View From Section U: Thank You Seniors!

Four Minutemen will be taking the Mullins ice for the last time on Saturday night.  I’m happy to take the chance to honor them.

▲ #3 Kevin Czepiel ▲

“Holyoke”.  Yep, somewhere in his freshman year I kind of gave him that nickname because I love to see Western Mass players on the Minutemen and thought having Czeips on the team should be recognized.  Usually having local kids on the team involves kids from the Springfield area.  But when Czepiel got to Amherst he was even more local, growing up not too far down I-91 and a former captain at Northfield-Mount Hermon.  Czepiel has had a very solid career at UMass, playing over 25 games in all four years.  A good puck handler he has been able to move around and fill different roles when needed.  At times in his career he played on the top two lines.  However he really excelled on the third and fourth lines where he was asked to shut down opposing scorers.  He did well doing that but opponents would also have to respect his ability to turn the puck around and make a nice pass to a linemate for a scoring chance.

Czeipiel went out and was a reliable forward no matter what line he ended up on.  He played hard.  He moved the puck well.  And stayed out of the box for the most part.  And he was a regular in the faceoff circle.  When the season started and the team needed someone to lead them, he and fellow senior Rocco Carzo stepped and ran the practices and were rewarded with the Cs on their chest.  The city of Holyoke, a former mill town, can be described as a hard-working, blue collar place.  And that’s probably a pretty way to describe Kevin Czepiel’s career at UMass.

▲ #12 Rocco Carzo ▲

Carzo has had an interesting time at UMass.  In his freshman year he played on a line with star forwards James Marcou and Casey Wellman and by all accounts did very well in the role.  He scored six goals that season, two of them game winners, to go with six assists.  His linemates were two of the most prolific scorers in Hockey East that season, with Marcou 4th best in the league with 51 total points and Casey Wellman accumulating the 3rd most goals with 23.  Carzo was deservedly named the team’s Rookie of the Year for his contributions.  Carzo had some big expectations going into that next season, but with Marcou and Wellman both gone to the pros, they proved tough to live up to.  In his sophomore and junior seasons he would end up scoring just three goals total.

Carzo’s path back to becoming an impact player on the squad started in the second half of last year when he was put on the third line with Troy Power and Patrick Kiley.  There were times in the last three months of the season when that line contributed the most consistently night in and night out.  And Carzo was a big part of that.  The resurgence of his career has carried into this year where, as co-captain, he has scored eight goals, 4th best on the team.  It hasn’t been the easiest of careers at UMass for Carzo.  But I was always impressed that, even when faced with unrealistic expectations, he consistently went out on the ice and gave a great effort, eventually finding the role on the ice that fit him best.  I’m glad to see him come full circle and as a senior regain the role of being an integral player on the team.

▲ #16 Eddie Olczyk ▲

Eddie Olczyk’s role was never questioned during his time as a Minuteman. His job as a third or fourth line winger was to go out there and minimize the impact of the opponent’s offensive stars.  And he’s done that consistently.  UMass has had a number of forwards recently who have been able to regularly make an impact on the outcome of games even while rarely scoring.  Brett Watson is perhaps the best example of this.  Olczyk followed in Watson’s footsteps in this regard.  After playing in 21 games his freshman year his playing time dwindled and he only played half of his sophomore and junior seasons.  However I was thankful to see him return to the lineup on a regular basis for his senior year, playing in all the games thus far.

Playing Olcyzk every game has not only helped the defense’s ability to keep the other team off the board, but has had the surprising benefit on offense too.  Through his first three seasons he had amassed just one goal, scored halfway through his freshman year.  But this year he’s tripled that number to three.  Three goals doesn’t seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, but two of them have been incredibly important.  The first came shorthanded in the win over Dartmouth to win the Ledyard Classic, easily the highlight victory of the season.  The most recent goal was this past weekend late in Friday’s game against UNH which temporarily gave UMass the go-ahead lead.  It’s never easy to be the namesake of a hockey legend that also happens to be your dad.  But at UMass Eddie Jr did a good job of making a name for himself as a dependable and hard-working shutdown forward.  And he should be proud for that.

▲ #17 Darren Rowe ▲

There was a time last season when most Minuteman fans probably thought they had seen the last of Darren Rowe in a UMass uniform.  After playing in 45 games in his first two years on campus Rowe seemed to fall out of favor with then coach Toot Cahoon.  In his freshman and sophomore years Rowe played well enough, but never seemed like a natural fit at defense.  He seemed to excel in the offensive zone, where he was able to leverage his puck handling skills and dangerous shot.  But on the defensive end he seemed to struggle.  In the offseason before his junior year I know that I personally advocated for him to move to forward to better take advantage of his natural instincts and strengths on offense.  But that didn’t happen.  Instead he sat in the stands for a good part of the season.  Yet somewhere along the way he was given a chance, made the most of it, and played the last two months of the season last year, though not really on an impactful basis.

Fast forward to this season and perhaps no one has benefitted from the offseason coaching change than Rowe.  Just a year and a half after many thought his UMass career was done he has played in all but one game this season.  Not surprisingly, it’s been his offensive skills that have gotten him the most attention.  And for good reason.  UMass does well when Rowe gets on the scoresheet.  Of UMass’ 11 wins, 6 have come when Rowe registers a point.  In fact the team has a winning record when he does so.  He’s had a number of key goals this season as well.  He scored a power play goal against Bemidji State in the Ledyard Classic, had three points against Providence in January, and had the overtime winner against #9 New Hampshire in November, one the season’s most memorable wins.  Rowe certainly helped add excitement to this season and his resurgance became one of the best storylines on the year.

I didn’t go back to previous years Seniors’ posts, but I’m sure I probably express the same sentiment every year.  That is that I have the utmost respect for the guys that pull on the UMass sweater every weekend.  College is full of demands and distractions.  It can be tough for anyone to make it all the way through and finish their senior year.  To juggle the classes, a social life, and then add on an insane amount of games, practices, and all the other time that goes with being a DI athlete is commendable.  I honestly don’t know how they do it.  But they do and represent the University of Massachusetts well whlie they do it.  I love my alma mater and am proud to tout and represent UMass whenever possible in my personal and professional life.  But these guys actually go out and represent the students and alumni with “UMass” emblazoned across their chest.  And for that they should be recognized.

The last few years have not been fun for UMass fans who no doubt hoped for more wins and better finishes within Hockey East.  But imagine what it must feel like for these seniors.  No player envisions their senior night coinciding with a fight just to extend their season another weekend or two.  I’m sure these guys probably envisioned things turning out much differently when they were ranked 15th in the country in January of their freshman year and the future looked bright.  But the team collapsed at the tail end of that season, Marcou, Wellman, and Irwin left, and the program has had a tough time returning to a successful footing since.  But not for lack of effort.  Let’s remember that these four guys have gone out there and played hard, done their best, and represented Your State U to the best of their abilities.  I’ve always thought Senior Nights at Boston College must be a lot of pomp and circumstance as they count the national championships won by their outgoing players and pat themselves on the back but I’ll take the guys who have had to grind it out for every win, every ounce of recognition, and have battled just to dress for games during their career.  And that’s pretty much how you have to describe this senior class.  Holyoke, Rocco, Eddie, and Darren, thanks for your dedication to Massachusetts hockey.

I know this has been a tough season to follow as a fan.  I also understand that the short term prospects for the team are currently working against them.  But I would hope that the true UMass hockey fans will do all they can to make it to the Mullins on Saturday, if only to clap and thank these four individuals for wearing the maroon and white.  They’ve earned it.

Merrimack will definitely be without defenseman Kyle Bigos on Friday.  Should make for an awkward (though fitting?) senior night for the Warriors.

Paul Dainton is back in the valley.

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Recruit Update

Championship season is upon us, including for the recruits.

Ben Gallacher – D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) – 2013 (transfer)
27 GP / 2 G / 12 A / 14 Pts / 54 PIM / +2
Gallacher went pointless in his last game.

Mark Hamilton – D – Salisbury School Crimson Knights (NE Prep) – 2013
18 GP / 0 G / 2 A / 2 Pts
Hamilton and Salisbury won the NE Prep Championship this past weekend.  Congrats to Mark!  The last player to come to UMass after winning a league trophy with Salisbury was Will Ortiz.

Marc Hetnik – D – Vernon Vipers (BCHL) – 2013
49 GP / 3 G /7 A / 10 Pts / 34 PIM
No points for Hetnik recently.

Mike Iovanna – RW/C – Malden Catholic Lancers (MA High School) – 2013
22 GP / 12 G /18 A /30 Pts
Iovanna had a couple assists as Malden Catholic beat Springfield Cathedral this past weekend in the first of the best of three quarterfinal.

Dennis Kravchenko – LW – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2013 or 2014
43 GP / 16 G / 27 A / 43 Pts / 80 PIM / +9
Kravchenko did not play this past weekend.

Patrick Lee – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2014
58 GP / 23 G / 32 A / 55 Pts / 34 PIM
Playoffs are about to start in the AJHL

Casey Miller – C – Kimball Union (NE Prep) – 2014
28 GP / 7 G / 26 A / 33 Pts
Miller’s KUA club was upset in the prep tournament.  He ended the season 34th in scoring among prep seniors.

Maddison Smiley – D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2014
39 GP / 16 G / 20 A / 36 Pts / 98 PIM
Smiley picked up an assist in his last regular season game.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
33 GP / 4 G / 6 A / 10 Pts / 18 PIM
Smith did not play this past weekend.

Frank Vatrano– LW/C – Junior Bruins (EJHL) – 2013
19 GP / 13 G / 9 A / 22 Pts / 22 PIM
Vatrano is on campus for Spring semester.

Brandon Wahlin– F – Austin Bruins (NAHL) – 2013
51 GP / 20 G / 43 A / 63 Pts / 68 PIM
Brandon only had a single assist this past weekend and dropped to 2nd in the league in scoring as a result

Jake Wahlin– F – White Bear Lake Bears (MN HS) – 2015
25 GP / 31 G / 31 A / 62 Pts / 26 PIM
Wahlin and the Bears had their season end in the Section 4A finals this past weekend.

Finally, I want to congratulate Justin DeSorgher.  DeSorgher is a UMass alum, longtime Minuteman hockey fan, former Section Uer, and known FTT reader and commenter.  His attention has been elsewhere this season however as he’s in his first year as the head coach of the Westwood girls hockey team.  So far so good as he has led Westwood into the Division II semifinals as the 11th seed.  Next up they’ll play 2nd seeded Falmouth on Saturday for a trip to the Garden.  Good luck to Justin and Westwood!

Saturday Recap

I really have nothing to write about as I was unable to watch, listen to, or even follow the game updates on Twitter.  All I can relay is the facts.  John Henrion and Casey DeSmith delivered a huge blow to UMass’ hopes of making the Hockey East playoffs this season.  Henrion scored a hat trick with a couple goals in the second period and an empty netter at the end of the game.  DeSmith kept the Minutemen off the board entirely at the other end of the ice.  The result was a 4-0 loss to the Wildcats.  Up in Orono, Maine tied Northeastern and moved ahead of UMass into 8th place while also eliminating the Huskies from playoff contention.

UMass will need to get some points next weekend in order to extend their streak of making the Hockey East playoffs which goes back to 2003.  They’ll need to get at least one more point than Maine, whether it’s 1 to their 0 or 4 to their 3 or something in between.  UMass has more conference wins than Maine so a tie in the standings with the Black Bears will end up in the Minutemen’s favor.  Of course it’ll be a challenge for either team to gain points next week as Maine takes on rival UNH while UMass will face Merrimack.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Rocco Carzo
He led the team in shots and wasn’t on the ice for any UNH goals.

According to College Hockey News, Mike Pereira may have suffered a concussion last night.

Friday Recap

The Massachusetts hockey team went into Durham last night and did something they have not been able to do very often in recent years; get points.  With their playoff lives on the line it was absolutely necessary that they get at least a point out of the game, which they did with the 2-2 tie against New Hampshire.  It certainly would’ve been nice if they could’ve held on to a one goal lead with under a minute left in regulation.  But I think it’s more important to focus on the fact that they were able to get a point from the #5 team in the country on their home ice and as of this morning UMass is still in the driver’s seat for a playoff spot.

This was not a very entertaining game to watch in terms of aesthetics.  Both teams seemed to have major problems moving the puck and establishing good offensive possessions.  It was interesting to watch though as it was two teams battling back and forth in a game that meant a lot to both of them, with the Wildcats fighting for a regular season championship.  UMass struck first in the opening period on a Mike Pereira goal after a Conor Allen shot bounced off the glass and in front of the net where Pereira did the rest.  After being hot for most of February (Pereira was named a runner up for Player of the Month) he cooled off last weekend, registering zero points against Maine.  But the goal last night broke that brief scoreless streak and helped UMass establish themselves in the game.  The Wildcats would answer though with a power play goal half way through the game.

It would remain 1-1 until the end of the game.  Late in the third senior Eddie Olczyk scored his third goal of the season to put UMass ahead with just 65 seconds left.  But that lead wouldn’t hold and with the extra attacker UNH would tie with only 3.7 seconds left.  UMass would have the edge in shot in overtime, 5-4, but the game would end at two goals apiece.

Again, it wasn’t pretty.  It was a little disappointing not to get the win despite the late lead.  But the Minutemen wake up this morning tied in 8th with Maine and holding the tiebreaker in the form of conference wins (eight to Maine’s six).  At this point in the season I don’t think you can ask for more than that.  Their playoff prospects are still tenuous however.  Maine still has a game with Northeastern tonight and while the Black Bears are getting healthier with Joey Diamond and Kyle Beattie back the Huskies are without star Kevin Roy.  It’s probably a good bet that Maine will win or at least tie tonight, which means UMass will have to do their best to get some points tonight as well.  A Minuteman win and a Vermont loss would even vault UMass into 7th place, but at this point 8th and just getting in should be the goal.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steve Mastalerz
Like the overtime win over the Wildcats last November, this game was a goaltender duel.  However while that game featured the skills of Casey DeSmith versus Kevin Boyle, last night had DeSmith facing Steve Mastalerz.  Mastalerz played very well, especially early on when the Wildcats held a sizable advantage in shots.  He made 15 saves in the first period alone.

College Hockey News focuses on the superb play of the goaltenders.

New Hampshire Preview

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

at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Recruit Update

Because of last week’s mid-week game it’s been a while since we checked in on the recruits.  Let’s see how they’re doing.

Ben Gallacher – D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) – 2013 (transfer)
26 GP / 2 G / 12 A / 14 Pts / 52 PIM / +3
Gallacher has three assists in his last three games.

Mark Hamilton – D – Salisbury School Crimson Knights (NE Prep) – 2013
14 GP / 0 G / 2 A / 2 Pts
Stats as of 2/20.  Prep playoffs for Hamilton and Salisbury start tomorrow.

Marc Hetnik – D – Vernon Vipers (BCHL) – 2013
48 GP / 3 G /7 A / 10 Pts / 34 PIM
No points for Hetnik recently.

Mike Iovanna – RW/C – Malden Catholic Lancers (MA High School) – 2013
21 GP / 12 G /18 A /30 Pts
The Super 8 defending champions didn’t seem too happy about being relegated to a play-in game last night for this year’s tournament as they pounded Archbishop Williams 9-1.  Iovanna had a goal and an assist.

Dennis Kravchenko – LW – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2013 or 2014
43 GP / 16 G / 27 A / 43 Pts / 80 PIM / +9
Kravchenko had a goal and an assists in three games this past weekend and has six points in his last six games.

Patrick Lee – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2014
57 GP / 23 G / 32 A / 55 Pts / 32 PIM
Lee has a goal and three assists over his last four games.

Casey Miller – C – Kimball Union (NE Prep) – 2014
26 GP / 6 G / 25 A / 31 Pts
Stats as of 2/20.  Prep playoffs start tomorrow, KUA is the #1 seed.

Maddison Smiley – D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2014
38 GP / 16 G / 19 A / 35 Pts / 72 PIM
Smiley didn’t have any points in his most recent games.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
33 GP / 4 G / 6 A / 10 Pts / 18 PIM
Smith is featured in this story on the Pics that ran this week in the Republican.  The Pics head coach projects him to eventually be an NHL draft pick.

Frank Vatrano– LW/C – Junior Bruins (EJHL) – 2013
19 GP / 13 G / 9 A / 22 Pts / 22 PIM
Vatrano is on campus for Spring semester.

Brandon Wahlin– F – Austin Bruins (NAHL) – 2013
49 GP / 20 G / 42 A / 62 Pts / 68 PIM
Brandon had two goals and two assists in his past three games and continues to lead the NAHL in points.

Jake Wahlin– F – White Bear Lake Bears (MN HS) – 2015
25 GP / 31 G / 31 A / 62 Pts / 26 PIM
Wahlin and the Bears won 3-2 in the 4AA Semifinals tonight.  Wahlin has a goal for his team.

College Hockey News’ Hockey East Power Rankings.

UMass’ defensive play is mentioned in this piece from CHN.

Here’s a good article on former Minuteman captain Mike Kostka.

And then there’s this:

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Saturday Recap

With their backs against the wall and missing the playoffs a distinct possibility, the Massachusetts hockey team came together and put in a very solid game on the way to a 5-2 win over Maine.  It was an interesting game as the teams sort of traded periods.  Luckily for the Minutemen they owned the first and third and got the much needed win.

UMass came out skating hard and taking the puck immediately to Martin Ouellette who had completely stymied them the night before.  They were rewarded for their efforts with a 2-0 lead just eight minutes into the game on goals by Adam Phillips and Branden Gracel.  Gracel’s goal was particular exciting as he let go a perfectly placed slapshot from the top of the faceoff circle to find the back of the net.  Gracel returned to form in the faceoff circle last night as well, winning 14 of the 16 opportunities he had.

The Black Bears would make the most of the opportunities in the second however scoring a couple goals under two minutes apart early on in the period, one coming on the power play.  But UMass would own the third.  Zack LaRue scored a huge goal early on in the period to break the tie.  Conor Sheary would go far side on a sliding Ouellette to make it 4-2, setup by a nice cross-ice pass from Joel Hanley who had three assists last night.  Finally captain Kevin Czepiel would seal the game with an empty net goal late.

The team played well.  It wasn’t quite as easy as the final score might suggest.  Maine continued to play them tough, taking advantage of the extra man opportunities they got for the second straight night.  But what was the difference for UMass was a consistent effort all night long.  They played with energy and determination all game.  They did the little things like crashing the net which is how Phillips and LaRue got their goals.  They’ll need to keep that kind of effort and attitude over the course of the next two weeks.  Although they moved back into the 8th place spot with the win, Maine is still just one point behind and has an easier schedule with two home games against last place Northeastern left.  UMass on the other hand will have to find away to claw some points away from New Hampshire and Merrimack to make sure their season extends beyond March 9th.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Zack LaRue
LaRue hasn’t scored a lot of goals in his UMass career.  In fact last night’s was only his second.  But it was a big one in that it broke the tie, but also that it set the tone for the third period that UMass dominated.

Here’s the Republican game story.

College Hockey News has their takeaways.

Ouellette tells the Bangor Daily News that the whistle should’ve blown before LaRue’s gamewinner.

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