NCHC Awards and NCAA Bubbles

A lot has happened since my last post. I still podcast weekly so make sure you subscribe on iTunes and podbean if you want the extended version of this blog.

The conference tournaments are all set and there are a lot of interesting possibilities that may become a factor. Here are some random thoughts I have for everyone to chew on.

The NCHC announced its All-Conference Teams and revealed finalist for Individual Awards.

I was a little surprised to see Charlie Lindgren finish ahead of Cam Johnson in All-Conference. Not to say it isn’t deserving, but nearly all stats sits in favor of Cam Johnson. In conference games (which I always use for All-Conference teams. It just makes more sense to me), Johnson has a 13-3 record with 1.80 goals against average and a .935 save percentage. He also has four shutouts to his credit. While Lindgren’s numbers are nothing to swing a dead cat at (17-6-1, .927 save percentage, 2.11 GAA, 1 SO), they are clearly inferior.

The only thought process would be the makeshift of the defensive core. Look at the early season rise of Matt Hrynkiw. The walk-on went 6-1-1 to start the season. The defensive core for North Dakota has a lot more experience than the St. Cloud State defensive core. With that line of thinking, Lindgren ‘did more with less’ and got more of the votes. I can’t think of any other way.

If that is the case, it is a pretty poor argument but the best I can come up with. That ties into the fact that both are up for goaltender of the year and I can’t see a second-team All-Conference getting it over the first-team goaltender, but stranger things have happened. I wouldn’t say the Johnson got robbed, but it was an outcome the numbers don’t agree.

I like to play around with the Pairwise Predictors once all the conferences get to the knockout stages. However, there seems to be a much lower amount of bubble teams this year than in previous years. According to the CHN Probability Matrix, the top 12 teams are essentially locks. With the highest Atlantic Hockey team (Robert Morris) at 21 and unable to move up to 16, that moves the cut line up.

The WCHA is in the same predicament, but is in slightly better shape. Michigan Tech currently sits at 14, but the next WCHA team is Minnesota State at 25. Its still possible, however unlikely, that Michigan Tech can get in without winning the WCHA tournament, but those chances are slim.

That means those two conferences will only have the automatic qualifier in the NCAA tournament, which means the cut line is really at 14. Life on the bubble is even more fragile with only two spots up for grabs.

That is where the Big Ten enters. They, also, currently have one team in with Michigan sitting comfortably at seven. If a team other than Michigan wins the Big Ten, which will take another bubble spot. With the unpredictability of the teams in that conference (and Steve Racine in net), I’d be nervous if I’m on the bubble.

I’ll play around with the predictor once it goes live, but Minnesota Duluth and Northeastern are in the best position to pad its case for the NCAA tournament. Northeastern has only lost once since December 6th, an amazing turnaround after winning only once in its first 14 games. Minnesota Duluth is also playing very well lately, winning its last six straight. Both have the opportunity to take any chance out of the equation by winning its respective conference tournament.

That is it for now. I’ll play with the predictor when it comes live later tonight. Please subscribe and rate the podcast. More than just Husky Hockey talk! Thanks for stopping by.

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Weekend Preview: NCHC Teams Jostling for Position

Thank you to everyone who gave positive feedback about the podcast that was put up yesterday. It was a lot of fun and I would like to do more in the future. If you haven’t had a chance to give it a listen, I encourage you to do so even if you aren’t a St. Cloud State fan. We went through the NCHC, Big Ten, and WCHA conferences.

Due to that podcast, this is going to be a short blog. I don’t want to risk repeating myself.

First a little recap with the non-conference game on Tuesday night.

Bemidji State 2 Minnesota Duluth 1

Coming off a three game win streak, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs caught a bit of a snag with a loss to the Bemidji State Beavers. The game was a make up from earlier in the year when Amsoil Arena suffered a power outage.

The loss was utter devastation for the Bulldog’s at-large chances, dropping to a tie for 26th in the pairwise.

They do have four games with North Dakota and St. Cloud left, all on the road. So while the light is dimming, I don’t think it’s burnt out quite yet. But they would have to run the table.

Senior Markus Gerbrandt scored the game-winning goal for the Beavers with ten minutes remaining and sophomore goaltender Michael Bitzer stopped 25 of 26 shots to secure the victory.

The Bulldogs were playing a little shorthanded due to injuries (and suspensions). They are off this week, so this break comes at a good time for them. They have some very important games coming up.

Shifting the focus to this weekend, two key matchups highlight the NCHC as North Dakota travels to take on Denver and Western Michigan travels to Omaha.

In Denver, the Pioneers have been playing very well as of late. They are 6-1-3 in the last 10 games. During the stretch, the Pioneers have only allowed 20 goals.

Trying to break the Pioneers will be North Dakota, where the Fighting Hawks have been playing well since the start of the season. They haven’t lost since January 15th, where they fell 4-3 in overtime to Omaha.

Aided by the bye week, the Fighting Hawks got some well-needed rest for some of its star players, as senior Drake Caggiula and freshman Nick Schmaltz will both be back for this weekend. Their scoring touch will be a big welcome back, as they only managed to score four goals last weekend (three from freshman Brock Boeser).

North Dakota easily swept Denver earlier in the series by 5-1 and 4-0 results.

Moving to the other series, the Omaha Mavericks look to stop the bleeding that has occurred during the second half of the season. The Mavericks have gone 2-6 in the last eight games, including some lopsided losses to Colorado College and Miami. Omaha has had its fair share of troubles in conference play, going 6-9-1 and fighting for home ice. They are also being outscored 56-44 in those conference games.

The Western Michigan Broncos are sitting in the seventh spot in the conference and hasn’t won a conference game since beating Colorado College on December 12th.

It’s tough to look at this series without thinking about what happened earlier this season. The Mavericks were a perfect 6-0 heading into the first conference games of the season and just got ran out of Kalamazoo by 4-2 and 6-1 scores. Of the three goals the Mavericks were able to post, junior Jake Guentzel scored two of them.

I can’t see that happening against this series, especially with home ice points on the line for Omaha and being in front of the home crowd. However, the Broncos played North Dakota very tightly last series, so don’t be surprised if they manage to steal one.

I went though this and plenty more during the podcast, so please give that a listen. Both NCHC games are on CBS Sports Network on Friday, so check them out. My shift is over.

 

Weekend Recap: North Star College Cup

The St. Cloud State Huskies flexed its goal-scoring muscles to take the third annual North Star College Cup, beating Minnesota State 5-4 on Saturday and Bemidji State 5-2 on Sunday.

The Huskies have extended its unbeaten streak to six games, the longest of the season. They have had a four game win streak four separate times throughout the season.

Here is a rundown of the games in the NSCC.

St. Cloud State 5        Minnesota State 4

The Huskies power play went 3-for-4 against a normally effective Maverick penalty kill and was the difference when senior Jimmy Murray scored on a beautiful passing play late in the third period.

But it was Mikey Eyssimont’s night as he scored two goals and assisted on another. It looks like the light bulb turned on for the freshman, as he has six goals and nine assists during the month of January.

Maverick junior Zach Stepan also notched two goals and had an assist on the losing effort. Freshman starter Jason Pawloski was pulled after he allowed three goals in 10 shots. Junior reliever Cole Huggins didn’t fair much better, letting in two on 12 shots and taking the loss.

This wasn’t a game where the Huskies were clicking on full cylinders. That may be surprising to read after scoring five goals, but allowing four is something that is very uncharacteristic for this team. They need experience where they battle from drop to end horn. Minnesota State gave them that.

Bemidji State 4          Minnesota 2

Senior Markus Gerbrandt had two goals and an assist, including the game winner with about four minutes left in the game for the Bemidji State Beavers to pull ahead of the Minnesota Golden Gophers.

Sophomore Michael Bitzer played solid in goal, allowing two goals on 32 shots. The biggest barrage happened in the third period, when the Gophers flung 16 shots toward Bitzer.

The Gophers opened up the scoring early when junior Connor Reilly scored just 3:33 into the contest.

I was surprised on how many rebounds Bitzer gave up during the game and the Gophers’ inability to capitalize on the situation. Credit to Bemidji State for not giving the Gophers many second chances, but usually that many rebounds isn’t s recipe for success.

Day 2

Minnesota State 3     Minnesota 2

It was senior Teddy Blueger’s turn to have two goals and an assist in a game as his point total rose to a team leading 24th point of the year. Huggins made 21 saves on the night.

The lone bright spot for the Gophers on the weekend was junior Justin Kloos. Of the four goals scored by the team, Kloos had a hand in every single one of them, having two goals and two assists.

While a non-conference game, this has major pairwise implications for the Gophers. A win would have put them in 14th and in pretty good position to make the NCAA tournament. Instead, the loss puts them at 20th. It’s looking increasingly likely the Gophers will have to win the Big Ten tournament to make the NCAA tournament. The Gophers are 2-13 in the last 15 games against teams from the state of Minnesota.

St. Cloud State 5        Bemidji State 2

The Beavers may have been defending its title, but the Huskies scored four the first two periods to coast to the championship.

Senior Joey Benik scored his team leading 16th and 17th of the season in different fashions in the first period. Benik found a soft spot in the middle of the slot when a shot from senior David Morley bounced off the end boards and Benik was able to shovel the puck backhanded past Bitzer.

Benik’s second goal came off on an odd man rush when freshman Patrick Newell laid a perfect pass to Benik, who leaned into a slap shot and ripped one past Bitzer.

Bitzer’s night was quick. He allowed four goals on only 12 shots. Junior Reid Mimmack allowed one goal 12 shots in relief.

A bigger story is what happened late in the game when freshman Dan Billett took a five-minute major for kneeing Husky freshman Robby Jackson in the final minutes of the game. Jackson did not return and his status for next weekend is questionable.

The fourth line for the Huskies has been playing very well over the past few weeks and it would be a big blow for them if he were to miss significant time.

Billett may get a suspension on the play, but nothing has been announced.

One-Timers:

I like this tournament. People can point to the attendance and say how a generous 10,993 isn’t enough to sustain it, but it needs time to grow. The old WCHA Final Five didn’t start out as marquee event. It evolved and grew into one. This needs time to evolve.

The biggest change I would make is having the losing team sit out the next year instead of just a rotating member not named the Gophers sit out. I understand the non-conference scheduling for next year would be tricky as games need to be planned out, but that would add a lot more drama to the consolation game and would increase attendance. I think it would be tough to pull off, but doable. It would make it the most unique event in college hockey.

Three teams in three years have won this tournament. Only two teams have won the Beanpot in 22 years.

That is it for me. I’ll have a weekend preview on Thursday night. My shift is over.

Tough Keeping Bobcats Down; Full NCHC Slate

It’s an interesting weekend in college hockey. I don’t really see any games that really jump out and say “marquee matchup”. Don’t take this the wrong way; plenty of good games are to be had this weekend. Harvard against Cornell should be a good game. The Minnesota-Wisconsin border battle is always intriguing. But as far at the top teams, many are playing in ho-hum games.

These types of weekends are my favorite. With so many top teams playing middle of the road teams, upsets are bound to happen. It’s your typical trap weekend and I can’t wait to see which teams avoid it.

First, let’s talk about the big game that just wrapped up.

Rensselaer 2 Quinnipiac 2 OT

The Bobcats keep refusing to lose.

Junior Sam Anas scored the game-tying goal with just nine seconds remaining in regulation for salvage a tie for the top-ranked Quinnipiac Bobcats.

The Rensselaer Engineers senior goaltender made 46 saves in the tie, including 17 in the second period alone.

The Engineers drew first blood late in second period when senior forward Zach Schroeder scored his third of the season. Minnesota Wild draft pick Lou Nanne got the assist, which was his 11th on the season.

The lead extended to two when senior Mark Miller scored his fifth of the season at the 5:06 mark of the third period.

The two-goal lead didn’t last long as senior Soren Jonzzon scored his fourth of the season just 31 seconds later. That set the stage for Anas.

While no team enjoys being down by two, it doesn’t seem to bother the Bobcats.

They have faced a two-goal or more deficit in seven games this season and have only lost one of them. If your team plays them in the NCAA tournament, I’m sorry.

There is a full slate of games in the NCHC this weekend. I predict a lot of movement in the middle of the standings

The most intriguing series in the conference will be taking place in Magness Arena as the Denver Pioneers host the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs.

The Pioneers, ranked 14th in the Pairwise, haven’t lost a conference game to a team that isn’t North Dakota or St. Cloud State, who are leading the conference. They are coming off a win and a tie against the Western Michigan Broncos.

The Bulldogs, on the other hand, lost and tied St. Cloud State last weekend and are really trying to get the offense firing on all cylinders. Despite the struggles, things aren’t all that bleak for UMD as they are currently 17th in the Pairwise.

One-Timers:

  • The Colorado College Tigers stunned St. Cloud State with a 5-2 victory on Saturday. They will look to continue the good play at North Dakota, who split last weekend against Omaha.
  • Cloud State hosts Western Michigan in a sort of redemption series for the Broncos. The Huskies decimated the Broncos by a combined 16-3 in the series earlier this year. St. Cloud leads the series all time at 5-3-2, but all three losses came at home. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Broncos win a game this weekend.
  • In the CBS Sports series, the Miami Redhawks travel to newly built Baxter Arena in Omaha for a showdown against the Mavericks. Omaha is on a bit of a slide lately, going 1-3 in its last four.

I’m thinking there will be some upsets this weekend. My shift is over.

 

 

Half Season By The Numbers: The Big Ten

Another week; another conference to look at in depth. Let’s take a look at the Big Ten by the numbers. In my ongoing reviews of the first half of the NCHC, Big Ten, and WCHA seasons, I look at all the teams and give you one number I find the most interesting.

Here are the standings for the Big Ten:

                                   W-L-T  SO                 Overall

Minnesota                3-1-0               9          7-8-0

Michigan                  2-1-1     1         8          9-3-3

Penn State               2-0-0              6          11-2-3

Wisconsin                 1-2-1              4          4-7-5

Michigan State        1-3-0              3          5-11-2

Ohio State                0-2-0              0          3-11-0

With only six teams, the Big Ten conference plays a bulk of the conference games in the second half of the season. The conference has plenty of surprises and should have entertaining games as the teams positions themselves for the Big Ten tournament in Saint Paul.

Again, we start in reverse standing order. Congratulations, Ohio State. You’re three wins makes for the first entry.

Ohio State – 50

It’s been a streaky half of the year for the Buckeyes. After staring the season 0-7, the Buckeyes took three straight from Atlantic Hockey teams Mercyhurst and Canisius. Since then, they dropped two to Omaha before opening conference play against Minnesota, losing both just a minute and a half into overtime.

Despite the many losses, Ohio State has actually outshot opponents by a 50 on the season. The Buckeyes have the ability to dial up the pressure, most notably peppering Omaha goalie Evan Weninger with 46 shots in the Saturday tilt, but the shots haven’t equaled scoring production.

The Buckeyes have been rotating between Chicago Blackhawks draft pick Matt Tomkins and Christian Frey. Both have over a 3.00 goals against average on the season. Defense is going to have to play much better if Ohio State looks to make a run.

Michigan State – 3.09

Speaking of disappointments, you shouldn’t have to look much further than the crease of the Michigan State Spartans.

Senior Jake Hildebrand had a terrific ’14-’15 season. He was awarded with the Big Ten Best Goaltender and Big Ten Player of the Year for his .930 save percentage, a 2.18 goals against average and six shutouts. He was a finalist for the Mike Richter award.

This season has been a completely different story. Hildebrand’s GAA currently sits at 3.09, easily the worst of his career. Combined with his .902 save percentage means the Spartans have been playing from behind a lot. In nine games this season, the Spartans have given up four or more goals.

Wisconsin – 1

Ah, the Wisconsin Badgers, A lot has been made with the troubles going on in Madison over the past couple seasons, from declining attendance to assistant coaches calling fans ‘idiots’  during a four-win season. But there is one important number to look at while looking at the Badgers.

The number of importance? One. The entire senior class has scored one goal for the Badgers this season. While this will be another tough year at the Kohl Center, the team will get exponentially better and will pay off in the long run. Wisconsin is used to reloading every year due to players leaving for the professional ranks, but a dip in recruiting and players changing commitments (like Brock Boeser) has led them down a path they normally don’t travel down.

Look for them to be a plucky team at the end of the year and make a big push next year.

Penn State – 11

The Nittany Lions have limited experience at the college level, but they have certainly made a big leap in the win column. At 11-2-3 and having the best overall record in the conference, Penn State has truly turned into Hockey Valley.

Now, I agree the schedule for Penn State has been Charmin soft. Wins over the oxymoron that is American International and Sacred Heart aren’t going to earn the respect of opposing fan bases.

However, they aren’t just squeaking by these opponents. Penn State has victories of 8-2, 8-3, and 6-1, among others so far this season. Sure, they are beating bad teams, but they are beating them easily. They swept Michigan State in the conference opener handily with a pair of six-goal outings. Currently, Penn State sits at second in the nation in offense with 4.38 goals per game.

All of this can be an illusion, but with the conference being as open as it sits after the first half, don’t be surprised to see Penn State make a run.

Michigan – 4.39

The Michigan Wolverines lead the nation in team offense with 4.39 goals per game. Team USA snub Kyle Connor has led the high-powered offense with 22 points in just 15 games. Connor’s 11 goals are tied for the lead on the team with junior Tyler Motte.

The Wolverines have are easily the most balanced team in the Big Ten with 11 players over 10 points and three players averaging over a point per game.

Even with the top offense in the country, Michigan has been outscored 21-20 in the second period.

Minnesota – 54.8

Of the six teams in the conference, finding a number of interest for the Golden Gophers was the biggest challenge. This team is perfectly average. They are in the middle of the pack in nearly every statistical category, which fits perfectly with the mediocre 7-8-0 record.

However, one thing jumped out at me. The top three goal scorers are Leon Bristedt, Hudson Fasching, and Tyler Sheehy. Combined, they have scored 23 goals in 15 games.

The Golden Gophers have scored 42 goals total this season, which means a staggering 54.8 percent of goals scored by them are by those three players. Those talented players can win you a game here and there, but the rest of the team will need to step it up if Minnesota looks to have any success the rest of the year.

That is all for this post. I’ll write about the WCHA next week and look for a post about the updates from the U20 World Juniors. Enjoy your holiday. My shift is over.

 

Weekend Preview: I94 Rivalry Resumes

Hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving. There are a lot of non-conference games this weekend, which means there are plenty of Pairwise implications up for grabs.

In fact, there are only nine conference match-ups on Friday and five of them take place in the WCHA; including the second game of the most unique rivalry in college hockey.

If the non-conference tilts, one series really stands out. The St. Cloud State Huskies travel down I-94 to face-off against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in a Friday-Sunday series.

Last series, the two split a home-and-home series with each team defending its home ice. The Huskies took the first game at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center 4-1 and handed the Gophers its first loss of the season. While the Gophers got revenge the next night in a 4-3 overtime bout.

This year, both games will be played at Mariucci Arena, a place where the Huskies haven’t won since a 5-2 victory on October 22, 2010. Looking at the box score, it feels like it was even longer than that. Gopher goalie Alex Kangas let in all five goals on 23 shots and was pulled in the second period for Kent Patterson. Garrett Roe had a goal and two assists for the Huskies and Mike Lee made 40 saves to earn the win.

The Gophers got goals from Mike Hoeffel and Taylor Matson. Mark Alt and Kevin Wehrs had assists. Feels like forever ago.

The teams are both coming off splits that feel very different from each other. The Huskies split at home to a highly ranked North Dakota Fighting Hawks squad, losing 4-3 the first night and coming back with a 6-1 drubbing the next night. The Gophers split in a home-and-home series with Minnesota State winning the first night at the Verizon Wireless Center and blowing a 2-0 lead the following night at home losing in overtime.

The Gophers have been spinning its tires starting the season, only scoring one goal in the first three games. In the wins, the Gophers have managed four goals in each of them.

Freshman Eric Schierhorn has taken control of the reigns after Adam Wilcox left after his junior year. The Gophers found stability in net, which was the biggest question mark coming into the season. Schierhorn has kept the Gophers in every game this season, sporting an impressive .931 save percentage and a 2.11 goals against average.

The Gophers have been a bit stymied and averaging 2.43 goals per game, which is 38th in the nation and sandwiched in between Western Michigan and Bentley. Leon Bristedt leads the team with five goals, already matching last year’s total.

If the Gophers are going to win, converting on what few chances they get against the Husky defense will be crucial. Minnesota has been able to generate an average of 26.4 shots per game, but the Huskies have the sixth best team defense in the nation, averaging only 1.67 goals against per game.

While goals have been hard to come by for the Gophers, the defense has played very well. The Gophers have given up an average of 2.22 goals per game. When a team defense is that low, it’s only a manner of time before the offense gets rolling.

One of the more compelling aspects of the series will be on special teams. The Gophers penalty kill is clicking at 90.6%, allowing only three power play goals all year. The Huskies power play is very active in creating lanes and is currently at 23.4 percent. Huskies captain Ethan Prow commands the power play on the point and the power play suffered greatly when he was not able to play during the Quinnipiac and Miami series. In fact, the Huskies went 0-for-14 on the power play during those games when Prow was out. With the Sauk Rapids native in the line up, the Huskies power play is at 33.3 percent.

Usually these two teams both play an up-tempo, high offense style, but don’t think that will be the case with how well both defenses are playing. Charlie Lindgren has been nothing short of fantastic in goal, stopping 93.7 percent of the shots he faces.

The Huskies like to eliminate shots from the home plate area, giving Lindgren the easy save. Just take a look at last game against North Dakota, while they may have had 29 shots on goal, but many were from bad angles or from the point. Defenseman Troy Stetcher had six shots on goal for the Fighting Hawks and the lone goal, where he was the trailer and got the puck in a prime spot.

Whatever team can capitalize on the prime changes, which there will be few, will come out ahead in the series.

One WCHA series will end tonight and it happens to me the most interesting rivalry in college hockey. Bemidji State takes on Alabama-Huntsville in the final game of their series. Bemidji State took the first game 4-1 is a game that was much closer than the score indicates with an empty netter and a goal with eight seconds left in the game.

Make no mistake about it; these two fan bases hate each other. It goes back to when the teams were Division II powerhouses. Both teams are looking to claw back into the WCHA race.

Everyone enjoy some hockey this weekend. My shift is over.