This Week in the WCHA: March 19, 2009

Here it is. We’re finally at the culmination of the WCHA season — the Final Five.

I’ll try not to ramble on too long as I’m sure you all want to head on out to the Xcel Energy Center … or the bars. I don’t judge.

On Brawling, Fighting and General Mischief — Year Two

Last week, we found out that the penalty crackdown worked … sort of. This week, I want to finally revisit the numbers in terms of roughing and major penalties.

Thanks to doing this last year, we have the numbers from the 2005-06 season through this year — and remember, only conference games.

2005-06:

• 13 fighting majors with corresponding game disqualifications
• five extra game DQs (for cross-checking, kneeing, etc.)
• 71 total five-minute majors
• 96 total 10-minute penalties (misconducts, game misconducts, DQs)
• 40 double-minors for roughing
• 390 total roughing minors
• 60 unsportsmanlike conduct minors
• 31 penalties given at the ending mark of a period (20:00 or 5:00 in the case of overtime)
• 5,343 total penalties

2006-07:

• 22 fighting majors with corresponding game disqualifications
• 52 total five-minute majors
• 77 total 10-minute penalties
• 33 double-minors for roughing
• 379 total roughing minors
• 74 unsportsmanlike conduct minors
• 42 penalties given at the ending mark of a period
• 4982 total penalty minutes

2007-08:

• six fighting majors with corresponding game disqualifications
• 32 total five-minute majors
• 64 total 10-minute penalties
• 44 double-minors for roughing
• 388 total roughing minors
• 99 unsportsmanlike conduct minors
• 59 penalties given at the ending mark of a period
• 4414 total penalty minutes

2008-09:

• two fighting majors with corresponding game disqualifications
• one 5/10 DQ for roughing; one 5/10 DQ for excessive roughness
• 40 total five-minute majors
• 67 total 10-minute penalties
• 44 double-minors for roughing
• 432 total roughing minors
• 80 unsportsmanlike conduct minors
• 68 penalties given at the ending mark of a period
• 5219 total penalty minutes

From last week, we already knew that the average number of penalties went up per game. Now, I’m kind of regretting not knowing the actual number of penalties per league contest as penalties went up to a number not seen in three seasons with 5,219 total penalty minutes — almost 1,000 more than last year.

The number of penalties called after a final buzzer continued to go up, but the percentage of unsportsmanlike-conduct calls went back down to what it was in 2006-07 — 3%. The percentages of 10-minute misconducts (12.8%) and double-minors for roughing (3.4%) continue to be variable.

Fighting majors, after a jump in 2006-07, have kept going down. Granted, we’ve still seen some five-minute majors with corresponding game disqualifications for other things, but not for fighting. The percentage of fighting fives and 10s went down from 2.0% of all PIMs last year to a measly 0.5% this season.

We saw more roughing minors than in quite a few years, but the percentage actually went down — only 16.6% of all penalty minutes this year were roughing calls as compared to 17.6% last year. If you recall from last year’s column, this is reversing a trend — the percentages had been going up until this season.

Again, feel free to interpret this data as you will. Going on one reader’s hypothesis from last year, the decline of roughing calls could be due to the game being called tighter — proven by the giant jump in penalty minutes, which in turn results in fewer players going past the boiling point. While I somewhat agreed with the point last year, this year it seems to make even more sense.

Oh, I wanted to mention … besides the roughing calls (and the other usual suspects), we also saw 13 minors for “CHECKING” (capitalized because that’s the way it’s written on www.collegehockeystats.net). It’s not for cross-checking (as far as I can tell) and no one seems to know what it means. I even called up WCHA Director of Officiating Greg Shepherd to try and solve the mystery but again, no clue.

So if any of you out there work for College Hockey Stats, e-mail me. I’ve got some questions for you.

Final Five: The Breakdown

What you need to know.

No. 17 Minnesota Duluth — the fifth seed
Current Record: 18-12-8.
Against the Field This Season: 0-1-1 vs. UM, 1-2-1 vs. UW, 1-3 vs. DU, 1-0-1 vs. UND.
Top Scorer: Justin Fontaine — 15-30-45.
Goaltending: Alex Stalock — 37 gp, 17-12-8, 2.24 GAA, .920 sv%.
Coach Thoughts: The Bulldogs were the one underdog to win a series, even though their numbers for most of the season were anything but underdog numbers. Still, coach Scott Sandelin thinks that their presence in the Final Five is still a surprise to most.

“Not a lot of people expected us to get [here], but this is a group that believes in themselves and they’re excited,” he said.

“Now, [games are] one-game shots, so [we] just gotta go play. We’ve got some guys playing well and our goaltender’s playing well, so [hopefully] we can go in there and win on Thursday.”

No. 13 Minnesota — the fourth seed
Current Record: 17-12-7.
Against the Field This Season: 1-0-1 vs. UMD, 1-2-1 vs. UW, 1-1 vs. DU, 0-2 vs. UND.
Top Scorer: Ryan Stoa — 24-22-46.
Goaltending: Alex Kangas — 35 gp, 17-11-6, 2.79 GAA, .901 sv%.
Coach Thoughts: “We have the four-five game with Duluth and we’ve only played them twice this year,” said coach Don Lucia, before adding that even though the Gophers technically got the better of the Bulldogs, it could have easily gone the other way.

“It was a 2-2 tie the second night, I think we scored with about four or five minutes left to go to win the game [so] it’s a very even matchup and it should be a really exciting game on Thursday night.”

No. 16 Wisconsin — the third seed
Current Record: 19-15-4.
Against the Field This Season: 2-1-1 vs. UMD, 2-1-1 vs. UM, 0-4 vs. DU, 2-2 vs. UND.
Top Scorer: Jamie McBain — 7-29-36.
Goaltending: Shane Connelly — 35 gp, 18-13-4, 2.54 GAA, .911 sv%.
Coach Thoughts: “It’s a 1-0 mentality for us,” said coach Mike Eaves, concerning this time of year. “We’ve got to go in Friday night and hopefully deal well enough so that we can play Saturday night and give ourselves a chance.”

As for the Pioneers, Eaves is looking forward to the matchup.

“They beat us all four times this year and we know Denver pretty well because of those games,” he said. “Now, we get an opportunity to play them again so we’re looking very much forward to that. George’s [Gwozdecky] teams are always well-prepared. It will be a very good game again.”

No. 4 Denver — the second seed
Current Record: 22-10-5.
Against the Field This Season: 3-1 vs. UMD, 1-1 vs. UM, 4-0 vs. UW, 0-1-1 vs. UND.
Top Scorer: Anthony Maiani — 11-30-41.
Goaltending: Marc Cheverie — 37 gp, 22-10-5, 2.33 GAA, .921 sv%.
Coach Thoughts: The Pioneers are leaving the unusually-warm spring weather in Denver on their spring break and heading to a decidedly colder (though seemingly also unusually-warm) Minnesota for a chance to defend their Broadmoor Trophy title.

However, coach George Gwozdecky wants to learn something from his Friday afternoon opponent, but not what one would normally think.

“In looking at the game with Wisconsin on Friday afternoon, I have to say one thing and that is, whatever Mike [Eaves] fed or gave his guys to drink in preparation for the Mankato series, we want some of it,” he said, referencing the Badgers’ 11 goals and 111 shots last weekend.

“They were extremely strong. I don’t think anybody thought that Wisconsin would be able to take a very good Minnesota State team and take them apart like they did, so we’ve got certainly our hands full and work cut out for us.”

No. 6 North Dakota — the first seed
Current Record: 24-12-4.
Against the Field This Season: 0-1-1 vs. UMD, 2-0 vs. UM, 2-2 vs. UW, 1-0-1 vs. DU.
Top Scorer: Ryan Duncan — 18-19-37.
Goaltending: Brad Eidsness — 38 gp, 24-9-4, 2.44 GAA, .909 sv%.
Coach Thoughts: As with the Pioneers, it’s spring break in Grand Forks and the Fighting Sioux are happy to be heading to St. Paul at a time when most college students are heading to the beach.

Though the Sioux and head coach Dave Hakstol don’t yet know who they’ll be facing Friday night, they do know what they’ll need to keep up what has gotten them this far.

“Early on, we weren’t getting it done with balance and since we’ve been able to turn the corner, that’s what our strength is — our balance,” said Hakstol. “We just have a lot of different people chipping in on a daily basis and it seems like any given night, it has been somebody else who has stepped forward and been the difference in the game.

“Balance is a key for us and if we are to have any success in the postseason, that will have to continue to be a strength that we need to come through for us.”

PairWise Watch

From what I can figure out, Denver and North Dakota are locks for the NCAA tournament no matter what happens this weekend. Minnesota is most likely in, but still could find themselves on the outside of the bubble. To be safe, they should win at least two games this weekend.

Minnesota Duluth can make it as well, but the Bulldogs’ chances depend on not only what they do but the rest of the field as well. Wisconsin is best off winning the Final Five, but can also reach the NCAAs with one win and a lot of luck elsewhere.

Regardless, we’ll all know who is going to make it on Sunday during the NCAA selection show, which will take place at 10:30 a.m. Central.

Odds and Ends

• As usual, Fox Sports North will be televising the Final Five. This year, for those of you in Colorado or the Rocky Mountain area, Fox Sports Rocky Mountain will be picking up the FSN broadcast for the DU games so you can at least watch the Pioneers.

• Speaking of Denver, every time the Pioneers have made the Final Five since it’s been at the X, they’ve won the Broadmoor Cup.

• This is Minnesota’s 11th straight appearance in the Final Five and 16th overall. It is also North Dakota’s seventh straight appearance, 12th in the last 13 years and 13th overall.

• In the history of the Final Five, the winner of the Thursday play-in game has never gone on to win the whole shebang.

• The Badgers have never lost to the Pioneers in the postseason.

• For those of you going to the Final Five, you might want to check out the first-ever Arby’s WCHA Fan Fest, taking place between the two Friday games. Taking place in the Kellogg lobby in the Saint Paul RiverCentre next door to the X, the Fest will have food, music, games and entertainment.

• Michigan Tech will once again be represented at the Final Five by its pep band, the “unofficial pep band of the Final Five.”

Thanks Again, Guys

Another year down, maybe more to go …?

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