Saturday Recap

Massachusetts had very little to play for yesterday.  They had already been eliminated from Hockey East playoff contention with Maine’s win and the heartbreaking overtime loss at Merrimack the night before.  And the challenges kept piling up for them before and during yesterday’s game.  They were already without star Mike Pereira who suffered a concussion last weekend.  Friday night senior Eddie Olcyzk hurt his shoulder and sadly wasn’t able to dress for his final game of his career.  Once the game started they suddenly found themselves short a defenseman when Mike Busillo received a game misconduct early on.  And in the second period leading scorer Branden Gracel left the game with an injury.  With all that against them and very little to play for, you could’ve expected the team to mail it in and just allow the season to end.  But they didn’t.  With nothing to play for but pride and sending the seniors out on a high note UMass not only showed up last night but dominated in a 3-0 win over Merrimack.

UMass was able to get on the board early in the first when senior co-captain Rocco Carzo made a great backhand pass across the slot from underneath the goal line that found it mark on Adam Phillips’ stick for the goal.  Just a few seconds later UMass would face their first test of adversity as Busillo picked up a contact to the head penalty for an open ice hit and the Minutemen were now without one of their defenseman.  Helping to offset that blueline loss for the rest of the game though was the fact that, due to so many other injuries, Anthony Raiola was dressed and playing as a forward.  He was able to slide back to defense as needed and help contribute to an excellent game by the defense as a whole.  Busillo’s major and an Oleg Yevenko penalty shortly after meant that the Warriors ended up with over six minutes straight of power play time, including some five on three advantage.  But the penalty kill was huge all night, not allowing a goal despite over 14 minutes of power play time for Merrimack.

At the end of the first Conor Sheary would jump on a redirected puck in front of the net and put it in the resulting open net.  In the second period Colin Shea got on the scoresheet with a shot from the point that deflected off a Merrimack stick into the near top corner of the net past Sam Marotta.  Later in that period Gracel would go down injured after being slammed into the boards by a Merrimack player.  Somehow there was no call on the play.  Coach Micheletto, like everyone else in the building, was pretty astounded at the no call and tried to get the officials to come over to talk to him by waiting to send out his next line.  As a result,  referees Chris Federico and Justin Greene assessed UMass with a delay of game penalty while still refusing to acknowledge Mick on the UMass bench.  I thought it was a good move by Mick.  The refs needed to address how Busillo was in the dressing room for an open ice hit while an obvious boarding that injured UMass’ best scorer went uncalled.  Gracel would try to play a couple more shifts that period but by the third period he was not on the bench.

With the officials not doing their job, the Minutemen felt they needed to take matters into their own hands and the third period ended up very chippy.  Conor Allen picked up three penalties in the period alone.  Luckily the game got physical but didn’t get out of control.  Even while picking up penalties and crushing Warriors the Minutemen still controlled play and outshot Merrimack 14-10 in the final period.  On the other end Steve Mastalerz remained perfect on the night and stopped all 24 shots he faced for his second career shutout.

And that’s how the UMass season ended.  Even knowing there would be no game and with an easy excuse of injuries available, the team went out and had one of their better games of the season.  I have to say I was really proud of the heart they showed to go out and win in that fashion.  With the win over UNH last fall and capturing the Ledyard Classic, I’d have say last night was one of the best games of the year.

After the game it was time to celebrate the careers of Rocco Carzo, Kevin Czepiel, Darren Rowe, and Eddie Olczyk.  The senior ceremony was different this year, coming after the game rather than before.  I wish the entire crowd had stayed for it, but a good number of the 4,500 did.  Those who stayed got to see a montage of the players’ highlights as well as pictures of them as kids.  They also got to see just how much being a UMass hockey player means to these guys.  Eddie Olczyk, who dressed in full gear for the ceremony despite being injured, displayed tremendous emotion when he was honored.  It was a good reminder of the dedication and love these guys have for the game and for UMass.  And it was an uplifting way to end the season.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steve Mastalerz
Yesterday was a total team win.  Everyone contributed, from the guys who scored the goals to the hard hits that came later to stand up for Gracel.  But a shutout seems worthy of the POTG honors and it capped off a stretch of games where Mastalerz looked very good in net.

Highlights from UMass Athletics

Dick Baker has the game story for the Republican.

Mike McMahon has his takeaways from College Hockey News.

Late news today is that Boston University’s Jack Parker will announce his retirement.  I’m sure I don’t have to take the time to list his overwhelming accomplishments during his coaching career on Comm Ave.  Best wishes to him in his retirement.  The guy is a legend.

So that’s it.  Season’s over, unfortunately a little sooner than we all wanted.  I’m not done yet though.  I still have a little more writing in me before I pull the plug on this place.  Tomorrow I’ll unveil my awards for the season.  Later in the week I’ll post my season recap as well as my thoughts on the state of the program.

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Merrimack Preview

Merrimack College Warriors 14-14-6 (12-10-3) Hockey East 6th

vs

Massachusetts Minutemen 11-18-3 (8-15-2) Hockey East 9th

Massachusetts enters the final weekend of the regular season and if they want to keep playing beyond they’ll need to get at least a point and then get some help.  UMass can get away with just a tie of Merrimack but they’d then need New Hampshire to sweep Maine up in Durham.  While UNH is clearly the better team I wouldn’t rule out something flukey happening in this weekend’s chapter of that storied rivalry.  Whatever transpires, UMass must get at least one more point than Maine in this weekend’s games.  That would leave the two teams tied and the Minutemen would move on to the playoffs by virtue of having more conference wins.

It’s not going to be easy to get any points however from this Warrior team.  The teams met last month in North Andover in an oddly close, but dominant win by the Warriors.  UMass could not generate any offense during the game, only testing goaltender Sam Marotta 18 times.  But, they were able to keep the game close and were tied at two apiece going into the third before ultimately falling 4-2.  Kevin Boyle played fantastic, making 37 saves including 17 in the first period alone.  It didn’t matter though and the game was the most recent of a long line of losses at Lawler where UMass hasn’t won since spring of 2008.

The Warriors are not as hot a team as they were when they last faced UMass though.  In fact they’re winless in their last five, losing their last four.  Since scoring four against the Minutemen they haven’t managed to score more than two goals against anyone else and were shutout last Friday by Lowell.  The recent slump has coincided with leading scorer Mike Collins going cold.  Collins has more than twice as many goals as anyone else on the team with 15 but hasn’t found the back of the net since the game against the Minutemen.  The team is 12-6-3 when he registers a point and 2-8-3 when he doesn’t.

Marotta got the win against the Minutemen and seemed to have grabbed hold of the starter job back in January.  But Rasmus Tirronen got the most recent start in a loss to Lowell.  Honestly, the losing streak hasn’t been the fault of Marotta and I’d assume he’ll play both games this weekend.  Other than a poor game against BU where he got pulled after surrendering three goals in a period, he has only allowed two goals in each of the other games during this winless streak

In addition to who is on the ice this weekend, another huge factor may end up being who is not.  Merrimack will be without the services of key defenseman Kyle Bigos, who will be missing his own senior night tomorrow because of the number of game misconducts he has picked up this season.  Unfortunately I would rather he be gone for the game at the Mullins as I think the Warriors can more easily adjust for his absence on the smaller Lawler ice.  The other player whose participation is in question is Mike Pereira, who left the UNH game early after absorbing a hard hit.  It is unknown if he’ll dress this weekend and UMass may have to make due without their most productive player in recent weeks.

It all comes down to this. Two games.  I could talk about what strategies UMass could use to defeat Merrimack.  Opine about the adjustments needed from recent play.  But it really comes down to motivation.  Will the team be motivated to get the necessary points to extend their season?  Can they extend the program’s playoff streak to 11 years?  Will they allow the four seniors the chance to put the UMass jersey on at least a couple more times after Saturday?  We’ll see.

Speaking of the seniors, the annual ceremony honoring them is changing a bit this year.  It will take place AFTER the game, not before.  This is similar to how it’s done up in Maine.  So please make sure to stick around until then and take the chance to thank them for their dedication and commitment to UMass.

Beer The Triangle
One of the many recent snowstorms forced the rescheduling of the last game at Merrimack and postponed my trip to The Tap in Haverhill.  That will be corrected tomorrow and I’m desperately hoping they still have Snowbound on draft.  Saturday will be the last pregame at the Hangar on the season.  However I have to find a way to get across the street to Amherst Brewing Company as well as they have a keg of 2011 Dogfish Head Olde School Barleywine on.  One of my favorite barleywines.

Preview from the Republican says it’s all about the process.  Daily Collegian preview says it’s about poise.  But both talk about Rocco Carzo’s eating habits.

He doesn’t have anything up currently, but Mike McMahon is sure to have some good information and perspective on the Mack Report.

Merrimack Recap

Personally I thought the effort was there for the Massachusetts Minutemen in their game against Merrimack yesterday.  But the execution was, frankly, very poor and as a result UMass lost 4-2.  The loss is their 7th straight at Lawler Arena.  The team didn’t look good offensively, generating a season low 18 shots on the night, or defensively as a number of key mistakes led to easy Warrior goals.  The only aspects of the game that UMass excelled in were goaltending and the penalty kill.

The most glaring issue yesterday was the lack of offense.  UMass managed just three shots on net in the first period.  Some of that was due to the fact that they were on the penalty kill for over seven minutes, no thanks to a terrible major and game misconduct called on Conor Allen. But in the second when UMass had three power plays to Merrimack’s one they still only accumulated five shots, just one in six minutes of having the extra man.  Desperation in the third forced them to be more aggressive and put 10 shots on net, but goaltender Sam Marotta would save them all.  In the end only Branden Gracel (4), Kevin Czepiel (3), and Steven Guzzo (2) had more than one shot on net.

Defensively, a number of key mistakes did in UMass on the night.  Losing Allen to a bad contact to the head call in the first period did not help.  That left just five defenseman for the team for much of the game, one of which being Peter DeAngelo who was playing just his second game on the blueline.  DeAngelo made some mistakes, but luckily they did not lead to any goals.  However, you have to wonder if Mike Busillo should’ve been out there and dressed.  Busillo has a team leading +7 rating currently and the team’s record is 9-6-1 when he plays and 1-7-1 when he doesn’t.  Perhaps coach Micheletto is unaware of those stats, which would be disappointing.  Or perhaps he doesn’t care and will fill out his lineup as he sees fit.  If that’s the case, I don’t think he’s putting the players on the ice who give the team the best chance to win.  And the stats support that.

Busillo likely would’ve been a defensive upgrade from DeAngelo, who has not played terrible at the position but is still noticeably learning how to play the new role, or Darren Rowe, who had a game he’d like to forget.  Rowe was on the ice for all four of Merrimack’s goals, three of which came directly as a result of his being out of position or a misplay of his.  It’s known that Rowe is not the strongest defenseman on the squad, but when he’s contributing offensively and playing adequate defense he’s able to negate that potential defensive liability.  Yesterday was one of the games when that wasn’t the case.

There were only a few positives yesterday.  Kevin Boyle was certainly one of them, making a season-high 37 saves on the night and keeping the game close throughout.  Branden Gracel got the ultimate revenge on referees Kevin Shea and Chris Federico for the piss-poor misconduct call on Allen by scoring probably the prettiest goal of the season.  I won’t try to describe it, just check out the highlights (and lowlights) at the bottom of the post.  Eddie Olczyk scored his second goal of the season, a nice wrister thanks to a great feed from Zack LaRue.

Not getting any points this past weekend hurts because UMass now has Maine and Vermont breathing down their neck.  In 8th place, Vermont is just one point behind and Maine is two points back.  The Minutemen do have a game in hand on those two, but the prospect of missing the Hockey East playoffs is still very possible with just four weekends of hockey left.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Kevin Boyle
Gracel had the play of the game but Boyle was the only reason UMass even had a chance to win this game.

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Recap from the Republican.

Here’s the game story from the Eagle-Tribune.

Boyle’s 37 saves were unfortunately not enough to get him recognized as a Top Performer by Hockey East.

Lowell, this weekend’s opponent, is ranked 14th in this week’s polls.

Merrimack Preview; New Recruit Commitments

 

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

at

#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:

.

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.

Weekend Games Postponed

For those who may have missed it, both of this weekend’s Massachusetts hockey games have been rescheduled due to the impending snowstorm.  Tomorrow night’s game against Northeastern has been postponed until Tuesday, February 19th at 7pm.  This gives those of us who travel from out of town the excuse to take the entire day off and enjoy a four day weekend. Saturday afternoon’s game at Merrimack has been pushed back to Sunday at 4pm.  The game was originally scheduled to be broadcast on NESN but that will no longer be the case, thereby robbing UMass of their one chance to be shown on regional/national TV this year.  Maybe next year Hockey East will be nice enough to give UMass a rare televised home game.

I hope everyone stays safe and has plenty of beer in stock in preparation of the incoming blizzard.

In some alumni news, Kevin Moore who dressed for an ECHL game in an emergency situation last month has been signed for the league’s Evansville Icemen.  There he’ll be in the familiar position of playing alongside Paul Dainton, who was assigned there recently from the Springfield Falcons.

Mike Marcou has been promoted to San Antonio of the AHL after a strong season at the ECHL that saw him make the All-Star squad.

Pereira Named Hockey East Co-Player of the Week

For his dominating performance against Boston University this past weekend Mike Pereira was named Hockey East Co-Player of the Week.  Pereira had a couple goals to go with a couple assists in the 5-1 win on Friday.  Pereira shared the honor with fan favorite Joey Diamond of Maine.  Branden Gracel and K.J. Tiefenwerth were named Top Performers.

Hockey East has five teams ranked this week as Saturday’s opponent, Merrimack, has broken into the USCHO top 20.

Northeastern will be coming into the Mullins Center on Friday feeling good about themselves after they beat BU earlier tonight to advance to the Beanpot Final next week.

Doherty Leaves Team

Freshman defenseman Connor Doherty has left the Massachusetts hockey team and has already joined up with his former junior team, the Junior Bruins.  Indeed, Doherty’s name no longer appears on the official roster.  He had not appeared in any games this season and was a late addition to this year’s freshman class, committing just weeks before former coach Toot Cahoon parted ways with the school.  He’ll play the rest of the season with the Junior Bruins, where he was an EJHL All-Star last season.  Good luck to him wherever he ends up continuing his hockey career.

This weekend’s opponent, Boston College, moved up a spot to #2 in the rankings despite splitting their series with New Hampshire this past weekend.  BC did announce that that the celebration of Jerry York’s historic win recently that was due to take place during Friday’s game has been postponed until he recovers from recent eye surgery.

No Minutemen were named Top Performers by the conference this past week, not even Darren Rowe after his three point night on Friday.

February 9th’s game at Merrimack, which will be televised on NESN, has been moved to 4pm to accommodate the Bruins broadcast that day.  I missed the fact that the game was ever moved from 7pm to 3:30 in the first place.

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