Archive for the 'Commentary' Category

Three Things I Think: Defense Win Championships Edition – Feb. 26

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

The ascent of Providence, Massachusetts-Lowell and Merrimack to the top of the Hockey East standings this season led many to point to goaltending as the deciding factor in success or failure in college hockey. Certainly, having a high-quality, reliable netminder is important, and the impact of a great goalie is unquantifiable, especially in the postseason. More than just the man between the pipes, though, Providence, Merrimack and Lowell have another thing in common: they win games because the skaters in front of their goaltender play strong defense.

The way these teams defend are different. They are equally effective, though. Connor Hellebuyck, Sam Marotta and Jon Gillies are very good players. The skaters on these teams, however, are vital to the goalies’ ability to win games. Last weekend, Lowell swept Boston University in a series that brilliantly illustrated the value of a strong defensive philosophy. BU didn’t play poorly in either game. Still, they managed very little offense — just one goal in 120 minutes — and seemed entirely inept offensively. This is uncharacteristic of the Terriers, even during this run of bad play that has been their second half. Lowell simply prevented BU accomplishing anything, especially once they established a lead. The River Hawks executed their system perfectly both nights, and BU had almost no answer for it.

Similarly, Merrimack and Providence play strong defense as well. They allow more shots than Lowell, but they don’t give up many quality scoring chances. At the moment, Lowell allows the fewest shots on goal per game in the league (27).

Compare that to Massachusetts, which allows a shade more at 27.2 per game. The Minutemen, though, have one of the league’s worst defenses in Hockey East. They give up far more grade-A scoring chances than Lowell. Moreover, whatever combination of Kevin Boyle, Jeff Teglia and Steve Mastalerz just isn’t as good as Hellebuyck and Doug Carr. UMass allows far more quality scoring chances than other clubs and has looked defensively uninterested for most of the season.  (more…)

Hockey East Power Rankings, and a Plea to the League

Monday, February 18th, 2013

Dear Hockey East,

Please reconsider the new playoff plan you’re implementing next season. Vermont just swept Northeastern in a huge series. Northeastern now heads to UMass on Tuesday for what is essentially a must-win game. Then this coming weekend, UMass hosts Maine in a series that could wind up deciding both teams’ seasons. Why are all these games so important? Because of that race for the eighth and final playoff spot. Because not all of those teams are going to make the postseason.

This is what makes the Hockey East regular season better than the regular season in any other conference. In other leagues, none of those games I just mentioned would be nearly as important. Sure, they might decide seeding, but they wouldn’t decide seasons. I think I speak for a lot of fans when I say that in a league where everyone makes the playoffs, I don’t really care if someone finishes ninth instead of 10th. Home ice in that new first round is something to shoot for, but there’s no way that race will ever be as exciting or as meaningful as a race for the final playoff spot.

I’m not saying you have to stick to the same eight-team format. In fact, I’d be worried that an eight-team playoff in a 12-team league would lead to too many meaningless games at the end of the regular season for the bottom couple teams. A 10-team playoff would be ideal in my opinion. There are several ways to make this work. One would be the old WCHA format, with first-round series pitting 1 vs. 10, 2 vs. 9, etc., followed by a play-in game between the two lowest remaining seeds prior to the semifinals. Another would be having two play-in games pit 7 vs. 10 and 8 vs. 9 prior to the quarterfinals.


The Takeaway: Holy Cross continues Atlantic Hockey challenge with win over Niagara

Friday, January 18th, 2013

WORCESTER — Holy Cross defeated Atlantic Hockey leading Niagara Friday night at the Hart Center, 5-3. The loss ended a run of form for the visitors, which yielded 11 wins in 13 games and sent the Purple Eagles to the top of the league standings.

The Crusaders dominated puck possession at times and exposed a poor goaltending performance from the Purple Eagles. Senior Brandon Nubb scored two goals for Holy Cross and sophomore Matt Ginn made 38 saves for the victors.

What I Saw

The second period was marked by unusual goals — and certainly ones that the goalies from each team would like the chance to stop again. Early in the frame, Albers attempted to insert the puck into the offensive zone from the near blue line seconds before a line change. It bounced awkwardly into the crease and through Ginn’s legs. Then immediately before the end of the period, the Crusaders experienced luck of their own. Nunn took the puck into the zone and sent it towards Chubak. Just as before on the opposite end, the junior let the puck slowly slide through his legs. (more…)

The Takeaway: Quinnipiac Extends Unbeaten Streak to 13 in Overtime Win

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Jordan Samuels-Thomas notched his third game-winning goal of the season Friday evening, as Quinnipiac defeated Dartmouth at the TD Bank Sports Center, 3-2. With the victory, the Bobcats extend their unbeaten streak to 13 games, and are currently 9-0-0 in conference play and 7-0-0 against ranked opponents. Samuels-Thomas got his previous game-winners against Nebraska-Omaha on Dec. 29 and on Oct. 6 at Maine.

What I Saw

Quinnipiac controlled the first and second period’s, yet Dartmouth played a strong third and and overtime period. The Bobcats took an early lead at 11:09 in the first, when Travis St. Denis collected a rebound and wristed the puck past Charles Grant for the 1-0 advantage.


The Takeaway: BU Slips Past RPI in Overtime, 3-2

Friday, January 4th, 2013

BOSTON — Boston University defeated Rensselaer, 3-2, in overtime at Agganis Arena Friday night. The Terriers put 40 shots on RPI senior goaltender Bryce Merriam. With two minutes left in the extra frame, sophomore Cason Hohmann skated through the right slot and launched a quick wrist shot above the left blocker of Merriam. The deciding goal came after the Terriers dominated the third period and continued to generate scoring chances in overtime.

What I Saw

During the first period, the Engineers maintained a strong defensive shape and frustrated BU’s efforts to engage the offensive zone. RPI started the scoring in the middle of the frame, as sophomore Ryan Haggerty scored quickly off a face-off. The Terriers responded several minutes later after freshman Mike Moran danced into the crease from behind the net and put a shot on Merriam. Then, senior Ryan Santana quickly converted the rebound to tie the score.


The Takeaway: Merrimack snaps winless skid at Providence

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Josh Myers’ third-period goal proved to be the difference as Merrimack College snapped a five-game winless skid with a 2-1 win on the road at Providence College.

The Warriors picked up their first victory since beating Vermont on Oct. 26. It was the Warriors’ longest winless skid in three years.

Brian Christie also scored for the Warriors, who got 34 saves from first-year goaltender Rasmus Tirronen. Tim Schaller scored for the Friars and Jon Gillies stopped 22 shots.


The Takeaway: St. Lawrence takes down Northeastern, 5-2

Saturday, November 24th, 2012

BOSTON – An early lead for Northeastern turned out to be just that after St. Lawrence capitalized on a a sluggish second period from the Huskies and took the game, 5-2. With the win, the Saints moved to 6-3-2 on the season while Northeastern fell to 2-6-1.

The Huskies opened up the scoring when Ludwig Karlsson took a feed from Dan Cornell out by the blue line and shot high with a wrister that went above goaltender Matt Weninger to make it 1-0 at 12:25 in the first period. As the final seconds of that first period ticked off, St. Lawrence’s offense broke up the Northeastern defense which made it possible for Greg Carey to get right in front of Bryan Mountain, deke, and beat him with a backhand shot to tie it up going into the second.

The Saints carried that momentum with them, capitalizing on a power play chance caused by a hooking call on Dustin Darou. The power play combination of leading scorers Kyle Flanagan and Greg Carey set up the opportunity for Gunnar Hughes 16 seconds into the power play to make it a 2-1 Saints lead, one they wouldn’t give up throughout the latter half of the game.

Flanagan notched one of his own at 13:05 in the second, taking a feed from Patrick Doherty while positioned perfectly between the circles to beat Mountain. That closed out the second period scoring, but Chris Martin and Pat Raley would each score one in the third to give St. Lawrence a 5-1 lead.

Northeastern added a late goal to cut the deficit when Dax Lauwers scored his first goal as a Husky for a 5-2 final.


The Takeaway: UMass recovers from bad loss, defeats UVM

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

AMHERST, Mass. — Massachusetts shook off an 8-2 loss two nights earlier to rival UMass Lowell to earn a 3-1 victory over Vermont Tuesday night at the Mullins Center. Junior Branden Gracel scored twice for the Minutemen against a Vermont team that strove to limit scoring chances for its opponent.

UMass goaltender Kevin Boyle earned the start after the spending the entire 8-2 debacle watching from the bench. The sophomore made 24 saves and killed off four Vermont power plays along with his defense.


Three Up, Two Down, WCHA: Nov. 20

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012


Chris Knowlton, Forward, Denver

Knowlton had a very respectable year in 2011-12 – he recorded 19 points in 30 games – but his stats to this point in 2012-13 are blowing those out of the water. Through 10 games, Knowlton has eight goals and 13 points, including seven points in his last three outings. His breakout is one reason why the Pioneers are the WCHA’s best team at this point in the season.

Adam Wilcox, Goaltender, Minnesota

After letting four pucks past him in a Saturday night loss in Mankato a few weeks ago, Wilcox has been lights out. In the four games since then, he’s allowed just five tallies and he’s making game-changing stops to help Minnesota pull out wins even when it hasn’t played its best hockey.

Danny Kristo, Forward, North Dakota

With North Dakota trailing UMD in Saturday night’s third period, Kristo did what Kristo does best and simply made plays. When the Danny Kristo show was over, UND had pulled out a come from behind overtime win to salvage a three-point weekend against the Bulldogs. For the series, Kristo had five points and was the best player on the ice for either team whenever he stepped on it.


Josh Thorimbert, Goaltender, Colorado College

Thorimbert hasn’t seen a lot of rubber in the past four games (only 88 shots, or about 22 per night), but he’s let quite a few pucks behind him during that stretch (13 goals against, good for an .852 saves percentage). For a team that thought it had the problem of two good goalies, the Tigers have to be hoping for more out of the Thorimbert-Joe Howe duo in the near future.

John Ramage, Defenseman, Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s best defender has exactly zero points as his team reaches Thanksgiving, but that’s not the player he is asked to be and no one is expecting Ramage to be a point-per-night guy. Instead, he’s supposed to be the shutdown, in your face blue-liner that plays the hard minutes against the other team’s best forwards. So how well is Ramage doing his job lately? In the last three games, he’s been on the ice for five of the eight goals the Badgers have given up, including the game-winner on Saturday against Minnesota when he went for a big hit, missed and allowed the Gophers the time and space to capitalize in crunch time.

Three Up, Three Down, WCHA: Nov. 13

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012


Rylan Schwartz, Forward, Colorado College

After beginning the season with just five points through eight games, Schwartz officially broke loose against Bemidji State last weekend, notching five points (two goals, three assists) while helping the Tigers to a big WCHA sweep over the Beavers. That’s the Rylan Schwartz we expected to see, and it’s probably safe to say that he’s not finished putting up crooked numbers on a week-by-week basis.

Tony Cameranesi, Forward, Minnesota Duluth

For a team struggling to find consistent scoring, Cameranesi has been a welcomed addition to the Bulldogs. In his first eight collegiate outings, Cameranesi is second on the team in points with seven, including four in a series at Omaha last weekend. He’s probably UMD’s best center at this point, too, and he’s getting top-six ice time in all situations because of it.

Ryan Walters, Forward, Nebraska-Omaha

The Mavericks have won four in a row after starting the season with spotty play, and a big reason why has been the play of Walters. After opening with just three points in seven games, he’s gone off in his last three outings, posting eight points during that span. Last weekend against UMD, he had a pair of goals and three assists to spark the Mavs to a big series sweep.


Zach Palmquist, Defenseman, Minnesota State

Last week’s WCHA Defensive Player of the Week wasn’t quite as good this weekend, to say the least. While his Minnesota State team was being swept in Denver, Palmquist recorded no shots, was a minus-3 and was on the rink for five of the Pioneers’ seven goals on the weekend.

Jordan George, Forward, Bemidji State

Coming off a season where he tallied almost 20 goals – he fell just a single goal shy – George has only a single goal so far this season. He’s supplemented that tally with just three assists, which is part of the reason why the Beavers average only 2.7 goals a game.

Nick Bjugstad, Forward, Minnesota

Sure, Bjugstad’s five goals in nine games is a good amount, but it’s not exactly what was expected out of Bjugstad. He’s only recorded a pair of assists and one multi-point game so far, which is way down from his production at this point last season, when he had 13 points and five multi-point games in the same span. For the Gophers to get the consistency in non-power play situations, Bjugstad has to be the Bjugstad we all expected him to be.