NCAA Hockey Possession


I’ve seen some debate over which is the best NCAA hockey conference this year. It’s a fun debate to have, however meaningless. The obvious way to make this determination is to look at inter-conference records. That chart is available here, and based on that metric, the six D-1 conferences are ranked as such:

  1. NCHC, .660 win percentage
  2. ECAC, .583
  3. WCHA, .558
  4. Hockey East, .500
  5. Big Ten, .438
  6. Atlantic Hockey, .256

Based on win percentage, the NCHC is the best conference. Its teams are winning 2 non-conference games for every one it loses. It’s not really close. Meanwhile the Big Ten seems to be doing a lot of choking (good job Wisconsin!).

Measuring who’s winning games is a fair enough way to compare leagues. But it doesn’t really measure the competitiveness of the league (that is, how hard of a conference it is in which to compete). Record comparison in non-conference games relies on goals scored, which has a huge component of luck.

I have a better idea. Let’s compare conferences by possession percentage – that is, by the percentage of the total shots they take vs. the other team. This is an established proxy for how much clock time said team is controlling the puck. Looking at this metric will tell us which teams/conference is most dominant and most controlling of the puck vs. other teams/conferences. And when you control the puck more, you shoot more, and you score more. The leagues with the highest possession numbers against other leagues are going to be the leagues with the most dominant teams in terms of gameplay, and thus the toughest leagues in which to play.

I grabbed a NCAA game data through Nov. 25, 2014. Looking at non-conference games only, I tallied up the number of shots each league has taken against each other league:

Inter-league shots by conference

Team shots vs. AH vs. B1G vs. ECAC vs. HE vs. NCHC vs. WCHA Total Shots
Atlantic Hockey 207 305 252 102 184 1050
Big Ten 360 34 601 325 435 1755
ECAC 448 22 555 231 122 1378
Hockey East 354 562 543 174 202 1835
NCHC 147 425 332 180 360 1444
WCHA 158 400 132 168 357 1215
Total shots vs. 1467 1616 1346 1756 1189 1303 8677

From there, it’s easy to calculate the possession numbers:

Inter-league puck possession

Team shots vs. AH vs. B1G vs. ECAC vs. HE vs. NCHC vs. WCHA Total Shots
Atlantic Hockey 36.51% 40.50% 41.58% 40.96% 53.80% 41.72%
Big Ten 63.49% 60.71% 51.68% 43.33% 52.10% 52.06%
ECAC 59.50% 39.29% 50.55% 41.03% 48.03% 50.59%
Hockey East 58.42% 48.32% 49.45% 49.15% 54.59% 51.10%
NCHC 59.04% 56.67% 58.97% 50.85% 50.21% 54.84%
WCHA 46.20% 47.90% 51.97% 45.41% 49.79% 48.25%
Total shots vs. 58.28% 47.94% 49.41% 48.90% 45.16% 51.75% 50.00%

So, in short, as of Nov. 25, the best possession conferences are:

  1. NCHC, 54.84%
  2. Big Ten, 52.06%
  3. Hockey East, 51.10%
  4. ECAC, 50.59%
  5. WCHA, 48.25%
  6. Atlantic Hockey, 41.72%

So yes, the NCHC is probably the toughest conference this year. They are dominating in possession, especially considering they are above 50% against every league, and they have taken almost a third of their shots against the Big Ten, the second best possession league. This also means the Big Ten isn’t as hapless as its win percentage would suggest. Meanwhile, the WCHA isn’t as good as its record would suggest. Though we have indeed confirmed that Atlantic Hockey is terrible.

Now, I don’t think that this means an NCHC team is favorite to win a national championship, or that the WCHA has no chance. But I do think your average Big Ten team is slightly better than your average ECAC team, for example. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the NCHC to get five teams into the tournament while the WCHA gets two at most. And I would expect probably one more Big Ten team than ECAC teams.

I could do this same kind of comparison for shot% and save%, but I think NCAA hockey possession is the most helpful in determining which conference has the toughest teams, and the most equitable and data-rich way to compare conferences on shot-based metrics. Shot and save % will tell you more about individual talent, which really varies team to team, even within leagues.

Also, I would say I think poll voters should start taking these metrics into account, but that would require me to pretend that polls matter.

American Nations


This Thanksgiving, we celebrate that one time when the Pilgrims got together with the Native Americans to have turkey, fill cornucopias, exchange handshakes and celebrate the American values of gratitude, cooperation and generosity upon which this country was founded.

Uh, yeah. Sure.

We often look at other countries and break them down by their demographic, societal and cultural elements – India, China, the UK, Iraq, etc. But we rarely do so for the US, even though it spans across an entire continent and has over 320 million people. I think that’s because of the “melting pot” mythology. It’s true this is a nation of immigrants and most of the European settlers from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were able to fully assimilate. But they all became “American” in different ways and different places. The cultures, traditions and belief systems they brought with them never fully went away.

Enter American Nations, an argument by author and historian Colin Woodard. There have been other re-examinations of American history, and they differ on how to organize the cultures that came here from Europe and now make up the United States. But they all agree that it’s not one culture, one purpose, one big happy family. And they don’t teach you that in elementary school.

Woodard drives home the idea that the United States is just that – united states with a loose agreement to band together. American history is meaningless without understanding English history of the 1600s and 1700s that brought it about. The United State is one geopolitical entity, but it’s comprised of many nations, as Woodard argues, and they don’t always agree. Quite often, in fact, they inhabit very different worlds. Here’s how America really came to be, through the very shaky pact of 11 nations founded on competing values and identities:

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2015 NCHC Model Check-in


Now that each NCHC team has played at least one league series, let’s look again at the predictive model we developed. In September, before the season, I made the following predictions:

2015 NCHC Prediction

Team '15 Shot% '15 Save%  '15 Poss% '15 Points* '15 Finish
North Dakota 11.26%  92.03% 49.50% 48 1
Nebraska Omaha 10.82% 90.45% 49.50% 41 2
Minnesota Duluth 9.05% 89.35% 54.50% 36 3
St. Cloud State 10.02% 90.21% 49.00% 36 3
Denver 9.44% 91.45% 47.50% 36 3
Miami 7.81% 90.90% 52.75% 34 6
Western Michigan 8.68% 90.45% 48.50% 30 7
Colorado College 8.31% 89.72% 48.75% 27 8
ALL NCHC 9.43% 90.57% 50.00% 288
*All 14-15 expected points +-4.85

Six week into the season, how are these predictions holding up? To be honest, it’s way too early to assess, but it’s not too early to estimate when evaluation becomes appropriate.

But just for fun, let’s look briefly at how each team has performed since the start of the season, especially in terms of the model’s three input metrics. Note, though,  this looks at all games, not just the NCHC. This is just to get a better general idea about how the teams are playing, as of Nov. 9, 2014:

hlogo-CC  Colorado College

Record Goals For Goals Against Shots For Shots Against Shot% Save%  Poss%
2-6-0 15 35 236 268 6.36% 86.94% 46.8%

Well, probably a bad place to start, for us and for CC. Low on shot percentage, save percentage, and possession share. They’re doing even worse than I predicted in all three areas so far. We knew this was going to be a rebuilding season, but it could be a long rebuilding season for Tigers fans, especially in NCHC play. I predicted CC would finish at the bottom of the conference, and I still feel pretty secure in that.

hlogo_DEN  Denver

Record Goals For Goals Against Shots For Shots Against Shot% Save%  Poss%
5-3-0 22 21 267 226 8.24% 90.71% 54.2%
Denver is lagging a bit in shot and save percentage so far, but they’re more than making up for that in a possession turnaround. All that returning experience is paying off. I still think they’ll make a run at home ice, but they can’t keep giving up 7- and 10-goal weekends like they have to Duluth and Western Michigan, respectively.

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Mind over machine

You know that part at the end of “The Empire Strikes Back” where a robot is giving Luke Skywalker a robotic hand and it looks and works just like his old hand? Well, that’s not science fiction anymore.

What’s interesting about the arm in that video is that it’s controlled by implants in the remaining arm tissue. Which apparently works well – better than sensors on the surface of the skin. But what if it could be controlled by the brain itself? I read Beyond Boundaries: The New Neuroscience of Connecting Brains with Machines-and How It Will Change Our Lives last year. Author Miguel Nicolelis, one of the world’s leading brain-machine interface scientists, has allowed mice and monkeys to control robotic arms using nothing but their thoughts, sometimes from halfway around the world. Sounds like science fiction, but it’s real.

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