Jump to content
Hockey Wilderness
  • The two sides of Minnesota college hockey


    With two months of the college season in the books, December has finally rolled in and with it the merciful end to a year that has been just one flaming dumpster fire after another across the board. Sure, you can be happy that the Chicago Cubs won a thing, or maybe you had a really, really good burrito in March, but ask yourself, deep down: what has 2016 done for me?

    If you’re like me, which is to say argumentative, unfunny, and ungrateful, then you’re probably not happy with the answer to that question. But maybe, if you’re an optimistic, college hockey-watching Minnesotan, the type who likes the Bulldogs’ unique brand of maroon and gold, you can point to one lone bright spot in a year of gray.

    Then again, if you’re another type of college hockey-watching Minnesotan, the type who likes the Gophers and their also-totally-unique version of maroon and gold, maybe 2016 can eat it.

    You might hold the former opinion because, for the #1-ranked University of Minnesota - Duluth Bulldogs, things have gone well on the ice, despite an offseason of changes and uncertainty in the lineup.

    On the surface, they’re doing what good teams do; they’re winning games in dominating fashion. They’ve outscored opponents 52-32 over the course of the year, good for an average of 3.7 goals against per game, right where you want a top team to be.

    Duluth is also distributing the puck well, with 8 players with more than 10 points on the year. Their game plan so far has been simple: invite opponents to a shooting gallery and prove that they’re just plain better at it.

    That’s gotten them to a fantastic 10-2-2 record on the year, and an even more impressive 7-1-0 record in their conference. But underneath it all, the Bulldogs are a team that’s profited from either a great 2016 or a lucky one. If it’s the latter, 2017 could turn out to be rough for the nation’s top team.

    For instance, while they’re overpowering opponents at even-strength, they’re allowing opponents to convert on ~21% of power play opportunities. They’re also surrendering about 25% of their time each game to the man advantage, which is a lot of time to be stuck behind the puck.

    All those penalty kills haven’t sunk UMD yet, but if fatigue sets in in 2016 — and it will if they keep straining their penalty killers like they have, they could be in trouble. Or, maybe they stay fresh and skilled and quick enough on the PK to hold opponents to a shooting % of 15 on the power play, but their opponents’ shooting % rises to a very-believable 10%, that could be just as dangerous for a team that allows 27.9 shots per game. Or, perhaps their 1036 PDO (.918 sv%, .118 sh%) regresses toward a more sustainable level, reducing their goals for and increasing their goals against.

    Simple observation would suggest that it would be difficult to maintain high shooting rates, save percentages, power play percentages, and the types of offensive opportunities that they’ve given to opponents and still keep winning at this clip. Any one of these scenarios could change as the season progresses, and would spell a sharp turn for a team that looks really, really good right now. But for a team that’s continued to grind opponents down and play a big, physical game all season, I’m willing to bet on sustaining that kind of success.

    As for the Gophers, who sit at a respectable 11 in the USCHO poll, with a 6-4-2 record on the season, they might be less pleased with 2016. Surprisingly, though, they have a lot to be happy with.

    The Gophers have won their six games by a combined 23 - 8 margin. Nice job, or something.

    Over those same games, goalie Eric Schierhorn has shut the door completely in three games, stonewalling North Dakota, Minnesota State, and Alaska-Anchorage (home of the Game of Thrones knockoff Seawolf mascot).

    In their losses, Minnesota has looked like an entirely different team, opening the door wide and allowing easy comebacks and high shot totals. Where the Bulldogs have ridden a wave of offensive production and persistence, the Gophers have been sunk by it.

    Where the Bulldogs have found consistency on the power play, in net, and on the score sheet, the Gophers have struggled to find it. The maroon and gold, the one that calls Mariucci Arena its home, has built its season on a split personality, a contradiction of goaltending and scoring and staying in games. By taking the rest of 2016 to sort that all out, they could exorcise their demons and break into the nation’s top 10 more fully in 2017.

    In the end, though, that’s the challenge the Gophers have dealt with for years. They’ve either been a Friday-only team, or sometimes a Saturday-only team. Sometimes it’s a wave of offense that carries them, other times who knows. But in the end, it’s the dimensionality of their game, the stark contrast of the before and after of Gophers hockey, that kills them.

    Getting away from that in 2017 is about more than just turning the calendar over, it’s got to be more elemental. This weekend, against the surprisingly-decent Ohio State Buckeyes, they have a chance to move in that direction. Because the only way to get better and stay better is to just go out there and be better.

    Let’s see what happens.



    Think you could write a story like this? Hockey Wilderness wants you to develop your voice, find an audience, and we'll pay you to do it. Just fill out this form.

    User Feedback

    Recommended Comments

    There are no comments to display.

    Join the conversation

    You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
    Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

    Add a comment...

    ×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

      Only 75 emoji are allowed.

    ×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

    ×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

    ×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...