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Weekend Recap: Arizona State and Underrated Defensemen

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People seemed to enjoy the psuedo-30 Thoughts format last time I tried it, so I thought I'd give it another whirl.

1. Arizona State played their first home games against Division I competition this past week. I think everyone was more interested in the results in the stands than they were in the product at the ice at this point of the season. On Tuesday, they hosted UConn at Oceanside where they drew a sellout crowd..... of 713 people. Over the weekend, they moved Gila River Arena, the 18,000-seat home of the Phoenix Coyotes, where their four-team tournament drew a combined two-game attendance of 5028 on Friday. Sunday, that number dropped to 3798.

It's still their first year, and one can't expect a ton of excitement for the weird independent half D-1 season a not-very-good Arizona State is playing. But those numbers, they aren't good. Neither Oceanside nor an NHL-sized arena seems to be a good fit. I've said this since the program was announced, but this weekend seemed to be further confirmation that Arizona State needs to figure out a way to build their own on-campus arena as soon as possible.

2. Meanwhile on the ice, the brutal travel schedule, combined with the rest of college hockey rounding into mid-season form seems to have caught up to Arizona State. The Sun Devils haven't won a game since their mid-November sweep at Lake Superior State, losing 11 straight against NCAA teams in that period.

3. I mentioned this in my game recap Saturday night, but it bears repeating: Colorado College is now 5-4-0 in their last nine games after starting the season 0-13-0. The schedule has helped, with wins over inexplicably bad Miami and explicably bad Alabama-Huntsville, but they were, I'll repeat, 0-13-0. You take whatever you can get. I don't think they have the horses to win too many more this year, but they've at least avoided an epic embarrassment.

4. Speaking of epic embarrassment: Michigan State. The Spartans gave up 15 goals in a pair of losses to Michigan, and have one win in their last 14 games. There's plenty to unpack when discussing Michigan State's issues, and we'll get to it when Tom Anastos is inevitably fired at the end of this season.

5. In the meantime, watching Michigan pile on the goals Friday night and comparing the two rosters made me wonder: Did Kyle Connor ever seriously consider Michigan State? Did Zach Werenski? Tyler Motte? Alex Kile? Conversely, is there a player on Michigan State's roster Michigan was seriously interested in? I really don't think so. That's reflective more of how far the Michigan State hockey program has fallen in terms of stature over the last decade plus than it is of coaching. I certainly don't believe Michigan's coaching is ten goals better than Michigan State over the course of two games. Now, that doesn't excuse Michigan State being one of the seven worst teams in the country, they certainly have more talent than that. But I also don't know that they have much more to be anything more than the middle-of-the-pack team they were last year, which didn't suit most people's expectations either.

6. Harvard tripled their loss total this past week blowing a big lead to lose to Boston University, then erasing a 4-0 deficit against Quinnipiac, only to lose in overtime. I expressed some concern last week at the Mariucci Classic about how Harvard's defense would hold up against faster, quality competition, and those concerns proved valid again.

7. Part of the problem is the absence of senior defenseman Brayden Jaw, who has missed the past two weeks due to injury, and might be in the running for stealth MVP. The Crimson were allowing 1.6 goals against per game prior to his injury, and 4.25 in the four games he's been out. Some of that is schedule--Harvard gave up four goals to Quinnipiac earlier this year with Jaw playing too--but certainly getting him back would be a big help.

8. It should also be noted that Quinnipiac is so far ahead of everyone in the RPI right now that even losing to the Bobcats helped Harvard in the computer rankings. So despite the disappointment of losing two in a row, it's not necessarily an augur of a second straight second half collapse for the Crimson.

9. Minnesota is still my pick to win the Big Ten regardless of how many Atlantic Hockey(or worse, in the case of Michigan State) teams Michigan and Penn State beat. The Gophers haven't been great, but they're still hanging around. They've got their two(and only?) toughest series out of the way at Michigan and at Penn State. They survived each of those with a split, even if nobody noticed because both wins came on BASKETBALL DAY ON BIG TEN NETWORK. From here on out, it's all about taking care of business in games they should win for the Gophers, and the improvement to their record after playing a tough schedule early should be enough to get Minnesota into the NCAA Tournament.

10. The WCHA continued to immolate itself this past weekend. Bowling Green and Minnesota State came into the weekend as the WCHA's best hopes to earn an at-large bid, and they each dropped a game to Lake Superior State and Northern Michigan respectively.

11. Lake Superior State's win was a 1-0 overtime thriller. You have to really hate your own conference to get swept at home by Arizona State and then go out and beat your league's first-place team.

12. At least the Lakers played the Falcons fairly even, and even outshot them. Northern Michigan got outshot 42-20 en route to one of the ugliest 3-1 victories you'll ever see. I'd use the cliche that that game set the game of hockey back X number of years, but there's literally never been a time when games were this low-scoring and awful to watch. We're in a brave new world.

13. Speaking of Northern Michigan, the great Mike Eidelbes, formerly of Inside College Hockey fame, called this year's Northern Michigan team college hockey's version of khaki pants. The Wildcats are 8-8-6 overall, 6-6-4 in the WCHA, and have a GF-GA of 51-51 overall, and 36-35 in conference play. They've also scored 14 power play goals and given up 14 power play goals.

14. Keeping that in mind, it's remarkable that Northern Michigan defenseman Jordan Klimek has a +14 +/- on the season. Klimek has been on the ice for nine even strength/shorthanded goals against, or about 24% of goals allowed. That also means he's been on the ice for 23 EV/SH goals for, about 62% of goals scored. Everyone knows +/- is an imperfect stat, but if that number is all a matter of luck, then Klimek should buy a Powerball ticket.

15. The current NCAA tournament field would have four teams each from Hockey East and the ECAC, while the Big Ten would have a single bid, and the WCHA would only have an autobid. The balance of power firmly resides in the East this year.

16. The ECAC could potentially get more teams into the tournament with a little luck too. They didn't get much help last weekend though, when two of their bubble teams, RPI and Union, each ended up tying Princeton. The Tigers are still bad, but have already matched last season's win total, and seem to be making incremental improvement in Ron Fogarty's second year.