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Boston College/Merrimack Preview

Massachusetts Minutemen 6-13-4 (5-8-4) 7th Hockey East

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#1 Boston College Eagles 18-6-0 (14-5-0) T-1st Hockey East

February is supposed to be a month for love, candy, and insane margins for flower shop owners.  But for the Minutemen it is judgment month.  Judgment in the sense that UMass fans will be able to see just how this young team has developed over the course of the season and how they stack up against the best teams in the country.  And judgment because how they fare this month may ultimately decide if they make the playoffs.  To kick off judgment month they’ll play their first games of the season against two of the better Hockey East storylines of the year, Boston College and Merrimack.

BC is of course the defending national champions and were picked to repeat by just about everyone after they lost little from last year’s squad and reloaded with another elite recruiting class.  But a funny thing happened on their quest for a repeat, they were downright mediocre for a stretch of the season.  In fact from late-October to mid-November they went 3-4-0 and had a lot of people scratching their heads.  But starting with the Sunday after Thanksgiving they’ve been nearly unstoppable.  They’ve gone 10-1-0 in that time, their one loss being up at Maine, and this past week regained the #1 ranking in the country.

If there is a chink in the Eagles’ armor, I’m not seeing it.  They come into tomorrow’s game with the 2nd best offense in the country and the 8th best power play.  UMass’ penalty kill play was stellar in the month of January.  From New Year’s Eve on they’ve killed 90% of their opponents’ chances and an amazing 97% over the last 7 games.  But they’ll have their work cut out for them trying to shut down a power play unit that is converting at a rate of 22.2%.  Not surprisingly BC is led offensively by Hobey hopeful Cam Atkinson whose 19 goals is second best in the league to UNH’s Paul Thompson.  Also helping Atkinson with the scoring load are fellow juniors Paul Carey and Jimmy Hayes as well as senior Brian Gibbons.  Sophomore defenseman Brian Dumoulin is building off a great freshman and has 16 assists already from the blueline to go with a couple goals.  The UMass defense has definitely improved as the season has progressed, but it remains to be seen how they’ll fare against an elite offense like they’ll see tomorrow.  The important thing is to do what has led them to be successful, good positioning and constant movement.  BC is way to fast to try and chase around the rink but if they get caught with their skates stationary, the Eagles will make them pay.

So BC has arguably the best offense in the land.  Well the bad news is their defense is pretty damn good as well.  In fact they boast the 7th best defense statistically and the top penalty kill nationally, despite injuries to most of their defensive corps at various times of the season.  Unfortunately, they’re all healthy now.  I’m not sure how much the penalty kill matters since UMass seems to be incapable of scoring power play goals anyway.  Especially good so far this season for BC have been the four sophomores of Patch Alber, Patrick Wey, Phillip Samuelsson, and Dumoulin.  Of course behind them is a guy gearing up for another championship in John Muse.  Muse’s boasts the best save percentage in the league and 2nd best goals against.

It’s tough to outline what UMass has to do to beat the best team in the country.  One good thing is that I think UMass is one of the few teams that can match the Eagles in terms of speed.  And they’ll have to use every ounce of speed they have to cycle the puck, get open, and try to catch BC’s defensemen out of position.  Defensively they just have to keep doing what they’re doing.  To pull off the upset Paul Dainton will have to be at the top of his game as he’ll likely still see a lot of shots even if the defense plays well.

Massachusetts Minutemen 6-13-4 (5-8-4) 7th Hockey East

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#12 Merrimack College Warriors 15-5-4 (9-5-3) 4th Hockey East

Merrimack is in the midst their best season ever at the Division I.  Their 15 wins to date is already second best in history next to the 16 they won last season and in 93-94.  Their #12 ranking is the highest ever and if the season ended today the Warriors would secure their first NCAA tournament berth.  And they’ve already proven they can play with the best and beat them, as they took the season series from BC this year.  UMass will not only see a Merrimack team unlike they’ve seen before, but a Lawler Arena unlike they’ve seen before as the school undertook some major renovations over the offseason.

Merrimack has been getting it done one both sides of the puck.  Not many would be surprised that Merrimack has one of the best offenses in the league but they may be surprised to learn that Stephane Da Costa is not the leading goalscorer on the team.  Junior Jesse Todd has scored 13, one more than the sophomore sensation.  Da Costa is by far tops in points on the team however with 32.  Senior Chris Barton and freshman Mike Collins have also shared in the goal scoring for Merrimack.

The Warriors do boast the top defense in the league, allowing just 2.12 goals per game.  They’re led by goaltender Joe Cannata who in his junior year is showing why he came to North Andover with such high praise.  His 2.07 goals against is tops in the league and his win percentage is second only to John Muse.  It impressive that Merrimack has been able to get things done defensively even while relying on a couple freshman blueliners.  Brendan Ellis and Jordan Haywood have joined upperclassmen Adam Ross and Karl Stollery at the top of the team’s +/- list.  Both of Merrimack’s special team units are second in the league to Boston College, so again it’ll be a huge challenge for UMass’ power play and a good gauge of their penalty kill.

Merrimack has lost a few of their more physical players to graduation, so it will be interesting to see if their style of play has changed at all in this first game between the teams this season.  While their defensive stats are similar to BC’s, I think it’ll be more important to try to solve Cannata than trying to get through the defense like against BC the night before.  Hopefully a seemingly new Lawler Arena will help the Minutemen shake off their troubles there as they’ve lost the last three games straight there and four of the last five.

Beer The Triangle
My hope is to finally get to American Craft following tomorrow’s BC game.  That’s the place opened last spring by the same folks who own the Publick House, one of my favorite beer bars in the area.  I haven’t gotten there yet.  However, I have a feeling the streets in Brookline are likely horrible right now, so let’s hope I can just find a place to park.  On Saturday I’m hoping to get over the The Tap/Haverhill Brewery since I wasn’t able to get there before the Lowell game last month.  That’s actually a good thing since they now have one of my favorites available, Snowbound Ale.  Of course there is snow/sleet/thunderhail forecast for Saturday so who knows if I can even get up to North Andover for the game much less have a chance to pregame.  I could have great beers this weekend watching UMass or none at all.  Wish me luck.

I meant to mention this earlier in the week but Mike Pereira was a runner-up for Hockey East Rookie of the Month.

Dick Baker previews the battle of the Shea brothers as Colin takes on Edwin tomorrow night.  He also has a short post on the great season Chase Langeraap is having in his senior year.  I agree, Chase has been extremely valuable.  He got off to a rocky start and it looked like he was on pace for an underwhelming season, but right around the Vermont game before Thanksgiving he started scoring and hitting  in all the key situations and hasn’t looked back since.

Coach Cahoon refuses to give any specific updates on the team’s injuries in this preview from the Collegian.  I would love to see Danny Hobbs back on the ice for this tough weekend.

The BC student paper details their team’s dominance over in-state teams in their preview.

Andrew Merritt of the New England Hockey Journal says it’s make or break time for the freshmen in Hockey East, including UMass’.

Luke DeCock (real name) of the News & Observer tweeted that recruit Kenny Gillespie will be spending next season in the USHL.  Gillespie is currently at Shattuck-St Mary’s in Minnesota.

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7 Comments

  1. Jeff

     /  February 3, 2011

    What no beer?

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  2. Well, to be fair, only one of UMass’s two destinations is beer-worthy. Although I think when Fight Mass invades Merrimack later in the month we might make it our personal mission to find something in North Andover. There’s gotta be SOMETHING.

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  3. Jeff

     /  February 3, 2011

    The good thing about that part of Brookline is there is angled parking that should be far enough off Beacon St.

    I’ve only heard good things about American Craft so it should be great.

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  4. New Merrimack plan: forget the bars, drive to salem, buy a carton of smokes, go to state liquor store, drink out of your trunk.

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