Recruit Update ▲ Makar, Massie Join Dixson In Signing UMass NLIs

In last week’s post I reported that defenseman Justin Dixson signed his National Letter of Intent to play at the University of Massachusetts.  I’ve also learned that defensemen Jake Massie and Cale Makar signed their NLIs during the early signing period which ended last week.  The signings help assure that coach John Micheletto and his staff are set at the blueline for years to come.


Weekend Wrap-Around ▲ Hockey East Claims Three Of Top Four Spots In Rankings

Hockey East continues to show it’s the best conference in college hockey, boasting three of the top four teams in the country.  The latest USCHO polls has Providence continuing its reign as the #1 team in the country with Boston College just behind them at #2.  Lowell moved up to #4 after taking three points from Notre Dame.  Staying at #3 is UMass’ next opponent, 11-0-2 Quinnpiac.


Recap ▲ UMass Picks Up Two Points With Ties At New Hampshire, Merrimack

The Massachusetts hockey team hit the road this weekend and had to deal with two very different environments while taking on a couple league foes.  At New Hampshire on Friday the high-flying Minutemen were faced with having to play on the sizable playing surface of the Whittemore Center that was soft and slushy due to a power outage earlier in the day.  The next night they travelled to Merrimack’s Lawler Arena where they competed on one of college hockey’s smallest ice sheets against one of the best defensive teams in the country.  They were able to do well enough against both of the unique challenges to come away with two hard fought ties and gain two more valuable road points for the Hockey East standings.  Going back to last weekend’s game against Vermont, UMass has now gotten ties in each of their last three games, all on the road.


Preview ▲ UMass Hits The Road To Take On UNH, #13 Merrimack

New Hampshire Wildcats 3-4-2 (1-0-2) Hockey East 8th


Massachusetts Minutemen 6-3-2 (2-2-2) Hockey East T-5th

The Massachusetts hockey team will hit the road this weekend to face a couple Hockey East foes they’ve already seen once this weekend.  On Friday the Minutemen head to Durham to take on the team that was part of their most memorable game this season.  On 10/23 the New Hampshire Wildcats visited the Mullins and were up 6-1 with a little more than a period left before UMass roared back to secure maybe the best tie in the history of the program.  On Saturday the Minutemen will take on Merrimack, who they just faced and lost 4-2 to last weekend, at Lawler Rink in North Andover.


Recruit Update ▲ Dixson Signs His National Letter Of Intent

Time to see how the recruits are doing. Last Wednesday marked the beginning of the early signing period.  Justin Dixson is the only recruit who has been publicly reported as signing his NLI.  UMass typically doesn’t announce them as they get them, but will do so with a taped scouting report from coach John Micheletto in the future.  A reader was also kind enough to point out that Shane Bear had previously signed his NLI, so I’ve made that correction below.  Today is the last day of the early signing period.


Recap ▲ UMass Falls To Merrimack At Home, Salvages A Point With Late Heroics At UVM

The Massachusetts hockey team faced two very good defensive teams in Merrimack and Vermont this past weekend and struggled to get their talented offense going early on in both games.  The Minutemen did rally from multiple goal deficits in both of the contests.  But while their comeback was for naught at home on Friday against the Warriors, a heart-stopping third period in Vermont allowed UMass to at least gain a tie and a valuable road point on the weekend.


Preview ▲ Minutemen Host #14 Merrimack Friday, Travel To Vermont Sunday

Merrimack College Warriors 5-1-2 (1-1-2) Hockey East T-5th


Massachusetts Minutemen 6-2-1 (2-1-1) Hockey East 4th

The Massachusetts Minutemen will look to build off last weekend’s sweep of league foe UConn when they take on another couple Hockey East opponents.  Friday night they’ll host the surprising #14 Merrimack Warriors and then will take a day off before heading up to Burlington to take on the Vermont Catamounts for a Sunday afternoon affair.  A strong performance against a couple talented teams could result in UMass breaking into the national rankings.

The early season performance of the Minutemen have been a surprise around the league, but Merrimack’s early record has likely raised more eyebrows.  The Warriors were picked to finish 11th in the league, just ahead of the Minutemen.  They began their season with a home sweep versus Clarkson and St Lawrence.  Both of the North Country teams are improved this year and are currently ranked.  They followed that up with two ties in a home and home versus nearby rival and top ten ranked Lowell.  The next weekend they would beat Boston University but fall to UNH before sweeping an Atlantic Hockey road trip against Bentley and Canisius last weekend.

As the usually do, Merrimack is succeeding with a very good defense.  They are allowing a national low 23 shots on goal per game.  Only 1.75 of those shots are finding the back of the net, 7th best in the country.  Even a man down they’re doing well with a .929 penalty kill, 5th best in the country.  Key in that defensive play is sophomore goaltender Colin Delia, who has a .924 save percentage on the season and a 1.73 goals against average.

The Warriors are averaging 3.75 goals scored per game and are led offensively by senior Ben Bahe who leads them in both goals (4) and points (10).  The Warriors are only 7th among Hockey East teams in scoring, but that’s still good enough to be 21st nationally.  Of course the other player to watch out for on offense is Brett Snively who is coming off a strong freshman season with 2 goals and 8 points so far in the 8 Warrior games.  Merrimack does not represent much of a power play threat, converting just twice on 30 chances this season for a fourth worst 6.7% nationally.

Merrimack will be an interesting test for the Minutemen.  When you look at the teams that have let in the least amount of goals nationally you have Boston College first, Yale, tied for 5th, and Merrimack 7th.  UMass lost 7-0 against BC and 6-1 against Yale.  So far, against pretty good competition, the Warriors have been among the best in the country when it comes to defense and UMass has struggled against the best.  Will UMass continue to struggle against a team that executes as well defensively as Merrimack?  We’ll see.

The other thing to keep an eye on Friday is what happens to Austin Plevy.  The UMass freshman originally committed to play for Merrimack and Warrior coach Mark Dennehy.  He went as far as to enroll in the school, spend the summer working out with the team, and begin fall classes before reconsidering and leaving North Andover.  Plevy had a very good couple games last weekend against UConn, good enough to be named Hockey East Rookie of the Week.  Does playing against his would-be team serve as motivation or as distraction?  Are there hard feelings on the other side of the ice that could potentially put a target on Plevy’s back?  We’ll have to see if the Warriors have a message they want to convey to Plevy in his first game against them.

Massachusetts Minutemen 6-2-1 (2-1-1) Hockey East 4th


Vermont Catamounts 2-6-1 (1-2-1) Hockey East T-7th


On paper it looks like the Catamounts are having a pretty bad season with a 2-6-1 record.  But on closer inspection, maybe Vermont isn’t quite as bad as they appear at first glance.  Their 6 losses have come in the form of three weekend sweeps against very good opponents.  In Mid-October they dropped two games at home to then #3 Omaha.  The next weekend they hosted then #1 North Dakota and lost both.  And last weekend they played #4 Lowell at home and lost both of those games.  While the fans of Burlington have seen some of the best teams in the country this year at Gutterson, they haven’t seen any wins.  The two Catamount wins have come on the road, first at then #8 Minnesota and at hapless Northeastern.  The Cats will look for their first home win of the season this weekend, either Friday against UConn or Sunday versus Massachusetts.

Last year the Catamounts were one of the best defensive teams in the league, giving up the second least goals per game among Hockey East teams with 2.22.  They returned junior Mike Santaguida who saved .923 of shots last year and was third in goals against average.  Maybe it’s the level of competition he’s faced or maybe it’s something else but so far this season Santaguida has not been able to repeat last year’s performance.  He comes into the weekend with a .907 save percentage, 41st in the country (just ahead of Nic Renyard).  Vermont does boast an experienced defensive corps that includes the likes of Alexx Privitera, Rob Hamilton, and Yvan Pattyn.

Without a doubt Vermont’s biggest problem this season is that they’re just not scoring goals.  The Catamounts are scoring just 2.00 goals per game, 10th worst among DI teams nationally.  They do have some skilled offensive players to be aware of however.  Junior Mario Puskarich is averaging a point per game with 4 goals and 5 assists in 9 games.  The Privitera brothers both have six points apiece so far this season.  UMass commit turned BU commit turned Vermont freshman Liam Coughlin has four assists on the season thus far.

This is a tough Vermont team to read.  Their record is bad and their stats are skewed in the wrong direction.  But they’ve played some really tough competition.  Does this team have some fundamental flaws or have are they a product of who they’ve had to play?  My guess is the answer is somewhere in between.  Yes, the Catamounts have had an incredibly tough schedule having to play three top five teams across 6 games.  Yet, all of those games against top ranked teams were at home.  You would think a decent team would at least win one or two at home?  But they haven’t.  Is this a tough Vermont team?  I’m not sure.  But they’ll be hungry to prove themselves this weekend when they get a couple of unranked teams to the Gut.

Beer The Triangle

If you’re heading up to Burlington I highly recommend hitting a few places.  Zero Gravity Brewing that’s part of American Flatbread is a great place to go for food an beer.  Zero Gravity makes some really good german-style beers.  Farmhouse Tap & Grille is pricey, but has a lot of good beers you can’t get elsewhere, including a selection of Hill Farmstead usually.  And of course no trip is complete without stopping in Waterbury for a Heady Topper, preferably at the old Alchemist brewpub, now the Prohibition Pig.  There’s no better road trip for beer in Hockey East.

The game in Burlington on Sunday has changed from a 1pm start time to a 2pm start time due to Catamount soccer’s participation in the America East tournament.

Weekend preview from UMass Athletics.

The Collegian advocates for bigger student crowds for hockey going forward.

Ahead of his first home game as a Bruin tonight, Masslive/The Republican has a whole host of stories on Western Mass native Frank Vatrano.  There’s this piece on Vatrano’s undrafted status being a source of motivation.  There’s a really interesting story of Vatrano’s callup and his father sitting at the Canadian border desperately trying to get across to watch his son’s debut in Montreal.  And there’s this story on Vatrano’s connection with local institutions creating a big rooting interesting for East Longmeadow’s own.

Recruit Update ▲ Cale Makar Has 4 Assist Game

The midweek game against Boston College last week meant no opportunity to check in on the recruits, so we have two weeks of games to catch up on.  We will likely be seeing news of letter of intent’s being signed, as the early signing period opens tomorrow.  Kyler Nachtigall and Ty Pelton-Byce are the only recruits who have already completed their NLIs.  I would assume you’d see Shane Bear, Jake Massie, and possible Shane Bear, and Jake McCarthy signing their letters of intent during this signing period.


Weekend Wrap-Around ▲ Plevy Named Hockey East Rookie Of The Week

For the second time this season Minuteman freshman Austin Plevy was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week.  Plevy had four points this past weekend, including a one goal, two assist effort on Saturday.  Plevy is tied with UConn’s Alex Letunov for Hockey East freshman goal scoring with 6 apiece.

graphic by Hockey East


Recap ▲ UMass Enjoys First Four Point Weekend Since 2011 With Sweep Over UConn

The Massachusetts hockey team rebounded nicely from a couple of concerning losses in the past week with a home and home sweep over Hockey East foe UConn.  The 4-2 and 5-3 results gives UMass its first four point weekend since January of 2011 when the Minutemen swept a home and home with the Lowell River Hawks.  Coming off two blowout losses that saw UMass give up 13 goals to Boston College and Yale, the UConn wins featured solid goaltending and offensive contributions from a number of different players.  Not only are the two wins key in terms of points in the Hockey East standings, but UMass picks up an important tiebreaker against a team they may be battling for seeding later on.

A win on Friday in Hartford seemed unlikely with the Minutemen missing four of their regular players.  Captain Steven Iacobellis and defenseman Ben Gallacher were serving suspensions from Tuesday’s game at BC, Patrick Lee was out with illness, and Kurt Keats did not play due to injury.  But UMass would put the Huskies back on their toes early as Ray Pigozzi scored just 1:14 into the first period.  The Huskies would control play for most of the opening stanza though, outshooting UMass 18-12 and would tie the score before the 1st period ended.  The teams would trade goals again in the second period, with UConn again holding an advantage in shots on goal during the 20 minutes, setting up a dramatic third period.

The teams would play pretty even for most of the third period, but with just under five minutes left in regulation freshman Austin Plevy would score his first goal since opening weekend to give UMass its third lead of the night.  The final minutes would not be without some stress however as a Marc Hetnik boarding penalty with just over three minutes to go gave the UMass penalty kill unit, which had killed all UConn power plays to that point, one last task.  With 1:56 left, down by a goal, and on the power play the Huskies would call a timeout and use the opportunity to pull goaltender Rob Nichols to create a 6 on 4 opportunity.  UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh’s move would backfire almost immediately however as William Lagesson’s shot/clear attempt, without worry of an icing call, found the empty net on the other end of the ice to give UMass the 4-2 lead.  Renyard would turn aside a couple more power play shots to seal the win.

UMass did a lot of things right on Friday.  The two numbers that jump off the stat page to me is the team’s performance in the penalty kill and the goaltending provided by Renyard.  UMass came into the game with one of the worst penalty kills in the country, stopping opponents only 2/3rds of the time.  But on Friday the PK was perfect, keeping UConn off the scoreboard on all six opportunities, despite almost 11 minutes of extra-man team, and even scored a goal while down a man.  Helping keep UConn off the board during the power play and at even strength is the fact that the team blocked 18 shots on the night, three times as many as they did against BC on Tuesday.  The shots that did get through were nearly all turned away by Renyard who stopped 40 shots, his second 40+ save game of his young career.

Scoring early in the game helped UMass set the tone in their Friday win and they repeated that again on Saturday when the teams came north to Amherst.  It was Shane Walsh this time who would get the Minutemen on the board first when he was able to take a Pigozzi pass and take a really impressive shot that just found the inside of the far post.  UMass would extend their lead to two just 1:15 later when Kurt Keats, returning from injury, scored his first collegiate school by attacking the net and putting a bouncing puck behind Nichols.  UConn would finally end their 0-for on the power play against UMass when they’d convert with the extra man caused by a too many men call.

That power play goal was one of very few scoring chances for UConn in the first two periods as the Minutemen played probably their best team defense of the year during that stretch.  UMass allowed just 11 total shots on goal through the first 40 minutes of the game.  They’d take a 3-1 lead into the final period when Dominic Trento would put a loose puck in front of Nichols into the back of the net.  Trento would score again on a pass from Austin Plevy a few minutes into the third to extend the lead to 4-1.

Most of the final period would belong to the Huskies though as their offense woke up and they’d pour 21 shots on Renyard in the last 20 minutes.  Renyard would stand tall yet again though, denying the Huskies throughout the period except for a penalty shot goal by UConn star Alex Lutunov and a meaningless goal in the final seconds.  Austin Plevy meanwhile would add his second goal in consecutive nights late in the game to seal the 5-3 win for the Minutemen.

The way that UMass controlled play through the first two periods of Saturday’s game was very impressive.  Puck possession is an area where the team will need to improve if they want to compete with the really good teams in the league and was one of the most apparently deficiencies in the losses to BC and Yale.  UConn obviously doesn’t have the skill level of the Eagles, but they do have a group of young, talented forwards.  Letunov and Tage Thompson are among the best freshmen in Hockey East yet UMass kept them off the board entirely save for Letunov’s penalty shot score.  Thompson only tallied one shot on goal all weekend.  The more UMass can improve their puck possession and team defense the more pressure they can take off Renyard.  Though this weekend he proved that he’s ready to be the go-to guy in net.

I don’t think you could have asked for any better way for the team to respond to the disappointing showings against Yale and Boston College.  Especially considering how many key players they were missing on Friday when they were away from the Mullins Center.  UMass saw improvement in a number of key areas; specifically goaltending, penalty killing, puck possession, and goal scoring.  The team will need to continue their strong play in those areas next weekend when they play another pair of Hockey East games with another four points on the line.  They’ll kick things off when they face a ranked Merrimack team on Friday at home before heading up to play at Vermont on Sunday afternoon.  For the first time in a long time, maybe since 2011, UMass can go into a league weekend with some undeniable momentum behind them.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Friday) – Nic Renyard
The four league points were the most important aspect to this weekend’s wins.  But second most important to me is that UMass has found their goaltender.  Renyard had a .932 save percentage on the weekend, including stopping .952% of shots on Friday when he made 40 total saves.  The penalty kill unit as a whole did well that night, but Renyard had a lot to do with the Huskies going 0-for-6 with the extra man, making 11 saves when UConn had the power play.  He even picked up an assist on Lagesson’s goal that night.  Beyond the stats Renyard continues to show very solid technique in net, including minimizing any potential rebounds.

photo by Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Saturday) – Dominic Trento
Trento continues to be an important part of UMass’ offense so far this season.  On Saturday he had two goals and also assisted on Plevy’s score.  Trento’s five goals on the season already matches what he accumulated all of last season and his contributions have gone beyond the score sheet with the energy and defense he also brings.

photo by Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

Friday’s Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics

Saturday’s Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics

The Collegian has their game story for Friday as well as one for the Saturday.

For an opposing viewpoint here’s Friday’s story from the Hartford Courant as well of their recap of Saturday’s loss.

While UMass was on their way to sweeping UConn former Minuteman Frank Vatrano was in Montreal making his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins.  And like he’s done pretty much every game this season, he scored.  Amalie Benjamin has the story on a night Vatrano will certainly never forget.

College Hockey News has an interesting profile on former Minuteman goaltender Kevin Boyle who is putting together a great senior season three years after being cut by UMass.  I’ve never understood the move to cut Boyle by Micheletto, but I am happy to see Boyle finding success in his post-UMass career.


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