NCAA Hockey 101: Omaha keeps rolling; Game cancelled for the flu?

Ryan Lambert
Via Mark Kuhlman, Omaha

(Ed. Note: Ryan Lambert is our resident NCAA Hockey nut, and we decided it’s time to unleash his particular brand of whimsy on the college game every week. So NCAA HOCKEY 101 will run every Tuesday on Puck Daddy. Educate yo self.)  

A few weeks ago in this space, there was a look at the season Omaha had enjoyed to that point. Essentially, the takeaway was that the Mavericks had won a lot of games, but the underlying numbers all suggested that they shouldn't have been as successful as they were. 

But what's been interesting is that over these last three weeks or so, they've suffered a bit of a bumpier road: they went up to Grand Forks and took just a point from North Dakota (they actually won the first game in a shootout but for all intents and purposes other than NCHC standings, which I don't care about, it was a draw), they split at Miami, then swept St. Cloud in Omaha.

Given the quality of opponents there — all of them are top-20 in the country by any reasonable measure — you take the seven points from six games and be glad you got them. This coming weekend, they will play the only games on the national schedule, and almost certainly pummel Alabama-Huntsville to win their 11th and 12th games of the season.

But unlike the early part of the season when they were winning games despite being badly outshot, only to be bailed out by the stellar work of Ryan Massa in their own end, they've actually put in the spadework to feel as though these critical league points are earned. They outshot North Dakota on the weekend and only allowed 49 shots total (some feat), they got pushed around by Miami but had their percentages come away more or less even and still walked away with the split, and went back to their old ways of not getting a lot of shots against St. Cloud but at least won the battle one night.

Over the last three weeks, their shots-for percentage is just 46.4, but that's a huge step forward from the 41 or so percent seen prior to that point. Moreover, the fact that this was against some of the best teams in the country says, well, something. Especially because in the last few weeks the bounces kind of stopped going their way for once, as their goals-for percentage was just 48.7 during this six-game stretch. Now, we're dealing in small samples, and indeed two-fifths of the goals they allowed during that time were in one 8-2 loss to Miami, but they were due for a few games of giving up three-plus goals, that's for sure.

Massa is still playing well most nights — over the last six games he's .913, four points above the current NCAA average for the season, but for the season he remains .935 — and it must be said again that at some point that this team is going to be slowing down. Massa came into the season a career .901 goaltender, and he's on pace to blow the doors off his current record for minutes in a season. There's plenty of reason to believe he'll Clay-Witt the back half of the year and finish in the .915 neighborhood. But if that happens, he still gave the team better-than-average goaltending for the season and there's not really much complaining to be done about that.

But if this team can bank a few more points before — first against Huntsville and then UNH, two dismal teams with a combined eight wins between them, and that constitute easy Ws for just about anyone in the country who's even approaching a double-digit win total — they get into the teeth of their conference schedule, it's not really going to matter very much unless they fall off to an hilarious extent (which is possible).

Assuming four more non-conference wins (and again, that's reasonable), that puts Omaha at 14 with 14 more to go before their conference tournament starts. In general, the magic number that all but assures an NCAA spot is 22 wins, and it's not outlandish to say that there are eight more wins in their schedule even before the playoffs; they can all but count on four wins against Colorado College, and Western gives them at least one more but probably two. And if they can keep pushing themselves in the right direction in terms of possession against elites, the other teams might not present quite so much difficulty as one might have expected even a month ago.

On the other hand, regression tends to arrive very quickly in college hockey, for whatever reason, and to see this team crumble would be no great surprise. Still, though, this is looking more and more like Dean Blais is going to get his program into the tournament for the first time since 2011.

Whether they'll actually deserve to be there is another matter entirely.

UMass adds Ducks second-rounder Montour

Speaking of teams that are abysmal, the UMass Minutemen are in the midst of yet another lost season out in Amherst. But there is, or at least may be, light dawning there. 

Say what you want about head coach John Micheletto — the overhyped wrong man for the job the second he arrived on campus — and the style he preaches, but he's a pretty impressive recruiter. Witness the eligibility, starting today as a matter of fact, of Anaheim second-round pick Brandon Montour, a 6-foot, 190-pound defenseman who is the reigning USHL player of the year.

Suffice it to say this is by far the biggest mid-season addition by any team in the past several years at the very least, and probably well beyond that. Kids like this typically arrive on campus in September with an eye toward starting the season, y'know, when the rest of his team does. But Montour just couldn't get his eligibility for the NCAA together in time, with no reasons why having been given.

And it speaks to both the quality of the player and the team he's joining that it's not unreasonable to assume Montour will instantly be the best blue line option the Minutemen have on hand. He will not really help at all to fix the seemingly depthless number of things wrong with this team.

Their puck possession numbers are worse than everyone in Hockey East save for UConn, and the latter only just added scholarships for their hockey players this year (and UMass is still only five-hundredths of a point better, having played a much weaker schedule). They've only scored 40 goals in 15 games, while allowing 67. They're 1-6 at home, having conceded 39 goals there, and they melt down in the third period so frequently as to be bewildering; they've allowed 34 in the first two periods of their games combined, and 32 in the third. They've only entered the third period with a lead four times this year, and have ended up losing twice.

The list of grim statistics go on and on, but first and foremost is the fact that their team goaltending has delivered unto them a save percentage of just .865 this year.

Montour doesn't fix that. He doesn't fix any of it. And if he were the kind of player I could see sticking around for his full four (okay, three and a half) years, then you at least say he's a heck of a piece around which to build. But I'd be dubious of that

Minnesota State cancels game due to flu

People get sick all the time, and when an infectious disease hits a hockey team, it tends to hit hard. 

However, unlike the NHL's handling of the mumps epidemic that's currently ripping through a number of dressing rooms and has been for months, at least Minnesota State had the good idea to just say, “Hey, let's not play this one.”

Though to be fair, “several” Mavericks were so sick the game with Princeton — which would have been an easy win for a team already ranked third in the country, and helpful to their NCAA hopes — just had to be ruled a “No Contest” and abandoned altogether. The WCHA and NCAA, among others, weighed in on the decision, but in the end they made the right one.

So instead of a sweep, the Mavs have to settle for Friday's 5-0 win as a one-off instead. Not that it really matters. They're 13-4 and clearly the best club in that conference by a considerable margin. The back half of this season is a long prelude to the NCAA tournament anyway.

A somewhat arbitrary ranking of teams which are pretty good in my opinion only (and just for right now but maybe for a little longer too?)

  1. Boston University (won at RPI) 

  2. North Dakota (split at Denver)

  3. Minnesota State (beat Princeton at home)

  4. Minnesota (idle)

  5. UMass Lowell (idle)

  6. Harvard (idle)

  7. Miami (idle)

  8. Denver (split at home with North Dakota)

  9. Minnesota Duluth (split at Michigan Tech)

  10. Vermont (swept St. Lawrence in a home-and-home)

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here