Ed. Note — Portions of this notebook appear in Friday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune
Special teams has become a major focus for teams across college hockey, with more game time spent on special teams than every before, it seems. Across the country, the WCHA has the most power plays per game this season, with 9.2. The disparity is somewhat large, with the Big Ten averaging the least number of power plays (7.1) and then there’s a group in the middle — the ECAC, Hockey East, Atlantic Hockey and the NCHC — that all range between 8.6-8.4.
College hockey averages far more time on special teams than the NHL. This season, NHL games are averaging 6.4 power plays per game, and last season the league averaged just 5.8 power plays per game. College Hockey doesn’t have a single league that averages less than seven power plays per game, and the NHL hasn’t averaged more than seven per game since 2008.
“In some games, they let you play, and in other games, they don’t,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy said. “I don’t think there is an across-the-board standard and that’s an issue. The NCAA gives us the rules, and then each league interprets them differently. It’s the same rulebook, but you go league-to-league and you see different averages. Are some leagues playing cleaner than others? I don’t think so. I think it comes down to each league interpreting the rulebook differently.”
Last weekend against Providence, the Friars and Warriors spent almost an entire period — one third of the game — on special teams. Overall, Dennehy said that Merrimack is spending more time on special teams now in practice than it did 10 years ago.”
“We’re spending more time on special teams because it’s hard to score at 5-on-5,” Dennehy said. “It’s become such a bigger part of the game because it’s harder to score 5-on-5, but I think scoring is up slightly. My guess is injuries to goalies might also be up, because what you’re basically allowed to do now is run the goalie. It still blows my mind. If you were to take someone who doesn’t understand hockey, and you asked them to explain when you could hit the goalie and when you can’t, they would tell you that if the goalie is out of the blue, you can’t hit them, but if they’re in the blue you can hit them as much as you want. If you touch a goalie when he leaves the crease to go behind the net, you’re going to the box every single time. How often is there contact with the goalie with the crease? It makes zero sense. None. You can’t interfere on dumps, but what about when they’re standing in front of your own net?”
Scouting the Huskies
Merrimack closes out its season series with UConn tonight against the Huskies at Lawler Arena (7 p.m.). Merrimack beat UConn in overtime, 3-2, last Friday night down in Hartford at the XL Center. Dennehy said he’s looking for the Warriors to be more consistent in tonight’s rematch.
“We just need to be more consistent from shift to shift,” he said. “We played some really good hockey on Friday against UConn, and then we had some plays where we broke all the way down. They’re a good team in transition and I thought we gave them way too much of it. There would be five minutes of good hockey, and then two minutes of ‘hold on to your hat.’ Our best and our worst can’t be so far apart.”
Merrimack can’t retaliate
“It was a frustrating game,” Dennehy said of last Saturday’s game against Providence. “One of the most frustrating fights I ever watched was (Marvin) Hagler vs. Sugar Ray. Anyone who was a Hagler fan thought he won the fight because he was in there and Sugar Ray was just counterpunching. We weren’t the aggressor often (against Providence) but then we’d take a retaliatory penalty. We absolutely need to be more disciplined than that. The retaliation get called. You know that going back to Pee Wee hockey.”
Dennehy said that how physical the Warriors play can depend on the opponent. He pointed to Providence as a team you need to play more physical against in order to have success.
“Against certain teams we need to be more physical,” he said. “Against, Providence we needed to, for sure. Providence plays a game that’s more on the edge and you have to match that a little bit. That game hinged on a few plays. We didn’t play our best game, but that game hinged on a couple of plays. It was 2-1 late in the second period.”
Merrimack only had nine shots on goal through two periods on Saturday and finished with only 12 in the game, but despite the low quantity, the Warriors chances were high quality, scoring twice in the early portions of the game.
“The quality of chances was there, but we needed more,” he said. “I thought the shot totals were off, but they were low regardless. We didn’t go to the net as hard and we didn’t fight to get to the net. We didn’t play a great game. Being more determined around the net is one of the areas where we can definitely button things up.”
Bouncing around the lines
Last Friday night against UConn, the Warriors bumped Sami Tavernier up to a line with Brett Seney and Jace Hennig in the overtime and Tavernier scored the game-winner just seconds into the extra session. Then again on Saturday, Tavernier was moved up with Seney and Hennig late in the game against the Friars, when the Warriors were pressing for a goal to get back in the game during the third period.
“If you’re not scoring, I do feel like we have the ability to bounce some guys around,” Dennehy said. “There is a closer skill set between each line, so we can make different pairings where in the past there was more delineation between the top-six and the bottom-six. We have decent balance. Providence has excellent balance, but we have decent balance and that allows us to bounce things around a little bit if we feel like we need to.”
Mike McMahon covers Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MIkeMcMahonCHN or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org