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Weekend Preview

Northeastern Huskies 3-9-4 (3-6-3) Hockey East 7th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 3-9-3 (2-4-3) Hockey East 8th

The second “half” of the UMass hockey season starts with a key game in what will be a very key stretch for the Minutemen.  The team will spend the month of January playing the teams around them in the standings, Lowell, Vermont, and Northeastern starting Friday night.  It is essential for the Minutemen to get some points against these teams in the bottom half of the Hockey East standings because as soon as the calendar turns to February things get a whole lot tougher.

The Huskies come into the Mullins not having played in 30 days as they were one of the few idle teams without a holiday tournament or non-conference game to play in.  That last game wasn’t too bad however as they lost a tough fought game to BU 5-4 (though BU is struggling mightily these days).  With only three wins on the season, same as UMass, both these teams are likely sizing each other up as teams they can beat. 

Defensively Northeastern has been pretty solid, as you would expect a Greg Cronin team to be.  Their 2.56 goals allowed per game is 4th best in the league.  Goaltender Chris Rawlings has some of the better statistics you’ll ever see from a three win team at this point with a goals against average of 2.44 and a save percentage of .925, 2nd best in the league.  Impressive defensive stats are surprising since Northeastern is playing three freshmen on the blueline in Jamie Oleksiak, Luke Eibler, and Anthony Bitetto.

For UMass to be successful they’ll have to get the puck past Rawlings and keep Wade Macleod and Tyler McNeely off the board.  The two seniors have make up over a third of the total goals scored for the Huskies so far this season and a quarter of all the shots taken.  Shut these two down and there’s a good chance UMass can come away with a victory. 

The Minuteman offense looked much improved in the second game at Wisconsin, though they still struggled to get the puck past the talented Scott Gudmandson.  I would love to see the same top two lines continued over from that game however with Mike Lecomte centering Mike Pereira and Conor Sheary while Branden Gracel was teamed with T.J. Syner and Danny Hobbs.  On paper at least these line combos look the most promising of the year.  It seems like forever since we last watched hockey in the Mullins.  Hopefully the team will be glad to be back at home and can pull even with the Huskies in the standings.

#4 New Hampshire Wildcats 10-3-4 (8-1-2) Hockey East T-1st

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Massachusetts Minutemen 3-9-3 (2-4-3) Hockey East 8th

One of the better teams in the nation will follow the Huskies into the Mullins as UNH rolls into town Saturday to close out the season series with UMass.  The Minutemen at least know they can play with the Wildcats as they almost upset them in November up in Durham, settling instead for a tie.  UMass actually had the lead in that one with just over a minute left but the Wildcats, motivated by what they thought was Pereira showing them up, scored with 42 seconds left to give them at least a point in the standings.

UNH could be a motivated team yet again as they are coming off a bad loss at home to St. Lawrence last weekend.  They’ll start their weekend by hosting Lowell on Friday night.  The Cats are ranked in the top three in the league in offensive scoring, defensive scoring, power play conversion, and penalty kill.  While they’re tied with Boston College for first place, one could argue they’re the best team in Hockey East given they’ve played two less games than the Eagles.

Paul Thompson is tops in Hockey East in points per game with 1.47.  Not far behind him are teammates Phil DeSimone and Mike Sislo.  Blake Kessel is third in the league for points by a defenseman.  In net has been one of the bigger surprises of the hockey season with Matt DiGirolamo emerging as one of better goaltenders in the conference.  He’s currently third in the league in goals against with 2.32 and fourth in save percentage.

In looking back at the near win in mid-November, UMass had a lot of success at even strength.  All three goals came at even strength as the team struggled mightily on the power play, amassing just one shot in five chances.  T.J. Syner and Chase Langeraap were very active with 6 and 4 shots respectively.  It was a two point game for Syner with a goal and an assist.  The star of the game though was Paul Dainton who stopped 43 of 46 shots that night, a career high until he stopped 44 in his subsequent start.  It actually could’ve been a whole lot worse as the Wildcats had another 25 shots blocked, two hit the posts,  and another 19 missed the cage entirely.  To win UMass cannot rely on Dainton to be superman between the pipes.  They’ll have to do a better job of possessing the puck and disrupting UNH on transition and in the defensive zone.  It won’t be easy, but as the Minutemen saw in November and the Saints just showed last weekend, it is possible to beat this team.

Beer The Triangle
Since I haven’t been back to the valley in a month I don’t have any recommendations at this time.  Actually I’m looking forward to walking into the Hangar tomorrow and seeing what’s new on draft.  I’m almost always pleasantly surprised by what pops up in that place.

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A friend told me that Coach Cahoon was one of a few Hockey East coaches at last night’s game between top ranked Malden Catholic and St John’s Prep.

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2 Comments

  1. Gamester

     /  January 7, 2011

    Winter brings longtrail hibernator– will be at the hanger tommorow too!

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    • No Long Trail there now but there are some good ones. I recommend the Dark Horse Black Bier and Anchor Liberty.

      Like

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