On the rewatch I'm even more pleased with UB's 2-1 loss to #8 Akron Friday evening than I was shortly after the final horn.
The Bulls embraced the heavy underdog role and played sound defense knowing they weren't going to be able to play the Zips even in space. They didn't fully "park the bus," either, picking their spots to press forward even after the opening minutes, when Stu Riddle said his team was aggressive by design. Compared to Akron or a normal performance the Bulls were outgunned, but did manage a few scoring opportunities without giving up any dangerous counters. Whether they would have held for 30 more minutes to get a key draw or not, the deciding goal was far more referee's discretion than the Zips inevitably breaking through.
These Film Study posts are still evolving. I was asked after the last one to have discussion down here rather than just in the captions, and to highlight non-scoring plays, as well, and this was a good game to do so. As a result, there's many more pictures than in any previous edition, but I think it's worthwhile. Feel free to leave feedback.
Every photo in the slideshow above has an explanatory caption, but there are four sections I'm going to go more in-depth on.
Build up to Cicerone PK, Buffalo 1-0
(1) Braden Scales, facing his own defense, needs to make a pass to keep possession. An incoming Akron forward forces his decision to one of the nearby Austin Place or David Enstrom. (2) He goes to Enstrom, probably the better move, since that forward could have pinned Place on the sideline. This triangle is a pretty standard look in the midfield, whether there's an opponent in the midfield or just guarding a few of the involved players. UB needs to get out of it, though, with four Zips focusing their attention on this group. You can see Scales pointing for Enstrom to turn and get the ball into space.
(3) Enstrom instead goes to Place, and worse, it's not a great touch-- a little strong and forcing Place to lunge to keep it in play. UB benefits a bit here that the incoming forward and other defenders keyed in on Enstrom's other options.
(4) On the zoom out we see Cicerone - who was the most active and dangerous player on the pitch for either team - is trying to move into space. He's faster than anyone on Akron's backline, and there's a pretty open amount of space for him to meet the ball. You can also see up top how much room there was had Enstrom played it back rather than to Place. Cicerone and his defenders would have been further upfield, but UB could have gotten it around easily. (5) Unfortunately, Place having to rush leads the ball away a bit, and Cicerone has to change course, corral the ball and work past an Akron defender. He's drawn outside instead of taking the goalie head-on alone.
(6) Russ gets the ball, but has been drawn outside. His momentum will take him further that way, but maybe he had a chance to turn upfield here. Had he, he probably would have committed himself to at least a one on one situation before getting a shot. We also see here that Akron's been a little slow to react, as UB has numbers. I didn't draw it out, but another difficult, but possible choice here would be for Russ to pass it back. It would be low-percentage in the overall play, but good for possession.
(7) UB was never interested in extended possession on offense, though. Russ now has drawn two defenders and is turning upfield. He's pretty much committed at this point. A pass back is there, maybe for a give and go, but probably not. (8) Here's the foul, which I think was fair, though Russ sells it plenty. If he got around the corner clean, he probably goes in at a bad angle on goal or hopefully throws it in at Scales.
(9) This type of thing isn't great for technical concerns, but I do want to highlight that the goalie here is already committed and moving, and that Russ has appeared to set his foot towards one side and is facing his shoulders to the other. (10) Against St. Bonaventure Cicerone had a similar set up, and followed his shoulders. Akron's goalie may have seen that film, or may have just guessed wrong, but Russ brought his shoulders around and followed to the left.
Typical first half UB defense
(11) through (16), (18), and (19) - Three different instances. See the captions.
UB whistled offside incorrectly
UB Chance: Culver and Stryker
(20) Akron has managed to get the ball somewhat close to net, but once again needs a perfect touch and UB recovers quickly enough to prevent a shot. The only option is a pass back, (21) which is way too soft, and Braden Culver steps in front. This screenshot isn't the best, as Culver is still before his first touch, and he pretty quickly splits Akron's defenders.
From here, it's pretty simple, because few players are involved and Culver carries it alone for so long. There's a possible lane to his left, but passing across the middle at this depth is way too dangerous, especially when UB is specifically protecting this area. Think hockey.
(22) Culver has lots and lots of room, and it's a pretty easy decision to bring it up over a potential pass to Stryker. (23) As Akron defenders threaten Culver, Stryker is trying to work into space. (24) Stryker gets some separation from the defenders and presents a clear space for the pass. (25) The pass is low and the chance ends, but only two Bulls are involved and the risk was low.
There's not much of a decision tree on this play, but I wanted to highlight it to show the sorts of chances UB was taking and their discipline otherwise. If Culver's pass is better, Stryker gets a shot. When it's not, it's not the end of the world.
UB Chance: Cicerone
Here's a more involved, riskier chance for UB. (26) David Enstrom collects the ball on the front edge of UB's defense and immediately has options in Culver and Scales to get the ball moving forward and into space. What's more important here is how many players Akron has so far forward. There are eight in frame and I would bet one more off the left edge. You can bet that UB was thinking "attack" from this moment, rather than booting it safely downfield and regrouping.
(27) Culver gets the ball and doesn't have much of an option. Neither Enstrom nor Scales are moving particularly upfield. (28) The ball gets to Enstrom and there are areas of Akron-less space to both the right and left. The only real forward progress is in a tough-to-reach area in front of Scales. Notice that the Zips defenders most quickly getting back on defense are coming from the top, where Cramarossa and Cicerone are being left alone and Marcus Hanson is drawing a defender.
(29) Back to Culver, and while there's space below, there's also 25+ yards of space and two Bulls up top. (30) This is where we shift from "UB playing good defense and clearing Akron out" to "UB going for a chance." It's also where the risk factor goes up. Akron is getting back on defense, but UB can also get burned quickly if they lose the ball. Cramarossa here must get the ball to Cicerone after he's drawn the Akron defender toward the ball. (31) He does, and Cicerone takes advantage of a misplay by Akron (this really should have been poked out for a UB throw-in) to give UB suddenly a very good looking odd-man rush.
(32) This situation is so good for UB that the next two decisions are less than optimal and the Bulls still had a great chance. Here, Cicerone and Hanson are in a two-on-two, with Scales working to get into the picture. From this moment, I'd like to see Marcus draw a defender, either by running at the top defender and opening room for Cicerone to bring the ball towards the middle, or by drawing the bottom towards the middle and (eventually) far post. Either of these would give Cicerone more room either to dribble or to get a good pass.
(33) Hanson doesn't really do either, as both Akron defenders are still to Russ' side of the midline. Cicerone has four options here: take on a defender, hoping to win and hoping Hanson occupies the other, stall for time by moving towards the end line for an eventual cross, or pass across to either of the trailing Scales and Culver. Truth be told, at this point I don't love any of the options.
(34) Hanson still hasn't taken anyone on, and Russ is running out of space. Scales is more open on the other side, but a pass back to Culver probably would take too much time and allow defenders and the goalie to reset. (35) This is where it ends. Cicerone tries to beat a man and doesn't. Had Hanson drawn the other defender more, there would have been an easy pass to Scales across the top of the box, and Akron would have had to scramble. There also the possibility (which I didn't draw out) in this series, that Cicerone passes to Hanson, who would draw tighter coverage and hopefully be able to pass the ball off to Scales or back to Russ.
It was a bit disappointing not to get a shot here, because it was one of UB's best chances of the game.
Akron PK: Saved
(36) This was a fair penalty. Marcus never came close to the ball on his challenge. It's frustrating because UB had that area well covered.
(37) and (38) Kuta guesses right, and notice how he dives out from the line. Najem's shot is hard and low and quite good, but Kuta was just better.
Typical second half UB defense
(39)-(41) Nothing special here, just notice that Akron gave up on the middle and tried to work for crosses, and UB was still able to overload the middle and the edge of the defense.
UB Chance: Enstrom, Place, and Scales
This one isn't as nice as the last one, but it shows the type of play UB was looking for: quick decisions where moving the ball upfield quickly was more important than possession, because at some point they'd have to beat the odds one-on-one or one-on-two anyway.
(42) Enstrom has players and low-percentage passes on one side and space on the other. (43) He drops it off to Culver, who works into that space and has a short passing option, but Akron has it well-covered and UB has no options to move forward. I forgot to label that line to the left, but Stryker and Cicerone are off screen.
(44) The ball gets played back to Austin Place, and this set up is reminiscent of several of UB's recent goals. (45) The ball after being played in falls to Stryker, who has worked across, and Scales makes a run hoping for Stryker to thread a pass through. (46) When he does, Scales has the space despite occupying four defenders to get a pass in to Cicerone in the middle, (47) who at least gets a weak shot or redirection on net.
It's not an A-1 chance, but UB only had to win three battles (Stryker, Scales, Cicerone) to score, and all three were in the final third. To try to build up possession would be to work through at least eight of those battles against a faster and more skilled opponent. Best of all, Buffalo got this chance and faced little threat of a quick Akron counter attack, because Scales and Cicerone alone drew six defenders.
Raffi Torres was suspended from the NHL for 41 games for a similar hit. This guy got a yellow card.