The Northeastern Huskies will cross the halfway point of their conference schedule this week with a pair of games against the University of New Hampshire. Unless you’ve lived under a rock the past few years, you probably know where this is going. For the third season in a row, NU is trying to follow-up a horrific first half in conference play with a red-hot second half surge. This narrative has been beat to death, but when you break down the numbers it’s still remarkable to see.
|Year||First Half||Second Half||Full Season|
|Last 3 Seasons||4-21-7||18-3-1||22-24-8|
|First 3 Season||13-20-5||11-20-5||24-40-10|
The Huskies have somehow won just FOUR of their 32 conference games in the fall semester in the last three seasons. FOUR. That’s a .125 winning percentage for those who like math. Yet they’ve won 18 of their other 22 conference games in that time (.818).
You may be thinking to yourself: “Well that makes sense, Northeastern has played the top half of the conference early and the bottom half late the last few years.” More or less, you’re correct. Here are the winning percentages for NU’s conference opponents in each half season since Jim Madigan took the reins. These were calculated by dividing the total number of wins by Husky opponents by the total number of games played by Husky opponents (weighted by game number, i.e. two games vs. BC means BC’s games counted twice).
|Year||First Half||Second Half|
|Last 3 Seasons||.514||.338|
|First 3 Seasons||.475||.437|
This breakdown is slightly limited since the 2016-2017 standings are obviously incomplete, but it’s clear that NU has absolutely had a weaker second half schedule and a much more difficult first half schedule the last few years. More interestingly, in 2014-2015, NU managed to post significant improvement despite equally strong (or weak) schedules in both halves of the season.
(This look also highlights just how frustrating the spring of 2014 was, when NU fumbled away home ice by losing winnable games).
The relevant takeaways here are:
1) NU won Hockey East with an impressive showing against tough teams in the 2016 playoffs – but benefited from a ridiculously weak schedule to get there down the stretch.
2) NU should be in line for another second half surge this year, based on opponent quality.
3) Jim Madigan needs to find a way to win games in the first half of the season if NU is ever going to become a consistent threat to win hardware. The talent is here. The ability to win is here. But it needs to start showing earlier and with more regularity. Winning a quarter of your games every fall (17-41-12, a .243 winning percentage) is not going to get you into the national tournament, magical 2016 notwithstanding.
Turning our attention to the semester at hand, the big question is whether Northeastern can battle back and claim a home ice spot. I’ve calculated the projected standings based on current point rates for each team below:
|Team||Games Played||Points||Current Pts/Gm||Projected Points|
Obviously, the final standings are going to be very different since Northeastern likely isn’t the only team with significant schedule splits. But it’s a good starting point for analyzing Northeastern’s chances at the #8 seed. Based on these numbers, 15 points should be enough for home ice. This seems about right – since Hockey East went to 12 teams, the 8th seed has finished with 21 points and 16 points. I personally think that projection is a bit on the low side, though; one team is bound to get hot. For the sake of easy math, let’s put the target for NU at 20 points.
With 12 games left and four points in the bag, Northeastern would need to go 8-4-0 to hit 20 points. There’s a very good chance this gets them the #8 seed, especially because NU has six games against direct competition (Merrimack, Maine, UMass). If NU can take care of business in these games and hold serve against UML and UNH, the entire race will likely come down to what happens with Connecticut and Providence. Connecticut has built a substantial lead (6 points with a game in hand on NU), but Northeastern and Providence each have two games to go against the fake Huskies, which could single-handedly drag them back to the masses in the cellar, opening up another home ice slot. Connecticut also has to contend with Vermont and Boston College in the second half, so its lead is far from safe.
It appears that if Connecticut doesn’t falter, NU will be competing directly with Providence for the #8 seed in the Hockey East playoffs. Merrimack could be lurking too, but they have a rough second half, with two games each against Notre Dame, Vermont, and BU, and a game against BC. The Friars, on the other hand, have a similar remaining schedule to NU and have also proven themselves to be a better team than the Huskies so far this season. Even if Northeastern gets to 20 points, it will be tough to overtake PC.
There’s a long way to go and craziness is the norm in college hockey. But there is a very, very real chance that the team picked second in Hockey East in the preseason coaches poll will find itself on the road in the octofinals.
Feature photo courtesy of FriendsofNUHockey.com