During the October 24 game against the University of Massachusetts Minutemen it looked like the Northeastern Huskies were being dominated on the face-off. Some may consider the word dominated to be a bit harsh, as they did win 42% of their face-offs, but it was clear that it was not their best night in this area. And while it certainly wasn’t the reason for their fourth straight loss of the regular season, it did get me wondering about their multi-game statistics in this area up to this point. Was the game against UMass an anomaly? Was this struggle on face-offs becoming a trend?

northeastern-coach-madiganDuring the postgame media availability, I did ask head coach Jim Madigan about the issues in the dot for the team that night and if it was a concern.

“Yah, that’s always something that we need to work on. I thought we won a couple of key face-offs there, but we need to get better in the dot,” he responded. “It’s just not our center icemen, it’s all five guys. There’s times when our center icemen aren’t tying up, just not getting to the pucks quick enough.”

Looking back at the statistics since the pre-season, up through the game on October 24th, a total of five games, it was clear that their first two games were much better for most of their centermen—especially John Stevens and Michael Szmatula, each of whom see more than ten face-offs a game. Dalen Hedges, the Huskies other main centerman has rebounded better than the others.

Szmatula seemed to be almost magical during their first Hockey East tilt against the University of Vermont Catamounts when he won an impressive 72% of his face-offs. And then came the first of two games against the Colgate University Raiders in which it was clear he was off his game. Since then he has been steadily climbing back up, but is still well under his earliest games.

John Stevens, who played with Szmatula for the Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) before they both joined Northeastern as freshmen last season, likewise was either off his game or not expecting the skill that Colgate had in the dot, as his averages also dipped that first game. And like Szmatula he is working on getting back to above 50%.


Northeastern Face-Off Wins 2014-15 Season

Of the four centermen shown in the graph, Tanner Pond’s steady climb is perhaps a little misleading, as he has seen the least face-offs of these players. And the graph does not show all the Husky players who have taken a face-off, just the four who have seen the most over the course of the five games played, and in Pond’s case he was out in the game against the Minutemen—freshman Nolan Stevens, brother of John, taking his position for that game. Nolan won two of the six face-offs he saw, so was at 33% in that game.

The Huskies have lost all five of the games they have played as of October 31st, but Madigan was pleased with the jump and pressure that his team showed in the game against the Minutemen. In fact, they peppered the UMass freshman goalie, Henry Dill, with an astounding 42 shots, only two of which got past him.

The team is on the road and will take on Quinnipiac in two games this weekend. Next weekend they will have a home and home against the UMass Lowell River Hawks—the 2014 Hockey East Champions—followed by four more Hockey East tilts. And it’s these division games that they want to see in the win column.

Though the face-off struggles have not been the reason for their losses, it is certainly an area that they will want to improve, especially to protect the house when the face-off is in their end of the ice. The team as a whole is made up of hard-working, hockey-smart players and it will be interesting to continue to watch this statistic going forward in the season.


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