Friday Recap

Let’s face it, when it comes to Maine there are really only two players you have to worry about this season; Martin Ouellette and Joey Diamond.  So when news came out just before the game that Diamond did not make the trip from Orono due to a back injury, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that UMass would pick up the win last night.  After all, Diamond had accounted for over 1/5th of all goals for Maine this season and is really their only threat on offense.  Also missing would be his agitating style of play, allowing the Minutemen to remain focused on the task at hand and keep their heads.  Well Ouellette and the Minutemen’s own subpar play negated Diamond’s absence and the Black Bears were the victors by the score of 2-0.  The loss knocks the Minutemen into 9th place in Hockey East.  If the league playoffs started today UMass would not be participating in it for the first time since 2002.

Ouellette deserves all the accolades from last night’s win.  Not only did he pick up the win but he made some spectacular plays while doing so.  Coming halfway across the net in the second period to rob K.J. Tiefenwerth with his glove may be the best save I’ve seen all year.  His play does not excuse the Minutemen for last night’s loss however.  There was a glaring lack of energy and a lack of focus on the team’s part.  Aspects of the game that were huge strengths just a month ago are now obvious deficiencies, such as faceoffs and the penalty kill.  The power play last night was abysmal, generating just four shots in three full opportunities.

Has the team packed it in for the season?  It sure as hell looks like it.  A loss tonight would sink the Minutemen to three points behind Maine and out of the playoffs while also giving the Black Bears the tie breaker.  Right now it seems extremely unlikely that UMass would gain much in terms of points in the following two weekends against New Hampshire and Merrimack, the leagues two hottest teams.  Maine on the other hand has an easier schedule with two games left against last place Northeastern.  That pretty much adds up to the prospect of playoffs for the Minutemen coming down to the 60 minutes on the ice tonight.  Let’s see if the team can play like the season is on the line.  Because it is.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steve Mastalerz
It’s never easy to be cold on the bench and have to come into the game midway through a period.  But that’s what Mastalerz was called to do last night when Coach Micheletto, looking to send a message to the team, pulled Kevin Boyle in the second.  Mastalerz was up to the task and turned away all eight shots faced.

Mick will continue to press buttons to try to get the team back winning again per the Republican game story.

The Collegian points out that just three weeks ago UMass was looking to move into 5th place in the standings.

Michael King has the game story for College Hockey News.

Here’s how things looked for the Bangor Daily News.

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Maine Preview; Triangle Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northeastern Recap

I’m getting straight to the point on this one.  Here are my key observations to last night’s 5-4 overtime loss to 10th place Northeastern.  With the loss the Huskies took the season series.  They now are just two points behind the Minutemen in the standings and hold the tie-breaker.  The overtime gamewinner was the first career goal by Josh Manson.  Bryan Mountain got the win after replacing Chris Rawlings in the 2nd.  Mountain was 0-6-2 coming into the game and had just one previous career win.  UMass gave up leads of 3-1 and 4-3 to end the 2nd.  Adam Frenier had the most unbelievable stats in the postgame broadcast.  Going into the game Northeastern was 0-11-0 this season when trailing after 2 periods, 0-21-2 going back to last season, and an astounding 1-40-6 looking back to the 2009-10 season.  That’s a less than 2% chance that the Huskies have come back in similar situations over the last four years.  But they did it last night.

I am extremely worried that this team looks worse now than it did in October or November.  Have I mentioned that I absolutely hate the month of February?  Granted, my father and grandfather were both born this month as well as a couple of our greatest presidents.  But I still would have no problem going straight from January to March.  Hallmark can invent another holiday to replace Valentine’s Day.  For whatever reason the shortest month of the year absolutely dooms Massachusetts hockey every goddamn year.  Right when a Boston College or, this year, a Merrimack gets better and their teams gel and they make a run into the postseason, the wheels fall off the UMass season.

Last night was some of the worst hockey the team has played all season.  The defense struggled all night, pretty blatant considering they gave up 45 shots to one of the weaker offenses in the league.  The goaltending of Steve Mastalerz was unfortunately inconsistent.  While the offense put up four goals, they still seemed disorganized.  And while I’m happy for the special team improvements from last year, there’s a point where this team has to score more 5 on 5 goals.  UMass has a +7 goal advantage on special teams but is –15 at even strength.

Outside of the ice conditions, which delayed the start of the game thirty minutes, everything was in UMass’ favor last night.  They led throughout.  They were at home.  They were playing the last place team who had just gotten swept at home.  And yet they blew it all and took the loss.  Now Maine comes into the Mullins Center this weekend with the chance to take over 8th place.  It makes you wonder how it’s come to this point where UMass is fighting just to barely make the playoffs.  But then again, this is February and we’ve now grown accustomed to exactly that at this time of year.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Mike Pereira
It’s unfortunate that Pereira has elevated his game right when the rest of the team is flat.  Last night he had a couple goals and an assist.  In the last six games he has seven goals and five assists.

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Republican Recap

Collegian Recap

College Hockey News Recap

Northeastern Preview

Northeastern Huskies 8-16-3 (4-13-3) Hockey East 10th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 10-15-2 (7-12-1) Hockey East 8th

Two struggling teams will be meeting tomorrow in a makeup game from the blizzard that hit a couple weekends ago.  Massachusetts and Northeastern both come into the rare mid-week game after getting swept this past weekend.  UMass lost a home and home to Lowell while the Huskies just dropped a pair of games to Vermont at home.  Earlier in the month it appeared as if Northeastern may be on the upswing after they beat Boston University in the Beanpot opener and then played Boston College tough in the championship before ultimately falling.  But last week the Huskies managed just two goals total against the Catamounts and will have to run off a streak of wins if they want to make the Hockey East playoffs this season.

These teams split a weekend series at the end of November with the Huskies grabbing a 1-0 win at the Mullins on the Friday and UMass bouncing back 6-3 the next night. Chris Rawlings, who has played well against the Minutemen in his career, grabbed the shutout in the NU win and turned away 31 shots. But the next night UMass poured 46 shots on him and got the win.

It’s no secret that the Minutemen will have to try to contain freashman Kevin Roy tomorrow. Despite his team losing Roy was named the MVP of the Beanpot after he scored five goals in the two games.  His 17 goals this season are second best among Hockey East players. The Huskies have just one win this season when Roy doesn’t register a point, the 1-0 shutout of UMass. There’s a big gap between him and Cody Ferriero who has the second most goals for NU with nine.

Roy has helped the Huskies to respectable numbers offensively, but they’ve struggled on the defensive end all season. The 3.30 goals given up per game is dead last among Hockey East games. It’s likely that UMass will see Rawlings tomorrow since he was given Saturday off.  He has played inconsistently all season, being chased in three games to date. But when taken as a whole his numbers are pretty good, compiling a 2.90 goals against average and a .909 save percentage. He’s definitely a better option in net than Bryan Mountain who is 0-6-2 on the season.

Coach Micheletto said after the Lowell loss on Saturday that the team is not hitting the panic button yet.  And that’s fair, it’s not time to panic regarding the team being able to make the playoffs.  But is that really what the team should be striving for?  Just barely making the playoffs (again)?  There’s still time to move up the standings, back to 7th, and perhaps further.  But to do so they’ll have to play a lot better in every aspect of the game.  They’ll get a tune-up versus the last place Huskies before the final stretch of games begins this weekend against Maine.  A loss tomorrow would simply be devastating for the team and its fans.

Beer The Triangle
Warning to pregamers!  The Hangar does not open until 4pm on Tuesdays (because no one wants the best damn wings in the world for an early week lunch?), so if you plan to get there mid-afternoon, seek other libations.  Luckily Amherst offers other locales as a stopgap before that time.  There’s always the venerable ABC, where last week I enjoyed an ABC/Northampton/Wormtown collaboration Third Degree IPA.  However tomorrow I might give the High Horse Brewpub another chance.  I’m not sure why since on my first visit they had mediocre beer and on the second they had improved beer served up by rude bartenders.  We’ll see what happens.  However I do have the entire day off and perhaps I’ll take the northern route into Amherst and check out the Blind Pig in Athol that I’ve been hearing so many good things about.

Conor Allen will be back in the line, per the Republican preview.

College Hockey News has their Hockey East power rankings and makes the case that the league should continue to limit playoff participation in order to add meaning to the regular season, especially the final few weeks.  I agree.

Saturday Recap

This recap will be brief due to a couple of reasons.  First, I didn’t make it to the game so I don’t have any first hand observations to share, only what was relayed from Brock Hines and Adam Frenier through the radio broadcast.  Secondly, there’s not really much to say.  UMass went into the weekend with a chance to move into 6th place.  Instead they’ve dropped a place in the standings to 8th and are just barely holding onto that as Maine is just one point behind.  In fact there was a point last night where the scores at the time would’ve resulted in UMass in 9th place.

I don’t know if it was effort or execution that did the Minutemen in last night.  I do know that after a scoreless first a shorthanded goal, the 7th given up this season, gave Lowell a 1-0 lead just six and a half minutes into the period.  That would open up the floodgates for scoring as Lowell would score just a few minutes later on the power play and then the teams would trade goals after that for the next few minutes.  But in the end Lowell finished the second period up 3-2 and that’s the score that would hold until the end.  Lowell would outshoot UMass in the final two periods 26-18.  The Minutemen were not helped by six penalties taken in the last two periods either.

There were a number of lineup changes in last night’s game.  The most suprising was the healthy scratch of Conor Allen, probably UMass’ best performing defenseman on the season.  It’s likely Coach Micheletto was sending a message to Allen for grabbing two game misconducts in two games.  Personally I’m not sure if that was a fair decision.  The misconduct last Sunday against Merrimack for contact to the head was thought to be a horrible call by the fans and even press members in attendance.  The misconduct on Friday was out of frustration in the waning minutes of a blowout and hardly factored into the result.  With Allen out Anthony Raiola made the lineup for his 9th game this season.  Mike Busillo was sat again in favor of Peter DeAngelo.  Steve Mastalerz was in net for the game and sounded like he played well.

Whether the lineup changes made the difference last night, I don’t know.  I do know that this team is now fighting for their playoff lives and is probably playing its worst hockey of the season.  The team is 1-4-0 in their last five and have only three wins in the nine games played since the beginning of January.  For the second year in a row Lowell has not only won the season series with UMass, but swept them.  A new coach but the same February struggles and again the Minutemen will have to battle just to stay in the playoff race.  The next six days will be key as they’ll have to rebound to face Northeastern in a rare Tuesday game and then take on Maine who will look to overtake the Minutemen in the standings.  The season started with a lot of hope given a new coaching staff and the quality of players returning.  However through 27 games the team is again near the bottom of the standings and has a worse record than last year.  Maybe this season is just a temporary set back before future success.  But UMass fans have been waiting long enough for a winning team and it’d be nice to head into the offseason at least feeling good about the program’s future.  Micheletto and the players have just seven more games to do so.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Mike Pereira
Pereira had a goal and an assist on the night.  He now has nine points in his last five games, including five goals.

Here’s the Republican recap.

College Hockey News has their takeaways.

Friday Recap

The hope was that the memory of November’s embarrassing 8-2 home loss to Lowell would provide the motivation needed to get up for last night’s game.  That didn’t appear to be the case and the team looked flat from the moment they first hit the ice.  The result was another lopsided loss to the River Hawks at home by a score of 6-3.  Lowell has now outscored UMass 14-5 so far this season and took the Alumni Cup with last night’s win.

It was basically defensive breakdown after defensive breakdown that led to last night’s loss.  Through the first two periods Lowell had four goals on just 11 total shots.  This will go down in the record books as a loss for Kevin Boyle but, other than the second Lowell goal, it’s tough to fault him on any of the others.  Overall the team just did not have it.  Recapping Sunday’s game I mentioned that the effort was there for the team but the execution wasn’t.  Last night neither of those things were present.  The team looked like they were just going through the motions on the ice, especially on the defensive end, and Lowell made them pay for their lack of focus.

There’s very little positive to take from last night’s game.  Joel Hanley played well, grabbing a goal and an assist and not being on the ice for any opposing goals.  Mike Pereira played well and had the best of the few highlights for the Minutemen when he aggressively forechecked on the penalty kill, took the puck away from Lowell goaltender Connor Hellebuyck behind his own net, and easily wrapped it around the goal to score.

With UMass’ loss, Vermont’s win, and Maine’s tie the Minutemen dropped into 8th place and are just one point ahead of the Black Bears.  UMass is in serious danger of missing the Hockey East playoffs for the first time since 2002.  It helps that the team still has a game on hand on Maine and Vermont, but the remaining schedule is not easy.  Given the talent and experience on this team the prospect of missing the playoffs entirely would be a tremendous disappointment and not the kind of start fans were anticipating for Coach Micheletto’s career at UMass.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Joel Hanley
Hanley assisted on Conor Sheary’s power play goal in the second and then scored himself with the extra man in the 3rd to cut the score to 3-4.  That would be as close as the Minutemen got however.

Highlights from UMass Athletics

Here’s the game recap from the Republican and one from the Collegian.

Lowell Preview

Lowell River Hawks 14-9-2 (8-8-2) Hockey East 18pts 6th

vs

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

 These two teams met back before Thanksgiving, two teams that appeared to be going in two different directions.  Massachusetts had a tough schedule to start the season and were just 1-3-0 in their first four games.  But from there they appeared to be righting the ship by going 2-1-1 in their next four with the only loss being a close defeat at the hands of Boston College.  Lowell surprised many by getting off to an awful start to the season despite returning nearly everyone from last year’s NCAA team and went into their match with UMass just 2-5-1.  UMass was looking to establish some consistent winning while Lowell was hoping to turn things around.  In the end it was a statement game for the River Hawks as they embarrassed the Minutemen in their home arena by the score of 8-2.  Starting with that game Lowell has had a 12-4-1 record and are battling for an NCAA spot.  The Minutemen meanwhile have not been able to put together any kind of streak of success and are battling just to maintain their spot in the Hockey East playoffs.

There’s not much to break down from that earlier game except to say that UMass frankly looked like they wanted to be anywhere but in the Mullins Center playing hockey.  It was the most uninspiring hockey I’ve seen from this program in years.  Year.  UMass stood and watched as Riley Wetmore scored a hat trick on them, Joseph Pendenza had a couple goals and an assist, and Scott Wilson gathered four points.  Those three have been the offensive stars for Lowell this season as they are top three in terms of goals for the team.  Still, it’s not just them thatopposing teams have to look out for as nine total players have five or more goals this season.  The Hawks find themselves fourth among league teams in offense, scoring 2.96 goals per game, while their power play is also fourth, converting 17.2% of the time.

Lowell had a goaltender controversy during the middle part of the season when Doug Carr and freshman Connor Hellebuyck started trading starts with the younger netminder winning six straight and puting up the better stats.  But Hellebuyck was injured in mid-January and it’s allowed Carr to regain the starter spot.  He and the Hawks come into the weekend losing two straight, but one of those was by a score of 1-0 so it was of no fault to Carr.  Carr has a goals against average of 2.79 versus Hellebuyck’s 1.54.

Massachusetts has a lot to motivate them this coming weekend.  First they’ve yet to prove that they can win consistently this season and that’s something they’ll have to do sooner rather than later if they have any kind of post-season plans.  They have Maine and Vermont on their heels when it comes to the Hockey East standings and the prospect of missing the playoffs entirely for the first time since 2002 is not out of the equation.  This past Sunday’s game was incredibly disappointing given the anemic offense and mistake-prone defense, I would think the team wants to improve upon that showing.  But the biggest motivation for this series should come from that game in November where the team played absolutely horribly.  It was easily one of the worst performances from this team in many seasons.  For the fans that loss is still one that gnaws at them and I hope the same goes for the players.  It’ll take at least a couple decent performances in a row until that game is totally forgotten.

Beer The Triangle
I cant’ guarantee a trip to Lowell and Lowell Beer Works so it’ll it least be the usual of a Hangar trip pregame and ABC after, where I recommend the Allagash Yakuza.  First had last year on a trip to Orono.

Like the preview above, Harry Plumer’s preview in the Republican is also all about motivation.

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