Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Shaping Up: The 2011-12 Sioux Hockey Roster

With the announcements of F Michael Di Puma and D Dan Senkbeil it seems the final shape of the 2011 UND mens hockey roster is fairly well set.

I know some are fretful that F Jason Gregoire may still choose the professional option over a senior year, but I know two things on that front: 1) with the addition of Di Puma I still only see 15 forwards on the roster and that's the minimum UND normally carries, and 2) no amount of worry by me will alter what is ultimately Jason's decision.

I see 15 forwards. That's traditionally the roster size as it makes five complete lines for practice. And 3 goaltenders is traditional also. I see no surprises there.

What is unusual is 9 defensemen. Traditionally that number is 8 (four pairs). But thinking more about that number I think I understand why 9 going into this fall.

In the spring of 2012 UND will lose senior Ben Blood; but, it may also face losing Andrew MacWilliam and Derek Forbort to the professional ranks. That scenario would leave UND with Gleason, Hill, Simpson, the 2011 freshmen, and 2012 recruit Jordan Schmaltz. (That's just seven, so expect to hear at least one more 2012 defenseman recruit.)

Adding defensemen with potential to develop (Panzarella, Senkbeil) now, fall 2011, should smooth out a spring 2012 bump if UND were to see Blood, MacWilliam, and Forbort all depart.

Those are my thoughts given what I see right now. But what I also see is that Hakstol and his staff are playing both checkers (immediate impacts and tactics) and chess (long-term strategic roster planning). That's a lot strategy and tactic to manage off the ice.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

UND vs. Michigan: A statistical analysis

Understandably, most North Dakota hockey fans don't have much interest in dwelling on the painful 2-0 loss to Michigan April 7 at the NCAA Frozen Four in St. Paul. It's still difficult for me to comprehend that the opportunity for the Fighting Sioux to win an eighth national championship has come and gone.

After watching the game again and reading some of the analysis that's been done, I decided to delve into the game statistics and shot charts provided by the NCAA. My apologies to those who aren't stats geeks, but I think the value of studying shot charts and statistics serves to debunk some of the statements made about how the Sioux performed and were coached against Michigan.

One area in which I was most interested was shots on goal by each team from the prime scoring area (PSA). I defined the PSA as the area from the goal line out to the top of the faceoff circles with the faceoff dots forming the left and right edges of the box. I was also interested in the shots from beyond the blue line because the chances of scoring on them is probably less than 1 percent.

Here are some interesting facts:
  • 35% (7) of Michigan's 20 shots on goal were from the prime scoring area
  • 50% (20) of UND's 40 shots on goal were from the prime scoring area
  • Michigan blocked 23% (16) of UND's 70 shot attempts
  • UND blocked 31% (15) of Michigan's 40 shot attempts
  • 35% (7) of Michigan's 20 shots on goal were from outside UND's blue line
  • 5% (2) of UND's 40 shots of goal were from outside Michigan's blue line
  • 18 of UND's 20 shots on goal (90%) from the prime scoring area were taken by the team's top 10 scorers
  • 4 of Michigan's 7 shots on goal (57%) from the prime scoring area were taken by the team's top 10 scorers
  • In the third period, UND had 4 shots from the prime scoring area that missed the net (wide or high) and 3 that were blocked
  • UND had 8 scoring opportunities from just outside the crease
  • Michigan had 1 scoring opportunity from just outside the crease
  • UND's top line had 10 shots on goal from the prime scoring area
  • Michigan's top line had 2 shots on goal from the prime scoring area
Overall, UND had it's top-end players in prime scoring position throughout the game and was generating quality scoring opportunities. UND did an excellent job of shutting down Michigan's highest-scoring players, blocking shots and nearly eliminating any second chances on rebounds.

Based on these statistics, UND played an excellent defensive game against Michigan, effectively bottling up the Wolverines' top scorers. The Sioux were also very disciplined in giving Michigan just one power play. Much was made afterwards about Michigan's shot blocking, but UND's defense was better at not only limiting the Wolverines' shot attempts, but also at blocking a higher percentage of shots and limiting scoring opportunities from just outside the paint.

Offensively, with the exception of the power play, UND did everything well but put the puck in the net. Throughout the game, the top Sioux scorers had the puck on their sticks in prime scoring territory. But, as Michigan coach Red Berenson said, goalie Shawn Hunwick played the game of his life. If he hadn't, the Sioux would have lit up Michigan like a Christmas tree. Hunwick -- not Berenson's game plan or Michigan's defense -- deserves full credit for shutting down and shutting out UND.

There's no question in my mind that UND dominated the game. Without Hunwick's performance, Michigan would have been sunk.

First Period

UND shots on goal = 14 (1 from outside the blue line)
Michigan shots on goal = 10 (3 from outside the blue line)

UND prime scoring area shots = 7
Brad Malone 2; Matt Frattin 2; Danny Kristo 1; Brock Nelson 1; Derrick LaPoint 1

Michigan prime scoring area shots = 3 (30%)
Ben Winnett 1 (scored); Jeff Rohrkemper 1; Carl Hagelin 1

Second Period
UND shots on goal = 11 (1 outside the blue line)
Michigan shots on goal = 3 (1 from outside the blue line)

UND prime scoring area shots = 6
Evan Trupp 2; Jason Gregoire 1; Andrew MacWilliam 1; Danny Kristo 1; Chay Genoway 1

Michigan prime scoring area shots = 0

Third Period
UND shots on goal = 15
Michigan shots on goal = 7 (3 from outside the blue line)

UND prime scoring area shots = 7
Brad Malone 2; Evan Trupp 3; Matt Frattin 1; Danny Kristo 1

Michigan prime scoring area shots = 4
Scooter Vaughn 2 (scored empty net goal*); Luke Moffatt 1; Louie Caporusso 1

Game Totals
Michigan shot attempts = 48
42% shots on goal
31% blocked by UND

UND shot attempts = 70
57% shots on goal
23% blocked by Michigan

*Note: Vaughn's empty netter was actually from outside the prime scoring area, but with UND's goalie pulled, I decided the area should expanded.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The funny game

Last Thursday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center, the Minneapolis Star Tribune’s Roman Augustoviz asked me: "Do you see any way North Dakota loses this?"

It was an interesting question because after the Fighting Sioux beat the University of Denver to become the only No. 1 seed to make the Frozen Four, everything seemed to be lining up for UND to win its eighth national championship.

None of the teams that ousted the Sioux from the NCAA playoffs during the Dave Hakstol era – DU and Boston College in particular – were still playing. The location of the Frozen Four in St. Paul assured an atmosphere at the Xcel Energy Center that heavily favored UND.

Hakstol had a 2-0 record against Red Berenson’s teams the two times they’d met in the NCAA playoffs. Most believed that this year’s Wolverines weren’t as deep or as talented as some previous Michigan teams. Also, during the regular season, UND went 2-1 against Minnesota-Duluth and 1-0-1 against Notre Dame.

Going into the Frozen Four, UND appeared rested and relatively healthy, which meant that Hakstol would be able to play his best lineup and roll all four lines. And most importantly, the Sioux were peaking at exactly the right moment and playing their best hockey of the season. The players and coaches were more focused than any Sioux team I'd ever seen. Their goaltending was solid, every line was producing, the defensive corps was outstanding and the special teams were excellent. So there was every reason to be positive.

However, while driving to St. Paul the night before the Frozen Four started, I began thinking about the ways in which many great Sioux teams had fallen short since I began following UND hockey in 1996. Dean Blais’ teams of 1997-1998, 1998-1999 and 2003-2004 were highly regarded, but never made it out of the NCAA regionals. The four previous times Hakstol’s teams had made it do the big dance, hopes for a national championship were high, but the expectations were never realized.

So when I pondered Roman’s question, the realist in me recalled what had happened the past 11 times UND had been in a position to win a national championship, only to fall short of the ultimate goal.

I remembered poor goaltending, untimely penalties, flat performances, unlucky bounces, badly executed line changes, leads that evaporated, last-second goals in regulation, costly turnovers, goals in overtime and – most of all – opposing goalies who play the best games of their lives. (Do the names Adam Berkhoel and Peter Mannino ring a bell?)

And nobody should forget that the other team always gets a vote in determining the outcome. Any team still playing in April has a great deal going for it. 

As much as I hoped UND would take advantage of the opportunity to win its eighth championship, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned from the past 15 years of following the Fighting Sioux, it’s that in hockey, there’s no such thing as a sure thing.

The 2-0 loss to Michigan reminded me of something former UND player Jason Notermann once said (which I’ll paraphrase because I can’t find the exact quote):  Hockey is a funny game. Sometimes you score five goals on 10 shots, and other times you can’t score one goal on 50 shots.

Against Michigan, UND fell victim to one of those funny games at the worst time of the season. There were so many times that the top Sioux scorers had the puck on their sticks in prime scoring territory, only to be denied by goalie Shawn Hunwick. As Corban Knight put it, "The plays we were looking for weren't there. When they were, the goalie stood on his head."

What's become apparent over the 10 seasons I've been covering Fighting Sioux hockey for US College Hockey Online is that the team that looks like the favorite to win a national championship often isn't the one that prevails.  And that's one reason college hockey fans return again and again to watch this funny game.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Evan Trupp's magic moment

On Inside College Hockey's latest podcast, Evan Trupp’s lacrosse-style carrying of the puck on his stick during North Dakota’s Friday game against Colorado College was compared to a move Denver University forward Ryan Dingle tried against the Tigers during the 2005 Frozen Four.



Other than the fact that both players did something similar, in terms of sportsmanship, there’s a great deal that sets them apart. Based on what I’ve read and remember about the Dingle incident, DU was leading 5-2 with about 2 minutes left in the game. Dingle had a chance to score on a breakaway. Rather than skating in on the CC goalie and shooting the puck, Dingle elected to show off by using a lacrosse-style move that didn’t come close to working.

Denver coach George Gwozdecky chewed out Dingle and benched him. After DU won 6-2, Pioneers' captain Matt Latsch apologized to CC coach Scott Owens and the Tigers’ captain.

There was good reason for Gwozdecky and Dingle’s teammates to be embarrassed by his actions. The Pioneers had the game won and Dingle was attempting to rub salt in the wound of his team’s biggest rival by showboating on national television. Nobody would have criticized him if he’d deked CC’s goalie and scored on the breakaway. But attempting to humiliate an already-beaten opponent went too far, and everyone knew it.

When Trupp did his bit of puck-toting wizardry, it was with more than 15 minutes remaining in the third period of a tie game. He used his incredible hockey skills in a novel manner with the objective of putting his team ahead. He wasn’t all alone on a breakaway in a game that had already been decided. There were three Tigers players between him and the CC goalie.

Had Trupp scored or even set up an opportunity that led to a goal, it would have been widely praised and celebrated by hockey fans, just as the goal scored by Michigan’s Mike Legg during the 1996 NCAA tournament today is considered one of the most famous goals in college hockey history.

The answer to INCH’s question of why Trupp did this is easy: It was to create confusion and gain the element of surprise for the purpose scoring -- just as Trupp did when me made a no-look, behind-the-back pass to set up Matt Frattin's game-winning goal. The lacrosse move nearly worked because not even Trupp’s own teammates, who’d seen him do similar things in practice, knew how to react.

If Trupp tried the same move again in one of UND’s remaining games, it likely wouldn’t work because the element of surprise is gone. However, at that moment in that game, it was worth a try. Although Trupp didn’t succeed in scoring, even INCH had to admit that “…his trick play with the puck re-ignited his team and the crowd in a tough third period when energy levels had begun to wane.”

Late in the season during the playoffs, players are expected use every arrow in their quiver (within the rules) to help their teams win. Just as nobody criticizes Frattin for shooting the puck too hard and too accurately, nobody should criticize Trupp for using the creative hockey skills he possesses when the outcome of a playoff game is in question. He would be shortchanging himself and doing his team a disservice if he didn’t.

While I'm at it, INCH's criticism of the Fighting Sioux players not wanting to touch either the MacNaughton Cup or Broadmoor Trophy is silly. This hockey superstition didn't begin with UND, nor will the Sioux be the last hockey team to practice it. Singling out UND makes about as much sense as complaining about the time-honored practice of growing playoff beards.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Post-Final Five thoughts

Congratulations to the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux men's hockey team for bringing home its second consecutive Broadmoor Trophy. UND won the tournament championship in St. Paul by defeating two highly skilled teams -- Denver and Colorado College -- in games that should serve as a good tune-up for the upcoming NCAA playoffs.
  As should be expected this time of year, UND's seniors made the big plays when they were most needed to earn the wins. It was senior Matt Frattin with the game-winning goal for the championship, assisted by seniors Chay Genoway and Evan Trupp. What impressed me most about the play Trupp made to set up the goal was the fact that when he passed the puck back to Genoway, Genoway had just come off the bench and hadn't even entered the DU zone yet.
  Genoway not only used his speed to intercept the puck before it left the zone, but he also had the presence of mind to one-time Trupp's pass without breaking stride. It was the speed at which the play happened that gave Frattin the best look at an open net that any Sioux player had seen since the second period. As Colorado College learned on Friday night, if you give Frattin that type of opportunity, he's not going to miss.
  In Friday's game against the Colorado College Tigers, it was Genoway's pass that sprung Frattin shorthanded and led to senior Brad Malone's goal after what appeared to be a momentum-changing 5-minute major penalty against UND. And it was Trupp's no-look, behind-the-back pass to Frattin in the slot that gave the Sioux their 4-3 victory over Colorado College.
  Senior Brent Davidson deserves recognition for scoring big goals in both games. Just when you're wondering how the Sioux will make up for the loss of Jason Gregoire, along comes Davidson and sophomore Danny Kristo back from a serious bout with frostbite to add some offensive punch. Denver coach George Gwozdecky correctly noted that throughout the season, UND has found a way to roll with the punches whenever key players were out with injuries.
  That brings me to another point: Where would this team be without players like senior Jake Marto and sophomore Joe Gleason who have demonstrated their willingness and ability to change rolls from defenseman to forward and back again? Beginning with former Sioux Kyle Radke and Brad Miller, players with that type of versatility have become a staple of UND's teams the last several seasons.
  Senior Derrick LaPoint has quietly become the unsung hero on the blue line. Although he was considered an offensive-defenseman when he came to UND, he has turned into a defensive force who's seldom noticed simply because he rarely makes a mistake. Nobody should forget that he suffered a concussion at the end of his freshman season and a devastating leg injury in his sophomore season that would have ended the careers of many players.
  Turning to goaltending, I was disappointed that Aaron Dell was not named to the Final Five All-Tournament Team. It was Dell who kept the Sioux in the championship game when they were being outplayed and heavily outshot by the Pioneers. He made many saves on shots through traffic that perhaps were not as spectatular as some of the saves by Denver's Sam Brittain, but were nonethless difficult stops. He was also the goalie on the championship team that won two games against quality opponents. Dell was a major part of UND's tournament success and deserved recognition for it.
  Finally, the Sioux coaching staff -- Dave Hakstol, Cary Eades, Dane Jackson, Karl Goehring and Pierre-Paul Lamoureux -- all deserve kudos for keeping the team focused, prepared and motivated. Leadership from the upperclassmen no doubt makes their jobs a bit easier. However, in the ten season I've covered Fighting Sioux hockey for U.S. College Hockey Online, I've never seen Hakstol so determined to have the team forget the last game and concentrate on the next one. From a sports writer's perspective, it's a little annoying at times, but if it brings UND an eighth national championship, I won't complain.
  There are many others, such as UND trainer Mark Poolman, who work behind the scenes to help assure the continued success of the team throughout the long season. They, too, deserve kudos for putting the Fighting Sioux in position to win another championship. It's been a great run so far, and I suspect the best is yet to come.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Really?

Let's see...
  1. Two guys back in the lineup who've been out for a while.
  2. Three lines scrambled.
  3. Defensive pairs scrambled.
  4. Two defensemen playing forward.
  5. Hottest scorer on the team out of the lineup.
And yet, the Fighting Sioux beat Colorado College 4-3 at the Final Five.

If only Dave Hakstol knew how to coach.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

About that goal...

Almost nobody (excluding Fighting Sioux fans) seemed too upset about the goal Notre Dame scored with just over three minutes left in Saturday's game against North Dakota that resulted in the a 2-2 tie. It's usually not difficult to tell when Sioux coach Dave Hakstol is unhappy with a call that went against his team. But in his post-game comments, he seemed more than willing to accept the ruling that enabled the Fighting Irish to escape Ralph Engelstad Arena with a tie.

And Sioux goalie Aaron Dell? He's not exactly a wordy or an emotional kind of guy. He didn't say that he felt as though the Notre Dame player in the crease had interfered with him, although it certainly looked as if that was the case at the time the Fighting Irish scored.

So I didn't think there was any reason to make an issue of the game-tying goal until I watched this replay and reviewed the NCAA ice hockey rule book. I had assumed the goal was allowed because the puck was in the crease at the time Notre Dame's Bryan Rust (No. 21) appeared to slide into the crease totally on his own. But as this frame from the video shows, Rust was well into the crease and the puck was well out of it before Notre Dame's Sam Calabrese swept the puck on goal.



It's quite obvious in the video that Rust physically interfered with Dell's ability to make a save. So given that Rust went into the crease after the puck came out and Rust clearly interfered with Dell, how could the referee award the goal to Notre Dame? I submitted that question to the WCHA. Head official Greg Shepherd was kind enough to provide this response:
The only view that the officials have for replay is the overhead view, and talking to the on-ice officials live they thought the North Dakota player caused the Notre Dame player to go into the goalie by the use of his stick, and from the overhead view there was nothing to overturn that. If we had other angles it could have been different.
Unfortunately, Shepherd raises more questions than he answers. The North Dakota player in question would have been Matt Frattin (No. 21) who was closest to Rust. In the video, Frattin ties up Rust's stick with his stick and lifts it to keep Rust from putting in the rebound off Dell's save. Frattin appears to do nothing that would have caused Rust to fall. In sliding into the crease, Rust makes contact with Dell and comes between the goalie and the puck.

Had Calabrese swept the puck straight into the net, the referees might have been able to make the case that Dell was in no position to make a save. Thus, Rust's contact would have made no difference. But the puck appears to hit the post and then travel at an angle away from the goal line. It deflects in off either Dell or Rust. Dell had virtually no chance of making a save with Rust in contact with him and lying between him and the puck.

The most important question is this: If the officials saw Frattin use his stick in a manner that caused Rust to fall, why didn't they call a penalty? Certainly Frattin would have been guilty of interference on a Notre Dame scoring opportunity. A penalty would have been warranted. But because no penalty was called, it severely weakens the case that Rust went into the crease because of Frattin's stick work.

Besides that, the video from various angles in no way supports the on-ice officials' claim that Frattin's stick caused Rust to lose his balance, slide into the crease and make contact with the goalie. While I can sympathize with the fact that the referees don't have access to anything but the overhead view in making their call, the fact remains that their decision was based not only on something that didn't happen, but also on something that the one video replay they viewed didn't support.

Shepherd leaves open the possibility that had the referees been able to see the replays of the goal from different angles, they might have made a different decision. That's nice, but what does the WCHA do about an officiating crew which allowed a goal that shouldn't have counted, a goal that might have important implications at playoff time in March? What do you do with an officiating crew that claims to have seen a penalty on a scoring opportunity, but didn't call it and then uses the non-call as its rationale for allowing the goal?

It makes no sense.