Massachusetts Minutemen 10-13-5 (6-11-4) Hockey East T-8th
Maine Black Bears 17-9-3 (12-8-4) Hockey East T-4th
By losing five out of their last six the UMass hockey team has left very little room for error during the final three weekends of the season. They enter this coming weekend tied with Northeastern for the final playoff spot without the benefit of the primary or secondary tiebreakers against the Huskies. The Huskies have their easiest opponent from those games that remain, hosting 6th place Providence for both games of the weekend. Northeastern has stumbled of late, losing their last three in a row, but by staying on St Botolph Street this weekend they’ll have a good chance to pick up points. That makes it even that much more important that UMass give everything they can to try to upset Maine. Even a split may not be enough to pull ahead of the Huskies so it’s likely necessary for the Minutemen to take three points in Orono. To do so, just might be short of miraculous.
These teams first met this season back in November in a game that ended up as a 2-2 tie, but likely should’ve been a UMass win. After spotting the Black Bears as 2-0 lead in the first, the Minutemen played pretty well afterward, sending a total of 37 shots at goaltender Dan Sullivan. But it was the missed opportunities that loomed for UMass, going 0 for 7 on the power play including being unable to convert on a Joey Diamond major penalty in overtime. The teams met again in a non-conference game for the Florida College Classic trophy that made me glad I wasn’t able to make the trip south. Maine won 5-2, but in truth it wasn’t that close. Maine jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first (again) by outshooting UMass 14-1. UMass would try to get back in the game, but to no avail. Going without a power play goal (again) in five chances did not help. Neither did giving up three power play goals to their opponent. That first game against the Minutemen in November was a huge turning point for the Black Bears. Coming into that game they were 3-6-1. Starting with that tie in the Mullins they’ve gone an amazing 14-3-2. If any Black Bear fan is complaining about coach Tim Whitehead currently they should get their head checked.
First and foremost Maine gets it done on the offensive end. They’re tops among Hockey East teams in scoring with just under three and a half goals per game. You can add to that a power play converting at just under 30%. Maine has five different players in double digits for goals (UMass has two). Their top scorers are Spencer Abbott and Brian Flynn, who have 49 and 40 points respectively, the top two point leaders in Hockey East and Abbott also leading the country. Not far behind is opposing fan favorite Joey Diamond who is in 4th place in Hockey East with 31 points and tops among Black Bears with 18 goals.
In net UMass will likely be facing Dan Sullivan who has had a solid sophomore year after emerging as the go to goaltender. He comes into the weekend with a goals against average of 2.70 and a save percentage of .905. In his last game out he held the energetic Lowell offense to just one goal. He has a solid group of defensemen in front of him led by the top pairing of Ryan Hegarty and Mark Nemec.
For UMass it would be helpful if they didn’t allow the Black Bears to grab a 2-0 lead like in previous two games. It would be helpful if they could score a power play goal since so far they’re 0 for 12 against Maine whose penalty kill is only stopping 79.4% of chances. The question is which UMass team will show up? The one that was able to take out #1 Boston University on the road or the one that sleep walked through the first period against Providence and never could give a consistent effort? One huge challenge, other than find a way and a goaltender to stop the high powered Maine offense, is the setting. I know people, mostly BU fans, like to think that Agganis Arena is some intimidating place but the truth is it’s not. Great hockey barn, completely overrated crowd and atmosphere. Maine is the real deal. People there are rowdy and literally right on top of the ice. Some players have found a way to overcome that (see Gabe Winer) some don’t. As desperate as this team may be, as cognizant as they may be that they need a win, it’s going to take real mental toughness to take points at Alfond. Add in the fact that Maine is not only battling for home ice but could actually pull into first place this weekend and it’s unlikely they’ll come out flat against the Minutemen. UMass already got beat badly by this team 1,700 miles away. One has to wonder how they’ll fare against them on their home turf.
Beer The Triangle
Ok, here’s my preliminary BTT itinerary. First up, lunch tomorrow at the Liberal Cup Public House, maybe a stop to Oak Pond Brewery as we head to Bangor, then it’ll likely be time for some hockey. In and around the Orono area I’m looking forward to getting back to Pat’s Pizza, some of the best pizza in the world, and maybe grabbing some Black Bear Brew and bringing it back to the hotel. Or maybe I’ll head back to Bangor and check out Nocturnem Draft Haus which is currently hosting a kick ass Allagash takeover. Saturday will probably be spent taking a drive over to Bar Harbor to check out Maine Coast Brewpub and Bar Harbor Brewing or maybe head further down the coast to stop in at Belfast Brewing and Marshall Wharf/Three Tides. The ride home on Sunday will likely feature a stop in beer-rich Portland and their highly rated beer bars Novare Res or Great Lost Bear or maybe drive a bit further and hit one of my all time favorite brewpubs, Portsmouth Brewery. The only real question will be whether we’ll be drinking our beer in celebration or drowning our sorrows. If it’s the latter, nothing but the best beer to cry in for this UMass fan.
Here’s the weekend preview from the Republican, highlighting Maine’s top power play.
The Maine student paper has their preview.
College Hockey News’ look at the weekend ahead in Hockey East.