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Sizing Up The Freshmen

This was a busy week for the UMass athletic department, what with football media day and such. So it doesn’t look like the shorthanded staff was able to update the hockey roster this week. Originally I was waiting see the final fall roster before starting in on previews but, probably like most of you, I’m chomping at the bit to start thinking about the upcoming season. So without knowing entirely who’s coming and who’s going, let’s start to take a look at this year’s roster. While most of the attention will be spent on the talented and deep sophomore class as well as the core group of returning captains as seniors, the freshmen will have a key role to play in this team’s success. Especially in perhaps the most important position of all, goaltender. So here’s a short introduction to the new players coming onto campus, what they bring to the team, and what holes they may potentially fill.

Forwards

Emerson Auvenshine
Auvenshine is the most recent player to commit to the Minutemen. He has spent the last two seasons with the Bismarck Bobcats of the NAHL, a Midwest junior league that seen as a step below the elite level USHL. With the Bobcats last year he put up 11 goals and 11 assists to go along with 106 PIM. The penalty minutes suggest he plays with grit, which is something that was definitely lacking with last year’s UMass team. The Michigan native seems to be a really hard worker, as Paul Teeple, broadcaster for the Bobcats, wrote about his perseverance in North Dakota that not only saw him make the team but become one of its assistant captains. Auvenshine will likely see some time on the third and fourth lines to help the Minutemen defensively and keep the other teams honest, but it’s always tough to know what to expect from players coming out of a mid-tier league like the NAHL. If he gets significant playing time, it’s likely because he’s working harder than everyone else in practice.

Zack LaRue
If LaRue isn’t seen as the highest profile freshman coming in, he at least is likely to make the most impact offensively. He’s seen as being one a strong skater, well-conditioned, can put up points (33 goals, 36 assists in 50 games with Markham of the OPJHL), and is also a top penalty killer. That description makes him sound a lot like co-captain T.J. Syner. The difference? LaRue is 6’2” and 195lbs. LaRue seems like the type of player who will be able to come in and immediately contribute to the scoring load, which is very important considering the team was 7th in Hockey East in goals, but at the same time able to withstand checks along the boards and maybe hand a few out. I see LaRue likely playing on the top two lines, mixing in with the likes of Syner, Danny Hobbs, Mike Pereira, and Conor Sheary.

Andrew Tegeler
Tegeler should also be able to provide some offensive punch when he hits Amherst in the fall, but for the most part seems like a solid two way player. Playing in the EJHL last year he had 19 goals and 21 assists in 44 games. Six of his goals were game winners which was good for second in the league. On the other side of the puck he ended up a +30. UMass has had good luck with two way players from the Junior Bruins before, such as Alex Berry. While not as big as Berry, it is reported that Tegeler is able to use his 6’1” frame to his advantage. I see the New Jersey native as getting solid minutes on the third line.

Defense

Mike Busillo
As mentioned before, physical play, or lack thereof, was a huge concern for the team last year. Busillo’s addition is another sign that the coaching staff moved quickly to address that deficiency. The 6’2” blueliner had 97 PIM for the Junior Wolfpack of the AJHL last year where he was an All-Star. He also proved to be pretty good with the puck as well, putting up 8 goals and 19 assists on the season. His 27 points led all defensemen on his team. Busillo adds depth to a solid, but young, defensive corp and while he might not be in the lineup every night, I do suspect he’ll play a fair share of games.

Oleg Yevenko
Again, size and toughness has been seen as a major area of concern for this team in recent years. Yevenko addresses both, in a big way. At 6’7 he becomes the tallest player ever for the program and will even have Adam Phillips looking up at him. As for toughness, playing for Fargo of the USHL he averaged just under 4 PIM a game and was second overall in the league. If anything, UMass fans are probably worried Yevenko might be spending too much time in the penalty box and his style of play may end up hurting the team. That remains to be seen. If you believe what Fargo beat writer Ryan S Clark has to say, Yevenko’s style of play will be an asset, even if it did draw multiple suspensions out west. I expect the big Belarusian to be in the lineup every night and having strong words with any opposing player who gets a little too aggressive with Syner, Sheary, or Kevin Czepiel.

Goaltender

Kevin Boyle
Boyle has been committed to UMass for a number of years now, which has allowed fans to get a pretty good feel for what type of player he may be. In fact I even got to see him play in person a couple of seasons ago. Boyle played well in the AJHL for a couple seasons, but last year went far from his home in New Jersey to play in British Columbia under the tutelage of former UMass grad assistant Darren Yopyk. While this couldn’t have been easy I think it was a great move to go against the higher competition of the BCHL. There, his play was, well, inconsistent (I know, I’m a terrible person for saying so). One night he’d get a shutout or give up a goal and the next he’d struggle to stay in the game. But overall he had a decent season going 20-16-1 with a GAA of 3.02 and save percentage of .902. In the playoffs he played even better but unfortunately an injury led to an early exit for him and his team. Still, he played well enough to be named to the BCHL All-Rookie team. With Paul Dainton gone and sophomore Jeff Teglia putting up OK but not great numbers last year the goaltender position is wide open. Boyle probably will be right there competing for the starting job.

Steve Mastalerz
Mastalerz but up stellar numbers for Kimball Union of the New England Prep League, going 24-6-4 with a miniscule 1.81 goals against and .931 save percentage. For all that USHR named him a prep All-Star. UMass has had pretty good success with goaltenders from the prep schools, with Jon Quick and Gabe Winer both coming from that route previously. Mastalerz already has a relationship with UMass goaltending coach Mike Buckley which should help him get acclimated to the school and college level quickly. He was pursued by multiple Hockey East schools before ultimately deciding on UMass. Frankly, the goaltender job is up for grabs. I don’t see any reason why he won’t contend for it.

While not a freshman another player to keep in mind is Stephen Guzzo, who injured his knee on the eve of last year’s opener and ended up being a medical redshirt. While he wasn’t able to skate again until spring, his familiarity with the system and his teammate should give him a step up this fall. Guzzo had 29 goals and 41 assists in 70 games in his last season in the OJHL, but will likely be used more as a defensive player. I expect him to get regular rotation on the 3rd and 4th lines.

So there you have it, your class of 2015. If anything, this class addresses immediate needs the team has to fill to be successful this season. Over the years the Minutemen have gotten smaller, quicker, more skilled. That has been a good thing when you see the production of guys like James Marcou and T.J. Syner. But at the same time strong defensive teams have found ways to limit how much damage those guys can inflict by being overly aggressive and using size to their advantage. That will not happen with this class. The team is bringing on skilled forwards who can score and move the puck, yet are over 6’. On defense UMass got bigger, a lot bigger, and will bring an edge to the squad that has not been seen since perhaps Steve Jacobs suited up for the Minutemen. In goal, the coaching staff have given themselves options. The goaltending situation will be the biggest story of the year. Fans will enjoy following how it progresses, even if it leads to some downright scary situations here and there. Still, if one guy isn’t getting it done in net, there are two others just as capable waiting in the wings. Some of the best goaltending for this squad just may take place during the week at practice as they fight for the top spot.

Nice to see Paul Dainton sign his first pro contract with the team just down the valley, the Springfield Falcons. Dainton did well for them during an ATO (Amateur Tryout) at the end of last season.

Stick tap to the reader who passed along the news that Darren Rowe and Troy Power, along with some other prominent college players such as BU’s Max Nicastro and Denver goaltender Beau Bennett, will be taking on alumni of the LA Kings this weekend. The game is a benefit for the Junior Kings squad, which Rowe, Power, and the other amateur players played for when they were younger. What? No Brad Norton?

Obi Aduba spent his summer playing in Australia.

Reports continue to come out that the Fenway game will be taking place.

Farewell, “Fighting Sioux”. I’m sorry the NCAA couldn’t see the difference between a name that honors and one that demeans (looking at you pro teams in Cleveland and Washington DC).

The selection committee has made a tweak to the common opponent part of the pairwise calculation.

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