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.

Recruit Update

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 2012
10 GP / 1 G / 2 A / 3 Pts / 21 PIM / +0
Gillespie had an assist in three games for the lancers this past week.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
9 GP / 1 G / 1 A / 2 Pts / 9 PIM
Smith was kept off the board in a couple games for the Pics this week.

Shane Walsh – LW – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) -2012
13 GP / 4 G / 4 A / 8 Pts / 0 PIM / -1
Walsh finally cooled off a bit this week relative to the previous three or four weeks, accounting for just one assist in a couple games.

Conor Allen was a runner-up for INCH’s National Player of the Week.

The Collegian takes a look at the improved Minuteman offense this year.

College Hockey News’ Joe Meloni says this Saturday’s game between UMass and Lowell is huge.

Meloni also mentions T.J. Syner’s recent performance in this blog post.

Awards & Polls; Allen Named Hockey East Player of the Week

After a weekend that saw Conor Allen tally four points and become just the third UMass defenseman to ever record a hat trick, he was honored today by being named Hockey East’s Player of the Week today.  Kevin Boyle, Mike Pereira, Conor Sheary, and T.J. Syner were all named Top Performers while Peter DeAngelo and Steve Mastalerz were mentioned for their milestones.  Lowell, one of UMass opponents this weekend, was named Team of the Week.

Locally, Mike Pereira was named UMass Athlete of the Week.

Despite being the only undefeated team in the country and receiving the most first place votes, Merrimack still finds themselves behind #1 Minnesota in the USCHO poll.  After getting utterly dominated yesterday afternoon by Boston University, Boston College drops a spot to #3.  BU remains at #16.

Merrimack also comes up short despite more first place votes in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll.

Here’s the Collegian’s recap of the weekend.

Friday’s opponent, Maine, held a players only meeting after getting swept at home this past weekend.  Maine fans will argue that any activity that doesn’t involve the Maine coaching staff will only make things better.

USCHO asks if the Black Bears are at a crossroads.

Time is running out for Fear The Triangle readers to buy discounted tickets for this Wednesday’s Springfield Falcons game against the Worcester Sharks.

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.

Holy Cross Recap

Despite the worries of fans and local sportswriters trying to jinx them, there was no letdown after topping #1 Boston College last week and UMass came out and waxed Holy Cross, 7-2.  Except for faceoffs, UMass was by far the superior team in all aspects of the game; scoring, shots, penalty kill, power play, goaltending.  The Minutemen dominated the game so thoroughly it’s tough to understand how this Crusader squad beat Boston University just a few weeks ago, something UMass could not do.  If the schedule is going to be filled with Atlantic Hockey foes, last night was exactly the type of game you would hope for.  It allowed for some players to play that had been sitting a few games, gave pretty much everyone involved some confidence going into tonight’s league game, and was even filled with a number of personal milestores for Minuteman players.

The biggest milestone was Conor Allen’s hat trick.  Allen becomes just the third defenseman to record three goals in a game with the others being Thomas Pöck and Marvin Degon.  Unfortunately he wasn’t able to have the achievement recognized at the time because it wasn’t until after the game that the scoring was changed on the second goal of the game from Steve Guzzo to Allen.  Not that I’ve ever seen a hat thrown in celebration of a hat trick in the history of the Mullins Center, but it is too bad he couldn’t have heard the cheers when it was announced. 

Next up for milestones was the first win for Steve Mastalerz’s career.  He looked to be fighting the puck early, perhaps still trying to settle in after a rough outing last week.  It didn’t help that the first period was the most active for the Crusaders who had 12 shots on net with 9 coming on the power play.  But eventually Mastalerz played better as the game went along and the defense in front of him really started the stifle the Holy Cross offense, carrying over the strong defensive play we saw last week against BC.  I had hoped to see Mastalerz in net because I thought it would provide him the best opportunity to get back on the ice and forget about what happened last week.  It was good to see that’s what happened and now he has something to build off of for future starts.

The last milestone was the first career goal for Peter DeAngelo.  DeAngelo, like Eric Filiou, has really improved his game from last yera and is making an impact on the outcome of games when he gets in there.  Not only did he get his goal but he also had a nice open ice hit on a Crusader, sending him to the ice.  Not bad for a guy who stands just 5’7″.  Obviously when you put up 7 goals on the board, pretty much everyone in uniform had a good night.  But here are a few who really stood out.  Oleg Yevenko continues to play well.  He played some very smart defense and even contributed offensively on a nice down ice pass that setup the first goal of the game by Mike Pereira.  Conor Sheary had three assists last night and now is one point behind T.J. Syner for the team lead in points.  Steven Guzzo now has three goals in his last four games.  His line with DeAngelo and Rocco Carzo had some of the best shifts of the night.  It was good to see Mike Marcou return from injury with a goal and an assist on the night.  Zack LaRue got his first career point and Eddie Olczyk got his first point of the season on DeAngelo’s goal.

It was great to see the momentum carry over from last weekend and for the team to finally go out and not only beat a team, but not let up halfway through.  UMass did seem to play conservatively in the second after going up 6-1 and when Holy Cross scored their second goal you were worried about what could happen in the third.  Instead UMass came out and completely controlled play.  They outshot the Crusaders 16-5 that period and Allen’s goal five minutes in killed any chance of a late Holy Cross run.  I never want UMass to go out and embarass other teams, but at the same time I don’t want to see them just go out and go through the motions because they’re up big.  If teams get blown out because this team keeps playing with intensity, so be it.

Tonight should be a good one.  UMass hosts the Northeastern Huskies who they’re currently tied with in 7th place.  It would be great to keep this little win steak alive while taking some key points from a foe near them in the standings.  Though they still only have one win, the Huskies will present a tougher challenge than Holy Cross.  Northeastern lost a heartbreaker last night as they gave up the game-winning goal to Boston College with under three seconds left in regulation.  Hopefully UMass can send them home disappointed again.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Conor Allen
Hat trick, 6 shots on net, +2.  Tough to go with anyone else.  And I continue to enjoy the toughness he’s bringing to his game.  It may land him in the penalty box every now and then, but his physical play goes a long way to intimidate opponents.

Here’s the recap from the Republican.

Toot says the game was fun for the players in the Gazette’s game story.  Believe me, it was a lot of fun for the players too.

Speaking of fun.  After the enjoyment that was the 7-2 beatdown it was a great opportunity to head over to the Cage to watch the basketball opener.  My freshman year at UMass was the first full year of the Mullins Center (also the first year of the return of hockey) so I never got to experience a UMass game in the hallowed arena where Julius Erving once played.  Not only was it great to see the environment in there, but the basketball team played very well while cruising to a win over Elon.  If you can get to some basketball games this year, let me tell you that redshift freshman point guard Chaz Williams is well worth the price of admission.

Good news everybody.  After USCHO’s Atlantic Hockey writer picked Holy Cross to win last night, I’m happy to report that both Hockey East writers are picking UMass to fall to Northeastern at home tonight.

Holy Cross & Northeastern Preview

Holy Cross Crusaders 3-3-0 (2-2-0)   Atlantic Hockey T-4th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 2-4-2 (1-4-2)  Hockey East T-7th

First things first, remember that this game starts at 6pm to give UMass fans the opportunity to catch the basketball team’s season opener over at the Cage at 9pm.  While the hoops team will be playing their first non-conference game of the season against Elon tomorrow, it’s weird to think that the hockey team will only be playing their second.  But with the Hockey East schedule continuing to creep up into early fall, that’s exactly what will happen when the Minutemen welcome the Crusaders of Holy Cross.

Holy Cross is a bit of a mystery team.  They lost to UConn, but beat BU.  They’re second in Atlantic Hockey in offense, but at only 2.60 goals a game.  They have the best power play conversion in the country at 32.1% but have the second fewest opportunities in their conference.  They’ve played just one home game thus far and obviously have to travel to Amherst tomorrow.  They’ve struggled a bit at the goaltender position but continue to ride a freshman goaltender.

That goaltender is Matt Ginn, who has started 5 of their 6 games.  On the season he’s 2-3-0 with a 3.22 goals against and a .887.  Those wins have come against an unlikely pair of teams, AIC and BU.  His stats are not horrible, but you have to wonder if perhaps junior Thomas Tysowsky will get the start instead.  On offense the Minutemen will have to look out Adam Schmidt who has a team leading 3 goals and has accounted for 1 out of every 7 Holy Cross shots.  Brandon Nunn, Rob Linsmayer, and Shane Stockton also have multiple goals for the Crusaders.

For UMass I think it’s just important to try to carry over the concentration and confidence that they showed in Saturday’s win against Boston College.  Hopefully the fact that this team has done something that the Minutemen couldn’t do, beat BU, will ensure that they don’t take them lightly just because they happen to be an Atlantic Hockey team.  If UMass is the better conditioned team, they should win if the game is close as Holy Cross is being outscored 10 to 3 in the third period.  I’d like to see the same defensive execution and intensity seen on Saturday as that aspect has to continue to get better if UMass is going to try to turn the corner on this season.  Since this is a non-conference game it could be an opportunity to try out some new line combinations or get some of the younger players in there for the same game to see how they perform together.  In net, I think this is a perfect game to start Steve Mastalerz.  It’ll allow him to get back on the ice quickly after getting roughed up last week in Durham, but to do so at home against a no-pressure opponent.  But I don’t think I’ve been able to correctly guess which goaltender has been in net once this year, so expect to see someone else.

Northeastern Huskies 1-5-2 (1-5-3) Hockey East T-7th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 2-4-2 (1-4-2) Hockey East T-7th

When these teams met on opening night and Northeastern clawed back to gain a tie against the Minutemen some people remarked that maybe this Husky team would be better than expected despite all their departures.  Two games later when they blanked New Hampshire 4-0 people said they were better off without former coach Greg Cronin.  Well since that night the Huskies have gone 0-4-1 and they find themselves in 7th place despite playing the most Hockey East games to date.  However, that’s not to say the Huskies have made things easy for opponents.  Just ask Merrimack who had to go to overtime both nights against NU to get their three points last weekend.

The Huskies’ biggest problem has been offense.  Consider this fact, half of Northeastern’s power play goals have come against the Minutemen this season.  And they only scored one in that first game between the teams.  Yes, NU has gone just 2 for 39 on the extra man advantage for a meager 5.1%.  A night after playing against the best power play in the country in Holy Cross’ the Minutemen will play against the 5th worst.  They haven’t been much better at even strength either.  All in all the Huskies are putting up just 2.38 goals a game, 2nd worst among Hockey East teams.   The player that UMass should always know where he is on the ice on Saturday is Justin Daniels.  Daniels has accounted for 5 of NU’s 19 goals and put up 2 against the Minutemen in October.  Beyond him the team will have to keep an eye on Vinny Saponari who has six assists to go with a goal this season and Mike McLaughlin who has three goals so far.

Junior goaltender Chris Rawlings has had a couple bad games but overall has been pretty solid and comes into the game with a sub-3.00 goals against average and the second best save percentage in the league at .918.  There could be a chance UMass could see Clay Witt on Saturday as Rawlings has started all but one game so far this season and will likely be worked hard when the Huskies play at BC tomorrow.  In front of the goalies it sounds like Northeastern has gotten some decent play from some of their young defensemen like Josh Mason and Luke Eibler.

You’ll remember that when these teams met UMass basically had the two points in their hands until some bad penalties, sloppy play, and a missed chance to clear the puck allowed the Huskies to tie it with two seconds left.  Between the point that T.J. Syner scored UMass’ final goal with 16 minutes left in the second to the end of regulation UMass took 6 penalties, including a 10 minute misconduct by Pat Kiley.  Amazingly Northeastern couldn’t convert on those power play chances, but being down a man made it near impossible for UMass to generate the pressure needed to get some insurance goals.  UMass has gotten much better in terms of penalties taken in recent games and will need to keep that up.  UMass didn’t do themselves any favors when they had the extra man either, going just one for six on the night.  This is an opportunity for them to get some good power play production against a Northeastern team that’s good, but not great, on the penalty kill.  Lastly I hope that UMass can really get fired up for this game.  First off, it’s important to get these points, especially against Northeastern.  These teams are currently tied and in addition to getting ahead of them in the standings, a win is desired for future tiebreaker reasons.  Lastly, the team pretty much blew it on St Botolph Street to open the season and handed a point away.  I hope they’re still mad for doing so and are going to make sure they give away any at home on Saturday.

Beer The Triangle
Except for one year I lived in the valley from 1993 until 2006.  Many of those years were spent living in Franklin County in Sunderland and South Deerfield.  And in that time I’ve really admired the beer put out by People’s Pint up in Greenfield.  Yet I’ve never actually been to the brewpub itself.  I hope to rectify this glaring oversight sometime this weekend.

USCHO is picking the Minutemen to lose at home to Holy Cross this weekend.

The New England Hockey Journal explores the two big upsets in Hockey East last weekend.  Of course the author still ranks UMass 9th in his power rankings.  Must be a BU alum or something.

Steve Guzzo gets some love from his hometown paper for his big goal last weekend.

Oleg Yevenko shared the UMass Athlete of the Week honors with Julie Morrissey of the women’s soccer team.  It was too bad the soccer team fell just short of capturing the Atlantic 10 championship, but congrats to them on a great season.

The Stanford student paper makes a very smart argument for Pac-12 hockey.

Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day and I just want to thank all of those who have served our glorious country.  It’s also a good time to think about helping the children of those who have given the ultimate sacrifice through former Minuteman Peter Trovato’s Massachusetts Soldiers Legacy Fund.

View From Section U: FTT Mailbag

For a couple reasons, I decided to do something a little different for my weekly Wednesday feature and answer some reader questions.  First, I enjoy the interactions with readers and reading their insight and opinion.  And secondly, I couldn’t think of anything to write about this week.  So earlier today I asked fans on the Fear The Triangle Facebook page to submit their questions about UMass hockey or the blog and I would answer them to the best of my ability.  So here we go:

Carson asks:  “What are your thoughts on the goaltending situation thus far?”

In some ways it’s going how I expected, in that it’s wildly inconsistent.  From one game to the next, one period to the next, you’re not exactly sure what you’re going to get out of the position.  Given that two of the goaltenders are freshman and the other only had limited experience, that’s not a surprise.  And that inconsistency is something that I think will lessen as the goaltenders get more games under their belts.  What has been a surprise is the rotation so far.  Obviously Steve Mastalerz getting injured threw a monkey wrench in having them all basically “tryout” for the first part of the season.  But I’m surprised that Jeff Teglia has seen so little time and Kevin Boyle has seen so much.  Boyle has the two wins for the team with one of them coming against top ranked Boston College, so he has had some success when he’s gotten out there.  But he also had a dreadful game at Providence and picked up the loss at UNH despite only being in there for four shots.  Teglia on the other hand has two losses in two games but those games came at BC and Boston University and he played very well against the Eagles and I heard was not to blame for the collapse in the other game.  He also has the best save percentage on the team as well.  I’d definitely like to see Tegs get some more time in net in the next few games.

Carson also asks:  “How do you feel about Eric Filiou centering the line with T.J. Syner and Conor Sheary on it?”

When looking at the roster, I feel that five of the six spots on the top lines are rock solid in Syner, Sheary, Danny Hobbs, Mike Pereira, and Branden Gracel.  But that other center spot seems to be up for grabs to whoever wants it most.  Filiou has improved his game a lot from last year when he made little impact on the outcome of games.  He’s beginning to show the intelligence and vision that contributed to some very successful seasons in the juniors.  But that said, he hasn’t really produced playing with those top players yet.  He has just one point on the season, an assist on Syner’s goal that opened the UNH game.  I think we may see that spot as a revolving door for a bit with both Kevin Czepiel and Steve Guzzo getting a shot at playing with those guys as well.  Filiou is starting to find his place on this team but I’m not yet convinced it’s on the top two lines.  That said, all the lines are fluid and I believe Toot even had Filiou with Hobbs and Pereira against BC.

Matt asks:  “What do you think of, as of next year, being the only HE team without a drafted player? Is this indicative of lackluster recruiting?”

This one is probably going to require a long answer.  First off, it’s not set in stone that UMass won’t have a drafted player next year as Kenny Gillespie has been mentioned as a NHL prospect.  Also, UMass likely has at least one more scholarship to hand out for next year.  Secondly, I personally think Mike Pereira, who attended the NHL Draft Combine a couple years ago, is certainly NHL Draft caliber.  That said, I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary to have draft picks to be successful, at least to a degree.  Vermont is currently dead last among Hockey East teams in offense, defense, and in the standings despite having six NHL draft picks on their roster.  The 2008-09 Lowell River Hawk team that won 20 games and came an errant whistle away from winning the Hockey East championship had just one NHL draft pick.  Something to keep in mind is that if players had actually honored the commitments they made to the school there would currently be two 1st round draft picks on the UMass roster in John Carlson and Zack Phillips.   When it comes to recruiting I’m more interested in what they do on the ice than what NHL logo is next to their name on the roster.  Toot recruited players like Thomas Pöck, James Marcou and T.J. Syner because he thought, rightfully so, that they could be stars in college hockey.  Due to size or whatever the NHL didn’t think these guys were worth using a draft pick on, but in the college game Marcou and Pöck were Hobey candidates.  And that’s what I think matters most.  The NHL is looking for NHL players, the coaching staff is looking for college players.  Sometimes those two populations overlap, sometimes they don’t.  The number of draft picks can be one indicator of the overall skill level of your roster, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best way to measure college talent.

Will asks:  “(What are your) thoughts on the man advantage this year and what may have changed from last year, if anything?”

Certainly the power play has probably been the most pleasant surprise of the season.  I’m not an expert at the Xs and Os, but I think you’re seeing success because they’ve scrapped the reliance on the umbrella type of power play that requires the offense to be initiated from the defensemen.  Instead you’re seeing the puck being cycled into the corner and from there in front of the net.  How many times last season did you just see the puck get passed between the defensemen who would occasionally pass it to the top of the circles and then back out and then the defensman would shoot?  That’s not happening this year.  Last season 45% of the power play goals were scored by defensemen.  This year just one of UMass’ nine extra man goals (11%) have come from a d-man.  Another thing that is helping them execute this new strategy is the fact that the overall passing of the team has improved from last year.  They’re able to turn the puck over less and connect with tougher passes in tight than they did in the past.

John asks:  “This is year two of the “NAVY Seals” program. What impact is this having on the team?”

That’s a tough one.  Certainly the Navy Seal program that the team underwent at the beginning of this and last season was supposed to instill a mental toughness.  Has that mental toughness shown on the ice?  Not really.  What does that mean?  I don’t know.  But one impact I think it has had on the team is made them closer.  Recent UMass teams, many of the ones mentioned in regards to late seasons collapses, had rumors of team cohesion issues.  Not that there was true in-fighting or anything, but just that it was cliquish and people on the team had different goals they were trying to reach.  I don’t hear or see that with this team or last season’s.  On the ice, in the locker room, around campus, even during the summer this team seems like a pretty close knit group.  I think maybe the whole Navy Seal thing has helped strengthen those bonds and hopefully will pay dividends in the long run.

Jason asks: “How much longer will we have to deal with Toot? What happened to Toot’s Marble Notebook? What was in Toot’s Marble Notebook? Will Blaise take over after Toot since he was interviewed in 2000 before Toot was hired?”

Well, we’ll have to “deal” with Toot for at least another year after this one.  Personally I’m still hopeful we’ll be dealing with some enjoyable successes in that time, but regardless his current contract takes him to the end of the 2012-13 season.  And I fully expect him to be here until that time.  For those who think this season will end badly and are hoping for a buyout, it’s not happening.  The administration and key supporters think very highly of him, especially for how well he represents the university, graduates his players, and brings in kids who go to class and stay out of trouble.  Secondly, whatever spare change is lying around the athletics offices that could be used for a buyout will likely be used on a much more pressing coaching change at the school that needs to made sooner rather later.  I doubt John McCutcheon would ever take the nearly unprecedented action of releasing Toot a year early.  And I don’t think Toot would retire early either.  He’s confident in his abilities and thinks highly of the players he has brought in.  In regards to the notebook, I didn’t notice he didn’t have it so far this season.  I supposed it could contain indexed dirt to blackmail each Hockey East official in order to get an edge on officiating, but my guess it has line combinations and scripted plays.  In regards to Blaise, if Toot were to hypothetically retire when his contract runs out I think Blaise’s experience would make him a leading candidate for the job.  But, I don’t think it would be a guarantee.  With all UMass has to offer I would hope the process would be opened up to garner interest from around the country in order to truly find the best person for the job.

Matt asks:  “Is the vilification of Mike Marcou justified?”

I think the concern about his level of play is definitely justified.  He struggled mightily last year and way too often was a liability on defense.  What isn’t justified in my eye is the level of blame that is put upon him for each loss or opponent goal.  UMass had 23 losses last year and not a single one was the fault of just Mike Marcou.  The entire team lost those games.  Yet Marcou seemed to get most of the blame.  This season I think his play has improved.  He’s gotten back to basics and stopped trying to do too much.  Not the most gifted athletically, he has played smart and concentrated on making sure he’s in the right place.  Last year through six games he had 2 goals, 3 assists, and was a –7.  This year through six games he has 5 points again, good for 7th among Hockey East defensemen, and has a –2 rating, equal to Adam Phillips or Anthony Raiola.  He’s even in his last three games which happened to come against tough opponents BC and BU.  And yet for all this UMass fans are relieved that he’s injured and unable to play.  I say give the kid a chance to improve his game.  And if he does, recognize it.

Matt also asks:  “If our goaltending situation was a beer, what kind of beer would it be?”

I honestly have no idea how to answer that.  However I’ll spin it a little different.  How about I pick my favorite beers from the goaltenders’ home town or state.  Steve Mastalerz is from North Andover.  My favorite local beer from that area comes from my Merrimack pregame spot,  Haverhill Brewing’s Alt Bier.  Kevin Boyle is from Manalapan, New Jersey while Kevin Moore is from Belle Mead.  The best Jersey beer comes from Flying Fish who, in homage to their home state, names some beers after NJ Turnpike exits.  I’m a fan of Exit 4.  Jeff Teglia is from Chicago, IL.  Goose Island used to be my favorite Windy City brewery until they decided to sellout and join forces with Budweiser.  Therefore I have to go slightly beyond the state line and pick Three Floyds as my favorite local brewery.

Chris asks:  “Where is Darren Rowe?”

In the stands.  As far as I know he’s healthy.  For whatever reason Toot doesn’t think it’s worth it to put him in on defense and either he or Rowe are not interested in him playing at forward.

The same Matt who didn’t have anything else to do this afternoon asks:  “What current Minuteman has the best chance of playing in the NHL?”

I would say Pereira.  Obviously he’ll have to get stronger, but he has a lot of the tools needed to play at that level.  I know that Kirk of the now defunct Bruins Draft Watch blog is very high on him and he’s a very good judge of NHL talent.

That’s it for questions.  This was fun.  Hope you enjoyed it.  I’ll try to do this a few more times during the season.

The Collegian has a profile on Steve Guzzo who I’ve enjoyed watch play this season.

They also have a preview of the weekend.

Dick Baker has a profile of Oleg Yevenko.

Hockey East and NESN have agreed to a four year broadcast agreement.  Right now the game at Fenway is the only UMass game scheduled to be on the channel this season, but the schedule for late February and early March has yet to be determined.

Recruit Update

It was a successful weekend for the UMass recruits this past week.

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 2012
7 GP / 1 G / 1 A / 2 Pts / 21 PIM / +2
Gillespie scored his first USHL goal this past weekend in a game against Dubuque and future teammate Shane Walsh.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
7 GP / 1 G / 1 A / 2 Pts / 9 PIM
After starting out the year a level down in the Empire League, Smith scored his first EJHL goal, on the power play, against the New York Apple Core over the weekend.  I must say, I’m happy to see Western Mass hockey talent staying in Western Mass.  It always hurts a little to see a Barry Almeida at Boston College or a Rob Bellamy at Maine.   UMass has had success turning local players into Hockey East stars, from Rob Bonneau to T.J. Syner.  Hopefully Smith will follow in their shoes.

Shane Walsh – LW – Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL) -2012
11 GP / 4 G / 3 A / 7 PIM / 0 PIM / -1
Gillespie’s Lancers may have beaten Walsh’s Saints, but Walsh won the individual battle of the future Minutemen. Walsh had a goal and two assists in the 5-4 loss. Walsh has four goals and two assists in his last five games.

The Hockey East writers from USCHO do not think Toot Cahoon is on the hot seat.

One time UMass recruit and Northeastern commit Mike McKee is heading to Western Michigan.

Polls & Awards

UMass’ 4-2 win on Saturday knocked Boston College from their perch atop the USCHO poll.  Merrimack, the only undefeated team in college hockey, only moved up one spot to #6.  BU remained in the poll at #16 despite their 7-1 loss at the hands of Lowell.  All in all 7 Hockey East teams are currently getting votes (UMass is not one of them).

The Gophers are your new team atop the USA Hockey/USA Today poll as well.

Due to the up and down results for the Minutemen this past weekend no one on the team was named a Hockey East weekly award winner.  Adam Phillips, T.J. Syner, and Conor Sheary were all named Top Performers.

Rocco Carzo and Oleg Yevenko were mentioned in the milestones section while the release also has some interesting stats showing improvement in the power play and penalties taken by the team.

Here is the Collegian’s game story on the big upset over the weekend.

USCHO says the win coupled with Lowell’s beatdown of the Terriers solidifies Hockey East as the best league top to bottom in the country.

Maine’s student paper explores the same subject.

UMass fans might’ve noticed a certain twang during the station identification of the hockey broadcasts this weekend.  That’s because WRNX is no more and 100.9 is now plays both kinds of music, country and western.  Former UMass play by play announcer, “Donnie’s Used Cars” host, and the guy who’s letting FTT readers buy discounted Falcons tickets has a eulogy for the old station that’s worth a read.

UMass sports broadcasts are not expected to be affected by the change.

BC Recap

Well, just when you think the season is slipping away before your eyes the UMass hockey team goes out and knocks off top ranked Boston College.  If the team was going to bounce back from a weekend of frustration last week and an embarrassing performance Friday, this was a damn good way to do it.  Just one day after giving up 7 goals to UNH the Minutemen absolutely smothered the Boston College offense which was third in the country statistically.  Through two periods that offense had just 12 shots on net.  When the teams last played BC had 12 shots in the 1st period alone and tacked on 14 more in the 2nd.

This one was an absolute team effort.  I’ll admit I was not thrilled when I saw that Kevin Boyle was starting last night.  Between the fact that he let in 2 goals on 4 shots the night before and that Jeff Teglia had played so solidly when BC and UMass played earlier in the season, I thought Teglia would be the better choice.  Obviously I was wrong and Boyle was up to the task.  Honestly, he didn’t have to stand on his head and stop 45 shots in Mike Johnson fashion in what you probably would’ve expected to get the win against BC.  Instead for the first two periods he made sure he was focused and in good position for the few shots that got to him from the Eagle skaters.  When desperation started to set in and BC turned up the pressure, he kept his poise and made some tough saves late.  But perhaps the bigger story is the guys in front of them and how well they played.  It makes a freshman goaltender’s life easier when the guys in front of the net are doing everything they can to prevent the other team from getting shots off.  Blocking shots, disrupting passing lanes, maintaining possession for good stretches in the opposing end.  UMass did all these things and that’s what gave them the chance to win.  They also did a good job of keeping the BC stars off the board.  Billy Arnold was limited to just 2 shots on net.  Arnold, Chris Kreider, and Johnny Gaudreau were limited to just 8 shots total.

The whole team had a good game, from Boyle to Mike Busillo who made his debut.  Here are a few players who I thought stood out.  T.J. Syner continues to be huge for this team, offensively and defensively.  He simply does not get the credit he deserves for his defensive play or forechecking skills.  Rocco Carzo had perhaps his best game of the season.  Joel Hanley has been a little more invisible than I would’ve thought thus far on the season but played very well last night and led the defensemen with a +2 rating.  Conor Allen looked good last night on defense and brought a physicality that helped throw BC off their game at times.  Steve Guzzo was credited with a goal by playing hard and crashing the net.  There could be a little bit of controversy as the replay equipment was not working so the officials could not review it to see if it was directed in.  From my vantage point it definitely went in off his skate, but I did not see him make any motion to direct it into the net.  What is impressive is UMass got this key win despite some challenges.  Syner, Danny Hobbs, and Mike Pereira were only able to generate 5 shots total, though they made the most of them as Pereira and Syner both scored goals.  And UMass won despite the power play going 1 for 7.  There were a number of opportunities with the man advantage where UMass could’ve broken the 1-1 tie in the second period but were unable to.

Again, amazing win and it was pretty much exactly what the doctor ordered at this point.  I think it’s safe to say that the season seemed on the verge of going off the tracks leading into last night.  Instead a total team effort now gives the team some much needed confidence they were seeking and gave the fans a big reason to keep coming back to watch them.  I hope the team went home and celebrated last night because they definitely deserve it after beating such a skilled team.  But next it’ll be interesting to see how they respond.  In the end they went 1-3-1 through this brutal five game stretch against BC, BU, and UNH.  Not the best you would’ve hoped for, but they did manage three points and a signature win that was missing last season.  Next week they’ll have to regroup and take on a Holy Cross team that has done what they couldn’t do, beat Boston University.  The following night they’ll have a key game at home against the team they’re currently tied with in the standings, Northeastern.  Hopefully we’ll see them build off their stunning accomplishment from last night.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Oleg Yevenko
The towering freshman has struggled a bit to get used to the college game, but Toot has stuck with him out there and was rewarded last night for doing so.  Yevenko was a big part of the defensive effort last night and then got the game winning goal on his only shot of the game.  What is promising too is that with all the worry coming into the season regarding his penalties he has only taken two in the last 6 games.

Here’s the recap from the Gazette.  Matty V pointed out after the game that UMass lost to Holy Cross after they beat top ranked Maine in 1994-95.  Let’s hope history does not repeat itself.

Toot gives all the credit to his team in the Republican recap.

Here’s the game story from the Herald.