Last Saturday was the first official day of the men’s college hockey season, and the season got off to an abbreviated start with a few early-season games and a number of scrimmages against Canadian teams.
Here were a few things that stood out to me this past weekend:
- Justin Kapelmaster, Ferris State
It’s usually not worth reading much into exhibition game statistics, but Kapelmaster’s performance on Saturday night was worthy of an exception. Playing against Not Your Average NTDP U18 team, Kapelmaster gave up an early goal to Matt Boldy 3:33 into the game, and then shut down Jack Hughes and the rest of the U18s, finishing with 44 saves in a 3-1 victory.
Kapelmaster has flown well under the radar over his career. He’s a Florida native that bounced around some smaller junior leagues before putting up an impressive season in the NAHL as an overager, and earning a spot at Ferris State. After a very good freshman season, I speculated that Kapelmaster might get some NHL free agent looks, but his numbers took a big hit last year in what was a very tough season for Ferris State. Stopping 44 shots against a team that might have seven first round NHL picks in their line-up is going to draw some attention though. At 6’1”, Kapelmaster is barely scraping the minimum for NHL goalie size, but his athleticism and lateral movement is excellent, and he has the ability to steal a game like he did last weekend.
2. Michigan’s goaltending
Michigan was anointed as a great team during the preseason because they won—let me check my notes—two games, albeit at a most opportune time last season. But the Wolverines are still a team with some flaws, most notably in goal.
Hayden Lavigne earned the starting role last season, mostly for lack of a better option. His .908 save percentage ranked 42nd nationally. He was good enough, until he wasn’t in the Frozen Four against Notre Dame. Lavigne returned this season, but there was room for improvement for Michigan at that position, and the expectation was that freshman Strauss Mann, who posted a .932 save percentage in the USHL last year, would earn the starting role.
But it was Lavigne who got the start in Michigan’s season-opener against Vermont and it wasn’t a promising start. Lavigne gave up two goals in the first four minutes of the game to put the Wolverines in an early hole, and finished the night with four goals allowed on 23 shots.
It’s not unusual to give deference to a returning starter early in the season. Two years ago at Michigan Tech, Mel Pearson nearly tanked Michigan Tech’s season thanks to a brutal 1-5-2 start to the year with two veteran goalies sharing the net. The following weekend, the job was handed over to talented freshman Angus Redmond and the Huskies went on a 22-10-5 run, including winning their conference playoff to make the NCAAs and Redmond signed an NHL contract that off-season.
That said, Mann started Sunday’s exhibition game against Waterloo for Michigan, and didn’t give off the impression that he’s ready to take over either. Michigan cruised to a 7-4 victory against an over-matched Canadian school, but Mann only stopped 16 of 20 shots.
It’s early, it’s a very small sample size, etc. But play in goal is likely the big key for Michigan. They’re probably good enough to make it into the NCAA tournament either way, but having a goalie step up and be a strength is the difference between competing for a Big Ten title or not.
3. Stephen Baylis, Bowling Green
Baylis currently leads the nation in scoring with five points through two games. Bowling Green is off to a great start to their season beating Mercyhurst 8-2 and Western Michigan 6-2, with the win at Western Michigan standing out as significant.
This was the fourth straight year Bowling Green has played at Western Michigan on a Tuesday early in the season. The Falcons lost the previous three meetings and at the end of the year, found themselves in the hunt for an NCAA at-large bid, but not quite strong enough to secure a bid. This win could be a huge boost towards making their first NCAA Tournament since Jerry York took them there in 1990.
The Falcons caught a little bit of a break with the early-season match-up in that Western Michigan’s star player Wade Allison did not play. Allison was a favorite for the Hobey Baker last year until a lower body injury ended his season, and Western Michigan’s NCAA Tournament aspirations, in mid-January. If Allison comes back later this season and Western Michigan plays to their potential, Bowling Green’s win could end up looking really good at the end of the year.
As for Baylis, he left Tuesday’s game in the second period with an apparent injury and did not return. The Falcons’ stretch of key non-conference games continues with a home-and-home against Robert Morris next weekend, another Tuesday game against Western Michigan, and then a huge opportunity to make a statement with a home-and-home series against Ohio State. Baylis is a big key to the Bowling Green offense, so hopefully he’ll be ready for that tough stretch of five games in nine days.