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Where They Stand; Quick Named 1st Star

As promised I’m going to do my best to offer some mid-season thoughts between now and the UConn Tournament at the end of the month.  The actual halfway point of the regular season will occur at the second game in Storrs but for all accounts and purposes the finals/holiday break represents the transition from one season to another.  The first half encompasses non-conference games against teams sometimes rarely seen as well as some early season league games where teams try to feel each other out and see how each other have improved or declined since the previous season.  After whatever holiday tournament a team plays in it’s usually time to get down to business with a schedule usually exclusively in-conference and before you know it it’s March and playoff time.

With their start the Minutemen have put themselves in a good position to be part of not only the Hockey East tournament picture but perhaps the national tournament as well.  In league play UMass, picked to finish 7th by the coaches before the season, finds itself 4th in the league standings holding onto that last home ice spot.  Important to note is that the three teams ahead of them, UNH, BC, and Maine, have all played two additional games than the Minutemen.  The Hockey East standings are pretty tight however with only four points separating 4th place UMass with 8th place Merrimack and there are some dangerous, yet underachieving, teams behind the Minutemen currently like Lowell and UVM.

Nationally the Minutemen find themselves in the top 15 in the country according to the latest polls and with the 8th highest win percentage.  More importantly they find themselves tied for 10th with Minnesota-Duluth in the pairwise rankings used to determine the tournament field.  UMass also checks in at 10th in the RPI rankings so far this season, only Boston College ranks higher among Hockey East teams.  It’s important to note that they’ve accomplished this by playing and beating a lot of quality teams as their strength of schedule is 20th in the country to date.

The story of the season has obviously been the offense which finished 26th in the country last season at 2.87 goals per game but now has improved nearly an entire goal to 3.67 GPG, good for 5th nationally.  A lot of this improvement has come on the power play where they are converting at a 27.5% rate, 3rd nationally, compared to 16.8% last season.  The defense has slipped slightly from 2.64 goals per game to 2.73 putting them at 23rd in the nation, but considering the youth of the defense this year I think that’s something to be proud of and I would hope would improve as the season moves on and the sophomores and freshmen continue to improve.  Their penalty kill comes in at 83%, roughly the same as last year and 25th in the country.

The Minutemen have set themselves up at a very good launch point for the second half.  UMass fans and detractors alike are out there waiting for a post-Christmas collapse like we’ve seen occur with past teams.  I understand this because it’s in the back of my head as well, but this thinking conveniently ignores the 2007 season where the team played just as well as they did in the first half of the year and made it to the NCAA tournament.  Secondly, this year’s team has heard the grumblings from the media and fanbase and judging by the comments in the papers they want nothing to do with it.  There have been reports that this is a much more cohesive team with a stronger leadership than the past few seasons and so far that has been evident on the ice.  They certainly are aware of the negative expectations and seem hell-bent on proving everyone wrong.  Now it’s time for the team to focus on class, enjoy family and friends for the holiday, and then come back and focus what surely will be an exciting, yet grueling, two and a half months of hockey and show the hockey community just how different they are from past Minuteman squads.

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Hockey East finally put out their weekly release late last night.  In addition to Dainton being named Defensive POTW Will Ortiz was one of the Top Performers for his two goal effort on Saturday.

Here’s a late recap of Saturday’s game from the Daily Collegian.

INCH’s First Shift mentions that there will be more ranked teams at the UConn Tournament than at the Great Lakes Invitational (featuring Michigan, Michigan State, Michigan Tech, and RPI).

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Jon Quick was rewarded with the NHL’s 1st Star of the Week for his 3-0, 1.58 GAA performance.  The Kings now find themselves atop the Western Conference.  Probably a good idea to save one of your best week’s for the time period when Brian Burke is writing names onto his olympic roster.

Alex Berry is complimented for his tough play in this look at the Maple Leafs’ AHL and ECHL prospects from Hockey’s Future.

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Peter DeAngelo scored the game-winner last week in a win over Bridgeport.  DeAngelo now has 12 goals and 8 assists in 25 games for the division leading New Hampshire Junior Monarchs.

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3 Comments

  1. justin

     /  December 15, 2009

    “There have been reports that this is a much more cohesive team with a stronger leadership than the past few seasons and so far that has been evident on the ice.”

    I think most of us have heard similar sentiments (and heard bad about the past couple of seasons). This could go a long way towards preventing the kind of collapse we’ve had the last couple of years.

    Great first half for the team, overall I’m very impressed and pleased.

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  2. Ryan

     /  December 15, 2009

    The team really needs to win that holiday tournament in CT as Union is 18th nationally and creeping up in pairwise, so a win there would def. help them, but a loss to them or to either of the other teams would certainly drop them substantially. I think if we are thinking about an NCAA tournament appearance at this point UMass must win both games in Storrs.

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    • I agree. Even if only for recognition and status sake they have to take the tournament. A loss will likely open up a lot of doubting in the heads of the fans and even players.

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