Holy scuttlebutt! A lot of B1G issues happening in college hockey over the past few days. We will get to that at the end of my five thoughts.
- Top Two Teams in the NCHC Stay At The Top.
The North Dakota Fighting Hawks and the Saint Cloud State Huskies split last weekend at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center. The Fighting Hawks took the first game turned into the Drake Caggiula Show as he recorded the hat trick to propel the Fighting Hawks to a 4-3 win, despite being outshot 38-26. That was the first game North Dakota was outshot this season. The rematch on Saturday saw the Huskies rebound for a stunning 6-1 win.
The Fighting Hawks, who have been struggling mightily on the power play so far this season, capitalized on two opportunities and walk-on Matt Hrynkiw made 35 stops to get the victory. The CBS line of Brock Boeser, Nick Schmaltz and Caggiula combined for a staggering seven points.
For the Huskies, Judd Peterson got his seventh of the season just 2:20 into the game. North Dakota scored the next three and was able to keep the game just out of reach. Jimmy Murray had a goal and an assist in the game.
The Saturday game was a reversal of fortune for the Huskies. It seemed like a lot of bounces didn’t go the Huskies’ way on Friday, but damn near everything went their way on Saturday. Patrick Newell got the scoring started with a shot that took a lucky bounce off a Fighting Hawks defender an went past Hrynkiw. The Huskies went 2-for-5 on the power play and 15 players had a point. Grand Forks natives Jacob Benson and Jon Lizotte combined for three points.
Since the drop of the puck, the Huskies played a much more sound defensive game and kept a lot of Fighting Hawks shots away from the home plate area. Coach Bob Motzko was upset with the goals the Huskies gave up on Friday, calling them ‘defendable goals’, and the play Saturday was much tighter.
Hrynkiw allowed three goals on the first five shots and was eventually pulled for Cam Johnson. Troy Stecher got the lone goal and led the team with six shots.
Both teams sit at the top of the NCHC with 15 points. Denver is tied for third with 10 points with Omaha, but has only played four conferences games at this point.
- Depth and Defense are the Reasons for Saint Cloud Success.
As far as Saint Cloud fans go, I’ve been a little more reserved on my expectations for this team. While Jonny Brodzinski’s early departure was a big hit to the offense, the rest of the senior class were more role players than pure goal scorers. I wasn’t worried about replacing Brodzinski when you even his production out within the whole class.
I was more worried about the defensive side of things. Four freshmen defenseman coming in (Clark Kuster is out until at least the holiday break with an injury) made me really nervous, especially the last series against the Fighting Hawks.
Looking back at the past couple of seasons, the Huskies ’13-’14 season averaged 3.58 goals per game. Last season, Motzko tried to play the same style and saw the goals just weren’t coming. His focus changed to playing better defensively and tighter in their own end. The Huskies managed to get to the NCAA regional final despite only averaging 2.73 goals per game.
The success from the Huskies has come from the freshmen defensemen playing well (giving up an average of 1.67 goals per game) and getting the depth scoring that wasn’t present last year. Last year, if it wasn’t Brodzinski, Joey Benik, David Morley or Patrick Russell (who had a good freshman campaign) was scoring, no one else could be counted on to put the puck in the net. This year, scoring has come from damn near every player on every line. Seven players have over nine points already this year.
One big boost has come from Judd Peterson. His play has gone severely under the radar. The Buffalo Sabres draft pick only had seven points last year, but the switch has been flipped and already has seven goals on the season. He has mostly played on the third and fourth lines but seems to make an impact every time he gets on the ice. While the goals per game can be a little misleading because of the 11-goal output against Western Michigan, but the Huskies are third in team offense, only behind Boston College and Robert Morris. The depth at both ends along with the play of Charlie Lindgren in net has this team exceeding everyone’s expectations.
- The Fighting Hawks Should Look into Splitting Up CBS.
While the Huskies won the series on aggregate scoring 9-5, there was no doubt which line was the best in the weekend. The Caggiula-Boeser-Schmaltz line combined for nine points on the weekend. This line has what I call ‘hold your breath’ talent; opposing fans are holding their breath until that line leaves the ice.
As long as I can remember, North Dakota likes to put together power lines and keep them together. Everyone remembers the DOT line of Hobey Baker winner Ryan Duncan and professional talents Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie. There was the Money Line of Brandon Bochenski-Zach Parise-Brady Murray. The Line of Fire included Ryan Bayda-Jeff Panzer-Bryan Lundbohm and is actually responsible for one of my favorite college hockey box scores of all time.
More recently, the Pony Express included Brad Malone-Evan Trupp-Matt Frattin and combined for 141 points in the 2010-2011 season.
This series was the first real test for the Fighting Hawks. The other teams North Dakota has played aren’t expected to be big players in the NCAA tournament. Against lesser quality opponents, you can load up one line and will have no problem skating to a victory. As the NCHC conference play starts getting into full swing, the team quality takes an exponential leap and just having one line clicking will spell disaster.
There was a noticeable difference between when CBS was on the ice versus when there were not. They were the only line that created any offense on the weekend. Shuffling the lines around will open up more opportunities on the ice for the other players a get some other players jump started. Shane Gersich being injured didn’t help, but the Fighting Hawks have plenty of options and talent to work with. Three good lines will be more productive in the long run than one great line and two that are having trouble finding the back of the net.
Plus, you have the added bonus of reuniting that line when you really need a goal, giving a team an extra gear that opponents won’t be ready for.
While the Pony Express had an amazing number of points, they were able to put them up because North Dakota had the extra depth from Corban Knight (44 points) and Jason Gregoire (43 points). I feel there are those types of players on this roster, but they haven’t found the right mixture yet.
I think Brad Berry should make these changes against Michigan State this weekend, if only to try it out for a few periods and seeing the results. While loading up one line will work against the Colorado College and Vermont’s of college hockey, the Denver Pioneers head to Grand Forks for another match-up of titans, but only having one line clicking won’t cut it.
- Omaha and Miami Series Has Both Games Going to Overtime
While Friday’s game ended in a 3-3 tie, Saturday’s game ended when Tyler Vesel was able to use his speed to create an opening that you can’t give Jake Randolph, as he was able to put the puck away to give Omaha all three points and a 3-2 victory.
Omaha is still riding both goaltenders, as Kirk Thompson got the tie Friday and Evan Weninger got the win Saturday.
Miami freshmen Jack Roslovic and Josh Melnick were both able to find the score sheet Friday, combining for three points. Omaha was able to make adjustments and shut them down Saturday.
Avery Peterson, who scored 21 points as a freshman, is still without a point on the season and did not play in Saturday’s game.
- Big Ten Coaches Look for Rule Changes; gives metaphorical middle finger to other programs.
I urge everyone to read Adam Woden’s story on College Hockey News about a proposal that would add age restrictions on incoming freshman.
My thoughts will require a whole separate blog post on why this is a bad idea, but one thing is making me more mad than anything else. Usually, rule changes like this are done at an annual coaches meeting and would be a discussion to how this would affect all conferences.
However, the Big Ten acted alone and just proposed it to the NCAA. Rumors have actually started to swirl that it was voted on and struck down already, but the Big Ten decided to propose it away. Since the Big Ten is the only conference that participates in all sports, it can propose legislations as it pleases.
I do think the Big Ten has gotten too much of the blame in the past for ‘ruining college hockey.’ Heck, you can also argue that the formation and realignment actually saved Alabama-Huntsville and opened the door for Arizona State.
However, going rogue and proposing rule changes directly to the NCAA is a slap in the fact to all member schools, many of whom play up to Division I in hockey and rely on older players because they are not going to be in the running for a blue-chip prospect out of the national development team.
As a rule of thumb, look at the people proposing and what state the teams are in. That gives you a good idea of who stands to gain. The Big Ten conference is stacked by former national powers that have been struggling the past few seasons as a group. If the conference can just propose legislation willy-nilly, that sets a dangerous precedent in college hockey.
That’s all for now. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Lot of non-conference games over the holiday, which means the games have important Pairwise implications. My shift is over.