#12 Merrimack Warriors 16-9-7 (12-8-5) Hockey East 5th
Massachusetts Minutemen 12-15-5 (8-13-4) Hockey East T-8th
Conceivably, UMass could get swept this weekend and still make the playoffs. If Northeastern were to get swept as well by Boston University the Minutemen still get in by virtue of the third tie breaker which is record against the first place team. At that point it wouldn’t matter if BU or BC finished first, UMass would still win. But that’s not really something to count on. Not in this year’s Hockey East at least. The league has always been very competitive and usually any team can beat anyone else on a given night, but this season that seems especially true. Personally, I think the chance of both 8th place squads getting swept is very slim. I think it’s going to come down to which team is able to pull off an upset of their opponent and pick up some points. If UMass comes into the weekend thinking that their current standing and tiebreak means anything they’ll likely have plenty of free time starting Sunday. The Minutemen must approach this weekend with a playoff scenario because they’re officially fighting for their life. A sweep at the hands of the Warriors is unthinkable.
It may help that UMass already knows they can battle with Merrimack. When these teams met at the beginning of last month the teams went back and forth trading goals right up to the waning seconds of the game in what seemed to be a date with overtime. That didn’t happen. Merrimack’s Jeff Velleca scored with just two seconds left in the game and another valiant effort by the Minutemen went down the drain due to late game miscues. Luckily, Merrimack has been downright poor since that game, going 1-3-2 since. While UMass will be fighting for a shot at the playoffs, Merrimack has a lot to play for as well being just one point out of home ice and essentially the last team into the NCAA tournament as of today. Warrior coach Mark Dennehy will no doubt stress that their margin for error is slim from here on out.
Velleca was a Minuteman killer in the game last month, getting two goals and an assist. The four total goals was rare for the Warriors as well as they average just 2.78 per game and have only one player with 10 or more goals on the season, senior Jesse Todd with 11 (UMass has four goal scorers in double digits). Their power play is about equal to UMass’, converting at 18.1%, but the Minutemen were able to keep them off the board in their three attempts in that previous game.
The real story for Merrimack begins and ends with goaltender Joe Cannata, one of the best netminders in the league and beyond. The three goals UMass got past him on 28 shots was pretty good considering his goals against average is 2.13 and he has a save percentage of .926. Both of those are personal bests in his four year college career. To win this weekend, UMass will have to solve Cannata and hope to get some good goaltending themselves.
Who that goaltender will be, I have no idea. While much of this week’s discussion surrounding who will be in net has focused on senior Kevin Moore and the campaign to get him to start, the fact is he won’t be. Neither will Jeff Teglia who remains injured. It’s either going to be Kevin Boyle or Steve Mastalerz. Boyle played solid in Friday’s loss where Casey DeSmith just played that much better. Mastalerz looked very good in his Saturday performance that earned him Rookie of the Week honors. Both played well enough to get the call this weekend which makes me guess that Toot will play both of them. However I personally hope to see Mastalerz tomorrow. I think he had a slightly better weekend and I’d like to see him get the chance at home. And let’s face it, tomorrow offers the Minutemen the best chance at winning. We know they’ve had most of their success at the Mullins Center. Senior Night festivities honoring T.J. Syner, Danny Hobbs, Mike Marcou, and Moore will hopefully bring in a good crowd and get the rest of the team pumped which then leads to a win. Because on Saturday it’ll be the opposite. UMass will travel to an arena where they haven’t won in five years. And Merrimack and its fans will be looking for a win on a night where they honor one the team’s greatest players in Cannata. The recruiting of Cannata was the first step of the turnaround at Merrimack and it has been him who has been in net for the entire rebirth of the program. He’s their Jon Quick, except they were lucky enough to get four years worth. Volpe is going to be a tough place to win on Saturday which is why it’s imperative the team treats tomorrow as a must-win game.
Terriers vs Huskies Mini-Preview
While UMass is trying to figure out how to get a puck behind Cannata, the two dogs of Hockey East will be battling in the Back Bay. The teams played a close one at Matthews Arena in January with BU coming out on top 4-3. A couple power play goals, including the game winner by Wade Megan, was the difference. Megan had two totals goals in the game. The Huskies battled back after being down 4-2 thanks to a Ludwig Karlsson goal towards the end of the third but never could get the equalizer. The Terriers have played well in the last couple weekends, despite all the off ice distractions, taking three of four games. The Huskies meanwhile have gone 1-1-2 in that same time. Northeastern look to gain an edge with the return of Steve Quailer.
Beer The Triangle
It will be a weekend of goodbyes. The Mullins crowd will bid adieu to the four seniors on the team and I’ll be saying farewell to my weekly trips to the Hangar. Luckily I’ll still be heading west regularly to catch some lacrosse games and attend the school’s first Spring Game as an FBS school. Plus the wife’s parents live in the valley. I can honestly say I love visiting the in-laws. If it’s still on tomorrow, I’ll be helping myself to some Pizza Port Mongo. One of the best IPAs you’ll ever have. On Saturday I’ll be at one of my favorite pregame spots in Hockey East, The Tap in Haverhill, home to Haverhill Brewing. They make an amazing Alt and I like their Snowbound quite a bit as well. Looking forward to trying the Scapegoat Bock.
The Republican has their preview of the weekend.
The Collegian has a story about the #freemoore campaign where Moore says it would be “be smarter to put in a goalie who has played consistently throughout the season in big games.”
Recruit Shane Walsh is mentioned in this article about the South Shore Kings from the New England Hockey Journal.
UMass has lost out on recruit Steven Swavely to Maine. I wouldn’t read too much into it, his brother Jon already plays for the Black Bears.