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I will admit that I didn’t have the highest expectations for Minnesota this season, and I will take whatever I have coming to me if the Gophers turn out to be as good as they looked in stretches last weekend.

I picked them for seventh in the WCHA after going through a statistical analysis of which teams had what coming back. The Gophers lost 54.1 percent of their goalscoring and 49.2 percent of their points last season, so I figured they wouldn’t improve on the seventh-place finish of last season.

They still have 24 league games left to play, but their start to the season has me rethinking the value of those stats I pulled out before the season.

You had to be impressed by the way Ryan Stoa made his presence felt in last weekend’s series at Wisconsin. The junior captain started the Gophers’ rally from a 2-0 deficit on Friday with a second-period goal, then made a critical defensive play to keep the deficit at one in the third, setting up the late tying goal by freshman defenseman Sam Lofquist.

On Saturday, he scored twice, the first just six seconds after the opening faceoff.

Maybe he was the missing ingredient last season. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game, and Minnesota flat-out struggled to score goals all year.

“He’s our best player,” Gophers coach Don Lucia said after Saturday’s game. “And you can see how good a player he is and how much we missed him last year, a guy like that. He’s not only our best player on the ice, he’s done a great job as captain. He’s very selfless. He doesn’t care if he scores. He just wants to win.”

If he scores regularly, however, chances are the Gophers will fulfill both ends of that.

  • Blueliner

    Nice job Dave. Well researched and thought out. Goalies sometimes get too much of the credit for goals against average. Often, team defense [ including backchecking forwards ] can keep many shots from getting off.

    • Dave Hendrickson

      Thanks. Defense is a team game. The goalscorers and the goalies tend to get the headlines and virtually all the awards but the defensemen and backcheckers are the unsung heroes.

  • Anonymous

    Solid points, Maine’s defense has held them back all season till recently. Their goaltending has been shaky but if their d could have held leads they would have home ice.

  • Anonymous

    Solid points, Maine’s defense has held them back all season till recently. Their goaltending has been shaky but if their d could have held leads they would have home ice.

    • Dave Hendrickson

      Maine’s season has been a frustrating one for their fans. It still could have a happy ending, though. I thought their goaltending was so bad it would singlehandedly sink them (regardless of the D, good or bad), but that’s turned around in a big way. I don’t think Merrimack wants to see Maine coming into its rink for the quarterfinals.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, of the three goalies to break Jimmy Howard’s continuous shut out streak I would not have predicted it to be Sullivan either. As long as Sullivan is playing in this zone they have the potential to be dangerous, but I am reserving my enthusiasm due to their inconsistency all season. Merrimack would be a great match-up for Maine, though in what appears to be a home ice league I would love to see Merrimack coming to the ALfond, but that is a long shot.

  • Sean Pickett

    Dave, interesting article on team defense and winning. It made me curious about the correlation between the two back to the start of Hockey East, so I went to the league website to do some additional research. You don’t state which team defense stats you used, conference or overall, but your comment about Boston College in 2007 being 5th indicates you used conference stats. Either way, you made a mistake, as Boston University was 5th in conference defense (4th overall) in 2005-06. BC was also 3rd in conference defense in 2007-08 (1st overall).

    As the Hockey East website only has overall stats back to the 2000-01 season I used conference stats for my correlation of team defense to winning. The results are even more convincing over the entire history of the league that team defense is “the statistic of champions”. Eighteen tournament champions were1st (11) or 2nd (6), while six were 3rd, with only BU (5th) in 2006 and BC (5th) in 2007 lower. This correlation is even stronger for the regular season champions, as twenty-three finished 1st (16) or 2nd (7), while just four finished 3rd, one 4th and one 5th. The three times there were co-champions they finished 1-2 twice and tied for 1st the other time.

    Sean Pickett

    • Dave Hendrickson

      That’s a frustrating error. In the 2008 case, BC had a 2.48 GAPG (goals against per game), which I thought was second to UNH, but Providence’s number was 2.44 so the Friars were second by a single goal. Providence was on the row right after BC and the GAPG was the ninth column so I must have crossed rows. The point still holds since the numbers were virtually identical. The 2006 BU error, however, is one I’m scratching my head over. Did I use BU’s number from 2006-2007 (which was first)? No. Because my notes had the Terriers as second in team D. I must have scrolled to the wrong column (column 7 instead of 9) and used that they were second in offense instead of defense. But as you point out, the numbers do hold up over the long haul. My apologies for the error. I’d spent all the previous day in airports and was exhausted and jet-lagged. Clearly my eyes weren’t working as well as usual.