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.