Saturday, October 21, 2006

Wildcats Crush Tigers in Battle of the Felines

On Friday night, New Hampshire had to gut it out and hold off a furious late charge by the Tigers to secure a 4-3 win. On Saturday, the Wildcats had no such trouble. After staking themselves to a 2-1 lead in the first period, UNH basically continued to dominate the rest of the game, eventually taking the game 7-2. It's tough to pin down exactly what went wrong for the Tigers, because just about every aspect of the game for CC was terrible. A lack of finishing, both on plays and on checks; stupid penalties; screwy line pairings; bad goaltending - all these things contributed to the Tigers pathetic performance on Saturday night.

For starters, what is going on with this roster? Kris Fredheim and Billy Sweatt are clearly our top recruits - why aren't they playing?* Fredheim was scratched on Friday, with Sweatt sitting out on Saturday (after notching two assists on Friday). Where is the logic here? Is it really so important to keep the "frosh line" of DeBoer, McMillan, and Quilico/Testwuide out there? Moreover, what is captain Brandon Straub doing sitting out the night after a one goal loss? We've seen in the past that Scott Owens likes to tinker with lines, but I would like to hear some explanation for these pairings. For Saturday's game, the Tigers should have had their best and most experienced out there. Is there really any doubt that a line of DeBoer, Quilico, and McMillan is going to get shut down by a larger and more experienced New Hampshire team? Two of these guys were playing high school hockey last year. It's time to play the guys that perform and sit the ones that don't. If it were up to me, we'd see lines like this:

McCulloch - Rau - Patrosso
Sweatt - Polich - Kilpatrick
Cox - Thauwald - Brannigan

We're left with Testwuide, McMillan, DeBoer, Quilico, and eventually Vlassopoulos and Overman. Work these guys into games, but don't sit impact players to keep their lines together.

Another thing that I think Scott Owens must address is the stupid penalties that the Tigers take. This problem has to be solved if we want to have any success in WCHA play. Saturday night was not necessarily so bad, but Friday night was vintage boneheaded hockey from the Tigers. First we're stuck killing a five minute major penalty early on in the game (always good to keep the team rested), then we have our captains punching players in the face and dropping opposing players during faceoffs. This is not good; it's the same type of garbage that lost games for CC last year and will surely result in more losses this year. One more note - if the strange scratches on Saturday night had anything to do with dumb penalties the night before, then I have to agree with them. I didn't see Billy Sweatt take any stupid penalties, but Straub trying to go Jackie Chan on a UNH guy right in front of the ref was not my idea of smart hockey. These guys have to be punished for hurting the team. New Hampshire's power play struggled this weekend, Minnesota's and Denver's will not - so it's time to nip this problem in the butt before it costs us more than two out of conference games (which is going to hurt come selection time anyhow).

Moving on - Now I've been a Drew O'Connell advocate for a long time. He came in as a highly touted goalie and although he struggled a bit his freshman year, he seems to be gaining confidence and poise out there this season. After the game Friday night, I was pretty much expecting to see O'Connell in there on Saturday... and he was - only problem? He didn't come in until halfway through the game, when Matt Zaba had already allowed five goals on 21 shots. Matt Zaba is a solid goalie with a lot of WCHA experience, but he has not been playing up to his potential. Is it time to try out O'Connell more and see if he can be that goalie? I really think that Scott Owens has to consider giving O'Connell more time, perhaps going with a two goalie rotation like Denver uses. A 76% save percentage ain't gonna cut it next weekend in Minnesota against one of the more offensively talented teams we'll see this year.

Another issue with the Tigers is that they tend to be a walking disaster in the third period of games. Ever since the epic comeback win over Michigan in the NCAAs two years ago, I'm not sure that I can even remember one more real comeback win by the Tigers. More often it's other teams coming back to win as CC fades in the third period. We saw this on Friday, as the Tigers gave themselves a nice 2-0 lead before allowing four straight UNH goals in the second and third periods. Last year I attributed this phenomenon to lack of size and lack of physical play. When we played bigger teams (like Cornell for example) they would tend to tire us out by wearing us down with physical play. Now overall this year's Tiger team is bigger than last year's, but still we see them falling apart late in games. I don't know if this is a mental problem, a coaching problem, or what, but one thing I'd like to see to combat this issue is for CC to play more physical and actually finish checks. Don't let the defenseman skate in behind their own net and clear the puck out without getting a body on them. Start wearing down the other team and maybe they won't be skating circles around us in the third period.

That's about all I have to say about CC's weekend - if you want to leave your thoughts, feel free to do so in the comments section. Let's hope we can turn it around and prove something next weekend at Mariucci.

Since the polls are coming out tomorrow, and I'm usually bitching about and disagreeing with those polls, I thought I'd put together my own little top ten list based on the season thus far. Feel free to comment on this as well since I'd like to see what others think.

So without further ado, CC Hockey Blog's National Top Ten:

1. Maine - Off to an incredible start with a road win at Minnesota and road sweep at everyone's preseason favorite; North Dakota. Everything seems to be clicking for the Black Bears, and while Wisconsin and St. Cloud State fans might hate me for saying it, they may have the best goaltender in the country. If that's not enough to get Maine fans excited, freshman Teddy Purcell has put up seven points in his first five games.

2. Wisconsin - The defending champs are off to a decent start, with their only loss being in overtime against a very strong North Dakota team. Brian Elliott is playing well in net and the team seems solid all around, although not quite as dominant as last year's squad.

3. Minnesota - Got off to a rocky start with the loss to Maine, but the Golden Gophers nonetheless are overflowing with talent. With three first round draft picks among their freshman, the Gophers should look forward to improving as the young'uns get more accustomed to the college game.

4. North Dakota - The Sioux have had a somewhat disappointing start to a very promising season. Like Minnesota, they are teeming with talent, yet the Sioux are off to just a 3-3 start. Their wins came against Wisconsin and Quinnipiac, before dropping their last two games to Maine (at home). If that's not enough, they may have also lost star forward Jonathan Toews as well. The #3 NHL draft pick was taken out of Friday's game with an injury and wasn't back for the second.

5. Miami - It was tough to decide between Miami and Michigan for this spot in the top ten, so I gave it to Miami based on the fact that both teams have identical records, but the Redhawks managed to split with the Wolverines at Yost.

6. Michigan - The CCHA has been so pathetic the last few years that I'm hesitant to rank two of their teams this high, but Michigan seems pretty solid. Their only loss came at the hands of last year's regular season CCHA champ, Miami. If they perform to their potential, the Wolverines could be a scary team down the stretch.

7. New Hampshire - This is almost the ballsiest pick of the bunch, as UNH has played only two real games so far. Like CC, the Wildcats started the season with a disheartening exhibition loss. The next week, they came back and crushed the US Under-18 team. We all know what happened this weekend.

8. Boston College - The Eagles have been an early season favorite up until their inexplicable 7-1 loss at the hands of Notre Dame. If they can forget about that loss and take care of business down the stretch, they'll be a top team. If the loss to the Irish is any indication of things to come, though, it could be an ugly year in Chestnut Hill.

9. Michigan Tech - Yeah, yeah, laugh it up (Tech did get only one vote in the most recent USCHO poll), but the Huskies are off to a hot start this year. Tech is coming off a road sweep of Vermont, who had been doing well (USCHO #10). They started things off with a split with Northern Michigan, a team that tied Wisconsin early on and recently beat Nebraska, Omaha. Could this be a long awaited up year for the boys in Houghton?

10. Boston University - The Terriers were expected to be a top ten team this year, and have gotten off to a nice 2-0-1 record. The problem is that BU has not really beaten any quality teams yet. They started the season with a 4-4 tie against Rensselaer before cruising to easy wins over Northeastern and Merrimack; not exactly national powerhouses.

* Edit - Bill Sweatt has been diagnosed with mono and this is the reason for his absence on Saturday.


At 6:14 PM, Blogger Goon said...

I wouldn't get too down on your teams loss this past weekend. We all know UNH will be no where near the frozen four come april.

At 3:46 PM, Anonymous gmf1a said...

Well we know about Sweatt and Kilpatrick now (mono).

Once again this year we are extremely small .. I hoped that would not happen again. Polich, Quilico, Hillen, Lampl (he played big against minnie), Connelly. We are very small till we get some guys back and that may be January.

Grit in front of the net is needed. None at Minnesota last weekend - so may 2-0 and 2-1 point blank chances for the Gophers.

Not so much fun - but on we go.

BTW New Hampshire lost to UMass and Yale last weekend. Now 2-2

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why have a blog if you only post every month or two?


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