When Corsi Bites Back

For the records, the above does not count as puck possession.

For an Omaha hockey fan, last season was rough. In late February and March, I watched in despair as my UNO Mavericks lost the last eight games of the season and slid out of the NCAA tournament conversation. Six of those losses came against eventual Frozen Four teams, but it still stung. How could a team that reached the Frozen Four just a year prior – and was a #1 seed as late as January – fall so far, so fast?

Honestly, I checked out of college hockey for a little while. I whistled past the further carnage of losing UNO’s top player and two assistant coaches. I enjoyed my spring and summer, cautiously avoiding dealing with the emotional rollercoaster that was 2015-16.

Now we’re less than a month away from a new season. New year, clean slate. But… what to make of this year’s Mavericks? I can’t get 100% pumped for this season without coming to terms with how last season ended. I need closure. As a UNO fan, I need to process this unthinkable turn of events.

So I’m going to do that in the only way I know how: hockey stats.

First, a disclosure: I am not a hockey expert. I am not a hockey coach, nor a hockey player. I offer no prescriptions, indictments or playbooks. I simply intend to lay out the data and share the story it tells. Speaking as a UNO fan, I will warn that this might be painful, but it needs to be done.

Second, another disclosure: I’m going to analyze primarily by looking at two “advanced” stats – Even Strength Corsi For, and Even Strength PDO. Thanks to College Hockey News, we now have two seasons of these advanced stats available for every NCAA team. I’ve compiled this data for the last two seasons. For comparison, I also included RPI and Pairwise rankings from regular-season end (via siouxsports) and season-end ELO rankings (via Ebscer). I consider these three “rankings” more or less objective measures of team quality, and none of them directly factor in on-ice statistics.

This is the database I’ll be using. Feel free to play around and do your own digging:

Air Force14-15162149.00%89.20%98.2153.6490.4521391NONOAHA
Air Force15-16181158.70%91.40%100.1853.8280.5091514NONOAHA
Alaska 14-15191327.30%91.10%98.4154.6240.5201548NONOWCHA
American Int'l14-1542578.60%89.40%98.1038.8590.3951230NONOAHA
American Int'l15-1662737.70%89.80%97.5240.3600.4011235NONOAHA
Arizona State15-1632204.30%91.40%95.6836.7590.4011297NONOIND
Bemidji State14-15161758.60%92.60%101.2249.3270.5141504NONOWCHA
Bemidji State15-16161466.40%91.20%97.6951.6320.4981512NONOWCHA
Boston College14-15211438.20%92.20%100.3352.9110.5461591YESNOHE
Boston College15-16245510.00%93.70%103.6952.440.5801676YESYESHE
Boston University14-1528858.60%93.80%102.3455.030.5721683YESYESHE
Boston University15-16191058.40%91.60%99.9556.2110.5531604YESNOHE
Bowling Green14-15231159.40%91.40%100.8152.6160.5411540NONOWCHA
Bowling Green15-16201267.60%93.40%100.9852.5260.5131538NONOWCHA
Colorado College14-1562636.20%89.30%95.5843.2510.4491373NONONCHC
Colorado College15-1662716.10%89.30%95.4642.8530.4481339NONONCHC
Ferris State14-15182026.50%92.40%98.9450.9340.4991510NONOWCHA
Ferris State15-16151467.60%92.10%99.7150.4330.5111563YESNOWCHA
Holy Cross14-15141856.20%93.20%99.4249.7480.4541379NONOAHA
Holy Cross15-16181159.00%92.10%101.1051.9300.4941458NONOAHA
Lake Superior14-1582826.10%91.40%97.4743.9540.4371345NONOWCHA
Lake Superior15-16132055.00%92.70%97.6744.7460.4651439NONOWCHA
Michigan St14-15171626.90%93.40%100.3149.0310.5051542NONOBIG10
Michigan St15-16102247.70%89.50%97.2346.8430.4621439NONOBIG10
Michigan Tech14-15291029.20%94.20%103.4155.670.5651616YESNOWCHA
Michigan Tech15-1621858.90%92.70%101.5657.0140.5361630NONOWCHA
Minnesota State14-1529839.20%91.50%100.7358.010.5921659YESNOWCHA
Minnesota State15-16181176.70%92.00%98.6360.2220.5191577NONOWCHA
New Hampshire14-15191928.20%91.10%99.2649.7290.5121567NONOHE
New Hampshire15-16101868.50%91.80%100.3044.0390.4721434NONOHE
North Dakota14-15291038.50%93.50%102.0051.520.5801681YESYESNCHC
North Dakota15-16285310.40%93.40%103.8756.510.6081769YESYESNCHC
Northern Michigan14-15141867.30%92.20%99.5046.4350.4951417NONOWCHA
Northern Michigan15-16151478.10%92.80%100.9546.2340.4921452NONOWCHA
Notre Dame14-15181959.30%92.20%101.5048.7330.5041537NONOHE
Notre Dame15-1618778.80%93.30%102.0850.080.5461583YESNOHE
Ohio State14-15141938.80%90.50%99.3947.2370.4891506NONOBIG10
Ohio State15-16131749.60%90.50%100.0547.6310.4981531NONOBIG10
Penn State14-15181547.00%91.00%97.9955.1320.5041496NONOBIG10
Penn State15-16201247.20%91.50%98.7056.2200.5221516NONOBIG10
Robert Morris14-1524858.60%93.30%101.9248.5250.5201546NONOAHA
Robert Morris15-1621949.10%93.10%102.1648.9160.5261553NONOAHA
Sacred Heart14-15131967.90%91.20%99.1750.7500.4521401NONOAHA
Sacred Heart15-16121847.10%91.00%98.1051.0490.4541368NONOAHA
St. Cloud State14-15201917.10%92.30%99.4149.6120.5461615YESNONCHC
St. Cloud State15-16278111.30%93.10%104.3450.830.5961696YESNONCHC
St. Lawrence14-15201439.80%94.20%104.0548.0210.5271556NONOECAC
St. Lawrence15-16171349.00%93.50%102.5351.0240.5221563NONOECAC
Western Michigan14-15141857.20%91.40%98.6051.0260.5191515NONONCHC
Western Michigan15-1682136.90%90.50%97.4144.7380.4681413NONONCHC

Click here to open in Google Sheets.

Now, we can argue all day about what shot stats mean (I did some of that myself in this post last year). Certainly the usefulness of advanced stats has not yet been demonstrated to the level of sophistication in the NHL. There are certainly reasons to be skeptical. Alone, the data suggests Corsi and PDO aren’t particularly indicative of anything. But in combination, I believe these stats do illustrate larger trends. More on that in a minute.

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House Painting: Before and After

We had the house painted this summer. House painting makes you sweat a little bit – you’re never sure how it will turn out. After some research, we settled on navy because we thought it would contrast well with the brick facade. The painters gave us a funny look when we gave them the color. However, I think we got lucky.

Naturally I took before and after photos to compare. Sadly I didn’t get “before” photos with our broken, striped cloth window awnings and the ugly satellite cables running down the front of the house. Well, maybe not sadly.

Honestly I think the back looks even better than the front, probably because there’s more depth. But it all looks good! If you look really closely, we also trimmed the hedges and did some minimal landscaping, too. Exciting!

It’s been a busy summer, but I’m glad we got this done. The house looks updated and a lot less dingy. It feels like home now. Plus, the new color really makes the cactus garden pop. On to the next project, I guess…


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Cold-Weather Cactus Garden


Grass is terrible. It’s needy, it grows fast and needs frequent mowing, and it sucks up gallons of water. Now that we’re a homeowner, I have an even more acrimonious relationship with grass. I’ve spent time on most of my summer weekends either reseeding, cutting, weeding or watering my front lawn. I only do this so the neighbors don’t think I’m a derelict slob (which I am).

Ever since we started collecting succulents and cacti a few years back, I’ve dreamed of a xeriscaped landscape instead of a turfed lawn. But I live in hot and humid/cold and biting Nebraska, so that option doesn’t make much sense. But that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost!

I’ve started an experiment this summer. Taylor and I hit the River City Cactus and Succulent Society show back in May. While there, we met a vendor from Oklahoma who offered a variety of cold-weather cacti. “Why not?” I thought. Cacti grow primarily in hot, dry climates, but the real key word is dry. You can find cactus varieties in the wild in the United States from the southwest to as far north as eastern Montana. You can find some of the most amazing cactus and succulent gardens in the country in cold, snowy Colorado, even.

On a whim, I bought four plants: two opuntia humifusa (pricky pear), an echinocerus reichenbacchi (lace hedgehog cactus), and an echinocerus viridiflorus (nylon hedgehog cactus). Each is about 6-12 inches tall and maybe a year or so old. All of these varieties bloom big, bright flowers once they emerge from hibernation when the ground begins to thaw. I’m hoping mine live up to their reputation come spring 2017.

However, I still had the challenge of getting them into the ground. I live in Hardiness Zone 5 (at least until the zones get revised up thanks to climate change). Plants must be able to survive temperatures as low as -15ºF here. All of mine should survive if planted right and protected over the cold winter. But it will take a little work.

Last year, Taylor gifted me Leo Chance’s “Cacti & Succulents for Cold Climates“, and I’ve been digesting it ever since, waiting for my chance to plant a cold-weather cactus garden. Therefore, when I bought my plants, I was more than ready. Here are the steps I took to prepare the rich, loess-y soil in my backyard for my spartan spiny friends.

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One Week in Galapagos

In June of 1831, Charles Darwin arrived in a small archipelago off the coast of Ecuador looking forward to taking some geologic samples and confirming the emerging theories on plate tectonics. When he left, he had collected hundreds of flora and fauna samples; observed strange and wondrous animals such as the giant tortoise, the marine iguana and the blue-footed booby; and had noticed the peculiar, subtle differences between species of animal from island to island. What would follow would literally change scientific knowledge and cement Darwin as one of the greatest minds the world has ever known.

In June of 2016, Taylor and I arrived in that same archipelago, and said, “Holy crap! We’re in the mother-flippin’ Galapagos Islands!”

Ok, so maybe we weren’t as ambitious as Darwin, but we still found ourselves in one of the world’s most unique and storied locations. Galapagos still inspires as a pristine paradise with dramatic implications for science, ecology and the way we think. And it’s beautiful to boot. However, few visit Galapagos because it had a reputation of being remote and inaccessible.

I’m here to tell you it’s accessible, and it’s not as difficult to see as you might think.

There are two ways to see the islands and its treasures. Most people see Galapagos via cruise. You can make brief stops at multiple islands and truly see a large portion of the archipelago. Heck, that’s how Darwin saw the islands, and it was inspiring enough to prompt his theory of evolution and The Origin of Species. Tickets for these trips tend to be fairly expensive, though, especially when you still have to factor in airfare. We opted for a less expensive, but still awe-inspiring, route. After all, whether by boat or by land, you’re still in Galapagos. Seemingly every square inch of the islands have something incredible worth seeing.


We planned to spend a week in Galapagos, visiting two of the major islands, Santa Cruz and Isabela. The only way to get to Galapagos is by plane, and you have to fly from mainland Ecuador. Our plane from Quito flew into Baltra, an old U.S. air base from World War II. We spent three days staying in Puerto Ayora, the largest settlement in Galapagos, before taking a ferry to Isabela’s tiny Puerto Villamil for four more days. From both towns you can take day trips to a great variety of excursions and sites. I’ve outlined the highlights of our trip below.

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Dining in Galapagos


Look tasty?

Maybe if you’re a sea lion or a pelican. Here at the Puerto Ayora fish market, while fishermen and fisherwomen haul in their catches and prep them for sale, those two animals watch closely for any falling fish parts or unattended piles like these. While in town, Taylor and I even watched one young sea lion nudge a woman slicing up fish until she threw him some juicy scraps.

If you’re not into the scaly, raw offerings of Galapagos, don’t worry. The island towns offer a variety of delicious dishes, all of which blend island offerings with the traditional tastes of South America. Taylor and I opted for the land-based method of seeing the Galapagos, so our trip included visits to Puerto Ayora and Puerto Villamil. It also means that when we weren’t venturing into the highlands in search of giant tortoises or snorkeling volcanic reefs in search of penguins, we were searching for a one-of-a-kind dish. We found a ton of great Galapagos dining, day or night. Below are our recommendations on where to eat and where to skip in two of Galapagos’ largest ports.
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Joel vs The Volcano

On Sierra Negra Volcano in Galapagos

I know what you’re thinking: Is this post just an opportunity for a pun headline referencing a terrible ’90s movie? Yes and no.

On our trip to Galapagos, we saw unique wildlife and had once-in-a-lifetime snorkeling adventures. But the Galapagos Islands exist because of a volcanic hotspot along the Nazca plate, meaning we spent half of our trip sleeping at the base of an active volcano. Did you really think we wouldn’t take a look inside!?

If you want to see a Galapagos volcano, Sierra Negra awaits you. Taylor and I stayed four nights on Isla Isabela, the largest of the Galapagos Islands. Isabela is actually a collection of six still-active volcanoes. Puerto Villamil, it’s largest/only settlement, sits on the southern end of Sierra Negra. The caldera is only about 20 miles from the port, although it rises to about 3600 feet in that short distance. It last erupted in 2005 (video), when it spewed lava and ash for about a week down its northeastern side. It’s also the largest of the Galapagos calderas – 5.7 miles across at its widest. It’s big is what I’m saying.

Our hike lasted about six hours, and while it can’t compare with our trek just a week earlier on a portion of the Inca Trail in Peru, it holds its own wonders for those willing to explore. Dozens of tour companies in Villamil will take you up to Sierra Negra. Our AirBnb hosts also owned their own tour company, so they took care of everything for us, which was nice. At about 6 a.m., a driver picked us up at our house and drove about 30 minutes up the mountainside. At the head of the Sierra Negra trail, we met our tour guide. He gave the tour in both Spanish and English.

Our Sierra Negra hike had two phases – first, we walked along the rim of the caldera, then we traveled down the northeast side into the freshest areas of new lava flow. As you first begin the hike, you might not feel like you’re on an active volcano. One of the most interesting aspects of Galapagos is the incredible variation of climatic zones in such a short distance. From open ocean to shallows to shore to sulfuric desert to grassland to dense jungle to mountaintop, Isabela features so many different environments. The hike starts in the misty forested zone of the island. At first, you’re surrounded by trees, ferns, and wildflowers. However, as you climb up to the rim, the view transforms quickly. As we reached the edge, the dense green gave way to expansive black:

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Tintoreras: Operation Penguin

A Galapagos penguin on Tintoreras

I have to admit that one of the top reasons we wanted to go to Galapagos was to see real, live penguins in the wild. Penguins are my wife’s absolute favorite animal of all time, and Galapagos is the closest place to the United States to see them. Some Galapagos penguins even live north of the equator, the only penguins in the world to do so. After a few days in Peru and a week exploring other areas of Galapagos (including a prehistoric land of giant tortoises), we were determined to meet a tuxedoed ambassador of bird-kind. Commence Operation Penguin.

If you take the land-based approach to seeing Galapagos like we did, your best bet to see a penguin sits right off the southern coast of Isabela, the archipelago’s largest island, in Las Tintoreras.

Just about a half-mile from Puerto Villamil, Las Tintoreras is an irregular group of low volcanic rocks surrounded by shallow coves. The area makes an ideal nesting ground for the Galapagos penguins, because they can nest among the rocks and swim around safely in the relatively calm waters. Las Tintoreras host much more than penguins, however. There are so many unique species to see in Galapagos (view a slideshow here), and this atoll of volcanic rock serves as a home and nesting ground for dozens of them, including boobies, frigate birds, herons, marine iguanas, sea lions, and the namesake of the area – las tintoreras, the white-tipped sharks that are endemic in these waters.

Las Tintoreras provides one of the best diving areas in all of Galapagos, too. Beneath the shallow waters among the cracked and craggy rocks, you can see all sorts of wonders – rainbow fish, sea cucumbers, rays, sharks, sea turtles, marine iguanas, and, yes, penguins.

Toward the tail-end of our trip, we took a tour of Las Tintoreras, which consisted of three parts, a boat tour, a walking tour and a diving session. I had bought a cheap HD underwater camera specifically for this excursion – in no reality would I leaving Galapagos without a picture of Taylor meeting a Galapagos penguin.

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Reserva El Chato is Jurassic Park

You know that scene in Jurassic Park? The one where the jeeps stop, and Sam Neill, hands shaking, pulls off his sunglasses and first lays eyes on a living, snorting brontosaurus? That’s how it feels to walk into Reserva El Chato.

Our visit unfolded in much the same way. Our taxi driver parked his truck in a gravel parking lot and pointed out the front windshield to something. Not seeing what he was gesturing toward, and neither us nor him speaking much of the other’s language, he motioned for us to get out and follow him. We did, and not 100 feet into the park’s low trees and grassland, two Galapagos giant tortoises lay bathing in a pool of mud.

For the tortoises, we probably served as another daily annoyance standing in their sunlight, as their resting tortoise faces betrayed. But for me, having arrived on the island of Santa Cruz in the Galapagos just hours earlier, it finally dawned that I was standing in the Land that Time Forgot. There’s nothing like a staring contest with a 120-year-old reptile to make you feel like you’ve reached the end of the earth.

Reserva El Chato is one of the most spectacular reserves I’ll probably ever see. Located on Santa Cruz, the large island in the middle of the volcanic Galapagos archipelago, El Chato is a nature reserve for the island’s famous giant tortoises. For the ridiculously underpriced entrance fee of $3 per person, you can spend an entire day walking among the forest, watering holes and grasslands where these living legends lumber.

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20 Animals You’ll See in Galapagos


What other reason is there to visit the Galapagos Islands if not to see the incredible diversity of wildlife that lives on this one-of-a-kind archipelago. Taylor and I went in search of tortoises, penguins, sea turtles, marine iguanas, blue-footed boobies and more, and frankly, they weren’t too hard to find.

In Galapagos, unique wildlife can be found behind seemingly every lava rock, cactus, reef or mangrove. Here’s a slideshow of some of the best Galapagos wildlife photos we took on our trip in May 2016. If you go, you could see these animals and more! Click below to see the slideshow:

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Crashing Corpus Christi in Cusco


On our final day in Cusco – May 26, 2016 – Taylor and I wanted to see some of the attractions around town: Sacsayhuaman, Qorikancha and the Inca History Museum. Since our AirBnb was just a block away from Mercado de San Pedro, we decided to start our morning at the market. Maybe we could snag a fresh snack for breakfast.

As we got to the end of our street, we saw the market in full swing – and do I mean full. The narrow sidewalks were packed shoulder to shoulder with shoppers and merchants. Well, for me, mostly elbow to shoulder with short, unstoppable Peruvian grandmas. All around sellers yelled to passers-by, holding out pomegranates, trays of chica, buckets of indistinguishable fish parts, and laminated posters of Jean Claude van Damme(???). Holy cow, I thought, this is a hoppin’ market!

But as we shoved our way through the crowd to the next plaza, we saw an even more expansive sea of Cusquenos, this time surrounded by booths, speakers blaring dance music, and street performers. Clearly this wasn’t a regular day at the market.

We continued to push our way through the throngs until we arrived at the southwestern corner of Plaza de Armas. When we arrived, we found the streets crammed with people, parade floats and stages set up outside the two churches, complete choirs and marching bands.

“I don’t think we’re going to make it to the tourist sites,” I said to my wife.

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