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(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.)
If you were paying attention to the news on Friday, you might have seen that the NCAA reinstated the 111 wins it stripped from Joe Paterno after he got caught up in that whole “turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of a whole hell of a lot of children” thing.
Well, the only people who were happy about that were, coincidentally, those in the Happy Valley, and as a consequence that led to some tone-deaf idiocy from people who think winning in football is more important than enabling sexual abuse of children. That, bizarrely, includes the Penn State hockey team adding little “409” stickers to the backs of their helmets as a means of commemorating an awful man who coached a lot of football games well, a long time ago.
“We received some good news,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky told reporters after the game, which I'm now glad they lost in a shootout to lowly Michigan State. “Something that the students were excited about. It was a way to join them in something that they felt was positive. It was a one-time thing.”
Hey Guy, were you like, maybe a little cautious about putting these stupid stickers on your helmets because, like, Paterno didn't seem to care very much that Jerry Sandusky was sexually assaulting a bunch of children and using his position as a Penn State coach to do it?
“It was a group decision, and certainly there are things to talk about,” he said.
Hmm, well that's not an answer at all.
Among the many, many people who thought this was a terrible decision made in the poorest taste possible was Sandy Barbour, who happens to be the athletic director at Penn State. She called, “Inappropriate and insensitive.”
(She also had to walk a lot of that talk back because the neanderthal turds who think Paterno is a blameless saint — because of, y'know, winning at football — beat the hell out of her on social media basically all day on Saturday.)
Guess what: She was right the first time, and y'all are ghoulish for saying otherwise.
A kind word for Huntsville
The Alabama-Huntsville Chargers are, historically, among the worst teams in college hockey.
Their all-time record for wins in a season is 21, but that was 14 years ago. They haven't finished above .500 since 2005-06, and they haven't cracked a double-digit win total since 2009-10. There are many reasons for this, and they're all fairly boring, but perhaps chief among them is that they, a) almost folded the program a few years ago and lost some decent players because they couldn't find a conference for three years, and b) can't get that many good players to want to play in Huntsville.
They have sent two players to the NHL: Jared Ross, who played 13 games for the Flyers eight or nine years ago and continues to grind it out in the German league, and current Rangers backup Cam Talbot. These are some relatively minor bright spots, though, because over the past seven seasons, they've averaged just 4.9 wins per year.
This year, though, they've blown that number out of the water. Yes, they're still a .327 team, but that's a pretty big upgrade from last year's .066 winning percentage (2-35-1). Seven wins through 26 games puts them on a decent pace to crack double digits again, and maybe even threaten the 12-win mark that's the highest seen since the program really hit the skids.
This past weekend, they swept Northern Michigan 2-1 and 3-2 at home. And since Dec. 20, when they started a one-point weekend at Omaha (they lost 2-1 and tied 3-3 the next night), the Chargers are actually and really playing decent hockey. They're 4-3-1, tied for 24th in the country in winning percentage. They've also turned out a GF% of 42.4 percent in that time and are only getting kind-of-hopelessly outshot (41.2 percent). Last year those numbers came in at 32.2 percent SF and 19.8 GF. So this is basically unimaginable progress.
A lot of it runs through Carmine Guerriero, who has a .931 save percentage over these last seven games, which is actually down from his season average of .933. Last year, he was .905 as a freshman. And while I'd certainly expect his performance to come back to earth, the fact is that he's facing an heroic amount of shots every night (36.7, in fact) and helping his team win more than it probably has any right to.
They're still not any good, but they're no longer truly, bottom-scrapingly terrible. Hopefully they can build on this.
Western Michigan’s late move, too late?
For most of the best teams in the country it was a bit of an up and down weekend. BU split with BC and Lowell, which in turn both lost and won at Maine, respectively. Minnesota only took three points from Wisconsin, Harvard lost to St. Lawrence, Bowling Green and Tech split, Omaha split with Colorado College, Vermont took just one point from Northeastern, and so on.
But a team that's starting to edge its way into the national conversation after a poor start continued on its path toward recapturing some of the prestige that, on paper, it probably deserves.
Western Michigan started the year pretty poorly. They were 3-8-1 on Thanksgiving, having conceded 35 goals in those 12 games, and scored just 28. This despite the fact that they were a positive possession team (50.8 percent SF), though some of that can likely be attributed to the amount of time they spent trailing in those games, and the team's .893 save percentage in all situations sure wasn't helping.
But whatever was in their turkey seems to have turned things around: Since Nov. 28, they're 7-1-2, giving them the third-best winning percentage in the nation over that stretch (behind very good and hot teams like Michigan and Minnesota State).
Goaltender Lukas Hafner has been good all year, with a .916 save percentage even when the losing run was happening. But he's elevated his game significantly in this recent run — to .929 over the last 10 games, more in line with the .925 he posted last year — which I guess you'd expect. And while the team's offense was never struggling per se it, too, kicked into high gear from the end of November through this past weekend: they've scored 37 goals in addition to allowing just 19, and when you can effectively double up your opponent's score in a 10-game period, you're doing a lot well.
They've also improved their possession numbers during this stretch, so it's not all smoke and mirrors; they're up to 51.3 percent SF for the season, with this latest stretch of 51.8 — with a lot more leading — being particularly encouraging.
All of which includes what they did this past weekend, which was no less a feat than going into No. 5 Minnesota Duluth and walking out with three points, a 2-2 tie Friday and a 4-2 win Saturday. Moreover, Duluth had been 4-2-0 in its games since Thanksgiving to that point, and Amsoil Arena had been something of a fortress for them for much of the season (they tend to dominate possession at home to the tune of about 58 percent), as they averaged close to 37 shots per home goal, and allowed just under 27.
Western was a bit fortunate, having been outshot 53-43 on the weekend, but they led Friday's game early and allowed a hard-pressing Duluth to mount a comeback. At any rate, if you're holding the Bulldogs to that kind of low-event hockey (they're ninth in the country in shots per game) and go 7 for 8 on the PK against a power play that normally runs at close to 23 percent, you did your job.
The question, though, is whether this kind of run is sustainable. Is this team 7-1-2 good, 3-8-1 bad, or somewhere in the middle? The obvious answer is the third option, but determining where exactly they fall overall is probably going to be key to predicting where they'll finish the year. They're on the lower end of their share of both shots- and goals-for as far as the NCHC is concerned, but certainly moving in the right direction; the problem is the gap between themselves and the true powers of the conference — Denver, Miami, Duluth, maybe North Dakota (we need more evidence that the latter's 47.9 percent possession in conference games is a weird fluke) — is prodigious. They're still only 3-6-3 in NCHC play, even after this impressive weekend, and 10-9-3 overall.
Even if they keep up this level of play, the schedule is getting harder; their next games are at St. Cloud, then they host Miami for one, play a one-off outdoor game in Chicago against those same RedHawks, travel to Omaha, and host North Dakota. Road games at Colorado College and a home engagement with Duluth again follow. They have 12 more games on the regular-season schedule and will have to make hay with them to even get a good playoff seeding, let alone weasel their way into legitimate NCAA tournament contention.
They're coming together, and you might say it's at the right time, but they were so abject for the first month and three-quarters that it might not matter very much. On paper, they're good enough to at least compete with most of the best teams in the conference, but it's going to be a slog here for the remaining six weeks of the regular season. A worst-case scenario is that they play the role of a disruptor, messing things up for teams with more serious pretensions of being giants on the national stage.
Certainly, they're playing well enough to do that right now. And of course once the conference tournament starts anything can happen. Given the quality of play from the Broncos for the last little while here, it's clearly not out of the question.
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?)
Minnesota State (swept at Ferris State)
North Dakota (swept Niagara)
BU (lost to BC, beat Lowell)
UMass Lowell (beat Maine, lost at BU)
Minnesota Duluth (took one point from Western Michigan)
Harvard (beat Clarkson, lost to St. Lawrence)
Michigan (beat Ohio State)
Minnesota (took three points from Wisconsin)
Yale (swept a home-and-home with Brown)
Image via @dennisdoddcbs
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