This weekend features four Big Ten teams in play. For some, this is the last weekend of non-conference action before Big Ten play begins. Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin all have easier slates than Minnesota, which faces Minnesota State in a home-and-home series. Michigan is playing the NTDP while the Spartans have a bye week.
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The weekend featured a couple of interesting wins from Big Ten teams, including a 4-3 victory by the Spartans over Ferris State. Penn State swept Alaska-Anchorage (shocking, I know) and holds the longest unbeaten streak in the country along with Boston College. But, the Nittany Lions aren’t that good (more on that later) and this is another great reminder that a) polls mean literally nothing and b) it is way too early to look at the Pairwise.
The win was Michigan State’s first “real” victory (I say “real” because beating a team that has not played a regular season game yet when you’ve already played four seems a little skewed). The Spartans lost 4-1 on Thursday, with Ed Minney in net. He was in net during the win, though, and made 20 saves. In not surprising news, Mason Appleton is Michigan State’s leading scorer.
The Wolverines split their home series with Boston University, but the Terriers were without Clayton Keller. It was more impressive that Michigan shut BU out 4-0 on the first night, but the Terriers rebounded with a 4-2 win. Again it was Hayden Lavigne and Jack LaFontaine who split netminding duties, and the freshmen seem to be doing well so far.
Ohio Sate defeated UConn 7-4 and then tied the Huskies 3-3. The Buckeyes are now 1-2-1 in their last four games but are still undefeated in their last three. Christian Frey is healthy and started both games over the weekend. Frey’s consecutive starts are probably less a sign he’ll take the starting role and more a sign that Steve Rohlik is trying to make up some of the playing time that he missed.
(After the jump: Penn State is not good, Ed Minney musings and a possible end to the North Star College Cup)
Another great weekend and many standouts have started to take shape. Quinnipiac, Cornell and Clarkson all took home four points, while SLU continued its hot ECAC start picking up three. Although, it is too early to start making assumptions it appears that those four teams and Harvard are standouts. I will talk about why I included the Crimson in that list below. RPI, Colgate and Yale have struggled in the early season. Yale probably the biggest surprise in that list, but it seems like it should have been expected with all the losses it had in the offseason.
After defeating Yale at Ingalls rink on Friday night, Colgate struggled to find traction at Brown the next evening. The Bears picked up their first win of the season in the process and now only Princeton is without a win in the ECAC this year. I still feel as though Princeton is much improved and the possession stats in the early going will show that. It is always tough for a young Ivy team to find traction, I assume they are just off to a slow start. It held tough against Harvard on Friday night, until it fell off late. It picked up a tie against a Dartmouth team that has found some great results in the early going on Saturday and I feel as though the Tigers will still pick up more wins than the last few seasons. It will be interesting to see how they progress. RPI, Brown,Princeton and Colgate are a combined 5-22-6 on the season, with each having a similar possession problem that puts them under a ton of pressure.
Dartmouth slowed a bit in a loss and a tie to Quinnipiac and Princeton, respectively. The Big Green held an early lead against the Bobcats on Friday night, but key penalties cost them dearly. Once QU got the lead, Dartmouth struggled to find the early game rhythm. They ended up dropping that game, with Devin Buffalo making 48 saves in a 6-3 loss. Mike Vecchione’s unreal start slowed a bit over the weekend with just a pair of assists, but he has been really good and still leads the nation in both goals and points. Union had a tough weekend, but still lead the league, with a loss and a tie on the weekend. Without further ado, here are my thoughts.
Watch Out For Harvard
One of the things that have plagued Harvard over the years, has been the inability to move the puck through the neutral zone from the defensive end of the ice to the offense. Interestingly enough, the one year Patrick McNally provided that wrinkle, the Crimson won the ECAC championship. This season, along with the plethora of talent up front, the Crimson have added two pieces on the blue-line that have instantly made them better not only in the defensive end but also on offense, which makes Harvard extremely dangerous.
For 40 minutes, Harvard utterly dominated Quinnipiac on Saturday. In the first 13 or so minutes of the second period, QU probably had about a minute in the Harvard zone in that time frame. The Crimson sent many shots, 33 in fact towards the QU net but were just unable to bury it. It is very rare for any team to do that to the Bobcats and it has probably been Harvard’s biggest bane against them in recent seasons. It is much like they have done in many games in the early going, including a Colgate game which it sent over 90 shots towards the net. For Harvard, all this is an improvement and it is all because the defense is that much better.
It is rare, a defensive talent like Adam Fox comes into the league. As a freshman, he is well rounded. On Saturday, in a big game, he played first pair minutes played on the power play and killed penalties. Him and John Marino, have fit well into a team that struggled for consistency in its own zone the past couple of seasons.
Technically, on the sheet, Marino, was paired with Wiley Sherman on the top pair and Fox on the second with Jacob Olson. Fox and Olson played a ton on Saturday, both played really well and both were noticable. Marino did as well but Fox was clearly a standout, with the amount he was playing. Both freshmen can move the puck, with Fox being very confident at all aspects of his defensive game. This should only lead to a boom in posession, and it already has. The Crimson are fourth in the country in corsi for, at 58.5%. Last year Harvard was midpack and against decent hockey teams, it struggled mightily. This is mostly because the defense does better limiting chances, while it also does better on getting the puck to the neutral zone.
As I said above, Harvard has struggled to move the puck from defense to offense over the years, this season the fruits of this new found wealth will probably be a good thing. Despite losing to Quinnipiac, it was the better team. It was nice to see a Harvard team move the puck from defense to offense, despite the struggles to finish and get those opportunities late.
One should watch Harvard, they still have a ton of talent up front and Merrick Madsen in net. Madsen seemed a bit off on Saturday, but he will get out of the funk. Harvard is an extremely dangerous looking team and if anything fun to watch.
Cornell Finds its Way
I remember looking at the scores early Friday and at that point saying well maybe Cornell isn’t the team I thought they were. But I checked again about an hour later, to realize they had scored the next four goals against Brown to take a 4-1 lead. The Big Red held on to defeat the Bears 4-2, to pick up the first win of the young season. On Saturday, Cornell find its rhythm in a big way, scoring six times in a 6-3 win.
Although Yale seems down, scoring six against that system is a big positive for Cornell. There was always the question of where the scoring would come from for the Big Red but it had arguably the best first line returnig in college hockey. Although, Jeff Kubiak remains sidelined with an injury, Jake Weidner has been fitting in with Mitch Vanderlaan and Anthony Angello just fine. In Saturday’s game, Vanderlaan scored a hat- trick, which was the first one for Cornell in over five years.
Despite a slow start over the few weeks, I still felt the Big Red would turn a corner. It still has Mitch Gillam in net and its defense will always be good. It appears that the early season troubles have passed and if Cornell can continue to score like they did over they weekend, they too are a team to watch.
Given where Yale has been in the past five seasons, it probably would have been a shock that they would have started a season 1-3-0 in league play. But here we are as the Bulldogs were swept by Colgate and Cornell over the weekend. Even in its one win, it took a remarkable comeback against a struggling RPI team just to tie it and eventually win it. To say the Bulldogs have struggled defensively and in net would be an understatement.
Although the Elis have possessed the puck a ton and have taken many shots, they have struggled to keep the few chances out of its net. This is a common theme with most teams that struggled in situational defending and teams that have shaky goaltending. It is second in the country in corsi for at 61.3%, but it is 50th in the country in goals against per game played. It allows 3.60 per game, while its goaltender Patrick Spano has a 3.45 GAA and a .879 save percentage. Spano was never going to match the numbers of Alex Lyon, who departed in the offseason for the Flyers, but it was expected that he would hold the fort. It certainly doesn’t help him, Yale lost its top three defensemen to graduation and its fourth to a career ending injury. There was always going to be growing pains, but it is still surprising.
Yale has more talent up front this year than it has in recent seasons, but there are notable holes on the blueline. It is able to generate the pressure it has been able to, but it makes sense the defense wouldn’t be able to hold up to pressure the other way. The offense is scoring at the same rate it was last season and just a tick higher than it did the year prior. Everyone figured, Yale would be a top offense in the ECAC, but I didn’t think it would be. Everyone seems to have forgotten just how much offense, Yale’s defense contributed over the last few years. It has been a catalyst and now those pieces are gone the struggles will be there. So far, it is seventh in the ECAC in scoring with 2.80 per game. John Hayden has scored five goals in his first five games and has a been a big piece.
Although Yale has scored at the same rate this year, its goals against per game has skyrocketed. Last season the Elis led NCAA hockey, allowing just 1.78 goals per game. This year, that number has blossomed to 3.60 against per game. It is easy to pinpoint the troubles so far. They will probably continue, as the schedule gets even tougher. It is just interesting to see Yale in this position after two years of being the best in the nation.
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.
Entering conference play with a clean slate is always a nice beginning to the season.We probably didn’t learn much over the weekend, because it is so early in the season and most teams are getting into their systems with new faces. While Harvard looked really good in both games, it only escaped the weekend with a win and a tie. Ditto to Dartmouth, that has surprisingly begun its season 2-0-1 overall and 1-0-1 in ECAC play. Cornell has struggled in its three games to begin its season, while SLU came up with a big weekend sweep of Quinnipiac and Princeton. For the Saints, it appears that its stalwart netminder, Kyle Hayton, has left his early season struggles behind him. Over the weekend Hayton had two shutouts, stopping everything the Tigers and Bobcats threw at his net. Hayton with the two shutouts, set the SLU program record for shutouts in his career, as the junior now has 10.
Union has rocketed out of the starting gate with a 4-0-0 record in ECAC play, while rival RPI is 1-3-0 after it defeated Brown on Friday night. Union is a tad of a surprise but they have, arguably, the best offense in the conference and right up there with Harvard. There will always be questions about its defense and goaltending, but at least so far it has been able to score enough goals, most nights to not have to worry about that. The Dutchmen have scored the most goals in college hockey, with 45, and scores more than four goals a game (4.09). Its top line, which I will write more about in a feature on Mike Vecchione this week, has been dynamite and has put itself into conversation of the best line in the country. The statistics can certainly prove that. If the Dutchmen can get better in its own zone, it will be a serious contender in the ECAC this year, but then again that will be deterrent. (more…)
What an interesting weekend in college hockey. After looking at all the scores, I’m not sure anything makes sense. But when does it ever? The Buckeyes finally were defeated, and by Robert Morris by 6-2. The next night they skated to a 4-4 tie, so the Buckeyes still have just one loss on the season. Matt Tomkins started on Friday and Logan Davis came on in relief, so Christian Frey is most likely still injured. Ohio State took 37 shots on net on net in both games and John Wiitala accounted for two goals on Saturday. The Buckeyes led by two goals in the last game but the Colonials tied it.
The renewal of the great Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry featured a couple of exciting, fast-paced college hockey games (until the third period of Saturday night’s game, but I digress). Friday’s game was a back-and-forth scoring affair. The Fighting Hawks took a 2-0 lead in the first, but the Gophers tied it. The second was scoreless and the team exchanged goals in the third with Tommy Novak tying it with 1:17 left. Minnesota won 2-0 on Saturday but the game was still close and the Gophers won because of Eric Scheirhorn’s impressive play in net. And of course the teams got into a scuffle when the game ended.
Michigan unsurprisingly defeated Arizona State. In the 4-1 win, Will Lockwood scored twice and Zach Nagelvoort made 31 saves. That was Nagelvoort’s second start of the soon and first since Michigan opened its season against Union. The fact that Red Berenson chose to start Nagelvoort, finally, against Arizona State says a lot about his role with the team so far.
The Spartans split their series with Michigan Tech. The first night Mason Appleton tied the game late in the third and scored the game winner in overtime. Both of Appleton’s goals were power play goals. Ed Minney made 22 saves in the start, but he didn’t look extremely solid. John Lethemon got the nod the next night but, from what I saw, didn’t look too stellar either. He made 23 saves in the 5-1 loss. The Spartans have now won two of their last three.
Penn State swept Niagara by 5-1 scores each night. The Nittany Lions took 56 shots on Thursday and followed with 51 on Friday. The Nittany Lions oddly do not lead the country in shots, but they’re second and have been peppering opponents. That isn’t surprising given their recent opponents and that taking a lot of shots is part of coach Guy Gadowsky’s strategy. On Thursday, Peyton Jones got a night of rest in favor of Chris Funkey. Andrew Sturtz added three goals on the weekend and now had eight.
The Badgers again split their series with Northern Michigan, following a 5-2 loss with a 2-0 win. In the loss, Matt Jurusik gave up four goals on 10 shots, which isn’t good. Jack Berry made six saves in relief. Berry made 22 saves in the shutout win the next night, which was also his first career start. The worst news of the weekend for the Badgers was that Grant Besse was hurt on Friday. He did not play Saturday, but per Wisconsin State Journal reporter Todd Milewski, head coach Tony Granato said Besse could’ve played Saturday and wanted to, but the coaches chose to sit him.
(After the jump: Rohlik deserved his extension, Minnesota is lethal, the good in Michigan State’s offense)
Rohlik deserved his extension
Steve Rohlik was given a contract extension at the beginning of the year and the Buckeyes finally started the season well. The Buckeyes have a loss now, and I’m not sure how they’ll finish, but I think giving Rohlik a contract was the right move. Record-wise the Buckeyes haven’t accomplished much and still haven’t made it back to the NCAA tournament but Rohlik has kept the team competitive over the past few years. He’s also kept their offense producing, even after Ohio State lost Max McCormick and Ryan Dzingel.
He’s also faced quite the challenges – most notably his first season when both his goaltenders were injured and he had a third-string goalie and a baseball catcher as his two options. He navigated the team through it, and the netminding mishap didn’t phase the team.
Whatever their record has been, his Buckeyes have always been a tough team to play against. That’s been especially true at the end of each season, when they’ve been one of the best teams in the Big Ten down the stretch. Unfortunately it’s been a few down years for the conference and that’s affected all of the teams, but Rohlik has done a great job with the Buckeyes all things considered.
Also it’s been three years, which has given Rohlik enough time to recruit his own players. And some of them are pretty good.
Minnesota is lethal
I have to take back some of what I said about the Gophers last weekend. I finally got to watch them closely this weekend (although it’s important to remember that Clarkson/St. Lawrence and North Dakota are very different teams, so it’s hard to compare what I saw this week to what happened last), and I was pretty impressed. Minnesota is definitely better than I thought it was, but North Dakota also probably isn’t as good as everyone thought they were. What impressed me the most with Minnesota, which I shouldn’t be surprised over, is how lethal they can be.
I believe that was something North Dakota mentioned in pre-game press conferences and something we noticed last weekend. There’s a ton of talent on that team on paper, and it translates well on ice. The Gophers can strike quickly and can create good scoring chances out of almost nothing. It makes Minnesota a fun team to watch, and I believe they can become a team capable of winning the Big Ten.
Michigan State’s offense is also better
As strange as this is to type, it’s true. This may never show up on the scoresheet in shots, goals, points or wins, but it’s evident if you watch the Spartans play this year. The forward core is pretty young, with Michigan State relying on players like Mason Appleton. There are some Spartan veterans who can score, like Joe Cox and William Haag, but right now the underclassmen are leading. Appleton has three goals and eight points, freshman Taro Hirose has six points and sophomore Zach Osburn has five.
I’ve only been able to watch one game, and it was the overtime win over Michigan Tech, but the players were able to set up, pass easily to each other, find the right lanes and create some good chances that I can’t remember seeing from the Spartans recently.
— 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.
This weekend features an easier non-conference schedule for some Big Ten teams. Penn State, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin have easy competition for this weekend. The Spartans will have a tougher test against Michigan Tech, and Minnesota will have a really hard time against the Fighting Hawks.
It’s way too early to look at the pairwise, but it’s never too early (and this is the only time, really) to compare non-conference records. The Big Ten is still second to the NCHC, but their winning percentage stands at .618. The Big Ten has played six games against Atlantic Hockey, while the NCHC has only played two.
The matchup to watch is really Minnesota against North Dakota. The Gopher still have to prove themselves, and North Dakota is a pretty good test. Not to mention the two teams are rivals, and those feelings haven’t changed despite the great shift in college hockey conferences.
Oh, and the Buckeyes are now the only undefeated team in college hockey.
First Denver, then St. Cloud State, and now Minnesota-Duluth — the third consecutive NCHC team to be named CHN Team of the Week (check out the full story here).
UMD was dominant on special teams, scoring three power play goals and two shorthanded goals during the weekend sweep of the defending national champions, North Dakota. In Saturday’s 3-0 shutout in particular, the Bulldogs were dizzying to watch (just check out the beautifully worked shorthanded goal by Kyle Osterberg with less than a minute to play in the period, as an example).
I spoke with UMD senior Alex Iafallo yesterday, who played a big role in UMD’s weekend sweep — the first time North Dakota had been swept in a weekend series since St. Cloud State pulled off the feat in November 2013.
Iafallo, the NCHC Offensive Player of the Week, scored his first career hat-trick in Friday’s 5-2 win and added an assist in each game as well. The senior from Eden, N.Y., has been remarkably consistent through his career in Duluth — scoring 22 points as a freshman, 25 as a sophomore, and 23 as a junior.
He already has nine points — through eight games — this season, his senior campaign. Yesterday, he spoke about his outlook for the season, both from an on-ice production standpoint, as well as leadership.
“I just kind of want to keep the path going,” said Iafallo. “I want us to play as good as we can every night. It’s not all about points, but I have to do my role, and make sure I’m ready every night — whether it’s a 200-foot game, or scoring goals. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready.”
Many think of UMD as the nation’s top team now, and the Bulldogs certainly won’t be overlooked the rest of the way — trying to make their third consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
And perhaps it’s never too early to play with a tournament mindset.
Continued Iafallo, “From the team aspect, we want to play every game like it’s our last. That’s how I’m approaching this season leadership-wise and make sure everyone’s working hard, on and off the ice.”
Clearly, Iafallo is a player to watch for the rest of the season — a key component to what is shaping up to be a well-balanced offensive attack for UMD.
The Ivy League schools began play over the weekend. For some, it proved to be a rough night. For others, there were moments that showed hey they may have something to add. For Dartmouth, the one game it played had to be a big momentum boost for the coming weeks heading towards ECAC play. All told, the Ivies had a 4-4-0 record on the weekend, including the Big Green’s win over Michigan on Saturday night.
Union swept RPI in the opening league games of the 2016 season, continuing their hot start. The Dutchmen are now 6-1-1 on the season. Their offense is led by rejuvenated senior Mike Vecchione, who has 10 goals on the year and the game-winner against the Engineers on Saturday. The only team that has defeated Rick Bennett’s charges this season was Michigan at Yost. They will play at Holy Cross tonight, which has a win against Providence and defeated Brown on Friday, 3-0.
The league has in some senses struggled this season in non-conference play, but it was probably never going to equal last year’s impressive non-conference season. So many teams are young and have players in new roles. Other than a 5-1-3 record against the Atlantic, the ECAC has a record of 13-19-4 against the BIG and Hockey East. It has been tough sledding in some games, but with the Ivies back I suspect it will all get better. I also totally expect Clarkson and SLU to break their respective slumps at some point. Both teams have a good number of talented players. Without further ado here are my thoughts of the week: (more…)