Monday, February 25, 2008

Most penalized compared to what?

Whenever someone tosses out the factoid about the Fighting Sioux being the most penalized team in college hockey and uses it to claim that UND has a team of "goons" and "thugs," it's useful to ask the question: Most penalized compared to what?

Instead of picking on some other team from the current season, I'll make an apples-to-apples comparison with another Dave Hakstol-coached team from the recent past: the 2004-05 Sioux that made it all the way to the national championship game against Denver.

This was the team that ESPN commentator Barry Melrose said had an "NHL-style defense" during the 2005 Frozen Four. Given that four members of the defensive corps (Matt Greene, Matt Jones, Andy Schneider and Matt Smaby) were big, physical NHL draftees, the analogy was appropriate. That team also featured master instigator Mike Prpich and developed a reputation for rough play that resulted in numerous penalties.

Here's a comparison between the two teams.

2004-05 Sioux (36 regular-season games)
Penalties: 370
Penalty minutes: 800

Penalties: 348
Penalty minutes: 731

2007-08 Sioux (32 regular-season games to date)
Penalties: 257
Penalty minutes: 663

Penalties: 253
Penalty minutes: 630

Now it's possible that the 07-08 Sioux will end the regular season with more penalties and/or penalty minutes than the 04-05 team, but barring a bench-clearing brawl or two in the final four games of the regular season, it's not likely. What's more likely is that this year's Sioux team will end the regular season with far fewer penalties and penalty minutes than the 04-05 team.

To update and expand on the statistics The Sicatoka provided in an earlier blog here, compare the power play numbers and records of the 04-05 Sioux to the 07-08 Sioux.

2004-05 Regular Season Record with:
More power plays 6-5-0
Fewer power plays 6-6-4
Equal power plays 4-2-1

2007-08 Regular Season Record with:
More power plays 10-1-2
Fewer power plays 8-5-0
Equal power plays 3-2-0

When the 04-05 team had the same or more penalties, it was 10-7-1 (.583 winning percentage). When the 07-08 team has the same or more penalties, it's 13-3-2 (.777 winning percentage). This year's Sioux team not only takes fewer penalties, but it also takes better advantage of its power play opporunities and is more likely to win even when it has fewer opportunities with the man advantage.

The 04-05 team developed a reputation for being able to take a lot of penalties because it was so effective at killing them off. But this wasn't really the case until the Sioux hit the playoffs in 2005. Incredibly, during the post-season, that Sioux team was 5-0-0 when the opposition had more power plays, 1-1-0 when UND had more power plays and 1-1-0 when the power plays were equal.

Ironically, the only playoff game the 04-05 Sioux team lost when it had more power plays was the national championship game against the Denver Pioneers. One could argue that the Sioux might have stood a better chance of winning that game if they'd played the style of hockey that got them there.

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