New Hampshire Wildcats 13-15-3 (10-12-2) Hockey East 7th
Massachusetts Minutemen 11-14-5 (7-12-4) Hockey East T-8th
What an opportunity the Minutemen hockey team has laid out before them this weekend. They come into this second to last weekend of the hockey season clutching onto the final playoff spot, four points behind 7th place. That 7th place team, UNH, is coming into the Mullins Center for two games with four points on the line. If UMass can somehow sweep the home stand they would tie UNH and gain the tiebreaker over the Wildcats who they also have a game in hand on, and potentially give themselves separation between themselves and dreaded 9th place. They could also potentially gain some major ground on Providence who is just five points ahead and has to play two games this weekend against the Boston College Eagles who have only lost three times since we turned the calendars to 2012. It’s a tall order to sweep even a down and out UNH team and get help from around the league to make a run at 6th place. But the opportunity is certainly there.
It’s been a while since these teams last played, which is a good thing because it was a game to forget for Minuteman fans. It started off well enough with T.J. Syner scoring just a minute and a half in. But then things got ugly. For Steve Mastalerz it was probably not how he dreamed his college debut would go. He ended up giving up three goals in the first period, including one with just six seconds left, and was lifted for Kevin Boyle to start the second. Boyle had even a worse night, giving up two goals on four shots and 11 minutes after being pulled, Mastalerz was back in the net. He played better after that but the damage was already done and UNH would roll to a 7-3 win. Despite that victory though UNH is in the midst of one of their worst seasons in recent memory. In fact if their losing record holds up it would be their first since 1995-96.
The Wildcats have struggled in all areas this season. They’re scoring on average three goals per game and have just one player with double digits in goals in Steve Moses. By the end of last season the Wildcats featured six different players with at least 10 goals or more. The Minutemen would do well to focus on Moses who has scored over 1/5th of his team’s total goals. A couple sophomores, Nick Sorkin and Kevin Goumas, have contributed on offense as well putting up 31 and 26 points respectively. UNH’s power play is converting at 19.6%, not too far off from UMass’ improved 18.2%, but once again it’s all Moses who accounts for nearly a third of their power play goals.
With all the talented forwards the Wildcats graduated last year it’s not a huge shock that they’re having trouble scoring. What is surprising is how many goals their opponents have scored. Goaltender Matt DiGirolamo had a breakout season last year with a goals against average of 2.44 and a Hockey East best .923 save percentage. Yet by January he had lost his starters job to freshman Casey DeSmith. And all DeSmith has done with the opportunity is put up better numbers than DiGirolamo did last year, coming into the weekend with a 2.11 GAA and .929 save percentage. His 7-6-1 record is more a reflection of the lack of support he gets from his goal scorers than of his own play.
For UMass to maximize the opportunity I laid out earlier it will mean coming out and playing their best for two consecutive nights. Now UMass fans, as well as Boston College, Boston University, Maine, Cornell, and others have learned that if UMass plays their best they can beat any team. But on consecutive nights? That’s only happened once this season, back in November when they beat Holy Cross and Northeastern at home in the Mullins. Every other time when UMass has had to play on two consecutive days they’ve lost at least one of them.
Looking at UMass’ last four victories it’s clear what they need to do. To start, score first. The Minutemen have done so in each of those wins. Three of the times they’ve done so in the first ten minutes of the game. Thanks to that first goal at the end of the first period they were ahead in two of those games and tied in two. They had the lead going into the third in all four. One of the reasons they’ve been able to score in the wins is because their power play has performed well, scoring 4 goals on 19 chances, or 21.1%. On the flipside, their penalty kill has been stellar in those wins keeping the opponents from scoring on 18 of 20 chances, or 90%. That’s a hell of an improvement from a team that has lingered in the mid to low 70% range all season. Score first, score a power play goal or two, and keep a team that has trouble scoring from doing so with the extra man. All that together just might be the recipe for success against UNH and perhaps improve their place in the Hockey East standings going into the final weekend.
Beer The Triangle
It’s been a couple weeks so I have no idea what’s on at the Hangar. However I do see that ABC has some beers that pique my interest, namely Left Hand Fade to Black Vol 3, Ommegang Seduction, and ABC’s own ESB (perhaps my favorite beer style).
New England Hockey Journal has a piece on UMass’ opposing goaltender for the series.
College Hockey News’ weekly look at the weekend in Hockey East.
It seems that if anyone was upset with how Paul Kelley was running College Hockey Inc. it was the infinitely wise league commissioners and not the coaches around the country.
BU has created a task force to explore the culture surrounding Terrier hockey and what role, if any, it’s had in their recent off-ice troubles. Now if someone could just start a task force to see which Hockey East officials are in Jack Parker’s pocket.