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