Five Thoughts: Conference Races Heat Up

Short blog tonight. Everyone please subscribe to the Huskies Hockey Podcast where @SCSUTravelinFan and I talk all things involving St. Cloud State and a smattering of other things in college hockey. We record once a week during the season (usually on Wednesdays). I’ll also put a link on the blog.

  1. With North Dakota Able to Take NCHC Stranglehold, Instead Strangle Their Necks

For the first time this season, the North Dakota Fighting Hawks suffers back-to-back losses against the Denver Pioneers by scores of 6-4 and 4-1.

It was an uncharacteristic defensive effort from the Fighting Hawks, who allowed 10 goals on the weekend. They have allowed one or fewer goals in 17 games this season. However, the Pioneers were able to move the puck into key scoring areas and capitalized on them, making it a long weekend for North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson.

Junior Trevor Moore had a monster weekend, scoring two goals assisting on five other goals.

  1. Omaha Gets Revenge, Takes Two from Western Michigan

Earlier this season, the Omaha Mavericks were an undefeated 6-0 before crashing down to earth and getting swept in Kalamazoo. This weekend held a different fate for the Western Michigan Broncos.

The Mavericks took the sweep 2-1 and 6-3 in Omaha to gain a little bit of revenge. Sophomore Tyler Vesel was the man of the weekend, opening the scoring shorthanded in Friday’s game and adding another two goals and an assist on Saturday’s penalty filled affair. A total of 17 penalties were called during the game.

With the sweep, Omaha has vaulted to a tie with Minnesota Duluth for the fourth and final home playoff spot.

  1. Minnesota Takes Slim Big Ten Lead

The Minnesota Golden Gophers were able to sweep the Ohio State Buckeyes, but it wasn’t without a flair for the dramatic.

The Friday see-saw battle was 4-3 in the waning seconds of the game when Buckeye forward Matthew Weis scored his seventh of the year in the nick of time with .1 seconds left to send it into overtime.

The victory was short lived and Gopher leading scorer Justin Kloos netted the game winner at the 3:25 mark.

Saturday’s game was also a nail-biter, but for a different reason. The Gophers took a 4-1 lead into the second intermission, but the Buckeyes cut the score to 4-3 midway through the third. However, the Gophers defense would stand tall and were able to hold on for the victory.

The Michigan Wolverines beat and tied the Wisconsin Badgers over the weekend. The Maize and Blue did end up winning the a shootout for the extra conference point, but leaving the win on the table vaulted Minnesota to the top of the conference standings with only six games to go.

  1. WCHA leading Minnesota State Manages Two Ties Against Cellar Dweller Alabama-Huntsville

The surprise of the weekend came south of the Mason-Dixon line, as the Alabama-Huntsville Chargers were able to tie the conference leading Minnesota State Mavericks by scores of 3-3 and 1-1.

Now, ties are extremely common in the WCHA, but Chargers have actually had fairly good goaltending for a team with a record as bad as they have. Junior Matt Larose has a .931 save percentage on the season and got the nod in both games. He was clearly enough to frustrate the Maverick shooters.

Minnesota State currently sits atop of the WCHA with a four-point lead over second place Michigan Tech and Bowling Green.

The Mavericks are off this week, so both Michigan Tech and Bowling Green can make up those four points and give the Mavericks a run for its money.

  1. Quinnipiac Finally Falters

We knew the Quinnipiac Bobcats haven’t been playing a quite the level of hockey as they were at the beginning of the season. They have been playing from behind quite a bit and have flirted with disaster since the turn of the calendar. This time, St. Lawrence caught them.

Senior Brian Ward scored his eighth of the year on the first shot in overtime to beat the Bobcats 4-3.

Quinnipiac moves to 22-2-6 on the season (following the Saturday win against Clarkson), which I guess is pretty okay. However, they have been tying quite a bit. They are 5-1-4 in the past 10 games and haven’t gotten much help from senior goaltender Michael Garteig. He has only a .894 save percentage in since the second Princeton game. I don’t expect those numbers to keep up, but it sure is of note.

For a quick blog, this is verbose. Podcast tomorrow. Preview Thursday. Week is already flying by! My shift is over.

 

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Five Thoughts: Conference Races Tighten Up

Even though many teams enjoyed the final off week of the regular season, plenty of big games were to be had and key points were up for grabs. Here are my five thoughts.

  1. Miami Impresses in Hard-Earned Split

On first glace, it’s easy to make assumptions about the St. Cloud State Huskies against the Miami Redhawks. It looks like the Huskies dominated with a 5-1 win on Friday, while the Redhawks were able to sneak away with a 3-2 victory on Saturday.

Watching that series, I feel Miami has the better of the play most of the series. A 5-1 score can look deceiving, but the Redhawks peppered junior goaltender Charlie Lindgren with 36 shots on goal, including 17 in the first, and controlled most of the play.

The Huskies got four of the five goals off odd-man rushes or breakaways and only finished with 24 shots. Credit the Huskies for capitalizing on its chances, but you can’t expect to win many games with that little puck possession.

That’s what happened on Saturday. Again Miami came out strong, but went into the first intermission with a 1-0 deficit. The tide turned in the second period when Miami scored three goals in 4:37 to get the lead for good.

I’ve been nervous about how the Huskies respond to giving up goals all season. It feels like they can let a game get out of reach. That’s what happened here.

I think Miami is set up well for home ice. They have a favorable schedule remaining against Western Michigan, Colorado College, and Minnesota Duluth.

  1. Minnesota Duluth’s Sweep Vaults Bulldogs to Home Ice Position

Speaking of home ice, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs currently occupy the final home-ice spot in the NCHC. The season hasn’t been ideal for the Bulldogs, but a nice sweep of Colorado College may provide them with a spark to turn it around.

The sweep wasn’t without a fair share of drama, however. After a back and forth affair on Friday, the Tigers had a 2-1 lead late in the third period and seemed poised for a split. The Bulldogs were able to score two goals less than a minute apart and hang on for a 3-2 win.

Even though the Bulldogs are off this weekend, they can fall back no farther than a tie for fourth, depending on what Omaha does against Western Michigan (remember, the Broncos swept the Mavericks earlier this year). This battle for the last home ice spot may be the best battle in the conference as it looks to me that North Dakota has the best chance at the Penrose. Duluth does have the edge in points over Miami, but Duluth’s schedule down the road involves games at North Dakota and at Saint Cloud. That is a huge test and may be too much to overcome. The key series will be the final showdown between the Bulldogs and the Redhawks. Any way I look at the remainder of the schedule, it comes down to that series as being the key series for fourth place.

  1. Harvard is 1-3 in Last Four, Falls to 11 in Pairwise

The Harvard Crimson started the season strong, going 8-1-3 in its first 12 games. However, the team has taken a little bit of a hit and currently sits at 13-7-3 and has stumbled as of late, only scoring seven goals in the past four games.

Harvard finished last in the Beanpot, losing the first game 3-2 against Boston College and 5-1 Monday against Northeastern.

The Crimson are led in the goal scoring department by seniors Jimmy Vesey and Kyle Criscuolo with 18 and 16 goals, respectively. Keeping them off the score sheet is tough, but has been proven to be possible. At the beginning of the season, I thought they were one of the top teams in the country, but they seem less scary than they were early in the year.

  1. Michigan State Upsets Michigan, Gets Split

The upset of the week came from the Big Ten as the Spartans were able to stifle the potent Michigan Wolverine offense and win the Friday tilt 3-2 in overtime. Senior Matt DeBlouw tallied his fourth of the year for the game winner. The win was only the seventh of the year and third in the Big Ten for the Spartans.

The Wolverines were able to bounce back on Saturday, winning 4-1 the following night, firing 42 shots on goal and 20 in the first period alone.

The Wolverines have one of the best lines in college hockey with juniors JT Compher, Tyler Motte, and freshman Kyle Connor. The trio has combined for a total of 121 points on the season and has accumulated a 17-4-4 record.

I am not that high on the Michigan Wolverines. While they do have that talented trio and a pretty good supporting cast for depth, the goaltending has been mediocre all season. Senior Steve Racine has been flirting with a save percentage below .900 all season and at times has looked real shaky. I think a well-disciplined team in a regional will knock them out.

  1. WCHA Race Coming Down to the Wire

It has turned into a three-team race for the top of the WCHA. Minnesota State leads the pack for the time being, but both Bowling Green and Michigan Tech are both only two points back.

Minnesota State and Bowling Green just split a series in Mankato, so no ground was gained or lost from that front. But with no WCHA teams currently occupying an at-large bid for the national tournament, seeding for the WCHA tournament will be very critical.

I can see any one of those teams stepping up and representing the WCHA, but I don’t see any of them jumping up to get an at-large bid. Once the Final Five rolls around, every time will be fighting to avoid elimination.

That is all for me. Weekend preview will be coming on Thursday. My shift is over.

Weekend Preview: Minnesota Teams in Pivotal Series

Big games highlight the three conferences in the West. With precious conference titles and Pairwise positioning is on the line, some of the conference leaders can’t afford to stumble.

St. Cloud State at Miami

Last meeting: Huskies sweep 3-0, 3-1

Without a doubt, there is much more on the line in this series for the Redhawks. Sure, the Penrose Cup would be nice, but in many sports, the regular season championship is the hardest to win but the least celebrated. The Huskies are in very good position for the NCAA tournament.

Miami will be the more desperate team. They are currently tied for the last home ice spot in the conference with Minnesota Duluth and Omaha. At 22 in the Pairwise, the Redhawks are running out of time to push for and at-large bid and really need to set themselves up for a post-season push. Home ice would be the best way to do that.

The Redhawks have been doing that as of late. They are 4-1 in the past five games, averaging 3.6 goals per game during that stretch. The Redhawks are getting more consistent play from some of the top players like senior Sean Kuraly and junior Anthony Louis. The two freshmen, Jack Roslovic and Josh Melnick, are a threat to score every game.

I’m not a huge fan of the goaltending, however. Seniors Ryan McKay and Jay Williams save percentages of .905 and .900 don’t exactly scare anyone.

On the other side of the ice, the Huskies are fresh off winning the North Star College Cup and have nearly every part of the game clicking. Freshman Mikey Eyssimont was named the tournament MVP with three goals and two assists on the weekend and has added even more depth to a team that has nine players with at least 19 points. Expect Miami’s defense to be very busy all weekend long.

One key match-up will be the potent Huskies power play (31.7 percent) against the Redhawks penalty kill (93.1 percent).

Bowling Green at Minnesota State

Last meeting: 2-2 ties, both games

The top two teams in the WCHA look to take command of the ship as we enter the final leg of the season. If this series is anything like the one that was played early in the season, nothing will be solved.

The Bowling Green Falcons have had an up and down year. The highlight has come in the middle when the team went nine games without a loss. However, taking just one point from third-place Michigan Tech last series puts them in a position where they need to make a jump.

Enter Minnesota State. The Mavericks lost a back and forth game against St. Cloud State last weekend and beat the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The top Maverick players are playing very well and have improved quite a bit throughout the year.

The Falcons don’t have a lot of players that jump out on the stat sheet. Sophomore Brandon Hawkins leads the team with an even split 18 points while senior Mark Cooper leads the team with 10 goals. But a respectable 11 players have reached double digits in points. Nothing to sneeze at.

The main strength of the Falcons’ game comes from goaltender Chris Nell. The sophomore has an impressive 11-5-6 record and an even more impressive .937 save percentage and 1.64 goals against average. Both stats are in the top five in the nation.

The Mavericks will have its hands full. The home ice will be an advantage for the purple, as they are 9-4-0 at home. If the game stays close, the Mavericks have the advantage, as they are 7-2 in one goal games. The leaders of senior Teddy Blueger and sophomore C.J. Franklin played very well and the team will look for them to continue to this important conference tilt.

Both teams are on the outside looking in when it comes to the Pairwise bubble. Bowling Green enters the weekend at 25 whereas Minnesota State sits at 17. The Mavericks can get firmly on the bubble with a sweep this weekend.

Penn State at Minnesota

Last meeting: Split. Penn State won 3-2 OT, Minnesota won 7-1

The Minnesota Golden Gophers were playing very well until the two losses at the North Star College Cup. It felt like junior Hudson Fasching, the team leader in goals and points, disappeared for the two games last weekend, as Bemidji State and Minnesota State were able to shut him down. He was instrumental in the Gophers hot streak and the maroon and gold hopes he gets back on the score sheet.

The Penn State Nittany Lions has slipped a little bit since they got into the meat of the Big Ten schedule. They have lost the last three games and have given up an average of six goals against in those losses.

The majority of the Nittany Lions schedule is on the road from here on out. In fact, they have had only one conference series away from Hockey Valley, a split with Ohio State. Eight of the last ten games are on the road.

A pair of freshmen lead Penn State in goals with Andrew Sturtz with 13 and Chase Berger with 11. They love to put shots and pressure the goalie as they average almost 44 shots on goal per game, so you know Gophers freshman goalie Eric Schierhorn will be busy.

The Gophers are currently tied with the Michigan Wolverines with 24 points in the Big Ten Conference. Penn State sits at third.

In the pairwise, both teams are outside looking in. The Nittany Lions have the edge at 17 to the Gophers placement at 20.

One-timers:

  • It’s great to see Gopher women’s hockey senior Amanda Kessel back on the ice. She hasn’t played since the 2014 Olympics due to concussion issues. She has been cleared by the doctors and will add much more depth to an already dangerous team.
  • The Quinnipiac Bobcats, a team that sits at 20-1-5 and somehow isn’t a consensus number one team according to the polls that shan’t be named, has been playing with a little bit of fire lately. Last Friday against Dartmouth, the Big Green had a 4-1 lead before the Bobcats roared back and ended up winning 7-5. If they fall behind again to Cornell this weekend, I’m not sure the Bobcats will be able to climb back. Cornell is too good defensively.

That is it for me. Enjoy the games this weekend. My shift is over.

North Star College Cup Preview

The North Star College Cup is once again upon us. The tournament consists of four of the five Division I teams in Minnesota meet at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for a tournament for Paul Bunyan’s Chalice (unofficial term).

The defending champion happens to be the Bemidji State Beavers, which won fairly easily with a 4-0 win over Minnesota Duluth and a 3-1 victory against WCHA foe Minnesota State.

This year, it’s Minnesota Duluth’s time to spectate. The tournament moved to a Saturday-Sunday afternoon format, instead of the traditional Friday-Saturday.

Much has been discussed about this change, so I may as well add my two cents. I think it’s a good move. By changing the dates and times, you encourage fans from outstate to watch the tournament. Fans of Bemidji won’t have to take off work on Friday and spend two nights in the Twin Cities. Instead, fans can come down on Saturday morning and only spend one night before heading back on Sunday night.

I’m certain players and coaches are also not happy about having to be outside of their normal routine. My main problem with that line of thinking is due to the NCAA tournament and how those game times will be out of your routine. May as well get some experience with it.

Changing topics to the actual games to be played, this will be a very interesting tournament. All teams have been playing very well lately and have good reasons they will take the trophy. Let’s get to the contestants.

St. Cloud State Huskies           20-5-1

The favorite in the tournament has to be St. Cloud State. The Huskies have lost one game since December 11th and is coming off a series where they lit up Western Michigan for 15 goals.

Why they will win: The Huskies have five players, all seniors, that are averaging at least point per game. The defense has been rock solid as well, with junior Charlie Lindgren providing the team with great stability between the pipes. The power play is also one of the best in the country, clicking at 30.6 percent.

Why they won’t win: If there is one weak spot for the Huskies, it is on the penalty kill. While is has been a little bit better lately, overall the Huskies only kill off 78 percent of the time. There is no clue to tell how the referees will call the game, but if it is tight and the Huskies get into penalty troubles, it could be disastrous. In all five losses, they have allowed at least one power play goal.

Key Stat: The Huskies are 34-4 when senior David Morley scores a goal in his career.

Minnesota State Mavericks        13-8-5

It’s been an up and down year for the Minnesota State Mavericks. After starting the season with four losses where they only scored a combined two goals, the Mavericks have torn through the WCHA competition and currently sports a 12-3-5 in conference.

Why they will win: The Mavericks have only two losses since November 13th. The scoring woes that plagued them earlier this year have seemed to sort itself out as the Mavericks scored 13 goals last weekend against Lake Superior State.

Why they won’t win: With the first game against St. Cloud State, the Mavericks clearly don’t have the depth to compete. No member has reached double digits in goal scoring. Sophomore C.J. Franklin leads the team with nine goals on the season and senior Teddy Blueger leads team with 21 points. To put that into context, the Huskies have six players over 21 points.

Key Stat: The Mavericks only have one non-conference win on the season, come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win to Minnesota. And speaking of… (sweet segue, if I do say so myself!)

Minnesota Golden Gophers      13-10-0

Much has been made of the Minnesota Golden Gophers this season. Whether the team will be torn apart from it or will come together stronger is yet to be seen. But there is no doubt this team is playing better as of late, winning its last five games.

Why they will win: Plenty of players have stepped up in the scoring column during the five-game winning streak. During that stretch, the Gophers have scored an amazing 38 goals. Junior Michael Brodzinski has provided the team with much needed offense from the blue line, scoring a hat trick in his last game.

Why they won’t win: The Gophers have been having trouble stringing together complete games all season. In fact, they have a negative goal differential during the second period throughout the season. A full 60-minute game effort will go a long way to taking the tournament.

Key Stat: Junior Hudson Fasching has 15 goals on the season, but 11 of them have come in the last 12 games. If any team is going to slow them down, they will need to keep him off the score sheet.

Bemidji State Beavers           10-10-5

The Beavers also has been playing every well as of late, going 5-1-2 in the last eight games. In that stretch was a four-game stint where they battled both Alaska teams and going 3-0-1 on that road trip. Any current or former WCHA fan is aware how hard it is to string two good games together on Alaska trips, and the Beavers did that on back-to-back weekends.

Why they will win: The Beavers have the incredible knack to turn any game into a defensive slog. They play well in the neutral zone and can smother teams defensively. Opponents only average about 24 shots per game against the Beavers, so you need to make sure your shots count.

Why they won’t win: While sophomore Gerry Fitzgerald leads the team with 12 goals on the season in four few teams than many players on the team, no one else has more than six on the season. If teams focus on Fitzgerald, the Beavers don’t have many other players to step up. The goaltending tandem of sophomore Michael Bitzer and junior Reid Mimmack may have impressive goals against average, but the save percentage of .915 and .908, respectively, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Key Stat: Of the 10 losses this season, six of them are one-goal losses and another one was a two-goal loss with an empty net. This team isn’t one to get blown out and will always fight to the end whistle.

That’s it for me. This will be a fun tournament and I hope it really takes off in popularity. Make sure you watch a game this weekend. My shift is over.

Five Thoughts: Red Lamps Get A Workout

There were goals aplenty all over college hockey last weekend. Here are my five thoughts:

  1. Minnesota Crushes in Border Battle

The Minnesota Golden Gophers put up a total of 13 goals in the sweep against the Wisconsin Badgers. Sophomore defenseman Michael Brodzinski had an assist on Friday and capped off Saturday’s game with hat trick in the rout.

As much as the Gopher offense should be the headline for the series, the focus will be on what happened to freshman Tommy Novak.

Novak took two hits that eventually earned suspensions from the Big Ten, the second of which may have Novak sitting out at least for the North Star College Cup.

Junior Aidan Cavallini will sit one game and senior Eddie Wittchow will miss a total of three.

With all the new studies shown about the long-term effects of concussions, I do think stiffer penalties need to be in place at all levels for these types of plays (and when you punch someone while they are lying down on the ice).

Special thanks to twitter user @cjzero. Seriously. Follow him.

Minnesota is currently on a five game win streak heading into the North Star College Cup against Bemidji State.

  1. St. Cloud State Drills Western Michigan, Again

The St. Cloud State Huskies proved the last series against Western Michigan was no fluke as the Huskies 8-2 and 7-3 over the weekend, including six goals on the power play.

Senior Joey Benik was named the offensive player of the year for the NCHC have a monstrous two goal, five assist weekend.

As much as this looks like a massacre, there were actually key moments in each game that really turned the momentum toward St. Cloud.

On Friday’s game, the Huskies were up 1-0 when the Broncos had a golden 5×3 opportunity for 1:04 late in the first to take the lead.

Even though the Huskies’ penalty kill sitting at a poor 78 percent, they were able to stay strong and kill the penalties. Shortly after the penalties expired, the Huskies rattled three goals by the time the five-minute mark of the second period was reached.

Saturday’s key moment happened at the end of the second period with the Huskies up 6-3. It appeared the Broncos scored, but was eventually reviewed and disallowed being ruled the puck was played with a high stick before entering the net. I was surprised it was overturned by the TV cameras, but maybe the official have access to a different angle. The Huskies scored another and clamped down defensively to make sure another didn’t get past junior goaltender Charlie Lindgren.

I would imagine the Broncos are privately hoping not to play the Huskies in the first round of the playoffs as the Huskies have outscored the Broncos 31-8 in three games.

  1. North Dakota Survives Friday Scare Against Colorado College

The first 15 minutes couldn’t have gone any better for the Fighting Hawks in last Friday’s game. Up 4-0, it would seem like losing senior Drake Caggiula and freshman Nick Schmaltz wouldn’t be a problem at all.

The Tigers came roaring back and scored five straight to take the 5-4 lead in Grand Forks and had the lead until the last minute.

After a few failed empty net attempts that turned into icings against the Tigers, the Fighting Hawks kept up the pressure and finally tied it up with about 32 seconds remaining by freshman Rhett Gardner.

The Tigers have been playing very well recently, so it was no surprise to see them push the Fighting Hawks to the limit. The depth scoring is something the Fighting Hawks really need as the season goes on, and coming back Friday and winning 5-1 Saturday is a welcome sight for them.

  1. Omaha Falling Faster than the Canadian Dollar

Things were rolling along just fine throughout the season, but the Mavericks momentum hit a brick wall the last three series.

The Mavericks are just 1-5 in its last six game and just got swept in very ugly fashion to Miami.

It was just a few weeks ago where they were sitting in the fifth spot in the pairwise and flirting with a one seed. This recent slide has them fallen to ninth with a trip to a much improved Colorado College squad next weekend.

Fans should be very worried about the Maverick’s conference performance. While they are a perfect 10-0 in non-conference play, they are just 5-8-1 against NCHC foes and sitting outside home ice.

A lot has to do with the loss of freshman goalie Evan Weninger, who was injured when this slide started. He is easily the best choice in goal, but three of the losses the Mavericks were shutout or only scored one. Hard to win that way.

  1. Minnesota State Finds the Net Often Against Lowly Lake Superior State

If you remember the start of the season, Minnesota State was shut out in three of the first four games of the season. They had no such problems against the Lakers with 8-0 and 5-1 victories.

In Friday’s 8-0 shellacking, 15 different players found the score sheet and fired 42 shots on net. Only one of those goals came on the power play, which isn’t usually the case when one team dominated on the score sheet. Usually they are aided by a few power play goals.

The 5-1 game on Saturday saw Minnesota State leading goal scorer sophomore C.J. Franklin score two goals and senior Teddy Blueger add two assists.

Minnesota State is feasting on WCHA competition with a 12-3-5 record and is sitting at the top, three points ahead of Bowling Green. It looks like the WCHA will be a one-bid conference, so seeding position will be very important come tournament time.

Minnesota State has only lost twice in the last 15 games.

That is all for this evening. I’ll have a North Star College Cup preview. All four teams are playing well, so it will be a very fun tournament. My shift is over.

 

Half Season By The Numbers: The WCHA

Lastly, we visit the conference where goals forgot.

Okay, so that’s not exactly fair. The goaltending in the WCHA is quite good considering the list of mediocre teams. Those goalies are part of the reasons why there have been 14 ties so far in the conference. Of the 14, seven have been 1-1 ties.

Only Michigan Tech is averaging over three goals per game and is in the top half of average goals per game in the country. The next highest in the WCHA is Alaska-Anchorage, which is tied for 33rd with only 2.50 average goals per game.

Here are the standings in the WCHA:

                                           Conference        Overall

Minnesota State            9-1-4    22        10-6-4

Bowling Green               8-2-4    20       11-3-5

Michigan Tech               9-6-1    19        11-6-2

Ferris State                     7-7-2    16         8-8-4

Northern Michigan      5-5-4     14        6-7-6

Alaska Anchorage        5-5-2     12        8-7-3

Lake Superior                4-4-4     12       6-10-4

Bemidji State                 4-8-2     10       5-9-3

Alaska                              3-8-3      9         5-10-3

Alabama-Huntsville   2-10-2   6        4-12-2

Here is one number that caught my interest for each team.

Alabama-Huntsville – 14.9

It’s been a slow start for the Chargers of Alabama-Huntsville. They have struggled to find offense and are near the bottom in many statistical categories.

Except when it comes to penalty minutes per game. The Chargers average 14.9, which is one of the worst in the country. That means the Chargers are playing a man down for almost 75% of a period every game. Doesn’t take a brilliant hockey mind to realize that it will be tough to mount offense.

However, it does mean the penalty kill has been getting plenty of practice, as they kill an impressive 86% of power play opportunities.

Alaska – .936

The Nanooks have evenly split goaltending duties between junior Davis Jones and freshman Jesse Jenks. Judging by the stats, there shouldn’t be any reason to continue with the tandem.

Jenks has a lackluster 3-3-3 record in his nine games played, but has a mind boggling 1.95 goals against average and a staggering .936 save percentage. That doesn’t just blow Jones out of the water, but that puts him up there as some of the best in the country.

For the rest of the season, the Nanooks should starting giving the freshman the majority of the work and has the potential for some upsets throughout the season.

Bemidji State – 23.9

The Beavers have always been known as a ‘defensively sound’ and ‘well-positioned’ (also known as ‘trap’) team. Now, I personally have no problems with teams playing the trap. There is a stigma to the term. But it’s important to know that every team traps, people are just upset how much another team does.

Because of Bemidji’s ability to clog up the zones, they have allowed a league low average of 23.9 shots against per game. If the Beavers are able to keep the shots against to a minimum and get adequate goaltending, they can make a nice leap in the second half.

Also, Bemidji State has given up five shorthanded goals, worst in the nation.

Lake Superior – 1.96

In the “Land that Goals Forgot” that is the WCHA, the Lake Superior State Lakers are at the epicenter. The Lakers don’t have much up front that will scare opponents and are averaging only 1.96 goals per game. That is last in the WCHA and tied for 57th in the NCAA.

Only sophomore J.T. Henke has more than five goals this season and he only sits at six. The young goaltending combo of sophomore Gordon Defiel and freshman Nick Kossoff are they reason this team has six wins this season. Both are having very good seasons.

Alaska Anchorage – -6

The Seawolves are an interesting team. They actually have a fairly respectable shooting percentage of 10 percent, tied for 15th in the nation. But they have trouble generating offense and only registers 24.9 shots on goal per game, second worst in the WCHA.

However, the Achilles heel for the Seawolves has been the second period, where they have a -6 goal differential so far this season. In every other period, the seasons are either even or ahead in goal differential. They have been able to play well during the bookends of the game, but haven’t been able to string many complete games.

Northern Michigan – 24.6

Before tonight’s game against Michigan, the Wildcats averaged only 24.6 shots on goal per game, worst in the WCHA. It looks like that number will right with a 37 shot effort against the Wolverines in the nightcap of the Great Lakes Invitational. Northern Michigan will play Michigan State tomorrow.

In a conference that has the defensive and goaltending depth, the Wildcats need to find a way to generate changes and make a postseason run.

Ferris State – 14.3

The Ferris State Bulldogs always seem like a team that is on the cusp. I looked at the lineup this year and felt they could really bust to the top of the WCHA. But that hasn’t happened yet.

One thing that is holding them back is the power play. Operating at just 14.3 percent, the Bulldogs are in desperate need to get the man advantage working. If they look to be any type of threat in the second half of the season, this needs to be much better.

Michigan Tech – 3

After tonight’s come from behind overtime win against Michigan State, the Michigan Tech Huskies have only played three non-conference games this season. Those three games? All against Michigan State.

We still don’t exactly know how well this team stacks up against other competition. Tomorrow’s game is the championship for the Great Lakes Invitational and then the Desert Hockey Classic with Connecticut and either Yale or Arizona State.

The Huskies’ pairwise rankings will be at the mercy of the conference. If they don’t win the conference tournament, that could be the downfall.

Bowling Green – 49

Bowling Green is sitting very well from a record standpoint with 11-3-5 so far on the season, but the relatively weak schedule is a reason they aren’t a major pairwise player.

The Bowling Green Falcons strength of schedule is 49th in nation. The team’s best win was a 3-2 against Michigan Tech who is 23rd in the pairwise after tonight’s win. Minnesota State – 1

The Minnesota State Mavericks are sitting at the top of the WCHA with 22 points and a stellar 9-1-4 record. But with just one non-conference win, if they make the national tournament, they will be a team most people will pick to lose the opening game.

The Mavericks only non-conference win came against Minnesota where they battled back from a 2-0 deficit and beat the Golden Gophers 3-2 in overtime. They lost the first game of that series and four other games at the start of the season to Omaha and Saint Cloud.

Minnesota State has the North Star College Cup where they will again drop the puck against Saint Cloud State, a team that not only swept the Mavericks, but also didn’t even allow a goal.

That’s the recap of the first half from all the western conferences. Holiday tournaments are going on right now, the World Juniors are taking place in Helsinki, Finland, and plenty more college games take place this weekend. 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.