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Polls & Awards

UMass will be taking on the top ranked team in the country Friday night as Boston College takes over the #1 spot in the USCHO poll after Yale’s sweep at the hands of the capital region teams this past weekend.  Merrimack, Saturday’s opponent, checks in at #12.  UNH moves up to #6, BU checks in at #14, and Maine fell to three spots to #15.  BC tops the USA Hockey/USA Today poll as well.

Both of this weekend’s opponents are in the top 10 of the INCH Power Rankings.

No UMass players were award winners or top performers this week, but Chris Rawlings understandably was named Co-Defensive Player of the Week for his performances against the Minutemen.

Dick Baker has an interesting look at Northeastern’s style of play and how it led to their 3 point weekend.  Personally I really enjoy watching the Huskies and the toughness they show.  Coach Greg Cronin certainly has that program heading in the right direction, but in the second half of the season and the future.

The Collegian has a recap of Saturday’s hard fought tie as well as a feature on their bipolar special teams play.

I meant to relay this look by Hockey’s Future on the Sharks minor league system last week.  They have some good things to say about Justin Braun, James Marcou, and Matt Irwin.

The Road Trip page is updated with my Wisconsin recommendations.

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Saturday Recap

Getting just one point from this weekend’s series is pretty close to a worst case scenario for this UMass team.  However, it’s tough to be disappointed with how the team played in last night’s tie 2-2 tie with Northeastern.  The power play continues to be awful and while the faceoffs improved from the night before, they still weren’t where they need to be.  Yet, the team did much better on offense, putting 41 shots on Chris Rawlings, and they did their best to match the physical play of Northeastern, or at least play through it.

I think we’re starting to see the limitations of this team as it’s presently constructed.  They’re very skilled.  They’re very fast.  The defense has been solid and is getting better.  But the lack of grinders (Danny Hobbs’ absence last night did not help things) and lack of a pure sniper makes it near impossible for UMass to take these close games against good defensive teams.  That does not bode well for them next weekend when they travel to take on Boston College and Merrimack, who currently have the top two defenses in the league.  It’s also going to hurt them when they have to finish the season with two games against Maine with who knows what on the line.

The bright spot this weekend was the fact that Vermont and Providence both got swept so UMass was able to pick up one point on those two teams behind them in the standings.  The Minutemen find themselves 4 points ahead of Providence and 5 points ahead of Vermont.  Overall the month of January has to be seen as a lost opportunity however.  Of the eight games played this month seven came against teams in the bottom half of the Hockey East standings, providing an excellent chance to get some points against easier competition than they’ll see in February and solidify their position as a playoff-bound team.  They ended up going 3-3-1 in those seven games with two of those wins coming at the expense of the lowly Lowell River Hawks.  Ahead of them will be three games with Boston College, likely to be the new #1 team in the country with Yale getting swept this weekend, two with #12 Maine, three with #14 Merrimack, one with #16 Boston University, and a game with Providence.  My guess is three wins in those last ten games will secure a playoff spot.  Four wins will likely give them the best chance at holding onto 7th place.  They’ll need to go .500 or better to catch up to Northeastern, who has an equally tough schedule down the stretch.  10 games, 9 against ranked teams, in five weeks.  “Men’s league” indeed.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Mike Pereira
After having a bit lull in scoring from Thanksgiving through the middle of January Pereira is again starting to heat up.  With his goal last night Pereira is just one point behind BU’s Charlie Coyle for top scoring freshmen in the league.

Here’s the recap from the Republican.

And here’s how things looked for the Gazette.

Friday Recap

The book is out on the 2010-11 Minutemen.  It says if you play physical and push them off the puck they’ll be unlikely to adjust their game accordingly and a victory is likely.  We saw this last Friday in Vermont, the first time they faced Northeastern, the two games out in Wisconsin, and the game in Orono to close out the first semester.  It’s unfortunate because those losses against UVM, Northeastern, and Maine all came in games absolutely critical to UMass’ chances to make a move in the standings and each time they’ve come up short.

This is a very talented and skilled team, don’t get me wrong, but they’re lacking a key element to their game.  I think part of it is the pure makeup of the team and the lack of a guy like Scott Crowder or Alex Berry to battle through the clutching and grabbing as well as keep the opposing team honest in their interactions with our smaller guys.  This is obviously a product of recruiting and hopefully will be rectified in future classes.  But I think another part of it is will.  It’s apparent that the team wants to go out and play their game, built upon speed and puck movement and skate circles around their competition.  And against some opponents they can do that.  But it’s obvious that the Northeastern defense is too good to allow such things.  And there’s a good chance they’ll find the same skill level on the blueline with Maine, Boston College, and Boston University.  All teams they’ll be facing shortly.  If UMass wants to be successful in February, they have to figure out how to put their head down and fight through the checks, maintain puck possession entering the offensive zone, and battle for the puck along the boards.  And all that starts tonight in the final game with the Huskies.  If they can’t adjust their game accordingly, February, the shortest month, is going to feel extremely long for the team and us fans.

That’s not to say that didn’t have chances to put goals on the board and even find a way to win last night, despite the first ten minutes of the game which was completely dominated by Northeastern.  UMass came around and had some good scoring chances.  In fact I counted at least three times when UMass had Husky goaltender Chris Rawlings down and out of the play and each time they either missed the open net or had their shot blocked.  This team still has not found a finisher.  No one has yet to step with that killer instinct and bury the puck when the opportunity is before them.  I’m not sure if there is someone like that on the team, even though some of these guys put up huge goal-scoring numbers in juniors, but until they find one they’re going to continue to lose these close defensive contests.

And on that note, I thought the defense played pretty well.  Paul Dainton came up with some big saves early to keep the Huskies off the board and the Minutemen in the game.  Though it really is time to bungee cord him to his own posts as for the second game an easy opponent goal was somehow avoided due to Dainton’s wandering when Northeastern hit a post with him off in the corner somewhere.  There were some key defensive lapses, Doug Kublin’s misplay of a puck he tried to glove which unfortunately led to the first goal being one of them.  But overall the Minutemen fared well against the Northeastern offense and even guys like Darren Rowe and Joel Hanley came up with some huge plays when needed.

Immediate adjustments going into tonight’s game, beyond finding a way to suddenly play physical, are faceoffs and the power play.  UMass got absolutely manhandled in the faceoff circle, winning just 14 of 53 chances.  That’s a 26% success rate for those scoring at home.  In a game where puck possession was already critical with Northeastern continually disrupting entry into the offensive zone, the lack of faceoff success put UMass at a huge disadvantage all night.  That type of performance in the circle frankly cannot happen for them to win.  Same goes for the power play.  Against a team with as tough a defense as Northeastern’s, which also has a guy like Rawlings in net, you can’t manage a meager four shots on four power plays.  The extra man is one of the few ways to crack this good defense and UMass didn’t come anywhere near to a power play goal last night.  In fact they almost gave up a shorthander.  One bright spot on the power play was the return of Adam Phillips whose slapshot adds another weapon.  Hopefully they can put it to better use tonight.

If there was a silver lining to last night it’s that Providence and Vermont both lost, meaning UMass kept their place in the standings relative to those two.  But 6th place is quickly fading into the distance with Northeastern pulling ahead by 5 points and picking up the tiebreaker over UMass with last night’s win.  If the Minutemen have any desire to move up from their current place in the Hockey East standings it begins or ends tonight.  A win and UMass pulls to within striking distance at three points back with two games in hand on the Huskies.  A loss and Northeastern is now 7 points ahead and likely puts UMass in their rearview for the rest of the season.  Is this team going to be satisfied with 7th place finish at best this season?  I would hope not.  But to do any better they need to give it their all and FIND a way to win.  It doesn’t have to be pretty.  It doesn’t have to be dominant.  It just has to be one more goal than the other team.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Conor Allen
I thought this was perhaps Allen’s best game as a Minuteman, playing good overall defense and coming up with some key hits on Husky forwards.  His -1 rating was the result of the Northeastern empty net goal.  All the freshmen on defense have been making good strides with their play on the blue line.

Dick Baker also talks about UMass’ lack of finishers in his game story.

As they have all week, NESN is extremely happy to point out that the Minutemen have yet to beat Chris Rawlings.

The Herald has their recap of the “throttling”.

Keeping An Eye On Joseph Manno

I’ve learned that UMass is interested in South Kent forward Joseph Manno.  The Montreal native has good size at 6’2″, 185lbs.  Manno was listed as a “player to watch” by NHL Central Scouting last fall.  South Kent is where Mike Pereira was playing when he committed to UMass (his last prep season was spent at Avon Old Farms).  Last season Manno played for the Lac St Louis Lions in Quebec.  He also considered playing in the USHL this year before heading to play prep instead.  Unfortunately I can’t track down his stats right now since I’ve let my USHR subscription lapse due to them continuing to raise the prices.

Northeastern has also been looking at Manno and there are rumors that Maine may be interested as well.  Of course in what’s become the norm now, he’s also been drafted by the QMJHL.  In fact he was drafted by the Saint John Sea Dogs which is the same team that grabbed Zack Phillips who had previously committed to UMass and is now tearing up the Q.  Manno is scheduled to take an official visit in the coming months, though he’ll actually be on campus this weekend as South Kent plays a game at the practice rink on Sunday afternoon.

(FTT reader Bob has been nice enough to pass along Manno’s stats so far.  10G 17A in 17 games. Thanks bob!) – mc

Here are some last minute previews for tonight:

WWLP News (with video)

Daily Collegian

Dick Baker blogs about the evolution and importance of “Holyoke” Czepiel.

Northeastern Preview

Northeastern Huskies 7-10-5 (6-7-4) Hockey East 6th

vs

Massachusetts Minutemen 6-12-3 (5-7-3) Hockey East 7th

On March 6th when the regular season is over and UMass looks at their postseason prospects, or lack thereof, I think they’ll be looking back to this weekend’s series against Northeastern and view it as pivotal to where they ultimately ended up.  There will either be regrets from not taking necessary points or pride that their performance against the Huskies improved their standing and gave them some momentum going into what’s going to be a challenging February.  The fact is a sweep will catapult the Minutemen into 6th place or even 5th depending what Merrimack does.  Three points will put them just behind Northeastern for 6th and likely give them some breathing room ahead of 8th place Providence who has to face UNH this weekend.  This is likely the most critical weekend of the season.

Of course, these two teams kicked off the month at the Mullins Center on the 7th in what looked like an excellent opportunity for UMass to gain points as well.  Unfortunately that did not happen and instead Northeastern has played the best hockey of their season ever since, going 4-1-1 starting with the win over the Minutemen.  During those 6 games the Huskies have allowed a measly 1.67 goals per game.  This team is extremely tough to score against, coming into the weekend with the 3rd best defense in the league.  This didn’t seem to be an issue in that first game with UMass quickly jumping out to a two goal lead.  But they then played undisciplined and then they just played poorly and Northeastern ultimately came away with the win in a game that saw them score 3 goals in 38 seconds and three total power play goals.  Those types of mental lapses cannot happen this weekend.  UMass’ penalty kill has played very well in the games since that last meeting, but the easiest way to kill off a penalty is not to take one.  To date they haven’t shown that they’re capable of that.

Besides undisciplined play the other issue that stood out in that first meeting was how easily Northeastern was able to dominate them physically.  So much so that following the game Coach Cahoon said the team was better suited to play in a no-check league than Hockey East.  It will probably benefit the Minutemen to have played Vermont last weekend as they play similarly to Northeastern in terms of being physical.  In fact, it was probably the Catamounts’ hitting and ability to take the puck away that determined last Friday’s contest where they won 2-1.  They didn’t seem to have the same intensity as Saturday and UMass successful used their superior speed and finesse to essentially skate around them and keep the puck off their sticks.

Whatever worked for them Saturday, whether it was a slightly different scheme or different mindset, will have to carryover to this weekend if they want to be successful.  But one additional advantage that UVM did not have will be Chris Rawlings in net.  The sophomore is having a breakout season and comes into the game with the 3rd best goals against and 2nd best save percentage among Hockey East netminders.  UMass saw some vulnerability to his game as they put up three goals, two at even strength, against him in the first 30 minutes of that earlier game.  In addition to solving Rawlings, it is essential to keep Wade Macleod and Tyler McNeely off the board as they’re responsible for most of goal scoring for the Huskies.

There have been some key points to the season so far and as of yet the Minutemen haven’t been able to rise up and take advantage of them.  When they had a chance to pull even in league play heading into winter break they had an extremely lackluster game up in Orono.  When they were up 3-1 against this Husky squad and could’ve opened up this month with two points at home, they folded.  Last weekend they went up to Vermont and outscored them 7-2, but only managed a split.  Maybe it’s youth.  Maybe it’s something else.  But if there’s ever a weekend to change that trend and play big in big games, it’s now.

Beer The Triangle

Northeastern has a considerable lack of good beer bars around it, which is surprising considering it’s in the middle of Boston.  So I’m focusing my attention on Amherst.  Pregame I suggest a trip to the Hangar to partake in an Anchor Liberty, a very sweet yet hoppy ale.  And it is about time to start thinking about filing your taxes, so after the game head down to the Moan and Dove and become friends with the IRS.  Stone’s Imperial Russian Stout to be exact.

Michael Wood of the Collegian has an excellent story on Eric Filiou.  This is one of the best things I’ve read from the Collegian in years.

USCHO has an article about UMass surpassing expectations so far despite their youth.

Last month I relayed the news that next year’s schedule would feature a home game with Yale, a trip to down I-91 to play at Quinnipiac, and a trip to sunny Florida to play in the Everblades College Classic with Maine, Cornell, and Clarkson.  Dick Baker reports that Harvard will visit the Mullins, which is good since they’ve owed us a home game from years and years ago.  He also says that UMass will play at Cornell, but that doesn’t make sense to me.  If UMass is playing in Florida, they would likely be matched up with Cornell since conference matchups would be avoided in the first round of the tournament as would a matchup of the co-hosts, Maine and Cornell.  So I don’t understand how UMass would play Cornell next season if they’ll likely face them in a tournament anyway.  I also would be surprised if basically the entire non-conference slate would come against the ECAC.  Frankly, I don’t get it.

The Mullins Center will be hosting the Western Mass hockey finals this year.

View From Section U: No Marcou, No Wellman, No Problem

When the season started nearly all the pundits agreed that UMass was destined for 9th place in Hockey East (and a couple even said last). Why? Because the team lost 67% of their goal production to graduation or early departure. Losing the likes of James Marcou or Casey Wellman would absolutely cripple this team’s chances to score goals and the team would do horribly. A team dominated by freshman with no senior goalscorers couldn’t possibly make up for those losses, right? Not exactly.

Getting on towards the end of January the team finds itself in 7th place, pretty much where they ended last season (technically they finished in 6th tied with Merrimack who held the tiebreaker). And offensively, this team is on pace to match last season’s offensive production, even without two forwards who at different times last season were talked about as Hobey Baker candidates. Last season the team ended up 7th in the league in overall scoring with 2.92 goals per game. As of now the team overall has scored 2.86 goals per game, good for 6th in the league. In league play only so far the team is actually ahead of last year’s team pace, scoring 2.87 goals per game (5th in Hockey East) compared to 2.67 (8th in Hockey East).

UMass is generating goals this year by getting everyone involved. Last year the top 3 goal scorers accounted for 45% of the team’s total goals. This can be a good thing since it means you have some very talented players on the ice. But it can also be a bad thing. When you have a line or set of players doing the majority of the scoring the opposing team knows exactly who to zero in on while on defense. You also have the other players on the team constantly looking toward the top guys to make the plays instead of trying to do something themselves. This leads to your success being tied to one or two players and you’re frankly screwed if they’re shutdown or go through a patch without much offense. We saw first hand at times with Wellman last year. This year the top 3 goal scorers have accounted for 37% of the goals. And if another team wants to do their best to keep T.J. Syner or Mike Pereira off the board, Conor Sheary, Adam Phillips, or someone else is doing it instead. It really speaks to just how good and deep this freshman class is that they’ve been able to take on the necessary scoring load for the team this season.

Now there is a lot of hockey to play against some very good teams between now and the end of the season and it’ll be interesting to see how these numbers have evolved by the time March rolls around. But I think it’s clear now that all the panicking about how UMass would never find someone to put the puck in the net was a little exaggerated. And for the record this pundit (if I’m qualified enough to call myself a pundit) said in my season preview, “I almost feel like the offense will work itself out…I think guys will step up and pucks will cross the goal line.” And that they have. Now if they can just work on keeping them from crossing their own…

A couple of honors for Paul Dainton today. First he was named one of the 25 finalists for this year’s Hockey Humanitarian award. The award goes to a DI men’s or women’s college hockey player for their work in their surrounding community. Brett Watson and Peter Trovato are former Minutemen who were finalists for the award previously. Dainton was also named UMass Co-athlete of the Week.

Recruit Shane Walsh will have a chance to play outdoors on Monday as his Dubuque Saints will be doing an intrasquad game on the ice at a local park.

North Dakota and UNO are exploring playing a regular season game in Manitoba. They’ll play in the future home of the Winnipeg Jets (I hope). Certainly interesting. Hmm….a road trip up to Montreal to watch UMass play in the Bell Centre would be kinda cool. Pre-gaming on La Rue De St Catherine? S’il vous plait!

Recruit Update; KAEO Alex Kerfoot

Kevin Boyle – G – Westside Warriors (BCHL)
32 GP / 15-15-1 / 3.06 GAA / .902 sv%
Boyle continues to have Jekyll and Hyde weekends, performing well the first night and imploding the next.  This last weekend he picked up a nice win, saving 37 of 40 shots, and then barely made it to the 2nd period the next night allowing 3 goals in this limited time.  Though facing 18 shots in just over 20 minutes of play it doesn’t exactly sound like his defense came to play either.  Boyle also took time last week to visit a local elementary school with teammates

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Shattuck St Mary’s (MN)
33 GP / 9 G / 30 A /  39 Pts / 42 PIM
Gillespie had 7 assists in his last 5 games. 

Zack LaRue – C/F – Markham Waxers (OPJHL)
45 GP / 30 G / 34 A / 64 Pts / 22 PIM
LaRue had 3 assists in his three games this past week.  Here is a good article I found recently regarding LaRue’s committment to UMass and his progression towards become a DI recruit.

Shane Walsh -LW – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
23 GP / 2 G / 5 A / 7 Pts / 8 PIM
Walsh played two games for the Saints this week and was held off the board.

I’ve learned that UMass is interested in Alex Kerfoot a 5’9″ 150lb ’94 forward playing for West Vancouver in the British Columbia Major Midget League.  He is currently leading the league in scoring with 28 goals and 55 assists in 30 games.  He also had a brief stint in the BCHL at the beginning of the season before dropping down to the MML.  He recently scored the game winning goal in the league’s All-Star Game.  He was also named the league’s player of the month for October.

He was a late round WHL (the western equivalent of the OHL or QMJHL) draft pick of the Seattle Thunderbirds.  Here’s what T-Birds blog “A Bird Brain” had to say about him when he attended their training camp this past spring:

“Pleasant surprise. Small but not afraid to battle, Quick, good skater. has a nose for the puck. usually makes the right decision. Hopefully he can get bigger but lack of size hasn’t been a deterrent.”

I have seen another site (which I now cannot find) say that he’d be a good fit for the NCAA. 

Dick Baker had an interesting post about Paul Dainton’s family being able to catch his games up in Vermont, something they haven’t been able to do much.  In fact a lot of the Minutemen from up north, like Branden Gracel and Mike Lecomte, had their families in attendance.  I say the Daintons fly down from the Arctic Circle each game if it’s going to result in a weekend GAA of 1.00.

Puck Daddy had Jon Quick as their #1 Star for his shutout of the Bruins last night.  Quick is already 4th in terms of career shutouts for the Kings with 13.

Justin Braun has been named to the AHL All-Star team as an injury replacement.  He’ll be joining Matt Anderson on the squad.

Dainton Named HEA Defender Of The Week; Polls

Stopping 52 of 54 shots and gaining his second career shutout earned captain Paul Dainton the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week Award.  Danny Hobbs, T.J. Syner, and Conor Sheary were all named Top Performers.

Boston College jumped up to the #2 team in the country with their weekend sweep, behind only Yale in the USCHO rankings.  Amazingly Merrimack dropped just one spot despite losing to Lowell on Friday.  Yale still has all the first place votes in the USA Hockey/USA Today poll.

Nothing too shocking in INCH’s Power Rankings.

The Collegian recapped the Minutemen’s weekend in Vermont.

A few alumni are making the news tonight.

ESPN Boston has a must read article on alum Scott Crowder and the Pond Hockey Championship tournament he has created.

The Bruins are out in L.A. tonight to take on Jon Quick and the Kings.

The Noble and Greenough prep hockey teams will wear special jerseys in their games this Saturday to benefit Peter Trovato’s Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund.

Vermont Recap

While I’m a little frustrated that UMass outscored Vermont 7-2 over the weekend and only picked up two points, you have to admire the way the team came back from a disappointing Friday night to dominate the Catamounts on Saturday.  In the end the weekend can be considered a success as UMass went up to frigid Burlington and came out of The Gutt with two points, the all important tiebreaker over UVM, and kept their spot in the Hockey East standings.

The inability to play physical or finish in close to the net is what sunk the Minutemen’s chances on Friday as they lost 2-1.  The team was able to generate enough shots, outshooting the Cats 29-28, but had very few real scoring chances.  The Catamounts were successfully able to push UMass off the puck and keep them from getting close to any potential rebound chances.  This game reminded me a lot of the Northeastern loss a couple weeks ago where physical play was the difference then as well.  The team didn’t really play badly, but they didn’t do the little things they needed to get a win.  They let in a power play goal to the worst extra man unit in the league and performed very poorly on their own power play, generating just 5 shots on 4 opportunities.  I thought UMass really missed the injured Adam Phillips on the power play this weekend.  Speaking of injuries, the biggest negative of Friday besides the final score was probably the loss of Mike Lecomte to injury.  He’s been a a big sparkplug  since he returned to the lineup at Wisconsin and he was limping pretty badly when he came off.  Hopefully he can bounce back soon.

One of the positives on Friday was the overall defense which played well in front of Paul Dainton.  With Phillips and Mike Marcou still out, Darren Rowe and Anthony Raiola played well in their place both nights.  Rowe’s effort defensively has continued to improve as the season has gone on.  Conor Allen has looked better as he gets more games under his belt as well.  The other big bright spot on Friday was Conor Sheary, who may have had his best game as a Minuteman.  He had the lone goal and came very close at least two other times to gaining another.  Nice to see him look to the net more and more as he gets more comfortable.

The strong defensive play continued into Saturday’s game but unlike the night before UMass was able to leverage their speed and puck skills and overcome UVM’s defense.  The night was filled with some great passing, crashing the net for rebounds, and most of the UMass fans yelling “Get back in net, Paul!”  The skating and motion on offense was the key for the Minutemen.  A few of the goals were created with great passing, specifically Doug Kublin’s pass diagonally through the slot that set up T.J. Syner’s second goal and a truly unselfish pass from Eric Filiou point blank in front of UVM goaltender Rob Madore to set up Mike Pereira.  Hobbs’ goal to get things going was the result of putting home an easy Syner rebound and “Holyoke” Czepiel got his first goal of the season as a result of getting in front of the net and burying a Chase Langeraap rebound.  If UMass wants to be successful against Northeastern next weekend, I think Saturday’s game showed them how to do it.  Just as the Huskies physical play was too much for the Minutemen to handle a couple weeks ago, so was Vermont’s on Friday.  By adjusting their style of play to stress their skill sets and doing what they could along the boards, they not only won this critical game, but they embarrassed the Catamounts at home.

Paul Dainton did a great job in net to get just the second shutout of his career, the last being a scoreless tie at Cornell as a freshman.  He wasn’t tested too much, facing only 26 shots, but he had to throw the pads around to make a few of them and worked hard to keep the Cats off the board.  His work in the crease was stellar and most UMass fans were hoping he’d stay there since he was doing such great work.  But he didn’t.  Now Dainton has always had a nose to play the puck in the corners, but last night he was wandering much more than normal.  By my count he got knocked down twice inadvertently while behind the net and one of those resulted in a shot that went through the crease and out by UVM.  That would’ve been a tough way to lose a shutout.  Whatever works for him though.  He’s great at playing the puck and it’s tough to argue with a shutout.

UMass has now won 3 of the last 4, all against teams below them in the standings, and maintained their four point lead, plus the tiebreaker, over UVM who sits in 9th and out of the playoff race.  Northeastern picked up a key point at home against Maine to put themselves three points ahead of the Minutemen.  If UMass wants to continue their climb up the standings they’ll have an excellent chance this coming weekend.  Hopefully what they learned last night in Burlington will give them the tools to make the most of the home and home with Northeastern.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Friday) – Conor Sheary
A bounce here, a bounce there and Sheary almost single-handedly beat the Catamounts on Friday.  With an assist last night as well Sheary now has points in five of his last six games.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Saturday) – Doug Kublin
It’s really tough to pick just one guy who stood out from last night’s game.  You had Danny Hobbs with a multipoint night.  Syner had two goals.  And of course Paul Dainton gained only his second ever shutout.  But I’m giving it to someone who doesn’t really get a chance to be honored very much.  Top notch defensive defensemen never get the recognition they deserve and Kublin has been just that ever since he set foot on campus.  I was actually considering naming him my POTG for his work on Friday, but when he had a career game on Saturday that made the decision for me.  Kublin was on the ice for all five of UMass’ even strength goals, had two assists including that great setup for Syner’s goal, plus he did everything he needed to do on the defensive end, as always.

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Just a quick Beer The Triangle recap.  Every time I visit Vermont I’m reminded that this sparsely populated state is a mecca of beer and I would rank them up there with California, Oregon, and Massachusetts when it comes to quality beer production.  I was lucky enough to enjoy all the beers and beer places I wanted, plus some.  I had an interesting flemish sour at Vermont Pub and Brewery.  I was able to find pints of both Switchback’s Ale and Porter.  I finally got to spend some quality time at American Flatbread enjoying the pizza and their Zero Gravity Brewing.  They had a wonderful selection of beers there, most of them german styles.  Their marzen was the best I ever tried of that style.  Of course I made a pilgrimage to the Alchemist and was even able to make the Fight Mass guys fans of the place.  Their Crusher (double IPA) and Double Twubble (belgian winter warmer) were spectacular as expected.  But the star of the show was Pappy Secret Stash, a vanilla milk porter.  It tasted great and was unlike anything I’ve had before.

While those places were all familiar, I did check out the Farmhouse Tap and Grill which just opened up last summer.  This beer bar is very pricey, but had a great selection of beer.  I’ll also always remember now as the place where I first had Hill Farmstead beer.  Hill Farmstead, also recommended by a readers, is a relatively new Vermont brewery and I found them to be much in the style of Jolly Pumpkin, which I raved about when visiting Michigan last fall.  If I tried to describe how good their Edward was, I would fail.  Just try it.  You’ll love it.

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Dick Baker has recap of Friday’s game as well as Saturday’s big win.

Here are how things looked from the Burlington Free Press’ point of view for Friday’s win and the drubbing they took last night.

Also be sure to check out the recaps at The Gut, a Vermont blog that started up this season.  I had the chance to meet the authors last night and as I told them at the time it’s great to see UVM with some presence in the world of college hockey blogs.  Vermont has excellent tradition, diehard fans, and of course a great hockey barn so I’m happy to see these guys dedicating themselves to helping others follow their program.  And they’re doing a good job doing it.

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NESN is alreadying starting to hype this Friday’s televised game against Northeastern.

Vermont Preview

Massachusetts Minutemen

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Vermont Catamounts

(Apologies for a more abbreviated preview than I had planned but the incoming snow storm has changed my travel plans and I’m now leaving for Burlington ASAP.  Like as soon as I finish typing)

UMass comes into this pivotal weekend series with Vermont with a bit of momentum after a sweep of Lowell.  While it wasn’t exactly pretty, it was what was needed.  Vermont showed some signs of life last weekend with a split against Northeastern in Boston to pick up just their second conference win of the season.  Their only other win in Hockey East came back in mid-November against BC.  However, their split over the revitalized Huskies isn’t the news around campus today, it’s the loss of their leading scorer.

Wahsontiio Stacey, no longer motivated to play hockey, announced he is quitting the team but staying in school this week leaving the Catamounts having to replace someone who has scored over 1/5th of their total goals.  This will put a lot more pressure on sophomores Sebastian Stalberg and Chris McCarthy and senior Jack Downing.  Those three players have put up 5 goals each on the season compared with Stacey’s 9.  Talented freshman Connor Brickley is the only other Catamount to have more than two.  On paper the loss of Stacey is a devastating blow for a team scoring 2.1 goals a game, just barely above Lowell for last in the league.  Yet, stranger things have happened and riding emotion Vermont could find a way to turn this despair into motivation.

Defensively Vermont is in much better shape.  Rob Madore had one of the best weekends of his season stopping 70 of 73 shots against the Huskies and being named Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week.  For the year he’s been able to battle back and get his goals against average below 3.00 and his save percentage above .900 recently.  He’ll likely be looking for revenge from when UMass scored four times against him in November. 

Looking back at that win over UVM before Thanksgiving that was really one of the first games where UMass really had their penalty kill working, holding the Catamounts off the board in their five attempts with the extra man.  UMass of course comes into the weekend on a great penalty kill streak and better overall penalty kill play going back to the trip to Wisconsin.  The power play has improved a bit as of late as well which is good considering Vermont’s penalty kill is dead last in the league at 75.2%.

What really turned things around in the win over Vermont was aggressive play.  UMass was outshot 13-5 in the first but came away with the game scoreless thanks to some outstanding goaltending by Paul Dainton.  In the second they came out with a very concerted effort on the forecheck, led by T.J. Syner’s play especially, and scored 3 goals in the first 8 minutes.  UMass also dominated in the faceoff circle that game, winning 38 and losing 24.  Rocco Carzo led the way winning 8 of his 11 opportunities. 

UMass must improve on their puck possession compared to what they displayed in that game.  In the end, despite an excellent second period, they were still outshot 45-25 on the game.  Obviously you can’t count on Dainton to make 44 saves, especially in the tough environment that is Gutterson Field House.  And, in what’s becoming a recurring theme, they have to stay out of the box.  It’s nice that they killed five UVM power plays, but it’s a lot easier to kill just two or three.  One guy I’d love to see have a big weekend is Mike Pereira.  Pereira scored 7 goals in the first 9 games of the season, including two in that Vermont game.  In the nine games since he has only scored one. 

This weekend is a big one.  Vermont is four points behind UMass and out of the playoffs as of now.  UMass is in 7th place and if they want to reach Northeastern, four points ahead, they need points desperately against the teams below them in the standings.  So the results of this weekend could be a springboard towards the middle of the league standings or a drag back towards the realm of no playoffs.  Let’s hope they don’t travel all that way just for the latter.

Beer The Triangle
I’ve been looking forward to this road trip all season.  I don’t know if there’s a state out there that gets me salivating more for their beer than Vermont.  And I’ve tried just about every brewery and brewpub there from the Mass state line to Quebec, from the extreme goodness of Rock Art to the hidden gem of the Bobcat Cafe.  In Burlington itself there are two brewpubs that I am planning on hitting.  Luckily, they’re mere feet from each other right downtown.  First is the Vermont Pub and Brewery, a typical brewpub catering to one and all.  They have a very nice patio which I doubt will see much action this weekend.  I’ve liked their Dog Bite Bitter in the past and their smoked porter comes very highly rated, but I’m looking to see what kind of winterish beers they currently have on tap.

Not too far away is American Flatbread which is the home to Zero Gravity Brewing.  I’ve only visited this place once before but have always vowed to return to have some more beer as well as the flatbreads which looked excellent but I didn’t try previously.  It’s been too long for me to remember exactly what I had, but I remember them being good.  Looks like they have a highly rated extra stout that I’ll be on the lookout for.  While in Burlington it’s also work keeping an eye out for Switchback, a locally brewed beer that is tough to find any further south than White River Junction.

The place that I will make sure to get to, games, snow, and time be damned, is The Alchemist.  This is one of my favorite brewpubs ever and maybe tops in all of New England.  It’s actually not in Burlington, but about a half hour south in Waterbury.  Waterbury is better known as the home to Ben & Jerrys, but who needs ice cream when you have beer this good.  Their Holy Cow IPA is one of the best on the East Coast and in looking at their website they have a host of saisons, imperial stouts, and porters to try.  I wonder how many growlers I can legally take across state lines?

Dick Baker looks back to when Brian Regan, subject of yesterday’s column,  faced off against some Catamount goaltender named Tim Thomas.

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