Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Don't Forget Your Toothbrush

The 1st D-1 roadtrip awaits the rookies this weekend. A little bit more than 5 hours on a plane down to "The Larry Craig Hook-Up Lounge" otherwise known as Minneapolis/St. Paul airport. A little over an hour on a bus and the team will be at their destination. I'm certain that if one would assign the broadest possible definition of the adjective "beautiful", then one could probably apply it to St. Cloud. But it is what it is and the team sure as hell ain't going there for the ambiance. Pack some extra socks and don't forget your toothbrush. More importantly though is to not forget that the Seawolves haven't won a game at the National Hockey Center.

I say don't forget that because it is only by remembering history that we can avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. It's been a huge mistake to have never won a game there. So remember it all weekend. Remember it right up until the puck drops. Then go out and make it a permanent part of the past. Winning one in their barn this weekend is my least common denominator for the series. Anything less will be disappointing. I doubt UAA even travels to SCSU next year for a series so that would mean waiting 2 years for another chance to put that awful statistic behind us.

No additional word about any possible injury to Nils Backstrom. Hopefully, it isn't something that could keep him out of the lineup. Beaverson was called day-to-day last I saw and I'm assuming that Paul Crowder will be ready to go.

Rule changes suck. Folks that imagine they can tweak things and make the game better need to give it all a rest. Most of the rules changes and/or enforcement directives from the past 5 years have been intended to foster more offensive elements in the game. But you know what? It's had an opposite effect. It's brought "The Trap" to the WCHA in a big way. Dean Talafous played a version of the neutral zone trap when coached at UAA. He left and the strategy pretty much left with him. Then Mike Eaves at UW reintroduced it but went whole hog. By which I mean it was his primary stategy. Bob Motzko used it extensively last season with St. Cloud. Troy Jutting's stategy of trapping against UAA this weekend was effective. And Jamie Russell has used it to good effect as well. There isn't a coach in the league that doesn't have a neutral zone scheme to use situationally. The Gophers used a neutral zone trap in game three of the playoffs last season to shut down UAA. Gwoz at DU and Owens at CC have used it. Dave Shyiak has used it.

But now that the WCHA team count using this alignment as a primary tool in their strategy has reached 4, there'll be more and more instances of the other remaining 6 teams using it more and more often as a big part of their overall strategy. Why do I blame the rule changes? Because they "opened" up the game. They did exactly what everyone wanted them to do. The changes increased the offensive flow. And the ONLY tool left in the bag to counter a team that moves through the neutral zone effectively is to "trap" them. And no ... I don't want to see as many stick-related penalties as we used to. I just want to remind people of the law of unintended consequences and the properties of chaos. You can't change an aspect of the game without changing something else. From here to the end of this season (and likely beyond) WCHA fans can expect to see more and more of this style of play especially by road teams.

Don't forget to watch the Coaches Show on Wednesday night at 8PM on Channel 1. Peter Cartwright will be the guest player.


Anonymous said...

Donald not to insult anyone or anything, but do not let people confuse the other team's trap (against UAA) with our inability to pass stick to stick on the fly in the NZ. We must miss hitting that pass 50% of the time and that just kills any rush you had thought about making. Until we do that consistently it's bad news for us.

Anonymous said...

Actually, until the last 2 games, UAA was doing that quite effectivly.

Donald Dunlop said...

It's certainly no insult to anyone to suggest that tape to tape passing is a factor in smoothly transitioning out of your zone and through neutral ice.

But what I'm saying is ... trapping either "high" (... like Mankato did when UAA skated without setting up) or in the neutral zone ( ... like they did when UAA took time to setup) is used to counter exactly that kind of passing.

The problem is that there is no real useful counter when someone traps you but to fight through or skate through and dump. Then to be effective and competitive you've got to set up and possess in their zone. That's a lot of work for a shift and guys taking longer shifts than usual. Defensemen rushing the puck or throwing the puck over the trap is the most effective way.

I don't think UAA has to worry about the trap this weekend. Motzko answered a fan question about the trap last year by saying, "I'd quit coaching before I'd use the trap". It was a lie but he'll want to see how his team matches up this weekend. Deciding to play a trap means that in your mind you've decided that the other team is more talented and/or has a great transition game. Motzko knows that quality transition is part of UAA's game plan. But he doesn't know if it is for real. Lots of UAA fans aren't sure about it. So he won't be conceding anything by planning to play the trap this weekend.

If UAA plays up to the potential we've all seen this weekend then the liklihood is that we'll see the trap when SCSU visits later this season.

Anonymous said...

How often this weekend did we dump the puck in and never got possession of the puck. Even when we had a five on three we dumped the puck in and still didn't get possession. I've never played the game and have wondered why other teams seem to be able to skate into our zone but we don't.

Donald Dunlop said...

I think so far this season UAA has been able to (at times) dominate in every zone. Breakouts have been good, transition zone play has been effective and possessing deep in the offensive zone has been working too. Well, up until this past weekend that is.

Mankato's forechecking scheme denied easy access to the neutral zone and the Seawolves didn't have an answer for it. Getting to the red line and dumping was the best strategy to beat that trap but it's gets tiresome for players to have to chase the puck all night which would account for not coming up with the puck after a dump in.

There isn't a whole lot a coach can do. Either just plug away and hope for a bounce and that your guys play with extra energy or respond by using the same trap in response. In the latter case, you've got two teams sitting back trying to force mistakes and counterattack instead of just one. Since Shyiak went with the "keep plugging away" strategy (for lack of a better term) success was dependent on the ability to get to those dumps and we just didn't get to enough of them.

You should see a different team on the ice this weekend. I'd just about guarantee that SCSU won't be trapping on Friday night. If I'm wrong then I hope Shyiak responds in kind. It might suck and be boring but it is an effective strategy and as long as you aren't the Coach that "started it" then you can point your finger (as if Shyiak ever would) at the other guy and blame him for the boring 1-0 scores.

Anonymous said...

And actually we didn't play any WCHA teams until the last 2 games.

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