Connecticut Huskies 0-0-0 (0-0-0) Atlantic Hockey T-1st
Massachusetts Minutemen 0-0-0 (0-0-0) Hockey East T-2nd
Now that the applause has faded from the celebration announcing UConn’s addition to Hockey East, the Huskies are faced with a sobering reality. They’re still a bad Atlantic Hockey team. Bad as in a program that hasn’t had a winning season since the turn of the century. Still, they’re not a team that Massachusetts should take lightly. The Minutemen don’t exactly have a perfect record against Atlantic Hockey teams in recent years, dropping games to Army and Bentley in the last few seasons. They’re not even perfect against UConn with the Huskies picking up a win over the Minutemen back in 2004. If there’s one piece of advice I could give to UMass players it’s to recognize that this is one of the biggest games the Huskies will play all year and their players will always get up for it. That’s something that’s likely to be amplified now that the move to Hockey East is on the horizon for them and I’m sure they’d like nothing more than to begin the season with a huge upset over their future conference rivals.
Yet, despite their lofty future, not much is expected out of the Huskies this season. The 16-19-4 record they amassed last year is pretty good for the program’s standards but unfortunately for them a lot of that was due to star winger Cole Schneider who is now in the Ottawa Senators organization (though most definitely, and sadly, not in Ottawa itself). As a result the Huskies are picked to finish 7th in the AHA. UConn will have to have another star emerge if they’re going to put together a winning season in Storrs.
That star could be Brant Harris. While Schneider got most of the attention, Harris put together a very strong sophomore season himself. He had 18 goals on the year, a stunning 10 of which came on the power play. Another winger, and another junior, that UMass will have to keep an eye on is Billy Latta who was third on the team in goals last season with 10. Co-captain Sean Ambroise is likely to factor into any scoring for the Huskies as well as his 20 assists last year were second only to Schneider. UMass will have to watch out for the Husky power play which was tops last season in the AHA at a stellar 25.2%. This may be one area where the team does not miss Schneider too much as he only contributed 3 PPGs last year, versus Harris, Latta, and Ambroise who put up the bulk of the extra man goals.
Co-Captain senior Alex Gerke will be leading the defense for UConn, which overall is pretty young. Tom Janosz is the only other upperclassman on the blueline, the rest are all freshmen and sophomores. The Husky penalty kill was tied for fourth in their league last year at 82.9%. Likely in net for tomorrow will be (soon to be) four year starter Garrett Bartus. Bartus is coming off an impressive junior season where he had a 2.55 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.
The keys for UMass tomorrow are pretty much the same things I covered in yesterday’s season preview. Build off of the strides made last year, especially the successes on offense and on the power play. Make the most of the accumulating experience at defense. The blueline is one area where UMass by far has the advantage over UConn in my opinion. And the team needs consistently solid goaltending. While doing all that they’ll have to adjust accordingly to the strategy and methodology laid out by Coach Micheletto and the coaching staff. My guess is that things will be kept simple as they have only a handful of full practices under their belt. In the scrimmage on Saturday the team moved the puck pretty well once in the offensive zone. The toughest part was getting it there. Lastly, when playing a team like UConn, or any team from Atlantic Hockey, is it’s essential for UMass to make the most of its superior athleticism. If they allow the Huskies with their game plan to strategically neutralize the skill advantage that UMass has, all bets are off for tomorrow.
Being the first game of the season and the first game of a new era of Massachusetts hockey, here’s a few things I’ll be looking for tomorrow. Who is in net? My money right now would be on Kevin Boyle, but remember that in the radio show this week Mick did say he was open to using multiple goaltenders. Will we see the same lines from the scrimmage? Personally there are a few adjustments I’d like to see made. My top line is still Pereira/Guzzo/Sheary. Or do we see Mike Pereira reunited with his old prep school linemate K.J. Tiefenwerth? It worked well for the prep champion Winged Beavers. Personally I’ll be very interested to see who dresses. Do freshmen like Evan Stack and Shane Walsh get the nod over a Zack LaRue or Andrew Tegeler? Lastly, who grabs that 6th defenseman spot. Based on what I saw at the scrimmage, my money is on Mike Busillo.
So there we have it. Another season of UMass hockey is upon us. I think it’s more important than usual for UMass to start out with a win to start the schedule. I’ve already written a lot about what foes loom on the docket after the UConn game. It’s also the first match for a new coach who we all want to be successful. Lastly, after another season of disappointment and a disheartening summer for the program in general it would be joyous to start the season on a positive note. To do so they’ll have to play to their abilities and overcome what’s likely to be a motivated UConn team. The Huskies have a lot to play for. I’m sure there are more than a few clad in blue that want to show that one star player, now having moved on, did not make the entire team last season. They’re also out to show that they truly deserve that golden ticket invite to Hockey East that was delivered over the summer. And, as always, they’d love to stick it to their once and future rivals. It’s up to the Minutemen to show them what to expect when they finally get to Hockey East.
Beer The Triangle
Last week’s scrimmage didn’t only give me a chance to scout the current UMass team, but it gave me a chance to scout the beer lineup at the Hangar. What I saw impressed me. I was lucky enough on my Summer Beercation to visit the Sierra Nevada brewery right when they released their Beer Camp series for this year. So I was happy to see the Hangar was having a Sierra Beer Camp tap takeover as of last week. After doing some checking, I’m told three of the Beer Camps were still on draft as of last night. Gone is the Imperial Oatmeal Stout. But still available is the Floral IPA, Imperial Red, and Imperial Pilsner. All are good but I particularly enjoy the pilsner. Imperial Pilsners are complex and rare. Of the ones I have had I would put two at the top. One is from Boulevard Brewing out of Kansas City. The other is currently on tap at the Hangar.
Matty V brings news that there will not be captains for tomorrow night’s game. Though in my opinion overblown, I know this has been a sensitive subject with some UMass fans. Personally I don’t see the big deal. I’d rather the coach get comfortable with who he sees as leaders in the locker room and on the ice before putting letters on jerseys. If UMass needs someone to interact with refs during the game tomorrow, I’m happy to volunteer. I’ve been “conversing” with Hockey East officials for almost 20 years now.
Matt also brings news that Steve Mastalerz is just returning to full health, a fact that I don’t believe was public. He didn’t appear to be hindered by an injury on Saturday. The same could not be said for Eric Filiou, who was in street clothes for the scrimmage. Unfortunately it sounds like Emerson Auvenshine suffered a concussion in the scrimmage and his status is uncertain.
Speed and tempo is the key for the Minutemen according to the Republican’s preview. Harry Plumer also has a podcast with our esteemed commissioner Joe Bertagna.
The Republican says speed and tempo, but the focus is consistency according to USCHO. (way to pick a photo from pregame warm-ups to make it look like UMass has zero fans) The USCHO writers pick UMass to finish 7th/8th, higher than most media this pre-season.
Here’s a season/game preview from UMass Sports Weekly, the student run TV show.