

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Mark your calendars.

Hockey East fans will be blessed this coming winter. Along with a shortened 22-game league schedule, which as it did last year when the schedule was at 20 games, should make for closer playoff races come the end of February, there’s a slew of premiere non-conference games headed to Hockey East rinks this upcoming season.

Union, the defending national champions, will visit three Hockey East rinks. Michigan makes a pair of trips and even Minnesota will fly to Boston, marking the first time the Gophers will travel to the city that houses four Division I programs since it helped close Walter Brown Arena and open Agganis Arena in Jan. 2005, if you exclude a visit to Vermont in 2012-13 and a trip to Hockey East newcomer Notre Dame last season, which is really in the midwest and not the east.

Since that trip to Boston in 2005, Minnesota has hosted 13 games against Hockey East opponents, and traveled east for just those two in Vermont.

Here are the top-10 non-conference games Hockey East will HOST this season:

10. Yale at Northeastern, Jan. 6
Two classic programs, playing in a classic building. Yale’s program has roots back to 1893 while Northeastern’s has been around since 1929. Matthews Arena has been around since 1909, and you know the history there. Besides, Northeastern is on an upswing in Hockey East the past two seasons under Jim Madigan and Yale just won a national title two years ago.

9. Michigan at Boston University, Oct. 25
Boston University endured one of its tougher seasons in 2013-14, but Jack Eichel will pull a BU shirt over his head this fall, and that makes this early-season matchup with Michigan a must see. Eichel will go against his NJEC linemate, Tyler Motte, as well as a plethora of his other former U.S. National Team Development Program teammates.

8. Union at Boston University, Jan. 3
If the national champions are visiting your building, it’s a big game. BU’s struggles could linger into the early parts of the 2014 schedule, but by January, the Terriers could very well be firing on all cylinders. The only problem here is that Eichel, and any other players that make the World Junior Team, will likely still be playing in the tournament.

7. Union at Maine, Oct. 17 & 18
Maine was reinvigorated last season with new head coach Red Gendron behind the bench, and the Black Bears will bring in their best non-conference opponent to Orono in just the second week of the regular season. Gendron is giving his players a mighty test right away.

6. Michigan at UMass Lowell, Oct. 24
It should be an interesting year for Lowell, which has now lost the bulk of the nucleus that has won back-to-back Hockey East championships. But they’re still the defending two-time champs. Lowell, which in both championship years has gotten off to sluggish starts, will be tested early against an ultra-talented Michigan team.

5. Union at Notre Dame, Nov. 28 (Shillelagh Tournament First Round)
Notre Dame, by its standards, limped through its first year as a member of Hockey East. But parity in college hockey, which is a theory everyone likes to talk about, in most cases doesn’t actually exist. Notre Dame is a reload program. They don’t rebuild. Teams like Merrimack, Vermont and Massachusetts have all had cups of coffee among the nation’s elite, but have failed to sustain it. Notre Dame had a taste of what it’s like near the bottom of Hockey East in its first season – the Irish finished eighth – but don’t expect that to sustain either. Then there’s Union. Did I mention they’re the defending national champions?

4. Michigan at Boston College, Dec. 13
This might as well be called the “NTDP All Star Game.” By my count, there will be 11 former NTDP players on the ice in this one, including BC goaltender Thatcher Demko. For much of these rosters, it will be one of their last games on opposite benches before players like Tuch, Milano, Demko, Motte, Compher, Downing and Larkin likely join the World Junior Team.

3. Minnesota at Northeastern, Nov. 29
A night after it plays a huge game at BC – we’ll get to that in a minute – the Gophers will travel to Matthews Arena to play Northeastern. The Huskies can score and they’ll be trying to improve on a defense that allowed the eighth-most goals in Hockey East, despite starter Clay Witt posting the second-best save percentage. That tells you how many shots Northeastern was allowing. But the Huskies will still be a team in the top-half of the Hockey East standings and it doesn’t get any more marquee than a matchup with Minnesota.

2. Quinnipiac at UMass Lowell, Oct. 18
Lowell and Quinnipiac have been surging at a similar time, and will collide early in the season. Just as Lowell has risen to prominence, winning back-to-back tournament titles, Quinnipiac has made a similar move in the ECAC.

1. Minnesota at Boston College, Nov. 28
This, you can’t beat. Two of the most storied programs in college hockey will meet up on Thanksgiving weekend. Take the league out of it, this will be the most anticipated non-conference game of the season across the entire nation. Union won the national title last April, and that’s all that counts, but BC and Minnesota actually finished No. 1 and 2 in the final Pairwise. Union had to knock off both these programs en route to its championship. Like it has in many years, the road to a national title likely goes through Minnesota or BC, if not both.

Honorable Mention: U.S. Under-20 Team vs. Boston University, Dec. 19
It’s only an exhibition, but Jack Eichel and the WJC team against BU should be a fun take.

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, March 18, 2014

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Boston College will go a second straight season without winning a Lamoriello Trophy. The Eagles won’t even be in the championship game, nor will they be at TD Garden. It’s not mind-boggling from a hockey standpoint. Notre Dame’s a great team. Hockey East is a hard league to win — parity and stuff. But, thinking over the last decade in Hockey East, a Championship Weekend without the Eagles in plainly weird.

Massachusetts-Lowell’s win of Hockey East last season ended a three-year title reign for Boston College. Notre Dame’s defeat of the Eagles on Sunday afternoon, to complete a 2-1 series win, clinched the first semifinal group without BC since 2004. That year, the Eagles also lost to the No. 8 seed (Boston University) as the No. 1 seed in three games.

Ultimately, BC’s chances as a national title contender are still as strong as they were before the loss. There aren’t many teams in the country that can stifle BC like Notre Dame did on Friday and Sunday. The Irish are an uncommonly sound defensive team with the type of scoring talent that makes their possession-focused attack so effective. It’ll take a similar effort to prevent BC from coming out of Worcester and advancing to the Frozen Four in Philadelphia.

Even as BC ran away with the Hockey East Regular Season Championship, some problems still existed for BC. Like last season, the club’s young and talented defensive corps just never looked like a championship-level group. At different times, Mike Matheson has been great. At other points, it seemed like he took a step back in his development. Freshmen Steve Santini, Ian McCoshen and Scott Savage have all been great in their first seasons, but they’re still just rookies. Beyond Isaac MacLeod’s consistently strong play, the Eagles have serious issues on the blue line, especially when it comes to defensive breakdowns. The group moves the puck well  and regularly dominates the physical side of the game. It also can make life awfully difficult for BC’s goaltenders.

Losing to Notre Dame won’t change much for BC in terms of tournament locale. The Eagles will still be the No. 1 seed in Worcester (more than likely) and will play a team they’re probably better than. However, a better performance in the Hockey East Tournament may’ve meant the difference between playing the Atlantic Hockey Champion and a strong team from one of college hockey’s power conferences.

BC is as much of a contender as it’s been at any point this season. That level seems to have been greatly exaggerated, though. (more…)

Last Night: Hockey East Playoff Picture

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

The final night of the Hockey East regular season is upon us. The new playoff format has eliminated the type of drama we’re accustomed to. Every team qualifying for at least the preliminary round means each club has at least one game to look forward after Saturday night’s regular-season finale.

Here’s a look at where it all stands now, and what everyone has to lose.

The Champion

Boston College locked up the top seed in the Hockey East Tournament a couple weeks ago, picking up yet another trophy for legendary head coach Jerry York.

The Eagles were idle on Friday, but they host Notre Dame Saturday night at Conte Forum. Within the league, BC has nothing to gain, but a win over the Fighting Irish is especially important for BC in its quest to be the No. 1 overall seed for the NCAA Tournament. Moreover, it’s always an important game when BC and Notre Dame meet in any sport.

Highest Possible Finish: 1st
Lowest Possible Finish: 1st (more…)