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Weekend Preview: UMass Heads East To Take On Northeastern and BC

Northeastern Huskies 0-3-0 (0-1-0) Hockey East T-5th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 1-2-0 (0-1-0) Hockey East T-5th

The Massachusetts hockey team heads to Boston (and Newton) this weekend to take on a couple of Hockey East foes in Northeastern and Boston College.  After starting their three week, three state, six game road trip in Michigan last weekend, this week finds them in the more familiar hub before heading north to Maine next weekend.  This weekend presents an opportunity to get their first Hockey East points against two teams that are in somewhat uncomfortable situations.

Northeastern was one of the bigger surprises in all of college hockey last year.  The Huskies went from just 9 wins in 2012-13 to 19 last year, finishing tied for fourth in Hockey East and narrowly missing a tournament berth.  The team was second to BC in offense thanks to young and talented players like Kevin Roy (19 goals) and Mike Szmatula (15 goals).  Five of their top 7 goal scorers were sophomores or freshmen.  Probably a bigger surprise than their young firepower though was the play of their veteran goaltender, Clay Witt.  After playing just 16 games coming into his redshirt junior year Witt ended up putting up huge numbers last season, finishing second in the league with a .932 save percentage.  Between the youthful scorers and Clay Witt passing over pro offers to come back to St Botolph Street, big things were expected of the Huskies this season, picked fourth in the league by the coaches and even receiving a first place vote.

Fast forward to two weekends into the season and things probably couldn’t be any worse for Husky fans.  Their team comes into the weekend a very surprising 0-3-0.  It’s not just the losing record however, it’s how they’ve lost.  Opening night at Matthews Arena saw the home team lose to Vermont by a score of 6-2.  Unfortunately for the Huskies, they haven’t scored since as last weekend they travelled to upstate New York to play a very good Colgate team who shut out the Huskies 3-0 on consecutive nights.  That kind of early season performance puts Northeastern second to last in defense and dead last in offense among Hockey East teams.

An optimist may think UMass is fortunate to take on the Huskies when they’re playing so incredibly poorly.  But on the flip side this team has to embarrassed and hungry.  Coming home after getting dominated so thoroughly means they could be pretty dangerous.  This team is having a really, really tough time getting things together right now but they didn’t somehow become less talented.  Witt is still the same player who had four shutouts in the league last year and Roy, my personal pick for Player of the Year, is not going to be held goalless forever.  The Minutemen will have to be very careful around this wounded dog.

Boston College

#6 Boston College Eagles 1-1-0 (0-1-0) Hockey East T-5th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 1-2-0 (0-1-0) Hockey East T-5th

It’s not the same as the lopsided results that the Huskies have produced so far, but the Eagles losing to a rebuilding Lowell team 5-2 in the season opener raised a few eyebrows.  BC in that game produced just 21 shots on net.  Just 21.  For the usual high flying Eagle program which scored over 4 goals a game last season that statistic was a shocker.  They did follow it up with a 6-2 win last weekend in Rochester over RIT.  Still, that first result against Lowell has to make fans scratch their heads a bit.

It has been the young guys producing for the Eagles so far as 5 of the 7 goal scorers are underclassmen.  Sophomore Ryan Fitzgerald is the only multi-goal scorer, finding the net in each of their games.  BC has also gotten some good production from the blueline with four different defensemen scoring goals.  Junior defenseman Teddy Doherty leads the team with three points coming into this weekend on a goal and two assists.

While his offense didn’t get him much help against Lowell, sophomore goaltender Thatcher Demko didn’t do them any favors either, letting in four goals on 23 shots.  That’s a long ways from the .919 save percentage that landed him on the Hockey East All Rookie team last year.  He looked better last week making 25 saves on 27 RIT Tiger shots.  The Eagles will be taking on Colorado College in a non-conference game tomorrow night before the Minutemen take the B Line out to Conte Forum to meet them on Saturday.

To completely oversimplify things for UMass I think they just need to keep doing what they’re doing.  Meaning, last weekend we saw them build upon each previous game, improving with each outing.  They hung in tough with BU for two periods in the opener only to completely unravel in the third when faced with a two goal deficit.  In the first game in Lansing the adversity came early in the form of an early Michigan State lead and a key injury on defense.  But the team didn’t unravel, they continued to fight to the end, ultimately still losing.  Last Saturday the team played hard again and still looked like they were heading for an 0-3 start to the season.  But again they battled, tied the game with five minutes left, and then capitalized on an ill-timed Spartan penalty to get the dramatic victory.  They’re an inexperienced team and I think what we’re seeing is the players going through a situation, learning from it, and then knowing how to respond when faced with something similar.

There are still going to be challenges to overcome however.  The most obvious is depth on the blueline.  Ben Gallacher is still recovering from a nasty hit last weekend.  That leaves UMass with just six defensemen on the roster.  In his coach’s show this week Coach Micheletto said that Maddison Smiley was questionable.  Smiley is recovering from illness and may not have the stamina to go both nights yet.  That means a forward will have to step up (step back?) and play defense if Smiley can only dress one night.  Mick said Emerson Auvenshine has already been taking shifts at defense in practice and he has in mind some other options as well.  Auvenshine seems like a logical choice given his style of play but for a team that is giving up over five goals a game potential problems dressing defensemen should make UMass fans a little squeamish.

The Minutemen scored 7 goals against a solid Spartan defense anchored by one of the better goaltenders in the country.  That is reason for optimism.  Add to the fact that the majority of the offense came from underclassmen.  It’s only a couple games but last weekend UMass had two lines clicking with the Keith Burchett, Shane Walsh, Dominic Trento combination looking good on Friday and the Ray Pigozzi, Steven Iacobellis, and Patrick Lee line totaling three goals and 10 points on Saturday.  Now the Minutemen just need the top line of Frank Vatrano, Dennis Kravchenko, and Troy Power to make a strong showing.  If they don’t get it going on Friday, maybe facing the team the team he was once slated to play for would be enough motivation for Vatrano to breakout against BC.

While each game has seemed like some kind of learning experience for the team this season, these are still important games and unlike last weekend these count in the league standings.  Hockey East points in October are worth just as much as the ones in February and though all these road games may be unfair for a team still trying to get to know each other, the outcomes of these games could have long ranging consequences.  Though very different from each other, both these arenas can be difficult places to play, especially for the first time.  When you skate at Matthews you’re skating into a part of history, with a rowdy student section, and fans who are literally hanging over the ice from their storied balcony seats.  Conte doesn’t have the same character, but it’s a place where BC doesn’t lose very often and they have quite a few banners to prove it.  Last weekend this Minuteman team proved they can fight and win halfway across the country.  This weekend they can show they’re capable of doing the same against league opponents in-state.

Beer The Triangle
There’s a certain bar that I usually send fans to prior to Northeastern games (no, not Uno’s) that’s one of my favorites.  I may send you there in the future, but this time I’m just going to ask you to read this.  For before or after (I prefer after) the BC game regular readers already know where I’ll send you.  Here’s what you’ll currently find on draft at Publick House.  I haven’t had the Allagash Farm to Face, but it piques my interest.  Maybe we’ll get lucky and Port Older Viscosity will be on draft by Saturday.

I did a Q&A with BC Interruption ahead of Saturday’s game which supplements this preview.

The Collegian previews the weekend ahead as well as focuses in on the early success of the Pigozzi/Iacobellis/Lee line.

The Gazette has their weekend preview.

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Michigan State Preview

Michigan State Spartans 0-0-0 (0-0-0)  Big Ten T-1st

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

The Massachusetts hockey team kicks off their non-conference schedule and a key three week, three state road stretch Friday night in East Lansing, Michigan against the Spartans of Michigan State.  The Minutemen will be looking to rebound from a season opening loss to the Boston University Terriers in a game where the lopsided 8-1 final score masks the fact that they were only down a single goal after two periods.  UMass and Michigan State met this same weekend last year in Amherst with UMass gaining the weekend sweep, outscoring the Spartans 8-3 in the two games.  The series featured a couple multi-goal games from Minutemen with Branden Gracel netting two on Friday and then freshman Steven Iacobellis scoring two goals to go with an assist on the Saturday.

Michigan State hasn’t played a real game this year so it’s tough to know exactly what the Minutemen will be facing when they take the ice at Munn Ice Arena on Friday.  They did have an exhibition game against a Canadian team as well as an intrasquad scrimmage.  The results of the intrasquad scrimmage could be an indicator for what Sparty fans are in store for this year.  The game ended in a 0-0 tie and had to be settled with penalty shots.  That in a nutshell could be what Michigan State faces this year, an inability to score and above average goaltending.

MSU lost their top three scorers from a team that only scored 2.19 goals per game last year.  They’ll first look to senior Matt Berry to solve their scoring woes as he’s coming off a season that saw him score 10 times total despite missing a third of the season due to injury.  That’s it in terms of returners who scored double digits in goals.  Junior Michael Ferrantino, captain of the team, had 9 goals and 11 assists last year.  Friday will mark the first game in the green and white for freshman Dylan Pavalek who is expected to contribute quickly as he comes out of the US National Development Program.

There are no question marks for the Spartans in net where junior Jake Hillenbrand will likely keep his team in a lot of games this season.  As a sophomore last year his .923 save percentage ranked him among the top 20 goaltenders in the country.  If he continues to develop MSU could end up being one of the better defensive teams in the country.

On offense UMass is facing the same challenges as Michigan state.  They’ve lost a lot of scoring from their team that last year was ranked near the bottom nationally for offense.  Unlike Michigan State, they have a much larger freshman class that will be looked upon to pick up the slack for goals this season.  Defenseman Jake Horton got on the scoring sheet last week, but the freshman forwards plus Frank Vatrano need to break out as well.  The top line of Vatrano, Dennis Kravchenko, and senior captain Troy Power got some good looks last week but need to find the back of the net.  A little worrisome is the sophomore duo of Ray Pigozzi and Iacobellis who only combined for three total shots against BU.  They’ll need to generate more offense than that to have an impact on the outcome.

I think more than Xs and Os or line combinations what’s most important this weekend is for the team to give a consistent effort and stay mentally tough.  For the freshman the first game jitters should be history.  The team has had another week to get used to linemates and perhaps learn new schemes.  It was awful to witness and seriously concerning at the time when it was occurring, but several days later the third period collapse doesn’t worry me as much as it did.  I think we can write if off to inexperience and the pressure of the night.  But that doesn’t mean it’ll be acceptable going forward.  Giving up goals in bunches like that and not getting back on defense simply cannot happen.  And hopefully the lesson has been learned that you just cannot let up like they did, because a team like BU will make you pay for it over and over.

The timing of this road trip is probably a good thing for the team.  They’re able to do some travelling, which could work to bond the team together.  And the first year players will have a chance to get used to a typical road trip routine and dealing with a hostile crowd before they head to Northeastern and Boston College next weekend in games that will count towards the Hockey East standings.  I don’t think there is a ton of pressure on the team to repeat last year’s sweep but at the same time  such a result isn’t completely unreasonable.  But at the end of the weekend it’ll probably be enough to just know that the offense is starting to click and the players are not missing their defensive responsibilities before moving on to the conference game trips in the coming weeks.

Beer The Triangle
East Lansing is actually a town I’ve spent significant time in.  Unfortunately for my BTT feature,most of that time was close to 20 years ago and before I turned 21.  This looks like somewhere I’d check out though.  Hell, you could always just drive down to Kalamazoo and check out one of my favorite breweries, Bell’s Brewing.

The Collegian has their preview of the Spartan series.

Frank Vatrano and Steve Mastalerz made this All-Massachusetts Team put together by Jeff Cox of SB Nation.

Ever want to drive the Zamboni at the Mullins?  Here is your chance!

Boston University Preview

#20 Boston University Terriers 0-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st Hockey East

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Massachusetts Minutemen 0-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st Hockey East

Eichel.  EichelEichelEichel.  EichelEichel.  Hey, you know how since Johnny Gaudreau has moved on to the NHL you were all excited that people might actually talk about other players and teams in Hockey East again?  WELL HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT JACK EICHEL?!?!?  As of this writing Coach Micheletto is still planning on playing Boston University on Friday and is not entertaining the idea of forfeiting the game.  That’s a bit of a surprise since the word is Eichel plans to walk across the Connecticut River while carrying his team bus on his back, score 9 goals against the Minutemen, and then head uptown to make pizzas at Antonio’s all while the Club Sidewalk crowd chants “Eichel! Eichel! Eichel!”

Listen, Eichel is a tremendous talent.  I’m not disputing that.  Maybe he does come into the Mullins Center for his college hockey debut and score a bunch of goals and get his team the win.  It’s more than possible.  It just seems that the hype machine has cranked up a little early this year.  The BU team coming to Amherst is facing a lot of the same challenges that UMass is facing heading into the season.  The Terriers finished just two points ahead of UMass in the standings last year.  They were 9th in the league in scoring (UMass was 10th).  They were dead last in scoring defense (UMass was again 10th).  Like UMass they will have to figure out a way to quickly integrate and get contributions from 10 freshmen on their roster.  Now it helps that those freshmen make up arguably the best recruiting class in the country.  But that doesn’t change the fact that there are still significant questions marks surrounding this BU team that have to be solved before they become the old BU team that everyone used to fear.

The biggest question mark for the Terriers is probably in goal.  Matt O’Connor has spent his first two years at BU sharing the net with Sean Maguire, compiling a 15-17-6 record during the time.  Maguire has left school to recover from injury, leaving the job solely to O’Connor who will have to play significantly better if BU is going to find success.  That job could be difficult given that he’ll likely have three or even four freshman defenseman in front of him most of the season.  Getting junior defenseman Matt Grzelyck back from injury will help bring some experience and leadership to the young defensive corps.  Brandon Hickey and John MacLeod, both NHL draft picks, are a couple of the first year blueliners to keep an eye on.

Like UMass, the Terriers return just two 10 goal scorers from a year ago in sophomore Danny O’Regan and freshman Robbie Baillargeon.  O’Regan didn’t play in last week’s exhibition game due to injury but is expected to play tomorrow.  Baillargeon led the team in points last year with 27 (10 G, 17 A).  Senior Cason Hohmann will likely be counted on to score 10 goals this season, but beyond that the scoring duties will fall upon the underclassmen.  Eichel is the gem of the freshman class but watch for JJ Piccinich as well.  Piccinich scored 27 goals last season for Youngstown in the USHL last season.  Sophomores Nick Roberto and Kevin Duane will look to build off freshman seasons that saw them score 7 and 6 goals respectively.

UMass already showed us what will be the key to wins this season during last weekend’s exhibition.  Puck possession.  They won because they outscored Dalhousie 5-2.  They outscored Dalhousie because they outshot them 55-21.  They outshot them by a wide margin because of puck possession.  Dalhousie just never had the puck long enough to put any kind of pressure on the goaltenders and spent long stretches in their own zone.  An inexperienced defense combined with a set of offensively-minded, aggressive defense like UMass has can be devastating for a team that is turning over the puck and will lead to odd man rush after odd man rush on Minuteman goaltender Steve Mastalerz.  But by passing well, by protecting the puck on their stick, and energetically chasing loose pucks, UMass can minimize turnovers and breakdowns.  And they did that exceptionally well in the exhibition.  Can they do it against DI hockey talent?  We’ll see.  But last weekend was encouraging in regard to controlling the puck and thus controlling play.

As I mentioned in my season preview, these freshmen are experienced winners.  Which is good because there is going to be tremendous pressure on them from the time the puck drops tomorrow night until March, and hopefully April.  “Well he’s only a freshman” won’t be an acceptable excuse this year, simply because it can’t be.  The team can’t afford it.  The good news tomorrow is when the nine UMass freshman sit in the east bench at game time and look across the Mullins ice they’ll be seeing just as many players suiting up for their first collegiate game as well.

I think this matchup is a lot tighter than people are expecting.  The teams finished within a win of each other in conference play last year.  They both had problems putting the puck in the net and keeping it out of their own.  Both return just a couple double digit goalscorers from a year ago.  Both teams are inexperienced and a little thin on defense.  They both have large freshman classes making their college debuts.  Sure the Terrier freshmen are likely more talented.  But UMass has the advantage of starting a veteran goaltender who has played in and won big games in the past.  Plus the Minutemen will have what will hopefully be a large and raucous crowd behind them.  Starting tomorrow preseason polls mean nothing.  Ditto recruit rankings.  The best thing about season openers is that all teams are undefeated and tied for 1st place.  On Saturday we’ll start to know who’s truly better than whom.

Drop the puck!

Beer The Triangle

I have to send everyone back to the Hangar again this week just because the beer is amazing and Stoney is a quality guy in every way.  As of last Saturday they had Lagunitas Hop Stoopid, Port Mongo, and Jack’s Abbey Copper Legend on draft.  Hell, they even had Wormtown Pumpkin which I enjoyed even though I generally hate pumpkin beers.  There’s even rumors that Founders Breakfast Stout may be lurking in the backroom somewhere just waiting to be tapped.

UMass not only has a lot of new faces on the ice, but in the press box as well.  Here’s six stories from the new crop of Collegian writers previewing the upcoming season.

Matt Vautour of the Gazette has a feature on sophomores Ray Pigozzi (who is expected to suit up tomorrow) and Steven Iacobellis.  He also previews the tilt against BU.

USCHO previews Hockey East as well as a more detailed look at UMass specifically.

The Northeastern hockey program was placed on three years of probation for violations that occurred under former coach Greg Cronin.

Exhibition Preview

Usually game previews will consist of an overview of the opposing team, who’s hot, how they’ve fared against their schedule, and what Massachusetts will have to do to get the win.  But I’ll be perfectly honest, I couldn’t care less about Dalhousie University and my eyes will be entirely on the Minutemen during the game.  The only consistent observation I take away from watching these CIS teams year after year is that they tend to be goonish.  Which brings me to the #1 thing to watch for in Saturday’s exhibition.  No injuries!

So instead of talking about the Dalhousie Tigers, here’s what fans can watch for on Saturday; the newish go to goalscorer, new guys at forward, new guys at defense, new guy in goal, and Alex Wakaluk.  There are always questions going in to a new season but mostly this season there is one overriding question, “What’s the deal with all these new guys?”  I was thinking of doing a post to acquaint fans with the freshman class so let’s just do that now and talk about the new guys ahead of their first game in the maroon and white so you can keep an eye out for them on Saturday.

Even though he’s been practicing with the team for seemingly forever, has played well in two exhibitions and has playoff experience, Frank Vatrano is still a new guy in my book.  He looked solid in UMass’ playoff loss last March despite going scoreless but Vatrano is already being talked about as being the key to the offense this coming season.  That’s a lot of pressure for someone who has only played in one competitive game in the last 21 months.  I won’t so much be looking for his skills on Saturday, we already know he has those in abundance.  I’m more interested to see how he holds himself on the ice, how he interacts with his teammates, and if he’s emerging as a leader on the team.  Being the go to guy is more than just putting the puck in the net.  It’s about having the respect and confidence of your teammates.  I’ll be interested to see if that comes across on Saturday.

Six of the nine (ten when Montour arrives) Minutemen freshmen are forwards and if UMass is going to be successful they’ll have to contribute to the scoring from game one.  The one I’m most interested in seeing is Anthony Petrella.  Petrella scored 34 goals in 45 games last season for Shattuck-St Mary’s, one of the elite prep schools in the country (some guy named Sidney Crosby played there once upon a time).  Coach Micheletto saw enough in Petrella to bring him in as an 18 year old freshman, a rarity in college hockey nowadays.  Like the entire freshman class he’s small, listed at 5’9”, but supposed to be incredibly skilled.

Riley McDougall is another to keep an eye on.  He comes to Amherst after playing for Calgary in the AJHL.  The 30 goals he put up in the Alberta Junior league isn’t too far off from the 38 that Branden Gracel had in his last year in the AJHL before coming to Amherst.  So I’ll be looking to see if he could make similar contributions for UMass.  It was unknown if Dennis Kravchenko would ever make it to Amherst.  After switching his commitment from Vermont to UMass when Mick came down from Burlington he got pushed back a year to this fall to enter UMass and then there were conflicting reports that he’d even make it.  But here he is.  While he’s a freshman he is experienced, spending three seasons in the USHL where he had 109 points in the last two seasons there.  Kravchenko is joined on the squad by his Sioux Falls teammate Keith Burchett who originally had signed up to play for Bowling Green but switched to UMass last fall.

Patrick Lee played the last few seasons for Brooks Bandits, a team that absolutely dominated the AJHL and the rest of Canadian Junior A hockey in recent years.  In 2012-13 he was one of the stars of the team but last season got injured early in the year and only played 22 games.  Dominic Trento led the USPHL (nee EJHL) in points last season with 69 while playing for the New Jersey Hitmen, gaining league Offensive Player of the Year honors.  Previous players who have won that award have make sold contributions to college hockey, like Vermont’s Brendan Bradley, Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey, and Quinnipiac’s Jeremy Langlois.

UMass also adds two defensemen with this class.  Maddison Smiley was teammates with Patrick Lee on the Brooks Bandits.  Obviously a lot of the attention has been on NHL draft pick Brandon Montour, but Smiley has a very similar offensive style of play.  He was named the 2012-23 AJHL playoff MVP as the Bandits took the league championship.  Smiley had 36 goals and 41 assists in the last two seasons (85 games) for Brooks.  This is the type of small, quick, offensively-minded defenseman Mick has been wanting to run the point in his system.  Jake Horton is similarly styled, scoring 21 goals to go with 25 assists while playing 60 games in the NAHL last season.  Horton served as team captain for the Aberdeen Wings.

In net for those Wings was our new guy in goal, Henry Dill.  Dill actually split time in net last season, but still put up solid numbers going 20-7-1 with 2.26 goals against and a .926 save percentage.  Barring injury it’s pretty certain we’ll see Dill for some of Saturday’s game.  We’ll also likely see Alex Wakaluk who will be looking to avoid repeating his performance from his first fall with the Minutemen.  His first couple games were nightmarish as he gave up 11 goals in just over 60 minutes of playing time.  He did look much better when he got another chance in February in Lowell.  Certainly how Wakaluk performs will be very interesting to see in the exhibition.

Those are the players I’ll be keying in on Saturday.  I certainly encourage other UMass fans to head to the game and see for themselves.  Having the exhibition game in the Mullins Center itself instead of the practice rink is very encouraging.  In previous years the Mullins ice was put down at the last possible minute, not giving the team enough time to get used to their home ice.  It’s great to see that Mick was able to change that for this game.  The team is having a “Pick A Seat” promotion if you don’t already have season tickets.  Saturday is a good opportunity to view the game from all the different vantage points the Mullins offers.  Like the high corners of the double letter sections.  Somewhere along the glass on the blue line in Section W.  Directly behind the nets where the goal judges used to sit.  And of course center ice in good ole Section U.  Come check it out!

Beer The Triangle
For those new readers or perhaps the ones who have forgotten, the Beer The Triangle feature is where I tell you what beer bars to hit and/or what beers to drink before or after the game.  Based on Untappd check-ins it appears that the Hangar has Firestone Walker 17th Anniversary Ale on draft.  I haven’t had it, but I hope to.

Jillian in the hockey office put together this season preview of the team that’s worth reading.

She’s also been doing profiles of the new guys.  Today is defenseman Jake Horton.

 

 

 

Merrimack Preview

Merrimack College Warriors 14-14-6 (12-10-3) Hockey East 6th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 11-18-3 (8-15-2) Hockey East 9th

Massachusetts enters the final weekend of the regular season and if they want to keep playing beyond they’ll need to get at least a point and then get some help.  UMass can get away with just a tie of Merrimack but they’d then need New Hampshire to sweep Maine up in Durham.  While UNH is clearly the better team I wouldn’t rule out something flukey happening in this weekend’s chapter of that storied rivalry.  Whatever transpires, UMass must get at least one more point than Maine in this weekend’s games.  That would leave the two teams tied and the Minutemen would move on to the playoffs by virtue of having more conference wins.

It’s not going to be easy to get any points however from this Warrior team.  The teams met last month in North Andover in an oddly close, but dominant win by the Warriors.  UMass could not generate any offense during the game, only testing goaltender Sam Marotta 18 times.  But, they were able to keep the game close and were tied at two apiece going into the third before ultimately falling 4-2.  Kevin Boyle played fantastic, making 37 saves including 17 in the first period alone.  It didn’t matter though and the game was the most recent of a long line of losses at Lawler where UMass hasn’t won since spring of 2008.

The Warriors are not as hot a team as they were when they last faced UMass though.  In fact they’re winless in their last five, losing their last four.  Since scoring four against the Minutemen they haven’t managed to score more than two goals against anyone else and were shutout last Friday by Lowell.  The recent slump has coincided with leading scorer Mike Collins going cold.  Collins has more than twice as many goals as anyone else on the team with 15 but hasn’t found the back of the net since the game against the Minutemen.  The team is 12-6-3 when he registers a point and 2-8-3 when he doesn’t.

Marotta got the win against the Minutemen and seemed to have grabbed hold of the starter job back in January.  But Rasmus Tirronen got the most recent start in a loss to Lowell.  Honestly, the losing streak hasn’t been the fault of Marotta and I’d assume he’ll play both games this weekend.  Other than a poor game against BU where he got pulled after surrendering three goals in a period, he has only allowed two goals in each of the other games during this winless streak

In addition to who is on the ice this weekend, another huge factor may end up being who is not.  Merrimack will be without the services of key defenseman Kyle Bigos, who will be missing his own senior night tomorrow because of the number of game misconducts he has picked up this season.  Unfortunately I would rather he be gone for the game at the Mullins as I think the Warriors can more easily adjust for his absence on the smaller Lawler ice.  The other player whose participation is in question is Mike Pereira, who left the UNH game early after absorbing a hard hit.  It is unknown if he’ll dress this weekend and UMass may have to make due without their most productive player in recent weeks.

It all comes down to this. Two games.  I could talk about what strategies UMass could use to defeat Merrimack.  Opine about the adjustments needed from recent play.  But it really comes down to motivation.  Will the team be motivated to get the necessary points to extend their season?  Can they extend the program’s playoff streak to 11 years?  Will they allow the four seniors the chance to put the UMass jersey on at least a couple more times after Saturday?  We’ll see.

Speaking of the seniors, the annual ceremony honoring them is changing a bit this year.  It will take place AFTER the game, not before.  This is similar to how it’s done up in Maine.  So please make sure to stick around until then and take the chance to thank them for their dedication and commitment to UMass.

Beer The Triangle
One of the many recent snowstorms forced the rescheduling of the last game at Merrimack and postponed my trip to The Tap in Haverhill.  That will be corrected tomorrow and I’m desperately hoping they still have Snowbound on draft.  Saturday will be the last pregame at the Hangar on the season.  However I have to find a way to get across the street to Amherst Brewing Company as well as they have a keg of 2011 Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine on.  One of my favorite barleywines.

Preview from the Republican says it’s all about the process.  Daily Collegian preview says it’s about poise.  But both talk about Rocco Carzo’s eating habits.

He doesn’t have anything up currently, but Mike McMahon is sure to have some good information and perspective on the Mack Report.

New Hampshire Preview

Massachusetts Minutemen 11-17-2 (8-14-1) Hockey East 8th

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New Hampshire Wildcats 17-8-5 (12-7-4) Hockey East T-1st

Massachusetts will attempt to stay ahead of Maine for 8th place and the final playoff this weekend.  It won’t be easy.  They’ll be heading to Durham, New Hampshire for two games with the Wildcats who have a lot to play for as well.  The Cats are part of a four way tie for first place in Hockey East with just two weekends to go, not to mention part of the logjam at the top of the standings that has six teams all within two points of each other.

UMass will look to recapture whatever they had going on at the beginning of November when they shocked then undefeated UNH at the Mullins Center.  Kevin Boyle outdueled Wildcat goaltender Casey DeSmith in the thrilling 2-1 overtime win for the Minutemen.  It’ll be harder to duplicate that kind of result this weekend at the Whittemore Center as the Cats are 9-3-1 at home this year.

Defense and DeSmith have been leading UNH to victories this year.  Their 2.30 goals allowed per game is best in Hockey East and a lot of that has to do with DeSmith who has a .925 save percentage this season.  The Cats have the third best penalty kill in the country at 89.9%.  Offensively they’ve relied on the play of forwards Austin Block, Grayson Downing, and Kevin Goumas, all of whom have at least 10 goals this season.

To stay ahead of the Black Bears in the playoff race UMass will have to do something they haven’t done in a very long time.  Win at New Hampshire.  The program hasn’t gained a victory there since the fall of 2006 when Jon Quick was still in net.  But they desperately need at least a split this weekend considering Maine will be hosting a much easier opponent at Alfond with the Northeastern Huskies.  Forget the quarterfinals in a couple weeks.  Playoff hockey starts tonight for the Minutemen.

Beer The Triangle
Since I’m busy this weekend and the games are televised on FCS/WBIN, I’ll be beering it from my couch.  Luckily being the beer snob I am my fridge has a nice selection of Heady Topper, Founders Breakfast Stout, and some Bell’s.  For those heading north though there aren’t many brewpubs better than the Portsmouth Brewery.

Here’s a preview from the Republican, the Daily Collegian, as well as the Concord Monitor.

 

Maine Preview; Triangle Time

Maine Black Bears 8-16-6 (4-11-6) Hockey East 14pts 9th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 10-16-2 (7-13-1) Hockey East 15pts 8th

I think we can all agree that the Massachusetts hockey team is not exactly where Minuteman fans hoped they’d be at this point of the season.  However, on the bright side it should be a pretty exciting last three weeks of the season with a lot at stake every game, every period, every shift.  The final stretch starts tomorrow with the first of two games against Maine, just one point behind the Minutemen who sit in 8th and the final playoff spot currently.

In a strange reversal, it might actually be in UMass’ favor if these games were being playing in Orono rather than the friendly confines of the Mullins Center.  That’s because while the Black Bears are only 8-16-6 overall their results are much better away from Alfond Arena, posting a 6-7-1 record in those games.  Those victories include one over the River Hawks in Lowell and a shocking two game sweep at Boston College at the end of January.  Of course these two teams did meet once in Orono this season, a come from behind 2-2 tie with Conor Allen scoring an extra man goal with just over a minute left.

Maine’s strength this year has been their defense and the goaltending they’ve gotten from Martin Ouellette.  On the season he has a goals against average of 2.32 and a save percentage of .918.  During the stretch of games in January that helped put Maine back in the race for the playoffs Ouellette did quite well, putting up a GAA of 1.94 during that time.  He’s had a little tougher time recently though, giving up 11 goals in his last three games including five last time out to Boston University.  The Black Bears have been without key defenseman Nick Pryor since early January with injury.

The Maine offense has been anemic this season.  The 1.83 goals scored per game is by far the worst among Hockey East teams and second worst in the country next to Alabama-Huntsville.  On the power play they’ve converted just 11.6% of their chances.  Joey Diamond is the player to keep an eye out for as he’s scored greater than one out of every five Black Bear goals.  Of course it’s also important to keep an eye out for him since he has racked up 35 penalties this season.  A couple of young players have contributed to the scoring effort as sophomore Connor Leen has seven goals and Ryan Lomberg has six.  Freshman defenseman Devin Shore has racked up 18 points so far this season and leads the team with 15 assists.

I honestly have no idea what to expect out of UMass at this point.  You hope that some kind of recognition that they are soon to have a premature end to their season will kick in and they’ll return to the type of play we saw in January.  That will mean improved play at goaltender, no matter who is in net.  It means they have to play significantly better at defense where it has seemed like every mistake has led to an opposing goal.  And, the offense needs to get on the same page.  They’ve still been scoring recently, but it doesn’t feel like they’re maximizing opportunities out there.  Plus, most of the scoring of late has come from Mike Pereira who has accounted for 7 of their last 18 goals.  He can’t be asked to carry the load himself like that.

I don’t know what is going on in the players’ heads right now.  Are the recent struggles continued growing pains from the transition to a new coach?  I would hope not.  I would hope the new staff would be able to get the team to a point where they’d be improving with over 25 games together.  Have the players decided to tune out a new coach who’s not the one they came to play for?  Perhaps.  Whatever it is, they need to be ready to play.  Maine can smell the blood in the water.  This is one of the worse Black Bears teams we’ve seen in years, but they can’t be taken lightly.  They swept BC a few weeks back and were a bounce or two away from taking four points from BU last weekend.  The Black Bears decided a few weeks ago that they were not going down this season without fight.  Will the Minutemen do the same?

I don’t know what’s going on with the team, but I do know what’s going on with the team karma.  Going 1-5-0 in their last six and now having to battle the 9th place team just to make the playoffs three weeks before the season ends means it’s time to break out the triangles.

Speaking of my favorite jersey, it’s good to know that INCH still considers them one of the ugliest ever.  Long live the triangle!

Beer The Triangle
Not only does hockey tomorrow, hoops Saturday afternoon, and hockey Saturday night mean potential bad Mullins ice (tonight’s concert likely won’t help) but it probably means the chance to hit a plethora of places this weekend.  ABC, Moan & Dove, Dirty Truth, High Horse, People’s Pint?  All solid choices.  But at some point I’ll have to make it to the Hangar to grab some Bear Republic Café Racer 15 which just came back on tap.

Unfortunately it doesn’t look like any weekend previews have been posted anywhere as of this time.

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