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