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View From Section U: Surprises, Worries, and As Expected

UMass is almost a third of the way through their regular season so I thought it’d be a good time to get an early read on how things are going so far for the Minuteman squad.  I’ve broken it out into what I’m surprised about so far, what worries me going forward, and what has transpired as I expected.

Surprises

–  Pulling off perhaps the biggest upset of the young season in college hockey has been the most surprising thing so far.  I think even if the team had gotten off to a very good start not many people would’ve thought the Minutemen had a chance against the top ranked Eagles a couple weekends ago.  Given the fact that UMass struggled early to get wins and had been trounced by UNH 7-3 the night before, I can pretty much guarantee no one expected UMass to get the win that night.  But the fact that it was completely unexpected is what made the game so enjoyable.  The fact that UMass played such a complete game and was able to shutdown such a good Eagle offense gives fans hope for the rest of the season.  And just as good as the win itself is the fact that UMass has not lost to the momentum gained in the victory, taking both of their games since then.

–  Last year’s power play was horrendous.  Not only was it painful to watch but it was completely ineffective, converting at a 12.5% rate which was 5th worst in all of college hockey.  So far UMass has raised that rate over 10 points to 22.8%, tied with BC for third best among Hockey East teams.  As I mentioned last week, this change is driven by three things;  a greater awareness strategically to cycle the puck low and then into the slot, players crashing the net before and after shots, and much improved execution in terms of passing that’s allowing for more scoring chances.  The power play has helped spur the offense as a whole as UMass has raised their scoring by a whole goal over last year.

–  While I was more than happy to add his size to the roster, I wasn’t sure what to make of Oleg Yevenko when he signed on to be a Minuteman.  It’s always nice to add a redwood tree to the blueline, but his penalties and suspensions in the USHL made me concerned.  Fast forward to the first game of the year and Yevenko takes two penalties, one of which leads to a Northeastern power play goal.  But since that time he has improved greatly.  He has only had three other penalties on the season and is really starting to come around defensively.  Plus, he came up big and scored the gamewinner over BC.

Worries

–  Danny Hobbs missed the first weekend of play but came out that next week and dominated, scoring two goals and adding another two assists.  In the seven games since though he’s only had two assists, both coming in the same game.  Of course there was a lot of grumbling when Toot split up the HoPS (Hobbs/Syner/Pereira) line earlier in the season.  It’s tough to argue that was a bad move now as the team is beginning to win and UMass has been cranking offensively.  But Hobbs seems to be having a tough time adjusting to the different linemates since the switch.  After the spectacular season he had last year, it’s tough to watch him struggling to get points recently.

–  I had hoped for a little more production from the freshmen forwards at this point.  Taking out Steven Guzzo, who is really a redshirt sophomore, the freshmen forwards of Emerson Auvenshine, Zack LaRue, and Andrew Tegeler have only accounted for one goal and two assists total.  After starting the first five games of the season Auvenshine has only played in one of the last four.  LaRue had 33 goals in 50 games in the juniors last season but hasn’t been able to find the scoring touch in Amherst.  Tegeler got off to a good start, scoring a goal against BC in practically his first shift.  But he has only seen the ice for two games total.  This is a fairly deep UMass team so it’s tough for these guys to get playing time or play on the top lines but hopefully they’ll be able to contribute more by season’s end.

–  While the power play has completely turned things around from last year the penalty kill is still hurting.  In fact it’s gotten worse.  UMass fended off power play goals at a 77.8% clip last year.  This year that has dropped to 73.9%, second last in the conference.  Granted UMass has played a number of games against teams with decent power plays like BC and UNH, but at the same time Northeastern has just four extra man goals on the season and the Minutemen have given them three of those.  The kill will have to get better as the team gets deeper into conference play next spring.  Otherwise their new found offense will find them losing a lot of 5-4 or 4-3 games at that time.

As Expected

–  T.J. Syner is one of the best players to put on the maroon and white.  Ever.  After putting up 27 points last year he’s on pace to total 48 points this year.  48.  That’s the same as guys like James Marcou or Casey Wellman put up when they were Minutemen, but Syner doesn’t seem to get nearly as much recognition as them.  In addition to just pure production, he’s a smart player.  The extra pass.  The backcheck to breakup the opponent’s rush.  He does all these things.  Admire his speed and skill while you can UMass fans, because players like him don’t come around very often.

–  If you look at the Hockey East stats page for goalscorers you see a lot of the names at the top of the list where Mike Pereira is have initials next to their names signifying which NHL team drafted them.  There are no initials next to Pereira’s name because the pro teams passed on him not once, but twice.  Well he’s putting the puck in the net as much as BU’s Matt Nieto and Corey Trivino or BC’s Billy Arnold or Chris Kreider, all considered top NHL prospects.  With his seven goals Pereira is already more than half way to matching last year’s total and it’s only mid-November.

–  With the amount of playing time and all their contributions last year I thought that last season’s freshmen would be able to avoid any kind of sophomore slump.  So far that has been true.  Pereira, Conor Sheary, and Branden Gracel have built upon their strong freshman campaigns and are all integral parts of the Minutemen offense.  Troy Power is making solid contributions every game and has 5 points in 8 games so far.  Guys like Peter DeAngelo and Eric Filiou who played very small roles on last year’s team have made very noticeable strides forward in their games so far in their second season.  The core of the defense is made up of Conor Allen, Colin Shea, Adam Phillips, and Joel Hanley, all of whom have been making impact on both sides of the puck.

Toot clarified his thoughts on the goaltending situation on last night’s radio show.  Some have speculated that Jeff Teglia’s lack of starts has been because he’s in the doghouse or has lost his shot at the rotation.  Not the case says Toot.  The coach says he realizes at some point he’ll have to decide his rotation in net and still isn’t sure if that means going with one or two guys.  To make that decision he wants to make sure he has the understanding he needs.  He said that Teglia is more of a known quantity to him than the two freshmen so he’s been playing them more to better evaluate their place on the team.  With that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Teglia in net at some point this weekend.

Dick Baker takes a look a the struggling Black Bears who come into the Mullins Friday.

UMass is moving up in College Hockey News’ Hockey East Power Rankings.

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2 Comments

  1. Puck Pagan

     /  November 17, 2011

    The NHL’S knock against Pereira is that he is not strong enough. I have been told this by a few scouts. IMO if he were built like Hobb’s he would have been drafted.

    Like

  2. Gamester

     /  November 17, 2011

    Can’t say enough good things about Syner. I’m also digging Conor Sheary, he has shown flashes of a dynamic playmaker–

    Like

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