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Mid-Season Review

UMass hockey is not quite to its true midpoint in the 2011-12 season, playing 16 of 34 games so far, but winter break is a good time to take a look at how things have transpired so far.  Unlike last year when the team only won 6 games total and none of them were what you could really call signature wins, UMass has already had a few of those.  Taking down top ranked Boston College, this past week’s win over #17 Yale, and the spanking of in-state Holy Cross by a score of 7-2 were all key wins so far this season.  Unfortunately, those wins represent the majority of their win total as the team has only 5 victories to date.  So while knocking off #1 BC and those other teams were positives for the team, the fact that they come into break with a 5-7-4 record and sitting in 9th place in Hockey East means this team has gotten off to a very disappointing start.

UMass took care of business against their non-conference schedule going 3-1-1 against teams from Atlantic Hockey and the ECAC.  And they’ve done very well at home, where they’re undefeated with a record of 5-0-3 and wins over BC and Northeastern while tying Boston University and Maine.  No, the problem has been the road where UMass will enter the month of January still looking for a road win (the Florida tournament will be considered a neutral site).  Why have they struggled so much on the road?  Not sure.  It’s tough to say it’s because they’re used to the larger ice surface of the Mullins Center since they went up to New Hampshire and Lake Whitt and promptly lost 7-3.  Last year the team picked up two of its six wins on the road at Lowell and at Vermont.  This year they got shutout in the home of the River Hawks and were unable to come out of the Turkey Tuesday game with a win at last place Vermont.

The team probably has done about as well as you could hope against the league’s top two teams so far in BC and BU.  They’ve gone 1-2-1 against those two teams, although it could’ve been 2-1-1 if they didn’t give up a three goal lead at BU or even 3-1-0 if they had held onto the lead at home against the Terriers as well.  But really the problem with UMass has been how they’ve played against the teams around them in the standings.  As mentioned, they’ve given the Catamounts their only Hockey East win of the season to date.  Against the two teams ahead of them in the standings, New Hampshire and Northeastern, they’ve gone 1-1-1.  But against the teams currently fighting for home ice, Lowell, Providence and Maine, they’ve gone just 0-2-1.  The fact that the River Hawks and Friars are fighting for home ice gives context to the disappointment the UMass season has been so far.  Here are the two teams that UMass finished ahead of last year, both changed coaches over the offseason, yet they are both having much better seasons than the Minutemen and came into this past week ranked in the USCHO top 20.  This has been a down year for teams like UNH and Maine in Hockey East.  The Friars and River Hawks have been able to take advantage of that, but UMass continues to be mired at the bottom of the standings.

Statistically UMass has improved from last year in most areas.  Their goals per game are up and over the key 3.00 measure to 3.12 compared to last year when they scored just 2.51 goals a game.  Their defense has improved, but not nearly dramatically.  They allowed 3.49 goals a game last year, second last in Hockey East, compared to 3.31 goals this year.  Their power play was around the key 20% mark to begin the season but has fell off significantly since and their conversion rate of 16.5% is quickly approaching last year’s mark of 12.5%.  The penalty kill is the only major statistic to worsen from last year, where it was a weakness even then.  They are killing off just 72.6% of power plays, 5th worst in college hockey, compared to 77.8% last season.  This is an area where UMass is missing former assistant coach Red Gendron who was in charge of the penalty kill before leaving for Yale during the summer.

The jump in scoring from last year has been thanks to the top two lines who have emerged as a real force in the league.  It’s of no surprise that T.J. Syner is among the leaders in all of college hockey in terms of points per game.  Conor Sheary and Mike Pereira have picked up where they left off last season and are putting in impressive sophomore campaigns.  Danny Hobbs’ season has been a bit of a disappointment considering what he did last season, but much of that is due to some lingering injuries he’s been battling since he missed the season opener.  The good news is he played solid in the last two games before break and now has three weeks to get healthy.  Branden Gracel has been a little up and down this season as well, but he is improving from last season and has already matched his goal total from then.  Stephen Guzzo has emerged as UMass’ other top six forward and is perhaps the biggest surprise on the team.  After missing all last year with an injury he is third on the team in goals and already has double digits in points.

From the other lines UMass has gotten solid play from the likes of Eric Filiou and Peter DeAngelo, neither of whom had much impact last year but are now contributing regularly.  Troy Power has put in solid minutes every night, playing some good defense while able to move the puck well in the offensive zone.  Rocco Carzo has transformed into a very solid two way player and has had some of the hardest hits seen thus far.  Eddie Olczyk has done well shutting down opposing players, though he has not played in the last three games.  Kevin Czepiel is the only forward who has really struggled to build off of last season, totaling just two assists and registering a team worst –6 rating.

Other than Guzzo, a redshirt freshman, this year’s first year class has had little impact in games.  Emerson Auvenshine, Zack LaRue, and Andrew Tegeler have combined for just one goal and two assists in 18 total games.  LaRue and Auvenshine have played in 8 of UMass’ 16 games apiece while Tegeler, who has the lone goal, has played in only two.  None played in the last two games.  Personally I’d like to see these guys get more time.  Perhaps at the expense of a Pat Kiley who, while playing well defensively at times, has really hurt the Minutemen with the penalties he takes.  I’d especially like to see Tegeler get into games more as he performed well against two tough teams, BC and BU, getting a goal and an even plus minus rating while registering 3 shots.

Defensively UMass has had their ups and downs.  While he got off to a bit of a slow start, Joel Hanley has played pretty well on the defensive end and has contributed a goal and six assists.  Colin Shea has improved from last year and has been very dependable.  At times Conor Allen has been one of the best defensive players on the ice, but has to work on being consistently strong.  His physical play has helped the Minutemen though.  Despite being the target for a number of UMass fans’ criticisms, senior Mike Marcou has had a solid season so far.  His 8 points are good for 6th on the team and he goes into break with a +1 rating.  Adam Phillips has struggled compared to the strong freshman campaign he enjoyed.  He’s only amassed one goal so far after getting 10 last year and he has a number of subpar games defensively.  He has looked better recently.  Lastly, freshman Oleg Yevenko has been a pleasant surprise.  It took him a few games to get used to the speed of college hockey, but he has settled in well and played solid defense while keeping penalties to a minimum.  He also delivered the goal of the season so far by getting the gamewinner against BC.  Fellow freshman Mike Busillo has provided solid defensive work in his three games this year.

Goaltending was the big question mark going into the season but as the season goes along it has become less and less of a pressing issue.  Kevin Boyle has emerged as the goto goaltender so far and after some shaky performances at Providence and UNH has settled down and given the Minutemen solid, consistent play of late.  Jeff Teglia has played solidly, but continues to be snakebitten as he gets very little in the way of offensive support in his best games.  He only gave up two goals at Vermont and two against Maine but still finds himself without his first career win.  Steve Mastalerz had his play limited early due to injury and had a nightmarish debut at UNH, but has improved since then.  He picked up a win over Holy Cross, did OK against Lowell, and didn’t allow a goal in relief of Teglia at Quinnipiac.  I’m still not sure exactly what’s going to happen going forward with all three goaltenders looking for time, but it does appear that Boyle has solidified his spot as #1.  Whether Teglia and Mastalerz are battling to be #1A or #2 remains to be seen.

Coaching has probably been the biggest subject discussed among UMass fans this season however.  First it was displeasure over the lines, specifically when the Hobbs/Syner/Pereira line was broken up earlier in the season.  While I criticized it at the time, I think in the long run it has worked out as UMass now has been able to develop two really strong top lines.  Again Coach Cahoon took criticism for sitting Phillips and Pereira at Vermont.  It’s tougher to tell if that was the best idea as UMass lost that game as well as the next where they both came back to play.  However both those players looked pretty good in the Harvard and Yale games, so we’ll see.  But the biggest problem amongst fans is the lack of winning.  With three straight seasons finishing in the bottom of the Hockey East standings there is a growing frustration over lack of results as the team now finds themselves in 9th place.  Judging from the comments here on the blog, on UMasshoops.com, and just speaking to other fans there is a sizable portion of the fanbase who no longer believe in Cahoon’s ability to lead this team.  Perhaps even a majority of them.  Seeing teams like Lowell and Providence higher in the standings with first year coaches has not helped the situation.  While I do not think a coaching change is likely after the season, Cahoon has a lot of work to improve the fortunes of the team in the second half of the season and win back the confidence of those fans.

The good thing is, there’s still plenty of time to make this a successful season.  While UMass is in second to last place, they’re only four points out of 6th and five points behind Providence in 5th.  Also, UMass has a game in hand over two of the teams ahead of them in the standings, New Hampshire and Maine, and two games in hand over Northeastern.  UMass still plays two games against the Black Bears, Wildcats, and Friars in the back half of the season.  They also still have two to play against last place Vermont.  Of course one of those will be at Fenway, so while I hope the players enjoy the pomp and circumstance of the occasion there will also be key points on the line.  Really, that first week of the new year will be important for the team as they absolutely have to take 3 or 4 points from Providence and the Catamounts in a three day span.  If they do that, it just may set the tone for a successful run at home ice in the second half of the season.

I’m hearing that Matt Irwin has been called up by the San Jose Sharks and could make his NHL debut soon.

New England Hockey Journal ranks all 20 New England teams with UMass coming in 17th.  I’d love to know how they’re behind Bentley, a team they beat and have a better record than, and Holy Cross, who UMass put a touchdown up on.  And don’t even get me started with UConn.

Here’s an article on Casey Wellman that was picked up nationally.

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12 Comments

  1. Anonymous

     /  December 11, 2011

    new england hockey journal is a pathetic joke…

    Like

  2. Anonymous

     /  December 11, 2011

    that nejournal list makes me want to vomit….come on boys- kick ass umass 2011-2012

    Like

  3. Will

     /  December 12, 2011

    Great write-up. My thoughts (many of which may mirror your sentiments):

    1) Guzzo, Yevenko, and Boyle are the pleasant surprises thus far. Good to see thats a forward, defenseman, and a goalie.
    2) Phillips and the freshman forwards have been disappointing, but the freshman forwards haven’t gotten enough playing time to get used to the college game and/or the lines.
    3) I think that the Florida tournament and the Fenway game will be good for the team. They need to get used to winning away from home, and these venues are not intimidating away games.
    4) Syner is very good.

    Also, Braun scored last night for the Sharks. Wellman’s last two games have been without any points and he was a -1 in both I believe; wouldn’t be surprised to see him take a trip back to Houston since the Wild are getting a number of players back from injury, but maybe not.

    Like

    • I would think that Fenway would be very intimidating, but luckily it should be equally intimidating for both the Minutemen and Catamounts.

      Like

  4. Carson

     /  December 12, 2011

    not much to say that you havent already said…

    -would like to see the freshmen get some more time…and im confused as to what to expect from zack larue in terms of what he could become for this team. he came in touted as a scorer but we havent really seen that from him at all thusfar. however, he does bring good speed and physicality…hopefully the scoring will come soon enough.

    -glad that boyle has settled in (or at least appeared to settle in) as the #1 goalie, but i would still like to see teglia get a decent amount of time moving forward, as i think that he has played solidly thusfar (just hasn’t had any scoring support).

    -like will said, syner is awesome. at times seems like he is playing the game on a whole different level than the rest of the team.

    -i was nervous about the long term prospects of this team after syner and hobbs graduate, specifically offensively, but after the emergence of guzzo, the further development of sheary and gracel, and pereira also continuing to be strong offensively, i am less worried than i previously was.

    -despite all the criticism he gets, mike marcou is actually having a strong season. hope that continues.

    -overall, this team really just needs to improve their consistency. on any given night they can play like one of the top teams in hockey east (if not the country), but then the next night they will come out and get dominated by quinnipiac. if they can find a way to bring it consistently, i think this team can find their way into the hockey east playoffs. in order to do this however it is essential to win the majority of their games against teams like providence and vermont, as wins against the higher ranked hockey east teams like bc, merrimack, or bu will be harder to come by.

    let’s hope they can pull it off!

    Like

  5. Harold

     /  December 12, 2011

    Agreed the PK is awful. Curious why #22’s haters haven’t piled onto this, being he’s been on ice for 11 of the 20 PP goals against.

    Like

  6. Anonymous

     /  December 12, 2011

    The 22 haters need to get a life and stop worrying about someone elses.

    Like

  7. Anonymous

     /  December 12, 2011

    it has been stated – need yevenko out there on pk- more reach to clear pucks and more physicality to pin players against the boards…killing pk time
    this is not a knock on 22 but simply praise on what yevenko can bring to the pk ala chara for the b’s

    Like

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