The college hockey season always start slow. Maybe it's because the weather is still nice. Maybe it's because it's still football season. Maybe it's because as much people love the idea of seeing different teams from around the country, non-conference games just don't carry the same appeal as seeing two rivals play with something more than decimal points on a calculator at stake. Regardless, outside of the intrigue of putting our pre-season assumptions into the crucible and seeing how they hold up, it was a fairly quiet first two weekends of the college hockey season.
Friday night was a little different though. Friday night saw three extremely entertaining back-and-forth games. All three ended in ties, but the result barely matters because the games were exciting and engaging throughout the whole sixty minutes.
Last week in this space, we talked about how undefeated UMass was almost guaranteed to take a tumble after a good start to their season, and for a while, that looked to be exactly the case. On Friday night, they trailed New Hampshire 6-1 with only twenty-five minutes left to play. Repeated for emphasis: UMass trailed by five goals with just over a period left in a Division I college hockey game. I considered pulling out a pillow and blanket when Minnesota took a 3-0 first period on Northeastern Friday night because it was clear that lead would be insurmountable. Erasing that kind of deficit just doesn't happen in college hockey. Except somehow it did. It wasn't quite the greatest comeback in college hockey history, but the Minutemen scored five unanswered to earn a 6-6 tie and stay undefeated. UMass is still coasting by on nation-leading and an unsustainably high 17.9% shooting percentage, but damned if it isn't working for right now.
Michigan made their first trip to an ECAC rink since 1988 this weekend, and continued on insisting every game be played like it is still 1988. The Wolverines fell behind Union 3-1 after two periods on Friday night, which in most of college hockey, means the game is over. Not the case with the Wolverines. They played a swashbuckling six-goal third period that ended with Justin Selman scoring a game-tying goal with 30 seconds left for a 5-5 tie.
Through four games, Michigan + opponent have averaged 8 goals per game when the national average in college hockey hovers just under 5.5 goals per game. I can only see this ending one of two ways: Michigan can't sustain that type of ridiculous offense consistently enough against their terrible slate of opponents and drop enough ugly #collegehockey games to fall one spot short of the NCAA tournament, or Michigan makes the tournament and blows a multi-goal lead like only Michigan(and I mean that almost literally if you look at past tournament history) can. Still, I salute Michigan for at least going that route because it's entertaining as hell to follow.
And finally, sometimes goals come the most unlikely of sources.
I wish I was at that back-and-forth high-scoring shootout between Ferris State and Wisconsin is a thing I'm the first person to ever say.— Chris Dilks (@ChrisDilks) October 24, 2015
Wisconsin and Ferris State are two of the trappiest traps that have ever trapped with offenses that range from boringly efficient in an up year to Won't Somebody Please Think of the Children last year. So of course they played to a crazy 5-5 tie on Friday night. Wisconsin scored four goals in the second period of that game, and if that's not the craziest thing you've ever heard, consider they averaged 3.38 goals per weekend series last season.
Of course, it was back to the status quo the following night with Ferris State grinding out a 2-1 win and Mike Eaves left to consider how he can convince Barry Alvarez that college hockey changed how they report records, and that wins actually go in the third column now. How would Barry know any different? Worth a shot, in my opinion.
We'll even throw one in from the women's side. The St. Cloud State women's team had gone five consecutive games without scoring a goal, outscored 28-0 in that stretch. But on Saturday, they scored four times in a 4-4 draw against North Dakota. They actually had a 4-1 lead with eight and a half remaining and blew it for the draw, but who cares, they scored four goals. Did you not read the part about being shut out five straight times?
Other Stuff That Doesn't Fit Into This Week's Narrative
-It was a battle of the unbeatens in Connecticut last weekend when 4-0-0 St. Cloud State traveled to 4-0-0 Quinnipiac and it ended with a rather decisive victory for the Bobcats, who swept the series with 5-2 and 4-1 victories. For Quinnipiac, the Bobcats had been playing really good hockey, but their best win prior to this weekend was over Maine. A sweep over the Huskies is an impressive statement and, for whatever it's worth, puts them atop the RPI rankings early in the season.
On the other side of the ice, St. Cloud State regressed towards the mean with a resounding thud. It's a testament to their first four games of the season that Charlie Lindgren gave up nine goals on the weekend and he still has a very good .935 save percentage for the season. As good as Lindgren was in his first three starts, no goalie is going to be perfect. The big difference this weekend is that a few shots that had been sticking to Lindgren's pads ended up as rebounds, and a few rebounds that were missing opposition sticks ended up as tap-in goals. Two weekends ago, the Huskies benefited from a missed hand pass call that led to a goal--albeit in a situation where the call was largely irrelevant. This past weekend, down 2-0 early in the second period of Saturday's game, they had a good goal called back because the referee lost sight of the puck as it lay free on the opposite side of a sprawled goalie. Those things even out in the long run, but it's strange to see that correction happen in such short succession.
-And then there is ascending towards the mean. Minnesota increased their team shooting percentage for the season by 507%, thanks in part to goaltending like this. The Gophers now sit at a bad, not so bad 7.1% on the season.
Minnesota State was the other team that started the weekend with a shooting percentage below 2%. I happened to turn on their Saturday game against Bemidji State after the Mavericks had done the gentlemanly thing and given their opponent the now customary 1-0 first period lead. But before the end of the period, a CJ Franklin pass across the crease on the power play deflected off a BSU defenseman's skate and into the net. Twenty-four seconds later, a hip-high BSU outlet pass happened to catch the shaft of Zach Stepan's stick, sending him on a breakaway for a goal. Watching those lucky breaks happen after the prior two weeks of utter futility is a sobering reminder of the just how little control we possess in the random chance of the universe and the fragility of life itself. Or as the kids are saying these days: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, then ordering a pizza with something called an emoji.
-Omaha is 6-0-0 now after a pair of wins over Air Force, but the big news is that the Mavericks finally outshot a team for the first time this season on Saturday night. The more important stat is that the Mavericks have scored the first two goals in every game they've played this season. They're going to be incredibly difficult to beat if they can keep that up the entire season.
-I made my thoughts on 1-1 ties known already this year. UMass Lowell and Merrimack played to 1-1 draws on both nights of a weekend series that you could not have paid me enough money to watch. Of the six periods they played, there were three periods in which both teams combined for fewer than nine shots on goal. Saturday's third period had a total of six shots on goal, but the strategy of both teams to spend much of that third period building an 18th-century redoubt in front of their own net paid big dividends in the overtime when neither team scored and everybody left vaguely disappointed.
-Former WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod was at Mariucci Arena on Friday night, though he left early, before I had the opportunity to thank him for the nifty NCHC pen I've been using at games this year.