NCHC Hockey: Not Your Typical Midseason Report

NCHC Clash Begins Soon! - Matt Christians

This isn't your typical quick review of how each team can win the NCHC and then go on to win the NCAA tournament... If you want that, look elsewhere. You won't (but could) find it here folks.

Before the season starts back up for the year 2014, the need to review each team's past, present, and future is an absolute must...  Right?

Conference play begins January 10th, and once again all eight teams will be participating in the NCHC extravaganza.  Over that weekend, Nebraska-Omaha will host Minnesota Duluth, Western Michigan will host Miami, North Dakota will host Colorado College, and Denver will host St. Cloud State.

Before the weekend arrives, it's also a good idea to evaluate some strengths and weaknesses that programs have been exhibiting throughout the first half of play.  This, of course, will include statistics, because who doesn't love those!

*Team Record (League Record)

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St. Cloud State  11-2-3 (6-1-1)

Sitting in first place, the Huskies had a fantastic start after losing some great players before the season.  With a huge sweep of North Dakota at the start of the year, the Huskies couldn't have asked for a better way to gain a great amount of momentum to surf on for the first half of the season.  With only two losses against some of the top teams in the country (Union and Miami), a definite argument as the top team can be made for St. Cloud State.

Strengths

The Huskies are currently sporting an offense that is ranked at 11th in the country, scoring an average of 3.5 goals per game.  Same goes for team defense, which is ranked at 4th in the country, allowing just 2 goals per game over the first half of the season.  Not only are they 5th least penalized team in the NCAA, but they also are sporting a .781 overall win percentage; the Huskies have (by far) the best record in the NCHC.

Jonny Brodzinski leads the team with 16 total points, but Nic Dowd has scored the most goals (9) and David Morley has tallied the most assists (10) all of whom have played in 16 games.  This has contributed to the amount of points SCSU has averaged throughout the season, which currently is at 9.44 points per game.

Lastly, a bigger component that often gets overlooked is our faceoff percentage.  The team that wins the faceoff then gains possession of the puck and it's scientifically proven that in 99% of cases, a team needs puck possession in order to get a shot on goal and score.  With that being said, the Huskies are one of four NCHC teams that have developed a faceoff ratio that just so happens to favor them.  David Morley currently holds the best faceoff percentage in the entire league; his record is an astonishing 94-54 or 63.5%...  Can you say quick draw?

Weaknesses

For a team that stands in the top half of just about every statistical category, it's hard to pick out weaknesses, but I can tell you SCSU is not impenetrable.

The Huskies biggest tests this year haven't gone as well as they would have liked...  Especially the most recent series with Union, in which the Huskies fell at home on Friday 4-1 and managed to fight back for a 3-3 draw the following night.  The Miami series in which they split at home was very good, but putting up an egg on Friday night in front of your own fans is a big no-no.

For a team that had it's sights set on getting back to where they were last year, the Huskies started off with a power play unit that wasn't going to help them, but has seen very good progress as the season has progressed...  Here's a look at the progress:


October November December Combined
Power Play 17.6% 17.6% 33.3% 21.2%
Penalty Kill 84.6% 83.3% 75% 81.1%

Had this been earlier in the season, like when SCSU went 0-5 on the man-advantage against their loss against Miami, it would be okay to panic (a little).  But for now, it looks as though St. Cloud State might just climb the ladder back to where they fell last year.

Decision

The Huskies are sitting pretty.  Heck, they even might have a chance to beat their current team record for team offense which currently stands at 2.24 goals per game during the 2000-01 season.

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Nebraska Omaha  8-9-1 (5-2-1)

At second in the standings, the Mavericks have really bounced back after a rocky start to begin the year.  A three-game losing streak in mid-october led straight into a three-game winning streak against tough opponents.  But most recently, Nebraska-Omaha wasn't able to find a win in New Hampshire without coach Blais and Megna, which raises more concerns about how far the Mavericks will be able to go.

Strengths

Offensively, the Mavericks have all the tools they need in order to score goals.  With Josh Archibald leading the way with 21 points, and Ryan Walters following right behind with 19 points, it's no wonder why UNO is sporting a scoring average of 3.11 goals per game.

The other contributor to the Maverick's scoring has been the number of shots they're able to put on net.  Pepper opponent goaltenders with 624 blasts this season, or 34.67 shots per game, it's not very surprising that pucks are finding holes in goaltenders.  That statistic alone ranks UNO second in overall shots and shots-per-game within the NCHC, and second in the conference in shot margin (+117) as well.

Freshmen help from the Ian Brady and Jake Guentzel, both of whom sit in the top 3 for freshmen scoring, has also contributed to Nebraska Omaha's scoring.  Guentzel leads all NCHC freshman with 10 assists, averaging .56 helpers per outing.

Weaknesses

Inconsistent Goaltending/Defense.  It's really that simply put.  This year, Nebraska Omaha has played all three goalies throughout the year: junior Ryan Massa, freshman Kirk Thompson, and freshman Reed Peters.  Massa has seen the most time, spending 534:12 minutes between the pipes, but Thompson, who's played in one less game than Massa, holds the better GAA at 2.91 and save percentage at .893.

Goaltender Minutes October November December Total
Ryan Massa 534:12 4.64 1.99 4.57 3.37
Kirk Thompson 453:17 3.28 2.70 1.33 2.91
Reed Peters 91:10 - 3.29 - 3.29

*Total/Minutes Includes January

The main thing with defense is that both the defensemen and goaltender work together, and in some cases, a fantastic defense can make an average goaltender look very good.  Defensively the Mavericks are just not that outstanding.  Allowing, on average, 3.39 goals per game, Nebraska Omaha ranks as the 50th team in terms of team defense (out of 59 total teams).

Decision

With an unreliable defense, it's hard for forwards to concentrate and exercise their ability to do what they're suppose to do: score goals.  It's apparent that UNO has found some amount of luck in Massa, specifically during the month of November when he displayed a 5-0-0 record between the pipes.

A hard team to predict, the Mavericks have found wins against tough opponents and losses against some they probably should have beaten, but I wouldn't necessarily count them out.

They could've started out 2014 a little better, but as the defense improves forwards can concentrate on what they do best, which could mean a lethal Nebraska Omaha team.

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North Dakota  9-7-2 (5-5-0)

Sitting at third place in the NCHC standings is North Dakota.  The team without a nickname will hope to have a little bit better luck in the 2014, as the first half of season play didn't favor UND very well.

Luckily for UND, two warm-up games against British Columbia (3-2 OT loss) and Simon Fraser (4-3 win) were just exhibition games and a chance to work out any kinks before they hope to continue their history of having a great second half of college hockey play.

Strengths

North Dakota has a lot going for them, but the biggest factor that will play into the second half of the season is Dave Hakstol's history coaching the team after the holiday break.  Don't believe me?  check out the chart below.

Year Before Holidays After Holidays
2009-10 9-6-3 (.583) 16-7-2 (.680)
2010-11 13-5-2 (.700) 19-4-1 (.813)
2011-12 9-8-1 (.528) 12-5-2 (.750)
2012-13 10-5-3 (.639) 12-7-4 (.609)
2013-14 9-7-2 (.563) ?-?-? (.???)
Under Hakstol 100-69-17 (.579) 144-56-22 (.698)

Fortunately for the team, UND has more going for it as well.  Coming in at first in the NCHC and fifteenth in the country, Dillon Simpson's fearless ability to block pucks.  It doesn't seem like a huge statistic, right?  I mean who cares!  But think about what a blocked shot does...  Simpson has laid down in front of 44 opponent shots, which takes away 44 shots on net against the netminder and prevented an increase of 8% of shots.

Watch out for netminder Boston Bruins prospect Zane Gothberg during the second half of the year.  Gothberg has provided a fantastic foundation for North Dakota to build off of and also been the wall in front of the net for UND throughout their current 5-game win streak.

Weaknesses

Weaknesses are hard to pick out of North Dakota as of recently.  Of course the exhibition game(s) may have not went as smoothly as the team and followers may have wanted, but keep in mind many coaches use those games to try new things, even if it isn't visible to the naked eye.

The only battle North Dakota needs to win is with itself; finding the consistency and confidence to keep pushing forward.  Looking over the the results of past games, North Dakota needs to find victories in their remaining games, and like stated above, every series but one is an NCHC series.

Decision

North Dakota will host Colorado College while riding on a large amount of momentum, looking to extend their winning streak to six games after sweeps of North Michigan, Western Michigan, and a single victory against St. Lawrence before the season ended.

Judging by this team's strengths and record over the past few years during the second halves, we're educated enough to know that you can't really count North Dakota out.

With just one non-conference series in the remaining games, North Dakota will have a good chance at earning conference points and improving their record enough and make yet another appearance at the NCAA tournament.

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Denver  10-6-4 (4-3-1)

Jim Montgomery has put together quite the team this year.  After a more or less, rocky start, the Denver Pioneers are rolling.  Now riding a 4-game unbeaten streak and have lost just one game in their last 12, YES 12, outings, the Pioneers look to just be getting started.

Strengths

Special teams play has been absolutely fabulous for DU thus far...  And that could be an understatement.

Boosting a 25% power play that ranks 1st in the NCHC and 5th in the nation, as well as a penalty kill at 88.9% which is also ranked at #1 in the NCHC and #4 in the nation, it's no wonder the pioneers are sporting one of the best team defenses in the country.

Defensively, Denver is solid.  Netminder Sam Brittain is posting the best numbers in the entire conference with a 1.75 goals against average and a save percentage at .941 all while playing more minutes than any other goaltender in the NCHC.  Brittain's performance between the pipes has led to a 10-5-4 record, 3 shutouts, 539 saves, and provided the foundation for Denver to allow just 1.95 goals per game (1st in the NCHC and 3rd in the nation).

Puck control is usually tipped to DU's side after each game, with much thanks to the talented centermen rostered.  Quentin Shore is ranked 1st in the NCHC with 194 faceoff wins, Gabe Levin has won 60.1% of his battles at the center dot, and Matt Marcinew is sporting a record of 109-85.

Weaknesses

Despite the majority of puck possession leaning in Denver's favor, the Pioneers are having trouble finding the back of the net.

Tied for second-to-last with Western Michigan in scoring, averaging 2.5 goals per game, DU is simply unable to generate the offense needed to win night after night.  Instead of experience forwards sitting atop the point-chart, freshman forward Trevor Moore, and defensemen Joey LaLeggia and David Makowski fill the top three positions.

Lack of scoring?  In Denver's case, it looks like the Pioneers just need to take a few more shots.  Averaging just 27.95 shots per game, DU is sits next to last in the NCHC for the amount of shots generated per game.  My theory is this: put some more pucks on net and see what happens.

Decision

I wouldn't have pinned Denver to have 10 wins at the midpoint of this season.  With a new coach implementing a new system combined with the talented recruits that Denver lost, it just looked more like a rebuilding year a few months ago...  Funny how that works, eh?

If Denver can find the scoring they need, or hell, even find a way to score 2 or 3 and play the defense they've been displaying, NCHC teams are in trouble.  The Pioneers are to talented on special teams and defensively sound to be ignored, and teams that choose to deny this may just be in for a surprise.

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Colorado College  2-13-3 (2-5-3)

After the Tigers left the WCHA in an impressive manner, Colorado College has found the struggle bus this season with just two wins in the first half of play.

Strengths

It's really hard to find positives in a two-win team, especially strengths that this team has over others, but in Colorado College's case, they've found at least one visible strength in order to keep games close, at least.

One of the big things Colorado College has going for them is their ability to block shots.  Both Aaron Harstad (#2 in the NCHC with 41 blocked shots) and Eamonn McDermott (#4 in the NCHC with 36 blocked shots) have been able to keep games closer just by laying down in front of shots.

Weaknesses

There's been talk in the internet world about firing head coach Scott Owens.  Not exactly sure if Owens is a weakness of the team or just doubts on his ability to coach can be defined as more of a negative impact.  Anyway, this year should go, judging by the first half of the season, Owens' worst record by a long shot.  Is that enough evidence to fire?

Year Wins Losses Ties NCAA Tourney?
2012-13 18 19 5 NO
2011-12 18 16 2 NO
2010-11 23 19 3 YES
2009-10 19 17 3 NO
2008-09 16 12 10 NO
2007-08 28 12 1 YES
2006-07 18 17 4 NO
2005-06 24 16 2 YES
2004-05 31 9 3 YES
2003-04 20 16 3 NO
2002-03 30 7 5 YES
2001-02 27 13 3 YES
2000-01 27 13 1 YES
1999-00 18 18 3 NO
TOTALS 317 204 48 YES: 7, NO: 7

A team with two wins on the season is obviously going to have a few more weaknesses compared to strengths, and as a team in last place in the NCHC, these negative traits are easier to spot.  Scoring is a huge issue for the Tigers.  With 30 goals on the year, CC is averaging just 1.67 goals per game, which ranks them last in the NCHC and second-to-last in the nation.

Lack of scoring?  Look at the amount of shots.  Joining their fellow Colorado foes, Denver, the Tigers lack of scoring could simply root from the fact they're not putting as many shots on net as most other teams.

Averaging just 27.72 shots per game, Colorado College needs find a way to pepper opposing goalies with a few more shots.  If they can find a way to make that happen, expect at least a trinkler to find it's way past netminders.

Decision

Colorado College has been through a lot this season off the ice and unless they made drastic changes over the holiday break, I wouldn't plan on seeing a dramatic increase in performance from the Tigers.  This just may be a rebuilding year for the program.

The good news for CC is that they have a great group of underclassmen that should have a great deal to learn from the Tiger captains.  The strong core of youngsters in combination with a solid incoming class means next year should amount to better numbers for Owens and his Tigers.

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Miami University  9-7-2 (3-5-0)

Miami came into the season with high hopes of getting back to the NCAA tournament and making it to the Frozen Four; a goal that looked plausible with the amount of returning talent.  Unfortunately, some bumps along the way have caused Miami to sit in the bottom half of the NCHC standings with a losing conference record.

Strengths

Let's be honest here...  Miami has excellent forwards, solid defensemen, and two great goaltenders with experience.

Miami has the two top scorers in the NCHC with Austin Czarnik and Riley Barber, both of whom are tied for 6th in the nation with their 28 points thus far.  Barber also leads the NCHC is shorthanded goals, burying three pucks while on the penalty kill.

Averaging 35.33 shots per game has allowed the Redhawks to score 60 goals, both of which are statistics that lead the conference.  On top of that, Miami is boosting the NCHC's second best power play at 22%.  So to reiterate what I have said above, Miami has pretty talented group of forwards.

Weaknesses

Overall, Miami's record is swaying towards the winning side, but with a high powered offense and solid defense, a losing conference record isn't helping the Redhawks' situation at all.

Inconsistency has dominated Enrico Blasi's team throughout the first half of the season, especially as of lately.  A split with Denver in the Redhawk's last series wasn't a solid way to enter break, but the single win helped the team, especially as they've seen just two wins in their last seven outings.  As scoring declines, Miami has seen their record slowly worsen...

Month Games Scoring Offense Scoring Defense
October 6 4.33 3.00
November 10 2.90 2.30
December 2 2.50 2.50
TOTAL 18 3.33 2.56

Decision

It's not to late for the Miami Redhawks.  With the amount of talent the Redhawks have, it's hard to paint a picture without them included or at least causing ruckus among other top teams.

I imagine the Redhawks will be fine come this weekend and ready to take the second half of the season head-on.  Blasi will have his team ready to rumble and skate with the best, which should give the Redhawks enough of a bump to overturn mistakes in the first half of the season.

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Minnesota Duluth  7-8-1 (3-5-0)

With one of the youngest hockey teams in the country, the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs have proven they can skate with some of the best teams in college hockey.  With a big question mark in the blue-line category upon entering the season, the biggest unknown has actually been between the pipes for the Bulldogs, causing inconsistency and losses along the way.

Strengths

Year after year Scott Sandelin has proved to be able to develop a top-end special teams, even as he's confronted with a youthful team.  At 87.5%, the Bulldogs have developed the 6th best penalty kill in the nation and 2nd best in the NCHC. Justin Crandall has played his part in helping promote UMD's power play by scoring six goals while on the man advantage, the most in the NCHC.

October November December Combined
Power Play 9.1% 25.8% 25.0% 18.8%
Penalty Kill 91.7% 83.3% 87.5% 87.5%

Weaknesses

The biggest weakness in the Bulldog's roster is the goalie situation.  Both senior Aaron Crandall and Matt McNeely have seen playing time this season and have exhibited both excellent play and sub-par play between the pipes.  As we've seen in the past, UMD's goaltenders usually start out with even playing time until one goalie tends to take the lead and earns more playing time, which should hopefully happen soon for UMD.

Aaron Crandall:

Num Minutes GAA Save %
Win 5 299:58 1.80 .924
Loss 5 292:32 4.10 .860

Matt McNeely:

Num Minutes GAA Save %
Win 2 119:51 1.50 .944
Loss 3 171:32 3.85 .817

Decision

If either goaltender can find a way to play consistent, this team has a possibility to do some damage.  Both Crandall and McNeely have shown how dangerous each can be between the pipes, but need to exercise this night after night.

Solid scoring and special teams in combination with the developing goaltending means UMD could find ways to win night after night.  With wins like the 4-1 victory over Notre Dame, 6-2 triumph over North Dakota, and 6-2 rout of Minnesota, the Bulldogs have shown glimpses of greatness, but not consistently.  Minnesota Duluth's second half of season play is reliant on goaltending and consistent play night after night, instead of once a weekend.

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Western Michigan  9-8-3 (3-5-0)

Western Michigan isn't exactly playing like they're sitting at the bottom of the NCHC standings.  As a matter of fact, they're playing as though they're one of the better teams around.  Coming out of the Great Lakes Invitational on top of Michigan, Michigan State, and Michigan Tech, the Broncos have earned the title of "the team to beat in Michigan".

Strengths

The Broncos have caught fire.  After being swept at home by North Dakota in early December, Western Michigan has been playing hungry.  Andy Murray has got his team firing on all cylinders as they recently took both Michigan and Michigan Tech into overtime games, coming out on top twice to take the 2013 GLI.

Defense and goaltending have been superb.  Ever since the Broncos were swept at home by a North Dakota team who had been generating momentum, coach Murray gave sophomore netminder Lukas Hafner the nod and he's been on fire.  Western Michigan has also given goaltenders a break by blocking 283 shots, a leading statistic among all NCHC teams.

Netminder Oct GP Oct GAA Oct S% Nov GP Nov GAA Nov S% Dec GP Dec GAA Dec S% TOTALS
Slubowski 4 2.48 .922 8 2.10 .926 3 4.65 .818 2.53 | .913
Hafner 0 - - 3 0.50 .978 5 1.62 .934 1.26 | .947

Weaknesses

The biggest weakness the Broncos have shown is equivalent to shooting themselves in the foot; penalty minutes.  With an NCHC leading 213 penalty minutes, Western Michigan isn't doing themselves any favors boosting the fourth highest average per game (15.85 minutes per game).  Bronco Kenney Morrison leads the NCHC with 21 penalties and 53 minutes  spent in the box.

Power play is also something the Broncos will need to work on.  At 12.9%, Western Michigan sits at second-to-last in the NCHC on the man advantage.  If WMU hopes to venture into post-season action, they'll need to work on their 5x4 play.

Decision

As funny as it sounds, Western Michigan looks to be performing very good with Hafner between the pipes.  They've shown they can compete with some of the best teams and convert in overtime despite pressures, especially as of lately.

If the Broncos are able to stay out of the box and capitalize on more power play outings, Murray's team could be a real threat in NCHC post-season action.  Although fixing weaknesses are much easier said than done, right?

NHL Prospects

Forwards
Name Year Team GM G A Pts Pts/GM NHL Rights
Riley Barber SO Miami 18 11 17 28 1.56 Washington Capitals
Josh Archibald JR Nebraska Omaha 18 14 7 21 1.17 Pittsburgh Penguins
Jonny Brodzinski SO St. Cloud State 16 8 8 16 1.00 Los Angeles Kings
Rocco Grimaldi SO North Dakota 18 6 11 17 .94 Florida Panthers
Blake Coleman JR Miami 17 10 6 16 .94 New Jersey Devils
Nic Dowd SR St. Cloud State 16 9 6 15 .94 Los Angeles Kings
Quentin Shore SO Denver 17 3 10 13 .77 Ottawa Senators
Sean Kuraly SO Miami 18 4 9 13 .72 San Jose Sharks
Jake Guentzel FR Nebraska Omaha 18 2 10 12 .67 Pittsburgh Penguins
Chase Balisy SR Western Michigan 20 2 11 13 .65 Nashville Predators

Defensemen
Name Year Team GM G A Pts Pts/GM NHL Rights
Joey LaLeggia JR Denver 20 7 8 15 .75 Edmonton Oilers
Jaccob Slavin FR Colorado College 13 1 8 9 .69 Carolina Hurricanes
Jordan Schmaltz SO North Dakota 17 2 8 10 .59 St. Louis Blues
Dillon Simpson SR North Dakota 18 3 7 10 .56 Edmonton Oilers
Kevin Gravel SR St. Cloud State 16 2 6 8 .50 Los Angeles Kings
Paul LaDue FR North Dakota 17 3 5 8 .47 Los Angeles Kings
Andy Welinski SO Minnesota Duluth 16 1 6 7 .44 Anaheim Ducks
Jacob Megna JR Nebraska Omaha 14 0 6 6 .43 Anaheim Ducks
Nick Mattson JR North Dakota 16 1 5 6 .38 Chicago Blackhawks
Carson Soucy FR Minnesota Duluth 14 0 5 5 .36 Minnesota Wild

NCHC Team Records Against Conferences

Team Atlantic Hockey Big Ten ECAC Hockey East WCHA TOTAL
Colorado College 0-1-0 0-2-0 0-3-0 0-2-0 0-0-0 0-8-0
Denver 2-1-1 0-0-0 1-0-2 3-0-0 0-2-2 6-3-3
Miami 2-0-0 3-1-0 0-0-0 0-1-1 1-1-0 6-3-1
Minnesota Duluth 0-0-0 2-2-0 0-0-0 1-1-0 1-0-1 4-3-1
Nebraska Omaha 1-1-0 1-1-0 0-2-0 0-2-0 1-1-0 3-7-0
North Dakota 0-0-0 0-0-0 1-1-0 1-1-2 2-0-0 4-2-2
St. Cloud State 0-0-0 0-0-0 2-1-1 0-0-0 3-0-1 5-1-2
Western Michigan 0-0-0 3-0-0 0-0-0 0-2-1 3-1-2 6-3-3
NCHC Totals 5-3-1 9-6-0 4-7-3 5-9-4 11-4-5 34-29-13 (.533)

Enjoy.

--

Matt Christians covers Minnesota Duluth and the NCHC for SB Nation and College Hockey News. You can also give him a follow here ->

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