Feeling the Force in Montreal — Worlds rolls on — University of Michigan on quest for a varsity program
The IX: Hockey Friday with Eleni Demestihas, September 2, 2022
Hi folks, happy Friday! I thought I’d take this week to plug some of the brilliant stats work that’s being done around Worlds this week. I’ll update you on PHF Montreal and then wrap up with a short interview with University of Michigan head coach Jenna Trubiano.
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Worlds is wrapping up and we’re down to the semifinals. The US will play the Czech Republic, and Canada will play Switzerland. I won’t recap every game, but here are some of the major points I’ve seen over the last week.
Finland had a tournament to forget. It’s not necessarily surprising to see them lose to the US and Canada, but they did not look great in general. With the Czech team looking better than ever, I wasn’t totally surprised to see that young team take Finland to the brink in the quarterfinals. I was a little surprised that Finland didn’t pull out a win. Finland has never failed to play for a medal at Worlds since the first tournament. This will be the first time they don’t make it to the semifinals. I’m sure many of us will write some kind of post mortem about what happened there once we’ve had more time to reflect.
Czechia has looked amazing. They went with a really young roster, held together by veterans like Katerina Mrázová and Denisa Krisova. Those young players have had an incredible, fast, fun tournament and have really excited me. Carla MacLeod, a retired Canadian defender, is their coach, and she has shown that she has a totally underrated hockey mind. I haven’t seen nearly enough people hyping up her role in this progress, hopefully that will come with time as well.
The US looks, frankly, much better than I expected them to. The Olympics were disappointing across the board. They’ve fixed their powerplay, they’ve been scoring at even strength, and their defense has been good for most of the tournament. Nicole Hensley appears to have won back the starting role in net and has been very solid back there. The college kids, most notably Taylor Heise and Hannah Bilka, have really inspired some confidence as far as passing the torch goes. And of course, Hilary Knight is still Hilary Knight, and has set a new all-time points record.
Canada looks slow and a little bit lost, to me. They really need Poulin to get going if they’re going to beat the US in a medal game. That being said, Poulin loves beating the US in medal games, so maybe I’d be more worried about what appears to be some difficulty communicating that’s leading to Canada having trouble exiting the neutral zone and opened them up to too many shots against when they played the US in preliminary rounds.
Sweden held Canada to only three goals in the quarterfinals, which is incredible for them. That’s another program that I expect will only get better in the next few years. If they can get their scoring going, they could be challenging Czechia and Finland next tournament, at the very least.
The Ice Garden has game recaps available if you’d like more granular detail.
Statistics from Worlds
A few stats projects I’ve seen over the last week that are really interesting:
An Nguyen has been working on visualizations for Time On Ice (TOI):
Alyssa has been making these sweet shot maps available:
The Bucketless has some heat maps:
PHF Montreal has announced their new name: the Montreal Force. They also released their jerseys.
I’m personally a sucker for black and maroon jerseys, so these are some of my favorites.
You can read more about the team and it’s name here, as Ian Kennedy at The Hockey News breaks it all down.
A coach conversation
Finally, this week I had the opportunity to speak with the University of Michigan head coach, Jenna Trubiano. The University of Michigan fields a DI ACHA program. As of today, there are no NCAA women’s hockey programs in the state of Michigan, which is especially bizarre when you consider the men’s team at the university is perennially one of the best in the nation.
Jenna was a student and a player at the University of Michigan. She attended between 2013 and 2017 and stayed in the area after graduation. The head coach at the time reached out to hire her as an assistant, although she said she was initially reluctant, because “coaching some of your former teammates can feel a little weird,” but she followed up by saying the decision was one of the best she’s made in her life. She believes the program could be one of the best in the country at any level, if given the chance.
“Our program was founded in 1995, so we’ll be in our twenty-seventh season this year,” she told me.
The team has always competed in the first division of the ACHA, but she says she gets a lot of questions about when the program is going varsity, and she doesn’t know the answer to that. Instead, I asked her what it would take, and she told me the story of how close the program has gotten before.
“We were up for contention in 1997, 1998. At that time, Michigan was going to elevate two programs: women’s hockey and men’s soccer. We put together a bid, I guess is what I would call it, to the Board of Regents, but they selected men’s soccer and women’s water polo. We were told it happened because it would cost, at that time, $750,000 for the women’s hockey program and only $350,000 for women’s water polo.”
Money, she says, is always cited as the biggest issue. But she points out that the school spends a lot of money on almost anything else, including a massive new scoreboard in the rink where the men’s team plays. It’s not much of a secret that Red Berenson, the former head coach of the men’s team, did not want to share space, ice, or time with a women’s team. He still has a presence around the school, so they may face an uphill battle getting to use the same facilities as the men’s team, and being promoted. Maybe more pressure on the school and more publicity will help. I think we can all agree that’s more than a little bit absurd.
Still, Trubiano says she has no trouble recruiting. “Michigan sort of sells itself,” she told me. “We can offer the big time experience at a top school in the nation.”
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