This weekend again there are two Big Ten series with Michigan State traveling to Penn State and the Gophers hosting the Wolverines. Wisconsin has a bye week while Ohio State will host Arizona State.
Archive for the 'Notes, Thoughts, Ramblings' Category
As the season goes along I try to find trends within how teams are playing and the form of each. Although I have seen the struggle of ECAC teams in non-conference play, I know that the quality of games in the league isn’t down. This season teams have been filling holes from last season, left and right, but as a league fans can point to the five ECAC teams in the top 18 of the Pairwise to realize maybe things aren’t so bad. The thing with that is, is the top teams have a ton of wins, while the bottom teams have struggled to pick up points against them. The top three (Union, SLU and Harvard) have a combined 22-3-4 record, while the bottom six are 12-37-5 in ECAC play this season.
One interesting stat that I have found, is that although defenses are struggling the offenses are still clicking at a high rate. In comparison to last year, most teams have a higher goals/game ratio. At this time last season, there were just two ECAC teams that were averaging north of three goals a game, Quinnipiac (3.78) and Harvard (3.93). The rest of the league was tightly bunched in a range from 188.8.131.52 goals a game.
This season the Crimson are off the charts at 4.58 goals scored a game, while Union (3.90), Yale (3.21), Clarkson (3.19), St. Lawrence (3.18) and Princeton (3.0) are each averaging higher than three. That realistically proves what many know, many teams are rebuilding defenses and the goaltending is a tad down from the last season. I suppose most fans like this kind of hockey and teams have adjusted to their strengths. Whatever it is most teams are scoring at higher rates.
Also read my thoughts on RPI’s Struggle this season, I feel they are an important case study of what can happen when things go seriously wrong.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts for the week… (more…)
The second half of the season officially began and the four games this weekend were not very surprising. Wisconsin swept Michigan State while Penn State and Ohio State split. a bunch of NCAA players, including a few from the Big Ten, secured gold at the World Juniors on Thursday and then returned home – although they did not play on Friday (understandably). The Wolverines, who were off, held their alumni game against Red Wings alumni to benefit Scott Matzka, who has ALS.
The Gophers, who were also off, are tied for first with Penn State and Wisconsin, who all have nine points. Ohio State is fourth with six points (remember, regulation and overtime wins count for three points) and Michigan is fifth with three. The Spartans still have no conference points, and each team has played four Big Ten contests.
Luke Kunin, after captaining America to gold, was back in Wisconsin to watch the Badgers win 5-1 over the Spartans. On Saturday Kunin helped the Badgers win 5-1 after potting two goals. Matt Jurusik returned from his injury on the same day and stopped 20 shots. Michigan State’s Ed Minney made 61 saves over the weekend.
Tanner Laczynski was another World Junior gold medalist, although he didn’t play for the Buckeyes over the weekend. Ohio State won 3-0 on Friday and then fell 4-2 with a last-minute comeback attempt failing. Without one of their leading scorers, Ohio State got five goals from three different players while Christian Frey made 46 saves in the win and 39 saves in the loss. Peyton Jones stopped 24 in the win and 18 in the loss. While freshman Denis Smirnov was kept from scoring, his assist on Saturday gave him 28 points – a new program record for points in a single season by a freshman.
Michigan’s Joe Cecconi and Minnesota’s Ryan Lindgren also came home with gold, although both their teams were off.
(After the jump: What this means for Penn State, the problem for Ed Minney and what Wisconsin’s offense should be)
The Denver Pioneers welcomed back forward Troy Terry on Saturday, just 48 hours after his shootout goal against Canada propelled Team USA to a memorable gold medal win at the World Junior Championships. You can ready all about the homecoming — and his now famous ‘5-hole’ shootout strategy — here.
But another layer to Terry’s story this week was his palpable humility. After Saturday’s 6-1 win by the Pioneers vs. Arizona State — Terry had 2 goals, 3 assists — the 19-year old sophomore fielded question after question about his week. First beating Russia. Then Canada. Then the social media attention from celebrities and professional athletes.
Clearly grateful, he seemed to catch himself often, making sure to deflect some of the attention.
When I wrote a feature in November on RPI it was just a struggling hockey team that was trying to find rhythm and momentum. I felt as though it would turn it around during the second half or late in the first semester. It had points where it seemed like that would be the case. Even then, the Engineers were in games until the end. There was a 3-2 loss against Ohio State, a 3-1 loss to St. Lawrence, it led by two against Yale, late, only to have the Bulldogs come roaring back to win in overtime and there was an overtime defeat on the road to Union. Albeit losses, they weren’t ones that would get anyone’s head shaking.
Unfortunately, the results since then have been downright embarrassing and things have gone from bad to worse. As a Program, it is also approaching some program low-marks if the current trends continue.
Since I wrote that feature, the Engineers have won just once, to Arizona State, have gone a paltry 1-8-0 and are on a current seven game losing streak. It isn’t as if the Engineers are just losing nail-biters in their current seven game losing streak, either. They have given up five or more goals in six of those games and six or more in four of them. During the skid, they had a three-goal lead against Princeton evaporate in a game it ended up losing in overtime. In the third period and overtime, the Engineers put four shots on goal, while the Tigers had 30. Other than that the closest game was against Quinnipiac, a 4-1 defeat that they were outshot 51-15 in.
On the season, the Engineers have a -2.09 goal margin, which is the worst in the ECAC (next worst Brown -1.64). That margin is also the second worst in the country, to Niagara’s 2.35 margin a game. During the seven game skid that I talked about above, that margin shoots to -3.43 per game (39-15 or 5.57-2.14 per gm). For perspective, by the way, 50 out of 60 teams in college hockey have a loss/win margin of less than 1.0 and another five teams have a better goal margin than 1.35. RPI and Niagara are outliers, as they are the only two that have margins of greater than 1.75.
These are not results that RPI or any team in a major conferences should be having. No team in the country should be consistently allowing six goals a night and no team should be losing by 3.14 over a period of nine games. In most of those games, the result isn’t inflated by empty-net goals.
Usually there is more to blame when a college hockey program falls from grace than just a coach or a coaching staff, but the onus in these circumstances always falls there. Teams with the history and backing like RPI usually have a quick trigger, but lets also remember Seth Appert is still under contract until 2020-21. Unless some alum steps forward a buyout would be pricey and probably unreasonable.
That contract was signed in 2013, a season after RPI had a second place finish. The best finish since was last year, when the Engineers finished in a tie for fifth. It bowed out in the quarterfinals, being outscored 13-4 over two nights. Honestly, this year I figured they would come close to that, but it hasn’t happened. There is always some responsibility at that level and based on RPI fans I have read and talked to there certainly is.
As I was digging through the RPI team history, the Engineers are on pace to have its second worst season in its DI hockey history, the worst by percentage was in 1965-66 when it went 3-19-0 (13.64 win pct.). The winning percentage this season, is at a paltry 15.2 percent and over the last few weeks has been falling quickly.
The 19 losses it currently has is already the ninth most, in a season, since it became a founding member of the ECAC, in 1961-62. With 14 more games left in this season there are many more that can be added. Of note, the largest loss total that the engineers have had in a season, is 27 in ’08-09 and 26 in ’14-15, each in the last decade under Appert.
The fewest wins in a season it has had in the ECAC is era is three (65-66) but teams only played 22 games then. This season, the Engineers are on pace for just five, after rounding up from 4.86. This would be astronomically low for the RPI program, considering only once since 1970 has it even been in the single-digits.
It is tough to point to what exactly has gone wrong, but it is clear that defensively there have been some problems, as I mentioned above. There also comes the fact the Engineers have been outshot by an average of 10 on goal per game and giving up an inflated 36.39 shots per game. They have a 43.7 percent corsi that is sixth worst in the country.
Usually when a team is under pressure as much as RPI is, there will be trouble, unless they have great goaltending and a good system in place that keeps those attempts to the outside. Even then at 37 shots allowed per game, a goalie would need to have a .95 save percentage just to allow just two goals and a .92 to keep it to three. This is what RPI has had in the recent past, but now those areas seem to be a trouble.
Whatever has happened to RPI in recent weeks, is something that shouldn’t happen to a team of RPI’s stature, in the ECAC. No program in the country is immune to these seasons, however, they happen. For a program like RPI’s, which has two national titles to its credit, this season has brought about a sad state of affairs. If things don’t turn quick, the blame has to go somewhere I suppose but is there really a sign it will? Lets just hope, it does turn around to some degree.
Three years ago, the last time Hockey East ran a Frozen Fenway, I wrote this column where I grumpily told you why outdoor hockey has lost its novelty, and in reality, it’s not fun or special anymore.
Now three years wiser, I’d like to take that column back. At least certain elements of it.
Truthfully, I mostly still feel the same way I did in 2014. To me, the novelty has worn off. To me, it’s growing old.
But the thing is, these games aren’t about me.
Conference play, and the official second half of the season, starts this year. Wisconsin, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State are in action, while Michigan and Minnesota are off and will resume next weekend when they face each other. Currently
Luke Kunin, Joe Cecconi, Ryan Lindgren and Tanner Laczynski all spent the last week-plus at World Juniors. They should be back in time for the weekend, but some players are still question marks for this weekend.
This seems to be, again, the year of scoring for the Big Ten. Four Big Ten teams are in the to 15 in scoring – Penn State, Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin. I think this year, like last year, the offensive production is a mix of talent and of poor defense and goaltending.
Last year’s theme was how weak and inconsistent the conference was, and so far it looks like more inconsistency as the second half of the season begins. But we’ll see. Before I go, though, here’s my “revised” Big Ten prediction:
1. Ohio State
4. Penn State
6. Michigan State
Although I haven’t written one of these in a while, I have been able to see a lot of ECAC teams in action. Now that most of the non-conference slate is over, teams will start looking towards conference play with earnest and in need of points. Union, St. Lawrence and Harvard seem to be in good positions, I will talk about QU in a second. All three of those teams have looked like the dominant teams for much of the first half and I expect the second half to be the same. Based on what I have seen thus far, I expect Harvard to end up at the top by a healthy margin, but that is why they play the games. Cornell might also be in good position, because it will have games in hand, but we will see how those pan out. Make sure to check out the CHN standings page for all the info there.
One team in particular, Quinnipiac, needs points this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth on the road this week. Quinnipiac sits in third coming into the week, but is disadvantaged in the coming weeks. After this weekend, Cornell will have six games in hand and trail the Bobcats by just four points in the standings. SLU in second has a three point lead on QU, but will have a three game cushion. Clarkson is two points back and will have a possible eight points in hand. QU needs wins this weekend if it is to finish in the top four. Even Union, currently in first and four points up will have three. That said, my fifth place preseason prediction is feeling pretty comfortable right now, unless QU starts winning.
As far as the national picture is concerned, it is a slog unless teams at the top win a ton in conference. It isn’t impossible, but the ECAC tends to beat itself up.
Union’s game against BU tonight, should be interesting as the Terriers are missing seven to the US World Junior team that plays for gold tonight. Harvard’s Adam Fox also plays and it is conceivable that he misses the weekend, at least Friday night, but he may have a good consolation prize. Honestly, I am writing this from Montreal and am really looking forward to that game. Fox made the turnover that led to the Russian tying goal last night, but his team made amends by winning in the shootout, well Troy Terry did.
Union’s key loss to North Dakota, although promising for them regardless of what Bennett said postgame, will come back to bite. I will talk about this more below. Cornell’s loss to NCHC’s Colorado College will hurt and SLU’s loss to Vermont on Tuesday could all be painful, The ECAC currently has two, Harvard and Union, in the top eight of the Pairwise, while SLU, Quinnipiac and Cornell are all on the outside looking in barely in the top 20. Clarkson is a good case study going forward because it has decent non-conference wins and if it starts picking up conference wins, they could shoot up. Time will tell.
Now that the maintenance items are past, here are my thoughts for the week. (more…)
Happy New Year! It’s the first 2017 edition of Three Things I Think. A few teams have already kicked off the 2017 portions of their schedules, mostly through holiday tournaments (which I think shouldn’t exist, but more on that later). The first holiday tournament, the Great Lakes Invitational, ended with Michigan and Michigan State facing each other in the Big Ten consolation game, I mean the GLI consolation game. Michigan narrowly won that contest in overtime. The Wolverines dropped the opening round to Michigan Tech while the Spartans fell to Western Michigan.
At the Mariucci Classic, Minnesota reclaimed its home tournament after defeating…. UMass and Mercyhurst. Nothing to write home about. The Gophers won by a combined score of 9-2, and I’d be surprised if they hadn’t. Ohio State was the only other Big Ten team in action as the Buckeyes lost to Miami 6-3.
(After the jump: Penn State’s pairwise, holiday tournaments and each team’s New Year’s Resolution.)
The teams finished the last weekend of play and the results weren’t very surprising. The Big Ten – and the teams in it – have been pretty inconsistent since the league’s second year. Michigan and Wisconsin split, while the Gophers swept the Spartans. The Gophers are currently first with nine points but also have played two more games than all teams except for Michigan. Penn State is second with six. Reember – each regulation/OT win counts for three points because of the added shootout wins.
The Badgers held on for a 7-4 win on Friday night but the Wolverines took down the Wisconsin 4-1 on Saturday. Hayden Lavigne played in both games and earned the win on Saturday but allowed six goals on Friday. Zach Nagelvoort also played on Friday.
Minnesota won both games 4-2, and the Spartans struck first in both contests. The Gophers scored four unanswered on Saturday to win the game while they netted three of the last four goals on Friday to take the win.
There have also been a few injuries in the Big Ten this year – notably Wisconsin’s Trent Frederic and Matt Jurusik, both of whom missed some games. (Ferderic is back but Jurusik is not). But you can add another freshman phenom, Will Lockwood, to the list. Lockwood was hit from behind last weekend and suffered an injury. Per Wolverine 247’s Zach Shaw, sources said Lockwood has a dislocated shoulder and there is no timetable for his return.
(After the jump: What we know so far, Penn State’s second half and what teams need to work on for half No. 2)
What we know so far
Well, not much. Conference play has only just begun and the first half of the season never gives us much ti interpret. The two things about the conference we know for certain are that goaltending is still having a down year, scoring is still better than defense and the freshmen are making a big impact.
Penn State’s Denis Smirnov leads all rookies nationally with 27 points for 1.80 points per game. Tanner Laczynski is tied for second in the country amongst freshmen with 20 points. The Buckeye rookie has averaged 1.22 points per game and has tallied six goals. In the Big Ten, those are in the league top three for scoring. On the other side, redshirted Jerad Rosburg is having a great season for the Spartans defensively. And between Jack Berry, Hayden Lavigne, Jack LaFontaine and Peyton Jones, the freshmen are getting some good chances in net.
Big Ten defenses have been lagging since last year (a combination of bad defenses and really talented offenses) and that trend has continued. Lavigne has the best save percentage, and he’s a good goaltender, but most goaltenders are hovering close to .900 or below – including both of Ohio State’s netminders, Wisconsin’s netminders and Eric Schierhorn. And as far as offense goes, the Big Ten has four teams in the top 10 nationally – Penn State (first – 4.87 goals per game), Ohio State (second – 4.53 goals per game), Minnesota (T-6 – 3.62 goals per game) and Wisconsin (T-9 – 3.44 goals per game).
We’re in for another inconsistent year and, if Minnesota doesn’t strengthen, could see another season without a clear favorite for the Big Ten tournament. At this point the Gophers are probably still the favorite, but the Buckeyes are a close second.
Penn State’s Second Half
Penn State is in the midst of a long break. The Nittany Lions last played on Dec. 2 and won’t play for over a month with their next game slated for Jan. 6. While Penn State’s second-half schedule isn’t very difficult, it’s still tougher than the first half. And teams like Minnesota, Ohio State and even Wisconsin can pose threats on the offensive end.
This season playing in the Big Ten equals a relatively easy route through an automatic bid through the conference tournament. But Penn State would still need a first-day bye to have a chance at winning the tournament, so things get crucial once the calendar flips to 2017. These teams are still a little tougher than most teams Penn State played in the first half, and the Nittany Lions have a lot to prove. The key question here is if Guy Gadowsky’s game plan of “shoot as much as you can” will work against these teams. My guess is it won’t work so well against Ohio State, Minnesota and Wisconsin, because matches against those programs turns into more of an offensive, back-and-forth, transition shootout.
What teams need to work on for half No. 2
The big thing is consistency. I don’t like saying consistency because it’s an odd concept to peg as a weakness – how do you fix consistency? So the key is if Minnesota can get stronger down the road and can Ohio State, which traditionally loses in the first half and wins in the second, keep its stretch of second-half success alive.
Another big issue is defense and goaltending. Michigan’s Hayden Lavigne is probably the league’s best goaltender but Michigan’s defense is not good. Maybe Lavigne can steal games for them in the second half, but a Will Lockwood-less offense might not be able to help enough on the other end. You can apply this to Michigan State, although their offense is improving and Ed Minney’s numbers in net do not look good.
With Penn State it’s near impossible to tell. To know a teams weakness you first have to know the tea, but it’s hard to know a team when they play an easy non-conference schedule. And the teams Penn State will face now are much different, and that might change Penn State’s game plan of possessing the puck and shooting around.
And lastly for Wisconsin… Unfortunately for the Badgers, turnovers and defensive mistakes will happen when young players are being creative offensively. That should shake away as the season progresses, but the Badgers aren’t particularly strong – nor have been in a while – on the defensive end anyway.