Massachusetts Minutemen 13-16-5 (9-14-4) 8th Seed
#1 Boston College Eagles 25-10-1 (19-7-1) 1st Seed
On one hand it seems to be somewhat in UMass’ favor that of the three potential quarterfinal opponents the Minutemen could’ve faced they ended up with the team that they had the most success against this season. On the other hand that team happens to be the unanimous top ranked team in the country and Hockey East regular season champions Boston College Eagles who come into tomorrow’s game riding an 11 game winning streak. Add in the fact that the series will be played at Kelly Rink, where UMass had their only loss to BC this year and site of the termination of the previous two season, and it’s obvious that it will take an upset of epic proportions for Massachusetts to be playing hockey next weekend. So let’s see just what it will take to make such an upset happen.
Looking at the box scores for the three games between these teams this year it’s interesting to note that they’re not all that different, win or lose. In the loss to the Eagles the Minutemen managed only 20 shots on net, yet in the two wins they had just 23 and 19 shots. Special teams weren’t a big difference in the games either. On the power play UMass went 0 for 7 in the loss but scored just one goal with the extra man in 12 opportunities in the two wins. The penalty kill helped UMass shutout BC 4-0 in January, stifiling the Eagles on their six chances. But in the first win they still gave up two power play goals on five chances, not much different from the two on six chances in the one loss. No, I don’t think you’ll find the difference in the stats. Those who attended the three games know the difference though. Sixty minutes of defense. It wasn’t mistake free defense, but it was pretty close. Defensive breakdowns, even fleeting ones, have plagued the Minutemen all year and have been easily identified as contributing to nearly all the losses. Those types of breakdowns did not happen in the wins against BC, or the other big victories on the season. It’ll be key that the defense play smart and remain in position. They also have to do their best to clear out any rebounds in front of the net. Whether Kevin Boyle or Steve Mastalerz are in net it’s likely the freshmen will be feeling a bit nervous in their first taste of the Hockey East playoffs. It’s up to the players in front of them to take the pressure off a bit with solid play.
The other key learning from the earlier games is UMass using their speed to their advantage. Boston College is a great skating team, but UMass might just be a little bit better. Of course when you’re talking UMass skating ability the conversation starts with T.J. Syner. The co-captain had three goals in the two wins over the Eagles. Throughout both of those games UMass had a good number of breakaways and odd man rushes. They’ll have to create similar chances this weekend if they want to beat BC. In nearly all other areas, on paper at least, the Eagles hold the edge. But this UMass team, when they want to, can skate with anyone.
UMass has a couple other things working in their favor. Special teams. Yes, really, special teams. Once the bane of UMass fans, special teams can actually be considered an asset to this team. Through the Frozen Fenway game UMass was killing opposing penalties at a rate of 72.2%. Since that game their penalty kill is at 81.5%, including killing 14 of the last 15 opportunities. The power play on the other hand was at 16.2% through Fenway but has increased to 21.3% since. Those trends will have to continue into the weekend.
The last key to the game comes in the form of the seniors. Guys like Mike Pereira, Conor Sheary, and Joel Hanley among others have made amazing contributions during the season. But the team needs to be led by seniors T.J. Syner, Danny Hobbs, and Mike Marcou. The team has a winning record when any of these three register a point, including an impressive 9-4-2 when Hobbs gets a goal or assist. Their play in the last two weekends when the team was fighting to keep their season alive was spectacular with the three of them combining for six goals over the four games. If they want their college careers to continue, they’ll have to rally the troops and lead them to the upset.
It would be an upset. A shock the world kind of upset. And that’s why the pressure is not on them. No one expects them to win. Just ask the guys over at USCHO or even the UMass trained writers at College Hockey News. Per the Globe, next stop, TD Garden for the Eagles. No one even expects UMass to win once in the series. “I’ll be surprised if even a single game is close”, says the USCHO preview. Despite taking the regular season series and their 7 wins over ranked teams this year no one expects the Minutemen to do much of anything this weekend. You have to wonder why the team even boarded the bus to head east. No, the pressure is not on the Minutemen. The pressure is on Boston College. They’re the #1 seed and the #1 team. They’re trying to keep the winning streak going. They’re worried about the pairwise and which regional they’re sent to on Selection Sunday. They’re worried about trophies, and records, and expectations. For UMass, it’s as simple as going out there and just playing hockey.
Beer The Triangle
When UMass last played at Boston College in October post game was spent at one of my favorite beer bars in the city, American Craft. Sadly, that won’t be happening again as they’ve closed. But, their sister bar, Publick House, is still open. They’re one of the few local bars to regularly have Hill Farmstead on tap, an excellent beer out of Burlington, VT. Try some. You won’t regret it. (though they currently appear to be out) Roggies will be the pregaming site for UMass fans to congregate.
So that thing with Providence knocking off Lowell in game 1 was pretty unexpected.
Dick Baker has a story on cousins T.J. Syner and Barry Almeida.
Here’s the preview from the Gazette.
I did a Q&A with this BC fan blog.
The blog Beanpot Forum has their playoff preview.
No Minutemen make it onto College Hockey News’ award picks.