If you’re gonna get a W, you gotta have the D

You’d figure that in general, winning teams score a lot and don’t give up much in the defensive end.  And losing teams… well, the other way around.  Well, duh.  Of course it’s true.  In general.

You’d also figure that winning teams have strong special teams and losing teams couldn’t score if you gave them a five-on-two.  And that’s sort of, mostly, kinda true.

But there are no absolutes.

When you look at special teams, you have a club like Boston University.  The schizoid third-place Terriers  have the league’s best penalty kill (88.3 percent) and by a wide margin, but they also have second worst power play (11.9 percent).   Northeastern’s third-best and Massachusett’s Lowell’s sixth-best man-advantage units rank considerably better than their teams’ positions in the standings.

The incongruities also exist for Team Offense, where a club like Maine ranks behind only New Hampshire and Boston College but remains a long shot to grab home ice.

The one place, though, where the correlation is almost absolute between success in the standings and statistical rank is Team Defense.  Check out the following rankings.

Scoring Defense G/GM
1 New Hampshire 2.04
2 Boston College 2.20
3 Boston University 2.44
  Merrimack 2.44
5 Northeastern 2.52
6 Maine 2.64
7 Vermont 3.16
8 Massachusetts 3.20
9 Providence 3.40
10 UMass Lowell 3.76

Notice anything?  Those are the exact rankings in the standings with the lone of exception of Northeastern and Maine flip-flopping fifth and sixth place.  

Is that a year-in and year-out absolute? 

No.  Last year, Lowell ranked as the second-best defensive team but missed home ice (narrowly).  Vermont ranked fourth but barely squeaked into the playoffs.  The year before that, New Hampshire took third place despite a defense that finished seventh.

So it seems as though the correlation between D’s and W’s is strong for all the obvious reasons but isn’t as absolute as this year’s perfect storm would suggest.

But if you go one step further and look at the playoffs, you’ll see that over the last ten years the Hockey East tournament champion ranked either first or second in team defense every year but 2007.  That year BC overcame a fifth-best D to take the title.  Other than that, though, the winner was either first (six times) or second (three times) in what is arguably the statistic of champions.

* * *

Hockey East announced its monthly awards today with Gustav Nyquist (Maine) taking Player of the Month.  Kieran Millan (BU) earned Goaltender of the Month and Kevin Goumas (UNH) Rookie of the Month.

Nyquist led the Black Bears resurgence with 10 goals and four assists. Of his 10 goals, four came on the power play and two while shorthanded.  (Runners-up: Chris Barton (MC), Jimmy Hayes (BC) and Wade MacLeod (NU))

Millan went 5-0-1 in league games with a 1.47 GAA and a .954 save percentage. (Runners-up: Matt Di Girolamo (UNH) and Dan Sullivan (Maine))

Goumas scored 11 points on four goals and seven assists. (Runners-up: Adam Clendening (BU), Jordan Heywood (MC) and Brodie Reid (NU))

* * *

Have you heard about Jim Connelly’s upcoming book?  It’s titled My Life with Jack.  (Not Parker, Daniel’s.)


  1. Nice job Dave. Well researched and thought out. Goalies sometimes get too much of the credit for goals against average. Often, team defense [ including backchecking forwards ] can keep many shots from getting off.

    • Thanks. Defense is a team game. The goalscorers and the goalies tend to get the headlines and virtually all the awards but the defensemen and backcheckers are the unsung heroes.

  2. Solid points, Maine’s defense has held them back all season till recently. Their goaltending has been shaky but if their d could have held leads they would have home ice.

  3. Solid points, Maine’s defense has held them back all season till recently. Their goaltending has been shaky but if their d could have held leads they would have home ice.

    • Maine’s season has been a frustrating one for their fans. It still could have a happy ending, though. I thought their goaltending was so bad it would singlehandedly sink them (regardless of the D, good or bad), but that’s turned around in a big way. I don’t think Merrimack wants to see Maine coming into its rink for the quarterfinals.

      • Yeah, of the three goalies to break Jimmy Howard’s continuous shut out streak I would not have predicted it to be Sullivan either. As long as Sullivan is playing in this zone they have the potential to be dangerous, but I am reserving my enthusiasm due to their inconsistency all season. Merrimack would be a great match-up for Maine, though in what appears to be a home ice league I would love to see Merrimack coming to the ALfond, but that is a long shot.

  4. Dave, interesting article on team defense and winning. It made me curious about the correlation between the two back to the start of Hockey East, so I went to the league website to do some additional research. You don’t state which team defense stats you used, conference or overall, but your comment about Boston College in 2007 being 5th indicates you used conference stats. Either way, you made a mistake, as Boston University was 5th in conference defense (4th overall) in 2005-06. BC was also 3rd in conference defense in 2007-08 (1st overall).

    As the Hockey East website only has overall stats back to the 2000-01 season I used conference stats for my correlation of team defense to winning. The results are even more convincing over the entire history of the league that team defense is “the statistic of champions”. Eighteen tournament champions were1st (11) or 2nd (6), while six were 3rd, with only BU (5th) in 2006 and BC (5th) in 2007 lower. This correlation is even stronger for the regular season champions, as twenty-three finished 1st (16) or 2nd (7), while just four finished 3rd, one 4th and one 5th. The three times there were co-champions they finished 1-2 twice and tied for 1st the other time.

    Sean Pickett

    • That’s a frustrating error. In the 2008 case, BC had a 2.48 GAPG (goals against per game), which I thought was second to UNH, but Providence’s number was 2.44 so the Friars were second by a single goal. Providence was on the row right after BC and the GAPG was the ninth column so I must have crossed rows. The point still holds since the numbers were virtually identical. The 2006 BU error, however, is one I’m scratching my head over. Did I use BU’s number from 2006-2007 (which was first)? No. Because my notes had the Terriers as second in team D. I must have scrolled to the wrong column (column 7 instead of 9) and used that they were second in offense instead of defense. But as you point out, the numbers do hold up over the long haul. My apologies for the error. I’d spent all the previous day in airports and was exhausted and jet-lagged. Clearly my eyes weren’t working as well as usual.

  5. The rumor is that discussions are real amongst HC alumni with financial backing.  Many years ago HC declined the Big East despite their dominating history in New England basketball (until UConn in late 90’s, HC was the last to win NCAA in basketball from N.E. and they are still the last from N.E. to win baseball) because they felt their academics would suffer.  The current president, although stepping down, is a big hockey fan.  Moreover, HC would do it if it increases their academic competitiveness.  They are currently undertaking big time renovations of their sports complex.  HC is a similar profile to Colorado College which does exactly the same.  They have a veteran coach who beat Minnesota a few years ago in NCAA’s.  All this plays into HC going to ECAC or HE within 3 years.

    • Also, Holy Cross decided not to go big in Division I Football and make the move to FBS, instead opting to be successful in FCS (which used to be I-AA) football.

      By the way, love the blog name. I am teaching the boys to chant, “Go BU, Beat BC” and in a couple of years, I will teach them the end of the cheer.

      • There’s a big difference between the cost of going big in FBS football (where there is no other school of HC’s size on that level – I think Wake is the only one who is even in the same hemisphere) and going big in Div. I hockey.  HC already has 12 scholarships so they’d only have to add another 6 scholarships.  The needed new barn is where the real financial commitment would be and that would be privately funded through alumni donations.  Of course, UConn’s facility isn’t any better than HC’s and the taxpayers are going to fund a new basketball practice facility long before they fund another new rink (they played outdoors not that long ago).

        • Completey agree that there is a huge difference, both in up front costs (look at Penn State’s 90 Million of TWO D-I hockey programs) and annual costs (number of scholariships)

          I mentioned FCS (old D I-AA football) for the same reason that BU could build Agannis and Northestern could upgrade Matthews when they dropped it. For Holy Cross, they can afford FCS, but in the 1980s-90s, they realized they could not afford the jump to FBS. BU and Northeastern realized they could not afford to maintain FCS and concetrated on the rest of their athletic programs.

          North Dakota is a another perfect example. North Dakota is a powerhouse in hockey and an afterthought in football, just like Kansas is a powerhouse in basketball and an afterthought in football.

          I suspect that Holy Cross being private is an advantage, especially since basketball (and joining the ACC) seem to be UConn’s priorities.

  6. Quinnipiac doesn’t offer much beyond a nice facility.  They are a middling school with a middling ECAC hockey program.  They have made it past the ECAC quarters one time in their 6 years in the league.  They did not win Atlantic Hockey in either of their years there.  HC not only made it to the NCAAs 5 years ago but stunned Minnesota in the first round.  All the problems with HC’s potential membership can be addressed with funding.  Whether HC will make the commitment remains to be seen.  The problems with the other schools (primarily geography) can’t be fixed at all.  If HC makes the commitment, they are the choice.

  7. Hockey East will never need a twelfth team because Notre Dame will be in Hockey East one season at the most (if at all) before heading to the Big Ten. Notre Dame will eventually have to join a football conference with an automatic BCS bid or they will be shut out for a chance to play for the national championship. Everything in college sports is being driven by football. That’s where the money is. Notre Dame won’t be able to stay an independent in football much longer. While there has been talk about them going to the ACC, the Big Ten is the likely place they will land. 

    • I see Notre Dame going to ACC (and making that a 16-team conference) long before I see Notre Dame and the Big Ten reconciling. That is also why the ACC is holding at 14 teams and Rutgers/UConn did not get an invite in the current round, as the ACC needs a placeholder. Rutgers probably goes to Big Ten, since it is an AAU school.

      I believe, as you do, that Notre Dame in Big Ten makes perfect sense from a geographical sense. However, from a football television sense, Notre Dame delivers the entire Northeast corridor, from DC to Boston. Rutgers or UConn do not have as much television presence in New York as Notre Dame does.

      In the end, if Notre Dame has to go to a conference, it will be the ACC and once that happens, the ACC basketball tournament moves to Madison Square Garden, ACC football championship game moves to Fedex and all ACC schools playing hockey will remain in Hockey East.

      Who doubts Notre Dame’s ability to snub the Big Ten yet again?

  8. Anyone who knows the clout that HC carries, realizes it comes from the college president.  And that clout carries to the PC, BC, ND, Merrimack–4 votes that will line HC up for Hockey East, if HC wants it.  All these Catholic schools will support HC if they want in.  The same was true in 1980 when the Big East was forming.  Even today, if HC called up to join the Big EAst in basketball the answer would be yes.  They choose to be where they are because of their academic rigor and the kids are true amatuers on the fields but professionals in the classroom.
    Therefore, if joining Hockey East or ECAC means a better academic profile for the school they will do it.  There is no doubt that football is costly and, HC has suffered emotially for their decisions (sadly, anyone with knowledge of HC history will recall that their outstanding football coach committed suicide in the late 1980’s when the school decided to downsize their 1-AA powerhouse) so they don’t make them lightly.
    Right now, HC competes with Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Princeton for the hockey player profile not with BU or BC.  The edge goes to Harvard, etcs because it is Ivy.  The new rink is going into their sports facilities, they are tearing down their field house, building a new student center.  If they long on this, they go with the women’s hockey team also going into ECAC or Hockey East.  It would be more logical for them to go after ECAC than Hockey East.  They will have the rink, the money, the coach and the players.
    Sorry, but HC beats BU this Saturday night.  Upset, I know, but BU is vulnerable.  Also, watch for Providence to start rising in the Hockey East.  Leaman is a magician.  That will have an impact on BU, BC recruiting. 

    • HC almost beat BU at BU when they last played in 2008.  I can’t see HC winning Saturday but it should be a reasonably competitive game.  Here’s Parker on the last game: “I know the last time they came into this building, they gave us more than what we ever wanted. I think we had to score two goals late to get the 3-2 win and they dominated the game. Without goaltending, we would have easily gotten beaten.”

    • I completely agree with you, BeatBC. Who in Hockey East would be against Holy Cross?

      As for recruiting, I do not think any Hockey East school worries about other college programs. They are more worried about QMJHL and OHL

  9. Once again no mention of the Gophers clinching for the B1G the Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge with their victory over BC Friday night. Must only be a big deal if Hockey East wins it like last year.

    • I’m a Gopher die-hard and have been for most of my life, so please don’t read this as bitter and sarcastic as it reads. I suggest that rather than this “must only be a big deal if Hockey East wins”, it’s a poorly executed, last minute marketing ripoff to generate interest in programs that generally already have strong local interest. Then look at it for what it is – 6 teams in the Big 10 vs. 12 teams in Hockey East. Depending on how you want to choose your marquee programs from each league, you’ll get 3 or 4 from each that you can generally count on to be viable, tournament teams at the end of the season (for the sake of arguement, I’ll pick MN, WI, MI for the B1G, and BC, BU, ND, and UML for Hockey East). Statistically, that still stacks the deck in the Big 10’s favor of winning every year. It would also help if generate interest if these leagues would quit losing to ECAC teams in the Frozen Four. I am starting to feel that despite the tradition and championship history of the programs involved, winning this challenge is like cheering because your team won second place.

      • Considering that the B1G teams were stronger last year collectively and lost the challenge, I think it’s at least worth mentioning the results since they are not as strong this year. It may be 6 against 12, but you still have to play the games and nothing is guaranteed as the Gophers found out at Northeastern. Your analogy of winning it is like cheering because your team won second place is a little shallow.


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