Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Debunking the WCHA Myth

Let me be perfectly clear about this at the outset: I do think the WCHA is the best conference.

Where I disagree, however, is with the people who think that the mediocre teams in the WCHA are better than they are, solely because they're in the WCHA. I also disagree that the CCHA is a joke and that outside of the top 4, it's a horrible conference.

One of my favorite things to do is to take a look at numbers, with almost no idea about where they're going to lead me. I did it with the CCHA officials and I think that piece ended up being fairly interesting. The majority of this article was written over at USCHO in the "Minnesota State is over-rated" thread, which was basically making fun of the WCHA fans.

I find it amusing that when Miami loses to Ferris or Alaska, it's evidence that they're overrated and supports the idea that the CCHA sucks. But when CC loses to Michigan Tech, it's evidence of how deep that conference even the bad teams are still really good.

The strength of schedule of the WCHA is part of the reason that everyone thinks they're so good, and why there are so many teams in position to make the tournament. I decided to take a closer look at things to see what I found. It was pretty interesting. At least to me.

One of the best ways to compare teams between the conferences is to look at how they did out of conference.

CC beat Clarkson twice, RPI, Air Force, and Bemidji. Lost twice to UNH and lost to UMass.

NoDak killed MSU, beat Northeastern, split with UNH, swept Bemidji and tied BC.

Denver swept Maine, split with Notre Dame, beat Sacred Heart, Bemidji and Dartmouth. And lost to Air Force by 3.

Wiscy beat Notre Dame, swept Robert Morris, beat BGSU, tied MSU and Colgate, lost to OSU and Michigan.

St. Cloud swept Bemidji, beat Harvard, took 3 of 4 points from Canisius, split with Clarkson and lost to Miami.

Those are the top five teams in the WCHA and they have a stellar 25-10-4 record out of conference. But what do you notice? Lots of games against Bemidji, lots of games against the smaller conferences and the EZAC. What happens when they play the other "power" conferences, the CCHA and Hockey East? Well, they're a combined 8-8-2 (3-3-1 against the "Big Four" in the CCHA). That's hardly dominance.

To keep going, MSU-Mankato is 6-2 out of conference. Really good right? But. The wins came against UAH (2), Bemidji (2), Princeton and Yale. Whoa daddy stand back. They are 0-2 against Hockey East and the CCHA, both losses to 8th-place-in-the-CCHA Nebraska-Omaha (they're tied for 5th at the moment but are locked into the 8th seed).

These next two hurt my argument but I'll include them in the interest of being fair since they're in the tournament hunt as well. Minnesota-Duluth is 4-1-1 and 3-0-1 against Hockey East and the CCHA. The Gophers are 6-2-2 and 3-1-1 against the other two major conferences--though they lost to fricken RIT.

Still, the top eight are 14-11-4 against the CCHA and Hockey East (and the top 4 are 8-7-2). That doesn't paint the picture of WCHA dominance that people would have you otherwise believe.

To compare, here are the top 8 in the CCHA against the other 2 conferences:
Michigan: 7-1-0 overall, 7-1-0 against the WCHA/HE
Miami: 8-0-0, 3-0-0 (4-0-0 if you count a non-conference against OSU as a win over a "power" conference team)
MSU: 4-3-2, 0-3-2 (thanks for helping the cause, Sparty)
Notre Dame: 7-3-0, 1-3-0
BGSU: 3-3-0, 0-2-0
NMU: 3-4-1, 2-1-1
Ferris: 3-2-1, 0-0-0 (awesome schedule)
UNO: 4-3-0, 2-0-0

That's 15-10-3 against the power conferences (11-7-2 for the top 4), if you don't count Miami's win over OSU as a "good" win.

.552 winning % for the OMG TOURNAMENT BOUND WCHA teams.
.589 for the scum-sucking CCHA teams.

What's especially interesting is that while the CCHA and WCHA teams are both playing Hockey East, the CCHA teams have to go up against the theoretically tougher WCHA teams in this comparison, whereas the WCHA teams get to take on teams from the CupCake Hockey Association.

And even if you take out Michigan, who has clearly carried the banner (and whom, I assume, most WCHA fans would have no problem admitting is a legit team), they're still at a .475 against the WCHA and Hockey East (or 3 points out of 40 from having the same winning % as the WCHA teams...and that's without Michigan).

Take out Michigan and the WCHA's best team against good conferences (Duluth at 3-0-1) and it's:
.475 for the remaining 7 in the CCHA (.500 if Miami's win counts)
.500 for the remaining 7 in the WCHA

Straight up WCHA dominance.

I would also like to point out that the four teams tied for fifth in the CCHA right now are a combined 4-2-1 against WCHA squads, including UNO's two wins over Minnesota State.

In my view, a mediocre team is a mediocre team no matter what conference they play in. Just because NoDak, CC, and Denver are tough doesn't mean MSU-M and St. Cloud are better than their record appears.

It looks great that the top 8 in the WCHA are 41-15-7 out of conference. But when you break it down, maybe it's not as impressive as you'd think. I'd also point out that almost a quarter of those out of conference wins are against Bemidji State (9).

The WCHA is better top to bottom than the CCHA, but they're really not as different as people want you to believe. The WCHA will get more teams in, but of the true contenders, you've got one really scary team from each conference (Michigan and North Dakota), one team from each that looks good but has a question mark due to their play out of conference (CC and Michigan State), and one team from each that is highly ranked but a question mark due to recent play (Denver and Miami).

I'm sure I've opened a can of worms, but the numbers just don't show this WCHA dominance that the Westerners love to throw out there. The conference is the best top to bottom, and it deserves respect having won five of the last six and six of the last eight titles (by four different teams to boot). But I think it's a tired argument that the middle of the CCHA is crap and the middle of the WCHA is phenomenal. Some years, they're right. But an average team is an average team and this year I think we've got a little SEC syndrome going on in the Dub. The top couple teams are really good. The next couple could get a little rowdy. After that, you've got some average teams that everyone elevates far too much just because of what conference they're in.


colin said...

So why is it that State is so up and down against everyone else, but never drops more than 2 points to us in a series and often times only gives up 1? It's like Comley is using Michigan as his template. If you can beat them, you can beat anyone in the tournament. Over the course of a season, maybe not, but learning to play Michigan properly prepares you for the hot shots out West, I'd say.

Anonymous said...

Hard to say, Colin.

North Dakota is a darn good team and their fanbase rivals the Gophers in total hockey arrogance. (Of course, most would say, who are we to judge that. ;)) MSU was not prepared to walk into the Raplh to start the season and they got thumped. That didn't help matters and neither did Michigan losing two straight years to UND (out west).

I think UND, Minn, (albeit an anomaly this season) CC, Denver and even Wisconsin play an uptempo physical brand of hockey. That has bode well for them since they are better prepared for the national tourney. BUT, that doesn't mean Michigan, MSU, Miami, BC, UNH etc. cannot beat them at that style, especially with exceptional goaltending. No lead is safe against that style and falling behind takes most teams out of their gameplan (like MSU).

The difference is, The WCHA has had a tremendous talent differential over the last 6-8 seasons that is just beginning to erode. They are still a very good conference, the best top to bottom, but they have come back down a few pegs and the HEA and the CCHA has improved. Most W fans refuse to recognize this and still ride the coattails of the past decade. Still, the W is not infallible in the tourney as Minnesota proved, losing to Holy Cross... as big an upset as App State IMO.

The WCHA has benefited from home ice or near home ice advantage to get to the FF as much as Michigan has, too. Anything can happen once you get that far, as MSU exhibited last season.

Tim said...

Replace "WCHA" with "SEC" and "CCHA" with "Big Ten" and you have my feelings.

Kurt said...


Great breakdown. I love it when someone takes the time to crunch the numbers and dispel the OMG SEC/WCHA thinking. Generally, each year is a new one and should be judged accordingly. Nice job.

Anonymous said...

Which two teams had their RPI adjusted because they are playing a weaker team.......

Packer487 said...

Gosh, ya know, you're right! Argument over. MSU-Mankato would win the CCHA without a doubt. What was I thinking. Western sucks, so that means the conference blows.

SIOUX 7 said...

I really like the artilce.

You sum up the numbers very nicely. The teams here in the W have also signed an agreement to give Bemidji State, 12-games (correct me if I'm wrong) a year against WCHA teams. Which is an effort to try and help their program stay afloat so to speak.

I agree that the WCHA doesn't have as much "high end" talent as they've had in years past. Many WCHA teams have lost players with eligability left, to the NHL or other pro levels.

The top teams in the CCHA are good, same as the WCHA, like you pointed out with the "scary, question-mark non-confercence and question-mark recent play" teams.

Again, I really like the article.

Good Luck in the playoffs.

PS Just think you should NOT be stuck in the same Regional bracket, aka "brackets of death" this year with UND or other high-end teams.

Eric J. Burton said...

Hey Sioux7 stop sucking up the Michigan fans. LOL :) I am going to have to get you back on message.

Your right Michigan is a good team they have beaten some good-decent teams. I don't have a problem with that argument that they are a good team. Michigan would be my number one team right now.

I don't see the fascination with the other teams in your league this year by the Media gurus. MSU has been down this year, I have watched them on TV and I am not impressed. Miami is a paper Tiger and has beaten 1 teams in the current top ten of the PWR ranking right now. Notre Dame is dropping fast.

Eric J. Burton said...

Should say that I was at the game with UND and MSU also. That game was not close at all...

I can't wait for the playoffs. It will be fun.

Anonymous said...

if miami is a paper tiger, then Wisc is a paper butterfly (or some other harmless paper animal). they were the single worst team i've seen in years at Yost. there, my one anecdote balances out goon's. and neither can validly support or counter packer's analysis.

that said, i wouldn't want to play either of them in the NCAAs.

Packer487 said...

Sioux7 thanks for the comments and the well wishes. To be honest, your team is the only one that truly scares me. Wouldn't shock me a bit if it was a NoDak/Michigan final this year.

MSU isn't all that impressive. But they weren't last year either (they beat LSSU 7-6 in OT in the CCHA consolation game or they might have missed the tourney altogether...and the day before, Michigan beat them 5-2) and got hot at the right time. I think Sparty is a team worthy of respect simply because when they play their system and Lerg is on, they're capable of going all the way. I don't expect them to be a REAL contender this year, but I would've picked against them in 3 of their 4 tourney games last year. In a single elim tourney, you never know. And they've played Michigan really tough for the most part. They're just such a frustrating team to play against, especially if they get a lead. I think it's ***** hockey, but it works for them.

I also wouldn't put too much stock into the opening weekend of the season. Minnesota beat Michigan too, and things are so different now that I'd actually WELCOME a game against the Goofers in the tournament.

The tournament is going to be really fun this year. Michigan's been #1 most of the year, but I still think I'd put NoDak as the favorite, especially if Kolarik isn't back 100%. Miami, CC, Denver, MSU, UNH, BC....they'll all have a shot (in varying amounts of probability). And who knows, someone could make a Spartan-type run at it.

I'm just thrilled that Michigan is IN the tournament (They were picked 4th in the CCHA and if our goaltending didn't improve, I wouldn't have had us as a certainty) and they've pretty much played their way out of a "Region of Death".

I understand the skepticism of Miami, since they massively flopped against Michigan. But I do think they're a good team. Especially with the addition of that Miele kid.

I also think that if you're skeptical of Miami, you'd be right to be skeptical of CC as well. After all, they flopped against UNH and were 0-3 out of conference when they weren't playing ECAC/CHA/AH teams. And they split both times when they played NoDak and Denver. And the tie and loss to Tech is pretty comparable to Miami's sweep at the hands of FSU.

And at least Miami won a tournament game last year to add some to their legitimacy. Only like four guys on CC's team can say they've done that.

But I think CC is a good team as well.

Packer487 said...

I think that comment just set a record for number of sentences starting with the word "And" or "But". My English teacher just had a seizure.

Eric J. Burton said...

Packer487 I think we agree more than we disagree. The comment by Dank about the BADgers is funny. Their team doesn't scare me that much at all Connley is half the goalie that Elliot was.

SIOUX 7 said...

Don't worry about your "and's and but's", this a blog, not an english paper :)

Anonymous said...

As a Sioux fan there are two teams that I would not want to face to get to the Frozen Four. Michigan or New Hampshire. Michigan is explosive offensively and I don't think we've got the firepower to keep up this year if it turns into a shootout with Toews gone. New Hampshire matches up very well with us, and are playing as well as anyone right now. Let's just hope we end up in separate brackets for once. The Minnesota/Michigan/UND/(Insert cream puff that the Gophers stuggle with or lose to) bracket the past two years was ludicrous. Of course, we probably don't have to worry about Minny making the tournament this year. At least we can all agree that is a good thing :)

Anonymous said...

Wow that Wisconsin team whopping 3-2 to Michigan. What a blowout. They outshot them 34-26. Monster numbers I tell yeah even though they nearly tied the game in the last minute. And why I'm I not suprised that Goon would find this funny when North Dakota is an eye popping 1-1 against the Badgers in which one of the games UW ripped them out a new asshole in a 4-0 rout of UND.

Anonymous said...

Befridgy gets a bum wrap. B Kind to Befridgy, MN.