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Preview: Montour To Debut As Minutemen Take On Northeastern In Non-Conference Clash

Northeastern Huskies 4-10-1 (3-6-1) Hockey East 8th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 4-11-0 (1-9-0) Hockey East 12th

It’s gut check time.  I think it’s fair to say this first half of the season has been disappointing for everyone around the Massachusetts hockey program.  Just four wins and last place in Hockey East is not where fans, coaches, or players had hoped to see the team at this point.  Tomorrow’s non-conference game against Northeastern is a big opportunity for UMass to at least take some positive momentum into the winter break.  They’ll have to find the motivation and energy from within though, because Tuesdays in December after the students are gone don’t tend to produce good Mullins crowds.  Add in the team’s record and it will likely be a sparsely attended affair.  It’s up to the players to find whatever motivates them, be it pride, a hatred of losing, or whatever, and bring that with them onto the ice tomorrow.

It should help that UMass already knows they’re capable of beating this Husky team.  They did so back in October in what was probably Henry Dill’s best game of the season.  In just his second collegiate start the freshman made 42 saves in the 3-2 win.  The guys in front of him played pretty well too, clearing rebounds away from the crease and helping shutout the Northeastern power play over 7 attempts.  The game saw both teams trade two goals apiece in the first 16 minutes of play before Dill and unexpected Husky starter Derek Roy took over.  The game winner was eventually scored in the third by Emerson Auvenshine who was making his blueline debut for the defensively depleted Minutemen.  Zack LaRue also shined offensively with a goal and an assist in the game.

The defeat at the hands of the Minutemen brought Northeastern’s record to 0-4-0 at that time.  They would eventually get to 0-8-1 before finally picking up their first win against New Hampshire in mid-November.  Since that time they’ve been downright respectable, going 4-2-0 in their last six with wins over #3 Minnesota at home and #16 Providence on the road.  It’s been very much a team effort over that six game period, with 11 different Huskies scoring a goal.  Kevin Roy and Colton Saucerman have scored two apiece during that time.

They’ve mostly gone as their defense and goaltender Clay Witt have gone during that stretch however.  In their four recent wins they’ve given up just five goals total.  But in their two losses, to Merrimack and Providence, Witt and the team have given up nine goals.  It’s likely that tomorrow night the Minutemen will face Witt, who was hurt when they visited St Botolph Street earlier this season.  Playing the Huskies is a good chance for the Minutemen to try to get their offense back on track.  Northeastern is 10th among Hockey East teams in goals against with 3.27 and their penalty kill is dead last at 72.5%.  Even in Northeastern’s recent six game stretch where they’ve been winning their PK is still just 74.1%.  The Minutemen’s offense has sputtered since their last win against AIC in mid-November.  In the 7 games since then they’ve scored just two goals per game and their power play is only converting at a rate of 10.7% (3 for 28).

It’s not just playing a poor defensive team that could give UMass an offensive spark tomorrow night.  It could potentially be the new guy wearing #26 in maroon.  Brandon Montour will make his long awaited debut for the Minutemen after being academically ineligible for the first semester.  The reigning USHL Player of the Year and 2nd Round NHL Draft pick had 6 goals and 15 assists in 17 games for the Waterloo Blackhawks while sorting out his NCAA clearinghouse issues.  Will Montour solve all of the Minutemen’s problems?  No way.  Especially considering he’s more of an offensive defenseman and the issues that have plagued UMass so far on the season have been overwhelming on the defensive end.  Still, his addition to the team may give the players and coaches an opportunity to mentally reset and refocus on games to come with a new weapon in the lineup rather than worry what transpired in November or before.

We shouldn’t forget the players already here either.  Frank Vatrano will look to start another goal streak tomorrow.  His team leading seven goals have all been scored in a couple two and three game bunches, the last of which expired with Notre Dame’s shutout last weekend.  All in all he’s accounted for 6 of UMass’ 21 goals from the AIC game onward and has been by far the team’s best player during that time.  Hopefully the week and a half between games will allow sophomore Ray Pigozzi to recover from an upper body injury as he has six points (1 G, 5 A) in his last six games played and his presence was missed against the Irish.

In net I expect you’ll see Coach Micheletto give Dill another crack at the Huskies after his strong showing at Matthews earlier in the season.  It’s still been tough to get a good gauge on the goaltending this season only because the defense in front of Dill and Steve Mastalerz has had so many problems.  Despite giving up four and a half goals a game there hasn’t been a lot of nights where it felt like the game was lost by whomever got the start in the crease.  Dill has played well at times all things considered and it’ll be interesting to see what happens if he gets another shot at a team he saw earlier in the season.  Again, Montour wasn’t brought to Amherst for his defense.  But, I don’t think he could make things any worse on that end.

I think it’s safe to say that UMass fans are desperate for anything resembling hope at this point.  A win, albeit a non-conference one despite the familiar league foe, tomorrow would be the first step to fans regaining confidence in the team and perhaps a chance for the team to regain some confidence in themselves.  Add in the energy around getting to see a much heralded player for the first time and hopefully the team will be able to feed off the buzz around the game, even if the energy in the building itself is minimal.  I’m sure the holidays for all parties involved would be that much more enjoyable if the team went into winter break with a win.  A victory seems a worthy addition to everyone’s Christmas list.

Beer The Triangle

Dear Santa,

In my last few trips to the Hangar for pregaming I couldn’t help but notice the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin on the “Coming Soon…” list.  I think I’ve been good a UMass fan this year, making it to all the home games, and have done my best to watch my language when I have my daughter on my lap even when the officiating as been awful (who’s kidding, it’s always awful).  Is there any way this beer could find its way onto Stoney’s taps in time for tomorrow afternoon?  I would appreciate it greatly and promise to leave Left Hand Milk Stout and cookies for you on Christmas Eve.

P.S.  Could you also be generous enough to also make our Athletic Director’s Christmas wish come true so that he finds plane tickets to the West Coast in his stocking this holiday?

P.P.S  If the Grapefruit Scuplin is a no-go, how about the Stone Enjoy By 12.26.14?  Tis the season!

Game Preview From UMass Athletics.

Matt Vautour talks about Montour’s debut in his preview in the Gazette.

Yesterday I wrote about the commitment of goaltender Nic Renyard to UMass.  Here’s a scouting report from Over The Boards from last Spring stating that Renyard has “quick feet and post to post movement, as well as some decent puck handling skills.”  That link also has some very good things to say about Kurt Keats who will join the Minutemen next fall as well.  The local Okotoks Western Wheel also has this story about Renyard’s commitment with some quotes from him about his choice.

Abbreviated Polls & Awards tonight.

Boston University is again the #1 team in the country after previous top ranked North Dakota split at Denver.

New Hampshire’s Grayson Downing is the Hockey East Player of the Week after his four point performance in a win against Maine on Saturday.

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Preview: Notre Dame Visits Amherst For Final Hockey East Games of 2014

Notre Dame Fighting Irish 6-8-2 (2-2-2) Hockey East T-6th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 4-9-0 (1-7-0) Hockey East T-11th

The first part of the year probably hasn’t gone exactly how the Massachusetts hockey team and their fans would have wanted, gaining just one conference win through 8 games so far.  Though UMass will play Northeastern mid-month, that game against the Huskies will technically be a non-conference match.  That means this weekend’s visit by Notre Dame is the last chance to grab some Hockey East points before the holiday break.  The season to date has had its challenges, but there are a lot of factors that the Minutemen should find in their favor this weekend and it ends up being a significant opportunity to try to climb out of the Hockey East cellar.

First and foremost in UMass’ favor is that this Irish team is struggling mightily lately.  After dropping two games in the Icebreaker tournament to start the season the Domers seemed to get on track by pulling off five straight wins in October.  Once the calendar turned to November though things have gotten pretty bad for the Irish.  They come into the Mullins with a 1-6-1 record in their last eight.  They just finished in last place of their own Shillelagh Tournament last weekend.  In those eight games they’ve been outscored 3.50 goals to 1.50.  They’ve converted just one power play in their last 27 attempts for a 3.7% rate.  Their opponents meanwhile have converted 19.4% of their power plays in that time.  The team that UMass faces this weekend is flat out reeling.

Junior Mario Lucia is the leading goal scorer among all Hockey East forwards with 9 total.  However he’s a big reason why the Irish have struggled, scoring just once in the last eight games.  Junior Sam Herr has been their best scorer of late, netting 3 of his 6 total goals during recent games.  When looking at the season as a whole, not just the last 8 when they’ve struggled, Notre Dame has some similar numbers as UMass.  The Irish have scored 2.62 goals per game versus 2.69 for the Minutemen.  They’re generating 28.2 shots per game while the Minutemen have been averaging 26.5.  The power play is one key spot where the teams differ on offense.  While UMass has a relatively average power play at 13.5%, the 6.6% conversion rate for the Irish is second to last in the country.

Notre Dame has used two goaltenders regularly this season; sophomore Chad Katunar and freshman Cal Petersen, a 5th round draft pick by the Buffalo Sabres.  On the season they both have identical 3-5-1 records and relatively close save percentages; .916 for Katunar and .906 for Petersen.  However in this recent slide the Irish have found that Katunar has been the better goaltender with a .928 save percentage and 2.29 GAA versus .838 and 5.11 respectively for Petersen.  In front of those two UMass will have to keep an eye on blueline senior Robbie Russo, a solid two way defenseman drafted by the Islanders who is second on the team in points with 12 (5G, 7A).

The Minutemen have had a lot of different challenges which have seemed to hindered their ability to win this season.  Early on it was the amount of freshman on the roster and their inexperience that led to some inconsistent play and slow starts.  Then we had the annoying three state, three weekend road trip that some cited as resulting in fatigue that kept the team from gaining any points in Orono.  Then there was having to play five games in nine days which slowed them down in November.  But the reasons for UMass’ losing should be coming to an end.  The freshman should be well acclimated after two months in Hockey East and are already contributing regularly to the team’s fortunes.  The team will get to play at the Mullins Center two nights in a row with the only recent trip being a short drive down to Connecticut for the game against Quinnipiac last Friday, so road weariness isn’t a factor.  UMass’ defense and goaltending, which has been a liability off and on during the season, is coming off of two solid efforts in a row against a pretty good offensive team in the Bobcats.

When you consider all the above and add in a team that has struggled mightily and has won just one game on the road (a road that will require a plane flight for this weekend) and UMass has a lot of reason to be optimistic this weekend.  There’s a lot in their favor to think this can be a successful weekend for the Minutemen. Is three points an unreasonable expectation?  I don’t think so.  To do so we’ll have to see a lot of the same good things carry over from last weekend.  We saw a defense (defensemen and forwards)that suddenly was blocking shots left and right with Oleg Yevenko, Mike Busillo, and Steven Iacobellis all having season highs in that metric.  Henry Dill looked very solid in net, posting a .928 save percentage in the two games, and doing a great job of limiting second chance opportunities for the opponents.  On Friday we saw an offensive that was aggressive and attacking, forcing and capitalizing upon Quinnipiac miscues, and turning them into quality chances and goals.  We didn’t see that style nearly as much on Saturday unfortunately.  That attacking style has to be able to transfer over to the big home ice.  One consistent bright spot is that when this team gets on a rush, they’ve seemed to find the back of the net at a better rate than other recent UMass teams.  It’s imperative that the team continues to maintain puck possession while forcing turnovers on the other end to create those high probablility shots.  If they do so for both nights the team may find the Hockey East standings look noticeably different come Sunday.

Beer The Triangle
I’m overdue a trip to ABC.  A look at their beerlist shows they have a whole series of “Flack Briday” Russian Imperial Stouts on, including Barrel-aged, Vanilla, and Coffee & Bacon variations.  Yeah, that sounds pretty good.

Weekend Preview from UMass Athletics.  One interesting note is that Notre Dame last played in the Mullins Center on New Year’s Eve in 1994.  That game was the first win over a DI opponent for the triangle-clad Minutemen program that had been resurrected the year before.

Preview from Notre Dame Fighting Irish Athletics.

The Collegian has their preview of this weekend’s action as well as a feature on Frank Vatrano’s emergence as an offensive threat.

Weekend preview from the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Mike McMahon has his most recent Hockey East Stat Pack on The Mack Report.

With high school hockey about to start up in the commonwealth UMass commit and Springfield Cathedral player John Leonard is one of SBN College Hockey’s Preseason MIAA All-State Team members.

Preview: Minutemen Take On I-91 Foe #14 Quinnipiac In A Home-And-Home

#14 Quinnipiac Bobcats 8-3-2 (5-1-0) ECAC 1st

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Massachusetts Minutemen 3-8-0 (1-7-0) Hockey East T-11th

The Massachusetts hockey team will conclude its stretch of five games in nine days with a home and home series with #14 Quinnipiac.  UMass has had better results out of conference (2-1-0) than in conference (1-7-0), but this regular series with the ECAC leading Bobcats presents a much bigger challenge than Michigan State or AIC.

Quinnipiac got off to a rocky start to their season going 1-2-1 with losses to Lowell and UConn.  But since that loss to the in-state Huskies they’ve won 7 of their last 8.  The highlights during that time include a 4-0 blanking of then #4 Cornell and a 4-3 road victory over defending national champions Union.  This past weekend they travelled to the north country where they dropped a 2-1 decision to Clarkson and then came back the next night to defeat Saint Lawrence in overtime.

Quinnipiac is a pretty well rounded team.  The Bobcats are scoring exactly three goals per game thus far on the season and are generating a very healthy 31.4 shots in each affair.  They’re led offensively by sophomore Sam Anas.  His 9 goals in 12 games has translated to 0.75 goals per game, 5th best in the country.  His 17 total points is tied for fourth best nationally.  He leads the country in both power play goals (5) and power play points (10).  That has helped Quinnipiac to a power play conversion of 25.5%, which is 6th best in the country.  Other Bobcats to keep an eye on offensively are junior Travis St Denis and freshman Landon Smith who both come into the weekend with 6 goals apiece.  Co-Captain senior Matthew Peca has a team leading 10 assists.

Junior Michael Garteig has handled most of the goaltending duties so far this season.  It was Garteig who played the majority of last year’s 6-1 win over the Minutemen.  This year he’s 8-3-0 with two shutouts and a save percentage of .905.  It’s really been the guys in front of him who have done the job defensively.  The Bobcats are allowing just 22.4 shots per game, 2nd best in the country.

The fact that the Bobcats has such a stifling defense is bad news for a UMass team that scored just two goals total against a Vermont team that has similar defensive statistics.  UMass has to get back on track with their goal scoring.  That should start with their power play, which was 0 for 8 in the two games against the Catamounts.  The Minutemen have struggled to produce any kind of consistent offense with the extra man, converting just 12.2% of their power play opportunities.

What’ probably more important though is just for the team to get quality chances on net.  UMass had decent shot totals against Vermont; 28 and 29.  But a lot of those made for easy saves for Catamount goaltender Brody Hoffman.  They need to get back to moving the puck and trying to generate scoring from the circles inward.  They need to challenge the goaltender and get him moving in the crease.  Shot from the tops of the circles are not cutting it.

Giving up the most goals in the country (4.64) means there’s plenty of work to be done on defense as well.  Assignments are still being missed, players are being caught out of position too often, and the goaltending has been poor.  The defensive and goaltending performance so far has been historically bad.  In the last 15 years UMass has never given up more than 3.49 goals per game.  Even if the team can make strides with scoring, it’ll all be for naught if they don’t keep opponents out of the net.  Figuring out a way to shutdown one of the best offensive players in the country in Anas will be a huge challenge.

UMass is finishing up their second month of the season this weekend.  The freshmen should be integrated into college hockey as well as university life.  We should start to see some improvement in play at this time, both offensively and defensively.  The Minutemen didn’t play poorly on Tuesday against Vermont.  But at the same time they never really were in a good position to win it either.  Pairwise isn’t going to come into play for UMass this season so these non-conference games gives the coaches and players a chance to try different things to get the team on track and not necessarily worry about the result.  If they lose, they lose.  But it’ll be worthwhile if losing puts them in a good spot to take Hockey East points from Notre Dame next week.  It is essential that the team starts making some progress toward becoming a winning team.

Beer The Triangle
I was informed that one of the places I would send beer drinkers in the New Haven area, Delaney’s, burned down this past summer. The easiest spot for Quinnipiac pregaming is Mikro, located just down the hill from the arena.  A scan of the beer list shows they have some really good stuff on.  Get Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo if you haven’t before.  It’s excellent on draft.  On Saturday head to the Hangar and see how much of the stouts and porters are left over from their Black Wednesday event.  Hopefully quite a bit since I can’t imagine they did much business in the snowstorm yesterday.

Happy Thanksgiving too all the college hockey fans out there!

Preview from Quinnipiac Athletics.

SBN College Hockey takes a look at some of the numbers around Hockey East, including those pertaining to UMass’ goal margin and goaltending.

The Hartford Courant has this feature on Conor Allen.

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.

Game Preview: Minutemen Look For Payback Against AIC

American International Yellow Jackets 2-4-1 (2-3-1) Atlantic Hockey T-4th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 2-5-0 (1-4-0) Hockey East T-6th

I had a conversation this week with a long time supporter of Massachusetts hockey regarding the worst losses in the program’s history.  I don’t mean worst by margin or the most heart-wrenching (damn you Jimmy Howard), I mean games that the team had no business losing.  The ones that got bounced around were the overtime loss to UConn in October of 2004, the first win by an Atlantic Hockey team over a Hockey East team.  The year after that UMass dropped a 3-2 decision at home to Holy Cross which ranks up there in worst losses.  Another cited was the 5-2 stinker against Alabama-Huntsville at the Mariucci Classic at the end of 2006.  The first two were pretty bad, coming shortly after it looked like UMass was starting to establish itself as a legitimate program.  The loss to the Chargers ended up being a fluke, and perhaps a motivator, in a season that ultimate saw the Minutemen make their lone NCAA appearance.  There is no doubt however that the case can be made that last year’s loss to the AIC was the worst of the worst.  The Yellow Jackets had never beaten a Hockey East school previously and has rarely had double digits in wins during its existence.  Add in the proximity to the higher profile UMass program and losing to AIC was inexcusable.  But it happened.  And Friday the UMass players need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The 3-2 loss to the Yellow Jackets featured some things you typically don’t see.  First and foremost then freshman goaltender Hunter Leisner made 57 saves on the night.  57!  In the second period he saved 26 of 26 shots.  On the other end of the ice that period Steve Mastalerz faced only two shots.  And both got by him for AIC goals.  The box score is crazy to read.  I’d go on about some of the other statistical oddities but at the end of the day the AIC team did what they had to do and Leisner stole one from their neighboring power conference school.

So, that leads to the question of will Leisner be able to come into the Mullins and steal another one?  Well, it’s unknown if the Minutemen will even get a chance to get a second crack at him.  Leisner has played in three games this season and is 0-3-0 with a .890 save percentage and 4.37 goals against average.  Instead it’s been freshman Alex Murray who has been AIC’s go to goaltender.  Murray, who played last season in the BCHL, is 2-0-1 with save percentage of .954 that is sixth best in the country.  Murray backstopped the Jackets to a sweep at Niagara last weekend where AIC outscored the Purple Eagles 7-3.  It’s hard to decide if UMass would have an advantage over either one of these goaltenders.

Offensively AIC is led by senior forward Alexander MacMillan, who scored the game winner against the Minutemen last year.  MacMillan, the AHA Player of the Week last week, has 5 of the team’s 17 goals on the year with all of them coming at even strength.  Currently 25% of his shots are finding the back of the net.  Sophomore Austin Orszulak and junior David Gandara are the only other players to have multiple goals so far with three and two respectively.

For the Minutemen the strategy should be to score early and score often.  What happens in games against lesser opponents is if they’re allowed to hang around, come up with some big saves, and keep the game scoreless or close then they get some confidence and suddenly you have a dogfight on your hands.  UMass has to put AIC away early.  Perhaps they can take a page from the basketball team which just put 120 up on their AIC counterparts last week.  The good news is the UMass offense isn’t looking too bad right now.  While last weekend was frustrating they did score seven goals in the two games against the Black Bears with four of them coming from key players who had been held scoreless on the season; Frank Vatrano and Dennis Kravchenko.  They need to continue to make progress on offensive, especially five on five, and this AIC game presents a good opportunity to do so.  UMass has had a number of highlight reel goals so far on the season and that’s what they’ll need Friday.  Slap shots from the point or soft wristers from the top of the circle won’t cut it. Those are the shots that didn’t work against this team last year. Whomever is in net for AIC will need to be challenged and UMass will have to do so with passing, puck movement, and getting the goaltender moving within the crease.

A consistent effort and performance from the entire team is key as well.  So far in this young season UMass has had a tough time putting an good offensive and a good defensive game together on the same night.  A good night of goaltending and defense have seemed to coincide with a drought in scoring while high scoring nights have ended up being shootouts.  Defense and goaltending seemed like it was trending better during the weekend in Boston but took a step back up in Orono.  They’ll need to get that back on track before Hockey East play starts up again in two weeks.  At this point it’s unknown who will be in net for the Minutemen but whoever it is will look to make the case that they should be in net against Boston College later in the month.

The three week, three state, four opponent road trip is over.  The Minutemen finally return to the Mullins Center for the first time since the opening night disappointment against Boston University.  The team did have some success on their trek around the eastern half of the country and at the very least probably got some quality bonding time in during the plane and bus rides.  It will be great to get them back on home ice and in front of their own fans.  Hopefully the upperclassmen are stressing to the younger players that they’re not only defending the Mullins ice tomorrow, but they’re out to reclaim Western Mass hockey dominance.  Even though the gap in talent between the leagues is closing and Atlantic Hockey teams are beating upper conference teams with more regularity, another loss to AIC simply cannot happen.  Not to a program that claims to be in the middle of a turnaround.  Pride and skill.  Those are the two factors that should come into play tomorrow.  And if the Minutemen make the most of those two factors then they should be celebrating their first home win by the end of the night.

Beer The Triangle
This is a special BTT bulletin.  If you see any Bear Republic beer I strongly suggest to buy it, store it, drink it, and/or savor it.  The Northern California brewery is pulling out of Massachusetts due to the effects of the drought out west.  I would be crying in my Café Racer 15 right now if I wasn’t now actively hoarding it.  The Hangar is one of the few places in the state where you can actually find Racer 15 during those rare times it’s available.  So, even though I have no idea if they have any Bear Republic on, I suggest going there and commiserating with other Bear Republic fans like myself over our loss.

And one last thing, I try to keep politics off this hockey/beer/hockeybeer blog but can we get a handle on this whole climate change thing because it’s now affecting my beer drinking and that make me angry.  Sure flooding and less Polar Bears are bad, but I want my Racer 5 and Red Rocket damnit!

The Collegian has their preview of Friday’s matchup with AIC as well as a piece on the connections between the programs.

Coach Micheletto says he hopes UMass-AIC becomes a rivalry in the Gazette preview.  I’m not sure what it would take to be a true “rivalry” but as I wrote yesterday I do think this is a great game for the region and hope to see it continue regularly.

The latest edition of Troy Power’s blog covers the Maine series and how good it is to return to the Mullins for the AIC game.

This goal by Dennis Kravchenko was the UMass Play of the Week.

Here’s an update on UMass alumni in the pros from the hockey office.

Mike McMahon crunches the numbers again for the Hockey East teams with his stats post.  Needless to say UMass has to improve their play at even strength and do better to gain the shot advantage.

College Hockey News has a good opinion piece on the overly punitive sanctions handed down to Alaska-Fairbanks.

Weekend Preview: Minutemen Conclude Six Game Road Trip With Visit To Maine

Massachusetts hockey fans should be pretty content with this three weekend, three state, road trip so far.  The inexperienced team went out to the Midwest and split with a defensively strong Michigan State team in the first leg of the trip.  Last weekend on a jaunt out to Boston the team got some unexpected heroics from Emerson Auvenshine and Henry Dill to defeat the Northeastern Huskies and then the next night were a bit overwhelmed by #6 Boston College, but still played respectably.  This weekend’s series against Maine up in Orono will really define whether this road trip, the team’s longest of the season, will ultimately be considered a success or a disappointment.  Though it’s still early in the season a sweep at the hands of the Black Bears could have serious repercussions.  UMass already already played more conference games than anyone else and Maine is one of those teams picked to finish in the middle of the Hockey East standings that the Minutemen will have to beat if they want to do better than their 11th place predictions.

Maine has had an odd schedule so far to say the least.  It’s not often that that the Black Bears travel north on a road trip, but they did just that when they started the season in Anchorage, getting swept by the Alaska-Anchorage and Alaska-Fairbanks in the Kendall Hockey Classic.  They returned home the next weekend but had to host defending national champions Union and promptly got swept again.  Last weekend they were able to get some swift revenge as the UAA Seawolves visited Orono and Maine got a win and tie against the Alaskans this time around.  Still the 1-4-1 start on the season has a lot of Black Bear faithful unhappy.  It’s likely that coach Red Gendron is feeling the same.

Coming into the season it was expected that Maine would be strong offensively but potentially struggle on defense and in net.  That hasn’t been the way it’s played out early on however.  Maine is scoring just 1.83 goals per game so far, 10th best among Hockey East teams.  The team’s shortfall in scoring is very obvious as defenseman Ben Hutton and winger Devin Shore, All-Americans last year, have not come through so far.  Last season the duo combined for 29 goals and 72 points.  Through six games this year they’ve combined for just two goals and an assist despite being 1st and 2nd on the team in shots on goal, and are a combined –7.  The stars so far for Maine have ended up being sophomores Cam Brown (3G, 3A) and Blaine Byron (2G, 2A).

Gendron has used a combination of goalies so far on the season, but sophomore Matt Morris has been the clearly better goaltender so far.  Morris has started four games to freshman Sean Romeo’s two and so has had a respectable .918 save percentage in those outings.  Morris started both of the games last weekend against UAA and will likely get the starts again this weekend.

In terms of the situation in net for the Minutemen, I would expect to see freshman Henry Dill in net again for at least the Friday game.  The reigning Rookie of the Week played well enough in both games to keep his team in the game and I don’t think Micheletto would make a change at this point.  Still, if he’s unable to handle the hostile Alfond environment on Friday and plays poorly then Steve Mastalerz will be ready to go on Saturday.  In front of the goaltenders I think we’ll same the same sort of setup as last week.  While defensemen Maddison Smiley and Ben Gallacher did make the trip to Orono their playing status is still unknown as they both try to return from injuries.  So it’s probably likely we’ll see the same five defenseman with the addition of Emerson Auvenshine on the blueline on Friday.  Considering the question marks surrounding this defensive unit coming into the season and then the injury issues that have complicated the situation, I thought the unit played very well last weekend.  On Friday they gave Dill the support he needed to limit the Huskies to two goals and then against an always talented BC team the team only allowed one even strength goal.  Maine is a lot like Northeastern in that they have some skilled but underachieving and therefore hungry players on offense.  Just as UMass kept hungry, overdue Huskies like Kevin Roy, Zach Aston-Reese, and Mike Szmatula off the board on Friday, they’ll have to do the same for Shore and Hutton this weekend.

Offensively UMass has looked pretty good.  Their 2.40 goals per game is above the 2.23 they had last season.  While the 15% power play percentage is nothing to write home about, it is fourth best among Hockey East teams.  And beyond the stats is that UMass has gotten timely goals, namely the Patrick Lee gamewinner in Lansing with 9 ticks left and Auvenshine’s key third period goal last week.  What’s amazing is they’ve been able to generate this much offense despite getting practically nothing from their top line of Frank Vatrano, Dennis Kravchenko, and Troy Power.  Those three have combined for just three points and zero goals.  It’s still relatively early in the season but the drought for those players is getting to the point where it’s very concerning.  Typically I would expect a coach to switch up some players to get them going, but when the second and third lines are clicking as they are do you dare change lines?  Probably not.  One thing is for certain is if UMass is going to have some sustained success, they absolutely have to have the first line scoring.  Hopefully that starts this weekend because the other guys can only carry the load for so long.

Huge four points on the line this weekend.  Huge.  You’re facing a Maine team that’s struggling which is definitely the best time to visit Alfond Arena, a place that’s not very friendly to opposing teams.  It’s good that the freshmen have gotten to experience a few different road environments before heading to Orono and hopefully they can use those learnings to their advantage.  Though the Black Bears are on the schedule for another two games later on in the season, these are the ones to win because these are the ones that will count in the Hockey East standings.  A couple wins this weekend could help solidify an early season foothold towards the top of those standings for the Minutemen.

Beer The Triangle

It’s been a few years since I’ve been up to Orono but the best beer spot I found in my trips there was Nocturnem Draft Haus.  They currently have Maine Beer Company Lunch on draft.  I suggest you have at least two of those because it’s near impossible to find on draft and is considered one of the better IPAs out there.  And then after that have an Ommegang Valar Morghulis while contemplating the fact that all men must die.

There will be a couple familiar names across the ice for Maine this weekend.  Former Minuteman Andrew Tegeler is playing for the Black Bears after transferring from UMass a couple years ago.  On defense for Maine is Mark Hamilton who was a highly regarded recruit for the Minutemen at one time.

The Collegian has their preview of the weekend as well as a piece on the performance of Dill so far.

Hamilton is the subject of this story out of the Bangor Daily news.

Captain Troy Power covers last weekend in his latest blog entry.

Mick McMahon is doing a great job digging into the statistics among Hockey East teams.  I think it shows that UMass must improve their play at even strength, which isn’t a surprise since they struggled five on five last year as well.

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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