Providence College Friars 7-8-3 (5-4-2) 4th Hockey East (12 pts)
Massachusetts Minutemen 7-9-2 (4-6-1) 7th Hockey East (9 pts)
Massachusetts and Providence will close out their season series with a home and home this weekend starting with a game tomorrow night at the Mullins. The teams met last in the beginning of November in what I thought was UMass’ most complete game so far this season as they shutout the Friars 4-0. In that game the Minutemen had a sizable edge in shots, 32-17, and scored their goals even strength, on the power play, and even shorthanded. When the Minutemen play this weekend the team will, most likely, still be missing one of the key components of that win in the form of Troy Power, who had a goal, an assist, and finished +3 in that previous game against the Friars.
The loss against UMass put the Friars at .500 on the season and they’ve struggled to be any better than that since. They’ve only won three games since losing to the Minutemen and last gained a win in late November, a 4-3 overtime victory against Merrimack. They come into the game 0-2-3 in their last five, though one of those ties came against Boston College. Last weekend they travelled out to Minnesota State and dropped both weekend games, one in overtime.
Offensively the Friars are fourth among Hockey East teams, tied with the Minutemen scoring 2.78 goals per game. Unlike UMass though they gain most of their goals at even strength, as their power play is next to last in the league at just 12.7%. The Friars have spread the scoring around with five players having at least four goals on the season but no one has more than six. Junior Derek Army is tops in goals and total points with six goals and 12 points respectively. Sophomore Ross Mauermann is one of the few Frairs who has had power play success with three of his five goals coming with the extra man. Freshman star Mark Jankowski (4G, 4A) has missed the last four games with a hip injury and his status for this weekend is unknown.
While Providence is scoring the same as UMass, they’re giving up considerably less goals. Their 2.44 goals per game is 3rd best in the league (UMass is last with 3.06). A good deal of those goals though have come a man down as PC is only killing only 80% of power play chances, worst in the league. The Friar defense is led by seniors Alex Velischek and Myles Harvey. Freshman goaltender Jon Gilles will be returning to the Friars after being part of the gold winning Team USA effort at the World Juniors. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s able to jump right in and play without having to readjust as he has not seen much game action recently as he was relegated to backup duty overseas. Before he left though he was playing wonderfully, putting up a GAA of 1.95 and .928 save percentage. Both of those puts him at 2nd in the league behind UNH’s Casey DeSmith.
For UMass it’s all about carrying over what they established up in Hanover. They certainly played poorly in that first period against Bemidji State. But from then on they were the better team during the entire tournament. Against the Beavers they surpassed with skill. Against Dartmouth, due to the interfering officiating, they just made the most of what they were given and took the hardware. UMass will have some momentum to start the second half but it’s less than what they would’ve had if they didn’t have last week off. As a UMass fan you’re happy to give guys like Steve Mastalerz and Troy Power an extra week to get healthy but you also would’ve rather the team picked up right where they left off when they were grabbing the trophy up in Hanover. Will they be able to recapture momentum?
Certainly it seems like UMass would do well to make the most of their power play. On paper that’s the biggest advantage seen in the statistics. Providence is dead last on the penalty kill while UMass is second best at 20.6%. UMass will also have to rely on their stars. Going into the season most Minuteman fans thought it would be Mike Pereira or Conor Sheary doing most of the work for the team but so far it’s been Branden Gracel who’s been the MVP. Now that the has the attention upon him can he continue to produce at the rate he has thus far?
The Minutemen have a tremendous opportunity in front of them. Despite some struggles in the first half of the year they still find themselves in 7th place in Hockey East and with some luck and a couple of wins they can vault themselves into home ice position this weekend with a sweep. But they’ll have to play like they did in Hanover, with a bit of desperation and a whole lot of effort, versus how they did against Yale or Colgate to end the year where they look lackadaisical. The hope was the trip and the challenge in Hanover woke up this team. These two games against the Friars will tell us if that’s the case.
Beer The Triangle
The Hanger has Café Racer 15. That is all.
Sorry, can’t find any previews for this weekend as everyone is busy with basketball.
Here’s CHN’s look at the Hockey East weekend that shall be.