This Week in the WCHA: Nov. 6, 2008

Wisconsin is off the schneid, Colorado College remains undefeated (and so do the Gophers) and Alaska Anchorage is in third.

Gotta love the WCHA, folks.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Tommy Grant, UAA.
Why: Scored three goals to help his Seawolves earn a weekend split with Michigan Tech.
Also Nominated: Andreas Vlassopoulos, CC; Tyler Bozak, DU; Jordan Schroeder, UM; Jason Gregoire, UND; Tom Gorowsky, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Richard Bachman, CC.
Why: Helped his Tigers earn three points against rival Denver, stopping 84 of 88 total shots on goal.
Also Nominated: Bryce Christianson, UAA; Rob Nolan, MTU; Cade Fairchild, UM; Alex Stalock, UMD; Brad Eidsness, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Jordan Schroeder, UM.
Why: Had five points (2g, 3a) to help his team earn three points total against Minnesota State.
Also Nominated: Nick Dineen, CC; Patrick Wiercioch, DU; Jason Gregoire, UND; Derek Stepan, UW.

Penalty Crackdown: The Numbers

Last week, you read some of the reactions from coaches as to whether the new officiating crackdown is working.

This week, you’ll see the numbers.

I compared the first month of this season to the first month of last season, which meant all games through around Nov. 4. I also looked at all games played except for exhibitions — therefore, nonconference games counted.

In 2007-2008, there were:

725 total penalties
282 total goals scored
81 total power-play goals
6 total shorthanded goals
29% of all goals scored were on the power play
5.53 goals per game on average

The above numbers are for 51 games played. Teams went a total of 81-for-564 on the power play, earning a 14.4% success rate.

Now, in 2008-2009, there have been:

926 total penalties
294 total goals scored
111 total power-play goals
16 total shorthanded goals
38% of all goals scored have been on the power play
6.1 goals per game average

The above numbers are for 48 games played. Teams went a total of 111-for-711 on the power play, earning a 15.6% success rate.

Looking at the numbers, one thing we’ve all noticed at games is true — there are more penalties being called. The number of penalties per game has gone up from 14.2 to 19.3 per game. That may not seem like a lot at first, but, when you think about the minutes involved, it is pretty significant.

As we heard from the coaches last week, teams are having to add another power-play or penalty-killing unit as the primary players who play on those units are getting fatigued. A sign of that is the number of shorthanded goals, which has almost tripled — from six to 16.

However, one of the main goals of the penalty crackdown was to increase scoring which, as the numbers show, has gone up about a half a goal per game, from 5.53 goals per game to 6.1. Not too significant, especially considering that it’s mostly thanks to power-play goals; the percentage of total goals on the power play has gone up almost 10% from last year.

Therefore, I think it will be interesting to see how things pan out after the “adjustment period” that all coaches are talking about — that is, once teams unlearn previous bad habits (so to speak) and penalties presumably go down. Once that happens, one can only logically presume that scoring will also go down to where it was before. Which, of course, is not the intended result.

Look for this issue to be revisited near the end of the season. For now, you can interpret the numbers however you wish.

Number One Is Still Not Enough

If anyone out there wants to know how to handle a number-one ranking and not let it get to one’s head, take a lesson from Colorado College’s Scott Owens.

Despite being the top-ranked team in the country, Owens is still “concerned” about his team. He was “concerned” going into this past weekend’s series with Denver — and his squad took three of four points from the Pioneers.

Is he sandbagging? Perhaps, when you look at the Tigers’ penalty-killing percentage — second in the nation with a 96.8% success rate — and their goaltender Richard Bachman, who has the nation’s second-best save percentage (.960) and fifth-best goals against average (1.24).

When examining the Tigers’ offense, however, Owens may have a point. His team’s scoring offense has gone down from 3.32 goals per game — good enough for ninth in the nation last year — to a measly 2.5 goals per game, which puts the Tigers tied for 36th.

“We weren’t able to sustain any pressure in the offensive zone [against Denver], and it’s a problem we’ve had all year,” Owens said. “This has been our formula all season long right now — is that we’re not scoring, we’re taking a lot of penalties, but our penalty killing’s been good and our goaltending’s been unbelievable.

“So, you know what, we need to keep working and we need to get through this because you can’t expect to win like this [close games] on a regular basis.”

And despite playing at altitude and it only being early November, Owens and his Tigers are tired.

“We’re not moving our feet real well right now,” he said. “Either we’re heavy-legged or we’re tired, but we’re not moving our feet very well and we’re being forced to take a lot of penalties.”

So, even if you’re on top, just know that you can always, always be better.

Matchups By the Numbers

Four conference series this week, while Minnesota and St. Cloud both host nonconference foes.

Michigan Tech @ Wisconsin
Overall Records: MTU — 2-4-0 (1-3-0 WCHA). UW — 1-6-1 (1-4-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 87-50-9.

North Dakota @ No. 1 Colorado College
Overall Records: UND — 2-4-0 (2-2-0 WCHA). CC — 5-0-3 (3-0-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 129-74-9.

No. 20 Minnesota Duluth @ No. 6 Denver
Overall Records: UMD — 4-1-2 (1-1-1 WCHA). DU — 4-2-1 (2-1-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 101-69-9.

No. 13 Minnesota State @ Alaska Anchorage
Overall Records: MSU — 3-2-1 (1-2-1 WCHA). UAA — 5-2-1 (2-1-1 WCHA).
Head-to-Head: MSU leads the overall series, 28-18-5.

No. 4 Minnesota vs. No. 5 New Hampshire
Overall Records: UM — 4-0-2 (4-0-2 WCHA). UNH — 4-1-2 (2-0-2 HEA).
Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 12-2-1.

St. Cloud State vs. Robert Morris
Overall Records: SCSU — 3-4-0 (0-3-0 WCHA). RMU — 2-3-2 (1-0-1 CHA).
Head-to-Head: SCSU leads the overall series, 2-0-0.

Something You May Have Missed

First a stick to the Hockey Hall of Fame, and now an appearance in Sports Illustrated; all thanks to a shorthanded natural hat trick. Minnesota State’s Zach Harrison appeared in this past week’s “Faces in the Crowd” feature in SI, becoming the third Maverick — though the first hockey-playing Mav — to appear in the magazine.