Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog kicked off a debate today about this year’s UND hockey team. How good is this team?
Yahoo’s Ryan Lambert is skeptical based on advanced stats.
I read the piece and thought about it a bit and have mixed thoughts.
For starters, I’ve been saying since the beginning of the year that I don’t think this team is super dominant. They aren’t blowing out opponents. The margin for error is not as great as the 2010-11 team.
That being said, the results speak for themselves. Since the season-opening loss to Bemidji State, this team has been incredibly consistent — probably the most consistent team I’ve covered in a decade.
We’re not at the beginning of the season, either. North Dakota has been doing this for five months. That’s too long for an anomaly.
I told my roommate last week that this UND hockey team is a lot like his tennis game.
When you see him play tennis, he looks all right, but he doesn’t look like a world-beater. When you get on the court and play him, he’s a big-time grinder, he plays extremely hard and it takes a lot of energy to be able to win each point against him. He doesn’t give up any point easily. If you’re lucky enough to beat him, you’re going to be absolutely spent by the end of the match, and your next one probably isn’t going to go well.
UND may not look like the greatest team in the country, and its advanced stats may not reflect it, but this team grinds super hard, plays extremely hard every night and it takes just about everything for an opponent to come out with a win. It takes so much that it has been virtually impossible to do it again the next night.
Maybe that’s why nobody has beaten UND on a Saturday night in 17 tries this season. Maybe that’s why it has been 16 months since UND has lost consecutive games.
My thoughts on some of the advanced stats:
***UND’s overly high shooting percentage: This team doesn’t have many guys who can beat goalies from the dots or out, and a lot of players don’t try. Mark MacMillan has a ridiculous 26.2 shooting percentage, but it’s not because he’s getting lucky or because he has an amazing shot. It’s because he doesn’t attempt many low percentage shots. When was the last time you saw MacMillan try to beat a goalie with a wrister from the dot? He doesn’t try it often. He scores around the net. I think a lot of the players know if they attempt snap shots from outside the dots that it’s probably futile, so they don’t attempt unless there’s traffic. Michael Parks is another who doesn’t try that very often.
***UND’s very average puck possession numbers: UND plays a puck possession game and I’m sure it would like those numbers to be higher. That being said, I do think there are times when this team gets ahead and decides it’s not going to allow any opponents Grade A chances or odd-man rushes. You can bomb away from the outside, but that’s not a good method of operation against Zane McIntyre.
***Zane McIntyre covering up weaknesses: I don’t think anyone who has followed UND this season would argue this point. If UND does not have McIntyre, is it the No. 1 team in the nation? Probably not. He has put together a fantastic season and has been the difference in multiple games. That being said, I don’t think UND has to rely on world-beating goaltending to win games.
Can UND win a national title if McIntyre has a bad game in the NCAAs? Probably not. But can anybody in the country this year overcome bad goaltending to win a national title? Probably not.
In short, I agree that this team is not simply overwhelming opponents with its superior talent. I agree it doesn’t have such skill that it can play bad games and win. But after watching this team do the exact same thing to opponents for five months, I’m confident it’s not smoke and mirrors, either.