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Providence Friars 4-3-1 (3-2-0) T-4th Hockey East

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Massachusetts Minutemen 2-4-0 (1-4-0) 8th Hockey East

Tomorrow will be an interesting game for the Minutemen.  To date they’ve faced a daunting Hockey East schedule and it has resulted in an unfortunate result of 1-4-0 in the conference so far.   But on Friday it gets, perhaps, not quite as intimidating.  To date the Hockey East teams that UMass has played have been traditional Hockey East powers currently ranked in the top 15 in the polls, not to mention teams that have a lot of recent success over UMass.  Providence does not fall into those categories.  But that’s not to say that the Friars should be overlooked.  However the point I’m trying to make is that few UMass fans thought the team would be competing with the likes of Boston College, Boston University, or New Hampshire this year.  Instead they thought or at least hoped it would be teams like the Friars, picked to finish in the middle of the conference, that would be the ones UMass could have to beat consistently to be successful.

That’s not to say it’ll be easy though.  It didn’t take Nate Leaman long to improve the Providence program, leading the Friars to the TD Garden last spring.  So far they’ve done about what you can expect from a talented, but young team.  They narrowly lost at BU, got a tie from Miami followed by a loss, swept Maine, and split with a surprising Vermont team.  Probably not the start to the season that the Friar team was hoping for, but not entirely unexpected.

This Friar team is young.  Of the nine players leading in points only two of them are juniors or seniors, and both of those are defensemen.  The team has been led by sophomore Ross Mauermann who has four goals and two assists so far this season.  A lot of attention has been paid upon freshman and first round draft pick Mark Jankowski who has three goals on the season, though two of those came in the season opener against Sacred Heart.  Providence has also gotten some good production from sophomore Shane Luke and freshman Paul De Jersey who have a couple of goals apiece.

The defensemen have also contributed on offense as senior defenseman Myles Harvey is averaging almost an assist a game so far.  Freshman blueliner John Gilmour has had two goals to go with three assists to date.  The Minutemen will also still have to deal with senior talent Alex Velischek on defense for the Friars.  In net UMass will get their first look at John Gilles, the Northeastern Husky recruit turned Friar goaltender.  Though it’s still early on the season he’s already been named Hockey East Rookie of the Week twice and garnered Defensive Player of the Week honors as well.  Those accolades are not a surprise when you consider the fact that he has a 1.80 goals against average thus far to go with a .932 save percentage.

The good news for UMass when facing Gilles is that the goaltender who is ahead of him statistically so far is Casey DeSmith, the backstop the Minutemen beat last weekend for their first Hockey East win.  Still, beating the Friars will not be easy.  They don’t have a ton of experience, but they believe in themselves and their coach.  But for the Minutemen, this is a bit of a referendum (apologies for the political terminology, I’m sure we’re all enjoying our respite from the negative ads).  UMass has a poor record so far in conference, but they’ve been in almost all the game against top notch opponents and nearly pulled off a number of high profile upsets.  If they’ve been *this close* from beating the likes of BU and BC, this veteran UMass squad should be able to beat an inexperienced Friar team at home, right?  We’ll see.

When first looking at the schedule I perhaps overestimated Providence and was initially very worried about this game.  Perhaps I put too much into how the Friars finished last year without accounting for just how many underclassmen they have to rely on to win this year.  But overall, those underclassmen have come through so far.  If anything you have to wonder where the production is from the likes of Tim Schaller (1G, 2A) and Derek Army (1G, 2A).  Point being, UMass cannot overlook this team.

For the Minutemen, they just have to build off what has gone right for them so far.  There has been a lot of switching of lines to find the right mix, but I thought the line combinations are starting to come together.  The Steven Guzzo/Rocco Carzo/Conor Sheary grouping looked very good last week and helped to get Sheary his first goal.  The other top line of Mike Pereira/Branden Gracel/Troy Power did very well with Power putting up a multi-point night against BC and Pereira getting his first point of the season.  On the other end of the ice the defense has looked very solid, when not fatigued, and the team may have found their starting goaltender in Kevin Boyle.

Honestly, this is a huge game for the Minutemen.  It’s their only chance at points on the weekend and they really can’t afford to fall any further behind in the league.  Add in the fact that this game is at home against a young team that has only one win away from Rhode Island and UMass should be expected to be victorious tomorrow night.  Let’s see if they can turn narrow losses against elite teams into decisive victories against the not quite as experienced teams in Hockey East.

Beer The Triangle
The Hangar is supposed to be having a mini Lagunitas takeover.  It doesn’t seem that long ago that I was sitting at the bar at the Lagunitas brewery in Petaluma while on my NoCal beercation.  According to Stoney they’re expected to have the Pale Ale, Pils, Maximus, and their session Daytime IPA.  Seems like a good way to cap off a decent week of Lagunitas for me after grabbing some of their luxurious Brown Shugga on Sunday while pregaming at Publick House ahead of the BC game and even finding a Little Sumpin’ at Stars in Hingham before that.

USCHO’s Hockey East piece features Providence’s talented youth as well as the almost, but not quite, season for UMass so far.

The Gazette’s preview notes that Mike Pereira had a hat trick the last time he faced the Frairs.

UMass is focused on closing games says the Republican preview.

Providence’s Mark Jankowski is the focus of the preview out of the Collegian.

Via the UMass Athletics website is UMass Hockey: Behind the Scenes hosted by senior Eddie Olczyk.  “Pillows are for those people that are weak.”

UMass Hockey Behind The Scenes

 

Good luck to the Minutewomen Field Hockey team as they take on #1 Syracuse in the first round of the NCAA tournament this weekend.  Go UMass!

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