WCHA Weekend Preview, Nov. 13-15

Posted: November 13th, 2014 / by Ryan Evans

The WCHA race is starting to take shape as conference play begins in earnest. Michigan Tech’s undefeated start has established the Huskies as the class of the league, but Minnesota State and Bowling Green have shown they’re more than up for a title fight.

Those three teams sit within two points of each other at the top of the conference standings. Northern Michigan might also have a say in the race to the top before all is said and done, but the Wildcats will have to prove themselves against tougher opponents.

For the league as a whole, it has been about as good a start as first-year commissioner Bill Robertson could have hoped for the re-building league. The WCHA has three teams in the top-10 and four teams in the top-15 in winning percentage, which is tied with Hockey East for most among the six conferences, and WCHA players lead the country in nine different statistical categories.

Most importantly for Robertson, whose stated goal in the preseason was to get more teams into the national tournament, is that four teams rank in the top-16 of the PairWise rankings in the (very) early going — No. 1 Michigan Tech, No. 3 Minnesota State, No. 11 Bowling Green, and No. 13 Northern Michigan. I want to stress the “it’s early” part, but it’s a promising sign nonetheless for the WCHA as it tries to build itself back up.

(After the jump: Previewing this weekend’s match-ups)

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Weekend Preview: Big Ten, Nov. 13

Posted: November 13th, 2014 / by Jashvina Shah

Five teams will play for the Big Ten this weekend, as both Penn State and Michigan return from byes. The Badgers will be idle for the third time in the past month.

But the best part about this week is it’s the last week of non-conference play for several teams. Next week Penn State, Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan will kick off Big Ten play.

Several teams will be tested this week, as the Gophers should have tougher competition against Minnesota-Duluth in a home-and-home series. Ohio State will have its own challenge in Bowling Green, a team that sits tied for second in the WCHA — a conference that’s quietly been one of the better ones this season.

Michigan State will host a struggling Boston College team, while Penn State will face against UMass Lowell. The pair of games will contribute to the Big Ten-Hockey East Challenge.

Inconsistent Michigan returns home to host AIC, and should be able to snap out of their losing streak.

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Three Things (I Think?): NCHC, Nov. 11

Posted: November 11th, 2014 / by Avash Kalra

While the NCHC certainly hasn’t been immune to the inconsistency that most teams experienced last year on an almost weekly basis, the start to the 2014-15 season has been highlighted most of all by exceptionally strong starts from Minnesota-Duluth (in first place), Miami (7-3), North Dakota (7-1-1), Denver (5-3-0), and Nebraska-Omaha (6-1-1), while St. Cloud (wins over Union and Minnesota) and Western Michigan (coming off a win over Denver) have showed plenty of potential in the early going.

Rapid recap: This past weekend resulted in four sweeps involving NCHC teams, with Omaha (vs. Ohio State) and North Dakota (vs. Wisconsin) extending the NCHC’s NCAA-best non-conference record with road sweeps. In conference action, the Bulldogs (at St. Cloud, where they hadn’t picked up a sweep since ’99) and RedHawks (vs. a struggling Colorado College squad) put together back-to-back wins as well. Denver and Western Michigan split their weekend series that saw a total of 18 goals, nine allowed by each.

Now, a look at three developing storylines:

In the crease

Fifteen NCHC players have averaged a point or more per game so far this season (of the 87 such players nationally). That includes just three players in the nation’s top 20 point scorers (Miami’s Blake Coleman and North Dakota’s Drake Caggiula and Michael Parks). A lot of that can be attributed to strong goaltending throughout the league. This past weekend saw strong performances from several. Among the highlights, Minnesota-Duluth freshman goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo (second only to St. Lawrence’s Kyle Hayton in minutes played among rookie netminders so far) allowed just three goals all weekend (1.47 GAA, .952 save percentage) in the UMD’s series sweep at St. Cloud State. The Espoo, Finland, native has now won three straight for the first-place Bulldogs.

Then, of course, there’s NCHC Goaltender of the Week Jay Williams, who allowed only one goal (an Aaron Harstad power play tally) against Colorado College in the RedHawks’ sweep. Sure, the back-to-back wins (incredibly, Miami’s first NCHC sweep after not being able to accomplish the feat last season) were against a struggling Tigers team, but Williams (1.64 GAA, .921 save percentage) has outplayed fellow junior Ryan McKay so far and has been exceptional in seven of the eight games he’s played. It’s been a great turnaround for Williams, who struggled last year (3.30 goals-against average, .882 save percentage). It’s probably safe to say at this point that the sophomore season was the anomaly, rather than his stellar freshman campaign. In fact, at this point, it’s probably safe to disregard Miami’s 2013-14 season almost entirely. Williams — assuming he gets the starting nod again — gets a pair of games at North Dakota this weekend. With Miami’s track record, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to imagine McKay (very talented himself) still getting one of those starts.

Finally, Omaha’s Ryan Massa and North Dakota’s Zane McIntyre have been keys to each team’s strong starts. Perhaps the more interesting storylines involving goaltenders heading into this weekend are a pair of matchups between teams that struggled with goaltending last weekend. Three of those four teams have had revolving doors in the crease — Denver (with its combination of Evan Cowley and Tanner Jaillet) hosting Colorado College (Chase Perry/Tyler Marble) on Friday and St. Cloud’s Charlie Lindgren attempting to rebound against Western Michigan (with its duo of Frank Slubowski and Lukas Hafner).

Toninato amends

On Halloween night, UMD forward Dominic Toninato was assessed a five-minute major penalty for checking from behind, and the penalty (called late in the third period) proved costly against Miami. Sean Kuraly scored the game-winner with less than two minutes play to give the RedHawks a 3-2 win. Toninato, a sophomore, had played well to that point, with goals in five of UMD’s first six games, but he came up empty in the pair of games last week against Miami. Read the rest of this entry »

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Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Nov. 11

Posted: November 11th, 2014 / by Joe Meloni

There really isn’t anything Connecticut fans care to discuss about last week’s results against Boston College and Boston University aside from the final scores. UConn defeated BC, 1-0, in the Huskies’ first-ever home opener in Hockey East. Then, they went to Agganis Arena and earned a 4-4 tie against BU.

Rightfully, UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh was thrilled with the three points and proud of the mettle his team showed in the face of a dominating even strength performance by BU. The Huskies did what inferior teams need to do to wins games. They kept most shots to the perimeter, blocked a ton of attempts and limited time and space when pucks did sneak into the grade-A. Beyond all that, goaltender Rob Nichols was fantastic; he stopped 64 of 69 shots in the two games.

At the moment, the team’s spirit is sky high, and Cavanaugh’s ability to adopt the same microscope and telescope approach his mentor, Jerry York, has long instilled in his own teams seems to be working for the Huskies. He said after Saturday’s draw that he and his staff have kept the team focusing on individual games instead of looking forward to every twist and turn the Hockey East calendar can offer.

A few nice results in November were important for UConn. It’s not going to last all season, and the Huskies are still certain to finish in the lower half of the league. The way they’re winning right now isn’t sustainable. However, there are plenty of positive characteristics of this team. They defend well in their own end, break quickly and efficiently up ice and avoid the type of high-risk plays that team like BC and BU can turn into offense.

Saturday night against BU, UConn got a pair of power-play goals — one during a 5-minute major — and kept the Terriers scoreless on their own man advantages. The Terriers were the better team, but UConn’s success in high-leverage situations warranted the point it received.

Prior to the season, UConn was picked to finished last in the league by both the coaches and the media. That may very well happen, but this year was never about championships. Even if the coaching staff and players say they expect to win trophies, the 2014-15 season is about building a positive foundation to continue attracting high-quality players to Storrs and eventually compete within Hockey East. Picking up three points last week was an important piece and that foundation, and it will be even when the Huskies start to struggle. Read the rest of this entry »

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Big Ten: Big Ten: A Look Into Corsi, Week Five

Posted: November 11th, 2014 / by Jashvina Shah

Four Big Ten teams played this week, and Wisconsin returned to action after a two-week bye. The conference finished 3-5 over the weekend, with Minnesota sweeping Notre Dame and Michigan State splitting its series with UNH.

This is the first week I’ve been able to calculate Corsi for the Badgers, who are 0-6-0 on the season. On Friday, Wisconsin recorded a Corsi close of 38.10 percent, while on Saturday it was 50.82 in 5-on-5 play. I delve more into the situations of both games below, but the Badgers lost 4-3 on Friday and 5-1 on Saturday.

Following the theme of scoring more goals while possessing the puck less, the Spartans recorded four goals in a 4-3 win over UNH, and finished the game with a 39.62 percent Corsi close. In Saturday night’s loss, Michigan State’s Corsi close was 46.94 percent.

Like last week, I provided the Corsi for each game by period. Below those stats, I have more details on Corsi close:

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Three Things I Think: WCHA, Nov. 11

Posted: November 11th, 2014 / by Ryan Evans

This week in the WCHA featured the conference’s top teams flexing their muscle. Three of the four conference series resulted in sweeps, while Alabama-Huntsville continued the league’s success this season in non-conference play.

In the polls, Michigan Tech slid up four spots in the USCHO.com poll to No. 5 after running its undefeated start to 8-0-0. Minnesota State also moved up four places to No. 13 after sweeping Bemidji State. Northern Michigan jumped two spots to No. 18 with a split versus Ferris State — which dropped out of the top-20 – and, at No. 19, Bowling Green broke into the top-20 for the first time this season after sweeping Alaska.

Ferris State (107) is the only WCHA team receiving votes in this week’s poll.

This week’s top-billed matchup, Ferris State at Northern Michigan, saw an epic goaltending dual between two of the league’s top net minders. Bulldogs senior C.J. Motte and Wildcats sophomore Mathias Dahlstrom each registered 24-save shutouts on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The Bulldogs took the opener in a 1-0 OT thriller before the Wildcats salvaged the split with a 2-0 win on Saturday.

Michigan Tech got its own solid effort in goal from junior Jamie Phillips against Alaska-Anchorage. Phillips stopped 45-of-46 shots on the weekend, including a 19-save shutout on Friday. Huskies sophomore defenseman Shane Hanna led the way for MTU with three points (1+2) as it continued its undefeated start to the season with 2-0 and 3-1 wins over the Seawolves.

Minnesota State and Bemidji State combined for 17 goals in their two games, but it was the Mavericks that proved why they’re among the conference favorites, sweeping the series with 6-3 and 5-3 wins. MSU has now won five of its past six games. Minnesota State junior forwards Bryce Gervais and Teddy Blueger combined for six goals and 10 points in the series.

Continuing the theme of strong play in the crease, Bowling Green junior Tommy Burke backstopped the Falcons to a pair of 3-2 wins on the road versus Alaska, turning away 62-of-66 shots thrown his way. Sophomore forward Mark Pohlkamp lit the lamp twice for BGSU, including the game-winner on Saturday.

In the week’s only non-conference series, Alabama-Huntsville got into the win column for the first time this season with a 4-2 road win over Air Force on Friday before battling the Falcons to a 3-3 tie on Saturday. Chargers freshman forward Brennan Saulnier earned WCHA Rookie of the Week honors for his two points in the series. The WCHA is now 3-3-1 against Atlantic Hockey and 21-16-3 overall in non-conference play this season.

(After the jump: WCHA Three Stars of the Weekend and Three Thoughts on what went down)

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Three Things I Think: Big Ten, Nov. 10

Posted: November 10th, 2014 / by Jashvina Shah

Now that we’re a month into the season, it’s evident the Big Ten conference is one of the weakest. Penn State, idle last week, has the second-best overall record in the conference with five wins. Minnesota is already cruising through its schedule, and will more than likely have an easy time taking down other Big Ten teams.

Of the four schools in action last week, Michigan State was the only team besides Minnesota to earn a win. The Spartans split its series with UNH, but Wisconsin and Ohio State were both swept by North Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha, respectively.

The Buckeyes dropped their first game 4-1. On Saturday, the Buckeyes had a 3-1 lead against Nebraska-Omaha before allowing three unanswered goals in the 4-3 loss. Tanner Fritz leads Ohio State’s offense with nine points, while Matt Tomkins and Christian Frey have continued splitting starts.

Michigan State defeated UNH 4-3 on Friday, winning its second game in a row and scoring four goals for the second night in a row. On Saturday, the Spartans lost 5-2. Matt Berry and Mackenzie MacEachern each have eight points this season, and the Spartans seem to be lowering their block total by week and now average 15.25 blocked shots per game.

The Gophers defeated Notre Dame 5-0 and 4-2 over the weekend, despite playing without Travis Boyd and Brady Skjei. So far, the Gophers have swept through almost all of their opponents, and should find conference play very easy.

(After the jump: What’s up with Wisconsin, the goalkeeping dilemma and Big Ten woes) Read the rest of this entry »

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NCHC Weekend Preview: Nov. 7-8

Posted: November 7th, 2014 / by Avash Kalra

Every NCHC team is in action this weekend. Before we look at the series, check out a pair of features on the main site: on Denver’s rookie sensation Danton Heinen and St. Cloud’s lessons learned from a grueling start to the season.

St. Cloud State (3-3-0 overall, 0-0-0 NCHC) hosts Minnesota-Duluth (4-4-0 overall, 2-2-0 NCHC)

The Huskies have garnered plenty of attention for their nonconference schedule thus far — a whirlwind trio of series against Colgate, Minnesota, and Union, with St. Cloud splitting all three. But Minnesota-Duluth’s schedule has been tough as well, splitting series against Denver, Miami, and Minnesota State. The Bulldogs also boast a win over Notre Dame that followed a season-opening loss to Minnesota.

Both teams come into the weekend with .500 records, and for St. Cloud, it’s the first league series of the year after the Huskies won the regular season title (the Penrose Cup) a year ago. The key to this particular matchup may be which team’s power play continues to play well. Both are converting about 24 percent of their man-advantage chances so far this season, which places each team in the top 10 in the nation in that category. The Bulldogs, despite scoring over 3.6 goals per game this season, will have to be especially careful at the other end as they also lead the nation in penalty minutes so far. Last Friday, a five minute major against leading scorer Dominic Toninato led to Miami’s game-winning power play goal in the third period.

An intriguing matchup presents itself in goal, too — with St. Cloud sophomore Charlie Lindgren and UMD freshman Kasimir Kaskisuo both playing well in starting roles so far. Prediction: St. Cloud State wins Friday, the teams tie on Saturday

Miami (5-3-0 overall, 1-1-0 NCHC) hosts Colorado College (2-4-0 overall, 0-2-0 NCHC)

Miami heads into the weekend after playing five consecutive one-goal games (going 3-2-0 in that stretch) and welcome to Oxford a young but evolving Colorado College team that has lost four straight, albeit against stiff competition (North Dakota, Boston College, New Hampshire). The RedHawks are rolling behind Blake Coleman’s 11 points (third most in the nation) and Sean Kuraly’s four game-winning goals already, and have shown consistency in big moments that they, for whatever reason, lacked last season. Still, Miami has struggled on the penalty kill … but so has CC (allowing 9 power play goals in 25 penalty killing situations). Sophomore goaltender Tyler Marble started both games for the Tigers last weekend, allowing a total of 12 goals on 56 shots. One bright spot for the Tigers has been defenseman Teemu Kivihalme. The rookie has three goals so far, tied for the most by any NCHC rookie so far. Prediction: Miami sweeps

Denver (4-2-0 overall, 1-1-0 NCHC) hosts Western Michigan (2-4-0 overall, 0-2-0 NCHC) 

Had it not been for freshman Danton Heinen’s overtime heroics last week, a moment even bigger considering there were several players out of the lineup with the “stomach flu,” the feeling in the Mile High City might be a little different heading into this weekend. Prior to Saturday’s 2-1 overtime win over BC, Denver had dropped its previous two games, one to those same Eagles, and one to Minnesota-Duluth. Instead, the Pioneers enter this weekend on a high, boasting a balanced offense and a strong goaltender in Evan Cowley. The sophomore has picked up where Sam Brittain left off last year, and has helped the DU defense limit opponents to just over 1.6 goals per game. Cowley will face a Broncos offense that was shut out in back to back games before scoring four in a 4-2 win over Alaska-Fairbanks last Saturday. This weekend marks the first meeting between the programs since Denver ended WMU’s season last year in the NCHC semifinals, and the Broncos will be looking for their first-ever program win at Magness Arena. Prediction: Denver wins Friday, Western Michigan wins Saturday

Non-conference series

North Dakota at Wisconsin: Off to its best start since the 2009-10 season, on the strength of five (yes, five) shorthanded goals already this season (none bigger than last weekend’s Bryn Chyzyk OT winner vs. Air Force), UND heads to one of its many rivals carried over from the old WCHA. North Dakota brings an unbeaten streak of six games to Madison, facing a struggling, winless Wisconsin team that has managed just three goals in four games thus far. Still, expect a close games between the rivals, especially with Joel Rumpel (Wisconsin) and Zane McIntyre (UND) between the pipes. Prediction: Wisconsin wins Friday, North Dakota wins Saturday

Nebraska-Omaha at Ohio State: Speaking of hot starts… UNO is unbeaten in four straight games as well, led by Jake Guentzel’s 1.8 points per game (tied for fourth nationally, with Boston University’s Jack Eichel). The strength beyond Guentzel has unquestionably been Ryan Massa. The Omaha goaltender, recently named the NCHC Player of the Month (October) boasts a 1.38 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage. He backstopped the Mavericks to three figurative points in Ithaca against Cornell last week. Just as UND/Wisconsin represents a WCHA throwback, this matchup is a CCHA throwback. Massa will face an Ohio State offense that was awakened last week after struggling earlier in the season. Senior Tanner Fritz leads the Buckeyes with seven points, but he’s also a team-worst minus-7 while playing a lot of minutes so far. Prediction: Nebraska-Omaha wins Friday, Ohio State wins Saturday

 

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Hockey East Weekend Preview: Nov. 7

Posted: November 7th, 2014 / by Joe Meloni

No matter what happens this weekend in Hockey East, Friday’s matchup between Boston College and Boston University will be the story around the country.

The first installment of the B-Line rivalry or the Battle of Commonwealth Avenue or whatever you prefer to call it has a bit more meaning than it usually does. With BU’s Jack Eichel and BC’s Noah Hanifin in the lineup, two of the top three picks in next summer’s NHL Draft will be on display.

At this point in the season, no one involved with either program is too keen to discuss the draft status of either player. Moreover, coaches just want their teams to get point and some quality wins under their belts. That hasn’t stopped every media outlet with even the smallest bit of time for amateur hockey from talking about Friday’s game.

Both BU coach Dave Quinn and BC’s Jerry York know their gifted young players are capable of being stars on the ice for a very long time. However, they both also know how important this game is for each program.

BU is trying to end a five-year trophy drought, while BC is in the midst of a troubling stretch. Eichel and Hanifin may be future NHL icons, but, for now, they’re just a pair of very good college hockey players trying to win games. Neither will be at their respective schools for more than one or two seasons. Eichel seems a certainty to sign with whichever team drafts him, while Hanifin, being a defenseman and even younger than Eichel, is a better candidate to get a second season of college hockey.

Either way, the buzz around Friday’s game around North America is palpable. Meetings between BC-BU are always highly anticipated, only a few other rivalries in the country match the significance of the games every year. There’s more than two points on the minds of those watching, though.

Admittedly, I’ve been a little frustrated with the constant discussion of these two players. They’re both, obviously, massive talents, and this whole season will be a showcase for them. These games always have future professional stars in them, though. These two are especially high profile, and it’s good for college hockey that this game is on national television for everyone to see just what these teams have to offer.

No matter the result, though, the story ill inevitably turn to Eichel and Hanifin. Games between BC and BU aren’t exactly starved for coverage or additional storylines every year. But they’ll certainly get some more of both this year, starting tonight at the Heights. Read the rest of this entry »

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WCHA Weekend Preview, Nov. 7-8

Posted: November 7th, 2014 / by Ryan Evans

As a league, the WCHA is off to a strong start, which is exciting for first-year commissioner Bill Robertson and his re-building league. Eight of the WCHA’s ten teams are either ranked or receiving votes and six teams – Michigan Tech, Northern Michigan, Bowling Green, Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska – are among the top-20 teams by win percentage.

However, a conference’s strength will always be measured by how it fares against other leagues. In that regard, WCHA teams have a .551 win percentage in non-conference play, which is the second best in the country.

Breaking down its non-conference record, of the WCHA’s 20 wins, almost half have come against the Big Ten. Overall, the league is 9-3-1 vs. the Big Ten, 5-7-0 vs. the NCHC, 2-3-1 vs. Hockey East, 2-0-1 vs. the ECAC, and 2-3-0 vs. Atlantic Hockey.

The biggest news in the WCHA this week, though, was the NCAA handing Alaska a postseason ban for this season stemming from the use of ineligible players from 2007-2011.

With the Nanooks off to a promising start, that decision has big ramifications for the WCHA race. UAF certainly looked capable of a top-eight finish in the conference, so its ban essentially opens up another playoff spot as the ninth place team will now qualify for the WCHA playoffs (assuming it’s not the Nanooks).

(After the jump: Previewing this week’s match-ups)

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