The Second-Half Surge: Math or Myth?

North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol’s teams have earned a reputation as second-half squads. In Hakstol’s ten years behind the bench, his winning percentage has been significantly better once the calendar turns to the new year. Why does UND seem to surge in the second half? Are there other factors that contribute to early-season struggles? And what should we expect from this year’s team down the stretch?

Before we get to this year’s team, let’s look back at the previous nine years under Dave Hakstol. For simplicity’s sake, I used January 1st as the midway point for analysis. First, individually:

2004-05: First half 13-7-2, Second half 12-8-3 (7-1-1 in March 2005)
2005-06: First half 13-8-1, Second half 16-8-0 (8-1-0 in March 2006)
2006-07: First half 9-10-1, Second half 15-4-4 (6-1-1 in March 2007)
2007-08: First half 9-7-1, Second half 19-4-3 (7-2-2 in March 2008)
2008-09: First half 9-10-1, Second half 15-5-3 (4-4-0 in March 2009)
2009-10: First half 9-6-3, Second half 16-7-2 (7-2-0 in March 2010)
2010-11: First half 14-5-2, Second half 18-3-1 (8-0-0 in March 2011)
2011-12: First half 10-8-2, Second half 16-5-1 (8-1-0 in March 2012)
2012-13: First half 10-5-3, Second half 12-8-4 (5-4-1 in March 2013)

And combined 2004-13: First half 96-66-16 (.584) Second half 138-48-19 (.720), 60-16-5 (.772) in March

As you can see, the first two seasons do not necessarily fit the category of “second half surges”. It is interesting to note, however, that in both of those years, the record in the month of March was significantly better than the rest of the season.

The first season where the phrase “second half surge” became widely used was in 2006-07. Not only did the Sioux only lose four games from January until April, the team went on an 11 game unbeaten streak (8-0-3) in January and February. And the 2008-09 North Dakota club went 18 games without a loss (15-0-3) in the second half, again collecting only four losses after New Year’s Day.

The other two teams that did not fit the “second half surge” trend were the 2010-11 squad (which was consistently excellent all season long) and last year’s team, which posted eight losses in the second half, including four losses in March.

And this year’s squad:

2013-14: First half 9-7-2, Second falf 9-2-1

The latest version of the second half surge is even more pronounced if one marks December 1st as the midway point. This most recent surge has produced a stretch of 17 games during which North Dakota has gone 14-2-1.

Each team has its own personality, makeup, and character, but there seems to be a common thread running through Dave Hakstol’s tenure at North Dakota: early season struggles and growing pains lead to consistency in the second half, culminating in an excellent winning percentage during tournament time (albeit a dismal 1-5 record in April).

What factors contribute to the early season struggles? For me, it boils down to a team’s identity. Included in that are several questions:

What type of team will each year’s roster become?
Who will handle the goaltending duties?
What types of injuries will they have to overcome?
With early departures, how long will it take the returning players to find and define roles?
Will the incoming freshman class contribute?
Who will handle the key special teams roles, and how long before those units find success?

I’m not suggesting that North Dakota is the only school that has to handle these issues each season; I’m simply bringing them up in an attempt to illustrate that coaching is not an exact science. There is no “magic button”, it’s a process. Early on, I heard Hakstol comment many times that despite the losses, he liked this team and believed that they were very close to playing up to their capabilities.

The biggest factors for this season’s early struggles were goaltending and injuries.

The rotation of Zane Gothberg and Clarke Saunders did not work out very well. Before Gothberg became the full-time starter on November 30th, UND was 4-7-2. Since then, the Green and White are 14-2-1. In twelve games as the number-one goaltender, the sophomore has posted a ridiculous stat line:

11-0-1, 1.37 goals-against average, .938 save percentage, 1 shutout

During that stretch, Gothberg has allowed more than two goals just once, a 5-3 victory over Colorado College.

Other factors that have contributed to the success over the past three months have been an improved power play, a healthy lineup, and key contributions from the blue line.

Over the past three games, for example, UND has gone 6 for 15 on the power play (40%). Over the past four games, North Dakota’s blueliners have accounted for eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points. And a healthy Green and White lineup means that players like Mark MacMillan, Michael Parks, Drake Caggiula, and Rocco Grimaldi can be spread across two lines, making UND more difficult to defend. Over the past four games, North Dakota’s big four forwards have tallied seven goals and added 14 assists for 21 points.

The rest of this discussion is up to you. Is there truth to the second half surge? Is it math or myth? And what do you expect from this year’s team the rest of the way? Leave your comments and let me know what you think.

5 thoughts on “The Second-Half Surge: Math or Myth?”

  1. I think a healthy Mark Mcmillan has been the biggest difference. He has been contributing on a nightly basis since returning from injury.

  2. You also have to remember that, the March post season play records are considered by most to be second half of the season, as it is a continuation of that second half. When you are hit march, and you are getting on a hot streak, in a viewers mind that only continues in the post season. The record does not start over. Add the March numbers to the second half records and you get a better picture of what everyone talked about every spring regarding being a second half team.
    Fun to see how Hak develops these teams. They looked abysmal last fall, and as Dave Starman said, they are legit contenders the way they are playing. Time to keep doing what they are doing, and make a run.
    This could be a very scary team next season!

  3. I’d like to figure out approximately when the tide turns. It isn’t January 1 as you have

    already pointed out. On average, when is the start of the “2nd half run?” I believe it is closer to mid December; by that time the team has started to find its self.

  4. Just to clarify: The second half records above include March games, but I also separated out the March record just to show that Hakstol’s teams have been even more successful in March than in the second half overall.

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