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Frozen Fenway Preview

Vermont Catamounts 4-14-1 (1-10-1) Hockey East 10th

vs

Massachusetts Minutemen 6-8-5 (2-6-4) Hockey East 9th

The Minutemen will take on the Vermont Catamounts in an absolutely must-win game tomorrow afternoon.  In my opinion it is imperative that UMass takes two points from the Catamounts, something they failed to do in the teams’ first meeting this year, especially since they weren’t able to manage more than a tie against the Providence Friars last night.  If UMass wants to dig themselves out of 9th place they need a string of 3 and 4 point weekends.  Oh, did I happen to mention that this game will occur on the hallowed grounds of Fenway Park in front of the largest crowd ever to witness UMass hockey?!?

Yes, the day if finally here, one which UMass fans from all over have been looking forward to.  I know of a few people who are flying in from across the country for the occasion and I expect a good contingent of local alumni, some who may not have been to a Minuteman hockey game in some time or even ever, will fill the undersized seats of the ballpark.  In terms of the benefit to the program, next to the Hockey East Championship game in 2004 and the two NCAA tournament games in 2007 this is probably the biggest game the school has ever participated in.  In addition to the 38,000 in attendance the game will be shown locally on NESN and then will be replayed on the NHL Network on Sunday.  Overall this is a great event for all four of the flagship schools from New England, but the fact is Massachusetts is the home team in their home state.  Tomorrow, when UMass don their special jerseys made for the occasion, takes the field ice, surrounded by friends and alumni of the school, they have a chance to take center stage in the legendary epicenter of sports in the commonwealth.  This is one hell of an opportunity to showcase the hockey program in front of the citizens of Massachusetts.

To do so successfully however, the team has to play well and win.  The good thing is, they really need a win anyway so between that fact and trying to present the program regionally and nationally, the players should be doubly motivated.  Or at least that’s what I’m hoping.  Either way, the players are certainly allowed some butterflies when they come out of the dugout and take the ice and take in the environs, but once the puck drops they absolutely have to get down to business.  And the fact of the matter is no matter how bad Vermont is this season, no matter how beatup their roster is, UMass can’t take them lightly.  After all, the Catamounts’ one league win so far came at the expense of the Minutemen.

In that game the team got some great goaltending from Jeff Teglia who only allowed two goals, one coming on the power play.  The problem is the UMass offense was anemic.  They generated just 18 shots total, only got one past Catamount goaltender Rob Madore, and went 0 for 4 on the power play.  To date that’s been Madore’s best game of the season, having given up 2 or more to every other team and coming into tomorrow with a goals against of 3.83.  Obviously UMass has to get more than one goal against a team that is giving up 4 on average thus far on the season.  The easy way to do that would be on the power play, as UVM has the worst penalty kill in the country at 69.7%.  But to take advantage of that UMass will have to turnaround a power play unit that has gone just 3 for 42 since mid-November.  Yes, 3 for 42 or 7.1%.  One thing UMass will have that they didn’t in Burlington is Mike Pereira, who was a healthy scratch for the game.  Coach Cahoon benched him to try to send a message that he needs to play both ways.  Did it work?  Perhaps.  Going into that game Pereira was only a +1 on the season, despite playing with some of the best offensive players and putting up a ton of numbers.  In the six games since being benched he’s been a +2 overall and has only had a negative plus minus rating once (compared to 5 times before sitting).  So it appears to have made a difference in that aspect of his game, but offensively his production has declined.  Going into the UVM game he had 14 points in 12 games.  Since then he’s had four points in six games with only one goal.  UMass will need more out of Pereira if they want to win tomorrow and the rest of the season.

The Catamounts would probably feel more at home in Boston over at Mass General than at Fenway tomorrow.  They’ll be missing at least four players with injury.  Chris McCarthy and Nick Luuko are done for the season and forwards Matt Marshall and Kyle Mountain are both expected to miss the game as well.  If that wasn’t bad enough their leading scorer, sophomore star Connor Brickley, was cut by a skate while playing for the US at the World Junior Championships. His status for tomorrow is unknown at this point.  If that’s the case UMass can concentrate on shutting down Kyle Reynolds and Sebastian Stalberg who, with defenseman Drew MacKenzie, are really the only goalscoring threats on the team.

Tomorrow should be a lot of fun.  It’s a great chance to gather together as fans of UMass and all of college hockey for a unique event in an incredible venue to cheer on our team.  In a way it’s almost like returning to the program’s roots before the Mullins, Amherst’s Orr Rink, or anywhere else with a roof when the team played their games in the shadow of the Chapel on the Campus Pond.  I personally cannot wait to see the players walk through the infield in their new jersey’s adorned with the powerful maroon ‘M’ and step on the Fenway ice to the cheers of UMass fans.  But in the end, when that puck drops, this is just another all-important Hockey East game and it’s time to go to work.

So for those looking for the UMass place to be before the game the Alumni Association and Pond Club are taking over the Baseball Tavern.  Details and signup is here.  That’s where you’ll find me, despite lack of quality beers.  No worries though, I’ll gladly trade in my beer snob badge for a few hours to hang out with fellow hardcore UMass hockey fans.  Plus I can always hit the Lower Depths after the game!

For those who cannot make it to Boston, regional alumni groups will be having gamewatch events, from Seattle to Dallas to the Triangle.  Speaking of which can I join the Triangle UMass Alumni group even if I’m no where near North Carolina as some kind of honorary member?

While on the subject, also note that the Boston alumni group is offering tickets and a pregame reception to the Northeastern game in February while the Merrimack Valley group has tickets and an event for the Lowell game at the end of the month.

Joe Meloni has a good profile of Vermont.

Another week, another shutout for Jon Quick, who leads the NHL with 6.

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Providence Recap

It would be very easy to sugarcoat this recap and say that it was a valiant effort by the team to comeback and gain the tying goal with the goaltender pulled under two minutes left.  I could say it was a great accomplishment to gain a point on the road from a team four spots ahead of them in the standings that had already beaten them once.  Sorry, not going to happen.  The fact of the matter is UMass twice had the lead in this game, once 2-1 and then 3-2, and both times gave it up and then ultimately allowed Providence to take the lead.  The fact is not only was the power play utterly ineffective, generating just two shots on five opportunities, but they even gave up a shorthanded goal.  The fact is the team wasted that great effort in the waning seconds to send it to overtime and then had to kill off an inexplicable too many men penalty as overtime expired, giving UMass zero chance to complete the comeback.  The fact is UMass desperately needed four points this week to get back into the Hockey East mix and they opened up the week’s games with a tie against a team they outplayed for good portions of the game.  That one point gained tonight?  Did nothing.  They started the night in 9th place and out of the playoffs and end the night in 9th place and out of the playoffs.  Ties are just treading water.  This team needs wins.

Now, that’s not to say the game wasn’t without some positives.  I was happy to see Boyle in net because I really wanted to see how he’d respond to what was his worst collegiate performance last time in Providence.  I’m happy to report he looked a lot better.  Especially noticeable was how well he has improved at moving side to side and making sure to get right up against the posts, something that hurt him last time out against the Friars.  Honestly probably the goal he’d want back was the shorthanded goal Providence scored.  It wasn’t an odd man rush or a breakaway.  Boyle just wasn’t positioned well at all considering he had a defenseman on the shooter.  Overall though he played well and made some key saves, especially in instances where bodies and the puck were piling up in front of him.  I thought Mike Marcou had a very good game, scoring a goal and finishing a +2.  He even blocked what would’ve been a game clinching empty net goal by the Friars moments before Danny Hobbs tied the score.  I’ve been critical of Pat Kiley in recent games because of the poorly timed penalties he has taken, but he had perhaps his best performance of his career tonight.  No penalties tonight (though he served the too many men penalty in overtime) and he scored his first collegiate goal on an excellent pass from Colin Shea which gave UMass  3-2 lead.  It probably doesn’t come through on the score sheet, but Troy Power had a very good game and was very active late in the contest.  Branden Gracel, despite getting manhandled all night, performed well with a couple assists and finishing a +3.  It was great to see Danny Hobbs get that tying goal and he finished with a team high 7 shots.  Three of his four goals have now come at Providence and that one was huge.  The last positive was that UMass kept Providence off the board on the power play, killing all five of the Friar chances.

The power play however was probably the difference maker.  0 for 5 with only two shots in over eight minutes of time.  Plus they give up one shorthanded.  Yes, Boyle could’ve played the shot better but at the same time it should never get to that point either.  And for the most part the defense was very poor for the rest of the game too.  It’s not that they play badly for 60 minutes, a lot of the time the defense looks good.  But it seems the smallest of breakdowns is an automatic goal for the other team.  The goal in which the Friars tied it at 2 is the one that sticks out most to me.  Providence has the puck in the UMass zone in the corner and inexplicably Oleg Yevenko loses his stick.  It didn’t break and it didn’t seem to be knocked out of his hands.  He just seemed to drop it.  So he’s without a stick, Providence centers the puck to the top of the crease, no one gets their stick in the passing lane, point blank shot by Steven Shemanski which Boyle has no chance on and UMass has given up its first lead of the night.  It’s those kind of breakdowns, losing a stick, not getting in a passing lane, going to block a shot a second to late, that has led to too many opponent goals.  Situations just like this have killed UMass this season.

So it is what it is.  UMass needed two points and only got one.  They had a chance to pull even of Providence, a team they (hopefully) could end up tied with, but didn’t and now a tie or less in the final meeting will give the Friars the season series.  I was glad the team didn’t give up and scoring a goal the way they did after getting a gritty stop by Marcou to keep it within reach is admirable.  But all of those heroics came after they gave up a lead in the game twice.  It’s January now.  Good teams not only maintain leads in key games but widens them.  Maybe I’m being a hardass following a hard earned tie, but the fact is I think this team is better than they’ve shown and frankly they have a lot ground to make up at this point in the season.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game
I probably could’ve given this to Danny Hobbs for his late game heroics and how well he performed on offense.  Obviously if anyone had converted in overtime it would likely have gone to them.  But I’m happy that I’m able to give this to Conor Sheary because honestly whenever UMass had a decent scoring chance it seemed like Sheary was somehow involved, either he shot the puck, setup the shot, or dug in along the boards to keep the puck alive in the zone.  Sheary has gone from being a nice story in terms of his development as a sophomore to being UMass’ best player on the ice for key stretches of their games.

Recap from the Republican.

Game story from the Boston Herald.

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