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Weekend Preview

Massachusetts Minutemen 9-10-5 (5-8-4) Hockey East T-7th

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Northeastern Huskies 10-11-3 (6-11-2) Hockey East T-7th

You simply cannot overvalue the importance of tomorrow night’s game with Northeastern. You have the two teams currently tied for 7th place in Hockey East facing off with the New Hampshire Wildcats just one point behind hoping to overtake them and get back into the playoff picture. In addition, with a 1-0-1 record this season against the Huskies UMass will be looking to get another tiebreaker under their belt. I’ve already seen someone suggest that this game should have a playoff style intensity. I really hope that’s correct because first of all, it’s entertaining as a fan, and secondly it means that the Minutemen will actually be focused on the task at hand.

UMass has had success against Northeastern by pouring shots on Husky goaltender Chris Rawlings. They had 39 shots on net in the first game of the season against Northeastern (which went to overtime) and followed that up with 41 shots when the teams met in November. Branden Gracel and T.J. Syner were the big offensive factors in those games, scoring a goal in each. UMass could’ve been going for a season sweep this weekend if not for some poor defensive play late in the season opener that led Northeastern to tie the score up with just two seconds left in regulation. UMass dominated in the subsequent overtime, outshooting the Huskies 5-1, but were unable to come up with the game winner.

As we know UMass’ biggest failing this season has been taking too many penalties and then the inability to kill off the resulting power play. If there is one thing that will be in their favor to improve that trend tomorrow it’s that Northeastern is dead last in power play conversion among Hockey East teams, scoring just 11.5% of the time. The bad news is they’ve scored 25% of their power play goals on the season against the Minutemen. They’re doing a better job scoring goals even strength however and are averaging over three goals a game. It’s unknown at this point if junior Steve Qualier, tied for the team lead in points, will play after getting injured last weekend. Without him the Huskies will still have some firepower in Cody Ferriero, Braden Pimm, and Ludwig Karlsson, all of whom have nine goals apiece. In net UMass will have to contend with Chris Rawlings who is having another solid season with a GAA of 2.49 and a .923 save percentage. His loss to the Minutemen in November was the first at the hands of UMass in his three years on St Botolph Street.

It is absolutely critical that UMass wins this game tomorrow. After a complete washout of a weekend against Lowell they need the two points, they need the tiebreaker, and they need to try to break away from Northeastern. And when you consider that UMass will have a tough Merrimack team to contend with on Saturday, taking care of business on Friday is an absolute must. It’s amazing to think that the Minutemen were two seconds away from taking the season opener on the road in this building way back in October. If they had just been able to hold on for those two seconds they would’ve had a road win from day one, yet now we’re 24 games into the season and they’re still looking for the first true win away from the Mullins. Maybe it’s time to makeup for that early miscue.

#4 Merrimack College Warriors 14-5-5 (10-4-3) Hockey East 4th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 9-10-5 (5-8-4) Hockey East T-7th

First things, first. It is absolutely stupid for two teams to play the first of their three game season series on February 4th, in the 5th to last weekend of the season. That said, it might actually be to UMass’ benefit that they didn’t face the Warriors in October and November when they were on their way to going 9-0-1 to start the season. Since that time they’ve gone 5-5-4, losing games to 9th place UNH, Union, and Providence (twice).

The Warriors have struggled when they’ve been unable to score goals but have been consistent defensively because Joe Cannata has had no problem keeping the pucks out of his net. Cannata will head into tomorrow’s game against Boston University with a goals against average of 2.02 and a save percentage of .929, both among the national leaders. The players in front of him have been doing a decent job as well, keeping opposing teams to under 30 shots a night.

While the Warriors boast the top defense among Hockey East teams, their offense is towards the bottom of the league. In fact both teams that UMass is facing this weekend average 3.04 goals per game, 7th in Hockey East. The best way to keep the Warriors off the board? Don’t put them on the power play. With the extra man Merrimack has actually had good success, converting on over 20% of their chances. But five on five they have a tougher time. In fact just under one third of Merrimack’s total goals have come on the power play. It might be an impossible task with this Minuteman squad, but stay out of the box and UMass will have a good chance at the upset. Senior Jesse Todd is the only Warrior with double digits for goals with 10 (6 coming on the power play). UMass will also have to keep an eye on freshman Connor Toomey who has 7 goals and senior Ryan Flannigan who also has 7 scores and the team lead in points with 20.

Last weekend was about opportunity for the Minutemen. They had the opportunity to stay within reach of home ice, to catch up in the standings with Lowell, to take a season series, and to breakaway from the teams just trying to stay in the playoff picture. UMass, with a little help from the guys in black, white, and orange, took that opportunity and flushed it down the toilet. Now it’s all about survival. The groundhog says it’s February. That means there are just a handful of weekends left in the season and for some of these players, their college careers. Hopefully that’ll give them some extra motivation as we begin the stretch run in Hockey East

Beer The Triangle
I know I said this last time the team travelled to Huntington Ave and it didn’t happen, but Bukowski Tavern. No seriously this time! Although the prospect of finding a way to get out to the Publick House in Brookline and seeing if they have anything leftover from the first Hill Farmstead kegs to ever hit the state of Massachusetts is tempting.

Passing along some injury news it doesn’t sound like Rocco Carzo, who was injured last Friday, will play. Dick Baker also suggests that Eric Filiou might be banged up? (I actually don’t totally understand his sentence). A FTT reader also said that Toot Cahoon mentioned that Kevin Boyle was or is sick on this week’s radio show.

And another article about how penalties are killing UMass’ chances for success. How many is that in the last week? Three? Four?

Here’s the weekend in Hockey East from College Hockey News.

The Hockey East blog Beanpot Forum suggests it’s time for a new voice at UMass. I don’t agree with everything that’s written there, but I think it’s completely understandable that UMass fans are frustrated after so many finishes at the bottom of the standings and currently heading for the same.

Frozen Four in Toronto? This seems like an awful, awful idea. If teams like North Dakota, Clarkson, or St Lawrence, want to play regular season games in Canada, that’s fine. But why bring the crown jewel of the college hockey season to a country that doesn’t actually have any NCAA teams? I understand that there are a number of Canadian hockey players on college rosters, but the CFL is filled with Americans too. Should the Grey Cup be held in Foxboro? No, it’s Canadian football. Just like it’s American college hockey.

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