Archive for the 'Notes, Thoughts, Ramblings' Category

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Dec. 8

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

Last weekend was the first, full slate of Big Ten conference play. Penn State swept the once-feared Badgers at the Kohl Center, Michigan routed Ohio State 8-3 and Minnesota defeated Michigan State before the two teams tied.

Penn State is now first in the conference with a 3-1-0 record. The Wolverines are second, while the Gophers and Spartans are tied for third. To Minnesota’s credit, they’ve only played two Big Ten games.

The rough season for Wisconsin continues, and the scoring losses combined with inexperience have been a terrible combination for the Badgers. What the team wanted to happen, which was find an identity behind Joel Rumpel, hasn’t happened. It’s a bad sign the Badgers, who lost just two games at home last season, weren’t expected to win this weekend.

Michigan is now on a four-game winning streak, outscoring opponents 25-6. The Wolverines have defeated RPI, Penn State and Ohio State over that stretch, and two of those teams might not count as quality opponents. RPI has been inconsistent this season, and went to Michigan without netminder Jason Kasdorf. And it’s not the offense that was a question for the Wolverines – it was the defense and goalkeeping.

There’s not much I can say for the Buckeyes, except they used all three goalkeepers including Logan Davis, who last played on Dec. 2, 2013 – a 5-4 loss to Michigan.

Michigan State losing to Minnesota 5-0 is a little surprising. The two teams played close games all of last season, but I think Michigan State’s defense might be losing some of last season’s characteristics. (Allowing five goals to Princeton Thanksgiving weekend was a huge surprise, more than the five goals in Friday’s game). Saturday’s game against Minnesota was Michigan State’s first tie of the season. Last year, the Spartans played seven games that went into overtime.

Still, a tie to Michigan State isn’t a good look for a Gopher team that’s 2-3-1 in its last six games. And the Gophers can’t afford to play poorly in the conference, especially since the rest of the league isn’t at Minnesota’s level. With both Brady Skjei and Travis Boyd back, there are no excuses.

It’s still early to panic about PairWise, but  Minnesota and Penn State are the only Big Ten teams in the top-16. Yes, Penn State. Michigan is down at 28.

(After the jump: Why Penn State will probably finish second, the conference’s new offense, and the Big Ten’s out of conference record.)

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Big Ten: A Look Into Corsi, Week Nine

Monday, December 8th, 2014

All teams were engaged in Big Ten conference play this week.

Penn State swept the Badgers and controlled 5-on-5 Corsi in both games, something that seems to be a trend for the Nittany Lions. This isn’t surprising, since the Nittany Lions are known for attempting many shots.

Michigan dominated 5-on-5 Corsi in an 8-3 win over the Buckeyes, save for the third period – when the Wolverines were already ahead.

The Gophers struggled with 5-on-5 possession against Michigan State. While the team finished 57.75 percent 5-on-5 Corsi in Friday’s 5-0 win, the Gophers recorded a 5-on-5 Corsi of 40.91 percent in Saturday’s tie. Michigan State hasn’t been known for being a great puck-possession team, but out-possessed the Gophers in the second and third periods of the game.

Here are this week’s Corsi stats:
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NCHC Weekend Preview, Dec. 5-6

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Six of eight NCHC teams are in action this weekend, with Nebraska-Omaha and Colorado College both facing noteworthy tests as they travel to Oxford, Ohio, and Duluth, Minn., respectively — in both cases, trying to avoid extending slumps against a pair of teams (Miami and Minnesota-Duluth) that had great Novembers.

Miami (10-4-0 overall, 6-2-0 NCHC) hosts Nebraska-Omaha (7-3-2 overall, 3-2-1-1 NCHC)

Arguably no goaltender in the country had as satisfying a November as Miami junior netminder Jay Williams, who was undefeated (5-0-0) while starting all of Miami’s wins in the month (classmate Ryan McKay, meanwhile, started the RedHawks’ two November losses). Williams won only five games total, in 16 appearances, in a forgettable 2013-14 season, and the strong goaltending has been one of the many reasons for Miami’s success so far this season. The RedHawks have had two weeks off since a weekend sweep of Western Michigan and welcome a UNO team that, despite playing well a week ago, left Grand Forks, N.D., with a tie and loss against front-running North Dakota. Uncharacteristically, UNO’s top line of Dominic Zombo, Jake Guentzel, and Austin Ortega was held scoreless last week — an anomaly for the trio that’s combined for 30 points this season already. Clearly, stopping that line has been the key to success against UNO, and although that’s far from an easy task, one wonders if coach Dean Blais has considered splitting the three up, much like Miami coach Enrico Blasi has done in the past with star forwards Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber. Prediction: A weekend split.

Minnesota-Duluth (9-5-0 overall, 5-3-0 NCHC) hosts Colorado College (3-8-0 overall, 0-5-0 NCHC)

Much like Miami, UMD enjoyed a bye week over Thanksgiving, while CC beat Wisconsin last week prior to a loss to local rival Air Force. The Tigers, perhaps not surprisingly for a young team, haven’t won a road game (0-6-0) so far this year and will certainly be tested this weekend against a deep Bulldogs team built from the goal out. Freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo was named the Hockey Commissioners’ Association (HCA) National Rookie of the Month after leading UMD to six wins in a tough November schedule that included a home-and-home sweep of Minnesota and a road sweep at St. Cloud State. The Finnish goalie had a .933 save percentage for the month and will be another tough test for CC this weekend. Kasiksuo has handled his work load well this year so far. We’ll see if he can maintain his level of play this weekend. After next week’s trip to WCHA-leading Michigan Tech, the Bulldogs will have almost a month before their next NCHC series (at North Dakota). CC, meanwhile, will look for the same form it showed against Wisconsin, in a 5-2 win, last Friday. The Tigers have had a tendency to give up quick goals in succession this year. It happened multiple times against Denver in a 8-1 loss in mid-November, and it happened against at Air Force last week when two goals in about 30 seconds late in the first period gave the Falcons a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Against Wisconsin, though, when the Badgers scored in the second period to cut the CC lead to 2-1, the Tigers actually played even better for the rest of the period — perhaps a sign that things may be changing for the better, albeit slowly. Prediction: Minnesota-Duluth sweeps

And in non-conference action this weekend:

North Dakota (10-3-2 overall, 5-2-1 NCHC) hosts Lake Superior (3-13-0 overall, 3-9-0 WCHA): National Player of the Month Drake Caggiula (13 points in nine November games) leads UND into the program’s first meeting against Lake Superior since December 1973. The Lakers have won just one of their last five games and were outscored 10-0 in a two-game series against Minnesota State last week. Eight times this year, Lake State has scored 0 or 1 goals and will likely struggle against a proven North Dakota defense. Prediction: North Dakota sweeps.

Cornell (4-4-1 overall, 3-3-0 ECAC) hosts Denver (8-3-0 overall, 3-2-0 NCHC): The last time Denver and Cornell — two programs that split four national titles from 1967 to 1970 — faced off, the series (a sweep in Denver by the Pioneers) was punctuated by a controversial game disqualification penalty on Big Red forward and now-senior John McCarron, an incident that resulted in a one-game suspension for coach Mike Schafer after he criticized the officiating and called for neutral officials for all nonconference games. It’s been almost two years since that incident, and of course a change in coaching staff for Denver as well. Cornell has won three in a row, including a 3-1 win over Penn State at Madison Square Garden last weekend. The Big Red has needed timely offense to overcome early season scoring woes and will be tested again this weekend against Evan Cowley and a Pioneers defense that not only plays well in its own zone but that consistently contributes offensively as well. This is Denver’s first visit to Ithaca since December 1979, and the storyline to watch will be how the Big Red can respond to the Pioneers’ strong special teams play. In November, Denver went 9-for-26 (34.6 percent) on the power play, the best percentage in the nation for the month, while killing off 23 of 26 opponent power plays. Prediction: A weekend split.

Hockey East Weekend Preview: Dec. 5, 2014

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Hockey East coaches like to proclaim the difficulty of winning on the road. It’s true, of course, that home teams usually win games. Traveling isn’t easy. Rinks are different. Opposing fans are very mean.

It all makes sense.

For Notre Dame, though, anything but the majority of the points taken from its trip to Amherst for two with Massachusetts has to be a disappointment.

The Fighting Irish enter the weekend sixth in Hockey East with six points from a 2-2-2 start. This, of course, isn’t a particularly bad start, but the games with UMass are a great chance to get back to .500 overall and leap back into the race for a first-round playoff bye.

UND has games in hand one every team ahead of it, but it hasn’t shown the ability to put wins together on a consistent basis. The Fighting Irish are 1-6-2 in their last nine games. Only five of those were Hockey East games.

Notre Dame makes its first trip to Amherst since New Year’s Eve 1994. Playing two games against one of the worst teams in the country demands a great performance from UND. It needs wins now. (more…)

WCHA Weekend Preview, Dec. 5-6

Friday, December 5th, 2014

As the first half of the season winds to a close, the race in the WCHA is really starting to heat up. Minnesota State enters this weekend with a chance to climb into first place with Michigan Tech idle, while Bowling Green continues to nip at the heels of the leaders.

This weekend marks the final conference games for both the Mavericks and Falcons before the break, so it is entirely likely that the three teams will all be within two or four points of one another at that point, which will make for a must-watch second half.

The rest of the league race should be just as intriguing as teams battle for home ice advantage in the second half. No team in the 4-10 range has separated itself from the pack at this point. The four teams tied for seventh place are just six points behind fourth place Northern Michigan and four points behind fifth place Ferris State.

First-year commissioner Bill Robertson has to be happy with how the first half has gone. The WCHA boasts two teams ranked in the top-five in the country (No. 2 Minnesota State and No. 5 Michigan Tech) and four teams in the top-20. Based on the early PairWise rankings, if the season ended today, the league would likely send three teams to the NCAA Tournament, which would be huge for a conference that is trying to re-build its image.

(After the jump: Previews of this weekend’s WCHA action)

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ECAC Weekend Preview: 12/4

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

One last conference weekend before the break should shake up the standings even more in the ECAC. With everyone so close from positions 1-9, as a mere five points separate the top nine in the standings, movement up and down should be aplenty. Cornell and Colgate have big non-conference tests this week, as Cornell hosts Denver for a weekend series and Colgate travels to Providence for a lone game against PC. There should be tons of action around the conference this weekend and here is what I think is important to watch this weekend.

Clarkson Looks to find Consistency, while St. Lawrence looks to continue its great play

Whenever Clarkson and St. Lawrence meet on the ice it is a spectacle. It is always heated and being the third meeting of the season should make this game even more event-filled. The Saints took home a 4-0 win from Cheel Arena on November 1st and the two teams tied the night before at Appelton Arena. Those games didn’t mean as much as this one does because it was non-conference, but the season series is still up for grabs. For these teams bragging rights are ever important in the North Country. (more…)

Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Dec. 4

Thursday, December 4th, 2014

It’s back.

This weekend Big Ten play will be underway for all teams, meaning Minnesota and Wisconsin will face conference competition for the first time this season. Finally we can see how the perceived top and bottom teams fare in the Big Ten

Before the season, Minnesota was projected to win the conference. But the Gophers have lost three of their last four, and will face Michigan State this weekend. The Spartan caused the Gophers trouble last year, making each contest a one-goal game or a tie.

Conversely there’s Wisconsin, picked third by most. The Badgers are off to their worst start in a very long time, but seem to be getting better each weekend. Wisconsin is actually undefeated in its last two, and won Saturday’s game. The Badgers were once unbeatable at home, but not this season. This series at the Kohl Center could tell us if this is just another slow start for the Badgers.

Pay attention to Penn State’s offense this weekend. After scoring at least three goals or more in 10 straight games, the Nittany Lions haven’t scored more than a goal per game in their last two losses. The line of Taylor Holstrom, Casey Bailey and David Goodwin has been Penn State’s most productive line.

Speaking of productive lines, Michigan’s Zach Hyman, Alex Kile and Dylan Larkin are leading Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines, after three strong games, will host Ohio State. Michigan may have found the consistency its been looking for.

Almost every team has struggled or been inconsistent against out of conference competition, which makes it hard to know how the teams will play against each other.

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Three Things I Think: NCHC, Dec. 3

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

It’s December already, which means that (generally speaking) all league teams have lighter game schedules this month around the holidays and exams — an opportunity to continue to evolve before the grueling stretch run begins in earnest in January. All league teams play just four games each in December, except for St. Cloud State (just two games) and Nebraska-Omaha (with a busy eight game schedule). The Mavericks, winners of just one of their last four games, have a challenging stretch coming up, starting with a trip to Oxford to play a hot Miami team, before hosting St. Cloud next weekend. UNO stays at home during the holidays, with non-conference series against Alabama-Huntsville and New Hampshire before 2014 ends. We’ll preview UNO’s trip to Miami here on Friday. In the meantime:

That Broncos Offense

Well, no, not that Broncos offense… Western Michigan entered last weekend’s Shillelagh Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, after scoring just six goals in a four-game stretch (three losses and a tie). Still, the Broncos had shown signs of their offensive ability earlier in the season — for example, with a 10-goal road weekend at Denver. It all came together, though, for Andy Murray’s team last weekend in South Bend, when WMU won the tournament by outscoring its opponents (Ohio State and defending national champion Union) by a combined 14-4 score. The Broncos stuck with Lukas Hafner in net, as the junior earned a fifth straight start in net over senior Frank Slubowski, but more notably, the offense came alive behind senior forward Justin Kovacs, who was named Offensive Player of the Week in the NCHC after compiling seven assists in the weekend’s two games.

Kovacs was second on the team in goals last year, but 13 of his 14 points this year have been helpers — no doubt reflecting a focus for the senior to jump-start his teammates, especially on the power play (9 of Kovacs’ 14 points have come in man-advantage situations, including four of his five assists on Saturday). Perhaps more importantly, all four lines got involved in the scoring for Western Michigan this weekend, reflecting a dynamic revival of a talented team that has underperformed for most of the season thus far. It’s also a reflection of impressive resiliency for a team that lost three one-goal games in November. The Broncos have an opportunity to keep their momentum rolling next weekend (Dec. 12-13) with a pair of home games against Colorado College.

Miami’s second period

Miami, after going 5-2-0 in November and having now won seven of its last nine games overall, is certainly in a much better position following Thanksgiving this year than the RedHawks were last year. At this time a year ago, Miami had just suffered through a 1-3-1 stretch that snowballed into a winter to forget, winning just three of its next 17 games. This year, as we’ve said repeatedly, Miami is more composed, poised,and resilient at both ends of the ice. The RedHawks have also had an offense that hasn’t relied on its big-name stars (amazingly, senior Austin Czarnik, a double-digit goal scorer each of his first three seasons, is still looking for his first goal of 2014-15).

Miami has been particularly strong this season in making adjustments heading into the second period. Able to rely on strong goaltending again from Jay Williams, the RedHawks have tended to play a strong physical game early and then start putting their opponents away in the second. In fact, Miami has has outshot its opponents 213-92 in the second period, and that shot ratio has (not surprisingly) been reflected into a roughly 2:1 goal ratio in that period as well (21-12). To put the Miami second period dominance into better perspective, consider that the +121 shot differential is by far the best for any NCHC team in any period (next best is Minnesota-Duluth’s +78 shot differential for the first period, then Denver’s +46 for the second period).

The WJC

Three NCHC players were invited yesterday to attend the U.S. National Junior Team training camp, two weeks from now in Boston, where a group of 30 players will be trimmed to 23 on Christmas Eve. Those 23 will take part at the World Junior Championship tournament in Canada in January. The three NCHC players looking to make the cut are North Dakota rookie forward Nick Schmaltz, Miami sophomore forward Anthony Louis, and Denver sophomore defenseman Will Butcher.

Schmaltz will almost certainly make the team provided he remains injury-free and plays at the camp as he has all season. Last week, teammate and UND leading scorer Drake Caggiula said of the Blackhawks first-rounder, “He’s got the best vision and the best hands I’ve ever played with.”

Despite a strong group of left defensemen invited to Boston, I would expect Butcher, a Colorado Avalanche draft pick, to make the team — not only for his sound defense (in Denver, as we know, he’s helped shut down opposing top lines in front of goaltender Evan Cowley) but also for his ability to score and for his experience. Butcher is looking to return to the team after he was part of Team USA’s defensive corps last year, when he averaged a point per game. Meanwhile, Louis has been a key player for Miami lately, with points in four of the RedHawks’ last five, and more importantly, he showed up in big games last year — with six points in Miami’s final four games of the season (culminating in the NCHC title game). Louis is a small, skilled forward, and it’ll be interesting to see whether he can make the team amidst a very talented group of left wingers invited to the camp.

Coming soon: Six NCHC teams will be in action this weekend, highlighted by a pair of big road trips for UNO (at Miami) and Colorado College (at Minnesota-Duluth), with each visiting team facing a tough task. Meanwhile, Denver heads to Ithaca, N.Y., to take on Cornell, and Lake Superior visits North Dakota. We’ll preview all the series here on Friday.

ECAC Power Rankings 12/2

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Because of the holiday last week, I was unable to find the time to do a power rankings but much has certainly changed in two weeks. Colgate’s struggles for consistency have continued, while Quinnipiac’s inconsistency has also come forward. The Bobcats dropped a decision to Clarkson two weeks ago, defeated St. Lawrence and dropped a home decision to UMass. It recovered, but damage has already been done because other ECAC teams had great two week stretches. The league standings tell us nothing about how the league is going because everyone is still too close to call. Quinnipiac sits at the top with ten points, but a four way tie for second place contains Harvard, St. Lawrence, Clarkson and RPI. Colgate, Yale and Cornell all sit within a weekend either three or four points behind.

The conference has been impressive of late in non-conference. Despite Clarkson’s 0-4-0 record against Hockey East and Quinnipiac’s 3-3-0 record against that other eastern conference, the rest of the league has put together quite the impressive 14-2-2 record against the usual “best conference in the country.” Note the quotation marks, because all of my ECAC fans will get the joke in that. Both Dartmouth and Harvard picked up huge wins against Boston University last week, with the Green doing so at home and the Crimson pulling out an overtime decision at BU’s, Agganis Arena. Overall the league is set up for future success in the Pairwise and has the possibility to get more than four teams in the tourney, because of its 35-27-4 record against the other conferences. That mark is good for second among the nation’s conferences. If the tournament began today, both Harvard and Yale would be in comfortably because of their 6th and 11th ranking respectively in the Pairwise. St. Lawrence sits on the bubble, but in, in 15th, while Quinnipiac, Colgate and Dartmouth all sit within distance in the top 20.

As for the power rankings, I am starting to see some trends that make my life easier. Harvard has proven it is the best team in the conference at this point, a thought I have had for a few weeks now but now I am comfortable to say it. Yale is the only team that has beaten Harvard this season and it has won four of its last five games. Its goaltending will get it far this season and its built from the net out nature makes it a dangerous team going forward. Those teams seem to be the clear top two and the rest seem to be really close together behind them. I feel more confident in these rankings than I have at any point this season. The league will again shake out this weekend, as eight conference games and teams will play league games. (more…)

Big Ten: A Look Into Corsi, Week Eight

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

All Big Ten teams returned to non-conference action this weekend. The Gophers split a Boston road trip, defeating Boston College and losing to Northeastern. While Minnesota lost, the Badgers earned their first win of the season.

Michigan State split with Princeton, while the Wolverines swept RPI. Penn State dropped its match at MSG to Cornell. Ohio State rebounded from a 6-2 loss at the Shillelagh Tournament to defeat Notre Dame 5-1 on Saturday.

The only thing that stood out were Minnesota’s Corsi numbers against Boston College. The Gophers passed the 70 percent mark for possession in the first, and had a 60 percent 5-on-5 Corsi for the game.

As usual, the stats are listed below with context:

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