October is neat because hockey is back, but October in college hockey can be a real drag from a competition standpoint. It’s even more of a drag from an analysis standpoint.
Considering how great college hockey gets over the course of the season, it’s a bit of a shame it is so slow going out the gates. A big part of that is due to the lack of contact coaches can have with their teams prior to the season.
The official practice start date this year was Oct. 5. There were teams playing real games days later. The unfortunate thing is that regardless of when these games are played, they still count and are part of the big pool of data collected by the Pairwise. So struggling in October is not ideal, but obviously it isn’t a death sentence either.
The competing teams in the 2013 Frozen Four went a combined 9-7-3 in the month of October. Not great for the four best postseason teams in college hockey, but a sign that what a team does in October isn’t a true sign of what they are.
Coming up after the jump, more on the October doldrums, a spotlight on Notre Dame freshman Vincent Hinostroza, what to watch for this weekend in college hockey and more.
Getting back to the Frozen Four teams…
UMass-Lowell ended up as one of the nation’s best teams last year, but it wasn’t until the team started to come together later in the season. The River Hawks started 1-3-1 last year, including a tie against Vermont.
Quinnipiac had a great run throughout the year en route to the national championship game, but that was after a 3-2-1 start with early losses to Colgate and Robert Morris.
St. Cloud State had a remarkable season, but it started on a down note with a season-opening road sweep at the hands of UNH.
Meanwhile, eventual national champion Yale only played two October games, starting 1-0-1, but even the Bulldogs took a while to get going. They were 3-2-1 through their first six games.
Basically, what I’m trying to say is, there’s not a lot we can learn about these teams in October and that’s what makes it a bit of a tougher month to get through. Obviously, it doesn’t take terribly long for things to pick up, but considering how crucial the games are, it sure would be nice if the NCAA would loosen the reins on the early-season practices.
It’s pretty clear that captain-run practices before the coaches can have contact just aren’t getting the job done.
So for you fans of teams struggling early, like UMass-Lowell who went from preseason No. 1 to out of the polls in two weeks, take a couple of deep breaths. Things might get better in a few weeks (even if the sting from that Sacred Heart loss will never go away).
College Hockey Roundup Player Spotlight
Vince Hinostroza, Fr., C — University of Notre Dame
Stat Line: 4 GP, 3-3–6
NHL Rights: Chicago Blackhawks
Notre Dame is getting some early-season production from the bottom of its lineup thanks to fourth-line center Vince Hinostroza’s hot start to the year. The former USHL standout with the Waterloo Black Hawks leads the team with six points and has looked like he’s made the transition to college hockey rather smoothly.
Hinostroza is a high-energy player who has good speed and a strong on-ice work ethic. He’s been used primarily with Thomas Di Pauli, one of the best checking forwards on Notre Dame’s roster and one of Peter Schneider or Garret Peterson.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound center is not unaccustomed to scoring, having put up 126 points in 150 career games in the USHL. He had 60 last season. Hinostroza is an older freshman at 19, and with three years of junior hockey under his belt, it’s not terribly surprising that he’s jumped into an important role for the Irish.
Notre Dame’s forward crop this year is incredibly intriguing. It’s more intriguing with a guy like Hinostroza producing at the bottom of the lineup. With strong veteran players like T.J. Tynan, Jeff Costello and Bryan Rust in the top six, you’d expect them to do most of the scoring, but they’re going to draw the toughest match-ups most nights.
If Hinostroza can give Notre Dame continued scoring depth from his spot in the lineup, the No. 2 Irish get a whole lot tougher to handle in their first season in Hockey East.
He is also a candidate for the U.S. National Junior Team, though was cut from the camp this summer in Lake Placid. With a relative lack of depth at center for Team USA, Hinostroza may find a way to carve out a spot for himself, assuming he can maintain a high level of play. He’s a really interesting one to watch.
Additionally, Hinostroza is the latest in a long line of recruiting success stories for Notre Dame out of the Chicago area, one of the fastest growing hockey markets both in fan interest and player pool. Notre Dame has eight Illinois natives on the roster now. Wisconsin, Miami and Notre Dame have all really mined some great talent from Illinois historically. That recruiting ground will be even more fertile in the coming years with the immense growth the state is experiencing in playing membership.
College Hockey Weekend Viewing Guide
Top Game — Boston College at Minnesota, Friday, 8 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network
This should be a fun one. Minnesota is the No. 1 team in the land and Boston College has recovered nicely from a season-opening loss to Michigan. The two are meeting with both teams seemingly firing on all cylinders right now.
Both teams are fairly young, but most of the youngsters on both rosters are supremely talented. That should make for a really fun weekend series and one of the best televised games to date this young season.
BC has 17 goals through three games, while Minnesota has 20 through four, so these are two high-powered scoring clubs going head-to-head. It’s also part of the new Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge, which is kind of meaningless, but a fun little way to spice up non-conference play.
The Big Ten has taken it on the chin so far in the challenge after coming out of last weekend 1-4-1, with both Wisconsin (BC, BU) and Michigan State (UMass) getting swept and Michigan salvaging a win and tie at UNH.
Putting the challenge aside for a second, BC and Minnesota boast two of the best junior players in the country in Johnny Gaudreau and Kyle Rau, respectively. Both are undersized players who have just excelled in college hockey over the last three years. Gaudreau has seven points in three games so far, leading the nation in points-per-game, while Rau has five points through four.
The surprise story for Minnesota so far is Sam Warning, who is tied for the national lead with nine points, including five goals and four assists. Freshman Hudson Fasching has also been sensational this year who has six points through his first four collegiate games. Meanwhile, Adam Wilcox remains a strong presence in net for the Gophers, posting a .936 save percentage in four starts.
For BC, beyond Gaudreau, senior forward Kevin Hayes, a first-round draft pick by Chicago in 2010, has been playing extremely well, with six points so far. The defense is led by sophomore Michael Matheson, who looks every bit the first-round pick Florida made him in 2012. Freshmen Ian McCoshen and Scott Savage have also been terrific on the blue line with three points apiece.
It will be interesting to see how BC handles its goaltending this weekend. Jerry York has been alternating so far, with junior Brian Billet making two starts and true freshman Thatcher Demko making one so far. It’s a huge road test for the Eagles, so the decision is not necessarily an easy one for York, unless he has a planned rotation.
This game should be a dandy no matter how you slice it. These are two of the best teams in the country, so the hope is for an extremely entertaining hockey game at this early stage of the year.
Other Games on National TV this Weekend
UMass at Maine, 8 p.m. — NBC Sports Network
Penn State vs. Vermont (in Philadelphia), 5 p.m. ET — Comcast Sportsnet (check locally)
Army at Merrimack, 7 p.m. ET — Fox College Sports
UMass at Maine, 7:30 p.m. ET — Fox College Sports
Boston College at Minnesota — 1 p.m. ET — Fox College Sports (FSN-North)
Each week, the Roundup will conclude with five random musings from the world of college hockey.
1. Wisconsin’s road trip to Boston didn’t go particularly well. The Badgers were out-scored 16-5. On the surface, it’s a terrifying result. UW was without junior goalie Joel Rumpel, who was the primary starter. He’s out with an ankle injury and judging by the goaltending the Badgers got over the weekend, they really can’t afford to be without Rumpel long. According to Andy Johnson of Bucky’s 5th Quarter, Rumpel is expected to miss a few weeks. Wisconsin hosts Lake Superior State, a team that has started well this season, this weekend before hitting the road to play Miami. That’s not a good time to be without the No. 1 goalie. Of course, the Badgers had a far worse start to last season, but there must be some uneasiness in Madison after last weekend’s drubbing.
2. Have I mentioned I hate October?
3. Yale’s title defense begins this weekend at the Liberty Invitational in Newark at the Prudential Center, home of the New Jersey Devils. The Bulldogs will meet Brown and Princeton over the weekend as we get our first glimpse at what this team will look like without Andrew Miller, Antoine Laganiere and Jeff Malcolm, all key pieces of last year’s club. The weekend should be special for Yale’s top returning player, Kenny Agostino. He burst onto the scene as a New Jersey high school player, a level of hockey that hasn’t produced a lot of draft picks, but Agostino is one of them. Could be a big weekend for the Garden State native.
4. Speaking of Yale, have you heard what alum Mark Arcobello is doing in the NHL this season? After making the league this year as a 25-year-old rookie, Arcobello has posted 10 assists through his first 10 games this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only two other rookies to accomplish that same feat in the last 20 years are Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane. Arcobello has really worked his way up to the NHL. He went undrafted, spent four years at Yale, spent half a season in the ECHL before earning a call to the AHL. He spent the last two and a half seasons with Edmonton’s affiliate in Oklahoma City before getting the call this year. It appears to have been worth the wait.
5. Michigan’s Achilles’ heel coming into the season sure looked like it was going to be its goaltending. After a dismal year last year, missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years, it was a valid concern. Through four games, with three against highly-ranked opponents — Boston College and New Hampshire — Michigan’s tandem of sophomore Steve Racine and freshman Zach Nagelvoort has posted a .937 save percentage, while facing 126 shots through four games. Not too shabby. The Wolverines welcome Boston University and UMass-Lowell this weekend, which should be an interesting test, but the 3-0-1 start has to build some confidence for UM. In addition to the goaltending, the forward crop is looking really strong this year, particularly with the addition of freshmen J.T. Compher (four assists) and Tyler Motte (three goals). Still a long season and the goaltending could go south, but Michigan is off to just the kind of start it needed after last year’s disappointment.