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Wisconsin women’s hockey third-quarter report shows road troubles

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A look at the Badgers as they head into the final stretch of the season.

wisconsin women’s hockey David Stluka

The Wisconsin women’s hockey team (24–1–1) is three quarters through the regular season and jumping around into final stretch of the season. While there are a great many positives for this team that persist from my mid-season recap, the recent struggles against Bemidji are reason to take a closer look to see if Wisconsin really can win its first national title in seven years.

One major problem a casual fan might have noticed is the Badgers’ struggles on the road (thanks, Tim, for pointing this out). Sure, this may be nitpicking a team with a 94.2% winning percentage, but when the competition ups in March, the Badgers will have to take their best hockey out of Madison and bring it to Minneapolis.

So, how well have the Badgers done on the road (or at neutral sites)? Their 12–1–1 record is respectable, but look beyond to some basic stats, and surely you will see the problems. Take a look at the data:

Wisconsin Goals For and Against (Home/Away Splits)

Game Location Goals For Average Goals Against Average Average Differential Win Expectation
Game Location Goals For Average Goals Against Average Average Differential Win Expectation
Home 4.50 0.58 3.92 98.35%
Road or Neutral 2.86 1.50 1.36 78.39%

Those are some rather eye-popping differences. Bucky is completely dominant at LaBahn Arena, but scores barely more than half as many goals on the road. To make matters worse, they almost give up as many as three times as many goals on the road as at home. Based on goals for and against, you can calculate an expected winning percentage, which is the last column of the chart. The 98.35% expected winning percentage at home is in line with their standing as the best team in the country, but the expected road winning percentage is merely “good.” Wisconsin is lucky to have an 89.2% winning percentage away from LaBahn.

How do these numbers compare to last year? As Tim points out, the home goals for and goals against are similar, but the drop when traveling is much more severe this season.

Well, we all know that the home team always has the advantage, right? Well, yes, but nowhere near the difference that the Badgers are seeing.

Wisconsin Goal Differential vs. NCAA D1

Team Home Goal Differential Road Goal Differential
Team Home Goal Differential Road Goal Differential
Wisconsin 3.92 1.36
NCAA DI 0.40 -0.4

D1 women’s hockey composite stats show the home team beating the visiting team by 0.4 goals (2.79–2.39). Wisconsin outperforms the league by a 3.52-goal differential at home against a 1.76-goal differential on the road.

Your last objection to these stats might be that Wisconsin had a tougher road schedule, which is slightly true. However, we can analyze this by focusing on how the Badgers did against teams they’ve played both home and away.

Wisconsin Home/Road Splits vs. Common Opponent

Game Location Goals For Average Goals Against Average Average Differential Win Expectation
Game Location Goals For Average Goals Against Average Average Differential Win Expectation
Home 5.00 0.50 4.50 99.01%
Road 3.25 2.25 1.00 67.60%

As you can see here, the problem is just as significant with common opponents, if not worse.

What can explain these stark differences in performance? I can think of a few possibilities:

  1. This is a young team. The Badgers have eight freshmen and eight sophomores (three juniors and five seniors), and perhaps that inexperience does not travel well. These young players might not have the experience to handle a disrupted routine during road trips.
  2. The team is pressing on the road. Wisconsin struggled a bit in its first few road games, and it might be in the Badgers’ heads. Confidence might drop on the road if they know they haven’t historically played their A-game.
  3. LaBahn Arena is way more challenging for road teams. On the flip side, what if Wisconsin plays normally on the road and visiting teams play worse at LaBahn? This deserves serious consideration, as LaBahn leads the NCAA in attendance and has the unique feature of natural lighting. It’s a uniquely hostile crowd for visiting teams.
  4. Wisconsin struggles to play in front of small crowds. Think of this as the Northwestern syndrome. The Badgers get such great experiences playing at home and get used to drawing energy from their crowd, but when they’re in a barn with fewer than 500 fans present, perhaps they struggle to stay as focused and energized.

No matter the explanation, this is a problem that Mark Johnson has to fix if Wisconsin is looking to get off the schneid and win its first national title in seven years.

Other news: Badgers sign their 2018 recruiting class

There are five great, new Badgers set to join next fall. When you include the return of Olympic finalist Annie Pankowski and Olympian Emily Clark, next year could be a special season for Bucky. If this season finishes as the rankings indicate, there’s a good chance the Badgers go back-to-back in national titles for the first time since 2007.

Britta Curl, Jesse DeVito, Sophie Shirley, Nicole LaMantia, and Cami Kronish will join the Badgers next year and all could be impact players. Sophie Shirley has been playing professional hockey this season in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and has proven to be one of the best in the league. Look for Shirley to make a significant impact on next year’s roster. Also look for goaltender Cami Kronish to set up to be the next great Badger goaltender when Kristen Campbell’s reign is up.

WCHA Power Rankings

1. Wisconsin 24–1–1 (No change)

Sure, it’s been ugly on the road at times, but I’ll take it in a centralization year. If Wisconsin had finished one of the last two seasons with a national title, then this year wouldn’t feel such a big burden.

2. Ohio State 17–5–4 (No change)

Sure, the Buckeyes just swept Minnesota at home and could be on their way to hosting an NCAA quarterfinals game, but they can’t get 300 people to show up to watch a top-10 match-up without giving away free pizza. What a disgrace, OSU!

If only you had a real fan base, Ohio State. If only.

3. Bemidji State 12–13–3 (+1)

Did I bump the Beavers up because they gave Wisconsin trouble? I’m going to tell myself no. They are 7–4–1 in their last 12 games and are starting to get national attention. They’ve always been stronger than their record indicated, and they could sneak into the NCAA tournament with an automatic bid.

4. Minnesota 17–8–2 (–1)

Minnesota’s struggles should scare Wisconsin, as the Gophers are rather likely to meet up in the NCAA quarterfinals in Madison (assuming Minnesota makes the NCAA tournament). Minnesota would be the most talented No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament in the last three or so years.

5. Duluth 10–13–2 (No change)

If I could be as good at [insert name of thing] as Duluth is mediocre, then I’d be really good at [insert name of thing].

6. St. Cloud State 6–15–3 (+1)

St. Cloud is 3–3–3 in its last nine games, which means I can’t keep them in the cellar any longer.

7. Minnesota State 3–20–1 (–1)

There was a time when MSU wasn’t the worst team in the WCHA. Now is not that time.

Up next

The Badgers will return home against St. Cloud this weekend, and look for them to take care of business there. Should Wisconsin sweep St. Cloud, it would only need to get one win on the road against Ohio State to clinch the conference title. If the Badgers do that, they’d also earn a first-round bye in the first round of the WCHA tournament. As a reminder, all remaining home games are sold out.

  • Home vs. St. Cloud (Jan. 27–28)
  • Away vs. Ohio State (Feb. 2–3)
  • Away vs. Duluth (Feb. 9–10)
  • Home vs. Minnesota (Feb. 16–17)