Scoring goals at any level of hockey is a difficult task, and seeing it done regularly by any one player is what makes that player special. Canada West women’s hockey has had its fair share of elite scorers over the years, but it’s the lack of scoring that is becoming far more evident as the seasons progress. That’s not to say that certain teams haven’t found a way to score, but I thought I should post a bit of an examination of the last eight seasons that show how Canada West was becoming far more defensive-minded than ever before in its history.
As you may recall, Kelsey Roberts, the netminder for the Calgary Dinos pictured above, was named as the Canada West Player of the Year thanks to her play in the Dinos’ nets all season long, leading to a major jump in the standings for the University of Calgary. While she was certainly one of the reasons for Calgary’s turnaround, it should be noted that there were exceptional goaltending performances across the conference with the likes of Kaitlyn Ross, Kirsten Chamberlin, and Jessica Vance all doing ridiculous goaltending things.
Ten goaltenders finished with a goal-against average less than 2.00 with three of them playing in 21-or-more games last season. To double-down on those numbers, eight goaltenders finished the season with save percentages at .930 or above, and seven goaltenders finished with four-or-more shutouts at the end of the season.
Scoring goals at the Canada West level was already hard back in 2012-13, but it’s moved to a level that’s downright suffocating to say the least. Graphically, here’s what the trend looks like using lines and bars.
As you can see, there are declines in both the Most Team Goals Scored (MTGS) totals and the Average Goals Scored (AGS) each season while the Lowest Team Goals Scored (LTGS) is slightly elevated in the final years after declining as well. Needless to say, the trend in scoring is going the “not fun” way as teams are placing higher emphasis on defence than offence.
Aside from the anomoly season in 2017-18 that saw just three teams hit the 60-goal plateau while Calgary set an all-time low with just 22 goals-for, scoring has dropped from the high seen in 2012-13 when Calgary hit an all-time high of 97 goals-for. The lowest scoring team that season was the newly-promoted Mount Royal Cougars who scored 50 goals. In comparison, that would have made them the fourth-highest scoring team in 2019-20.
With two new teams entering Canada West next season and one team not participating, there likely will be a bump in goal-scoring across the league as MacEwan and Trinity Western figure out how to play at the Canada West level. The one thing that levels the playing field for all teams is good goaltending and defence, though, and it’s a reason why we’re seeing the scoring drop from year to year. If we’ve learned anything from NHL expansion over the years, the preference to win close games through good defence and good goaltending always seems to take precedence over opening up the game and trying to score more goals.
Since 2012-13, Alberta has scored no fewer than 62 goals in a season (2015-16). Their goals-against are as follows: 47, 31, 35, 39, 39, 43, 24, and 31 last season. That’s a pretty consistent defensive effort, yet they finished 4th, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 1st, and 1st. Both times that Alberta gave up more than 40 goals in a season, they finished in fourth-place, yet the two times that gave up 39 goals in a season saw 1st- and 2nd-place finishes. Every other year where they’ve given up less than 39 goals against has seen them win the conference. Is it any wonder why defence is being heralded in Canada West?
The three times that they didn’t win the conference, though, had them score 67-or-more goals – more than any other team in 2019-20 except the Alberta Pandas! Calgary, who scored a second-best 61 goals last season, would have been sixth-highest in 2012-13, fifth-highest in 2013-14, and fifth-highest in 2014-15. Again, a commitment to defence and goaltending has been the trend we’re seeing for all the teams as the years have gone by as scoring has dropped while defensive zone play has improved immensely.
How do we get the scoring back up, you ask? Well, that’s a tough question. We’ve seen Alberta score at a high rate with playing good defensive hockey, but there are two sides of the coin that we need to consider. Obviously, a strong forecheck is a good start as forcing defenders to make mistakes on breakouts will lead to chances. I’d like to see more players jumping passing routes to pick off passes to create odd-player rushes, but there’s a risk involved with making those plays as well which coaches will frown on if one has to fish the puck out of one’s own net. And as seen above, coaches will play conservatively so that the red light isn’t on in their end.
I’d love to see more creative power-plays than what we’ve seen in the past in Canada West. I think a lot of the systems being used can be easily game-planned for by coaches in Canada West, so it might take some creativity and imagination to change that up a little. I’d also like to see goalies learning to handle the puck more so that they can become additional weapons for transitioning to offence faster. Having a goalie who can throw passes to the red line would be ideal in catching teams on changes or before they can set up in the defensive zone on dump-ins.
Will these changes result in an explosion of offence? I’m not sure it will, but it might be enough to shake up a team for an additional five or ten goals in the course of a season. Maybe that’s enough to overcome a team or two in the standings as well. But, if nothing else, it brings the fun back to what’s becoming a bit of a chess match between Canada West teams.
Hockey’s supposed to be fun, right? Let’s have fun then!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!