Grab a snack and a drink before you click the "read more" link below. I'm just going to jump into an analysis of the state of the team nearly one-third of the way through the season. That's right, there's 34 games on the schedule and the Seawolves have now played 10. I considered waiting until after next weekend to go through these numbers but might as well do so now.
We lost two games this weekend by two goals each night. But they were entirely different contests in every respect. Friday night we got our butt's kicked by an undefeated team that really looked to have earned their top ten Poll status. Tonight we played a respectable game.
Last weekend against a team that I picked to finish last in the WCHA (yes I picked Lake State to finish behind UAH) we had real similar performances and were very fortunate to come away with a win. Same thing the weekend before in Maine where we only managed a tie. Same thing the weekend before in Fairbanks. With the exception of the opening weekend at home in the Kendall, inconsistency is plaguing this years Seawolves.
Let's face some things. We beat Maine early in the season when they had barely practiced; they've since only won 2 games against any team not named UAA and both of those were UMass who is 3-5 on the season. Then we beat a bad Wisconsin team. They've yet to win a game this season and have scored a total of 7 goals in the 6 games they lost.
A tie against PSU was next; who is 5-1-2 (4 wins against Atlantic Hockey teams Holy Cross and Bentley) and then we beat Air Force; they are 2-6-1 this season with their wins coming against RIT and Mercyhurst. RIT is 2-6-1 and Mercyhurst is 5-3-0.
Next we go to Maine and come away 0-1-1. Then we split with Lake State (who aren't a horrible team but their only win in 10 games is against UAA). Tech was really the first quality team we've played this season and you already know those results. UAA's record is .500 and none of those wins have come against a quality team.
The most obvious issue to me is the lack of scoring by forwards. The team has scored 24 goals in 10 games. 2.4 goals per game is not an average to write home about in Divison 1 hockey. Of those 24 goals, 14 have been scored by forwards. The last Seawolf goal scored by a forward came from Scott Allen who got game tying goal against Maine on October 25th; in the approximately 260 minutes of hockey since then no UAA forward has bagged a goal. That's a very significant amount of time.
Next is penalty minutes. The Seawolves are leading the WCHA in that category and are 5th highest in the nation at this point. I'm the biggest homer ever and every time I see refs whistle my team for a penalty I generally mumble something decidedly insulting about the referee that made the call. But this year, I'm making an attempt to not be so blatantly biased. Even if a couple of big calls this season were crap, we cannot be sitting in the box this much and expect to win more games than we lose.
There are five players with 5 or more penalty calls against them (Azurdia-7, Hubbs-7, Cameron-5, Tatchell-5, Allen-5). 4 of those guys are regular penalty killers and 3 of them are from our "leadership group" of upperclassmen. At least Dylan Hubbs has 2 shorties to his credit which does somewhat offset his 7 infractions. The PK isn't horrible at 85.4% … but guess what? That's only good enough for 6th in the league.
We've seen both of our goaltenders play well. But we haven't seen the commitment by players in front of them to limit the number of shots. They've faced 315 shots in 10 games. Three defenseman have blocked 48 shots this season (Coldwell-18, Docken-17, Sevalrud-13) and the rest of the team have blocked 76.
It's everyone's responsibility to backcheck and deny the other team shots. Not just three guys doing nearly 40 percent of the total blocks. It's worth noting that Matt Anholt and Anthony Conti lead the way amongst forwards in the category with 7 and 8 respectively. Nearly 32 shots per game is simply too high; end of story. We're taking 25.4 shots per game.
We are losing the face-off battle most every game. This season, we've lost 306 face-offs and won 262. Of anyone taking more than 5 face-offs on the season, Blake Tatchell is the only guy above .500.
Now for the part where I stick my neck out and say stuff that I didn't used to say but frankly needs to be said. Our "leadership group" is letting the team down. I'm not going to sit here and say that they aren't playing hard. I don't see them dogging it or anything. But they're getting HUGE minutes and aren't producing. There's been more than a fair bit of swapping guys around between lines to look for chemistry and/or spread out the "leadership". It hasn't paid off yet.
I've seen more than a few different coaches here at UAA over the years … um … all of them. And Matt Thomas is the first one that I've noticed who hasn't thrown some sort of trap as a game tactic. It's hard for me to see certain situations arise and not see some NZ trapping in response. Thomas clearly favors the skating game and is happy to keep it wide open against everyone in all situations. I'm not sure what to think. Maybe I just didn't see some defensive adjustments?
It's difficult to criticize because I can see that there could definitely be long term benefits for a team to run and gun 24/7. It's part of the reason that North Dakota almost always has a better 2nd half of the season than they do first half and they always play the wide open style. Last season the Seawolves won 8 games in the first half of the regular season and 8 games in the 2nd half of the regular season. It's hard to draw any conclusions from that.
Thomas also gives his "horses" bigger minutes than any past Seawolves coach I've watched. He rode Matt Bailey hard last season and saw some benefits from that. This season so far he's called on Allen, Tatchell and Cameron in much the same way. But it hasn't benefitted the team yet. I'm concerned that the short minutes other guys see as a result could be problematic in terms of development and/or attitude. Maybe I'm over-thinking it.
Overall, I think it's a good point in the season for players to take a look at the team's record and look at themselves to see if there is something more they as individuals can do to improve the Win/Loss situation. .500 hockey isn't the goal for this squad. I know there are players that desire "championships" and honestly if that's to become the case, then we're going to have to see much more consistency in both effort and execution from everyone on the ice. It's most important to be a complete team where guys are playing "for" each other and to make each other better.
Next weekend it's off to Ferris State who have some early season woes of their own. It's a big weekend in terms of opportunity for our beloved "Wolves. Ferris will be hungry for WCHA points. Hungrier than UAA?