There wasn’t much going on last week thanks to Thanksgiving (lol), but a few major things still happened. I’ve been pointing out for some time now that the gap is closing between teams at the top and the bottom and people are going to have to reckon with good teams losing more games. Minnesota lost to Yale in the Henderson Collegiate Hockey Showcase title game in Nevada. Now, Yale is itself a good team, but for some folks it knocked them down between the next WCHA team that hasn’t lost in a while.
Minnesota outshot Yale 32-19 and though you can’t see shot attempts in the final box score for some reason (despite getting them in live stats), I looked in and they were even more widely disparate. You can see that Yale blocked 26 shots to Minnesota’s 9, putting the attempts at 58-28 sans missed shots.
That game, to me, is more a referendum on Yale than Minnesota. They’re good enough to beat one of the top teams in the country if things go their way, and have solidified themselves as a top team. I still think Minnesota is the best team in the country despite this result, their loss to St. Cloud, and their series against Wisconsin. As I’ve pointed out, Wisconsin had 30 days of no games to rest and prepare for that series, and a 14 day break after while Minnesota played St. Cloud 12 days previous and then had a shot week and long travel out to Nevada 5 days after. That may not matter much, but I think it’s enough to swing a close series, and especially a rivalry series.
Wisconsin, since people don’t seem to remember, got blown out by Penn State to start the season. Penn State is probably a top 15 team, but definitely not as good as Yale, and maybe not as good as St. Cloud either. (The Huskies also took Wisconsin to OT, and that was a conference game.) The Badgers don’t even play Ohio State until January, whom Minnesota beat and tied.
Cornell blew out Clarkson 8-1 and lost to Princeton, who lost to Clarkson. Cornell is a team with a lot of good shooters, but also really spotty defense. Clarkson is solid player to player, but not playing well as a team on a consistent basis. Princeton is great on defense, but can’t score. (They have the nation’s lowest shooting percentage at 4.4% and the worst power play at 0/22 with a shorthanded goal allowed. These things are probably related.) Who comes out of this game of musical chairs is anyone’s guess, but there’s a good chance that team is the last one into the NCAA tournament. Right now my money is on Cornell.
Someone said they couldn’t tell who the second-best team in Hockey East is. It’s definitely Vermont, with a bit of an asterisk. The Catamounts do the most things well – they’re a top ten team in everything but wining percentage (11th) team save percentage (34th) and penalty kill (32nd). (Those last two things are also probably related.) Providence is not far, but notably behind them, although the Friars (ugh) don’t have a similar weak spot. Their worst statistical measure are shooting percentage, shots percentage, and relative shots percentage, all 15th. So Vermont is second-best, but leaky goaltending can lose you a lot of games.
The CHA has played so few conference games it’s hard to parse right now. Penn State is the best team but Mercyhurst and Syracuse can steal games from them. (Syracuse currently leads right now owing to having only played Lindenwood and RIT and a Mercyhurst/Penn State series split. Can the Nittany Lions win enough games to keep afloat in the PairWise to make the NCAA tournament without a do or die conference tournament?
If I were handicapping the NEWHA autobid odds, they would look something like this.
- St. Anselm – 27%
- LIU – 22%
- Stonehill, Sacred Heart, Franklin Pierce – 16%
- Post – 2%
- St. Michael’s – 1%
Probably lower on the last two, but I’m not doing decimals.
St. Anselm is in first owing to having played the most games, but they’re also 6-3-1 against the four teams below them. I think Sacred Heart and Franklin Pierce might be a bit better than their standing of 3rd and 4th respectively since they’re the only two to not have played both Post and St. Michael’s.
St. Michael’s and Post are averaging 19.5 and 19.9 shots per game in conference respectively – that’s enough to steal a game in a single game series.