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!