Archive for the 'Notes, Thoughts, Ramblings' Category

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…)

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, March 18

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Minnesota clinched the first Big Ten conference title on Friday with an overtime win against Michigan. Kyle Rau scored the game winner, and Gophers’ senior class became the first at Minnesota to win three-straight conference titles.

The Badgers finished the regular season in second place, Michigan third and Penn State last. Ohio State split the series with Penn State while Michigan State also split with Wisconsin, leaving the Buckeyes with the fourth seed and the Spartans with the fifth.

After the weekend, Minnesota is No. 1 in PairWise rankings and Wisconsin is No. 5. While the rankings will change during the conference tournaments, the Gophers and Badgers should make the NCAA Tournament regardless.

The Wolverines have the most at stake this weekend, as they are currently 11th in the PairWise. If they defeat the Nittany Lions in the first game, the Wolverines should make the NCAA Tournament.

(After the jump: Big Ten Awards, playoff uncertainty, Michigan possibly getting hot) (more…)

Big Ten Hockey Releases Inaugural Awards

Monday, March 17th, 2014

The Big Ten released its inaugural conference awards, which include the Player of the Year, Goaltender of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year.

Some of the media (myself included) weren’t asked to vote, but I compiled my own awards.

A lot of the choices I agree with and a lot of them are close calls. Adam Wilcox earned a first team selection as well as the goaltender and player of the year awards. I would’ve put Wisconsin’s Joel Rumpel on the First Team and made him the Goaltender of the Year — but only by a very, very slim margin.

But I think Ohio State’s Ryan Dzingel should be the league’s Player of the Year. Overall he leads Big Ten players with 43 points, and he has a league-high 24 points in conference play. He’s also an extremely skilled and talented player.

The All-Freshman Team consisted of JT Compher, Hudson Fasching, Nick Schilkey, Michael Downing, Drew Brevig and Christian Frey.

It’s surprising Frey earned the nod over Zach Nagelvoort, who was forced into Michigan’s starting job after Steve Racine went down. I think Nagelvoort had to play in a very tough situation with the Wolverines.

Frey had to join a tumultuous situation in Ohio State, but he played less than half the season. I’ve seen both Frey and Nagelvoort playa little bit this season. I’ve seen good things from them and I’ve also seen them struggle.

My guess is it’s because Nagelvoort started four of the last 10 games, while Frey started seven of the last 10.

I also swapped JT Compher for Hudson Fasching as the Rookie of the Year.

Here are my Big Ten awards:

(more…)

A Quick Pairwise Look Heading Into Championship Weekend

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Conferences across the nation will crown their league champions, and NCAA automatic qualifiers, this upcoming weekend.

For some teams these will be do-or-die games. For others, there’s a trophy at stake but their tickets to the NCAA tournament have already been punched. Here’s what we know:

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The Takeaway: Northeastern Exorcises Demons at UNH To Send Series to a Decisive Game 3

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

Durham, NH - Northeastern entered UNH’s Whittemore Center on Saturday night, without a win in seven seasons at New Hampshire last winning on the olympic sheet in 2007. To make matters worse, the Huskies haven’t defeated UNH in the playoffs since 1989. For much of the first two periods, it appeared to be much of the same for NU on its opponents ice. Grayson Downing opened the scoring for UNH at 11 minutes, 35 seconds of the first period, but NU answered just three minutes later off the stick of Ryan Belonger. UNH took another lead at 18:27 of the first when Nick Sorkin was left all alone in front of Clay Witt. UNH not only took the 2-1 lead into the first intermission, but it entered the second period with 1:34 of of 5 on 3 powerplay time. The powerplay ended up being the turning-point in the series.

UNH’s two-man advantage got plenty of opportunities, but was unable to capitalize. The Huskies caught UNH napping at the end, as Matt Benning exited the box and headed down the ice on a break-away. He was tripped and the Huskies were awarded a penalty shot, which Kevin Roy took and scored to tie the game. UNH would then dominate the middle portions of the second period and would take a 4-2 lead on goals by Kelleher and Agosta. The Huskies though were ever pesky and fought back. Colton Saucerman scored at the 16:29 mark of the second and Kevin Roy scored his second to send it into the third period tied at three.

The third period was a stalemate that saw NU control the possession on UNH, but NU did appear to score midway through the period to take a 5-4 but it was overturned by the guys in stripes to keep the game tied at 4. It was overturned for goaltender interference and the game would head into the overtime tied at four. Mike Szmatula broke the deadlock at 3:39 of the overtime to give NU the 5-4 overtime win. UNH and NU will faceoff in a crucial game three tomorrow at 4:30 at the Whittemore Center. See highlights courtesy of UNH Athletics. (more…)

The Takeaway: Kelleher Goal Leads UNH To 1-0 Victory Over NU and a 1-0 Series Lead

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Durham, NH - UNH entered the Hockey East tournament without an appearance at the TD Garden in three seasons.  It looked hungry to get there again. Both Northeastern and UNH had last week off with byes. UNH had the better of the play in the period but the two teams left the period scoreless. The second period was marked by a UNH parade to the penalty box, as the Huskies had five power-plays in the period, but the Huskies were unable to capitalize. UNH had the better of the five on five play in the period, but again the teams left the period scoreless.

The Third period was much like the first two in that UNH dominated the possession and quality opportunities. Freshman,Tyler Kelleher broke the scoreless tie at four minutes, 49 seconds of the third period when he found a Grayson Downing tip right in front of Witt that he roofed to give UNH the 1-0 lead. The Huskies struggled to get quality chances late and in game, it was held to just four Grade A opportunities in the contest. UNH defeated Northeastern, 1-0 in front of 3,135 fans at the Whittemore Center and improves its record 20-16-1, moving up a spot in the Pairwise to a tie for 17th, just outside tournament positioning. Northeastern is also in that tie for 17th place with a record of 18-13-4. See these Highlights courtesy of UNH Athletics. (more…)

Beyond Montpetit’s Goal

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Denver boasted the best penalty killing unit in the NCHC this season, thanks in large part to All-NCHC First Team goaltender Sam Brittain. Thursday night in the NCHC playoff opener, UNO converted on three of four power play chances and took a 1-0 lead in its quarterfinal series against Denver. Game 2 is tonight.

The lasting highlight of the game will be Brock Montpetit’s highlight reel goal that broke a 3-3 tie in the third period. Montpetit received a pass from Ryan Walters and beat Pioneer defenseman Joey LaLeggia, expertly slipping by him and sliding a backhander by Brittain.

“He makes a heck of a move,” UNO head coach Dean Blais told the Omaha World-Herald, “and then he goes in and beats an All-American goaltender who’s going to be playing in the NHL.”

Beyond Montpetit’s heroics, however, was perhaps a more important storyline — especially if Omaha plans on making a serious playoff run.

Consider that less than a week earlier, the Mavericks defense fell apart against Minnesota-Duluth, with the Bulldogs prevailing 8-2. Thursday, by contrast, UNO’s defense outplayed Denver’s, particularly in the third period — evidenced not just by Montpetit’s goal but by four blocked shots in the frantic final 60 seconds, and by playing the third period with just five defensemen. Captain Michael Young was ejected late in the second period after receiving a major penalty and game misconduct for a contact to the head infraction. In his absence, his teammates on the back end stepped up — most notably junior Jaycob Megna and freshman Ian Brady.

On the other end, Denver’s defense is among the most trusted in the nation, not just for their play on the blue line but also for their offensive output. After all, with the goaltender pulled late in the game last night, four of the six Pioneers on the ice trying to score the tying goal were defensemen — LaLeggia, in addition to Nolan Zajac, David Makowski, and Will Butcher. That foursome has combined for 32 goals this season.

The Pioneers have lost three of four and five of seven, and now face the end to their season if they lose either tonight or tomorrow. And their defense will have to return to form if they want to avoid that.

“The key was killing off the five-minute major,” continued Blais after last night’s game, highlighting again his team’s effort on defense in Game 1. “It might have switched the whole momentum.”

The question remaining is whether UNO carries that momentum to the inaugural NCHC “Frozen Faceoff” a week from today in Minneapolis.

Weekend Preview: Big Ten, March 14

Friday, March 14th, 2014

This is the last weekend in the regular season. Minnesota and Wisconsin have locked up first-round byes, while Michigan is in the No. 3 spot and Penn State is the last seed.

Ohio State and Michigan State will play each other, and either the Buckeyes or Spartans will earn the No. 4 seed. The other team will be No. 5.

The Gophers are guaranteed at least a share of the Big Ten title. Both Minnesota and Wisconsin have first-round byes, and the Badgers can earn a share of the Big Ten title. 

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Three Things I Think: Big Ten, March 11

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

With just two games left in the regular season, Minnesota and Wisconsin have clinched a first-round bye. Wisconsin is five points behind Minnesota and still has a chance to win the Big Ten title.

If Minnesota wins one game next week, they will clinch the title.

For Wisconsin to earn a share of the title, the Badgers must win at least one game in regulation or overtime and another game either in regulation or a shootout — and Minnesota would have to lose both games.

There is another scenario where Minnesota can lose and tie, and Wisconsin would have to win both games in regulation or overtime.

Michigan is locked into the third seed, meaning it will face Penn State in the opening round. Ohio State is currently fourth and Michigan State fifth, but the Buckeyes are two points ahead of the Spartans. Michigan State closes out the season against Wisconsin, while Ohio State will face Penn State.

Last weekend was an interesting one in Big Ten hockey. The Gophers destroyed and out-played the Buckeyes in the first game of their series, winning 5-1. But the next night Ohio State played much better. The teams skated to a 2-2 tie before the Buckeyes won in a shootout.

On Friday, Michigan — backed by Andrew Sinelli’s hat trick — beat Michigan State 7-1, but the Wolverines lost to the Spartans 4-3 on Saturday. Steve Racine started both games for the Wolverines.

Wisconsin won both games against Penn State, 4-2 on Friday and 3-2 in overtime. The games were close, but the Badgers now have a three-game winning streak on the road.

(After the jump: First-round matchups, Big Ten inconsistency, Badgers on the road.)

Badgers on the road

Wisconsin’s series against Penn State was an important one, sine there were still questions of whether or not the Badgers could win on the road. It’s not guaranteed, like it almost was at the Kohl Center, but it’s more likely they can win away.

The Badgers are on a five-game winning streak and have been playing much better of late. They’ve won three games in a row, beating Ohio State and Penn State. Last week’s games were close, but the Nittany Lions are better than their record indicates.

It’s been a long time since the Badgers were destroyed in their road trip to Boston. I mentioned this before, though, Joel Rumpel was not in net in those two games. Since then, the Badgers haven’t been grossly outplayed in a road game, and last weekend’s series proved it. 

Big Ten inconsistency

With the way Wisconsin’s been playing lately, its no longer an inconsistent team. Minnesota isn’t either, but Michigan and Ohio State are two of the biggest question marks in the league.

Earlier I thought Ohio State had the potential to be one of the better teams, and a candidate for the third seed. The Buckeyes could tie for the third seed this weekend, but they’d lose the tiebreaker to Michigan.

I wasn’t expecting Minnesota to dominate the Buckeyes the way they did in the first game. And after watching, I thought Ohio State would lose the second match. Goalkeeping hasn’t helped the Buckeyes find consistency, and Christian Frey was pulled on Friday. He looked less than stellar,  but he played on Saturday.

The only two teams Ohio Sate has really struggled to win against are Minnesota and Michigan. The Buckeyes split the season series with the Badgers, and won a game at the Kohl Center.

It’s odd Ohio State hasn’t beaten Michigan this season and is 0-3-1 against the Wolverines. After last week’s series between Ohio State and Michigan, I thought the Wolverines might’ve finally found some consistency.

But turning around and losing to Michigan State 4-3 after a 7-1 win doesn’t help Michigan’s case. The Wolverines had lost to the Spartans once this season, but that was outdoors at the Great Lakes Invitational. 

Netminding hasn’t been stable for the Wolverines either this season. But, Steve Racine has started the past three games and six of the last eight.

First-round matchups

The inconsistency in Big Ten lends itself to an interesting inaugural tournament, especially in the first round.

After the past month of Big Ten play, seeding in the tournament does matter. I think the Wolverines have drawn one of the worst matchups, facing the Nittany Lions in the first round.

Penn State won its two conference games against Michigan, but the last series between the two teams was closer than the first.

Final Night: What’s at Stake

Saturday, March 8th, 2014

The final night of the inaugural NCHC regular season kicks off in just a few hours. Here’s a look at what’s on the line:

Regular Season Championship

The first-ever winner of the Penrose Cup will be determined tonight, and North Dakota controls its own destiny. UND and St. Cloud both won Friday night — UND shutting out Western Michigan 2-0 and St. Cloud overcoming Colorado College 7-4 — and as a result, the two teams remain tied atop the NCHC standings with 45 points. Nebraska-Omaha sits in third place with 39.

Either way, North Dakota and St. Cloud will host quarterfinal series when the playoffs kick off next week. The team that finishes in first place will host last-place Miami, and the No. 2 seed will host Colorado College — thereby setting up a potential St. Cloud/CC rematch if both North Dakota and St. Cloud win tonight. If the night ends with North Dakota and St. Cloud both still tied atop the standings, UND will earn the No. 1 seed by virtue of one more conference win than St. Cloud — despite the fact that St. Cloud won three of four games against UND this season. Head-to-head results are the second tiebreaker in the NCHC, as they are in the new Big 10. Head-to-head results form the first tiebreaker, in contrast, in the ECAC, WCHA, and Hockey East.

Friday’s results were very typical of North Dakota and St. Cloud’s style of wins this year — timely goals and strong goaltending (Zane Gothberg) for UND, compared to prolific offensive output (on Friday, led by a hat trick from sophomore Jonny Brodzinski and a five-point night from Joey Benik) that tends to overcome occasional defensive lapses for the Huskies. That said, goaltender Ryan Faragher showed character on Friday for St. Cloud after allowing three consecutive CC goals in the second period; prior to that,  St. Cloud had gone ahead 4-1, but Faragher made several key saves in the late second period and early third period while his teammates put the Huskies ahead for good.

Home Ice

The top four teams in the standings will host the bottom four next week, and heading into tonight, Denver and Minnesota-Duluth are still in contention for the final home ice spot in the upcoming playoffs. The Pioneers and Bulldogs both won on Friday — Denver winning 5-2 against Miami and UMD trouncing Nebraska-Omaha 8-2 — and as a result, Denver (35) still trails Duluth (37) by two points. Denver needs a win and a loss or shootout loss by Minnesota Duluth to clinch home ice for the quarterfinals. Omaha currently sits in third place with 39 points but could fall to fourth depending on tonight’s results.

Western Michigan, with its loss to North Dakota on Friday night, was eliminated from home-ice contention and will finish the regular season in either fifth or sixth place — guaranteeing that last Saturday’s 3-1 win against Denver was the Broncos’ final home game of the season.

Scoring Titles

Point Scoring:                                               GP     PPG    G- A- P
  1   Josh Archibald           Nebraska Omaha     JR F       23    1.30   20-10-30
  2   Chase Balisy             Western Michigan   SR F       23    1.17   12-15-27
  3   Jonny Brodzinski         St. Cloud State    SO F       23    1.09   12-13-25
      Kalle Kossila            St. Cloud State    SO F       23    1.09    9-16-25
      Jake Guentzel            Nebraska Omaha     FR F       23    1.09    5-20-25

Josh Archibald will likely win the NCHC point-scoring title. Heading into tonight, Archibald’s 30 points are three more than Western Michigan’s Chase Balisy’s 27. The junior forward for UNO will certainly finish the season as the conference’s top goal-scorer. His 20 goals pace the league by a wide margin. Balisy along with St. Cloud teammates Nic Dowd and Jonny Brodzinski are tied for second-place with 12 goals.

Omaha’s rookie sensation Jake Guentzel will finish the regular season with the most points among freshmen (25 points heading into tonight), while UMD’s Kyle Osterberg’s 10 goals will lead all rookies.

A look at some other “titles” that are in play heading into tonight:

Defenseman Scoring:                                          GP     PPG    G- A- P
  1   Dillon Simpson           North Dakota       SR D       23    0.83    6-13-19
  2   Jaccob Slavin            Colorado College   FR D       19    0.95    5-13-18
Goals Against Average:                                 Minutes    GA     GAA
  1   Zane Gothberg            North Dakota       SO    898:02    34    2.27
  2   Ryan Massa               Nebraska Omaha     JR    786:16    30    2.29
  3   Sam Brittain             Denver             SR   1274:07    49    2.31