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Merrimack Preview

Merrimack Warriors 7-7-0, (Hockey East 4-5-0 8th)
at
#15 Massachusetts Minutemen 9-5-0, (Hockey East 5-4-0 T-5th)

Merrimack Warriors Official Site
Warrior Rink Rat Blog

Personally I think the concept of “must-win” games is overused.  Must-win games come when you’re at a point of elimination and your season could be over.  So I’m not calling tonight’s game a must-win.  Yet, don’t get me wrong, this is an incredibly important game.  A win will end a three game skid, raise UMass’ record to 10-5-0, and most importantly allow them to have a little momentum going into the holiday break.  There’s only one game this weekend, UMass has had a full week off since their last game, and the next will be weeks away so I hope to see a ton of effort out there because there’s no excuse not to.

In previous years a visit from Merrimack would be just what the Minutemen would need to for an easy win and be able to turn things around.  Not anymore.  Former UMass assistant Mark Dennehy has done an excellent job at Merrimack and the team he brings into the Mullins Center looks much different than the Warrior teams we’ve seen in the past.  The Warriors have already posted wins against the likes of UVM, BC, BU, and Northeastern while also losing close games to those same teams as well as North Dakota.  Four of their seven losses have been by one goal, continuing a trend of playing teams close we first saw last season.

Merrimack is being led by their offense this year.  They currently check in tied with UMass at 3.64 goals per game, good for 2nd in Hockey East as well as 3rd best on the power play for conference teams.  Their leader is freshman sensation Stephane De Costa who has 18 points in 12 games, including 8 goals.  Also off to good starts are juniors Chris Barton with 7 goals so far this season and Joe Cucci who has put up a point a game for Merrimack.

De Costa is certainly getting all the press as the best first year player on the Warrior team but they have another freshman contributing well in defenseman Kyle Bigos.  The Oilers draft pick has played solid defense thus far and is leading the team in PIM.  Senior Pat Bowen has been the anchor for the defense while the team has also gotten quality minutes from sophomore Simon Demers.  In net Dennehy has the choice of two solid goaltenders.  He has rotated both Joe Cannata and Andrew Braithwaite for the better part of the season.  Cannata has played more games but Braithwaite has put up better numbers with a 2.83 goals against and .906 save percentage.  If Dennehy continues to rotate his goaltenders on the same pattern it would mean Braithwaite would get the start in net at the Mullins.

The key to UMass’ game I think are to come out and set the tone early.  As mentioned in yesterday’s blog the team has not scored well in the first period.  Being at home I think getting a couple in the net early could go a long way to achieving a win.  Secondly, control the shots.  UMass has not been as aggressive as they were to start the season and therefore do not seem to be using their speed advantage to the full extent they could be.  This team should not be regularly outshot by their opponents.  And that comes back to the defense.  Considering the losses from last year’s squad I think the defense has played well, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be progressing as the season goes along and everyone gets more time under their belt.  Right now the D has been solid but it would be nice to see them come out and start shutting down the other stars of Hockey East.  Doing such against De Costa would be a good place to start.

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The Republican has an interesting feature on Martin Nolet as part of their preview.

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There was only one league game last night as UNH beat Providence at the Coffin 4-3.  In non-conference action Lowell beat a slumping Princeton team 4-1 while RPI defeated BU at Agganis 5-3 on three 3rd period goals. 

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Looking At The Numbers; DelMauro On Draft Watch List

I make my living as a Financial Analyst so I’m constantly thinking about numbers.  Yet when it comes time for me to get away from work and relax and watch sports I for some reason continue to think about numbers.  So I enjoy sports statistics.  Well I put together a statistical log in excel that I’ll update as the season goes along and hope it helps give some insight into what’s going well and what’s going badly for the Minutemen.  So a few vlookups and sumifs later and here’s a few observations.  I’ll do my best not to make it too boring.

First, it’s interesting to note that despite the offensive output this season and the winning record, opponents are out shooting the Minutemen by close to 4 shots a game on average.  Even in games they win the team is outshot by nearly 2 shots while this increases to about 7 shots in losses.  In the last three games this margin has increased to 11.

What really stands out however is the special teams.  When the team wins they are 32.6% on the power play and 82.9% on the penalty kill.  In losses both numbers drop to 17.6% and 80% respectively.  The penalty kill has been especially damaging in the last three games falling to 72.7%.  The penalty kill decreases in losses even while the opposing team is getting fewer power play opportunities in those games compared to when UMass win, 3 chances on average to 4 when they win.  Not only are the Minutemen converting opportunities at a lower rate when they lose but they’re also getting a third less opportunities in general, 5 to 3.5.

It’s really important for the team to shoot early and shot often.  In the last three games they’ve actually had success when shooting with almost 10% of their shots finding the back of the net.  While this doesn’t reach the 14% rate they’re hitting when they win it is better than the 7.5% overall when they lose.  So things are not completely as bad as they have seemed lately.  I think in the long run the team will also want to come out stronger in the first.  Only 16% of their regulation goals have been scored in the 1st period.  This has to improve, they can’t always be coming back from behind.  Hopefully these numbers improve tomorrow against Merrimack.

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I was able to do a little more research on our newest recruits.  I didn’t find too much on Conor Allen, except to see that he did very well in the NAHL last season including being named Player of the Week a few times.  Chris DelMauro though is getting some looks from NHL scouts as he was listed on this watch list for next year’s draft.  DelMauro’s committment is currently the front page story on the AJHL website.

Also I mentioned earlier this week that it appeared that Joel Hanley must be out with some kind of injury.  Lowell recruiting guru, Monty, confirmed that he saw that Hanley was on the shelf with what he thought was a shoulder injury.  Unfortunately it’s worse, broken leg.  Ugh.

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James Marcou stays on top in this week’s Hobey Watch from Inside Hockey but Casey Wellman now finds himself on the bubble along with freshman sensation Stephane DeCosta who I’m looking forward to seeing first hand tomorrow.

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Scott Crowder is already putting his Isenberg SOM degree to work as founder and director of the New England Pond Hockey Classic to be played on a frozen Lake Winnipesaukee in February.  Here’s the release from UMass Athletics as well as the website for the tournament.

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