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Merrimack Preview; New Recruit Commitments

 

Massachusetts Minutemen 10-12-2 (7-9-1) Hockey East 7th

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#20 Merrimack Warriors 12-10-5 (10-6-2) Hockey East 3rd

It’s unfortunate that UMass must play all three games against Merrimack in the second half of the season because this is a much different team than the one on the ice at the end of 2012.  Going into the season there were a lot of questions of how Merrimack would fare after graduating star goaltender Joe Cannatta.  Early on in the season they didn’t do a good job answers those questions, getting swept by the Alaska teams and having to endure a couple of three game losing streaks.  At the close of 2012 the team was just 6-8-4 and seemed destined for middle of the pack in Hockey East at best.  But in 2013 the Warriors have gone 6-2-1 and now find themselves in 3rd place in the conference.

They’ve won recently thanks to solid defense, holding their opponents to just 1.89 goals per game in the nine games since New Years.  Junior goaltender Sam Marotta has started all but one of those games and is responsible for just one of the losses.  During that time he’s had shutouts over Maine and Lowell.  Marotta currently leads all Hockey East goaltenders with a goals against average of 2.09 and a save percentage of .929.  Of course he has some pretty solid defensemen in front of him in the form of Kyle Bigos, Jordan Heywood, and Tom McCarthy.

Offensively the star has been junior forward Mike Collins who accounts for nearly 1/5th of the team’s total goals with 14.  No one else on the team has more than five.  Overall the Warriors have scored 2.67 goals per game, which puts them at 7th among Hockey East teams.  They have gotten some good contributions from their defense as well as Brendan Ellis has accumulated 10 assists while Heywood is tied for second on the team with five goals.

Due to the snow, UMass got a couple extra days of rest as Friday’s game against Northeastern was rescheduled to later in the month and yesterday’s game was pushed back to today.  Hopefully those extra days will help give UMass the energy and focus needed to win someplace where they haven’t done so in a while.  Lawler Arena has been a house of horrors for the Minutemen in recent years.  They’ve lost their last six games there, including an 11-2 shellacking in 2011.  Their last win in North Andover was March of 2008.  Hopefully that streak ends this afternoon as with their win last night Vermont is again right behind the Minutemen in the standings.

Beer The Triangle
There aren’t a lot of good pregaming options for Merrimack, but with a quality place like The Tap you don’t need many.  I’m looking forward to drinking an appropriately named Snowbound.

For those making the trip, I got this notice in my email:

Tomorrow’s game between #20 Merrimack and UMass-Amherst will begin at 4:00pm at Lawler Arena with KidsFest to begin at 2:30pm in the Volpe Gym.

The Merrimack College staff is continuing to clear snow from campus parking lots but with the massive amounts some lots will undoubtedly lose parking spaces. We encourage you to arrive early and adhere to the direction of campus police for parking instruction in order to arrive at the game on time (doors open @ 3:00pm).

Thank you in advance for your understanding and safe travels to all who will be on the road this weekend.

There doesn’t appear to be any previews up for the game as of now, but Mike McMahon will likely have coverage soon on his blog.

UMass picked up three commitments on Friday.  Two of the newest Minutemen are brothers, Brandon and Jake Wahlin.  Brandon is a 5’8”, 170lb forward currently playing for Austin in the NAHL where he leads the league in total scoring.  Thus far this season he has 18 goals and 39 assists in 45 games.  According to this story on his commitment he also had interest from Lowell, Nebraska-Omaha, and Bemidji State.  It appears that the Minnesota native will be in Amherst this coming fall.  Here are some highlights of his play in previous years:

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While Brandon is due to join the team next year, his brother Jake is pegged to come to Amherst in 2015, the first commitment for that class.  According to the Western College Hockey Blog Jake is rated as the second best sophomore playing Minnesota High School hockey.  He currently has 15 goals and 30 assists in 26 games playing for White Bear Lake.  Wahlin is considered one of the top ‘96 born players in the country.  Overall these look like two great pickups for coach Micheletto, especially the younger Jake whose trajectory is looking pretty bright at this stage of his career.

If White Bear Lake sounds familiar for UMass fans, it should.  Justin Braun’s hockey career started there, went through Amherst, and then of course on to the pros with the San Jose Sharks.

The other commitment came from 6’0”, 180lb defenseman Maddison Smiley.  Smiley is currently teammates with UMass recruit Patrick Lee for the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.  The Bandits are an amazing 47-3-3 on the season.  Smiley puts up a lot of points for a defenseman as he has 16 goals and 19 assists in 33 games this season and recently returned from injury.  Like Lee he earned an invitation to the Team Canada West Camp for the World Junior Challenge.  Here’s the release from the AJHL which includes some quotes from his coach.  And here’s an article about him from last fall.  Smiley is due in Amherst in the fall of 2014.

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