Merrimack College Warriors 14-14-6 (12-10-3) Hockey East 6th
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.
He doesn’t have anything up currently, but Mike McMahon is sure to have some good information and perspective on the Mack Report.