Archive for the 'Notes, Thoughts, Ramblings' Category

Big Ten: A Look Into Corsi, Week 16

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Five Big Ten teams were in action last weekend. The Gophers and Badgers played at the Kohl Center, Michigan and Michigan State dueled in Detroit and Penn State defeated Vermont in out-of-conference play.

The Corsi stats are listed below: (more…)

Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Feb. 6

Friday, February 6th, 2015

Big Ten play resumes this weekend for all teams. The Nittany Lions host Wisconsin, Ohio State travels to Minnesota and the Spartans and Wolverines engage in the second part of their rivalry.

The Michigan-Michigan State game should be competitive, and it’s the third meeting between both teams in a month. It’s a battle of offense and defense, and last weekend defense (Michigan State) won.

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ECAC Weekend Preview Feb. 6-7

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

From here on out, each league team will play two games a weekend. With only four weekends remaining in the regular season, every game seems to be huge. St. Lawrence is hard charging, having won five league games in a row. Quinnipiac is on a six game unbeaten streak and leads the league by three over the Saints. But the league as a whole continues to be close, as positions 3-9 in the league are separated by a mere four points and 4-9 just two points. Tenth place Union sits just three points behind Home byes, home advantage and the illustrious Cleary Cup all seem to be in play in the coming weeks.

Quinipiac and St. Lawrence have looked like the best teams this half. Those two teams look to be the favorites for the Cleary but I am sure some of the teams below them could compete for the title. Harvard got Alex Kerfoot back in the Beanpot semi, which quite frankly they should be proud of as a group. Sean Malone was also back in the lineup, but wasn’t on the bench for the thrilling end. Yale, Clarkson and Cornell all have struggled to find scoring this season, which makes me speculate whether or not any of those teams can make a run. An interesting one to me is Dartmouth, who swept the Capital Region teams at home last weekend. (more…)

Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Feb. 5, 2015

Thursday, February 5th, 2015

I’ve been a pretty unrelenting critic of Connecticut this season. The Huskies have been better than anticipated in their first season as a Hockey East school.

Still, 8-12-7 overall isn’t a very good record.

There have been some brightspots, though, and goaltender Rob Nichols stands out as a legitimate all-star contender for the Huskies. Building teams from the goal out is a plan for most coaches. Nichols, a sophomore, has a .930 save percentage in 26 games played.

That’s not just a good season. Playing behind this UConn team, a .930 save percentage is truly remarkable.

The coaching and recruiting chops of Mike Cavanaugh suggest the Huskies are only going to improve in the next few seasons. A steady presence like Nichols in goal is precisely what a team in that transition phase needs to punch above its weight in a league like Hockey East.

For the next five years or so, UConn is going to be outclassed on paper by at least a few teams. It takes a long time for programs to build programs with enough good players to win games consistently and compete for championships.

In the short term, finding quality goaltending and coaching a team to support him with disciplined defending will help UConn win more games than sheer talent suggests it should.

It’s not a certainty if anyone to follow Nichols will play this well. Moreover, from watching UConn’s games, it’s abundantly clear that Nichols isn’t just a product of good defending. He’s a remarkable shot-stopper with the agility, skating and poise to steal certain goals. That’s not something every program can find for every recruiting class. There are otherwise great teams in college hockey right now that don’t have goaltending nearly as strong as UConn does.

Looking ahead to the Hockey East tournament, it’s difficult to see UConn winning two of three games from most teams in the league. Nichols, though, is a serious equalizer for the Huskies. As the Huskies improve over the next two seasons, Nichols may well be the type of player that can force a deep playoff run. (more…)

Three Things I Think: WCHA, Feb. 4

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

After playing most of the season with three contenders for the MacNaughton Cup, it’s beginning to look like it will come down to a two-team race. Minnesota State and Michigan Tech have separated themselves at the top of the standings, while Bowling Green’s struggles have put them at a significant disadvantage. After another disheartening weekend, the Falcons are now 10 points back of the first place Mavericks, and six back of the Huskies, with just 10 games left to play.

Rapid Recap: Minnesota State continued to have Ferris State’s number, sweeping the Bulldogs with a pair of 5-1 wins. Michigan Tech poured on the offense in its sweep of Alabama-Huntsville, winning 5-0 and 11-1. Northern Michigan earned its first back-to-back wins since November, sweeping Alaska-Anchorage, 5-3 and 3-2 (OT). NMU senior defenseman Mitch Jones scored the OT winner with just 11 seconds left on Saturday to secure the sweep. Bemidji State ran its unbeaten streak to four, beating, 5-2, and tying, 2-2, stumbling Bowling Green.

In the Polls: After a week at No. 3, Minnesota State re-gained the top spot in the USCHO.com Div. I poll. Michigan Tech moved up three spots to No. 5 and are in the top five for the first time since Dec. 15. Bowling Green slipped two spots to No. 8. Bemidji State (8) is the only WCHA team receiving votes.

Following the weekend’s results, the Mavericks remained at No. 1 in the Pairwise, while Bowling Green stayed at No. 6 and Michigan Tech moved up three spots to No. 7.

(Following the jump: My three thoughts/observations on what went down in the WCHA last weekend)

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Three Things I Think: ECAC 2/2

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

I was able to take in the Hockey Haven rivalry, penned notably by the New Haven’ Register’s Chip Malafronte, on Saturday night at Yale’s famed Ingalls Rink. You should also check out his column from the game, which talked about how unsatisfying the result was for both sides. I was able to watch two of the better teams in the league fight toe to toe. While Yale was the better possession team and better in the neutral zone, Quinnipiac’s transition game was on full display. This transition led to both goals for Quinnipiac, who may or may not have been the best team on Saturday. I would argue they were a step behind its cross town rival for much of the first two periods and were lucky to leave the Whale with a lone point. Both teams played well in third period, which made for an entertaining last 20 minutes. for me just being in the Yale Whale makes me happy, what a great place to watch a game.

Although I think it is a bit overblown on how big of a rivalry it is, one can tell that Rand Pecknold and Keith Allain just do not like each other. That made for cinema in the first period when Allain caught Pecknold cheating in a player off an icing call, Allain flipped and pointed. Looked as though Allain wanted to say bad things to Pecknold, but in the end the deed was caught and the refs made it good. Other than that there was little hatred in comparison to some of the other more traditional rivalries and for a rivalry game the crowd didn’t seem any more jacked up than it would have been without Quinnipiac in town. And to make matters worse, both bands were in the house but both seemingly had off nights. I guess take that for what it is worth. It may not be up to the level of a BC-BU, Harvard-Cornell, UNH-Maine, or North Dakota-Minnesota but the signs were there that it is almost there. I have heard I will see a totally different atmosphere in Hamden, which I am totally looking forward to.

This weekend I plan on heading to the North Country for my premiere visit to Appelton and Cheel Arenas, barring more snow of course. Right now, the North Country is proving to be the toughest travel partner combo in the league. Clarkson and St. Lawrence played an entertaining game last Saturday night at Cheel Arena, which St. Lawrence was able to eek out a key road win. The win marked SLU’s fifth in a row and Clarkson’s first loss in four games. Both SLU and Clarkson sit in the top four of the ECAC standings, with the Saints in second place and Clarkson tied for fourth with Yale. Tech also holds the tiebreaker with Yale. Of course this gets me thinking to myself, wouldn’t it be cool if both those teams made it to Lake Placid? Personally, I think one of the two actually will but we will see what happens going forward. Better chances than last year for one or both to make it. (more…)

Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Feb. 1

Sunday, February 1st, 2015

In a battle of defense vs. offense on Friday night in Detroit, defense won. Michigan State limited Michigan to one goal in the win, snapping Michigan’s seven-game winning streak. The Spartans are now on a three-game winning streak, and both teams will play in Chicago next weekend.

The Gophers and Badgers resumed their rivalry just a couple weeks after a series-ending brawl. After a 7-5 Gopher win on Friday, the teams played a wild match on Saturday that ended in a 4-4 tie. The Gophers held a 2-1 lead in the third period, but Grant Besse tied the game. Christian Isackson gave the Gophers the lead back 30 seconds later, but Kevin Schulze tied it – thanks to a great play from Adam Rockwood – less than two minutes later. Cameron Hughes scored his first collegiate goal with less than two minutes left, giving the Badgers a 4-3 lead. But this is Minnesota-Wisconsin, so of course Seth Ambroz tied it with two seconds left in regulation.

The Badgers went on to win in the shootout, because Minnesota doesn’t win shootouts.

Penn State and Vermont faced off in Philadelphia. Again Penn State fell behind, but the Nittany Lions responded with four straight goals to defeat Vermont 4-2. Penn State scored three goals in the final period, and has scored eight third-period goals over the last three games.

Michigan is first in the conference, and Michigan State and Penn State are tied for second.

(After the jump: The truth about Michigan, a PairWise check in and the no-defense league) (more…)

Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Jan. 30

Saturday, January 31st, 2015

This weekend features two rivalry Big Ten series. Michigan and Michigan State face off at the Joe Louis Arena for the second time this season, while Wisconsin hosts Minnesota.

Penn State faces Vermont in the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff, and Ohio State sits out with a bye. This is an important off week for the Buckeyes, who are trying to get healthy. When Ohio State returns to action, they’ll be without Matthew Weis. He was given a one-game suspension for a contact to the head hit on Spartan captain Michael Ferrantino.

The Wolverine-Spartan match is the biggest of the weekend. Michigan’s offense has averaged almost a touchdown per game over the past five contests, but hasn’t faced a good defensive team over that stretch. The Spartans have the best defense in the Big Ten, and limited the Wolverines to two goals during the GLI. But, Michigan played that weekend without Dylan Larkin and Zach Werenski.

While it’s only one game, Penn State’s tilt with Vermont is also a big matchup. The Catamounts rank 14th in the PairWise. The Big Ten has struggled in non-conference games, and a win help Penn State’s current PairWise ranking.

Minnesota hits the road after dropping both games at the North Star College Cup. To be fair, Minnesota State and Minnesota-Duluthare both good teams. The Gophers have won four of their last 14 games, with wins over Boston College, RIT, Michigan State and Wisconsin.

The Gophers dominated the Badgers when these teams met last (and ended with a brawl), but the Badgers managed a tie in the first game of the weekend.  (more…)

NCHC Weekend Preview: Jan. 30-31

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Two months from today, the only college hockey games remaining in the 2014-15 schedule will be the games to be played at the NCAA Frozen Four in Boston — the national semifinals and the national championship game. As of now, five NCHC teams sit in the top 11 of the Pairwise, certainly well-positioned for an NCAA spot if they continue to play well, but of course, for all league teams, the stretch run to the NCHC tournament and the possibility of an automatic berth are inspiring factors during these final weeks of the regular season.

Still, before any of that, to remain in the conversation two months from now will require a strong upcoming six weeks, and this weekend, with 10 games remaining for each team in the regular season, one series in particular could end up having major implications for whether North Dakota or Nebraska-Omaha can position themselves for a No. 1 seed — not just in the NCHC tournament, but in the NCAA tournament as well.

Nebraska-Omaha (15-6-3, 9-4-1-1 NCHC) hosts North Dakota (18-5-2, 9-4-1 NCHC): North Dakota, No. 2 in the Pairwise, trials UNO (No. 4) by a single point for the NCHC regular season lead heading into this significant weekend series in Omaha. Tonight’s game — televised on CBS Sports Network — is UND’s first road contest since a Dec. 13 win at Denver, while UNO has been off for two weeks since a weekend split with Colorado College (whom UND swept in Grand Forks a week ago). The teams last met in a contested and physical late November series in Grand Forks, when UNO won a shootout following a 2-2 tie in the Friday night game and UND came back for a 3-2 win on Saturday. North Dakota’s game-winner on Saturday night was a Stephane Pattyn shorthanded goal — insult to injury after UND held the Mavericks scoreless on seven power play chances during the weekend.

Aside from the obvious storylines (e.g. a matchup of two of the nation’s top teams, UNO head coach Dean Blais returning to his former stomping grounds, where he won two national titles, etc.), consider this: in NCHC play, UNO is the league’s top-scoring offense, while UND is the best defense. It’s a matchup of two upperclassmen goaltenders, UNO’s Ryan Massa and UND’s Zane McIntyre, who are No. 1 and No. 2 in the league in save percentage. Think that means it’ll be a pair of low-scoring games? Not necessarily. This series also features four of the five NCHC players — North Dakota’s Mark MacMillan and Drake Caggiula and Omaha’s Austin Ortega and Jake Guentzel — who are averaging over a point per game in NCHC play this season (Denver senior defenseman Joey LaLeggia is the other). MacMillan in fact leads the league in goals in conference play. And it’s not just the upperclassmen who have stepped up for these teams — three of the league’s top five scoring rookies are also in action in this series this weekend.

So, clearly, there’s plenty to keep an eye on in this series. Omaha coach Dean Blais told Tony Boone of the Omaha World-Herald this week, “We could play our best game of the year on Friday night and not win. But if we play our best game of the year, all the pressure is on them, not us.” It’s a nice motivational tactic by the veteran coach, but for a team looking for the same legitimacy that North Dakota (a Frozen Four team last season) already has, and with UNO playing at home trying to distance itself from the visitors in the standings, there’s plenty of pressure on the Mavericks as well. Prediction: Omaha wins Friday, North Dakota wins Saturday.

Denver (14-8-1, 7-6-0 NCHC) hosts Minnesota-Duluth (14-9-1, 8-5-1 NCHC): Plenty has changed since these teams last met in October, which resulted in a weekend split in Duluth. First and foremost, DU sophomore Evan Cowley started both games for the Pioneers, which is unlikely to happen this weekend. Freshman Tanner Jaillet has emerged as the goaltender whom Jim Montgomery has called upon most often over the past few weeks, as Cowley hasn’t seen action since being pulled 18 minutes into the first period against St. Cloud on Jan. 16 (after allowing just one goal). Jaillet picked up three straight wins before a loss at Miami last Saturday. Now, the Pioneers host a Bulldogs team that is coming off a North Star College Cup appearance in Minneapolis last weekend, where UMD beat Minnesota on Saturday (its third win over the Gophers this season) after falling to Bemidji State a night earlier. Junior Matt McNeeley earned the win over Minnesota, starting in place of freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo. Kaskisuo played well in the first half of the season, but has been much more inconsistent of late — now with a four-game winless streak in his starts. Given the recent results, it wouldn’t be surprising to see McNeeley, Kaskisuo, Jaillet, and Cowley all play in some capacity this week. I’ll be at Magness Arena for both games this weekend. Prediction: Denver sweeps.

Colorado College (5-16-1, 1-11-1 NCHC) hosts St. Cloud State (10-13-1, 5-8-1 NCHC): In a matchup of the only two teams in the league with overall records below .500 this season, the Tigers start a six-game home stretch with their first meeting of the season with St. Cloud State. CC, despite just one win in 13 NCHC games this season, has played much better of late. After beating Omaha two weeks ago tonight, CC went to Grand Forks last weekend and lost two close games, 2-1 on Friday and 5-3 (with an empty-netter) on Saturday. The improved play has come thanks to a more creative and effective power play and on-ice leadership from senior Scott Wamsganz, who has points in five straight games. Without question, the Tigers look much better than they did in November but will still have their hands full against a St. Cloud team that, while sometimes maddeningly inconsistent, has the potential to be dominant. Last Friday, the Huskies used their own Olympic ice sheet to their full advantage, creating space and frustrating Western Michigan with a 7-0 win. It was arguably the best St. Cloud had looked all season, but the weekend was spoiled by blowing a 2-0 third-period lead the following night (ultimately losing 3-2). Of course, CC plays on the larger ice surface as well, and that will play to the strength of talented forwards like juniors Joey Benik and Jonny Brodzinski. Prediction: St. Cloud wins Friday, Colorado College wins Saturday.

And finally, in a one-game series on Saturday night:

Western Michigan (11-10-3, 4-7-3-3 NCHC) hosts Miami (15-9-0, 8-6-0 NCHC): The RedHawks swept the Broncos earlier in the season, and now, with the second game of this series set for next weekend (outdoors at Chicago’s Soldier Field), both teams come into this one-game affair in Kalamazoo after wins last Saturday (WMU over St. Cloud, Miami over Denver). For Miami, the win snapped a three-game losing streak during which the RedHawks struggled to find offense. WMU met the same problem in last week’s 7-0 shutout against St. Cloud. Without question, certain players will be the focus of each team’s defensive efforts this weekend — Miami, a bit more balanced thanks to the playmaking ability of Austin Czarnik, relies on Riley Barber, Sean Kuraly, Blake Coleman, and Cody Murphy to score goals, while WMU relies heavily on its top line of Nolan LaPorte, Sheldon Dries, and Colton Hargrove. LaPorte’s eight power play goals lead the nation for a WMU power play unit that is fourth-best (23.5 percent effective) in the country, so Miami (averaging 14.0 penalty minutes per game) will have to stay disciplined on Saturday. Prediction: WMU wins in a shootout.

 

WCHA Weekend Preview, Jan. 30-31

Friday, January 30th, 2015

With only six weeks left to go, the WCHA races are turning the corner for the stretch run. While Minnesota State, Michigan Tech, and Bowling Green vie for the MacNaughton Cup, the other six teams have their eyes on the last home ice spot for the playoffs. Ferris State and Northern Michigan are currently tied for the No. 4 spot, but No. 4 and No. 10 are separated by just six points.

Last year, the WCHA playoff races came down to the final day and it looks like this season has that same potential, meaning league points will be at a premium from here on out.

Before this weekend’s games, be sure to check out CHN’s WCHA content from this week: After their outstanding performances at the North Star College Cup, Bemidji State was named the Team of the Week and in his feature, “Minnesota State-ment,” Avash Kalra took a look at how Minnesota State’s program has grown, culminating in the success they have had this year.

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