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Preview: UMass Is Back In Action (Finally) Against #12 Boston College & #11 Vermont

#12 Boston College Eagles 5-5-0 (1-3-0) Hockey East T-10th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 3-5-0 (1-4-0) Hockey East T-10th

Hockey East action finally returns to the Mullins Center this weekend.  It’s been 42 days since the Massachusetts hockey team last played a league game at home (a game they’d probably like to forget).  And it’s been two weeks since the team played a game of any kind.  They should be well rested, fairly healthy, and hopefully not too rusty when the puck drops against #12 Boston College on Friday night.

These teams last met at Chestnut Hill on October 25th where the Eagles got the 4-1 win.  The difference in that one was a couple of two man advantage power play goals for the Eagles in a game that featured 18 total penalties for 47 mins, including a game misconduct for Minuteman captain Troy Power.  The game started out as a defensive battle with only nine total shots on goal in the first period, six for the Eagles and three for the Minutemen.  Things starting getting really heated in the second period however as 8 total penalties were called during that frame.  What I thought the key to the game was that the larger and more experienced Eagles amplified the physicality of the game both before and after the whistle during that middle period.  UMass did not allow themselves to be pushed around, but at the same time the chippyness got to them and completely threw them off their concentration and their game.  Add in some ill timed penalties, the five on three goals, and an empty net goal and there’s your 4-1 result.  UMass will have to make sure not to fall into the same trap this time around.  Stand up for yourself, respond in kind, but don’t cross the line and find yourself in the box.  At the same time, use the bigger Mullins ice to your advantage and avoid the hit altogether.  UMass probably has the edge when it comes to speed and skating, so have to make sure it’s those aspects that dictate the game.

BC’s season has not been typical BC since the meeting of these teams last month.  The week after facing the Minutemen they travelled west to Denver and split a pair of games there.  Ok, that’s understandable.  Then their season went off the rails a bit.  They were shutout 1-0 by UConn in a historic win for the newest Hockey East member.  Then later that same week they hosted rival Boston University and coughed up three different leads on their way to a 5-3 loss to the Terriers.  They then hosted Harvard and shockingly lost 6-3 to the Crimson, at one point going down 5-1.  They did stop their slide with a narrow 3-2 win against the Michigan State team that UMass split with earlier in the season.  Since the calendar flipped to November the Eagles are scoring just two goals per game while giving up 3.20 and have exactly zero power play goals in 26 opportunities.  I don’t think there’s ever a “good” time to play a Jerry York coached BC squad, but there is no denying they’re struggling with multiple aspects of their game right now.

Henry Dill got the start when these teams played last month but I am hoping to see Steve Mastalerz lead the team onto the ice for warmups before the game.  Mastalerz has not had the opportunity to play the Eagles since his sophomore season, but he has played them tough when he has faced them.  He is 2-1, the one loss in overtime, against BC with a save percentage of .930 and a GAA of 2.29.  The biggest win of his career can likely be considered his 35 save, 4-0 shutout of the then #4 Eagles as a freshman.  Injury robbed Mastalerz the chance of facing the Eagles last season and Dill was a logical choice in the net against them earlier this season as he was coming off a strong win against Northeastern in the previous night.  But I think the senior goaltender has earned the chance to face BC once again in the last regular season matchup with them in his last season.

 

#11 Vermont Catamounts 7-2-1 (5-2-1) Hockey East 1st

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Massachusetts Minutemen 3-5-0 (1-4-0) Hockey East T-10th

Vermont and Massachusetts rekindle their rivalry that dates back to the Division II days on Saturday with the teams then heading north to face each other again in Burlington for the annual Turkey Tuesday Tilt.  Vermont was one of the surprises in Hockey East last year, winning 20 games and making the NCAA tournament.  They’ve picked up exactly where they’ve left off and come into the Mullins in first place in Hockey East and just outside the top ten in the country.

The Catamounts have been getting the job done with their defense.  They’re allowing just 1.70 goals per game, 6th best in the country.  Opponents are only generating just over 25 shots per game, 7th best in the country.  The limiting of shots shows it’s more than goaltending as the skaters in front of their goaltenders are getting the job done too.  In net it was expected that Brody Hoffman would get all the starts in goal after his strong season last year.  And he’s played well enough to, going 5-1-1 with a .918 save percentage and 1.96 GAA.  But it hasn’t only been him shutting down foes.  Sophomore Mike Santaguida has gone 2-1-0 with an amazing save percentage of .957 and miniscule GAA of 1.15.  Whomever UMass faces it’s not going to be an easy task to get the puck by them.

Even with the extra man it hasn’t been easy to score against this UVM team.  Their .921 PK % is 6th best in the country.  Combine that with the fact that they’ve taken the second fewest PIM per game among Hockey East programs and power plays are going to be few and far between against this team.  Defensively they’re led by seniors Nick Luukko and Mike Paliotta, both NHL draft picks, and junior Alexx Privitera.

Offensively Vermont is a lot like UMass in that they’re getting production from a multitude of players.  13 different Catamounts have scored at least one goal on the season.  Reigning Hockey East Rookie of the Year Mario Puskarich leads the team in points with 9, scoring 4 goals on the season.  Junior Jonathan Turk also has four goals on the season, though most of those came in a hat trick performance against Northeastern in the season opener.  Sophomore Mike Stenerson and senior Colin Markison both have three goals apiece.  Vermont is converting their power plays at a 14.3% pace, same as UMass.

It’ll be interesting to get the first look at this same UVM squad that ended the Minutemen’s season last year.  The Catamount will be facing UConn on Friday before heading back north on I-91 on Saturday.  It doesn’t seem likely that the Minutemen will be getting a ton of goals against this stingy UVM team so it’ll be important for them to clamp down on defense and minimize scoring chances themselves.  Defensively UMass has been very inconsistent.  If they combine their recent momentum in scoring with a concerted effort on defense this weekend they could grab some very key league points this weekend and make up some ground in the standings before it’s too late.  Six out of the next seven Hockey East games will be played in the Mullins Center for the Minutemen.  Kicking off that stretch successfully is a necessity.

Official Weekend Previews from Massachusetts Athletics, Boston College, and Vermont.

The Collegian previews the weekend for the Minutemen.  They also have a feature on captain Troy Power who will be appearing in his 100th game for UMass tomorrow against BC.  For the first time he’ll have his entire family in the stands to witness the milestone as well.

Coach Mick made the most of the time off per the Gazette preview.

Here’s a preview on UVM’s weekend from the Burlington Free Press.

NHL Central Scouting has listed UMass commit Ty Pelton-Byce as a Player To Watch ahead of next June’s NHL Draft.  They rank Pelton-Byce, who just recently signed his NLI, as a potential late round draft pick.  Pelton-Byce is playing high school hockey in Wisconsin this season and is expected to arrive in Amherst in the fall of 2016.

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View From Section U: UMail

Tonight I’m bringing back the UMail feature on FTT where I answer your mail/comments/Tweets.  I’ll try to do this every so often.  This blog is really meant to cover the Massachusetts hockey team for the fans, by a fan, so I really enjoy any interaction with readers be it through comments, or Twitter, or however.  So here we go:

George asked “November 19th prediction. Where do we finish the regular season? I think we can host a first round game.”

With last week being a bye week I was pretty bored so I sat down with the schedule and went through game by game with my predictions for each one based on how UMass has played thus far and how the rest of the league has played.  I did it before this past weekend’s games, but given that most teams split I don’t think I would’ve changed much.  I came up with an overall record of 13-18-2 and a conference record of 7-13-2.  The 16 league points will put them right around that 8th or 9th seed split for home ice in the first round.  The 13-18-2 record doesn’t sound like much to celebrate, but it would be a step forward from the 8 wins last year.  If you remember at the beginning of the season I predicted that this team would win anywhere from 5 to 15 games so it would be on the high side of that initial projection.  We’ll see though.  Still lots and lots of games to be played.

Will asked “Is Montour still coming in January?”

From everyone I’ve talked to Brandon Montour is still on track to join the team mid-season.  He’s still out there racking up tons of points in the USHL instead of jumping to the pros or major junior so that signals his intention to go the college route.  And he’ll have had the time to clear up the clearinghouse issues that delayed his arrival in Amherst.  The big question is when UMass fans will get their first glimpse of him.  He’s technically eligible to enroll and join the team the first day of Winter session, which is Monday, December 15th.  The team has a non-conference game against Northeastern the very next night.  Will Mick throw him in with minimal practice time  or will he wait until the Catamount Cup games just before New Year’s?  We’ll have to see.

Brain asked a bunch of questions.  His first was “Do you see the goalie shuffle continuing all season?”

That’s a tough one.  You’ll definitely see it continue in the short term, especially with the five games in nine days stretch coming up.  After that it’s certainly possible that one of the goalies will get hot and take the net over full time.  Mick was asked the question in one of the recent radio shows and while I forget his exact wording he basically said he likes having the competition to drive the goalies to get better, but sounded like he’d rather one of them make the choice for him by the time the late season stretch and playoffs arrive.  Who would that be?  I don’t know.  Henry Dill probably has a slight edge but Steve Mastalerz has had some bright spots too.  It’ll come down to consistency.  I think both are capable of taking down a big time opponent but it’s getting that solid effort night in and night out that has plagued UMass ever since Paul Dainton graduated.  Whoever can play well 3 or 4 games in a row will find the job is theirs.

Brian’s second question is “What beer after the Maine debacle?”

Hmm.  Not sure if that means what beer did I actually drink after the Maine debacle or what?  I’m also guessing the debacle in question would be the team giving up the two goal lead in the third on Saturday versus the OT loss on Friday.  I don’t remember what I was drinking that night and my Untappd doesn’t show any check-ins (obviously I was distracted).  I think a good beer to drown your sorrows in after that game would have to come from New Hampshire though, just to kind of stick it to the Mainers.  It would also have to be strong to be effective in its ultimate purpose of helping forget about the loss.  Also, being in a bad mood, I’d probably go for something darker and more malty versus hoppy (happy?) and flowery.  So given all that I’ll say a Smuttynose Baltic Porter probably would’ve been a good beer to have on hand right after that game.

Brian also asked “What benchmark defines a “successful” season?”

It’s a good question and one that I’m not sure there’s an easy answer for.  There will be a lot of fans who think a coach in their third year should be expected to produce a winning season.  There are others who would just want to see some kind of progress on last year’s 8-22-4 record.  For myself, I don’t think I’ve figured out exactly what I’d consider a successful season this year.  I think just saying they need a winning record is too simple and maybe too much to ask given the size of this freshman class and how much they’ll be relied upon to produce offense.  I don’t have a specific win total or place in the standings that I’d consider successful, but there are a number of things I’d like to see this year.  First and foremost, I want to see the team playing their best hockey at the end of the season.  This is actually something I’ve wanted to see for the past two years but it hasn’t happened and the team has sputtered into the playoffs or not even made them at all.  It’ll be much easier to be optimistic about next season if the team is playing well to close out the season we’re in.  Secondly, the team can’t finish last in Hockey East.  Thirdly and related to the last one, the team should finish above teams making their Hockey East debuts.  Now this one is a little tougher given recent results, but UConn finishing higher than UMass in their first year in the league with a coach that was under consideration to coach here would be pretty tough to swallow.  Overall I think if the team was playing good hockey in February (either winning or losing close games), finishes with 13 or so wins as projected earlier and makes a few teams sweat in the playoffs, I’d be satisfied.

In a related question Brian asked “How long or short is Mick’s leash?”

Mick gets at least four years.  The team could lose every game for the rest of the season and Mick would still be here next year.  And I think there’s a good argument that he should be given that opportunity.  He and his staff have worked hard the last couple years putting this year’s freshman class together.  He should at least get two years to work with them and get some results.  Next year’s class is looking pretty solid as well.  That’s why I would give him at least four years.  Athletic Director John McCutcheon probably views it the same way or has different reasons why he’d keep Mick at least four years so I think you can count on that.  If hypothetically he struggles this year and next year does he come back for his fifth and final year of his contract?  I’m not totally sure.  I’m going to guess yes though and say Mick will get all five years of his original contract regardless of record.  McCutcheon has always seemed very hesitant to pull the trigger on coaches who struggle.  I think the same would apply to Mick if that was the case.  Hopefully it doesn’t come to the point where Mick is coaching in the final year of his contract because that always makes it tough to recruit.  Ideally we see some significant progress in the next year and a half and Mick gets an extension before it ever gets to that point.

Ryan asks “What is the best craft beer from each New England state?”

Ok, this one is going to take some real work and thinking.  Let’s get the easy one out of the way first.  Vermont, Alchemist Heady Topper.  Does Heady get perhaps too much hype?  Yes.  Is it still the best beer in the beer mecca that is the Green Mountain State?  Yes.  Maine I would have to say Lunch From Maine Beer Company.  Allagash has the most great beers in the state in terms of quantity, but Lunch is probably the best downeast beer I’ve had (still haven’t found Dinner yet).  For New Hampshire the Smuttynose Baltic Porter I mentioned earlier might be it, but they have a lot of others including their barleywine and wheat wine, that are pretty close.  I unfortunately never got Portsmouth Kate the Great when they were making it.  Rhode Island is tough because they make a lot of good, not great, beers.  I think I’ll go with Decadance from the Trinity Brewhouse.  Massachusetts is really tough because there are not only an amazing amount of breweries in the Bay State now, but there’s some amazing ones.  It doesn’t help that I have two beers, Lager Ness Monster and Bride Maker, from one of my favorite in-state brewers, Jack’s Abby, which are very highly rated but I haven’t tried yet.  I guess Julius from Treehouse Brewing?  Asking me my favorite Massachusetts beer is like asking people which of their children is their favorite.  It’s not fair.  So anyway, those are my top beers from New England.  I don’t consider Connecticut part of New England so screw them.

Ryan asks “Is Hill Farmstead really as good as it’s reputation?”

Yes.  The first time I had Edward I rethought the existence of man and creation of the universe.  It’s that good.  But I will tell you this, if you decide to drive to the middle of nowhere where they brew their beer, plan an entire afternoon to do so.  The sloth-like pace at which they fill growlers is mind-boggling.  Don’t get fooled if you see only a couple dozen people in front of you.  You’re looking at hours of waiting.  Whatever you do, try to avoid bringing a toddler with you because they apparently do not enjoy standing in the same place for a few hours.

Justin asked “Name your all time starting UMass team- 3F, 2D, 1G, you can go with the best or your favorite.”

Best is probably pretty easy.  Jon Quick in net obviously.  At defense you’d have Thomas Pöck and Justin Braun.  Forward is a litter tougher.  I’ll say James Marcou, Greg Mauldin, and Stephen Werner.  As for favorites I’ll take Paul Dainton in net.  Defense stays the same with Pöck and Braun.  And at forward I’ll keep Mauldin and add Rob Bonneau and Chris Capraro.  These are all subject to change.  I’d probably come up with totally different combinations if asked tomorrow.

Thanks to everyone who sent in a question!

Captain Troy Power outlines how the team kept busy during their recent bye week in his latest blog post.

The annual Alumni Game will be taking place this weekend and there’s a huge amount of former players who are making the trek to Amherst to participate.  Here’s the current list of alumni who will be there: Bob Jefferson, Carl Burns, John Riley, Ken Richard, Dusty Demianiuk, Craig MacDonald, Jeff Timmins, Randy Drohan, Luke Duplesis, Tim Turner, Jeff Turner, Marty Miljko, David Leaderer, Scott Crowder, Kris Wallis, Chris Davis, Jeff Lang, Jordan Virtue, Matt Walsh, Brett Watson, RJ Gates, Mike Warner, Tim Warner, Will Ortiz, Kevin Czepiel, Dave Alessandroni, Jack McDonnell, Kevin Sullivan, Justin Rafferty, Jamie Benelli, PF Hurley, Joe Culgin, Chase Langeraap, Fernando Fernandez, Shawn Saunders, Sean Regan, Jay Shaw, Peter Trovato, Mike Merchant.  The alumni will play on the Mullins ice at 2pm and then attend the game against Vermont that night.

Recruit Update

Brandon Montour – D – Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL) – Dec 2014
15 GP /4 G / 14 A / 18 Pts / 30 PIM /-3
Montour had a goal and three assists in his last three games.  In fact his goal made the USHL highlights this week (2:10 mark below).  Montour continues to lead USHL defensemen in points and 5th among all skaters.

USHL Week 8 Highlights

Brandon Egli – D – Vernon Vipers (BCHL) – 2015
13 GP / 0 G /1 A / 1 Pts / 17 PIM
No points for Egli last week.

Jake McCarthy – D – South Shore Kings (USPHL) – 2015 or 2016
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts / 0 PIM
McCarthy is still nursing an injury that is delaying his debut for the Kings.

Kurt Keats – C – Powell River Kings (BCHL) – 2015
22 GP / 19 G / 12 A / 31 Pts / 37 PIM
Keats had two assists in his lone game this past week.  He’s currently second in the BCHL in goals and 5th in points.

Austin Plevy – C – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2015
23 GP / 13 G /24 A / 37 Pts / 44 PIM
Plevy had a goal and five assists in three games this past week.  Plevy leads the AJHL in points and points per game and is tied for 5th in goals.

Shane Bear – D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2016
24 GP / 0 G / 12 A / 12 Pts / 37 PIM
Bear had an assist in his last three games.

Troy Conzo – RW – Wenatchee Wild (NAHL) – 2016 or 2017
3 GP / 0 G / 0 A /0 Pts / 0 PIM / –2  Des Moines (USHL)
7 GP/ 2 G/ 1 A / 3 Pts / 2 PIM / 0 Wenatchee (NAHL)
Last week I reported that Conzo had four goals in his first few games with his new team.  It appears the NAHL website double counted one of the games.  So he actually has two goals and an assist since moving leagues.

Kyler Nachtigall – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2016
24 GP / 5 G / 6 A / 11 Pts / 37 PIM
Nachtigall had a goal and and two assists in his last three games.

Ty Pelton-Byce – C – Team Wisconsin U18 (Elite)/Madison Memorial (WI HS) – 2016
21 GP / 12 G / 12 A / 24 Pts / 8 PIM  Team Wisconsin U18
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts  Madison Memorial
Madison Memorial’s season kicks off on November 28th.

John Leonard – F – Springfield Rifles (Mass Selects)/Springfield Cathedral (MA HS) – 2017
14 GP / 21 G / 11 A / 32 Pts  Springfield Rifles
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts  Springfield Cathedral
Cathedral’s season starts December 13th.

The big news around college hockey today was that Arizona State will elevate their championship caliber club program to Division I.  The plan is to transition next year and then to play as an independent in 2016.  They’ll then find a conference, likely the NCHC or WCHA, for 2017.  I love any news that shows that college hockey is expanding.  The great thing about the Sun Devils joining the DI ranks is it could lead to other Pac-12 teams to follow their path.  ASU will be sticking with their current club coach for their jump to DI.

For tomorrow’s View From Section U feature I’m going to do a round of UMail and answer your questions.  So please send me questions about the season thus far, geometric hockey jerseys, beer, or whatever.  You can send me your questions by commenting on this post, email, or Twitter.

Weekend Update, Polls, & Awards

Do you like splits?  Well this past weekend in Hockey East was for you.  The biggest story of the weekend was that Northeastern got its first win of the season at home against UNH after losing in Durham the night before.  Vermont got blanked in Providence 3-0 on Friday but rebounded with a 2-1 win on Saturday.  What I found most surprising about that series is that the Friars, the #3 team in the country to start the season, only got 2300 fans to each of the games.  That’s disappointing and surprising, despite the slow start for the team.

Merrimack hosted Notre Dame this past weekend and after losing a tough one in overtime on Friday bounced back to a surprising 4-1 win on Saturday.  Even out of conference we saw a split has Penn State dominated #4 Lowell by a score of 4-1 on Saturday after losing 5-3 the night before.  In a split against two different teams this past week Boston College continued to struggle on Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to Harvard but travelled out to East Lansing and beat the Spartans by the same score Friday.  No split for Boston University as they travelled up to Orono for a 3-1 victory in their only game of the weekend against Maine.  And in the “Well, that’s college hockey…” result of the week UConn followed up its three point week against BC and BU by getting shutout 2-0 against Sacred Heart.  What’s interesting about that game is that it was played at prep’s Taft School in honor of Jason Pagni, a force in Connecticut hockey and someone who meant a lot to UMass great Jon Quick.

  Conference     Overall
    GP W-L-T   PTS GF-GA     GP W-L-T GF-GA
1 Vermont 8 5-2-1   11 22-16     10 7-2-1 27-17
2 Boston University 6 4-1-1   9 25-12     8 6-1-1 29-14
  Mass.-Lowell 5 4-0-1   9 23-7     11 7-2-2 44-29
4 Merrimack 5 3-2-0   6 11-8     11 7-3-1 31-21
  Providence 6 3-3-0   6 10-10     10 4-5-1 19-24
6 Notre Dame 4 2-1-1   5 9-10     12 6-5-1 36-32
7 Maine 5 2-3-0   4 14-18     11 3-7-1 25-38
8 Connecticut 4 1-2-1   3 7-8     10 2-5-3 17-24
  Northeastern 6 1-4-1   3 12-23     10 1-8-1 17-36
10 New Hampshire 4 1-3-0   2 8-15     10 4-6-0 29-29
  Boston College 4 1-3-0   2 9-12     10 5-5-0 30-27
  Massachusetts 5 1-4-0   2 12-23     8 3-5-0 26-32

 

Minnesota got swept by Minnesota-Duluth this past weekend which means we have a new #1 team this week.  That team is Michigan Tech.  Michigan Tech!  If Union winning the championship last year and the Huskies of Tech being the top team in the country isn’t a huge affirmation to the fact that any team in college hockey, even success-challenged UMass, can climb to the top I don’t know what is.  North Dakota stays at #2 and BU climbs all the way to #3 with their 6-1-1 ranking.  Needless to say David Quinn is the early favorite for coach of the year.

Minnesota drops to fourth after getting swept by the Bulldogs while Lowell’s loss to Penn State drops them a spot to #5.  Saturday’s opponent Vermont dropped one spot from tenth to eleventh after splitting at Providence. Friday’s foe BC is just behind them at #12, dropping out of the top ten with their recent struggles.  Vermont’s split with Providence dropped them one spot but Providence’s split with Vermont dropped them three spots to #19.  Merrimack is set to break into the Top 20 next week if they can build on their 7-3-1 start.

USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll

November 17, 2014

Team (First Place Votes) Record Points Last Poll
1 Michigan Tech (24) 10- 0-0 940 5
2 North Dakota (12) 8- 2-1 916 2
3 Boston University (14) 6- 1-1 913 3
4 Minnesota 7- 3-0 830 1
5 Massachusetts-Lowell 7- 2-2 731 4
6 Colgate 8- 3-1 726 6
7 Miami 8- 4-0 686 7
8 Minnesota-Duluth 8- 4-0 663 13
9 Minnesota State 7- 3-0 574 9
10 Denver 6- 3-0 509 11
11 Vermont 7- 2-1 477 10
12 Boston College 5- 5-0 439 8
13 Nebraska-Omaha 6- 1-1 394 14
14 Quinnipiac 7- 2-1 283 20
15 Union 6- 5-1 249 12
16 St. Cloud State 4- 5-1 248 15
17 Northern Michigan 6- 1-1 205 18
18 Bowling Green 8- 3-1 177 19
19 Providence 4- 5-1 163 16
20 Robert Morris 7- 1-2 108 17
Others receiving votes: Merrimack 61, St. Lawrence 54, Ferris State 53, Harvard 44, Notre Dame 22, Penn State 19, Yale 15, Michigan 1.

Apparently spending a week growing Movember mustaches isn’t enough for UMass players to get a mention in the Hockey East Weekly Awards.  Important to note that Vermont sophomore goaltender Mike Santaguida was defensive player of the week.  Meaning it’s not just Brady Hoffman that Catamount opponents have to plan for.

The big news around UMass hockey today was that Austin Plevy signed his National Letter of Intent to join the Minutemen next fall.  This link includes a profile and commentary from Coach Mick on Plevy.  Those who have followed along with FTT’s recruit updates know that Plevy, a former Merrimack recruit, is one of the top scorers in the AJHL and will likely be able to contribute right away for the 2015-16 season.  Plevy is currently leading the Viterra Cup standings, which measures the accumulation of each player of the game designation around the AJHL.

Speaking of UMass spending their bye week on their mustaches, the UMass team, spurred on by head coach John Micheletto has fully embraced Movember, where guys grow facial hair to raise awareness of prostate cancer.  Although as someone who goes through every day with facial hair I never really know what to do when November rolls around (do I shave and start from scratch?  do I just mold the usual goatee into something else entirely?) this is a great cause and one that hits home since I faced a prostate cancer scare myself a few years back myself.  Clicking on the above Collegian link will show you that Mike Busillo should already be crowned the Movember champ for UMass.  Friday’s game against BC will feature some mustache themed contests.  I encourage everyone to donate to Coach Mick’s Movember page for this cause.

UMass athletes, coaches, and administrators have created the following video in support of the “It’s On Us” campaign to battle on-campus sexual assault:

Its on us–UMass

 

Finally, here’s a must read about a Union hockey player who finally got to meet the person whose life he helped save last winter before a game this past weekend.

View From Section U: UMass At The Quarter Post

With the Massachusetts hockey team in the midst of a bye week and having played just under a quarter of their total and league games, it seems like a good opportunity to step back and take inventory of what we’ve seen from them so far.  UMass finds themselves with an overall record of 3-5-0 and 1-4-0 in Hockey East where they’re currently tied for 9th with Boston College (wait, that can’t be right.  Nope, apparently it is).  Through eight games last year the team had a 3-4-1 record with wins over Michigan State (twice) and Maine.

The first eight games have consisted of two home games a month apart with a brutal six game, three weekend, three state road trip that saw UMass play at Michigan State for two, at Northeastern, at Boston College, and at Maine for two.  When you add in this ridiculous bye week I can confidently say that I hate this schedule.  That type of early season extended road trip is difficult for any team.  When you consider that this UMass team has a large number of freshman who are still trying to integrate to college and the college hockey lifestyle, it’s that much more challenging.  There were certainly a lot of worries as the team packed up to afte the absolutely horrible third period against BU where they gave up six goals, making for a disappointing and embarrassing opening night.  I’m still not sure what happened to the team that period to make them look so absolutely lost on the ice.  The good news is there hasn’t been another extended stretch where they’ve played like that since.

The first leg of the road trip was to Michigan State where the team tried to erase those BU memories by battling to the final whistle both nights.  After their comeback fell short on Friday against the Spartans they got some heroics and absolutely beautiful goals on Saturday as Patrick Lee gave them their first win of the season with just seconds left on the clock.  The next weekend the team travelled to Boston, winning versus Northeastern while losing to Boston College.  The Minutemen did what they had to do against the struggling Huskies with Henry Dill playing spectacularly in net.  At the time I was happy with the team’s play the next night against BC, considering the difference on the scoreboard ended up being two two-man advantage goals by the Eagles.  However after seeing how BC has struggled since, I wonder if UMass missed an opportunity to take a point or possibly two that night.  The following weekend at Maine was a tough one as UMass was in a position to win both nights, coming from behind to tie it Friday and going into the third with a two goal lead on Saturday, only to lose both of them.  Last weekend the team got revenge for last year’s debacle against AIC with a decisive 7-1 win.

So at 3-5-0 and 1-4-0 in conference, is the team meeting expectations?  Honestly I would say that if the team had been able to convert just one of those games at Maine into a win that I’d be pretty satisfied at this point.  A 4-4 record while withstanding that long road trip would be a pretty good accomplishment.  I think there was also a point in play in the home opener against BU too that was missed.  Though in the weeks since the Terriers are showing that they’ve turned around that program quite quickly.  So I’m slightly disappointed where the team is currently.  Just one more win or perhaps a couple of ties and it’d be a different story.

There is a lot to be hopeful about when the team gets back to playing next week though.  The big concern coming into the season was that they were graduating a great majority of their goal scoring and would have to depend on the freshman to contribute offensively.  The seven goals against AIC skews the numbers a bit, but I don’t think offense is as big a worry as it was thought to be.  The Minutemen are scoring 3.25 goals per game so far this season, third best among Hockey East teams.  That’s just over a full goal above the 2.24 goals per game they scored during last season.  They’re getting offense from all over the roster as well.  11 different players have scored at least one goal and eight different players have scored two or more goals.  And keep in mind that key players Frank Vatrano and Dennis Kravchenko didn’t get things going until three games ago when Coach Micheletto shook up the lines.  Kravchenko is now on a three game goal streak while Vatrano is on a four game point streak.

Going into the season it was known that defense would be a question mark and potentially a huge weakness.  I would say so far the results on defense have been mixed.  There have been some pretty bad games like the third period against BU and the first game at Maine.  But at the same time there qw been great goaltending like Dill’s performance against Northeastern, a solid team defensive effort against Boston College, and the recent performance against AIC.  Still, the team finds themselves dead last among Hockey East teams giving up four goals per game, up quite a bit from the 3.12 goals they gave up last year.  The bad defensive games have been plagued with missed assignments and poor positioning.  All things that are correctable.  UMass will have to make sure to fix those glaring mistakes on defense while getting more consistent goaltending from Dill or Steve Mastalerz or both.

Special teams was a positive last season and that’s carried over into this year.  Their power play is converting at 14.3% this year, lower than the 20+% last year but that’s still fourth best among Hockey East teams.  With Vatrano and Kravchenko starting to heat up offensively the team’s power play numbers should improve going forward.  The penalty kill was a major negative in the beginning of last season but Mick made some adjustments and by the end of the season had turned the PK into a strength.  They’ve picked up about where they left off, killing 84.1% of their opponents power play chances.  A strong number, but room for improvement.  It’s really those two two man advantages against BC that hurt them so far.

A 3-5-0 record is nothing to be satisfied with, but the team has shown promise and I think there’s reason to believe they’ll continue to get better in the coming months.  Really, except for that anomaly period against BU, the team has been in every game with a legitimate chance to win most of them.  The freshmen have proven they can be relied upon to score while at the same time you have senior Zack LaRue off to a surprisingly hot start.  If the defense and goaltending can catch up to the progress made on offense than this team should start winning games regularly.  The December addition of NHL 2nd round draft pick Brandon Montour won’t hurt either.  Hopefully the team is resting, but improving, during this week without games, because they’re in for another difficult stretch.  Starting with hosting BC on the 21st to playing at Quinnipiac on the 29th they’ll have to play five games in nine days.  The team has proven they can stay in games.  But just hanging around in games doesn’t get you much.  They’ll have to convert close games into close wins in this next chapter of the season.

Kurt Keats has officially signed his letter of intent to play at UMass.  Included in that link is a video with some highlights and Mick’s thoughts on him.  Those who read the recruit updates know that Keats is one of the leading scorers in the BCHL and is a very solid pickup for the Minutemen.

Though the school hasn’t announced it yet, Ty Pelton-Byce signed his NLI tonight.  Here’s a picture of him doing so, surrounded by friends and teammates.

UMass’ victory over AIC and the potential for a rival with the neighboring school was a subject in the weekly USCHO Hockey East column.

Recruit Update

Catching up on two weeks of action for the future Minutemen:

Brandon Montour – D – Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL) – Dec 2014
12 GP / 3 G / 11 A / 14 Pts / 12 PIM /+1
Montour had a monster game on 11/6, scoring a goal and notching 3 assists in a 7-4 win over Chicago.  Montour leads the USHL in scoring by defensemen and tied for 7th among all skaters.

Brandon Egli – D – Vernon Vipers (BCHL) – 2015
10 GP / 0 G /1 A / 1 Pts / 11 PIM
No points for Egli in the last couple weeks, though he did miss a few games in that time due to a suspension.

Jake McCarthy – D – South Shore Kings (USPHL) – 2015 or 2016
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts / 0 PIM
McCarthy is still nursing an injury that is delaying his debut for the Kings.

Kurt Keats – C – Powell River Kings (BCHL) – 2015
21 GP / 19 G / 10 A / 29Pts / 28 IM
Keats had four goals and three assists in his last six games.  Keats is second in the BCHL in goals, first in power play goals, and tied for 10th in power play assists.

Austin Plevy – C – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2015
20 GP / 12 G /19 A / 31 Pts / 44 PIM
Plevy had two goals and an assist in his last three games.  He’s 2nd in the AJHL in points, tied for 6th in goals, and tied for fourth for game winning goals.

Shane Bear – D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2016
21 GP / 0 G / 11 A / 11 Pts / 35 PIM
Bear had four assists in his last four games.  He leads the Bandits in most assists and points by a defenseman.

Troy Conzo – RW – Wenatchee Wild (NAHL) – 2016 or 2017
3 GP / 0 G / 0 A /0 Pts / 0 PIM / –2  Des Moines (USHL)
4 GP/ 4 G/ 0 A / 4 Pts / 0 PIM / +1  Wenatchee (NAHL)
Conzo, who was only playing sparingly in the USHL, was traded to Wenatchee of the NAHL in the last couple weeks.  It seems the change of scenery has done him well as he has scored four goals in the last two games with his new team.

Kyler Nachtigall – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2016
21 GP / 4 G / 4 A / 8 Pts / 37 PIM
Nachtigall had a goal and an assist in his last four games.

Ty Pelton-Byce – C – Team Wisconsin U18 (Elite)/Madison Memorial (WI HS) – 2016
21 GP / 12 G / 12 A / 24 Pts / 8 PIM  Team Wisconsin U18
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts  Madison Memorial
Madison Memorial’s season gets started on 11/28.  In the meantime Pelton-Byce kept himself busy recently by playing in the CCM IIT showcase which featured some top prep players from the Midwest, Massachusetts, and even the Czech Republic.  Pelton-Byce’s Minnesota Red team won the showcase.  He had a goal and an assist in the three games.

John Leonard – F – Springfield Rifles (Mass Selects)/Springfield Cathedral (MA HS) – 2017
14 GP / 21 G / 11 A / 32 Pts  Springfield Rifles
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts  Springfield Cathedral
Leonard has 8 goals and 5 assists in his last four games with the Rifles.  No, that is not a typo.

Troy Power’s latest blog entry covers the dominant win over AIC as well as the lead up to the game.

The early National Letter of Intent signing period starts tomorrow and College Hockey Inc has a summary of what the NLI is all about.  I believe Brandon Egli is the only 2015 recruit who has signed a NLI yet, so in the next couple weeks I expect the team to announce the signings of Kurt Keats and Austin Plevy for next fall as well.  We may see a NLI come in for Jake McCarthy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s pushed back to 2016 given his injury issues this season.  Still, he could sign the NLI and still come to Amherst in 2016 as well.

There will not be a post tomorrow night as I’ll be out in Amherst tailgating and enjoying some UMass football under the lights.  However on Thursday I’m planning on writing some thoughts about how UMass has done so far on the season.

Polls & Awards

Minnesota remains atop the USCHO poll this week but they’re sharing some first place votes with #2 North Dakota and #5 Michigan Tech.  Boston University is tops among Hockey East teams at #3 after beating Boston College and tying UConn this past week.  Lowell is just behind them at #4, jumping a couple spots after taking three points from Northeastern.  BC slides from third all the way to eighth after losing to UConn and BU last week.  The Eagles now have a three game losing streak.  They’ll play Harvard on Tuesday and then travel to Michigan State (who might as well be an affiliate member of Hockey East at this point) before they come to Amherst on the 21st.  Vermont’s sweep of Maine lifts them to #10 in the poll, giving Hockey East four teams in the top ten.  Providence’s split with Merrimack drops them four spots to #16.

UConn grabbed two of the weekly Hockey East awards after their win over BC and tie against BU.  BU’s Jack Eichel won just his first weekly award of the season despite dominating statistically so far.  Frank Vatrano and Dennis Kravchenko were named Top Performers for their efforts against AIC.  Zack LaRue was recognized in the milestones for his first multi-goal game and “Minuteman Freshman” also got a nod too for his assist.  That dude is great, I’m not sure where we’d be without him.  (I’m guessing they meant Dominic Trento)

UMass is 11th in the SB Nation Hockey East power rankings.

Vatrano’s four game point streak is mentioned in their weekly Notes and Numbers piece.

Cornell coach Mike Schafer was suspended a game for saying some not so nice things about Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold after losing 1-0 to the Bobcats.  Funny that the guy who seems very concerned about player safety wanted UMass to play on slush last year.

It’s a bye week for the Minutemen but FTT will still be active.  We have two weeks of games to catch up on with our recruits.  And on Wednesday or Thursday I’ll take an early look at how the Minutemen have fared against expectations so far this season.

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