Grading The Defense

Mike Marcou (photo by Karen Winger)

A couple days ago I reviewed where UMass is season to date, now it’s time to discuss how they got there.  For the next couple days I am going to review the players’ and coaches’ performance so far this season.  It’s important to note that I’m grading against the general expectations for that player, so an A doesn’t necessarily mean that player is a Hobey Baker candidate (although I have a feeling there will be one of those in the bunch) it just means he’s outperformed versus the level of play I thought he would play.  First off, let’s look at the defense.

Justin Braun
Grade: B+
Braun has done a decent job anchoring the defense and continues to boost his NHL prospects with his play.  With 13 points to date he’s on pace to surpass his career high of 23.  Defensively he’s played well and continues to do well against opposing teams top lines.  Unfortunately it seems when Braun struggles so does the team as a whole.  There was a stretch when Braun’s play seemed to be below what would be normally expected of him but luckily his games of late have looked much better.

Mike Donnellan
Grade: B
Donnellan has only played in six games but so far he’s shown the potential to be a solid stay at home defender.  He has a -3 on the season but has been good about not getting beat when matched up against a forward. 

Matt Irwin
Grade: B-
With Irwin’s start to the season it appeared this could be a breakout season for him on the national level since he had 5 goals and 4 assists in his first five games.  Unfortunately he’s only had two assists and no goals in the ten games since.  I’ve always felt his defensive work has been underrated but he’s struggled at times this year and currently has a -5 on the season and has had breakdowns at inopportune times.

Kevin Kessler
Grade: B
I’ve been pleasantly surprised with Kessler’s play so far.  With the emergence of Mike Marcou and the two newcomers I didn’t think Kevin would see a lot of playing time.  But he’s been in there for six games and has made very few mistakes.  It would be great to see him use his size and play a little more physical as he’s one of only a couple UMass players with that skill set.

Doug Kublin
Grade: B+
Kublin may be UMass’ most consistent defenseman so far on the season.  He’s gotten better each season he’s played and now as a junior could be one of the more underrated defensemen in the league.  He’s not flashy but he gets his job done each and every shift.

Mike Marcou
Grade: A
Last year I found his play unexpectedly solid.  This year I think his play has exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations.  Defensively he uses smart play and good positioning to overcome his lack of size and it’s helped him achieve a +5 rating, 2nd best on the team.  But those are things we saw last year from him, what we didn’t see was offense.  He’s suddenly become a legitimate two-way defenseman in the line up puting up 4 goals, 3 assists, and 27 shots on the season so far.

Martin Nolet
Grade: A-
With Braun, Nolet has provided excellent play and leadership on the blueline.  His +6 leads the team and is off to a solid start offensively with 3 goals and 3 assists.  He’s also continued to develop a much needed physical dimension to his play.

Darren Rowe
Grade: B-
Rowe has certainly shown his offensive prowess, so much so that he’s even seen some time at forward.  Overall he looks good, but like most freshmen still looks a bit timid in his play.  He seems to have good instincts on defense and sports a +2 rating.

Paul Dainton
Grade: A-
If you look at stats you’ll see that Dainton’s goals against is actually up from last year.  But considering the turnover and youth on defense I think this was to be expected.  Paul’s .922 save percentage to date is impressive and second best among Hockey East goaltenders.  The rest of Hockey East has noticed his play as he won goaltender of the month for November.  So far he’s had 6 games with 30 or more saves, including a career high of 42 against UNH.  Dainton has kept UMass in every game in which he’s played.

Dan Meyers
Grade C+
Meyers didn’t dress for the first few weeks of the season and it has appeared to make it tough for him to get into the swing of things.  He does have an record of 2-0-0 in three games but hasn’t quite appeared as sharp as he had in past years.  His .890 save percentage and GAA of 3.34 will have to improve for him to continue to get regular ice time.

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