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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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2 Comments

  1. BU lost to RPI? How the mighty have fallen…we have to really play well this year. This is a great year for us to win HE. I think we have the talent and coaching to do it, we just need to play full games to our best ability. Then again it’s also a good year for teams like Merrimack so it should be an interesting game.

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    • RPI is a talented but young team. That was apparent when they visited the Mullins at the beginning of the year. I think it worked out in UMass’ favor to face them in what was the first game for many of those young players because they’ll become a tougher and tougher opponent as the season goes along.

      But I agree, this is a great year in Hockey East. I just hope teams like Lowell, Merrimack, and UMass can keep it up and keep teams like UNH and BC from the top of the standings.

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