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View From Section U: Penalties, Special Teams, and Success

There is a lot that could be better this season with this UMass hockey team.  The goaltending, as we thought it would, has been up and down.  The team has struggled at times in the faceoff circle.  In a number of games they’ve had trouble generating even 20 total shots.  They’ve had some slow starts while at other times they’ve given up a late goal that has completely changed the outcome of the game.  But for the most part it seems like we’ve been talking about the same three things almost every game; too many penalties, not taking advantage of power play opportunities, and poor penalty killing.  This is not the first season either that those three areas of play seem to be dictating whether UMass wins or loses.  So I went back and looked at UMass’ rankings in those three areas in Hockey East conference play and compared it with their finish in the standings that year.  Here are the results:

Penalties PP PK Avg HE Finish Diff

2011

3

9

10

7

8

1

2010

6

6

10

7

6

1

2009

7

5

6

6

7

1

2008

6

7

6

6

8

2

2007

1

5

8

5

4

1

2006

6

7

10

8

8

0

2005

5

9

9

8

8

0

2004

3

7

4

5

3

2

2003

4

4

8

5

6

1

2002

1

9

8

6

9

3

2001

7

7

8

7

9

2

 

As you can see I took the rank in Penalty Minutes (with the least total being 1st, 2nd least 2nd, etc.), power play, and penalty kill and then took the average of the three rankings.  I then took the team’s finish in Hockey East and took the absolute difference.  Twice, in 2005 and 2006, the average rankings in those categories equaled the team’s finish.  Five different times, including the last three seasons, the average rank of those categories was just one slot away from the team’s finish.  Three times the team finished two slots away from their average of these statistical rankings and once, due mostly to the fact that the team took the least amount of penalties in 2002, it was three spots away.  In six of the last seven years the different is one or less.

So, it’s reasonable to think that how the team stacks up in terms of special teams is a pretty good predictor of where they’ll finish.  It’s interesting to note that the three years that UMass has had its most success and went to the Hockey East semi-finals were the only three years their average in these three categories were higher than 6th.  In 2003 the team did not take a ton of penalties (a good thing since their penalty killing was 8th) and had one of the top power play units in the league.  The next year in 2004 the team again didn’t take a ton of penalties and their power play and penalty killing rankings flipped.  In 2007 the team took the least amount of penalties (again good since their PK was poor) and had a better than average power play in the league.  What does that mean for this year?  Well currently the team is 4th in the league in penalty minutes (something that has improved as the season has gone along), 7th in power play, and 8th in penalty killing.  That averages out to 6th while the team is currently tied for 8th (and technically in 9th as they lose the tiebreaker against Northeastern).  We’ll see if that gap closes at all to match what we’ve seen in recent years.  If so, hopefully the statistical rankings stay where they are and it’s the team’s place in the standings that changes.

The rankings themselves are interesting.  UMass has been all over the board in terms of the amount of penalties they take, though never quite finding themselves at the bottom of the league.  The power play has seen some success where they’ve had a better than average unit, but never among the best in the league.  Overall during the time they average the 7th best power play.  The penalty killing unit though has always been horrible with the exception of the team that went to the Hockey East finals.  They’ve averaged a solid 8th in the time period above, with some of those years taking place when Hockey East only had 9 teams.  When UMass has finished in 8th place or worse their penalty killing has been 8th or worse as well, except for 2008.  As said, right now UMass is 8th with their PK unit.

As UMass’ special teams goes, so go the Minutemen.

UMass sticks at #8 in College Hockey News’ Hockey East power rankings.

I think I’ll make it a point to cheer loudly when UMass defensive back Ryan Carter’s name is called at Gillette Stadium next season.  Matt Vautour has the story of Carter going through surgery today to donate bone marrow for a five year old boy whose name he doesn’t even know.  We, myself included, throw around the term “hero” a lot in sports.  Carter was a real hero today.

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