Power Rankings: The “Defensive … And Some Other Things” Edition

By November 18, 2014 September 26th, 2015 Opinion

So far this year in these rankings, a common theme has sort of been the absurd goaltending that has gone on in the WCHA.

I often joke about C.J. Motte of Ferris State being a cyborg (because he is) and that kind of got me thinking. So far this year, Motte hasn’t been the best goalie in the WCHA. In fact, he hasn’t been the second best either. So I did a little digging.

No, not digging to find the best two goalies in the league. Because that’s obvious (those are Mathias Dahlstrom and Jamie Phillips, if you needed help figuring that out). I wanted to see how the WCHA goaltending compared nationally.

Among goalies who have played at least 33 percent of their respective team’s total minutes this year (the threshold to qualify), the WCHA has four goalies in the top 10 of save percentage nationally: Dahlstrom (.970, 1st), Phillips (.957, 3rd), Motte (.948, 7th) and Carmine Guerriero (.938, 10th).

What’s even more impressive is Dahlstrom, Phillips and Motte have each started every game for their team. No one else in the top 10 falls into that category (the most games played by anyone else in the top 10 is six). What does that mean? Basically, those three have a larger sample size to go on and essentially have had more opportunities to screw up. Well, not as much Dahlstrom since Northern Michigan has only played eight games this year, but you get the point. The more you play, the more chances you have to regress to the mean.

Are these numbers sustainable? Well, probably not. Not that any of these four are going to fall off a cliff or are bad goalies or anything. But maintaining save percentages over .940 is not easy to do unless you’re god (and in Guerriero’s case it’s hard to maintain that when you face 40 shots a night).

The other issue on that front is, aside from Motte to a small extend, each of these goalies is playing well outside of their career averages, suggesting their respective starts could be an outlier more so than a new trend.

Dahlstrom was good as a redshirt freshman last year, posting a 2.64 GAA and .916 save percent. In his one year in the USHL he had a 3.20 GAA and .906 save percent. So yeah I’d expect some regression on that front. The question we faced last week is: how much regression and can Northern score enough to keep winning when it inevitable comes?

Phillips, being a junior, has a little more to go on at least in terms of his college career. He played one year in the BCHL before coming to Tech and was good. Good enough to be taken by Winnipeg in the 7th round of the 2012 NHL Draft (he had a 2.01 GAA and .921 save percent). However, the first two years of his college career were not good.

In fact, he was abysmal last year. He had a 2.82 GAA and .892 save percent. He was so bad he played his way out of splitting weekends with Pheonix “yes that’s how it’s really spelt” Copley. His season so far hasn’t been as obnoxiously unsustainable as Dahlstrom’s has, and obviously he has a great team in front of him. So I really don’t know what to make of him.

Guerriero was probably the lone bright stop for Huntsville last year. Despite a 3.90 GAA he had a .905 save percent. That’s unnatural and speaks to the team around him. His junior numbers in the CCHL were good, so he has what it takes. Like I said above, I just think it’s going to be hard for him to maintain his current pace facing 40 shots a night.

Motte, on the other hand, has a proven track record at this level. In his first three years at Ferris, he has never posted a GAA higher than 2.19 or a save percent below .925. That’s quite remarkable, and the reason I think he has a chance to maintain his current pace.

He was solid his one year in the NAHL, he was solid his second year in the USHL and at 22 (turning 23 next month) he’s relatively young for college hockey senior. I can’t wait to see what he does when he goes pro. Let’s get into it.

1. Michigan Tech (LW: 1): So now not only is Michigan Tech the top team in the WCHA, it’s also the best team in the nation. At least according to the people who vote in the USCHO poll. As the last undefeated team in the nation, that has some logic to it.

As if the Huskies didn’t already have enough offensive weapons (how weird is that to saw after last year?) Tyler Heinonen has five points in five games since coming back from missing four straight earlier this year. Add in Tanner Kero having a career year, Alex Petan doing Alex Petan things, Blake Pietila doing Blake Pietila things and whatnot and you have a pretty stacked team.

The funny thing is they’re doing this without Mr. Everything defenseman Shane Hanna doing much of anything on the offensive end. OK, five points in 10 games isn’t bad, but I had higher hopes for him. Just wait until he gets going. They might need to stock up on red lightbulbs in Houghton.

2. Bowling Green (LW: 2): A funny thing has happened: BG has officially reached the point where it can split a weekend and still move up in the standings.

Hooray! Whatever. I thought a split would be the stay in the top-20 would be short-lived but I’m glad that’s not the case. Maybe being ranked will get people out to the Bemidji games this weekend (which hopefully this guy will get to be at). Will be a good test for the Falcons against a team that was relatively competitive (at least in the first game) against Michigan Tech last weekend.

3. Minnesota State (LW: 3): Northern could join in this category based on what it does coming up (since the Wildcats have only played four league games) but to this point, these top three teams have kind of separated from the rest of the pack in the WCHA.

Everyone else (besides Alaska, but they don’t count) has played at least six league games, and are at least four points behind the top three. That’s some pretty good separation for it only being a few weeks into the season. Obviously teams run hot and cold, and a bad couple of weekend can doom you. But so far these first three teams (plus Northern) have been by far the most impressive of the bunch. The top three are a combined 18-2 in WCHA play, and those two losses game against each other (BG and Mankato splitting).

Why am I mentioning this here? The Mavericks were off last weekend and I didn’t have anything else to talk about. Ha ha let’s move on.

4. Northern Michigan (LW: 4): Just kidding Northern was off too so nothing to see here. On a side note, I feel like this happened to the Wildcats last year, where they had like four fewer WCHA games played than everyone in the middle of January and had to play catchup while everyone had much-needed bye weeks. What a rotten deal that is for them.

5. Ferris State (LW: 5): So uhhh holy cow Ferris. Apparently the Bulldogs didn’t like being questioned about their offensive ineptitude and decided to take it out on poor Anchorage.

Entering the weekend, Ferris had scored 11 goals in nine games. In two games this weekend, it scored 14. That’s not a joke. What is kind of funny though is even after that, the Bulldogs are averaging only 2.27 goals per game.

So which Ferris is the real Ferris? Neither, I think. Well duh, the Bulldogs aren’t going to average seven goals a game the rest of the year, but I don’t think they average 1.2 per either. I think that scoring outburst puts them right where they will end up: a mediocre offensive team with great goaltending. Speaking of which, Motte gave up only one goal on 32 shots this weekend. Cyborg.

6. Bemidji State (LW: 6): The Beavers don’t really deserve to stay put for the weekend they had, but they also don’t deserve to fall below any of the other teams down here. Is that the state the WCHA has fallen into? Goodness I need to reevaluate what I think about the top half of this league (just kidding). I all seriousness, no shame in losing to Tech, although there is some shame in getting swept on home ice. Oh well, the Huskies are too good right now.

7. Alaska (LW: 8): Speaking of teams that were off. No game for Alaska this weekend, which I bet its neighbors in Anchorage wish had been the case for them.

8. Alabama Huntsville (LW: 9): Moving on up in the world! The Chargers didn’t really do anything to warrant this but … well we’ll get to that in a second. Props to the Chargers though, who won a D-I game at home for the first time in quite awhile, and looked good in the process. If only they could’ve used some of that offense in a game-one, 1-0 loss with Guerriero in net.

9. Lake Superior (LW: 10): Despite only getting a split this weekend, Lake still sits two points clear of Huntsville in the league standings and thus still has a grip on that last playoff spot. The Lakers defense has been pretty gross this year, so they’ll need to get that fixed to have a chance of hanging on. Fortunately for them, their defense wasn’t as gross as …

10. Alaska-Anchorage (LW: 7): Any time you get outscored 14-2 in a weekend, you deserve to have this happen to you. On a side note, I’m glad there’s enough “competition” at the bottom of the league to make this little move a possibility. Get it together, Anchorage!

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.