This Week in the WCHA: March 12, 2009

Phew.

That could have been so much worse than it ended up. Only third place had to be determined by a tiebreaker, and an easy one at that.

In trying to figure out the different situations on Saturday, I didn’t even consider the possibility of a tie in the Minnesota State/St. Cloud State game … which ended up being the best situation in terms of crazy tiebreakers.

As a result, this week we’re talking about playoffs.

Red Baron Pizza WCHA Players of the Week

Red Baron WCHA Offensive Player of the Week: Kevin Clark, UAA.
Why: Scored six points (4g, 2a) to help his Seawolves sweep Minnesota Duluth. The road sweep for the Seawolves was their first since 2000.
Also Nominated: Drew Dobson, MTU; Ryan Stoa, UM; Kael Mouillierat, MSU, M; Chris VandeVelde, UND; Ben Grotting, UW.

Red Baron WCHA Defensive Player of the Week: Mike Zacharias, MSU, M.
Why: Stopped 80 of 85 saves to help his Mavericks earn three points from St. Cloud State.
Also Nominated: Richard Bachman, CC; Deron Cousens, MTU; Matt Watkins, UND.

Red Baron WCHA Rookie of the Week: Derek Stepan, UW.
Why: Scored two shorthanded goals on the same penalty to help his Badgers beat North Dakota on Saturday night and earn a split.
Also Nominated: Brad Eidsness, UND.

Penalty Crackdown: The Finale

This is the finale of looking at the numbers to decide whether this year’s penalty crackdown actually worked (as opposed to other years). I looked at all WCHA and non-conference games involving WCHA teams — only exhibition games didn’t count for my purposes.

In 2007-2008, there were:

3040 total penalties
1118 total goals scored
309 total power-play goals
58 total shorthanded goals
28% of all goals were scored on the power play
5.51 goals per game on average
15 penalties per game on average

The above numbers are for 203 games played. Teams went 309-for-2019 on the power play, earning a 15.3% success rate.

In 2008-2009, there were:

3408 total penalties
1247 total goals scored
431 total power-play goals
60 total shorthanded goals
35% of all goals were scored on the power play
5.77 goals per game on average
15.8 penalties per game on average

The above numbers are for 216 games played. Teams went 431-for-2501 on the power play, earning a 17.2% success rate.

So, even though the penalties went up through the first part of the year (as seen in my November 6 column), they evened out pretty well throughout the course of the season. Goal scoring went up which the league (and NCAA) should be happy about.

The most notable increase was in power-play goals. Back in November, we heard that coaches had to adjust their power-play units to compensate for the number of penalties that were being called. So, even though the penalties went down, the power-play units kept on cranking.

In going through this year, I also did the stats month-by-month to compare penalties and goals per month:

October: 19.1 penalties per game; 6.14 goals per game
November: 15.4 penalties per game; 5.40 goals per game
December: 13.6 penalties per game; 5.42 goals per game
January: 15.8 penalties per game; 6.32 goals per game
February: 14.4 penalties per game; 5.36 goals per game
March: 14.4 penalties per game; 6.00 goals per game

As we all predicted, penalties per game took a major drop after October, dropped a bit more after November and eventually evened out. Goals also dropped, but not as badly and stayed a tad more consistent.

What does this all mean? Maybe just that the NCAA should quit cracking down on penalties unless it is going to stay consistent with it … or something else, as I’ll fully admit that I’m not really a numbers gal.

Rolling Seawolves

This season’s early surprise, the Alaska-Anchorage Seawolves, capped off their rollercoaster regular season with four straight wins, something the team hadn’t done since the 1998-99 season. Within those four wins, they also accomplished two other things not done in a long time — their first back-to-back shutouts since 1992-93 and their first road sweep since November 2000.

“We talked about that as a team; we had four games left and it started with our archrivals in Fairbanks and we obviously wanted to retain the Governor’s Cup and finish our regular season strong,” said coach Dave Shyiak.

“So, we’re on a high note heading into the playoffs and we were fortunate enough to play well and we got some goaltending and were very good on special teams and are now riding a wave of confidence into Denver.”

The decent step up from last year out of 10th and, until late in the season, still very much in the thick of things, is also something the Seawolves had been wanting for quite some time.

“Everybody goes back to ‘we bombed in the second half the last two seasons’ and we played a lot of good hockey; some of our best hockey games are in the second half,” said Shyiak. “We just didn’t get that timely save or extra goal and our quality of play, I thought, was outstanding in a lot of those games.

“This year, I just think you can attribute that to maturity and experience. Some of our offensive productive guys are making a difference in the game and so are our goaltenders.”

Matchups By the Numbers

Tweaked for playoff purposes.

Michigan Tech @ No. 6 North Dakota; 10 vs. 1
Records After Regular Season: MTU — 6-23-7 (2-19-7 WCHA). UND — 22-12-4 (17-7-4 WCHA).
Overall Head-to-Head: UND leads the overall series, 134-88-9 (or 134-90-9, depending on whom you ask).
Playoff Head-to-Head: UND leads, 12-7-2 (or 12-9-2, depending on whom you ask).
Regular Season Head-to-Head: Including the GLI, the teams tied, 1-1-1. Take out the GLI and UND won, 1-0-1.
Random Notes: UND is unbeaten in its last 11 at home (9-0-2).
Coaches’ Thoughts: “It’s definitely a fresh start for us. We played North Dakota last year and it was a great series,” said Tech coach Jamie Russell. “Game three came down to a 2-1 hockey game [and] we hit the post with the goalie pulled.

“We’d like another tight series,” he continued. “It’s playoff hockey; we’ve got to do a good job and play to our identity and I expect a very tight series.”

“I don’t compare anything from year to year,” said his Sioux counterpart, Dave Hakstol. “Last year’s series has no bearing on this year’s series. Michigan Tech is a very good team. Nobody is misled on our part by the fact that they didn’t have a ton of success during the regular season. They play as hard and as close to the vest as any team in our league.

“It’s a playoff series [and] there’s a lot on the line,” he continued. “We expect a tough series.”

Alaska Anchorage @ No. 5 Denver; 9 vs. 2
Records After Regular Season: UAA — 14-15-5 (9-14-5 WCHA). DU — 20-10-5 (16-8-4 WCHA).
Overall Head-to-Head: DU leads the overall series, 37-14-5.
Playoff Head-to-Head: This is the first time the two teams have met in the postseason.
Regular Season Head-to-Head: The teams split, 1-1.
Random Notes: The Pioneers are the defending playoff champions … UAA has only made it to the Final Five once (2003-04).
Coaches’ Thoughts: “It’s a new season for both teams and I expect it to be a good matchup [and] a hard-fought series,” said the Seawolves’ Dave Shyiak. “Denver’s probably one of the most talented teams in the league. I think they’re well-balanced and they’ve got great goaltending in [Marc] Cheverie, so obviously it’s a tough challenge.

“At the same time, I think if we play to our capabilities and execute and compete well, I think we’ll do fine.”

“Anchorage, obviously they showed what they could do against Duluth [last] weekend,” said Denver’s George Gwozdecky. “Anchorage is playing well; it’s going to be a real tough series for us.”

Minnesota State @ No. 17 Wisconsin; 8 vs. 3
Records After Regular Season: MSU, M — 15-15-6 (11-13-4 WCHA). UW — 17-15-4 (14-11-3 WCHA).
Overall Head-to-Head: UW leads the overall series, 15-13-4.
Playoff Head-to-Head: The teams are tied, 2-2.
Regular Season Head-to-Head: MSU, M won the season series, 1-0-1.
Coaches’ Thoughts: Badger coach Mike Eaves summed up the series in three words — “Just a battle,” the same way he described what all of the playoff series are going to be like.

In terms of the Mavericks, he said, “they’re a team that’s been high-tempo, they play extremely hard, they give themselves a chance to be successful because they play so hard and their goaltender has made some big saves for them.”

“But no secrets,” he continued. “They’re going to come in here and work their fannies off and if you don’t work as hard as they do, you’re going to be in trouble.”

No. 19 Minnesota Duluth @ No. 13 Colorado College; 7 vs. 4
Records After Regular Season: UMD — 16-12-8 (10-11-7 WCHA). CC — 16-10-10 (12-9-7 WCHA).
Overall Head-to-Head: CC leads the overall series, 81-72-6.
Playoff Head-to-Head: CC leads, 7-1.
Regular Season Head-to-Head: UMD won the season series, 1-0-1.
Random Notes: Five of the eight postseason games between these two teams have gone into overtime … UMD has only won two road playoff series — both against Denver.
Coaches’ Thoughts: “Duluth comes in as a seventh seed but their stats are more like a four seed or a three seed when it comes to scoring and power play and goaltending [and] team defense,” said CC coach Scott Owens. “We know they’re a very good team. They were up there almost the entire year [and] just had a little bit of a slip there at the very end, so we respect them very much and we know they’re a good team.”

No. 20 St. Cloud State @ No. 16 Minnesota; 6 vs. 5
Records After Regular Season: SCSU — 18-15-3 (13-13-2 WCHA). UM — 15-12-7 (12-11-5 WCHA).
Overall Head-to-Head: UM leads the overall series, 45-23-12.
Playoff Head-to-Head: UM leads, 7-3 including 4-0 in the first round.
Regular Season Head-to-Head: UM swept the season series, 4-0.
Random Notes: UM has never lost a home playoff series.
Coaches’ Thoughts: “The good thing for us is we’ve been a much better team on the road the second half … and I think that’s what we have to draw on right now,” said SCSU coach Bob Motzko. “They’re the one team that really haunted our season, and we’re the one team that’s really given them all the hope in their season with four wins over us.

“We’re a better team than when we opened the season [with the Gophers] and we’ve closed the gap and now we’ve got to go out on the ice and execute and do it.”

“It’s our rival; it’s going to be very competitive. They’ve got some real high-end players and they’re playing good hockey right now,” said Minnesota’s Don Lucia. “We’re very similar teams, kind of from night to night, how you play. They’ve got some real top-end guys they rely on, we’ve got some that we rely on and it should be a real competitive series.”

PairWise Watch

Who from the WCHA would be in the tournament if the regular season were to end today?

Denver (4th) and North Dakota (t-7th) are locks. Minnesota (13th) is most likely in. Colorado College (t-14th) and Minnesota Duluth (t-17th) are on the bubble while Wisconsin (t-19th), St. Cloud State (21st) Alaska Anchorage (t-22nd) and Minnesota State (24th) all need quite a bit of help.

Odds and Ends

• The Mavericks will be without forward Trevor Bruess for Friday’s game. Bruess is serving a one-game suspension for his two kneeing penalties — one a five-minute major — in Saturday’s game against St. Cloud State.

• A record 107 student-athletes were named to the All-WCHA Academic Team, with Denver leading the pack. The distribution by school:

UAA — 14
CC — 11
DU — 18
MTU — 9
UM — 6
UMD — 10
MSU, M — 11
UND — 11
SCSU — 12
UW — 5

• One of those players I feel deserves some extra recognition — Michigan Tech’s Eli Vlaisavljevich, who won Tech’s John MacInnes Slide Rule Award for scholastic achievement with a 4.0 GPA in biomedical engineering. That, my friends, is what we call impressive.

• 25 of Colorado College’s 36 games have either ended in ties or been decided by one goal. CC’s 10 ties are also a school single-season record.

• Minnesota Duluth’s Alex Stalock posted the WCHA’s best goals against average for the season with a 2.39 GAA — just .0002 ahead of UND’s Brad Eidsness. Stalock was second in save percentage (.917).

• North Dakota’s regular-season championship is the school’s 14th, the most of any team in the conference. However, it is the first since 2003-04 and the first under Hakstol.

• I got four of 10 teams right in my predictions. Ouch. Denver at second, SCSU at sixth, UAA at ninth and MTU at tenth. My sole victory is that I’m pretty sure I was the only one (or one of the only ones) not to have the Seawolves in last.

On Tap

Things to look forward to:

• The last column of the year.
• Final Five preview.
• The return of last year’s “On Brawling, Fighting and General Mischief,” as it once again got pushed back a week.
• Plus more, depending on what happens this weekend.

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