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Wisconsin Preview

Massachusetts Minutemen 3-7-3 (2-4-3) 8th Hockey East

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#15 Wisconsin Badgers 10-7-3 (6-6-2) T-6th WCHA

For the second time this year UMass will head west to take on one of the traditional WCHA powers.  But like Minnesota earlier, Wisconsin is not quite living up to their own standards.  Actually, the comparison between the Badgers and Gophers is valid as the two teams head into the new year in very similar situations.  They’re both tied for 6th place in the WCHA with identical 6-6-2 records.  They have similar overall records with the Badgers checking in at 10-7-3 while the Gophers are 9-7-2.  And they’re both ranked with Wisconsin at #15 and Minnesota at #19.  Now UMass put together a good showing against the Gophers to start the season, though they couldn’t gain a W in the Twin Cities.  This trip to Madison should be an interesting look to see how much, if at all, this team has come in that time.  It seems like they were playing good hockey until entering winter break with a dismal effort in Orono.  But if they can recapture what they showed in the Midwest earlier and combine it with the experience they’ve gained since, perhaps they can close out the year with their first win against a quality opponent.

It won’t be easy.   Yeah Wisconsin probably isn’t have the type of year their fans are used to, but they’re still pretty damn good.  They’re 7-4-1 at home.  And they of course have some of the best players in the nation.  But I’ll make the bold prediction and say UMass can only win if they stay out of th ebox  Because frankly if they put Wisconsin on the power play, they’re dead.  Dead.  Why?  Wisconsin boasts the second best power play in the country at 29.1%.  Not only are they converting at a high rate, but their 103 power play chances are one of the highest totals nationally as well.  UMass of course has the 4th worst penalty kill in college hockey.  Easy to see that you can limit Wisconsin’s chances to score by not taking penalties.

Like the Minutemen, Wisconsin lost a lot of underclassmen to the pros over the summer.  Like the Minutemen they’ve had to turn to sophomores and freshmen for scoring.  Amazingly, their leader in goals and points is actually a sophomore defenseman, Justin Schultz.  Wisconsin’s preview presented something I wasn’t even aware of with the UMass squad.  This week’s games feature the top 2 teams in terms of offensive output from defensemen.  Wisconsin leads the country with 2.95 points from blueliners per game while UMass has gotten 2.79.  Jordy Murray and and Craig Smith are two forwards that UMass will need to be wary of on offense.

On defense, Wisconsin’s loss is the nation’s gain.  Defenseman John Ramage will not be in Madison for the series as he’s busy captaining Team USA at the World Juniors.  The cupboard isn’t exactly bare on defense however and guys like Schultz, Jake Gardiner, and Craig Johnson will do their best to keep the Minutemen off the board.  In fact Wisconsin has been stellar defensively this season, allowing just 2.10 goals per game, good for 3rd in the country.  That’s what happens when you have good senior leadership in net and Wisconsin can boast two of them.  Scott Gudmanson has played 2/3rds of the games and put up top ten stats with a goals against of 1.94 and save percentage .930.  Familiar to the Minutemen and their fans is the other goaltender, former BU backstop Brett Bennett.  Bennett has a GAA of 2.35 and save percentage of .913.  UMass went 2-1-0 against Bennett in 07-08 scoring 4 goals against him in the two wins while Bennett got a shutout in UMass’ loss.

For UMass I’m just hoping that the time off hasn’t allowed them to forget the Maine game.  Coming off a nice little stretch where they played some pretty good hockey they went up to Orono and were snapped back to the reality of what happens when you don’t play a full game.  Wisconsin may not be in the national championship hunt.  Wisconsin may be without Ramage.  But I’m pretty sure if UMass heads out there and just skates around for 20 of the 60 minutes they’ll find themselves in a hole that will be tough to get out of.  Especially considering the stellar defense and goaltending the Badgers have had all season.  They don’t seem like the type to let a team back in during the 3rd period.  In fact they’ve outscored their opponents by nine in the final stanza.

I think UMass needs to do three things to be able to win.  We covered the first, do not take any penalties.  Or if you do, make sure they take a Wisconsin player with them.  On second thought better off just not taking any at all.  Secondly, protect the puck.  Besides the penalty kill the one area where I’d like to see UMass progress more at this point is needless turnovers.  Sometimes they get fancy with the passing, sometimes it’s just carelessness.  But when they are moving the puck crisply and smartly they’ve been able to skate circles around opposing teams.  Lastly I’d really love to see the coaching staff open up the forecheck.  Some of the best scoring chances of the season have come off of open ice turnovers.  Led by T.J. Syner this team has some of the best forecheckers I’ve seen.  Period.  I think that’s an advantage that absolutely needs to be leveraged. 

Overall this is a good opportunity for UMass.  They started out the season out west as a collection of talented, but inexperienced hockey players.  They head that direction again as a team this time, one that has seen adversity and have begun to build the trust that’s needed to be successful.  Successful enough to win in the Kohl Center?  We’ll see.

Since I probably won’t have the opportunity to post while I’m in Madison, make sure to follow the Fear The Triangle Twitter page to follow what’s going on out there.

Beer The Triangle
After consultation with a friend who inhabits the Land of Cheese as well as the bible of Beer Advocate it appears that the Great Dane Pub and Ale Asylum are the places to go in town.  Drink Miller or PBR?  I don’t think so.

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The Wisconsin blog Sixty Minutes No Alibis No Regrets previews the series.

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This paper out of the Soo has an article on Zack LaRue’s commitment to UMass.  It says he is a good skater and has a “wicked right-hand shot”.  Looks like we can expect him in Amherst next fall.

I know some FTT commenters have talked about Longmeadow hockey star Tyler Kelleher and hoped that Coach Cahoon was pursuing him.  I haven’t heard if that was the case or not, but Kelleher, who is now playing at Deerfield, committed to UNH.  Western Mass doesn’t produce a ton of top level DI talent so it hurts to see guys like Kelleher, Barry Almeida, and Rob Bellamy go elsewhere in Hockey East.  But at the very least UMass has been able to keep guys like T.J. Syner and Kevin Czepiel close to home.

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Justin Braun was sent down by the San Jose Sharks.  One goal and 8 assists in 14 games is a hell of a start to an NHL career.  I think he’ll be heading west from Worcester again this season.

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Recruit Update; Parker Decommits

Dick Baker is reporting that John Parker is no longer committed to UMass.  I had gotten wind of this a few weeks back but was waiting for official word.  Everything he reports, that the coaching staff wanted to convert him to a defenseman and Parker balked, coincides with what I heard separately.  It’s worth noting that a number of people close to Parker thought he should make the transition, but lobbied the point to no avail.  Given the success the coaching staff has had converting or taking on recently converted forwards to defensemen, like Thomas Pöck and Adam Phillips, you have to wonder if this was the best decision by Parker.  Given his relatively bleak offensive output in his USHL career he may have problems acquiring another Division I full scholarship offer, much less one from a Hockey East level team.  Either way, good luck to him in the future.  I hope he finds a good fit for him hockey-wise.

In case  you’re scoring at home, this is three recruits from New Jersey who have decommitted in recent years.  Parker, DelMauro, and of course prior to that John Carlson.  Let’s hope that trend ends when Kevin Boyle gets to campus.

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Ok, trying out a slightly different format for the weekly recruit update post.

Kevin Boyle – G – Westside Warriors (BCHL)
25GP / 12-12-1 / 2.83 GAA / .909 sv%
Boyle has been idle since 12/18.  His 12 wins are good for 9th in the league.

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Shattuck St Mary’s (MN)
22GP / 7 G / 17 A / 24 Pts / 34 PIM
Gillespie has also been idle since the week before Christmas. 

Zack LaRue – C/F – Markham Waxers (OPJHL)
37GP / 25 G / 28 A / 53 Pts / 18 PIM
UMass’ newest recruit has been idle since a week before the holiday as well.  In my research of LaRue I’ve determined the Waxers do not have a website or allowed a cyber-squatter to grab ahold of it

Shane Walsh -LW – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
18GP / 2 G / 5 A / 7 Pts / 8 PIM
Also idle.

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Baker also has a good preview of the Wisconsin series.  Look for my preview tomorrow night.

Wisconsin coach Mike Eaves was interviewed prior to the series.  I like this quote when asked about UMass, “The penalty killing, they take time off.”  Yep, you could say that.

Random Monday Thoughts

Well, now that I finally have both power and internet again, I can actually post a few things.  Being without power and trapped in my house did give me an excuse to finally finish the biography of Herb Brooks I’ve been reading for way to long.  The full title is Herb Brooks: The Inside Story of a Hockey Mastermind.  I found it very interesting.  Beyond his actual life story, I found it really intriguing how Brooks approached the game of hockey, from both a motivational and strategic method.  Motivationally the guy was an amateur psychologist, knowing just what buttons to push and how to push them for each player or collection of players he had.  Strategically, he’s of course known for his ground-breaking adoption of European styles and incorporating them into the North American type of hockey.  But I found it interesting that despite his love of these innovative ways to play, above all else he believed in adopting his style to his the players he had at his disposal.  It’s kind of interesting to think about in context to what Coach Cahoon is trying to do at UMass, recruiting small, fast, and maybe under the radar type players and figuring out a way to use them to bring down the big goliaths of Hockey East.  In recent years it’s looked like that’s worked extremely well, until they run into a team or series of teams which completely destroys them on the ice.  There were some insights to be taken from the book though and I highly recommend it.

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No college games means no polls or awards on this Monday, but there is still some great hockey being played.  The World Juniors got started out in Buffalo and it an interesting opener for the host squad.  USA took a 2-1 lead into the third until Finland tied it.  But the Americans ultimately won on an overtime gamewinner by Nick Bjugstad, who UMass faced out in Minnesota.  The other team I’ll be watching is Sweden, which UMass of course beat.  The Swedes blasted Norway 7-1 in their opener.

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Lastly, you may notice the addition of a new logo on the right hand side of the blog, which was a Christmas present from my wife.  Big thanks to her and our friend at Lynnette Poe Design who did a great job in creating the logo itself.

LaRue Commits To UMass

Coach Cahoon got a Christmas present when Zack LaRue gave his commitment to play at UMass over the weekend.  LaRue is a 6′ 174lb forward currently playing for the Markham Waxers of the OPJHL.  He’s currently 12th in the league in points with 53 and also 12th with 25 goals in 37 games. 

I’m about to head out and try to do some things before Death Storm 2010 hits, but I’ll try to have more about LaRue tonight or tomorrow.

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Here’s an article about Matt Irwin’s development on the AHL level from the Worcester Telegram.

Recruit Update

It appears that it may be challenging to follow new recruit Kenny Gillespie as closely as I would like as the only source for stats seems to be on the Shattuck-St Mary’s site which isn’t updated regularly.  It does appear Gillespie added at least another goal to his total since last week.

It’s a few years old, but ESPN The Magazine wrote this interesting article about SMS hockey.

Kevin Boyle went 2-1-0 in the last week for his Westside Warriors, allowing 10 goals on 84 shots.

Shane Walsh may or may not have scored for the Dubuque Fighting Saints over this weekend.  This article has Walsh scoring his first goal since being traded from Tri-City earlier.  But the stats on the official USHL site have him down for an assist.

John Parker had an assist over the weekend.

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With the holidays upon us and family taking center stage in our life for the next week or two, do yourself a favor and read this powerful and emotional article on Toronto GM Brian Burke and his son Brendan who was with Miami’s hockey team.

Polls & Award

Yale is still atop the most recent USCHO poll, but UNH has now moved up to #2.  That poll now more closely resembles the USA Hockey/USA Today poll.  UMass’ next opponent, Wisconsin, is ranked #15 in the USCHO poll.

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You may notice the title of today’s post says “award”, not “awards”.  With only one Hockey East team in action this past weekend, Vermont, they decided to just go ahead with a POTW award only.  With the Catamounts losing 6-4 to St Lawrence the Hockey East selectors of the awards must have wanted to avoid trying to pick a goaltender of the week between Alex Vazzano who was chased after a period or Rob Madore who gave up four goals in relief.  Good call.

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Kevin Moore covers the teams’ superstitions in the latest edition of One Moore Minute.

Mile High Hockey has an excellent profile of Greg Mauldin.  Judging from the comments it looks like Maulds is making a lot of fans out in the Centennial state.

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Even with Providence beating expectations this year they’re still having players jump ship.

It looks like Vinny Saponari will not be making that trip up Comm Ave after all.

Gillespie Commits To UMass

I’ve been saying lately that it’s been a long time since UMass got its last commitment.  It appears to be worth the wait.

Chris Heisenberg’s recruiting site is showing that Kenny Gillespie has  committed to UMass.  According to this he’ll be heading to the USHL next season (Omaha owns his rights) before coming to Amherst.  Gillespie, a North Carolina native, currently plays for Shattuck St Mary’s, a private school in Minnesota that has produced hockey talent like Pat Eaves, Jack Johnson, Kyle Okposo, Zach Parise, and Jonathan Toews.  Even Sidney Crosby attended there for a time.

Gillespie is a 5’11” 195lb right wing who current has 7 goals and 17 assists in 22 games for SMS.  That puts him at 5th on the team in points, though he has played 5 games less than most of his teammates.

Gillespie was on the USA Under-17 Team in the Summer of 2009.  His was rated a 4 on a scale of 5 in the USHL draft scouting report when he was taken in the 3rd round.  This blog post from 2008 says he is a quick skater with decent size but needs work on his puck skills.  Like with any other talented recruit Coach Cahoon will have to fend off the OHL until Gillespie actually gets to campus. His OHL rights are owned by the Plymouth Whalers.  It’s probably no coincidence that the Whalers took the North Carolina native since they’re owned by Carolina Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos, better known as the guy who moved the Whale.  Gillespie played for the Junior Hurricanes in NC.

More on Gillespie as I find things in the coming days.

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Andrew Merritt grades the Hockey East teams at the winter break point, giving the Minutemen a C-.  I’m not sure if that’s graded against expectations or flat out results.  I hope the latter.

View From Section U: UMass Hockey At The Break

While college hockey’s winter break isn’t a real halfway point as UMass has only played 13 of its 34 games, it is a good time to take stock of what we’ve seen so far.  Teams have over a third of the season under their belt and have usually played nearly all of their non-conference matchups while getting a start on their conference schedule.  So, as UMass enters a few weeks filled with finals and holiday festivities, how do the Minutemen stack up against expectations?  To sum up my thoughts on the 2010-2011 UMass Minutemen:  They are who we thought they were!

In my season preview I laid out a few thoughts about this year’s squad.

>  These players would play as a team.

I think this team has done just that.  Win, lose, or tie, they’ve done so with a group effort.  No one player has tried to put this team on their shoulders and carry them to wins.  In one of the wins this season all scoring was done by freshmen while defensemen provided all the goals in another.  Passing, while not always crisp, is prevalent and very rarely are players trying to go coast to coast with the puck to put it in themselves.  In fact at times they’ve looked almost too unselfish.  I think the captains deserve a lot of the credit as they’ve certainly put the success of the team above all.

>  While the team’s offense would be inconsistent at times, overall players would step up to fill the gap left behind by the players lost in the offseason.

Sure enough, while there have been times where UMass as struggled to generate shots on net, the team has done well in the scoring department.  Currently they are 5th among Hockey East teams with 2.85 goals per game.  Compare that to the total last year of 2.92 goals per game, 7th in the league.  They’ve been able to do so thanks to getting scoring from nearly the entire roster.  Of the 25 skaters who have dressed for the Minutemen so far this season 15 have scored a goal.   UMass had 17 goal scorers all of last season.  Of course leading the Minutemen in scoring is freshman Mike Pereira who has turned out to be exactly the player I thought and hoped he would be.  Freshman forwards Brendan Gracel and Conor Sheary have made great contributions to the offense thanks to their very active play.  UMass has also seen increased production from juniors T.J. Syner, who has created a lot of offense thanks to his forecheck and ability to steal the puck, and Danny Hobbs, who is one point behind his entire 2009-10 total despite missing a few games to injury.   If there’s one thing to complain about on offense it’s the power play where UMass finds itself next to last in the league converting on 11.2% of their chances.

>  There was reason to worry about the defense.

The amount of youth on the blueline has made for some heart-stopping moments and perhaps some lost opportunities for wins.  Certainly a more veteran group may have been able to hold onto that late lead in UNH and perhaps figured out a way to keep the Gophers from gaining both games in Minnesota.  But overall the team hasn’t played that much worse than last year’s squad.  In fact, they’re allowing 3.23 goals per game compared to 3.25 last year.  Those stats have been good for 8th in the league in both years however.  Not exactly cause for celebration. The good news is the defense seems to be improving.  During their recent unbeaten streak they allowed just 2.00 goals a game until Maine put four up over the weekend.  But beyond the numbers you can atruly see the younger players doing the things needed on the defensive end; sticks in the passing lanes, better positioning, and getting down to block shots.  And that goes for the forwards and defensemen both.

>  Goaltending will be the team’s strength.

For the most part this has been true.  Paul Dainton’s numbers, 3.00 GAA and .911 save percentage are both improvements over last year.  And that’s despite the fact that he was injured early in the season and needed a couple games to regain his form.  Recently he has played perhaps his best games of his career.  What wasn’t expected though was for freshman Jeff Teglia to be forced into action at the very onset of the season and put in some solid performances, including a 2 goal tie at BU.

>  This team will make the playoffs.

If the playoffs started today, it would be March 11th.  But if that were the case UMass, currently in 8th place, would be in line for the playoffs.  Their total record of 3-7-3 is below my expectations at this point.  I certainly did not expect them to lose to Army and not find a way to win against Providence (though to be fair, the Friars are playing much better than I expected).  But a Hockey East record of 2-4-3 isn’t too far out of line considering their early conference schedule consisted of a weekend at UNH, a game at BU, and having to travel north to Maine.  And coming away with two points from those four tough away matchups is acceptable.

It certainly was a tough first part of the season, starting off winless in their first nine.  But there were very few games were UMass was completely blown out.  The team has had to go through some growing pains but has been able to stay in most of the games and keep the outcomes respectable.  Not all young teams in Hockey East can say the same.  I think it is asking a lot of this team to come out of the break with an upset of Wisconsin out in Madison (though I won’t be complaining if that comes to pass).  But the weekend after will be an interesting test for the Minutemen to kick off the true Hockey East season with games at home against Northeastern and UNH.  UMass has played well enough in the league and thanks to some games in hand has a chance to seriously improve their standing within Hockey East.  But Northeastern is the type of team they’ll absolutely have to beat to do so.  How UMass does the next night against the Wildcats, one of college hockey’s best, will also be a good measuring stick.  UMass has traditionally begun their season swan dive around this team of year.  Hopefully, like so much else with this year’s team, that will also change.

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The LA Kings website has a cool feature where they have their players share first hand accounts of how they got into the game of hockey.  Here’s Jon Quick’s entry.

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Looks like Jack Parker and the BU Terriers didn’t make a lot of fans out at RPI over the weekend.  That’s a very impressive win by an Engineer squad that lost a lot over the summer, including star Jerry D’Amigo.

Recruit Update; Quick Excels

Kevin Boyle had a tough weekend record-wise for the Westside Warriors of the BCHL, but it’s tough to completely fault him for it.  While he went 0-2-0, he allowed 5 goals on 65 shots in the two games.  He currently has a record of 10-11-1, a 2.75 GAA and save percentage of .913.  That’s good for 9th in goals against and save percentage in the 16 team league.

Shane Walsh was held pointless for Dubuque’s two USHL games this week.  As was John Parker in his games.

Hopefully we’ll see some commitments soon.  The coaching staff was out scouting the USHL recently and have also been taking very close looks at some players in the prep league.

While the team is on break for a few weeks, Fear The Triangle is not.  I hope to have some good features on our committed recruits in the next couple weeks.

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Jon Quick had one of the greatest performances of the NHL season so far with a 51 save shutout of the Detroit Red Wings at the Joe.  Pro Hockey Talk notes that the effort is second to only Craig Anderson in 2008 in terms of most save in a regular season shutout.  What was even better was the fact it was on Versus so that hockey fans around the nation could watch it, but more importantly I could watch it.  The UMass hockey program got a number of mentions during the telecast.  Oh and who was the opposing goaltender whom Quick outshined?  Some guy named Jimmy Howard. 

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Dick Baker pointed out in his UMass hockey blog that the Catholic Mirror, a publication from the Springfild Catholic Church, has a profile of Coach Cahoon and his faith in their latest issue.  The article is an interesting read and reaffirms a lot of the good opinions people have of the coach.

The Denver Post (via Masslive) has a must read article on Greg Mauldin, revealing that he considered giving up on his NHL dream to join the Army. 

Don’t forget to check out the alumni update on UMassathletics.com.

The UMass ticket office has some deals currently for the Christmas season.  No, I don’t get a kickback for mentioning it, I just like seeing fans in the seats.

Maine Recap, Polls, and Awards

Yesterday’s 4-1 loss to Maine was unfortunate but not unexpected.  It would’ve been asking a lot for UMass to go up to Orono and beat a very good Maine team that was coming off a crushing late game loss to rival UNH.  But while the outcome is tolerable, how UMass lost is not.

The game started off well enough with UMass gaining a 1-0 lead in the first, outshooting the Black Bears 11-8, and killing Maine’s lone power play of the period.  However in the second Maine came out to play while UMass did not.  Maine outshot UMass 9-1 over the first 6 minutes of the second period and quickly tied up the game on the first of three goals from Brian Flynn.  In fact UMass would get outshot 24-11 over the final two periods.

Defensively UMass seemed to take a step back.  Their seven blocked shots is one of the lowest game totals of the season.  One has to wonder if it hurt the team to have one less defenseman, since coach Cahoon decided to dress only five of them in favor of putting Rocco Carzo out there instead.  Personally I don’t think this was a wise decision.  The defense, with the help of some great goaltending from Paul Dainton, has really played well in the last few weeks.  To put them out of sorts with increased minutes and constant changing of pairings would seem to disrupt the continuity defensively.  One has to wonder if fatigue on the blueline played a factor in the third period when UMass gave up the three Black Bear goals.  And the decision to put Carzo out there in lieu of a Conor Allen got them nothing, as he accounted for just one shot and was 5 for 12 in the faceoff circle.  I’m not sure why he’s struggling so much as a sophomore, but he wasn’t able to regain his form from early last year yesterday.  Offensively UMass doesn’t get off easy in this game either, generating just 22 shots total and averaging less than a shot for each power play opportunity they had (3 shots on 4 opportunities).

I can’t knock the overall outcome, but this was a pretty disappointing effort from a team that said it was treating this game like a playoff game.  It’s very tough to win in Hockey East without playing all sixty minutes and while you can sometimes steal one while playing forty (i.e. against Lowell) you definitely can’t get anywhere by only playing twenty.  Still, it’s nice to get the point where getting points in Maine was actually plausible considering the team’s record to start the year.  Time for the players to work on their finals, spend time with family, and before you know it they (and I) will be off to the land of cheese.

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Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Chase Langeraap
Nice to see Langeraap get his first goal of the season as he’s been one of the hardest working players in the last month or so for the team.  Honorable mention goes to “Holyoke” Czepiel who was nearly perfect on faceoffs and also ended the game +1.

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Here are the Republican’s Dick Baker’s thoughts on the game.  As well as the game story.

Rachel Lenzi has things from the Black Bear point of view.  She also blogged her game notes.

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Yale remains number one in both the USCHO poll and the USA Hockey/USA Today poll with UNH claiming the #2 spot.  Same goes for the INCH Power Rankings.

UMass’ next opponent, Wisconsin, comes in at #15 in the USCHO poll.

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UMass goes without mention in this week’s Hockey East awards.  Not surprisingly Brian Flynn was named player of the week thanks to his effort against the Minutemen.

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