Morning Observations: Sweeping into the Meat Grinder

By November 4, 2013Opinion

Every week Ryan breaks down the past weekend’s games (for better or worse) in his “Morning Observations.” Sometimes they’re humorous, sometimes they’re serious, and sometimes they change the world as you know it. Regardless, enjoy the thoughts of Mr. Satkowiak and send all adoration/hate his way to Ryan@bgsuhockey.com.

In the old CCHA weekend sweeps were hard to come by for the Falcons.

Like, really hard. In Chris Bergeron’s first three seasons as head coach of the Falcons, BG swept a CCHA weekend series with a pair of regulation/overtime wins only one time: last February against Lake Superior. That total improves to two if you include the double shootout wins against Ohio State two seasons ago, which really shouldn’t because shootouts are dumb. But either way, two conference series’ sweeps in three seasons is pretty not good.

Now, in the WCHA, they might be a tad easier to come by. The league is not as good and the Falcons are a lot better than they have been in those first three years. BG is one-for-one thanks to its weekend domination Alaska-Anchorage. It was a great start for the Falcons in the new league. Last season, once again not counting shootouts, BG did not pick up its second CCHA win until its 10th conference game, Dec. 7 against Alaska. Improvement all around!

Yes, it was a great weekend at the BGSU Ice Arena and fans and the team should rightfully feel good about it. That being said, as is my nature, I’m going to give you a reason you shouldn’t be getting too excited about it just yet.

Before I get into the Debbie Downer routine, I just noticed something I wanted to point out. As of this moment, BG is tied for second in the WCHA in scoring offense (3.38 goals per game) and is alone in second in scoring defense (2.25 goals against per game). That’s in overall games, not just conference games. So that’s pretty impressive, regardless of how early in the season it is. I don’t remember the last time BG was that high up in either category at any point in the season. OK, now that I got that out of my system, let’s get into it.

Pump the breaks: Let’s take a quick look at the teams BG has played so far this season and how they stack up and stuff like that.

Union is now 3-2-2 on the season and after starting the season ranked No. 16 in the USCHO dot com poll, is now unranked and not even receiving votes. Their most impressive win this season has arguably been against the Falcons.

Ohio State met the Falcons on two separate occasions, but we’ll lump it into one here for the sake of clarity. The Buckeyes are 4-4 and just split with Minnesota-Duluth, which is an OK-but-not-great team that has been in and out of the USCHO poll (but not the USA Today poll) for the first couple of weeks of the season.

Colgate is 3-5-1 win wins against Ferris (good), RIT (not good) and Princeton (even worse).

That brings us to Anchorage. The Seawolves are 3-3 after this weekend and have some impressive wins this season. But, as Drew and I both touched on this weekend on Twitter and as I have discussed almost ad nauseam in “Power Rankings” their record is deceiving. This weekend was the first time this year they ventured outside of Alaska for games. In past years, they’ve done well at these preseason Alaskan tournaments before falling back to earth once they leave the state.

That means the combined records of the teams BG has played this far is 13-14-3. If I’m not mistaken on how you calculate ties into winning percentage, BG’s opponents winning percent is .517. That’s not bad, it’s respectable. It also means BG’s 4-2-2 record is probably right where it should be.

But it also means you should really be holding your horses, especially with this last weekend against Anchorage. Yes, as we have established, sweeping any conference opponent is a good thing. Doing so in which you hold a 7-1 scoring advantage is also good. But Alaska is not good and you thinking that BG sweeping them means they’re obviously among the best teams in the league is a tad premature.

OK, that might be a poor way to phrase it. Because I do think, even before this weekend, that BG is one of the better teams in the WCHA. But where I place them I can’t really determine yet. As I discussed last week, we will find out exactly how good BG is this month, so for the sake of your own sanity, it’s probably in your best interest to wait a few weeks before you pass judgment on this squad. BG gets WCHA big boys Mankato (twice), Ferris and Lake Superior this month, so if BG is still winning games at the rate it has been when we’re heading into December, then we can talk about what our expectations for this team are. But pardon me if a weekend sweep over a team that won only one game outside of Alaska last season doesn’t have me terribly excited yet.

Sholl stopper: I’m actually gonna talk about both goalies here, but I wanted to use that phrase because I literally just thought of it on the spot and thought I was oh so clever.

I really don’t know what to make of Tomas Sholl at this point in the season. His 2-2 record is good, especially for a freshman, and his two shutouts in four games is bananas (tied for first nationally). But it’s the other two games that I can’t really get past.

He’s given up nine goals this season. In four games, that comes out to a 2.26 goals-against average. Howevah, as you can probably infer, those nine goals were given up in two games, not four, which creates a pretty interesting case.

What complicates things further is that the two games in which he got shelled were against the two better teams he faced. OK, granted, the game against Union he gave up four goals while BG was shorthanded, and against Ohio State his defense seemingly failed him. But still.

His save percentage, .902, is not great. As of right now, it’s better than what Tommy Burke had last season. But it goes back to the fact that he isn’t facing a ton of shots. He’s faced 92 on the season, or an average of 23 per game. He faced only 20 shots in his shutout of Colgate. He faced only 16 against Anchorage.

Much like the rest of this team, we’ll get a much better idea of who Tomas Sholl is in the coming weeks. Since I have no reason to believe Bergeron breaks up this so-far-successful goalie spilt, he’ll get two starts against Mankato, one against Ferris and one against Lake this month. That’s a slate that will put some hair on your chest.

Tommy Burke, on the other hand, continues to go about his business without as much fanfare. He has no shutouts, but his 1.92 GAA (11th in the nation) and .916 save percent are both very good. He also hasn’t lost this year, with a 2-0-2 record. He also doesn’t have this pretty ridiculous split of success that Sholl has. He’s given up three goals in two games, and one goal in the other two.

Burke hasn’t faced much more in terms of offense than Sholl; through four games he’s faced 95 shots. So after eight games total, BG is allowing opponents about 24 shots a game, which is really good. I questioned before the year, especially after the last few years, if limiting shots was a viable strategy going forward. Eight games isn’t a huge sample size and BG hasn’t really faced a team that can push the pace a ton yet, but it appears that’s what they are trying to do and thus far have been very successful at doing it.

Ralfs: I don’t think there’s a player on this team who is having a quieter, successful season than Ralfs Freibergs.

I can’t give you an exact number of players ahead of him, because I’m not having a good time trying to navigate USCHO’s stats page, but he is among the nation’s leaders in defenseman scoring.

Ahti Oksanen of Boston University leads the nation in defensemen scoring with nine points — two goals seven assists in eight games. Also in eight games, Freibergs has seven assists. That’s tied for 11th in the nation and third nationally among defensemen.

He hasn’t been putting the puck in the net, but that’s not really what he’s here for. He’s a fantastic passer and power play quarterback. He’s a huge reason BG is running 22 percent on the power play so far this season.

Also, I thought his potential offensive contributions to this team were a little bit overstated during his NCAA-mandated exile last season. I’ll glad to report I was very wrong. In 16 games in a BG uniform, he has 14 points. That’s pretty good for a forward. As a defenseman, that’s borderline outstanding. It’s been awhile since BG had a legit No. 1 point-producing defensemen. Kevin Schmidt had 25 points in 40 games in 07-08, which is not borderline outstanding, but merely good. That’s been pretty much it for the last eight or nine years. The Falcons finally have one and it’s been a boon to their offensive production.

The Meat Grinder: It’s still pretty early in the season. Duh, we’ve played two conference games. But the rest of November is pretty much going to make or break BG’s expectations for this season.

I already mention the schedule so I won’t do it again. What I will do is remind you that Mankato and Ferris were, according to the media and coaches, the two best teams in the WCHA entering the season. They haven’t really done a lot to suggest otherwise. Mankato is a disappointing 3-3 but is 3-1 since it’s opening-weekend brain fart against Providence. Ferris is 5-2 and just had a decent-but-not-great sweep against Huntsville.

Lake, on the other hand, was an early-season surprise, starting off 4-0 and made its way up to No. 12 in the USA Today poll. However, it got a little exposed against Wisconsin last weekend, tying in game one and losing 8-1 in game two. BG also has Lake’s number, winning four of five meetings last season but a combined score of 24-9.

What further complicates matters for BG is three of the four sets will be on the road. The shortest of the trips will be four hours to Ferris. This is the type of stretch that can exhaust a team, both physically and mentally.

After this month, BG’s schedule is incredibly manageable. The Falcons won’t play on the road in back-to-back weekends again, which is a pretty big deal. Perhaps the biggest thing is, aside from an exhibition against the U.S. U-18 team three days after returning, the Falcons have 12 days between regular season games after returning from its Alaska trip.

The bottom line here is if BG slumps through this month’s stretch of games, it’s not the end of the world because it should be able to have good amounts of success against the rest of its schedule. But if the Falcons want to be regarded as one of the best in the WCHA, it’s paramount for them to establish success against the conference’s big boys this month.

Ryan Satkowiak

About Ryan Satkowiak

Ryan is a features and column writer for BGSUHockey.com. During the day, he works part time for the Sentinel-Tribune and the Findlay Courier, and is a part-time people seater at Buffalo Wild Wings. Ryan covered the BG hockey team for The BG News for two and a half years during his time at BG. You can chat him up on Twitter @Ryan_Satkowiak or by e-mail at Ryan@bgsuhockey.com.

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