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Weekend Preview

Massachusetts Minutemen 3-4-0 (2-4-0) T-7th Hockey East

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Maine Black Bears 2-9-0 (1-5-0) 10th Hockey East

This coming weekend looked pretty challenging when first looking at the schedule during the offseason.  At trip up to Orono to face Maine is never easy.  And an oddly timed Sunday night matchup against a Lowell team that made it to the NCAA tournament last year didn’t seem like  a walk in the park either.  However given the results through the first month of the season, the chance that UMass could take a bunch of points from the Hockey East opponents seems better than initially thought.  That still doesn’t mean it’ll be easy though.

Despite the season still considered relatively early, Maine has already had their fair share of hardship, including a seven game losing streak over the course of four weekends.  Fans are not happy in the state of Maine given the poor performance of the Black Bears who only have a couple wins on the season in 11 total games, one coming against Army.  But Maine does coming into the weekend on a high note, beating Lowell in Lowell this past Saturday to gain their first conference win.

There were some repercussions from that game however.  One of Maine’s better defensemen, Brice O’Connor, decided to cross-check Lowell’s Scott Wilson to the face in the waning seconds of the third period and ended up getting a disqualification.  That means he cannot dress for Friday against the Minutemen.  That’s not a good thing for a team that is dead last among Hockey East teams in goals allowed at 3.18.  Blueliners like Nick Pryor will have to pick up the slack in O’Connor’s absence.  It’ll also be interesting to get a first look at freshman defenseman Ben Hutton who is highly regarded.  In net it’ll likely be Martin Ouellette who has started four of the last six games and has a 2.79 goals against average.

The Bears may not exactly be at full strength on offense on Friday either.  Joey Diamond was hurt in this past Friday’s game and missed Saturday.  Matt Soucy of the Maine Hockey Journal yesterday tweeted that Diamond is doubtful against UMass.  With or with out him they’ve struggled mightily to score this season.  Only one player has more than one goal on the season, sophomore Connor Leen with three.  Maine is averaging an anemic 1.36 goals scored per game.  Not only is that last among Hockey East teams, it’s second last in the nation next to Alabama-Huntsville.  If that’s not bad enough, their power play is converting at a rate of 3.9%.  That’s not a typo, they’ve converted 2 out of 51 chances.  Yikes.

UMass has two distinct advantages going for them against Maine.  First, the team has improved their offense at even strength in recent games.  That’s key as Maine has been pretty bad overall at giving up goals, but their penalty kill has not been horrible.  Secondly, assuming he gets the start, Kevin Boyle not only has experience playing up at Alfond, but he actually has a 4-1 win to his name there.  Alfond is a tough place to play, even if the Maineiacs may be subdued by their team’s performance.  Familiarity with the arena and the atmosphere should help Boyle in net.

UML River Hawks 2-4-1 (1-3-1) 9th Hockey East

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Massachusetts Minutemen 3-4-0 (2-4-0) T-7th Hockey East

On display in the form of the Lowell River Hawks this season is a very interesting dynamic that you’ll see once in a while in sports.  When you’ve hit rock bottom, as Lowell did two seasons ago, and there are zero expectations from either your opponents or your own fans, sometimes it’s possible to sneak up on people, gain some momentum, and ride that wave of surprise all the way to the NCAA regional finals.  But once the season starts anew and the pressure and spotlight is put upon virtually same personnel, suddenly it’s very tough to get wins.  That appears to be what’s happening to Lowell this year.

Like Maine, Lowell has only managed two wins on the season, one against the equally struggling Black Bears, one a surprising win at Colorado College out in the Centennial State.  Still, two wins is pretty pathetic for a team that was the preseason #6 team in the country and one which many people thought would challenge Boston College for the Hockey East crown.

The River Hawks have had problems on both sides of the ice.  Offensively they’ve been unable to average even two goals scored a game, coming into the weekend at just 1.86.  The team has gotten some scoring from the guys they need it from; Josh Holmstrom has three goals on the season while Riley Wetmore and Derek Arnold have two apiece.  What’s really surprising though is the performance of reigning Rookie of the Year Scott Wilson.  Wilson so far has one goal on just 16 shots on the season along with a –6 rating.

Offense is the most blatant problem for the River Hawks.  Defensively they’ve been better at times.  While goaltender Doug Carr has had a couple tough games, such as giving up six goals to BC or four to Maine this past weekend, in all other games he’s only allowed one or less.  By the looks of it, they’ll need one of Carr’s better games on Sunday afternoon.

Massachusetts had some of their worst games against UML last year, with the River Hawks coasting to what was an easy season sweep.  I would hope that’s something that has been stewing during the offseason and Sunday will allow for the first opportunity to atone for past failures.  A little emotion on the part of the Minutemen in this game wouldn’t be a bad thing.  While the UMass and players tend to look forward to visits from BC or BU, the game against Massachusetts is one that UML will always circle on the schedule.  Their players get up for it and the River Hawks love to see the satellite campus stick it to UMass.  Sunday is a huge opportunity in the on again off again rivalry between the schools.  Hopefully the Minutemen take advantage of a Lowell team that is currently reeling.  The prospect of gaining points at home is also an opportunity that shouldn’t be overlooked.  The home schedule is weighted in UMass’ favor in the first half of the season so every point they can maximize from that advantage is huge.

Beer The Triangle
I will not be at Maine on Friday as I’ve only made the trip north on the years where I can see two games up at Alfond (thus being able to purchase two Alfond baked potatoes).  But for those that are making the trip, I really enjoyed my first trip to Nocturnem in downtown Bangor.  Closer to campus is Bear Brew Pub where you can find the locally brewed Black Bear Microbrew.  But don’t eat there, save your appetite for Pat’s Pizza next door.

Sunday will be spent at the Hangar watching the Patriots game during the afternoon before it’s time to head over to the Mullins.  Currently on draft there is a Meantime Naval College Old Porter.  It’s rare to stumble across a beer I haven’t heard of, but this was one.  It was good too, a very good traditional English porter.  I’ve literally never seen this on draft anywhere else.

The Collegian previews the upcoming weekend.

The Republican features Kevin Boyle in their preview.

CHN has UMass all the way up to #4 in their power rankings.

Atlantic Hockey is talking to Alabama-Huntsville, Navy, Rhode Island, and St Anselm about joining their league.  I love the idea of more college hockey teams.

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