Note: this week’s column was delayed due to the indolence of an USCHO.com editor, who may or may not be one of this article’s co-authors.
Scott: Jim, we’ll get to some of our favorite topics later, I know, but in the meantime, perhaps a little State of the Game discussion is in order. WCHA supervisor of officials Greg Shepherd was featured on a game telecast recently to discuss the new rules and the penalties being called as a result, and at one point he stated that the difference from last season was an increase of two penalties per team per game (I assume he was using only WCHA data for that statement). That doesn’t sound like much at first, but given that those penalties are typically not going to be matching, that’s up to eight additional minutes — almost half a period — of extra power play being handed out. It seems to me that things are getting a little better in terms of flow, but there are still a lot of ragged contests being played. What’s your sense?
Boston College head coach Jerry York — not a bad choice to talk to for perspective (photo: Melissa Wade)>
Jim: Personally, I’m a big fan of how the game is now being called. It’s very similar to the NHL game. If you’re in control of the puck, you shouldn’t be hampered by an opponent’s stick around your waist or hacking at your knees. In talking to Boston College head coach Jerry York, he made the comparison to the pro game, and I began watching the NHL more carefully. Lo and behold, every time a defender’s stick was placed on the puck carrier, the referee’s arm went up. Right now, at the college level, the players simply aren’t used to it. Yes, it’s slowed down the flow of the game but in truth it should also open up the ability of offensive players to move without obstruction. To me that’s a positive thing. What are your thoughts?
Scott: I’m willing to pay the price now for the rewards later, for all the reasons you mention. In truth, I haven’t heard much if any complaining from coaches or players — of course, they have to be careful what they say about the officials, but even generic complaints about the lack of flow or the sheer volume of penalties have been minimal. I think that’s because most people are on board with the idea that this is something that needed to be done no matter what happens over half a season in the early going. If anyone’s getting the short end of the stick right now, it’s the fans who have been treated to a few nearly-unwatchable games, but everyone will be better off in the long run thanks to the changes.
Jim: Well, you may not have heard complaints because you’re out West. There’s been plenty of murmurs out here in Hockey East where it seems the consistency from official to official is somewhat lacking. Still, as you say the long run is what we have to focus on. Both players and officials should be used to this by midseason. Moving back to the ice, our favorite team thus far this year, Air Force, remains perfect at 10-0-0, while the team on your beat, Minnesota, has climbed into the top spot in the polls with a 6-0-4 record (seriously, four ties already?) It’s still far too early to talk about a season without a loss (last time that was talked about seriously in the second half of the year was likely Maine in 1992-93). But in Air Force’s case, the Falcons are two wins this week at home against Sacred Heart from entering that Denver/Colorado College series perfect. A boy can dream, right?
Scott: Yes, he (we) can. Observers of our poll will note that Air Force got a first-place vote this week, so the Falcons’ accomplishments aren’t going unnoticed. And lest our readers take our infatuation with AFA as some kind of inappropriate bias, let’s be clear: what Air Force is doing is good for Atlantic Hockey and by extension for all non-“Big Four” programs. When Niagara won its way into the NCAAs in 2000 and promptly beat New Hampshire in the first round, it was a rallying cry for all the little guys to sit up and think “that could be us.” The Falcons are providing the same buzz, and it’s going to reach epic levels if AFA goes into CC and DU at 12-0-0. A brief aside on Minnesota: at the rate they’re going, the Gophers are on track for something like 15 ties this year, which would surpass the program record of nine set in 1998-99 and equaled — just last season. So there’s precedent for this kind of thing in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Moving along, we reviewed Quinnipiac’s woes recently, as the Bobcats went three games without a goal. So what do Rand Pecknold’s guys do last weekend? Eleven goals and two wins. What the heck?
Jim: There simply is no consistency in hockey this season, at least based on what I see on a day-to-day basis in New England. Quinnipiac is a good example, as is Massachusetts-Lowell, which lost a heartbreaking game two Fridays ago to Boston University (allowing three goals in the final 140 seconds or so to lose, 6-4) and got outplayed by Vermont a night later only to rebound with wins over nationally-ranked New Hampshire and Massachusetts last weekend. As a matter of fact, the whole top 10 seemed topsy-turvy last weekend. I’m not sure what to chalk this up to — inconsistency, parity, random-number generation? You’re the math guy, Scott; help us out here.
Scott: Jim, for starters the numbers bear out the idea that the top teams aren’t as dominant so far this year. I looked at the top 10 teams in Monday’s poll versus the top 10 in the comparable poll last season (Nov. 19, 2007), and here’s what I found. This year, the top 10 have combined for a record of 63-24-15 in 102 games for a 0.691 winning percentage. Last year at the same time, it was 79-24-6 in 109 games for a 0.752 winning percentage. The difference of 16 fewer wins this season leaps out (though there have been seven fewer games overall), but the ties are really striking: over twice as many this year among the top teams — and last year, four of the six ties were by one team, Massachusetts. Of course, this could all reverse itself a month from now, but for the moment I’m going to chalk this up to the increase in penalties and power plays creating opportunities for upsets that weren’t there a year ago. We’d need a better analysis than what I’ve just done to demonstrate that, so maybe I’ll put that on my plate for next time.
Jim: Nothing like asking a Doctor of Math to look at the numbers. Wow. Anyway, to the week ahead, we have some pretty good matchups on the docket. Michigan and Miami will battle for the early-season top spot in the CCHA with a two-game series in Ohio; Hockey East frontrunner Northeastern will host a struggling perennial power in New Hampshire and then get to travel to Massachsetts-Lowell, which certainly played well last weekend; traditional ECAC rivals Harvard and Cornell will square off on Friday in Ithaca; and Denver will have a tough task to right the ship when it hosts the nation’s (current) best team, Minnesota. So we’ll have plenty of hockey to talk about next week, as well as the start of the holiday tournament season. Until then …