Archive for the 'Notes, Thoughts, Ramblings' Category

Big Ten: A Look Into Corsi, Midseason

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

Since there were no games this weekend, I calculated midseason Corsi for all Big Ten teams, including home Corsi, away Corsi, and Corsi in Big Ten competition.

For 5-on-5 play, only Wisconsin and Ohio State had Corsi numbers less than 50 percent in the first half. Wisconsin’s was the worst, at 41.11 percent. Penn State had the highest home Corsi with one of 62.33 percent in 5-on-5 play. Michigan’s 5-on-5 away Corsi of 59.66 percent was the highest, while its Big Ten Corsi of 52.16 percent was also the highest.

Minnesota’s worst 5-on-5 Corsi came during Big Ten play, but the Gophers have hovered around 50 percent possession so far this season. Ohio State fared better at puck possession at home than on the road, where they held a 5-on-5 Corsi of 45.92 percent. The Wolverines, who had the best Corsi numbers of all Big Ten teams, had the highest Corsi on the road, with one of 59.66 percent.

Here are the Corsi numbers: (more…)

NCHC Weekend Preview, Dec. 20-21

Friday, December 19th, 2014

In the only official NCAA Division I games scheduled for this weekend, reigning CHN Team of the Week Nebraska-Omaha (10-4-2, 6-3-1-1 NCHC), winners of three straight after sweeping St. Cloud State a week ago, hosts Alabama-Huntsville (3-13-2, 2-10-0 WCHA) in a two game series. Huntsville’s done well when scoring three goals this season (3-1-1 in those game), but unfortunately for them, the Chargers haven’t done that very often, scoring two goals or less in each of their last five games, all losses. Obviously, they’re faced with a tough road task against a Mavericks team whose resurgence this year has been buoyed by senior Ryan Massa in net and a youth movement up front, with freshmen Jake Randolph, Tyler Vesel, and Avery Peterson among the top scoring rookies in the NCHC and sophomores Jake Guentzel and Austin Ortega (34 points combined) both in the top 30 in scoring nationally.

Since Omaha has the busiest December schedule of any team in the country (eight games when many teams have only two), I’d expect UNO coach Dean Blais to use this weekend as an opportunity to give backup goaltender Kirk Thompson, assuming he’s healthy, some time between the pipes. The sophomore played well in a win at Ohio State in early November. Ranked No. 2 in the current Pairwise, UNO can’t afford a slip-up against a team that objectively it should be able to sweep. I wouldn’t expect a holiday letdown under Blais, but UNO will have to continue to focus on improving its penalty kill, which after allowing two goals on six St. Cloud power play chances last week has given up at least one PPG in five straight games.

In 141 games since the start of the 2010-11 season, UAH has won only 12 times. A sweep this weekend for UNO would give the Mavericks a dozen wins this season already. Prediction: UNO sweeps.

Thoughts on Eichel, Demko Major Junior Rumors

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

It felt foolish even having to ask the question yesterday of some within the BU hockey program, but it was once again necessary after yet another firestorm of rumors out of Canada that Jack Eichel was “jumping ship” to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League after the World Junior Championships concluded.

The response, by the way, after some laughter, was a definitive “no.”

No one at BU is worried about Eichel, yet rumors persist. SportNet’s Junior Hockey Podcast tweeted yesterday that there were “rumors” that Eichel was going to sign with Saint John after the tournament. Host Jeff Marek – who I respect, but he’s way off on this – made an argument for why, in his mind, Eichel should leave college hockey. It’s the old “he’ll play a more pro schedule” argument that we’ve heard a million times.

More games doesn’t make Eichel, or anyone else, a better player. For most 18-year-old stars making the jump to the NHL, which I’d expect Eichel to do after this season, skill isn’t the issue, it’s strength. Playing a 60 or 70-game schedule allows for very little time in the weight room. Playing two games per week at BU, along with a lot more practice time, allows Eichel the chance to get in strength and conditioning work with BU strength coach Anthony Morando, a disciple of the great Mike Boyle.

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Three Things I Think: NCHC, Dec. 16

Tuesday, December 16th, 2014

We’re heading to a quiet stretch in the schedule, following a weekend where CHN Team of the Week Nebraska-Omaha made a big statement with its sweep of St. Cloud State. Western Michigan also performed well, taking an overtime win and a shootout win over a desperate Colorado College team still looking for its first NCHC win of the season.

Instead of looking at UNO’s or WMU’s reasons for success, here’s a closer look at three teams who suffered defeat this past Saturday night.

Kaskisuo pulled

Sure, the Finnish freshman didn’t have the best start on Saturday evening against Michigan Tech, allowing two goals on four shots in the first five minutes of the contest, especially as the second goal came as the result of a weak rebound that followed a mis-play by the netminder. Still, it may have surprised some that UMD coach Scott Sandelin pulled his star goaltender, who had been awarded multiple weekly and national accolades throughout his 14 consecutive starts from the upstart Bulldogs. Kaskisuo was pulled in favor of junior Matt McNeely, who earned a shutout win over Notre Dame at the start of the season. McNeely played regularly as a freshman and only sporadically as a sophomore before giving way to Kaskisuo this year. It was a great decision by Sandelin on Saturday to switch to McNeely for many reasons — above all, it prevents Kaskisuo from being too comfortable as the designated No. 1 starter, reinforcing the need to be sharp at all times and to avoid the sometimes natural letdown the night after a big road win (UMD, of course, beat Michigan Tech a night earlier). McNeely is also a veteran who was able to weather the storm until the Bulldogs tied the game in the third period. Michigan Tech did win late, on Mike Neville’s game winner — his first goal of the season — with less than 20 seconds to play, but the decision to pull Kaskisuo, to wake up a sluggish team on the road, is the type of calculated decision that could pay dividends later in the season.

St. Cloud’s struggles

The memory of St. Cloud’s (6-9-1 overall, 2-5-1 NCHC) back to back wins over Union and Minnesota seems a lot more distant than the reality that those wins came less than two months ago. Now, the Huskies have lost three straight, and four of five, coming off a sweep in Omaha. Yes, the offense has been surprisingly (given the talent) erratic, but more concerning has been the defensive play of St. Cloud’s top lines. On Saturday, like Friday, St. Cloud led heading into the second period and again gave up the lead en route to a 5-3 loss. Saturday was an up-and-down night for the Huskies’ line of Jimmy Murray, David Morley, and Patrick Russell, a line that’s second in scoring on the team and that tied the game on Saturday at 3-3 in the third period. However, the trio was on the ice for four of Omaha’s five goals, in many cases missing defensive opportunities to limit goal-scoring opportunities. Many of St. Cloud’s forwards — particularly their top six — are exceedingly talented. This year, for whatever reason, they’ve given up a ton of goals. Leading scorer Jonny Brodzinski, for instance, has 3 even-strength goals but is a minus-7. Brodzinski also has seven power play goals, and indeed the Huskies have played well in man-advantage situations. The key to turning things around seems to be a need to improve their defensive effort and efficiency in front of goaltender Charlie Lindgren.

DU line change

Friday, Denver earned one of its biggest wins of the season, a 4-1 win over North Dakota in a game where, simply, the Pioneers showed just a bit more poise than UND in what was a physical series all weekend. UND returned that favor on Saturday, then used a couple of creative stretch plays to defeat Denver 3-1 and split the weekend series. Friday, three of Denver’s four goals came from defensemen, and coach Jim Montgomery changed up his top two lines for Saturday, switching Danton Heinen and Ty Loney’s spots on the right wing and thus breaking up the top line of Heinen/Daniel Doremus/Trevor Moore — the top three scorers this season for the Pioneers. Certainly, it seemed like a brilliant move by Montgomery, a surprise change that could give the North Dakota coaching staff more to think about with its defensive pairings and matchups on the road. But neither line produced a point on Saturday, in part because of a more physical and defense-oriented game overall. Also, it was the new Heinen line (paired with Quentin Shore and Zac Larraza) that got caught in a bad second period line change, allowing a quick transition play for North Dakota that culminated in Nick Schmaltz converting a 2-on-1 rush. So, the move may not have worked quite as planned, but it was a bold decision by Montgomery, as we rarely see major lineup changes the night following a big win. Perhaps Montgomery realizes that some periodic changes may help prevent the offense from becoming too stagnant, a problem that the Pioneers have had in the past (though not this year). DU continues to have the luxury of offensive-minded defensemen who can provide goals even when the forwards struggle; four of Denver’s 5 goals this weekend came from the blueline.

Coming soon: On Friday, we’ll preview the only NCHC games (and in fact, the only NCAA Division I games, period) of the upcoming weekend, when Nebraska-Omaha hosts Alabama-Huntsville for a two-game nonconference series.

 

 

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Dec. 16

Monday, December 15th, 2014

It was a non-eventful week in the Big Ten, as two teams played regular-season games. Michigan State defeated Clarkson 6-4, while Michigan fell to Boston College 5-1.

The Badgers faced the NTDP-U18 team in an exhibition game, and lost. Wisconsin actually held a 1-0 lead in that game, but the NTDP scored four times in the last frame. The only positive is NTDP goalkeeper Luke Opilka is a Badger commit.

(After the jump: Midseason thoughts, World Junior preparation and what we expect to happen won’t happen.) (more…)

Big Ten: A Look Into Corsi, Week 10

Monday, December 15th, 2014

Thanks to the winter break, not many Big Ten teams were in action this weekend. Michigan State defeated Clarkson, while both Wisconsin and Michigan lost.

The stats and context are listed below: (more…)

WCHA Weekend Preview, Dec. 12-13

Friday, December 12th, 2014

As the first half of the college hockey season comes to a close, the WCHA has to like where it is sitting. It is the only conference in the country with two teams ranked in the top five and has three teams (No. 1 Minnesota State, No. 5 Michigan Tech, and No. 8 Bowling Green) ranked in the top 10 of the PairWise at the halfway point.

This week marks the final week of the first half for many teams in the league, with the majority returning to action the weekend of Jan. 2-4. Between now and then, Alabama-Huntsville has a two game set at Nebraska-Omaha (Dec. 20-21) and Ferris State and Michigan Tech will take part in the 50th Annual Great Lakes Invitational at Joe Louis Arena, Dec. 28-29, at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit alongside Big Ten foes Michigan and Michigan State. Lake Superior State is participating in the Florida College Classic Dec. 28-29 with Miami, Notre Dame, and Cornell as well.

This weekend, the eyes of the college hockey world will be focused, in part, on the WCHA as No. 4 Michigan Tech squares off with No. 9 Minnesota-Duluth in an intriguing match-up at MacInnes Arena. While that non-conference series highlights the WCHA slate, there are three conference series going on that should help clear the muddled middle of the league standings before the break.

(After the jump: Previewing this weekend’s slate of series in the WCHA)

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NCHC Weekend Preview, Dec. 12-13

Friday, December 12th, 2014

With a 36-17-2 record, the NCHC has the best non-conference record among all Division I conferences (the ECAC a distant second), but much more important this weekend in the NCHC, aside from Minnesota-Duluth’s intriguing trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is which league teams can separate themselves from each other in three big conference showdowns.

Denver (9-4-0, 3-2-0 NCHC) hosts North Dakota (12-3-2, 5-2-1 NCHC):

The potential storylines for this monumental series in Denver this weekend abound, with both teams enjoying exceptional first halves of the season. North Dakota is coming off a sweep of Lake Superior State, while Denver split a two-game set in Ithaca, N.Y., last weekend against Cornell. The amount of high-level explosive talent on the ice at any given time in this game will be enjoyable to watch and at times may seem like an NHL futures exhibition — from the league’s top two scoring rookies (Denver’s Danton Heinen and UND’s Nick Schmaltz), to two of the most accomplished groups of defensemen in the country, to two of the top 10 power play units in the nation.

Both defensive corps are known to contribute offensively, and indeed, each team has three defensemen in its top eight point-scorers, including dynamic blue-liners Joey LaLeggia (Denver) and Jordan Schmaltz (UND). The key to the series, though, may be whether the visiting North Dakota can limit the output of Denver’s top trio of forwards, which includes Heinen in addition to senior Daniel Doremus and sophomore Trevor Moore. Playing on the Pioneers’ top line for most of the time lately, these three lead Denver in scoring, and Doremus enters the weekend with an eight game point streak that has produced four goals and nine assists. All three are typically deployed in power play situations as well, and this weekend they’ll face a North Dakota power play that has killed 21 consecutive opponent chances, a feat of course made possible in part by steady play from reigning NCHC goaltender of the week Zane McIntyre. For Denver, it was rookie Tanner Jaillet who picked up the one win at Cornell last weekend, but I’d expect sophomore Evan Cowley to start the weekend in goal for the Pioneers. Prediction: A weekend split (Denver wins Friday, North Dakota wins Saturday).

Nebraska-Omaha (8-4-2, 4-3-1-1 NCHC) hosts St. Cloud State (6-7-1, 2-3-1-1 NCHC): Like Denver and North Dakota, the net balance for the season’s first few months has been positive, but it didn’t feel like that late Friday night last week, after the Mavericks lost for the third time in five games and did so drastically, 8-2 at Miami. On Saturday, UNO showed its ability, as a young team that has three freshmen and two sophomores comprising its top five point scorers this season, to quickly respond to adversity — and it was a performance that bodes well for UNO’s stretch run following the holidays. Just 24 hours after Friday’s shellacking, UNO toppled Miami 5-2, behind strong goal efforts from Austin Ortega and Jake Randolph, both of whom had registered dismal minus-3 ratings a night earlier.

The Saturday evening showing was notable for its reflection of maturity, despite relative inexperience, and has undoubtedly given the Mavericks some confidence as they welcome an up-and-down St. Cloud State team that, when we last saw them two weeks ago, had split a pair of contests at Bemidji State. The talented Huskies have been in search of building some week to week momentum, the kind that teams like Miami and Minnesota-Duluth have been able to develop recently. Back to back overtime losses to start November (at Minnesota, vs. Minnesota-Duluth) really seemed to set St. Cloud back, but simply put, the Huskies’ top forwards need to be better defensively in front of sophomore goaltender Charlie Lindgren, who is still getting used to playing back to back games every weekend. Prediction: A weekend split (St. Cloud wins Friday, Omaha wins Saturday).

Western Michigan (5-8-1, 1-6-1-1 NCHC) hosts Colorado College (3-10-0, 0-7-0 NCHC): This matchup pits the smallest NCHC school (in terms of enrollment), Colorado College against the largest, Western Michigan. The Tigers’ long road stretch continues, and “long road” is the appropriate term for this CC team that hasn’t yet won a road game (0-8-0), is in the midst of a brutal stretch of 13 out of 14 NCAA games away from Colorado Springs, and is still looking for its first league win of the season. As the records above indicate, however, the Broncos haven’t fared much better in NCHC play this season and look to build on the momentum they generated with back-to-back blowout wins at the Shillelagh Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, just after Thanksgiving.

That weekend, better play from netminder Lukas Hafner and a 5-of-10 performance on the power play propelled Western Michigan to an 8-2 win over defending national champion Union. A subplot this weekend is the individual matchup between the Stoykewych brothers — both defensemen, Peter is CC’s senior captain, while the freshman Paul has played four games for the Broncos this year so far. This week, Peter told Joe Paisley of the Colorado Springs Gazette, “We’re playing for bragging rights over Christmas. Not many people get to play hockey against your brother at this level. It definitely adds to the excitement for this weekend.” Prediction: A weekend split (CC gets its first league win of the year on Friday, WMU rebounds on Saturday).

And in non-conference action:

Michigan Tech (12-2-0, 10-2-0 WCHA) hosts Minnesota-Duluth (11-5-0, 7-3-0 NCHC): UMD is 8-1 in its last nine games and it’s not just because of freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo. This year’s Bulldogs are deeper in terms of offense, more committed in terms of shot-blocking and limiting opponent opportunities, and have found productive roles for players like junior defenseman Andy Welinski (contributing six goals from the blue line) and freshman Karson Kuhlman (five goals already as a rookie). Simple adjustments have allowed UMD to move from a middle-of-the-pack offensive team last year into the No. 12 highest scoring team in the nation this season. They’ll be tested though this weekend at Michigan Tech in this matchup of two of the top three teams in the KRACH ratings and two of the top five in the early volatile Pairwise.

The Huskies have won all but two games this season, but those two were against the WCHA’s other top team, Minnesota State, who split with UMD earlier in the season. Michigan Tech’s only other nonconference opponent before this weekend was a Michigan team early in the season that hadn’t yet found its top form, so for the Huskies, this is a big test to see if they are deserving of the hype that their record has generated. Tanner Kero and Alex Petan have produced consistently for Michigan Tech, typically playing on a line together, and will likely be the focal point of the Bulldogs’ defensive efforts. Prediction: Minnesota-Duluth wins Friday. Tie on Saturday.

Coming soon: Check CHN for features on Denver and North Dakota next week following this weekend’s series.

Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Dec. 12

Friday, December 12th, 2014

With mid-December approaching, most teams have embarked on a midseason break. Minnesota, Penn State and Ohio State are all off this weekend. On Dec. 29, when the break is over, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State will take the ice.

College hockey may be winding down, but the World Junior Championship is quickly approaching. Eight Big Ten players – Ryan Collins, Hudson Fasching, J.T. Compher, Michael Downing, Dylan Larkin, Tyler Motte, Zach Werenski and Jack Dougherty – were named to USA’s preliminary roster.

The conference has two international representations in Penn State’s Erik Autio (Finland) and Minnesota’s Leon Bristedt (Switzerland).

If you missed it, the Big Ten announced a partnership to bring a basketball-hockey doubleheader to Madison Square Garden. From attending, it was clear hockey was an afterthought. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany didn’t say much about its impact on hockey’s expansion, or if the doubleheader can pull attendance despite being so far away from most of the hockey schools.

Michigan travels to Boston College, while the Spartans will host Clarkson. The really struggling Badgers – and I mean really struggling, because defenseman Keegan Ford left the program – play the NTDP in an exhibition game.

Wisconsin (1-10-1) vs. USNTDP U-18: Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.

Wisconsin’s already difficult season became worse when Keegan Ford told Badger coach Mike Eaves he wanted to leave the program. Ford is a Wisconsin legacy, and he was one of the team’s few healthy defenseman. And the rookie blueliner had appeared in every game this season.

The news of Keegan’s departure comes less than a week after Adam Rockwood was ruled out indefinitely because of an enzyme deficiency.

The Badgers were swept last weekend, as Penn State took 5-2 and 4-2 victories at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin is now on a two-game losing streak, but they’ve still only won once this season.

Wisconsin’s game against the NTDP kicks off another long break for the Badgers, who return to regular-season play on Jan. 2. Earlier in the season, Wisconsin had a period where it played one weekend over a month span.

Prediction: Probably the NTDP

Michigan (8-6-0) at Boston College (8-7-1): Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.

After an inconsistent start to the season, the Wolverines are now on a four-game winning streak. Over that period, Michigan has outscored opponents 35-6. But, the eight goals against Penn State are an inflated total – a slew of them happened very late in the game. And the Wolverines beat up on a Jason Kasdorf-less RPI.

And it’s not the offense everyone was worried about. It’s the defense and goalkeeping. To Michigan’s credit, Zach Nagelvoort has taken back the net. He’s started the last seven games, and has improved his save percentage drastically from November.

Boston College lost a lot of key players last season, and the Eagles haven’t been as strong a team. BC has won one of its last three games, a 4-2 contest against New Hampshire.

This isn’t last year’s BC team, but the Eagles might be the toughest test the Wolverines have faced in the past couple of weeks.

Prediction: Michigan wins

Clarkson (6-7-4) at Michigan State (5-9-1): Dec. 14 at 5 p.m.

The Spartans have one win in their last five games, and last weekend Michigan State lost to Minnesota before earning a 3-3 tie. Most of Michigan State’s weekends have resulted in splits.

Clarkson is third in the ECAC with four conference wins. The Golden Knights are 3-2 in their last four games, which includes a win over St. Lawrence. After a seven-game winless streak earlier in the season, Clarkson has turned things around over the past few games.

Joe Zarbo leads Clarkson’s offense with 10 points. Steve Perry has started 14 games and holds a .912 save percentage, helping the Golden Knights allow two goals per game.

Michigan State’s offense is led by Matt Berry, Michael Ferrnantino and Mackenzie MacEachern. Jake Hildebrand has a .906 save percentage.

Prediction: Not sure. Clarkson wins?

Three Things I Think: ECAC 12/9

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Another weekend down and for some teams it is now the winter break, the period of three weeks that most teams have off around Christmas. This to me is the most important time of the year for teams, it is often time a turning point in the year. A key example is Colgate last season, which had a huge second half after a rather mediocre first half.  Consequently it can lead a team in the opposite direction, like Dartmouth just two years ago. The break can either help or hurt a team, so embrace it and hope your team comes out that stronger.

ECAC play has finished for the first half and there are more surprises than there are what most could consider expected. Preseason number one, Colgate has struggled to find consistency in recent weeks and sits in a tie for seventh in the league standings. Preseason number 10, Harvard is the top team tied with preseason number five, Quinnipiac. Clarkson, picked ninth is in third place in the standings. I guess it is safe Seth Appert was right in saying the media and coaches are always wrong in preseason.

Denver and Cornell split at Lynah Rink last week, which for the Big Red is huge. Denver is one of the top five teams in the NCHC, which all were in the top 11 of the pairiwse entering last weekend. I explained in last week’s edition why this series was so big for them and the league. The split kept the ECAC in second place, behind the NCHC in inter-conference records at .559, which is very respectable. Of course the most noteworthy event of the weekend, was the hilarity surrounding the team’s Teddy Bear toss. That made it to deadspin, ESPN, Yahoo and pretty much every news outlet in the country this week. Even Cornell alum Keith Olbermann spotlighted the toss in his hilarious worst persons segment on his ESPN tv show. Any coverage is good and kids saw an ECAC hockey rink on SportsCenter, never a bad thing just we never thought it would be for a Teddy Bear. This will be the last edition of Three Things I Think of 2014, I will be right back at it in 2015. (more…)