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BU Recap

Through the first two periods Friday’s game against BU was going pretty much like I expected.  UMass got out to a pretty good start, dominating play for the first five minutes of the game.  But the Terriers were the better team for the final 15 minutes of the period and went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead thanks to a goal by Robbie Baillargeon.

The second period was more balanced in terms of play and scoring.  BU gained a two goal lead when Nikolas Olsson scored his first collegiate goal.  Late in the second UMass was having a tough time getting the puck past freshman goaltender Connor LaCouvee who was a surprise starter when junior Matt O’Connor got hurt in practice earlier in the week.  It seemed as though the momentum shifted towards the Minutemen when Jake Horton scored his first collegiate goal with just :47 seconds to play in the second period.  During the same sequence BU’s John MacLeod took his third penalty of the night, putting the Minutemen on the power play.  They didn’t score in the final seconds of the period, but with the penalty carrying over into the third the Minutemen had a great chance at tying the game and battling for the win in the third.

Instead fans were treated to one of the worst periods of UMass hockey in recent memory.  The Minutemen failed to get a shot on net in the 1:13 of power play time to start the period.  Forty seconds later phenom Jack Eichel got his first goal of his (likely short) college career.  I’d like to think that the swing in momentum shook the inexperienced team and panic set in.  I hope that’s what it was.  Because that’s better than the alternative that they just gave up.  Things got ugly quick and six minutes into the period UMass found themselves down 5-1.  By the end of the game the final score was an embarrassing 8-1.  Steve Mastalerz gave up six of the goals, but honestly there was probably only one, maybe two, that I would pin on him.  He got no help in front of him.  Most of the goals consisted of BU rushing in between the circles and shooting at will.  Dill came in to relieve Mastalerz and got a similar level of support, giving up two goals on four shots.

Obviously my game preview couldn’t have been more wrong.  I thought the teams were facing similar challenges and would be evenly matched.  Instead what we got was the widest margin of defeat in a season opener in the modern era of UMass hockey, the previous being a 6-0 loss to Boston College in 2002.  I honestly have no idea what happened to the team in the third period .  When facing adversity they folded like a cheap card table.  Could it have been the youth?  Perhaps.  But as I mentioned in my season preview, this class was supposed to be full of proven winners.  Not to mention the fact that the BU was also just as inexperienced. They even started a freshman in net.  Inexperience doesn’t explain why some of the veterans played so poorly either.  Oleg Yevenko who was supposed to anchor the defense this year was on the ice for five of the Terrier goals.

Were there any positives?  A few.  The final score will mask the fact that the team played well enough to be in the game for two periods.  Jake Horton played well again, scoring his first goal.  UMass dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 40 of 63.  Steven Iacobellis alone won 13 of 17.  And the last positive is that UMass is in the early lead for the Charlie Holt Sportsmanship Award after taking zero penalties in the game.

I thought there could be games like the one we witnessed last night during this season, just because of the large amount of roster turnover.  I didn’t really expect it on opening night at home.  It was how they lost that worries me.  Once BU got that third goal there was very little effort or execution from the team, at least on defense.  The players must dedicate themselves to playing good defense going forward.  The rushes that led to the goals were inexcusable.  Things don’t get easy for the Minutemen as they now embark on a three week road trip that spans from Michigan to Maine.  Hopefully the trips will give the team a chance to bond and figure out how to avoid performances like last night.  At the very least, it can’t get much worse.

FTT Player of the Game
Not a lot of options for this one.  Either Iacobellis for his faceoff work or Horton for scoring the goal.  I’ll go with Horton for providing the lone highlight on the night.  It was a hell of a shot.

Gazette Recap
Collegian Game Story
More Collegian coverage on the talent difference between the teams’ top lines.
USCHO Recap

Former Minuteman Kevin Boyle got the 5-2 win over Boston College in his debut for Lowell.

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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.

Massachusetts Hockey 14-15 Season Preview

John Micheletto arrived to coach Massachusetts hockey twenty seven months ago and in his two seasons behind the bench has led the team to a couple disappointing second to last finishes in Hockey East.  But like Mark McGuire I’m not here to talk about the past.  And as Bill Belichick would say, “We’re onto Boston University.”  This season represents a bit of a reset for Mick and the coaching staff.  Being hired so late in the Summer initially, they had no chance to affect the first recruiting class that came to Amherst under their watch.  Last year they were able to land guys like Ray Pigozzi and and Steven Iacobellis who clearly were well suited for the style of play the staff is implementing and contributed from the very start.  This season we’ll truly get an idea for what Mick is trying to do in Amherst as he’ll have 10 freshmen that he has recruited coming in.  While the returning veterans will still have a major role on the team, it is the freshmen and the other recruits from the current staff that will determine just how well the team performs this year.

Offense

The Minutemen lose a lot of their scoring from last year, when they were 10th in the league in scoring with 2.24 goals per game.  The team returns just 43% of their goals and an even less percentage of their total points.  Multiple players are going to have to make up for the goals lost for Branden Gracel, Conor Sheary, and Mike Pereira graduating.  Iacobellis (11 G, 10 A) and Pigozzi (5 G, 13 A) will have to avoid the sophomore slump and build on their strong freshman campaigns.  It’ll be interesting to see what senior captain Troy Power does after his breakout season last year, scoring 10 goals after netting no more than two in any of his prior seasons.  It seems odd to include Frank Vatrano as one of the returners but he did play that ONE game I guess.  But he has the reputation as a scorer after his time with the US National Development team and by practicing with the team for the last one and a half seasons he should be well versed in the system.  After those four, it’ll likely fall on the freshmen to generate scoring at the forward position.

The exhibition game gave fans a little taste of what the freshmen are capable of.  Dennis Kravchenko grabbed the headlines with his two goal performance.  He’s shown  he’s capable of putting up numbers over an entire season, scoring 63 points in 56 games in the USHL a couple years ago.  Despite not getting on the stat sheet Mick praised the play of Patrick Lee after Saturday’s exhibition and for good reason.  He consistently moved the puck well and seemed to know where he needed to be in the play.  It’ll be interesting to what he’ll do with a full season in front of him after being injured for most of last year.  In his last full season of juniors he had 23 goals and 32 assists in 58 games. Dominic Trento put up a ton of points last season in the USPHL.  67 to be exact.  Being the youngest of the freshmen, it may take Anthony Petrella a little longer to adjust to the college game, but he has the reputation to be a potentially prolific goalscorer.  The word on him is that his size, not his skill, is what kept higher profile programs from bringing him in.  UMass has had much success in the past with undersized forwards as James Marcou and T.J. Syner can attest.

With Mick’s style of play it’s not just the forwards who can be counted upon to bear the scoring load.  Jake Horton showed as much in Saturday’s exhibition with his goal and 12 shots.  Though fans did not get to see him on Saturday, Maddison Smiley has also shown to be a force offensively, scoring 36 goals over the last two seasons in juniors.  It will be interesting to see how Ben Gallacher does in his second season at UMass.  His 10 assists were valuable last year but it seems as though we still haven’t seen his ceiling yet.  And in December UMass fans should get their first look at Brandon Montour, the reigning USHL Player of the Year whose skills are good enough that the Anaheim Ducks took him in the second round of this past June’s draft.  Last season with Waterloo Montour had 14 goals and 48 assists in 60 games.

Defense

There are probably three equally weighted question marks about this team; their youth, the amount of scoring they must replace, and lastly their defense.  Last year the team was second to last in Hockey East in scoring defense, giving up 3.12 goals per game.  Lost from last year’s squad is Colin Shea, Joel Hanley, and Anthony Raiola.  That puts a lot of pressure on the returners and the freshmen alike.  Seniors Oleg Yevenko and Mike Busillo will be relied upon to lead the young defensive squad that will start at least three underclassmen.  Yevenko kept himself very busy over the summer, first playing for his native Belarus in the IIHF World Championships, then gaining an invite to the Boston Bruins development camp.  He’ll be key to UMass’ defense this year, needing to break up plays with his size and long reach all while staying out of the penalty box.  Busillo has found himself in the stands off and on during his career at UMass despite having one of the better plus/minus stats on the team.  There’s a good chance that changes this year if he can consistently bring the dependable though not overly flashy play that has marked his better games in the past.

Yevenko and Busillo are the only two UMass blueliners who have spent multiple years at UMass. Already mentioned was Gallacher’s contributions on offense, but he absolutely will have to improve on defense in his second year since transferring from Ohio State.  His –22 rating was dead last in all of Hockey East.  Whether that’s due to being a little too aggressive on offense or still adjusting to the speed of Hockey East after spending a year in juniors, I don’t know.  The depth at defense last year meant that current sophomores Brennan Baxandall and Marc Hetnik only dressed for about 2/3rds of the games.  Hetnik in fact played a number of games at forward, though Micheletto said on this week’s radio show that he expects him to slide back to defense this season.  I found Baxandall to be a very reliable blueliner in the games in which he played.  Beyond that on the blue line it will come down to the defensive abilities of Smiley, Horton, and Montour, all very offensive minded defenseman.  They’ll have to be careful not to pinch in too much and risk breakaways going the other direction.  Grinders like Shane Walsh and Zack LaRue will be relied on to shift back to defense in those cases in addition to getting gritty in the corners.

Goaltending

With all the youth on the team it’ll be a huge benefit to have a senior goaltender coming back.  The word around the team is that Steve Mastalerz is not only in the best health in his time in Amherst, shaking off the nagging injuries that has limited his play in his career, but is also in the best physical shape as well in terms of conditioning.  It didn’t hurt that he spent part of his summer at Pittsburgh Penguins training camp stopping shots of future NHLers and getting top notch instruction.  Mastalerz has shown he can play big in big games, such as his shutout against Boston College as a freshman and topping BC again as a sophomore when they were ranked #2 in the country and playing at home.  I think we’ll see those type of performances more consistently this year and hopefully he’ll be able to minimize the impact of all the inexperience in front of him.

Backing up Mastalerz will be returner Alex Wakaluk and freshman Henry Dill.  There was hope Wakaluk was coming to Amherst as a goaltending diamond in the rough after being the top player in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.  But his struggles in adjusting to Hockey East play were immediate and overwhelming and he ended up falling to third on the depth chart behind Mac Haight, who has since left the program.  But Wakaluk kept battling in practice and when he got another chance later in the season, coming into a disaster of a game at Lowell, he put in a pretty good performance.  In the end he was named Most Improved Player at the team banquet for fighting through adversity.  Dill is a bit of a question mark.  He rotated in net last year while playing in the NAHL with both of the goaltending pair putting up solid numbers all year.  He had the highlight save in the exhibition with a lightning fast glove on a breakaway.  But it remains to be seen whether he ultimately has the skills to be a starter in Hockey East.

Coaching

Coach Micheletto came to Amherst wanting to put in place a very aggressive, offensive style of play that extended all the way back to the defensemen.  That was very different from how previous coach Toot Cahoon approached the game and often the style of play seemed a total mismatch for the skill set of the players that Cahoon had assembled on the team.  Still, Micheletto stuck with his system, seeming to sacrifice potential wins in his first couple years to teach the players his style and build for the future over short term success.  Well, the future starts this year.  2/3rds of the roster were recruited by Mick and his staff.  And even some of the holdovers from the previous staff have flourished under his style of play, such as Troy Power.  What you’ll see is the roster is full of small, quick, offensively minded, puck handlers.  Interesting to note that out of the nine freshman only one is six foot or taller; goaltender Henry Dill.  Mick’s style of play started to pay dividends last year, as seen by the Minutemen’s power play results, second best in Hockey East behind Boston College.  With more of his type of weapons at his disposal UMass will have to migrate that extra man success to five on five situations, where the Minutemen struggled mightily last season.  It’ll also be key for the squad to make sure to support Mastalerz and the other goaltenders enough so they can gain the 3-2 wins instead of dropping the 4-3 losses.

Schedule

The Minutemen have a relatively favorable schedule.  It’ll have a lot of familiarity to it since they play five non-conference games against Hockey East foes due to the ridiculousness that has become the league schedule.  The team only takes one trip outside of New England and that will be next weekend to take on a Michigan State team that continues to struggle under coach Tom Anastos.  UMass will play AIC at the Mullins, hopefully to avenge last year’s embarrassing loss.  They’ll also expand their annual game against Quinnipiac to a home and home series occurring over Thanksgiving weekend.  After Christmas they’ll head up to Burlington to take part in the Catamount Cup, playing Providence and Air Force.  UConn is on this year’s slate again, but this time as a league opponent.  Originally the schedule had the teams playing a home and home in the final weekend of the regular season but the opportunity for a televised basketball game at the Mullins necessitated UMass to move the home game to early January.  One game to keep an eye on will be a Tuesday night game against Northeastern in December.  On paper that doesn’t sound all that exciting but media reports continue to say Montour will be eligible on December 16th, the day UMass takes on the Huskies.  Will he suit up the very first day he’s eligible?  I guess we’ll have to see.

Outlook

So when I picked Massachusetts to finish 11th in my Hockey East preview last week I said I reserved the right to change my prediction after I saw the team play last weekend.  Maybe I’m putting too much credence in an exhibition game.  Maybe I’m desperate to  have something, anything to be optimistic about.  Maybe it’s the Heady Topper I’m currently drinking.  But I’m going to say that UMass finishes 10th ahead of Merrimack and UConn.  Granted, 10th still doesn’t sound super exciting but given all the question marks around this team (specifically youth, roster turnover, and defensive depth) I think it’s fair.  However I think the team is very capable of overachieving, or underachieving, against those expectations.  I’ve said since early Summer that I think this team can win anywhere between 5 and 15 games and I’m sticking by that projection.  That means roughly that they could finish anywhere from 7th to 12th in Hockey East.

On paper this team reminds me A LOT of the 2010-2011 team.  That team featured a large and talented freshman class, highlighted by the likes of Mike Pereira, Joel Hanley, and Conor Sheary.  In goal was a sturdy and dependable netminder in Paul Dainton.  And the defense was very thin in terms of upperclassmen.  In fact Doug Kublin was the only upperclassmen blueliner on the roster that year.  Now that team played a lot of exciting games and the freshmen made huge contributions in terms of scoring and defense.  That team battled nearly every night and performed well even against power opponents.  But they did not win may games.  Just six to be exact.  6-23-6, finishing second to last in Hockey East.  But they battled.  In addition to the six ties they had there were 14 games where they either lost by a single goal or by a two goal margin aided by an empty net goal.  So in 20 of their games they had a legitimate chance to win.  I think this year’s squad could be a lot like that one.

They key to how successful the team can be this year clearly comes down to the freshman.  You’re not going to see this class get listed among the top in the country, but it is a talented class.  When you add in the offensive prowess of the defensemen, this class has scored a lot of goals in their young careers.  And remember, Frankie Vatrano might as well be included in any talk of newcomers to the team.  What I think is equally important is this class has won.  Won championships.  Smiley and Lee’s Bandits had an regular season record of 53-4-3 in 2012-13.  That’s not a typo. 53-4-3.  After Smiley led them to the AJHL championship as playoff MVP they then went on to play the best of the other Canadian junior leagues and beat them too.  Trento led his Hitmen to a EJHL championship as playoff MVP as well.  Petrella was the leading goal scorer for a prep school powerhouse that won a USA Hockey national championship.  Keith Burchett won an Illinois state championship.  Dennis Kravchenko not only captured a New England prep title with Steve Mastalerz in net, he captained Team USA to a gold medal at the World Junior Championships last fall.  The coaching staff has assembled a class of hockey players who know how and expect to win.  They’ll now work to turn the Minutemen program into a winning program.  Hopefully that starts this year.

Evan Stack was not mentioned in the above preview.  It was announced over the weekend that Stack has retired from hockey due to continued issues with concussions.  It must be unbelievably tough to hang up the skates while still in the prime of your career, but I have tremendous respect for Stack to come to that difficult decision.  Concussions are nothing to mess around with and better he assure that he make sacrifices now to assure he can live a fulfilling life down the road.  I admired his grit in his time playing for UMass and he’ll be missed.

This is also a good opportunity to inform readers of The Knockout Project, the work of a UMass fan and friend of mine to raise awareness of the dangers of concussions in sport.  Again, nothing to mess around with.  I welcome athletes, parents, and anyone else to click on the link and become better informed on a subject that is on the forefront of sports today.

Yesterday I wrote about Austin Plevy’s commitment to UMass for next fall.  Good news today as Over The Board, a great website covering junior players and commitments, reported that Plevy will be eligible to play immediately for UMass due to his NLI never being processed by Merrimack.  He’ll have a full four years of eligibility.

In other recruit news Brandon Egli was traded from Victoria to Vernon in the BCHL.

Mike McMahon ranked the Hockey East recruiting classes with UMass’ coming in at 8th.  I was thinking/hoping around 6th personally but he’s put a lot more research into it so I won’t argue.  He has Montour as one of his Fab Five.

Plevy Commits To UMass; Recruit Update

The Massachusetts hockey program picked up a commitment for next fall from Austin Plevy.  Plevy currently plays for the….wait for it….Brooks Bandits.  The Bandits are of course also the team where future Minutemen Shane Bear and Kylie Nachtigall are playing and where current freshmen Patrick Lee and Maddison Smiley had much success.  Plevy has five goals and 10 assists in 10 games for a team leading 15 points for Brooks.  He was just named AJHL Player of the Week.  Plevy has been playing junior hockey north of the border since 2009 with his best statistical season a 30 goal, 43 assist effort while appearing in 54 games with the Chilliwack Chiefs of the BCHL in 2012-13.

Plevy started the year at Merrimack where he was their top offensive recruit.  However, for unreported reasons Plevy left North Andover just days into the semester and returned to Canada.  Because Plevy signed a NLI with Merrimack and was enrolled in the school, it could complicate exactly when he’d be eligible to play for the Minutemen.  Mike McMahon has reported that Warrior coach Mark Dennehy plans on holding Plevy to his NLI and will not grant him a waiver.  Though these rules are never simple, McMahon contends that Plevy would have to sit a year at his new school and would only have three years of eligibility starting in fall of 2016.  That is my understanding of the rules as well.  However, there are always appeals to be heard, forms to be filled out, and red tape to unwind.  The UMass staff will certainly do what they can do to have Plevy in uniform next year so it should not be ruled out.

Let’s add Plevy to the recruit list and see how next year shapes up with his addition.

Brandon Montour – D – Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL) – Dec 2014
3 GP / 0 G / 4 A / 4 Pts / 2 PIM / +1
Montour had a couple two assist games last week.

Brandon Egli – D – Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL) – 2015
2 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts / 0 PIM
Egli did not play this past week so he may be battling an injury.

Jake McCarthy – D – South Shore Kings (USPHL) – 2015 or 2016
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts / 0 PIM
McCarthy was reported to have joined the Kings for the season but it doesn’t appear that he’s played any games yet.

Kurt Keats – C – Powell River Kings (BCHL) – 2015
6 GP / 4 G /4 A / 8 Pts / 2 PIM
Keats had a two assist game this past week.

Austin Plevy – C – Powell River Kings (BCHL) – 2015
10 GP / 5 G /10 A / 15 Pts / 18 PIM
Aside from the offensive production mentioned earlier, 18 PIM in 10 games is certainly eye catching.

Troy Conzo – RW – Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL) – 2016 or 2017
1 GP / 0 G /0 A /0 Pts / 0 PIM
Conzo did not play last week

Kyler Nachtigall – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2016
10 GP / 1 G / 2 A / 3 Pts / 23 PIM
Nachtigall had a game misconduct in the one game he played in this past week.

Shane Bear – D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2016
10 GP / 0 G / 5 A / 5 Pts / 10 PIM
Bear had an assist the past week.

Ty Pelton-Byce – C – Team Wisconsin U18 (Elite)/Madison Memorial (WI HS) – 2016
12 GP / 9 G / 9 A / 18 Pts / 8 PIM  Team Wisconsin U18
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts  Madison Memorial
A couple readers were nice enough to pass along that Pelton-Byce plays for Team Wisconsin U18 before the HS hockey season.  Last year he helped Team Wisconsin U16 to a national championship.  He’s currently the leading scorer for the U18 team.

John Leonard – F – Springfield Cathedral (MA HS) – 2017
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Leonard might be playing junior hockey until HS hockey starts as well like Pelton-Byce.  But if that’s the case I haven’t been able to track down where.

Captain Troy Power’s latest installment of his blog covers last week’s exhibition game and the typical game day routine.

Speaking of commitments, decommitments, and NLIs, Mike McMahon wrote a must read piece on the “gentleman’s agreement” in college hockey.  The gentleman’s agreement is was the promise that coaches would stop recruiting a player once he had verbally committed to another school.  I say was because some schools have chosen to abandon the agreement and will pursue other players right up until they sign their NLI.  Now if those schools were UAH and Robert Morris it would be a huge issue.   But the coaches who have publicly said they’re no longer honoring the agreement are Jerry York of Boston College, Don Lucia of Minnesota, and Mike Eaves of Wisconsin.  Obviously if those elite schools are recruiting kids beyond their commitment to another school there’s a good chance they’ll be successful.

Coach Micheletto is quoted in the article, saying the agreement “has become difficult”.  I agree.  I think the agreement is a positive for all schools in the small community that is college hockey.  However it needs 100% adherence to be effective.  And to have the top teams in DI not abiding by it, the rest of the schools who are are artificially handcuffing themselves in the process.  Teams like BC and Minnesota have enough ingrained advantages in college hockey as it is.  They don’t need to poach the recruits of schools who have agreed not to reciprocate.  So in my opinion if York and Lucia are going to play by a different set of rules, I say hell with the agreement.

Exhibition Recap

As I wrote in my preview of the exhibition game, I was most interested in seeing how the large freshmen class fared yesterday.  Needless to say, I and the other Minuteman fans walked out of the Mullins Center pretty happy after the freshmen spurred UMass to a 5-2 win over Dalhousie.  The Minutemen just dominated this game from the outset.  In fact at the end of the first period the score was already 3-0 with UMass outshooting the Tigers 23-1.

The freshmen forwards all looked pretty good and seemed to have a good understanding of the offense.  Standing out the most was Dennis Kravchenko who scored two goals.  The first came from a great feed from Troy Power ahead to Kravcheko who was streaking into the slot and put the puck behind the goaltender.  The second came on a wrister  at the top of the slot on the power play.  Coach Micheletto had him playing the point on the power play, also having a forward Frank Vatrano at the point on the other PP unit as well.  Dominic Trento was the other freshman forward to score a goal, getting the last by collecting a loose puck in front of the net and scoring.  Keith Burchett assisted on one of Kravchenko’s goals.  Though he didn’t show up on the score sheet I thought Patrick Lee played extremely well making some great passes.

Jake Horton was the lone freshman to dress on defense as Maddison Smiley was reported to be ill.  Horton gave the fans plenty to watch all by himself though, scoring the first goal of the game on a wrist shot after collecting a loose puck at the top of the slot.  Horton had many more shots after that, finishing the game with an astonishing 12 shots.  Vatrano also had a dozen shots on net, converting on one of them and also assisting on a Kravchenko goal.  Vatrano played very well and looks to be ready to start the season as a key piece for the Minutemen.

The goaltenders each played a period each, though Steve Mastalerz only saw one shot during his 20 minutes.  Freshman Henry Dill had one of the highlights of the night with a flashy glove on a breakaways early on in the second.  Alex Wakaluk played solid, only giving up a garbage goal late I in the game.  Goaltending and defense looked strong, though UMass controlled the puck so much they were rarely tested.  UMass ended up outshooting the Tigers 55-21 during the game, a very encouraging stat to say the least.

All in all it was a very successful exhibition.  The freshman looked poised and were able to move the puck and generate shots on net.  There didn’t look to be any glaring deficiencies on defense or in net.  And it didn’t appear anyone got hurt.  A positive experience to build on ahead of Friday’s opener.

Official recap and highlights from the exhibition.

The Collegian has their recap focusing in on the performance of the freshmen.

UConn, picked to finish just behind UMass, beat this same Dalhousie squad 3-1 this afternoon.  Shots were 31-23 for the Huskies.

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.

 

 

 

Hockey East Preview

 

In the past I know I’ve made some pretty detailed Hockey East previews, dedicating an entire post to each team, etc..  Honestly, I didn’t pay as close attention to the rest of ,the league last year as I usually do, so I don’t feel comfortable trying to replicate past efforts.  However I will come up with a ranking based on statistical analysis, gut feeling, and whatever my glass of Rock Art Vermonster barleywine tells me (surprisingly, its telling me to put the Catamounts lower than you’d expect despite its namesake).  I will have a detailed Massachusetts season preview next week, where I’ll get into quite a bit of detail on the team.  Since the Minutemen have SO many newcomers I’d like to see how they look in the exhibition Saturday before trying to talk about their potential contributions this season.  I will make a pick of where UMass will finish the season for this exercise, but I reserve the right to change my mind if I’m blown away on Saturday.

With all that said, here are my picks:

1.  Providence Friars
2.  Boston College Eagles
3.  Northeastern Huskies
4.  Boston University Terriers
5.  Maine Black Bears
6.  Lowell River Hawks
7.  Vermont Catamounts
8.  Notre Dame Fighting Irish
9.  New Hampshire Wildcats
10. Merrimack Warriors (yes, I know the color burns the eyes, but so do their jerseys)
11.  Massachusetts Minutemen
12.  Connecticut Huskies

Last year Providence returned to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001 thanks to solid defense and the goaltender of Jon Gilles.  Gilles’ game seemed a little disrupted by the World Juniors in the middle of the season.  I think he’ll be more consistent throughout this year while their scoring should improve from middle of the pack as they return the majority of their goal scorers, including senior Ross Mauermann.

Boston College doesn’t rebuild.  They just reload.  I desperately want to pick the reigning Hockey East regular season champs lower since they lost over half of their scoring from last year and top recruit Sonny Milano shunned Chestnut Hill for the bright lights of Columbus, Ohio.  But I can’t.  Jerry York wins.  They’ve won 20 or more games in 11 out of the last 12 seasons.  I can’t imagine this year will be that much different.

Third place was a struggle to pick.  Boston University returns nearly their entire team from last year and have arguably the best recruiting class in the country, highlighted by Jack Eichel.  But I think they may a bit too young this year.  Maybe there has been too much roster turnover to be considered an elite team in the conference just yet.  Maybe they’re not seasoned enough.  So I have them at fourth.  At third I have the Northeastern Huskies who surprised many last year by finishing tied for fourth in the league.  They return most of the key pieces from that squad, including Kevin Roy, one of the most exciting players in the league.  But for them it’ll come down to how consistent Clay Witt is in net.

Old friend Red Gendron is having an immediate impact on the Black Bears, a squad that returns nearly all their scorers from last year.  The big question will be what happens in net with Martin Ouellette gone.  Veterans like Devin Shore and Ben Hutton up ice will help whoever takes over in the crease.

Lowell has a lot of slots to fill from the last two years that saw them make deep runs into the NCAA tournament.  They weren’t flashy but guys like Joseph Pendenza and Christian Folin are tough to replace.  They also have a big question mark in net with Connor Hellebuyck leaving school.  Former Minuteman Kevin Boyle is one of those competing for the starting job.  Maybe Lowell falls lower my predicted 6th, but if so it’ll probably be only a temporary setback.

Vermont was the other big surprise last year, winning 20 games and making the NCAA tournament, mostly through the strength of their non-conference play.  They return Mario Puskarich who led all league freshmen with 19 goals last year and veteran goaltender Brody Hoffman who had the league’s third best goals against.  But they did lose some other key scorers and could finish anywhere from 4th to 9th.

Notre Dame struggled in their first year in Hockey East and I expect that will continue in their second year as well.  Notre Dame loses most of their key scorers, including the dominant T.J. Tynan.  Things aren’t much better in net after graduating two seniors.  I don’t see the Irish as an NCAA team this season, even if the coaches did pick them third.

New Hampshire graduated the most point scoring out of any of the Hockey East schools over the summer.  Combine that with goaltender Casey DeSmith’s legal issues, which continue to keep him suspended, and you’ve got the makings for a very tough season up in Durham.  The last two recruiting classes at UNH haven’t packed the same scoring punch we’re used to from the Wildcats.  It’ll be interesting to see if that rights itself this year.

The good news for Merrimack is they return about 2/3rds of their points from last year.  The bad news is last year’s squad was completely anemic on offense, scoring just 1.88 goals per game.  Something will have to change dramatically for Merrimack to do much better than 10th in the league.

Yes, I picked UMass to finish 11th.  Same as the Hockey East coaches.  Same as the Hockey East media.  Why?  Keep checking FTT to find out.

Just because I picked UConn last doesn’t mean they can’t do some damage or potentially finish above Merrimack or UMass.  Mike Cavanaugh is bringing some really good players to…um, Storrs?  Hartford?  Bridgeport?…..where is their home arena again??  With their wins over the Minutemen and Friars and a tie against national champion Union last season they showed that they’re gearing up for their inaugural season in the league and likely will not be an easy two points.

Player of the Year:  Kevin Roy – Northeastern
Newcomer of the Year:  Jack Eichel – Boston University
Coach of the Year:  Nate Leaman – Providence
Goaltender of the Year:  Jon Gilles – Providence
Defenseman of the Year:  Michael Matheson – Boston College

Everyone thank the Big Ten for bringing the annoying power conference autonomy issues to college hockey.  Yay.

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