— Call me crazy, but I’m still not 100 percent sold on UNH. Sure, the Wildcats are improved over a year ago, but anyone who follows analytics will look at UNH’s 106 PDO and say to themselves, “something’s got to give.” The Wildcats have Vermont this weekend, a team that is struggling to get going, and then is at the rebuilding UMass Minutemen the week after. The true litmus test for UNH will begin on Nov. 10, when the Wildcats begin a stretch that includes games against Lowell, BU, BC, Yale and Providence. It’s a seven-game stretch where four will be on the road.
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Last week may have been Homecoming Weekend at Merrimack College, but this weekend will serve as a legitimate homecoming for one Warrior.
Merrimack senior captain Jared Kolquist is from Hermantown, Minnesota, which is just a couple of miles from Minnesota Duluth’s campus. Kolquist played four varsity seasons at Hermantown High School and was all-conference as a junior and senior while also being named to Team Minnesota those two seasons.
As as a senior at Hermantown, Kolquist was selected to the Duluth Area All-Star Game and was named All-State by the Associate Press. His 118 career points set a Hermantown High School career record for defensemen.
According to Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy, this weekend’s series at UMD was spark, in essence, to give Kolquist the opportunity to play in front of his friends and family. UMD assistant, Jason Herter, is on the board of College Hockey Inc. with Dennehy and according to UMD radio man Bruce Ciskie, credit Denney with setting up this weekend so Kolquist could have a homecoming.
Earlier this week, the New Jersey Devils recalled two of Hockey East’s most underrated players from two of the league’s most memorable teams in recent memory.
Kevin Rooney was called up for his first NHL action over the weekend after signing an NHL contract last week. Rooney had been playing with the Devils’ AHL affiliate in Albany. Rooney was never a big scorer for the Friars — he scored just 36 points in his career — but he was arguably the heart and soul of the Providence team that won a national championship in 2015. It’s no mistake that Rooney was voted team captain the following season as a senior.
The Canton, Mass. native skated on Providence’s top line with Mark Jankowski and Brandon Tanev through the 2015 NCAA Tournament, but he wasn’t there to score goals, he was there to shut down the best player on the other team. As the No. 4 seed in the East Regional that season, the Friars were the road team throughout the tournament, and weren’t given the benefit of a last change. So, when Boston University rolled Jack Eichel’s line, for instance, out against Jankowski’s, it was Rooney who was often tasked with one of the most difficult assignments — shut down that top line.
After that championship run, several Hockey East coaches that summer praised the work of Rooney throughout the tournament, and coaches were well aware of having to game plan against his matchup the following season.
The Devils also recalled former Merrimack defenseman Karl Stollery, who was a junior on the Merrimack team that won 25 games in 2011 and a senior on the Merrimack team that was the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
Stollery was often lost in the shuffle, as far as praise goes, behind players like Stephane Da Costa and Joe Cannata. But, Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy would say oftentimes during those two seasons that Stollery was the team’s workhorse, logging 30 minutes per night at least. Dennehy has even admitted, in the years following Stollery’s time, that there were nights he even pushed close to 40 minutes.
Over Stollery’s final two seasons, Merrimack posted a record of 43-22-11.
On Wednesday, Stollery and Rooney were both sent back to Albany, but given their work ethic, it wouldn’t be surprising to see both called up for more action in New Jersey.
Believe it or not, the final weekend of the regular season will be upon us in just two weeks. For the rest of the season, we’ll take a weekly look at remaining strength of schedule, and how it could affect the final Hockey East standings. To do this, we’ll use a team’s individual KRACH rating, alongside an average of the KRACH rating, per game, of their remaining opponents.
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.
IT’S NOT WHO YOU’D THINK …
Let’s take a look at some surprises around Hockey East when it comes to scoring. There are several players among team leading scorers that no one predicted back in September. First, let’s start at BU, where Patrick Harper is the leading scorer and not first-round pick Clayton Keller. At BC all the talk was Colin White and Ryan Fitzgerald, yet there are four players who top them on BC’s list. Mitchell Fossier, not touted freshman Chase Pearson, leads the scoring at Maine. UNH is being led by rookie Patrick Grasso, and not returning 50-point scorer Tyler Kelleher. Up in Vermont, sophomore Craig Puffer has almost matched his point total from all of last season, leading the Catamounts in scoring to start the year.
— Boston College is quietly on a six-game unbeaten streak after starting the year 1-2, including a loss to Air Force. The Eagles have scored four goals or more in four of those six games and have scored six or more three times. Despite the offensive output — the Eagles have 35 goals in nine games — they have not a single player scoring more than one point per game. Matthew Gaudreau and Chris Brown lead the team with eight points in nine games and Colin White and Casey Fitzgerald have seven points in eight games. The scoring has been spread out, with 15 different players scoring at least one goal and nine players scoring two or more; BC has six players with at least three goals. It’s all about depth at BC right now, with Joseph Woll (.931) playing more than well between the pipes.
– For all the talk of what Providence lost heading into this season, the Friars have the best even-strength Corsi in Hockey East (60.1%) and it’s fifth-best in the nation. Yeah, they’re 1-2, and yeah, they lost to Holy Cross, but the Friars record will improve if the possession stats remain that high. Also, quality possession like that, even with so many new players in new roles, speaks to how good Providence’s coaching is. There’s no getting around it, Nate Leaman and Norm Bazin (Lowell keeps chugging along) are two of the best in the business right now.
Providence’s PDO is just 95.87 right now, in large part due to a team save percentage of .889. I’m expecting that to be a lot better, and even the Friars’ 7.0 shooting percentage is likely to come up. The possession metrics tell us that Providence has had the puck a lot, they just haven’t been finishing it. At the same time, opponents are finishing chances despite possessing the puck for less time. It’s three games, that’s not a trend that will continue all season.
— Clayton Keller has been the name almost everyone is talking about when it comes to BU, and for good reason. You’re not the No. 7 overall pick in the NHL Draft by accident. Keller could be in the NHL next season. To some extend, Patrick Harper’s incredible start to the season has been lost in the shuffle, what with him only being a fifth-round draft pick, and not a first-round pick like most of the other players on his team. Harper had two goals at Colgate on Saturday night, and three more in the exhibition. This isn’t a newfound skill for him, either. He had 20 goals in 27 prep games last season and 19 goals in 13 midget games. Between Avon Old Farms and the Neponset Valley River Rats U18 team, he’s been averaging almost one goal per game the last two seasons combined.
With Notre Dame’s departure from Hockey East coming at the end of the 2016-17 season, the league is moving forward with plans for an 11-team schedule beginning with the 2017-18 season.
According to several sources, plans were discussed by league athletic directors and administrators over the course of this summer, and while nothing has been formally finalized, the leading scenario would include a 24-game league schedule with all 11 teams qualifying for the Hockey East tournament. Currently, Hockey East utilizes a 22-game league schedule (11 opponents x 2 games), however many coaches wanted to see more league games added in an effort to minimize the number of non-conference games that need to be scheduled on a yearly basis.
Expansion plans for a 12th team have been discussed, but nothing is imminent. It appears that the league is willing to wait for the right fit and won’t be in a rush to court another program just to get the league back to 12 teams. After all, Hockey East functioned for many years as a nine-team league. While an even number of teams is ideal from a scheduling standpoint, it’s certainly not necessary.
The proposed 24-game schedule would consist of:
- Two games against each of the other 10 Hockey East opponents broken into one home and one away game, with exceptions made for Vermont and Maine (2 home or 2 away, alternating yearly).
- The final four league games would be determined by an algorithm based on the standings from the previous season. Those four games would include two home games and two road games.
- Each team would play 12 home games and 12 road games.
Everything is pretty normal until we get to that second bullet point, where it’s been proposed that they utilize a weighted schedule. Teams can fluctuate so much from year to year, especially with the graduation of a large senior class or a slew of pro signings. However, there’s no fair way to project regression. It’s similar to the old league schedule where teams would play opponents three times, two on one campus and one at the other. There seems to be much more thought going into this proposed schedule, whereas before the 2-and-1 format felt like it was randomized, alternating on a year-by-year basis.
It has also been proposed that all 11 teams make the Hockey East tournament, with the top-5 teams getting byes in the first round and 6 vs. 11, 7 vs. 12 and 8 vs. 9 determining the final three spots in the quarterfinals. Many believed, when Hockey East adopted the format where all teams qualified, that it was done so in an effort to help the team seeded fifth. Within a 12-team league, that fifth team would host the last-place team for a series at home, more often than not giving them two more wins in the Pairwise which could help Hockey East get another team into the NCAA Tournament. That rationale won’t exist in a format where the top-5 teams receive byes.