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2013 FTT Awards

Time to hand out some hardware (if I actually had real hardware and it wouldn’t be considered some kind of booster violation by the NCAA to hand it out).

▲ Fear The Triangle Player of the Year

I try to make this one simple.  Win or lose I pick a player of the game when I write my recaps.  Sometime it’s an obvious choice, sometimes not so much.  Sometimes it’s dictated by stats, sometimes it could be something intangible I saw.  Sometimes it’s for a specific play or sometimes it’s for the entire effort.  For my Player of the Year Award I add up each of those individual Player of the Game awards and that’s the winner.  Luckily in the four years I’ve been doing this I’ve never had to break a tie.  And that’s the case this year as senior co-captain Rocco Carzo led all other players with five POTG honors.

As I mentioned in my post for the seniors, Carzo’s career at UMass has come full circle.  This season he was able to make huge contributions on offense while also playing the same solid defense that we saw the last two years.  His nine goals were 4th best on the team and also tied for 4th in terms of total points.  Those nine goals also matched the amount he had scored in his previous three years combined.  But it was his consistent two way play that really helped the Minutemen this year, regularly having to go up against the best opposing players.

Here was the final count of the 2012-13 Player of the Game selections:

Carzo 5
Pereira 4
Gracel 4
Mastalerz 4
Allen 3
Guzzo 2
Rowe 2
Boyle 2
Hanley 2
LaRue 2
Walsh 1
Power 1
Czepiel 1
Sheary 1


▲ Fear The Triangle Newcomer of the Year

My preseason pick for this award was K.J. Tiefenwerth given his production in the EJHL.  But junior league performance isn’t always the best judge of how a player will do in college and the fact that I’m choosing Shane Walsh for this award shows that.  It was unknown just what kind of impact Walsh would have when he got to UMass.  He didn’t put up a ton of points in the USHL (28 in 72 games) and it appeared that guys like Tiefenwerth and Evan Stack would be more likely to contribute right away.  But that wasn’t the case.  When Walsh hit the ice in the Fall he immediately looked like he belonged out there.  He got his first goal against Boston University in just his third game and the next time out assisted on Darren Rowe’s game winning goal versus New Hampshire.  He missed most of the games in November due to injury and even at that early point in his career his presence in the lineup was missed.  By the end of the year he was a key part of the power play and noticeably improved along the way.  All in all Walsh ended the year with three goals and eight assists, numbers he’ll be expected to build upon during his sophomore year.

▲ Fear The Triangle Breakout Player of the Year

Branden Gracel had already been an integral part of the UMass offense through his first two years, totaling 11 goals and 23 assists.  However I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the type of season he was going to have this past year.  He led the team in goals (14), assists (20), plus/minus (+7), game winning goals (3), and shots (104).  His total points were 6th best among Hockey East players and he was 9th in goal scoring.  And then we get to probably his best skill; faceoffs.  While his 59.5% faceoff winning percentage was technically second in the conference behind UNH’s John Henrion, Gracel was at the dot 682 times compared to Henrion’s 153.  Gracel’s 406 faceoff wins was 10th best in the country.  Gracel’s season was nothing short of spectacular and is the favorite to be named MVP when team awards are handed out next month.

I won’t be doing any more recruit updates as I want to concentrate on my season recap posts.  However I did want to point out something I noticed on Chris Heisenberg’s recruiting site.  All four of the recruits who committed to former coach Toot Cahoon are now designated to come to Amherst in 2014 or 2015.  Mark Hamilton and Mike Iovanna were previously designated on the site to arrive next fall while Willy Smith and Casey Miller were designated for 2014.  Obviously when a coaching change takes place the status of the recruits is put into flux.  I have heard that one recruit had his scholarship offer withdrawn and was invited to walk-on.  I’m not sure if that’s what is happening here with everyone and the players are being given time to decide if they want to take that option or go elsewhere.  Or they could be asked to play a year of juniors to prove themselves before the scholarship is confirmed.  We’ll see.  Also changing on the site is Dennis Kravchenko is now due in Amherst this fall.  Previously it said 2013 or 2014.

Dick Baker had this feature in the Republican on Holyoke’s Kevin Czepiel ending his UMass career.

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Saturday Recap

Faced with an opportunity to put together a little win streak and take the weekend series from a struggling Vermont team, the UMass hockey team showed that the only thing consistent is their inconsistency.  Looking very much like the team that was swept by Providence just a couple weeks ago the Minutemen managed to generate 38 total shots but were pretty much shutdown by a freshman goaltender and a the defense in front of him.  Vermont came into the game with the worst penalty kill in the conference, stopping less than 80% of opponents chances but last night they were able to shutdown all six UMass power plays, limiting them to just six shots in over 10 minutes of power play time.

The 3-2 final score actually wasn’t really that close as the Catamounts opened up an early 2-0 lead that they were able to maintain until the final seconds when UMass scored with an extra attacker.  Goals were scored by Branden Gracel and Mike Pereira who continue to play well but last night they were the only players who were able finish.

That’s basically it as there’s not much more to delve into last night’s game.  The team had an excellent opportunity to distance themselves from the prospect of missing the playoffs and didn’t.  They also had a chance to gain ground on the Lowell River Hawks sitting in 6th place ahead of them and didn’t.  In fact with a tie and come from behind win by Lowell is now tied with Merrimack in 5th place, five points ahead of them.  Vermont meanwhile continues to be just behind the Minutemen while Northeastern and a suddenly hot Maine team are not far behind.  UMass had the chance to go up and play a bad Vermont team and gain four points.  That didn’t happen and now UMass will enter February, a month rarely kind of the program, with their chance of finishing any higher than 7th fading fast.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Branden Gracel
Gracel has not gone more than two games without registering a point all year. He’s currently 6th among Hockey East players in goals scored.

Republican game story.

Here’s the recap from the Burlington Free Press.

Better news on the alumni front.

Matt Irwin scored his first NHL goal.

Kevin Moore got to suit up for an ECHL game

Vermont Preview

Massachusetts Minutemen 8-11-2 (5-8-1) 7th Hockey East


Vermont Catamounts 6-12-4 (3-8-4) T-8th Hockey East

If the Massachusetts hockey team wants to make a real run at something this season, it probably needs to start this weekend.  The last few weeks have been thrilling, yet maddening for Minuteman fans.  At the end of December the team went up to the Ledyard Classic and took the title in the tournament which featured two top ten teams.  They then went out in their next set of games and promptly got swept in a home and home with Providence.  Following that disappointment the team seemed to have little chance against #2 Boston College at Conte Forum, a place they hadn’t won since 2007.  So of course they beat the Eagles handily 5-2.  And that brings us to this coming weekend and two games in Burlington.  This weekend offers the Minutemen a chance to define which of the recent performances were a fluke.  The losses to Providence or the upset of BC.

Personally I think to be taken seriously UMass needs to take three points from the struggling Catamounts.  It’s teams like this the team should be beating regularly, even if the games are away.  Aside from winning their own holiday tournament, the Cats have been pretty terrible.  And they currently find themselves on a four game losing streak which included a 4-2 loss last weekend to Penn State which is in its first year of transitioning to DI.

Among Hockey East teams Vermont finds itself near the bottom in most statistical categories.  Offensively they are 9th in the league in goals scored with 2.23 and their power play is only converting on 13.7% of chances.  Senior Chris McCarthy and sophomore Jacob Fallon are the two Cats the Minutemen will have to keep an eye on as they both have a half dozen goals apiece.  Four of Fallon’s scores have come on the power play, making him the only player on the team with more than one PPG.  Oft injured star junior Connor Brickley missed a dozen games so far this season but is back and has registered two assists in three games since returning.

Vermont is 9th in the league when it comes to goals against as well, giving up 3.18 per game.  Their penalty kill is dead last stopping only 79.8% of their opponents’ chances.  Freshman goaltender Brody Hoffman has started every game for his team and comes into the weekend series with a goals against average of 3.00 and a save percentage of .900.

Again, UMass needs to win these games.  They are coming off one of their best games of the year where they got solid goaltending, strong performances from their defensemen, and timely scoring.  An offensive star has emerged in the form of Branden Gracel.  Guys like Mike Pereira, Conor Sheary, and Darren Rowe have emerged from rough patches earlier in the season and are now putting up points regularly.   Their special teams have clicked as of late, especially the penalty kill which is 20 for 22 over the last five games.  UMass is on the up swing it would seem while Vermont is not.  This weekend is a huge opportunity to climb up the Hockey East standings and more importantly create some distance between themselves and being out of the playoffs.  Let’s see if the UMass team is strong enough mentally and physically to make the most of that opportunity.

Beer The Triangle
Unfortunately I won’t be making the trip up to one of my beer meccas, Burlington.  But for those who are make sure to check out the Road Trip page for suggestions on where to go (one addition would be The Farmhouse).  On the way up to Burlington make sure to stop off at the Alchemist Cannery in Waterbury and pick up a case or two of Heady Topper if they have any left.  Also if you’re looking for a place to stop along the way for lunch and some good beer, I recommend the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier.  Hopefully they have a full supply of Lawson’s Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead to drink.

The Republican preview focuses in on Coach Micheletto’s return to Vermont where he was a long time assistant.

Here’s a preview from the Catamount viewpoint.

The Collegian has their preview as well as an interesting look at Gracel and what motivates him.

CHN’s Joe Meloni had a piece talking about regular season upsets, like UMass’ over BC, are commonplace in Hockey East but rare once playoff time comes around.  Minuteman fans who have seen their team knock off top schools regularly but have experienced annual quarterfinal exits know this well.

Gracel Named Co-Player of the Week, UMass Named Team of the Week

Branden Gracel was named Hockey East Co-Player of the Week for his two goal, one assist effort against #2 Boston College on Friday.  This is the second time Gracel has been named POTW.  He has already matched his last year point total with 21 and his 10 goals is well above the 7 scored last season.

The Minutemen as a whole were named the conference’s Team of the Week for their performance this weekend.  Steve Mastalerz and K.J. Tiefenwerth were both named Top Performers.

Despite falling to unranked UMass BC only dropped a spot in this week’s polls, thanks in part to the 9-3 drubbing they put on Northeastern on Saturday.

Mike Kostka made his NHL debut on Saturday, gaining an assist in the game.  I watched a good part of the game and he looked solid, playing on a pairing with Dion Phaneuf.  The Toronto Sun has this article on his journey to his first NHL game.

Matt Irwin made his NHL debut yesterday for the Sharks, finishing a +1.

Recruit Update

With the odd schedules as of late, it’s been a while since our last recruit update so time to get caught up on the future Minutemen.

Ben Gallacher – D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) – 2013 (transfer)
13 GP / 2 G / 4 A / 6 Pts / 30 PIM / +5
Gallacher has had three assists in his last six games but what’s encouraging is that he did not take any penalties in that time.

Mark Hamilton – D – Salisbury School Crimson Knights (NE Prep) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Due for an update on the prep recruits.  I believe Hamilton is playing for the Knights currently after missing a few weeks with injury.

Marc Hetnik – D – Vernon Vipers (BCHL) – 2013
33 GP / 1 G /4 A / 5 Pts / 30 PIM
UMass’ newest recruit did not register any points in the last couple weeks.

Mike Iovanna – RW/C – Malden Catholic Lancers (MA High School) – 2013
6 GP / 2 G /4 A / 6 Pts
Iovanna is playing as I write this and as of now already has four points.  Last week he played well as MC played top ranked BC High, picking up two assists.  Richie Murray, a UMass alum covering the game for the Herald, passed along to FTT that Iovanna has a lot of good puck skill and looked good on the PK, but still needs to put on some weight before getting to Amherst.  Iovanna’s recent 100th point milestone was mentioned by the Herald’s Jim Clark.

Dennis Kravchenko – LW – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2013 or 2014
29 GP / 13 / 16 A / 29 Pts / 74 PIM / +9
Kravchenko had a goal and and three assists during the last couple weekends.  He’s currently 17th in the USHL in total points and 19th in scoring.

Patrick Lee – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2014
37 GP / 16 G / 18 A / 34 Pts / 18 PIM
Lee went scoreless in his last three games but amazingly the Bandits are 36-1-1 on the season.

Casey Miller – C – Kimball Union (NE Prep) – 2014
5 GP / 2 G / 5 A / 7 Pts
Updates for the prep recruits will be done semi-regularly.  Miller has some mention in this Q&A with Maine recruit Nick Roberto.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
19 GP / 0 G / 3 A / 3 Pts / 6 PIM
Smith didn’t have any points recently.

Frank Vatrano– LW/C – Junior Bruins (EJHL) – 2013
18 GP / 13 G / 9 A / 22 Pts / 22 PIM
Vatrano has not played with the Junior Bruins in a while.  I almost wonder if he’s now enrolled at UMass.  Will work to confirm.

Branden Gracel had a hell of a week last week, being named Ledyard Classic MVP, Hockey East Player of the Week, and Hockey East Player of the Month.  All of that helped him gain honors as runner-up for National Player of the Month.

The Republican’s Harry Plumer caught up with the Minutemen during their rare weekend off.

Don’t forget that this weekend’s games got switched on the schedule so now the team plays at home on Friday and in Providence on Saturday, thanks to some sort of a conflict with Women’s Basketball.  I assume the change was made so the pep band that plays before dozens of people at women’s basketball can make it on Friday to support hockey and the thousands of fans there, right?  RIGHT?!!?!

This weekend’s series is mentioned by CHN’s Joe Meloni.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the tremendous win by USA Hockey over Sweden to gain goal in the IIHF World Junior Championships.  In the last decade since I took a significant interest in the USA hockey program and how players develop through the ranks, Team USA has made huge strides.  To get to the point where they’re now regularly seen as having the best players in the world under the age of 20 is miraculous.  Congratulations to all the players on Team USA, but a little extra congrats to those guys like Rocco Grimaldi, Johnny Gaudreau, Jacob Trouba, Jake McCabe and many others who have chosen to hone their skills in the NCAA.

The UConn hockey program will not be led into Hockey East by the coach who has guided them for the last 25 years as Bruce Marshall has resigned after missing most of the season due to health issues.  It’ll be interesting to watch who the Huskies tap to take their program to the next level.

Here are this week’s polls and Hockey East awards.  Massachusetts is currently 23rd in the pairwise.

Gracel Named Hockey East Player of the Month

Another day, another headline and award for Branden Gracel.  After being named MVP of the Ledyard Classic to start the week and then honored with Hockey East Co-Player of the Week yesterday, today Gracel was selected as the league’s Player of the Month for December.  Gracel had the most points among Hockey East players during the month with nine (three goals and six assists).  Four of those points came this past Sunday and Monday as the Minutemen won the in-season tournament up at Dartmouth.  Congrats to Gracel.  If you were to choose a team MVP for the season right now it’s tough to put him below anyone else.  He’s been good, productive, and consistent all season long.  And you have to recognize his total domination in the faceoff circle as well.

Congratulations are also extended to former defenseman Mike Marcou, who was named to the ECHL All-Star team today.  The ECHL works a little differently than most leagues in that there is really only one all-star squad as they they play the host team of wherever the game is being played.  So being an ECHL all-star is that much tougher.  But Marcou made it in his rookie year in the league where according to the release he’s third overall in plus/minus.  While he had his ups and downs, Mike Marcou was the target more criticism than probably any player I’ve seen in my years following UMass hockey so I’m extremely happy for him and his family to have this sort of recognition of his abilities in the sport.

Boston College’s Patch Alber is likely out until to the Frozen Four, it that after hurting himself playing soccer prior to a recent Eagle game.  Exactly why I gave up playing soccer at the age of 10.

USA Hockey > Canada Hockey or NCAA Hockey > CHL Hockey.  Take your pick.

College Hockey Inc continues to restructure itself for the betterment of the college game.

Gracel Named Hockey East Player of the Week; UMass Named Team of the Week

After being named MVP of the Ledyard Classic earlier this week the accolades continued to roll in for Branden Gracel today as he was named Hockey East Co-Player of the Week.  Gracel shared the honor with Northeastern’s Cody Ferriero.  In addition, UMass was named the Hockey East Team of the Week in this week’s release from the conference.  Shane Walsh and Eddie Olczyk were deservingly named Top Performers after their play in the tournament.

For those who may have missed it, the new rankings came out this past Monday.  This poll reflects UMass’ win over Bemidji State but not the upset of #8 Dartmouth.  The win over the Beavers was enough to get UMass back into the Also Receiving Votes category.  The Minutemen were able to climb back into the Pairwise rankings as well where they’re currently at #24.

College Hockey News has an entertaining piece on the mentality of the team under new coach John Micheletto.

Here’s the Collegian’s coverage of the tournament win.

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