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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

vs

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.

 

 

 

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