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Northeastern Recap

Well, after the chief complaint last year and the beginning of this season being that the team did not know how to win in just two weeks they’ve learned how to do so in very different situations.  Last week against Boston College they learned that tough defense and playing smart for all 60 minutes could earn them a win over the best team in the land.  On Friday they learned that that same intensity against a lesser opponent like Holy Cross will allow them to completely dominate.  Yesterday it was a bit of a different lesson.  The team did not play well to begin with, but were rewarded with the win by sticking with it and then not playing on their heels once they were able to gain the lead.  It’s not something you want to see regularly, but it was good to see this team not play as well as they could’ve and still find a way to get the win.

A lot of things worked well for the Minutemen throughout last night.  They generated a ton of shots, 35 total including 16 in the first.  The power play was successful again, going 2 for 5, and likely could’ve done better if not for some excellent goaltending on the part of Chris Rawlings.  UMass’ scoring was opened by a Rocco Carzo goal in the first, his first of the season.  It’s good to see him get on the board.  And UMass got some very solid goaltending from Kevin Boyle, who played as good, if not better, than the first time he played Northeastern.  His 33 saves is a personal high in his young career at UMass and he continues to take advantage of the opportunities given in net.  It was also good to see UMass continue to hammer away at Rawlings through the game.  For whatever reason, Rawlings has had UMass’ number over the years with last night being his first loss to the Minutemen.  UMass moved the puck well but whenever they had a decent scoring chance Rawlings was there to turn them away.  But they kept the pressure up and continued to be smart with the puck and were eventually able to regain the lead thanks to a rebound goal by Mike Pereira and a blistering one-timer from Branden Gracel.  T.J. Syner’s skillful empty net goal from his own blueline put it away.

Despite those positives there are still a lot of things to work on before next weekend and an agitated Toot Cahoon in the postgame press conference stated that it would likely be a tough week of practice.  What concerned me most was the penalty kill.  Northeastern, which came in converting only 5% of their power play chances, went 2 for 4 on the night.  The Huskies have just 4 power play goals all year and three of those have come against the Minutemen.  Statistically the penalty kill is the weakest aspect of this UMass team currently.  On a similar subject, while UMass has reduced the number of penalties taken from the beginning of the season, they seem to take them at the most inopportune times.

Overall, not the prettiest of win but there are no style points in Hockey East so it counts in the standings just the same.  And with those two points UMass now puts themselves ahead of Northeastern and can work towards taking the season series from the Huskies when the teams meet again in February.  The win also puts UMass at .500 overall for the season and in 5th place in Hockey East, tied with next week’s opponents Maine and Lowell.  That in itself should make for another exciting weekend of hockey coming up.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Branden Gracel
Up to Gracel’s one-timer Rawlings and the Huskies were doing a good job of frustrating UMass’ efforts on that particular power play.  But Gracel’s perfectly timed shot off a nice setup by Conor Sheary ended up being the difference maker and solving Rawlings once and for all.  The goal marked Gracel’s first in 7 games.  Gracel accounted in both game winning goals on the weekend, assisting on Steven Guzzo’s game winner on Friday.

Here’s Dick Baker’s recap in the Republican.

If there are any Boston Herald sports editors that happen to read this blog, can we get John Connelly out to the Mullins every weekend?  The Minutemen seem to win when he’s in the building.

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