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View From Section U: If You Can Play, You Can Play

I want to take the opportunity of my first View From Section U column of the season to publicly express my support for the You Can Play project.

For those who may not be aware, the You Can Play campaign was started by the family and friends of Brendan Burke, the former Miami RedHawk team manager who tragically died in a car crash in 2010.  Though he passed away at the young age of 21 he had already become a pioneer at the time of his death and the You Can Play iniative carries on Brendan’s mission; to fight against homophobia in sports.  The message is simple, if you can play, you can play.  Really, I think that says it all and to me it’s something that goes beyond just sexual orientation.

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As I said, it’s a simple message.  Therefore I don’t think I need to go on and on about why I think it’s important and worthy of my support.  The message speaks for itself.  I will note however that I happen to work in Canton, Mass, Brendan’s hometown, and I quite regularly will see the BB shamrock logo seen in the above video on cars around the area.  When I see them I instantly think of Brendan and his courage.  The courage it took to tell his father Brian Burke, the gruff general manager for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the rest of his family that he was gay.  The courage it took to come out to his team, not knowing how such an admission would go over in the tough guy environment of a hockey locker room.  And the courage of going public with his story and taking on the role of an advocate for equality in sports.

My admiration for that courage and my belief in the values of equality and respect is what spurred me on to use my soapbox of Fear The Triangle to officially show my support for You Can Play.  While doing so I would like to call on the team and players that connect me to the sport of hockey, the UMass Minutemen, to do the same.  I’ve always been proud of the fact that hockey players from different locales and from different ethnic backgrounds have been able to come to Amherst and not only play hockey here but excel at it and become the very faces of the program.  And why shouldn’t they have done well at UMass because after all if they could play, they could play.  I would love to see UMass Hockey join these other college programs and professional players and organizations and support the You Can Play campaign to support equality and respect in sport.

I really enjoy this article by the Republican’s Harry Plumer about Kevin Czepiel being named one of UMass’ captains this year.  Part of the reason is that I love when UMass is able to bring in the local hockey talent from the valley.  It’s become a bit of a joke now but believe me when I decided to call Czepiel  with the moniker “Holyoke” in posts and social media early on in his freshman year it was because he does a great job representing that blue collar town in Western Mass as a total blue collar hockey player.  I think it’s really important for the UMass hockey team to not only represent the campus, but the entire surrounding area at the same time and Czepiel does a great job doing both at the same time.  Also interesting in that article is the fact that he was also recruited by Clarkson, Union, Providence, and Merrimack, something that did not come out when he was first recruited.

The USHL had this official release regarding transfer Ben Gallacher committing to UMass.  But at the same time I won’t have to update his stats from junior hockey for a while as the league suspended him ten games for a repeated cross-check in this past Saturday’s game.

I think I missed passing along the initial rankings, but CHN’s Scott McLaughlin has UMass as 7th in the league after this past weekend of Hockey East play.

Do yourself a favor and read this heartfelt tribute to former Merrimack coach Chris Serino by Mike McMahon.  Just want to reiterate that thoughts are with Serino’s family, including sons Anthony and Nick, two former UMass student-athletes.

The Boston Herald also had this in-depth bio piece on Serino.

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Gallacher To Transfer To UMass; Captains Named; Recruit Update

USHR reported yesterday that former Ohio State defenseman Ben Gallacher will be transferring to Massachusetts next fall.  He will be able to play immediately as he is sitting out this year by playing for Green Bay of the USHL.  Like UMass’ other transfer Rob Dongara, Gallacher will have three years of eligibility left when he starts next year.

Gallacher arrived in Columbus highly rated, a fourth round draft pick of the Florida Panthers in the 2010 NHL draft.  However by the time he got there the coach who recruited him, John Markell, was no longer there and Gallacher did not see eye to eye with the new staff.  So after scoring one goal to go with 11 assists with the Buckeyes, he left school last spring.  It was thought he would end up in major junior or even the AHL with the Panthers farm team.  Major junior seemed like a logical option since his father owns the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.  That didn’t happen though and he ended up in the USHL where he could retain his eligibility and look for another college.  According to USHR Boston College, Michigan, Western Michigan, and Michigan Tech were all interested in adding him as a transfer.  But this past Saturday he gave his commitment to assistant coach Joey Gasparaini who went out to watch him play after Friday’s win.

Gallacher, 5’11” 185lbs, gained a reputation as a skilled puck-moving defenseman in the AJHL playing for the Camrose Kodiaks.  His last year in his native Alberta he had five goals and 22 assists in 37 games.  This year for Green Bay he is pointless after two games in the books.  Overall this looks like a great pickup for the program and staff, their second addition to go with Dennis Kravchenko.   Gallacher will join Mark Hamilton as incoming defenseman next year.  Darren Rowe is the only defenseman who will be graduating this coming spring.  Interestingly Gallacher is the second tranfer from Ohio State for the program with the first being John Toffey who played for UMass from 2003 to 2005.

Hockey’s Future has this profile of Gallacher.

Here are some of his highlights from junior hockey:

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Here’s video of him talking about being drafted by the Panthers.

Before we get into the weekly recruit update, there is some other big news today.  Tonight on his radio show coach John Micheletto named seniors Kevin Czepiel and Rocco Carzo as this year’s captains.  Congrats to them both.  I thought Carzo looked very captain-like on Friday, so not much surprise there.  Czepiel is a little more surprising since he wasn’t mentioned in the earlier captain chatter.  But if you’re looking for someone that has worked hard to earn every minute of playing time he gets, Czepiel fits that mold.  That’s two straight years with a Western Mass native wearing the “C”, as T.J. Syner was a captain last year.  There were no mentions of assistant captains.

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 2013
5 GP / 1 G / 1 A / 2 Pts / 5 PIM / -1
No points for Gillespie in his one game this past weekend.

Mark Hamilton – D – Salisbury School Crimson Knights (NE Prep) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Hamilton is due to return to Salisbury again this season. Prep hockey will start up at the end of November.

Mike Iovanna – RW/C – Malden Catholic Lancers (MA High School) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
All signs point toward Iovanna returning to Malden Catholic this year.

Dennis Kravchenko – LW – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2013 or 2014
6 GP / 3 G / 3 A / 6 Pts / 4 PIM / 0
Kravechenko had a power play goal and an assist in a 6-5 win over Fargo on Saturday.

Casey Miller – C – Kimball Union (NE Prep) – 2014
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
It’s expected that Miller will return to KUA again after helping the Wildcats to a New England Prep championship last year.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
4 GP / 0 G / 1 A / 1 Pts / 4 PIM
Smith may be injured as he didn’t play again this past weekend and it doesn’t appear that he’s playing for their Empire team either.

Sorry to hear that former Merrimack coach Chris Serino passed away from cancer yesterday.  Serino also coached future Minuteman Mike Iovanna at Malden Catholic.  Chris is also the father of UMass baseball players Nick and Anthony Serino.

Congrats to Eddie Olczyk Sr. who was enshrined in the USA Hockey Hall of Fame yesterday.  ESPN has this article about what hockey means to the Olczyk family which includes quotes from Eddie Jr.

Polls & Awards

With their loss at Northeastern over the weekend Boston College will not be coming into the Mullins Center on Friday as the top ranked team in the country.  Instead they’ll be coming in as the third ranked team according to this week’s USCHO poll, but still a team receiving first place votes.  Either way they’ll still be a very formidable opponent for Massachusetts, who has a number of areas to work on after last Friday’s victory against UConn.

Half of Hockey East is currently ranked as Lowell drops to #10 after tying Vermont, Boston University is right behind them at #11, and Northeastern and New Hampshire join the poll at 14th and 15th respectively.  In addition Maine, Merrimack, and Providence are also receiving votes.  UMass still hasn’t gained back the votes they had prior to their unfortunate loss to….UMass in the pre-season scrimmage.

Minnesota is tops in the USCHO poll as well as the USA Hockey/USA Today poll.

Quality wins over Merrimack and BC deservedly gave Northeastern a couple spots in this week’s Hockey East Awards.  How half-assed is the UMass representation on the linked release?  Brendan Gracel is rightly recognized as a Top Performer for his one goal and one assist performance, but not Steven Guzzo who had equal statistics and a highlight goal?  Only a single sentence devoted to UMass’ Team Notes?

The Collegian has some notes from Friday’s game to go with their recap which I believe originally ran Saturday.

The Collegian’s Nick Canelas is pulling double duty this season as he’s also contributing to College Hockey News, like with this piece on how this past Friday’s matchup will likely blossom into a conference rivalry in the near future.

So if you happen to be a UMass hockey fan in the Carolinas, the Bi-Lo Center has become Mullins South.  Masslive’s Harry Plumer noted on his Twitter account earlier today that with Danny Hobbs being sent down to the ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors he’ll be reunited with someone he has skated alongside for the last four years with in Mike Marcou.  The coach of Greenville?  None other than former Minuteman captain Dean Stork.

Nice to see Nebraska-Omaha taking steps to bring Maverick hockey on campus.

I am shocked, SHOCKED, that one of the clown WCHA officials who threw Paul Dainton out of a game at Wisconsin a couple years ago was suspended by the conference for being incredibly stupid.  (I’m also mildly shocked that I incredibly remembered he was one of the incompetent refs in question from that game)

UConn Recap

Last night was an enjoyable way to kick off the season and the new era of Massachusetts hockey as the Minutemen defeated future Hockey East foe UConn 4-1 in front of the largest opening night crowd in school history.  It wasn’t the prettiest of games at times as both teams looked sloppy at times and general chippiness led to a total of 26 penalties, which really hindered the flow of the game.  But a win is a win and last night should provide some confidence for the team as well as some tape for Coach Micheletto to identify the areas that need to be worked on prior to next weekend’s big tilt against Boston College.

The Minutemen came out absolutely flying from the drop of the puck and dominated play early on.  UMass held an 8-1 shot advantage six minutes in when Colin Shea put home the first goal on a slap shot from the point.  UMass would continue to control play until there was 9:28 left in the first and the team picked up its first of many penalties of the night.  Tyler Helton would score for the Huskies on the resulting power play and it would take the Minutemen a while to regain the momentum and crisp play they had started the game with.  UMass would get the lead back toward the end of the period when Branden Gracel redirected a Steven Guzzo shot, but from then on the Huskies, and especially their goaltender Garrett Bratus, did their best to stymie any attempt to widen the lead.

The score stayed 2-1 UMass until the third period when two excellent individual efforts would seal the game for the Minutemen.  The first came at the start of the period when Guzzo was able to take the puck from the corner, skate to the front of the net with a Husky defender on him, and get the puck past Bratus while getting pushed down to the ice.  A few minutes later Darren Rowe, making the most of his opportunity to dress as the sixth defensemen, took the puck at center ice on a UMass power play and skated through and around the four Husky players untouched to put home the final goal of the evening.

Again, not the prettiest of games, but UMass showed tremendous effort and got the win.  I thought there were a number of players who did very well beyond the goalscorers.  Conor Allen played tremendous last night and it makes me confident that he has a huge role to play for this team this season.  He moved the puck extremely well and generated four shots.  On defense I counted at least two or three blocked shots by him all the while playing physical and smart.  There were a lot of UMass penalties but Allen didn’t draw a single one.  Oleg Yevenko also stood out to me as playing well on defense, looking a lot more confident out there as a sophomore and still skating pretty well given his size.

Overall I thought the Conor Sheary/Mike Pereira/Troy Power line looked pretty good.  Power seemed to have a tough time making the transition to the top line at first, but by the second and third periods was putting in really good shifts with his new linemates.  The fourth line of Peter DeAngelo/Kevin Czepiel/Eddie Olczyk played a good share of minutes and did a great job of disrupting the Huskies’ offense.

Kevin Boyle did well, giving up just the one goal and made some key saves, especially on the penalty kill.  He did look shaky at times but there were so many long stretches where he might as well been another of the 7,123 spectators that I’m guessing he had a tough time getting into a groove due to lack of action.  The one obvious area where UMass must improve next week is penalties.  A lot of the team’s 12 infractions came out of the after-the-whistle melees, but they simply cannot go around giving teams eight power play chances.  They got away with it last night but give BC eight power play chances and you’re probably looking at least a three goal hole to climb out of.  Adam Phillips, who played well otherwise, especially has to try to stay out of the box as five of the trips were his.

Overall, it was a great night at the Mullins Center.  The team gave the excellent crowd and their new coach a win and have a lot to build off of as they begin their conference schedule.  It was great to see so many students there, 4,200 was the number given on the radio and it seemed like a lot were making their first trip.  I can’t see how they wouldn’t have enjoyed themselves enough to come back next week which has a very good chance of being a sellout when defending national champion Boston College comes to town.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steven Guzzo
Guzzo’s production last year as a freshmen was a nice surprise, but for UMass to be successful he’ll have to continue to put the puck in the net this season.  He did exactly that as it was his heads up play to drive to the net that put the game away for the Minutemen.  It was also his shot that Gracel was able to tip past Bartus on the game-winning goal.

Among the over 7,000 in attendance last night was none other than former coach Toot Cahoon, who I ran into after the game.  I think anyone who has been following UMass hockey knows what a classy guy Toot is and he showed that yet again by coming out to support the program and the players he brought to Amherst in the season opener.  Not surprisingly, I can safely say it was the most relaxed I’ve ever seen Toot after a UMass hockey game.

Based on what I saw last night in terms of demeanor and overall leadership displayed I would pick Rocco Carzo, Joel Hanley, and Conor Allen as this year’s captains/assistant captains.  We’ll see who coach Mick chooses soon.

Last night’s highlights via UMass Athletics

In the Gazette’s recap, Coach Mick says “unflappable” is a word the team must learn after last night.

Here’s the recap from the Republican as well as a piece on Mick’s first game as a collegiate head coach.

The Collegian has their game story as well as this interesting column as part of their season preview coverage, stating the time for UMass hockey to start winning is now.

One small benefit of the NHL lockout is that the Bruins writers are available to cover college hockey, as is the case with the Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa covering the team and last night’s game.

Former UMass captain Mike Kostka, who won a Calder Cup last year with Norfolk, is the feature of this piece from TSN.  Kostka is now with the Leafs organization.

Hockey’s Future has an excellent profile of Kevin Moore, including the story of the #freemoore campaign started before the final regular season game last March.

UConn Preview

Connecticut Huskies 0-0-0 (0-0-0) Atlantic Hockey T-1st

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Massachusetts Minutemen 0-0-0 (0-0-0) Hockey East T-2nd

Now that the applause has faded from the celebration announcing UConn’s addition to Hockey East, the Huskies are faced with a sobering reality.  They’re still a bad Atlantic Hockey team.  Bad as in a program that hasn’t had a winning season since the turn of the century.  Still, they’re not a team that Massachusetts should take lightly.  The Minutemen don’t exactly have a perfect record against Atlantic Hockey teams in recent years, dropping games to Army and Bentley in the last few seasons.  They’re not even perfect against UConn with the Huskies picking up a win over the Minutemen back in 2004.  If there’s one piece of advice I could give to UMass players it’s to recognize that this is one of the biggest games the Huskies will play all year and their players will always get up for it.  That’s something that’s likely to be amplified now that the move to Hockey East is on the horizon for them and I’m sure they’d like nothing more than to begin the season with a huge upset over their future conference rivals.

Yet, despite their lofty future, not much is expected out of the Huskies this season.  The 16-19-4 record they amassed last year is pretty good for the program’s standards but unfortunately for them a lot of that was due to star winger Cole Schneider who is now in the Ottawa Senators organization (though most definitely, and sadly, not in Ottawa itself).  As a result the Huskies are picked to finish 7th in the AHA.  UConn will have to have another star emerge if they’re going to put together a winning season in Storrs.

That star could be Brant Harris.  While Schneider got most of the attention, Harris put together a very strong sophomore season himself.  He had 18 goals on the year, a stunning 10 of which came on the power play.  Another winger, and another junior, that UMass will have to keep an eye on is Billy Latta who was third on the team in goals last season with 10.  Co-captain Sean Ambroise is likely to factor into any scoring for the Huskies as well as his 20 assists last year were second only to Schneider.  UMass will have to watch out for the Husky power play which was tops last season in the AHA at a stellar 25.2%.  This may be one area where the team does not miss Schneider too much as he only contributed 3 PPGs last year, versus Harris, Latta, and Ambroise who put up the bulk of the extra man goals.

Co-Captain senior Alex Gerke will be leading the defense for UConn, which overall is pretty young.  Tom Janosz is the only other upperclassman on the blueline, the rest are all freshmen and sophomores.  The Husky penalty kill was tied for fourth in their league last year at 82.9%.  Likely in net for tomorrow will be (soon to be) four year starter Garrett Bartus.  Bartus is coming off an impressive junior season where he had a 2.55 goals against average and a .923 save percentage.

The keys for UMass tomorrow are pretty much the same things I covered in yesterday’s season preview.  Build off of the strides made last year, especially the successes on offense and on the power play.  Make the most of the accumulating experience at defense.  The blueline is one area where UMass by far has the advantage over UConn in my opinion.  And the team needs consistently solid goaltending.  While doing all that they’ll have to adjust accordingly to the strategy  and methodology laid out by Coach Micheletto and the coaching staff.  My guess is that things will be kept simple as they have only a handful of full practices under their belt.  In the scrimmage on Saturday the team moved the puck pretty well once in the offensive zone.  The toughest part was getting it there.  Lastly, when playing a team like UConn, or any team from Atlantic Hockey, is it’s essential for UMass to make the most of its superior athleticism.  If they allow the Huskies with their game plan to strategically neutralize the skill advantage that UMass has, all bets are off for tomorrow.

Being the first game of the season and the first game of a new era of Massachusetts hockey, here’s a few things I’ll be looking for tomorrow.  Who is in net?  My money right now would be on Kevin Boyle, but remember that in the radio show this week Mick did say he was open to using multiple goaltenders.  Will we see the same lines from the scrimmage?  Personally there are a few adjustments I’d like to see made.  My top line is still Pereira/Guzzo/Sheary.  Or do we see Mike Pereira reunited with his old prep school linemate K.J. Tiefenwerth?  It worked well for the prep champion Winged Beavers.  Personally I’ll be very interested to see who dresses.  Do freshmen like Evan Stack and Shane Walsh get the nod over a Zack LaRue or Andrew Tegeler?  Lastly, who grabs that 6th defenseman spot.  Based on what I saw at the scrimmage, my money is on Mike Busillo.

So there we have it.  Another season of UMass hockey is upon us.  I think it’s more important than usual for UMass to start out with a win to start the schedule.  I’ve already written a lot about what foes loom on the docket after the UConn game.  It’s also the first match for a new coach who we all want to be successful.  Lastly, after another season of disappointment and a disheartening summer for the program in general it would be joyous to start the season on a positive note.  To do so they’ll have to play to their abilities and overcome what’s likely to be a motivated UConn team.  The Huskies have a lot to play for.  I’m sure there are more than a few clad in blue that want to show that one star player, now having moved on, did not make the entire team last season.  They’re also out to show that they truly deserve that golden ticket invite to Hockey East that was delivered over the summer.  And, as always, they’d love to stick it to their once and future rivals.  It’s up to the Minutemen to show them what to expect when they finally get to Hockey East.

Beer The Triangle
Last week’s scrimmage didn’t only give me a chance to scout the current UMass team, but it gave me a chance to scout the beer lineup at the Hangar.  What I saw impressed me.  I was lucky enough on my Summer Beercation to visit the Sierra Nevada brewery right when they released their Beer Camp series for this year.  So I was happy to see the Hangar was having a Sierra Beer Camp tap takeover as of last week.  After doing some checking, I’m told three of the Beer Camps were still on draft as of last night.  Gone is the Imperial Oatmeal Stout.  But still available is the Floral IPA, Imperial Red, and Imperial Pilsner.  All are good but I particularly enjoy the pilsner.  Imperial Pilsners are complex and rare.  Of the ones I have had I would put two at the top.  One is from Boulevard Brewing out of Kansas City.  The other is currently on tap at the Hangar.

Matty V brings news that there will not be captains for tomorrow night’s game.  Though in my opinion overblown, I know this has been a sensitive subject with some UMass fans.  Personally I don’t see the big deal.  I’d rather the coach get comfortable with who he sees as leaders in the locker room and on the ice before putting letters on jerseys.  If UMass needs someone to interact with refs during the game tomorrow, I’m happy to volunteer.  I’ve been “conversing” with Hockey East officials for almost 20 years now.

Matt also brings news that Steve Mastalerz is just returning to full health, a fact that I don’t believe was public.  He didn’t appear to be hindered by an injury on Saturday.  The same could not be said for Eric Filiou, who was in street clothes for the scrimmage.  Unfortunately it sounds like Emerson Auvenshine suffered a concussion in the scrimmage and his status is uncertain.

Speed and tempo is the key for the Minutemen according to the Republican’s preview.  Harry Plumer also has a podcast with our esteemed commissioner Joe Bertagna.

The Republican says speed and tempo, but the focus is consistency according to USCHO. (way to pick a photo from pregame warm-ups to make it look like UMass has zero fans)  The USCHO writers pick UMass to finish 7th/8th, higher than most media this pre-season.

Here’s a season/game preview from UMass Sports Weekly, the student run TV show.

Massachusetts 2012-13 Season Preview

Hockey East Preview: #7 Massachusetts Minutemen

2011-12 Storyline: The Minutemen look like world beaters at times but in the end it’s a similar story as they’re swept in the Hockey East Quarterfinals

2012-13 Storyline: Will a coaching change be just what UMass needs to return to competing for home ice in Hockey East?

Player To Watch: Mike Pereira F (17-17-34)

Player Missed Most: T.J. Syner F (13-24-37)

Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: K.J. Tiefenwerth

Random Fact: This will be the 20th season of UMass hockey since the rebirth of the program in 1993-94

Beer The Triangle Favorite Local Brew: Besides hockey, the other thing I most look forward to in the valley every winter is Berkshire Brewing’s Cabin Fever.

Team Outlook

Last season was a microcosm of the frustration UMass fans have felt for the last five years all wrapped up into six months of games.  At times UMass looked like they could beat anyone in the country and at times they did just that.  Twice UMass took on the top team in the country and beat them, topping Boston College at home in November and then picking up their first ever road win against a #1 ranked team versus Boston University in February.  UMass would go on to take the season series from BC, the eventual national champions.  Yet, despite those wins and other victories over ranked teams like #13 Cornell and #17 Yale, UMass had what has now become a typical finish.  They barely made it into the Hockey East playoffs, needing to win a tiebreak against Northeastern to do so.  Then for the third straight year Boston College ended their season with a quarterfinal sweep.

Last season was the same type of pattern UMass fans have seen for far too long and is exactly why there’s hope that with a new coaching staff and new direction, that pattern can be broken, hopefully starting this year.  Of course the hiring of John Micheletto, and the rocky circumstances that surrounded the process, is also a reason why the Minutemen are being picked lower than they probably should be in the standings.  The coaches have picked them to finish out of the playoffs.  The Hockey East media has the same.  Even I believe they’ll finish in 7th, just one spot better than last year.  I’d pick them to finish higher but a coaching change creates a lot of upheaval and unknowns.  Especially when that coach doesn’t have a head coaching record to refer back to.  We know that Micheletto and assistant coach Joey Gasparini were a big part of the Vermont team that went to the Frozen Four in 2009, but we also know that the Catamounts have done very poorly in the past few years.  So overall coach Mick’s history as an assistant doesn’t immediately give UMass fans an idea of what to expect.

How much Coach Mick is able to get to know the players and vice versa will mean a lot in terms of how successful this team can be.  It’s never easy to have a new coach come in requiring the players to learn new systems and terminology.  Some teams, like Lowell and Providence last year, are able to see success right away.  But those coaches got a head start compared to Mick who was only hired in late July.  He does have the advantage of having Len Quesnelle on staff who can help bridge the previous regime to now and give the players some stability.  At the same time Mick isn’t saying he’s going to change anything too drastically, which should help.

After this Friday’s opener against UConn the team won’t have a lot of time to get settled with the new coaching staff and system as they’ll be tested very early on.  The following five games after the Huskies will include two against Boston College, two against Boston University, and one against UNH.  Needless to say, the team will have to find a way to win some of those or they’ll find themselves climbing out of a significant hole in the conference standings for the rest of the year.  The bright side to this year’s schedule is that other than that initial gauntlet, it’s setup well for a team just starting out with a new coach.  The team does not leave New England once during the season.  And the non-conference schedule of UConn, Quinnipiac, Colgate, Bemidji State, and either Dartmouth or New Hampshire features opponents that UMass should be competitive against.

Forwards

What will help in the transition to a new coach is the fact that UMass is blessed with many of their key players returning.  True, they will miss the contributions of some of last year’s seniors, but the team is set up to do well in their absence.  The team losses 27% of their goal scoring, due mostly to the graduation of T.J. Syner and Danny Hobbs.  But UMass does return its top goalscorer in the form of Mike Pereira, who totaled 17 goals on the season, 10th best in Hockey East.  Pereira will be the go to guy this year and will have to adjust his game accordingly.  Defenses will be keying in on him so he’ll have to try to overcome the extra attention.  Conor Sheary is the top returner in terms of points, finishing two behind Syner.  Sheary’s point production exploded from his freshman year when he only tallied 14 total.  He’ll get a chance to build off the 35 points and 12 goals this season as he will be considered UMass’ top offensive player behind Pereira.  The third junior who will be counted upon on offense is Branden Gracel who had seven goals and 14 assists last year.  Gracel, like Sheary, brings good skill in terms of both passing and scoring and will be needed to do both.

Steven Guzzo was one of the nicer surprises last season.  Coming off a knee injury that caused him to miss his entire freshman year, Guzzo was a key player and one of five Minutemen to get into double digits for goals scored.  The team will need him to build off the 10 goals from last year and fill the gap from the players lost.  After Guzzo it’s less clear who can be counted upon for offense.  As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I think freshman K.J. Tiefenwerth has the tools to come in and contribute to UMass’ offense right away.  Rocco Carzo is someone who we know is capable of scoring, notching six goals his freshman year before transitioning to more of a grinder role the last two years.  It’ll be interesting to see if Troy Power plays a bigger role on offense after putting up nine points last season.  Perhaps as a sign of things to come we already saw him playing with Sheary and Pereira in this past Saturday’s scrimmage.

The trio of centers (and sometimes wingers) Kevin Czepiel, Peter DeAngelo, and Eric Filiou will all be called upon to up their offensive output.  All possessing good vision and hands, they’ll likely be setting up their wings a lot of the time.  But at the same time they can score as well with DeAngelo and Czepiel scoring three goals apiece last year while Filiou had a couple.  DeAngelo was playing very well until he went down with a season ending injury in February.

It’ll be interesting to see what role last year’s freshman have on the team this year.  Zack LaRue came to Amherst after scoring 33 goals in his last year of juniors, yet failed to score any in his 14 games last year, taking only 8 shots total.  Andrew Tegeler only played five games last season but did notch a goal against Boston College in one of those.  Tegeler is very intriguing, showing at times some great skill to go along with his asset at size but didn’t get a lot of ice time under then coach Toot Cahoon.  Perhaps that changes with a year of practice under his belt and a new coach filling out the lineup.  Emerson Auvenshine gave UMass quality minutes in the 15 games he played, though he registered just one assist.  Perhaps one of these three are poised to have a breakout year.

One of the things I’m interested to see this season is how Patrick Kiley performs.  He played sparingly to start last year and when he did play he was usually hurting the team with mistakes and ill-timed penalties.  But sometime in January, something clicked and from then on he was consistently one of UMass’ best players for the balance of the season.  As mentioned before it’s possible that Carzo or Power get put on a scoring line this season, but you almost want to see what would happen if the Carzo/Kiley/Power line returned intact to see what they could accomplish together.  Joining those guys as giving the Minutemen some solid two way play will be freshmen Shane Walsh and Evan Stack.  Stack reminded me a lot of Auvenshine when I watched him Saturday, except he may be able to provide a bit more on offense.  Lastly, I expect Eddie Olczyk to play more this season, giving the Minutemen some key minutes as one of its best defensive forwards.

Defense

Some season previews I read had UMass’ defense as a question mark or even a weakness.  I don’t understand this.  I’m not saying they were the best in the league, but I thought they played solid last season, especially considering they usually had a freshman goaltender behind them most games.  UMass gave up 3.49 goals in 2010-11 with a very experienced goaltender as captain.  Last year this number improved to 3.28.  Still too high to be truly competitive, but if we can see that same kind of improvement this year it’d be a key step towards improving their place in the standings.

In my view the defense for UMass starts with Joel Hanley and Conor Allen.  I’d go as far as to say that Hanley was one of the most underrated players in the conference in the league and I thought deserved recognition on the All-Hockey East Team.  He provides smart, athletic defense and his +12 rating was tops among UMass defensemen.  Helping that number is what he provides on offense as he netted seven goals and his 25 points was 4th best on the team.  Hanley seems poised to become much more of a household name around the league this year.

Allen showed flashes of good play his freshman year but overall was inconsistent and sometimes took bad penalties.  Last year Allen was probably the team’s most consistent player on the defensive side of the ice and I thought did a much better job of being able to play physical without getting in trouble for it.  I see Allen’s leadership of being the team’s most solid defender extending to being a leader of the team in general.  He showed last year that he’s not just some stay at home defenseman as he scored seven goals and added 14 assists.  Two of his goals were gamewinners.  Allen has a huge role to play for this team this year.

If the pairings from Saturday’s scrimmage continue during the season then we’ll be seeing the twin towers of Oleg Yevenko and Adam Phillips together quite a bit.  They’re coming into this season from slightly different perspectives however.  Yevenko is looking to build off a decent freshman year.  The worries that he either couldn’t skate well enough to play in Hockey East or that he’d hurt the team by taking too many penalties never materialized.  Instead he played pretty well all season long and even made the most of his lone goal on the season, a gamewinner over BC.  Yevenko amazingly added 25 pounds of weight over the offseason but judging by how well he was moving this past Saturday, it doesn’t seem to be affecting his skating.  Phillips is looking to move on and forget about last year when he played just 26 games and scored only one goal after netting 10 as a freshman.  He played well in the scrimmage on both ends of the ice and had the nicest looking of the game’s five goals.

Colin Shea continues to quietly play consistently well at defense and will likely continue to do the same.  It’s still unknown who will be the sixth defenseman on game nights.  Redshirt junior Anthony Raiola brings three years of experience, but only played four games last season after playing 13 as a freshman.  Mike Busillo played well in the six games he played last season, including dressing for both of the wins over the top ranked teams at the time.  Darren Rowe’s tenure at UMass seemed pretty much a thing of the past until he made the most of a chance to play during the second half of the season.  He ended up playing some of the best hockey of his career during February before stumbling a bit in March.  Added to the mix for 6th defensemen will be freshman Connor Doherty who brings decent size and the experience of playing in a program, the Junior Bruins, that has provided UMass solid defensemen in the past.

Goaltender

On the eve of the season we’re asking ourselves the same question we were asking last year at this time.  Who’s in net?  Like last year, you can make the case for any of the three goaltenders to get a shot.  Add in the fact that there’s a new coach making the decision and pretty much everyone is auditioning for the job despite the results from last year.  Those results would likely favor Kevin Boyle however.  Boyle did have a winning record of 8-7-4 during his time in net and had the best goals against average at 3.00 and save percentage with .895.  He also played the most consistently of the goaltenders as well, putting together a stretch of games from early November through December where he went 4-0-1.  He had another stretch later in the year where he won three of four games.  Boyle has a lot to feel confident about when looking at his performance last season.

Steve Mastalerz had a good debut season too.  His goals against average of 3.37 and save percentage of .889 isn’t that far behind Boyle.  He also had the lone shutout for UMass last season, a 4-0 blanking of then #4 Boston College.  When Mastalerz is on his game he has certainly shown he’s capable of being a #1 goaltender in Hockey East.  The trick will be for him to display that kind of play every time he’s on the ice.  That’s something he had a tough time doing as a freshman.

Lastly, I think Minuteman fans who dismiss Jeff Teglia’s chances in this race could be surprised.  Teglia had a better goals against average than Mastalerz with 3.32 and a comparable save percentage at .886.  It probably doesn’t hurt that he had his best games last season against Coach Micheletto’s Catamounts.  Don’t count Teglia out yet.  But who will ultimately end up as the solution in net?  I have no idea.  I just hope it gets narrowed down early in the season.  The dragging on of the goalie battle well into the winter I think hurt the psyche of the team last year.  I’d hate to see that repeated.

Coaching

From Coach Micheletto and his staff I’m just looking for minor changes that will help UMass win immediately.  UMass is not in a situation where a new coach is taking over a program in shambles and needs to tear everything down just to build it back up.  The team is in relatively good shape.  Coming back is a large junior class that is really starting to come into their own.  Last year this team with much of the same core as now were able to not only skate with, but beat, the best teams in the country.  For that, the coaching staff should be looking to just make tweaks to what they aleady have to make those great performances more consistent.

The forwards, led by Pereira and Sheary, are due for a breakout year.  Progress was made last season in terms of offensive output and with the power play.  A new coaching staff will need to identify what went right in those areas and instead of making wholesale changes, just do what’s needed to bring them to the next level.  This year I expect improvement defensively with an experienced group of defensemen coming back and Boyle and Mastalerz coming in having that year of experience under their belts.  Again, other than figuring out the goaltending situation, there isn’t anything dramatic that needs to change in these areas.  The team as a whole just needs a little more guidance and hopefully some more consistency in terms of the strategies employed to give them a chance to win every night.  In the end, that’s what this staff should be concentrating on.  Nothing’s broken with this team, they just need help identifying what they did right that led to those big victories last season and employing those tactics on an everday basis.

Outlook

So, in laying it all out, UMass brings back a good deal of their scoring, nearly all their improving defensemen, and legitimate options at goaltender.  So why do I have them finishing 7th?  Well, if the same coaching staff was coming back from last year I would likely have them higher.  That’s not to say I was against a coaching change.  I’m very interested to see what Coach Mick can accomplish here and as of right now have confidence that he’ll get UMass out of the 7th/8th place rut.  I just don’t know if it’ll be this year.  Every coaching change comes with some growing pains.  When that coaching change is made so close to the beginning of the season, those growing pains are more pronounced.  All said and done everyone has had to scramble for the last couple months to be ready to go this Friday.  And that scrambling rather than composed planning is the reason I’m picking them to finish near the bottom of the standings.  Not because I don’t believe in the talent on this team.

What worries me most is that in that initial period when the players are getting used to the coach and vice versa, the team has to face some very formidable foes.  Following Friday’s opener against UConn it’ll be a game against BC, a home and home with BU, UNH at home, a Sunday at BC, an improved Providence team, a trip to Orono to face Maine, and a game against a top ten Lowell squad.  If this team is not ready to be competitive from the very start they could find themselves with six or seven conference losses by Turkey Tuesday against UVM.  One thing that does favor the Minutemen is that 11 of the first 15 games will be in front of a friendly crowd.  The flip side of that is that only seven of the final 19 games are in Amherst including just one of the of the final four.

This is a very good team.  This is a talented team.  From all accounts this is a close team, brought closer by the turmoil that surrounded the program over the summer.  This team has the potential to do very well.  Perhaps well enough to compete for home ice.  At least good enough to find themselves in the middle of the Hockey East standings.  But to do so they and the coach will need to be on the same page from day one.  Freshmen and guys who only scored a few goals last year will need to play a big role in scoring starting this Friday.  Adam Phillips will need to return to the form we saw two years ago and someone will have to step up and grab that 6th defensive spot.  The goaltending situation will have to resolve itself earlier rather than later and the team will need consistent play from whoever the victor of the competition is.  UMass will have to extend the strides made last year on the power play and improve upon a dismal penalty kill.  Can all these things happen?  Yes.  Is this team capable of achieving all of these things during the season?  Yes.  Can all of the above fall into place from the get go so UMass can beat the likes of BC, BU, Lowell, and UNH from the get go?  That remains to be seen.  But we’ll know soon enough.  Maybe not after Friday, but certainly in a few weeks we’ll know exactly what will be in store for UMass hockey.

Fear The Triangle Fearless Hockey East Predictions
1. Boston College Eagles
2. Lowell River Hawks
3. Boston University Terriers
4. New Hampshire Wildcats
5. Providence Friars
6. Maine Black Bears
7. Massachusetts Minutemen
8. Merrimack Warriors
9. Northeastern Huskies
10. Vermont Catamounts

Here’s a Hockey East preview from Hockey’s Future focused more on NHL prospects of course than the league itself.

And here’s a MAC Hockey preview.  No seriously, MAC Hockey.

Just a reminder that I want my plate.  Over 2,000 people indicated to the UMAA that they were interested in getting one. But, only 1,050 have put their money where their mouth is.  Enough people will read this post alone to get the plate project to their goal so make sure to click below.

Lastly, I’m getting increasingly fed up with the people posting comments ripping players, coaches, and anyone else all while hiding behind the ability to post anonymously.  This is something that has bothered me for a while but I’ve been hesitant to do anything about it because I don’t want to hinder the open discussion about the hockey program.  But my patience is wearing thin.  Feel like slamming a student-athlete?  Fine.  Sign your name to your comment instead of being a coward.  And always keep in mind that while you may think you’re cleverly hiding anonymously, you’re really not.  At least not to me.  If the anonymous comments continue to be annoying, you’ll soon find a Facebook or Twitter login is required to share your thoughts about UMass hockey on the blog.  Or maybe you’ll find your comment edited to include your hometown.  I’d rather it doesn’t come to that, but I have too much else to do in my life than play nanny to a bunch of hockey fans.

Newcomer of the Year Selection; Recruit Update

So in an annual tradition going back to my days writing about hockey over on UMasshoops.com, I’m making by pick for Newcomer of the Year.  I’ve had some wins in the past, like seeing the potential in James Marcou and Mike Pereira, and some misses such as Ryan Leary.  This year I should have a a better chance than last season when I figured that one of the freshmen goaltenders would have the greatest impact on the squad but couldn’t figure out which one, so I went with Zack LaRue.

With that said, despite some strong showings by Evan Stack, Connor Doherty, and Shane Walsh at Saturday’s scrimmage, I’m going with K.J. Tiefenwerth.  Tiefenwerth, in my opinion, has the best chance to make an immediate impact on UMass’ fortunes this year.  Tiefenwerth was a bit of a surprise to come to Amherst since he was originally committed to Boston College.  But, for whatever reasons, Jerry York decided not to go forward with him at BC and the Eagles loss is UMass’ gain.

Tiefenwerth has spent the last two years as one of the top players in the EJHL for one of its elite teams, the Junior Bruins.  In the EJHL this past year he had 30 goals and 47 assists in 43 regular season games.  That put him at 3rd in the league in total points and 6th in goals.  In four playoff games he had two goals, including a game winner.  In his first year of Eastern Junior he had 26 goals and 31 assists in 44 games.  For that effort he was named the league’s Rookie of the Year.  Prior to playing in the EJHL he was a linemate of current Minuteman Mike Pereira as they helped lead the Winged Beavers of Avon Old Farms to a New England Prep Championship.

The book on Tiefenwerth is that he has great vision on the ice.  He’s also known to have great hands that give him the ability to both pass and shoot the puck, and he does both well.  He’s said to be a good skater, something that was on display in Saturday’s scrimmage.  That skill package not only gained him the interest of multiple Hockey East teams but the New York Islanders who have brought the Long Island native to their prospect camp for the past two summers.

Tiefenwerth is a proven commodity from one of the better junior leagues in the country, a player thought highly of by the college and pro hockey communities, and has the type of game to fill a slot on one of UMass’ top lines.  For those reasons I’m picking him my Newcomer of the Year to make an immediate contribution to the team.

A pretty good week for the future Minutemen in this week’s Recruit Update:

Kenny Gillespie – RW – Omaha Lancers (USHL) – 2013
4 GP / 1 G / 1 A / 2 Pts / 0 PIM / -2
Gillespie scored his first goal of the season, on the power play, to go with an assist in the Lancers game this past Friday.

Mark Hamilton – D – Salisbury School Crimson Knights (NE Prep) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Hamilton is due to return to Salisbury again this season. Prep hockey will start up at the end of November.

Mike Iovanna – RW/C – Malden Catholic Lancers (MA High School) – 2013
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
All signs point toward Iovanna returning to Malden Catholic this year.

Dennis Kravchenko – LW – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2013 or 2014
4 GP / 2 G /2 A / 4 Pts / 2 PIM / 0
Kravechenko scored the game winning goal on Saturday for the Stampede while also adding a power play assist.

Casey Miller – C – Kimball Union (NE Prep) – 2014
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
It’s expected that Miller will return to KUA again after helping the Wildcats to a New England Prep championship last year.

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
4 GP / 0 G / 1 A / 1 Pts / 4 PIM
Smith did not get on the scoresheet in his one game this past weekend.

Here’s a little something to get you psyched up for hockey on Friday.

Polls & Awards

So this first Polls & Awards post of the season can pretty much be titled “Why Polls Are Stupid”.  Last week UMass had enough votes in the USCHO poll to be de facto 28th and ahead of fellow Hockey East teams Northeastern and Providence.  In this week’s poll UMass received zero votes, no doubt because of their lackluster performance this past weekend against…er…UMass.  Providence and Northeastern played as many real games as UMass this past week, zero, yet still received votes.  Just another lesson that the polls are only as valuable as the people that are chosen to vote in them.

We have a split poll this week as Boston College is #1 for USCHO but Minnesota is tops in the USA Hockey/USA Today poll.

All Black Bears and Warriors in this week’s Hockey East awards, since they’re the only ones who played.

UMass is flip-flopping a home and home with Providence in January.  The teams will play at the Mullins on Friday, January 11th and then at Schneider the next night.

New England Hockey Journal has their preview of Hockey East.  They also have this in-depth feature on Jerry York, claiming he’s the best coach in college hockey.  Yes, yes he is.

Starting to wrap-up preview mode here at FTT.  Tomorrow I’ll unveil my pick for Newcomer of the Year, Wednesday will be the annual way too long season preview for the Minutemen, and then Thursday will take a look at Friday’s opener against the UConn Huskies.

Hockey East Preview: #1 Boston College; Scrimmage Thoughts

Hockey East Preview: #1 Boston College Eagles

2011-12 Storyline: Boston College gains the national championship for the third time in the last five years

2012-13 Storyline: The Eagles look to continue their dominance in Hockey East and nationally in 2012-13

Player To Watch: Johnny Gaudreau F (21-23-44)

Player Missed Most: Chris Kreider F (23-22-45)

Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: Mike Matheson D

Random Fact: Boston College and Boston University are now tied with five national championships apiece

Beer The Triangle Favorite Local Brew: Since BC is on the western edge of Boston, my favorite brewery in metro west is Jack’s Abby out of Framingham.  High quality beer and very creative.  It’s not often you see a wet hop lager.

Team Outlook

Another year, another offseason that saw Boston College lose some highly talented players to graduation and the NHL.  No problem though, it happens all the time and BC always bounces back, with the younger players stepping up and reloading with another highly rated recruiting class.

The Eagles do lose three of their top four goal scorers this season, but the one coming back, Johnny Gaudreau, was one of the top freshman in the league and the country last year.  He’ll look to improve on his 21 goals last season and will be helped at forward by Bill Arnold, Steven Whitney, and captain Pat Mullane.  Added to this mix with be Brendan Silk out of the USNTDP.

BC will miss Brian Dumoulin quite a bit on the blueline, same goes for Tommy Cross.  But the Eagles still bring back a number of experienced players to go with top recruit Mike Matheson, a 1st round draft pick and one of the top players out of the USHL.  Patch Alber and Patrick Wey will lead the defensive unit and will try to be a steady influence for the younger players.  Joining Matheson as a highly rated defensive recruit is Colin Sullivan out of Avon Old Farms.

Parker Milner got off to a rocky start at the beginning of last season but after being given a second chance at the end of January, he never looked back.  19 straight wins later, Milner had gained a national championship for he and his Eagles.  He’ll be expected to do more of the same this year, but if anything happens sophomore Brian Billet is very capable in his own right.

They’ll Finish Lower Because: The freshmen on defense take longer than expected to adjust

Fear The Triangle Fearless Hockey East Predictions
1. Boston College Eagles
2. Lowell River Hawks
3. Boston University Terriers
4. New Hampshire Wildcats
5. Providence Friars
6. Maine Black Bears
7. Massachusetts Minutemen (preview 10/10)
8. Merrimack Warriors
9. Northeastern Huskies
10. Vermont Catamounts

Those are my picks.  But we’ll see how they end up.  Will Merrimack really drop back to the bottom of the pack after the last few historic years for their program.  Is Providence good enough to break into the top four?  Can UMass enjoy the same kind of new coach boost that we saw from Lowell and Providence last year?  We’ll know soon enough.

Yesterday afternoon the team held an open to the public scrimmage at the practice rink.  Overall I would say they look like a team that is a bit rusty and is still trying to get used to a new coach and new system.  They played hard, they played tough (there were even some pretty good hits during the game), but I would not say they looked crisp.  Passing seemed to be a huge problem during the scrimmage, outlet passes especially.  This is likely going to be one of coach Micheletto’s biggest areas of focus this week as he has mentioned puck possession as being a high priority.  We did see the up tempo he has been speaking of as the team was creating rushes up and down the ice constantly.

The scrimmage was split into three sections.  The first period was a typical scrimmage with five on five and goaltenders.  Only one goal was scored during this time as Branden Gracel put a slapshot behind Kevin Boyle..  Second period was sectioned off into eight two minute power play opportunities.  Unfortunately the power play looked very disorganized during this time and ended up going 0 for 8.  The third period featured some late game extra man situations and then some four on four time.  This is when most of the scoring happened.  First Mike Busillo was able to get a puck behind Jeff Teglia during the four on four time.  Adam Phillips had perhaps the best goal of the day, putting home a wrister from the right side past Boyle after a nice little toe-drag.  Andrew Tegeler would battle in front for a goal on Kevin Boyle and the scoring was concluded by Rob Dongara scoring on Steve Mastalerz.  In the end the White team defeated Maroon 3-2.

All players dressed and played in the game except Eric Filiou.  Evan Auvenshine did play initially but was missing from the ice in the later part of the scrimmage.  All four freshmen played significant time.  Out of the four I would say Evan Stack looked the best.  He was very active and aggressive and moved the puck well.  Shane Walsh looked decent and showed some good two-way play.  Connor Doherty looks solid on defense, his play reminding me a lot of Colin Shea’s.  K.J. Tiefenwerth showed some good speed but wasn’t able to produce much on offense when he was on the ice.  Transfer Rob Dongara was one of the better players on the ice for much of the day.

Here are some of the line combinations I saw to start the game:

Sheary/Power/Pereira
Carzo/Guzzo/Gracel
Walsh/Auvenshine/Stack
Kiley/Tiefenwerth/Rowe?
Olczyk/Czepiel/DeAngelo
Tegeler/LaRue/Dongara

In terms of pairings, Conor Allen and Joel Hanley appear to be paired up a lot.  Phillips and Oleg Yevenko were nearly always paired together.  It’s tough to say who has a head start for that 6th defensive position as Busillo, Doherty, Darren Rowe, and Railoa all played a bunch of minutes.  All the goaltenders played well and made some nice saves when needed.  Statistically Boyle gave up the most goals he also seemed to be tested the most.

So those are my early thoughts on the first practice.  Certainly there’s a lot to work on but I think that’s to be expected at this stage.  Personally I was just happy to watch some hockey and looking forward to more on Friday.

The season got started for real for a couple of Hockey East teams.  Merrimack took out #5 Union 4-1 however Maine lost to Quinnipiac.

Hockey East Preview: #2 Lowell River Hawks

Hockey East Preview: #2 Lowell River Hawks

2011-12 Storyline: Under the leadership of first year coach Norm Bazin the River Hawks complete one of the most improbable turnarounds in college hockey history

2012-13 Storyline: The pressure will be on Lowell to repeat the magic as they return most of last year’s squad

Player To Watch: Scott Wilson F (16-22-38)

Player Missed Most: Matt Ferreira F (14-18-32)

Newcomer To Keep An Eye On: Michael Fallon  F

Random Fact: Lowell will look to make the NCAA tournament in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history

Beer The Triangle Favorite Local Brew: Just over the state line in Nashua, New Hampshire is Martha’s Exchange Restaurant and Brewery.  I’ve only had their stuff at beer fests, but they’re definitely recommended.  I might have to mix up the usual pregame routine at Lowell Beer Works someday and make a visit to the source

Team Outlook

Lowell took everyone by surprise going from just four Hockey East victories in 2010-11 to 2nd place in the league and the NCAA tournament last season.  That won’t happen this year as the coaches and fans expect the River Hawks to be among the top two teams in the conference this year.  Yet, they’ll still have to prove themselves to some of the doubters out there who call what Lowell did last year a fluke.

One of the reasons many think Lowell can push Boston College for the league title is the fact that they basically didn’t lose much from last year.  Sure, they’ll miss the likes of David Vallorani and Matt Ferreira, but if stars like sophomore Scott Wilson and junior Derek Arnold continue to develop and they get contributions from guys like Terrence Wallin and Josh Holmstrom, they won’t have problems replacing the scoring they lost.  Personally I’m interested to see what Joe Pendenza does this coming year, as he’s one of the hardest working forwards in the conference.

Seniors Malcolm Lyles and  F/D Colin Wright and junior Chad Ruhwedel are the upperclassmen at defense this year.  Yet they also return a couple of sophomores who all played well in their first year in the form of Jake Suter and Zack Kamrass.  Keep an eye on highly regarded redshirt freshman Dmitri Sinitsyn who started classes at Lowell mid-season last year but didn’t play.

At the start of last year Doug Carr was coming off a sub-par freshman year and was supposed to battle fellow sophomore Marc Boulanger for playing time all season.  Instead he ended up having one of the best statistical seasons among all the country’s goaltenders.  He’ll look to be as good if not better as he enters his junior year.  If he stumbles though look for freshman Connor Hellebuyck, a Winnipeg draft pick, to get a chance instead.

They’ll Finish Lower Because: The pressure and expectations to win proves to be too much

They’ll Finish Higher Because: All their star players from forwards to defensemen to goaltender are a year older and a year better

Fear The Triangle Fearless Hockey East Predictions
1. ??
2. Lowell River Hawks
3. Boston University Terriers
4. New Hampshire Wildcats
5. Providence Friars
6. Maine Black Bears
7. Massachusetts Minutemen (preview 10/10)
8. Merrimack Warriors
9. Northeastern Huskies
10. Vermont Catamounts

UMass Sports Weekly sits down with Kevin Boyle to talk about pre-season polls, pizza, and opposing crowds:

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I’m looking forward to seeing the team on the ice tomorrow during the 4pm scrimmage at the practice rink.  I’ll be looking to see if there is any noticeable difference in play style under Micheletto at this early point, who of the three goaltenders look good in net, and getting a first glance at most of the freshman after reading and writing about them for so long.  Of course I’m equally as interested to see what Stoney has on tap at the Hangar.  I’ll have a recap of what I see on Sunday.

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