Woods Watching: Wisconsin vs. Denver

Something you may have noticed is that I haven’t posted any updates on Carolina’s NCAA prospects in a couple weeks. The reason for this is because there are usually only two games per weekend in the college rankings and with only five players to track, there isn’t much to say about them unless they had a big performance. This is especially true if you don’t have a chance to watch any of their games, which has been the case for me and the Hurricanes NCAA prospects this year. That is, until last night when I tuned into NBC Sports to watch the Wisconsin/Denver game featuring Carolina’s 2012 fifth round draft pick Brendan Woods. 

Woods isn’t one of the team’s highly regarded prospects and he is only a borderline top-six player on a struggling Wisconsin Badgers squad, but getting a closer look at him to dissect the pros and cons of his playing style is never a bad thing. Watching this game also gives us a chance to look at some other team’s prospects as there were many NHL draft picks playing in this game and keep an eye on some players who might be entering the draft this summer. This also gives me a chance to finally do some statistical tracking with college hockey, which is something that’s been on my to-do list for awhile. Better late than never, I suppose. 

After the jump, I will breakdown the Denver/Wisconsin game a little bit and point out some things in Woods’ performance that stood out to me.

The Game

The Badgers entered this contest with only one win under their belts and were about to take on the fifth ranked team in the nation and a very good home team in the Denver University Pioneers. Given that and how anemic Wisconsin’s offense has looked this season, many expected them to be blown out, but they actually gave Denver a good battle and ended up tying them 1-1. They were very close to pulling off the upset, as they had a 1-0 lead with less than 90 seconds remaining in the game but Denver’s Joey LaLeggia was able to sneak a sharp angle shot past Wisconsin goaltender Joel Rumpel to tie the game.

All points are important, but I’m sure the Badgers would have much preferred getting the win in this situation because they actually played a very solid game. They outshot Denver 33-31 overall, 29-25 at even strength and had a commanding lead in even strength shot attempts with a 67-51 advantage. Wisconsin had a very solid gameplan for Denver’s high-powered offense and were in good position to win the game until the last two minutes. It has to be frustrating that they let this one slip away but judging from what I saw, this Badgers team is much better than their record shows.

I think Wisconsin played a good game overall and well enough to win this kind of game, but the shot totals are a bit deceptive. Despite outshooting Denver in all phases of the game, they actually came out on the lesser end in terms of scoring chances.

Note: Chances are color coded as the team’s school colors. This shows overall chances for both teams and not from one team’s perspective. I feel that is a bit easier to understand for this post.

Wisconsin only created 12 scoring chances during this game and over half of them came in the final period where they scored their only goal. The problem with the Badgers game plan is that while they were controlling the play, they were not getting many good shots away. Most of their shots came from bad angles or were too far away to be considered scoring chances. This isn’t counting the dozens of other shots they had blocked or fanned on. A prime example of this came in the first period where the Badgers had a two-on-one opportunity where the shooter ended up fanning on the shot. Wisconsin was able to forecheck well and at least control possession but they had some major trouble with finishing their chances. Their only goal coming off a deflection in front kind of sums up how their night went.

The third period was the only frame where the Badgers seem to open things up and produce a lot of offense and it came with some mixed results. Wisconsin generated more chances that period but they also gave up a lot to Denver, as well. Granted, the Pioneers had a powerplay during the third period so that’s partially why, but Denver still matched them in even strength chances. Before that period, the Badgers did a fine job of limiting Denver’s chances at even strength and managed not to get destroyed in terms of scoring chances. As I said earlier, the Badgers were the team controlling play but they had trouble making the most of their time with the puck.

Wisconsin Individual Shot & Chance Numbers

  • Another problem the Badgers had was that they weren’t getting any production at all from their bottom-six, as all of their chances came from their top-two lines with the exception of defenseman Jake McCabe. They had players who were forechecking will and getting decent zone time, but they weren’t getting many dangerous shots away.
  • Michael Mercsh was the Badgers’ lone goal-scorer and he may have been their best player not named Joel Rumpel. He was definitely their most effective offensive player with nine shot attempts and three scoring chances produced during even strength play. His goal may have come off a deflection, but he deserves any praise he gets for the game he played.
  • Nic Kerdiles looked pretty solid in his first game back from a suspension. He looked relatively strong in the offensive zone and was one of their few players who was able to produce at least a couple of quality chances.
  • Ramage had a pretty good night with 10 shot attempts, three shots and earned an assist when his shot from the point deflected off Mersch for the Badgers’ only goal. I haven’t been following his performance this year, but he was one of Wisconsin’s better players when it came to defensive play and he definitely got himself involved at the other end, too.
  • Dahl was quiet for most of the game but he had the best chance of the night, when he had a breakaway out of the penalty box with less than a minute left in overtime.

Denver Individual Shot & Scoring Chance Numbers

  • The NBC Crew mentioned a few times that Denver has one of the most dangerous and aggressive defense corps in the nation. They sort of lived up to that billing tonight as their blue-liners produced six chances and their only goal of the game. Three of those chances came from David Makowski, who did a lot of damage at even strength and led the team in shots on goal.
  • Denver didn’t have many standouts tonight but I thought Matt Tabrum was their most impressive player, as he gave the Badgers defense a lot of trouble with his speed and dynamic play. Nick Shore also had a strong offensive showing with eight shot attempts but only one of them was a legit scoring chance. I think this is where you have to give the Badgers defense some credit, as they didn’t allow many of the Pioneers forwards to get to them too badly.
  • Building off the last point, it’s worth noting that Denver had a much more balanced attack compared to Wisconsin so they were able to get at least some production from most of their lines. You can see that Shore, Tabrum, Larraza and Knowlton were all able to produce a decent amount of offense while some of their lower lines players such as Ty Loney also chipped in.

Thoughts on Woods

Woods was the third line center for this game, so he was primarly used in a forechecking type of role and he did his job all things considered. He was able to get the puck deep into the Denver zone on multiple occasions and win battles along the boards to help keep the puck there. This is about all he did that stood out, though as he didn’t do much in terms of producing offense and wasn’t used on the PK either. Sure, he had five shot attempts, but only two got on net and those came from bad angles that are easy stops for just about any goaltender. He also got knocked off the puck in open ice relatively easily on a few occasions. This was kind of strange to me because he didn’t have much trouble when it came to playing physical along the boards.

Woods also went 3/7 on faceoffs, winning two of those in the first period and the coaches didn’t really have any specific areas or situations that they used him in. I was a little surprised that he wasn’t used on the PK because he plays a checking-line role and has very sound position and defensive instincts, but I guess the coaches don’t full trust him there yet. That probably relates to his poor face-off percentage, as the PK is one of the few areas where winning face-offs is crucial.

The best shift for Woods was either his first one of the game where he forced a turnover off a bad pass or his fifth shift of the second period when he was able to win a battle for the puck along the boards and make an initial pass to set up two shots on goal. His worst shift was his first one of the second period where he made a wayward pass in the neutral zone that ended up resulting in a turnover the other way. He also took a blow to the head from a Denver player in the second period but appeared to be no worse for wear after it.

So, in other words, Woods didn’t do anything game-breaking in any fashion but he had a decent performance for a third-liner at this level.

Shot data taken from Denver University’s stat site