Northeastern Huskies 4-7-1 (2-6-1) T-8th Hockey East
Massachusetts Minutemen 4-5-2 (3-5-1) T-5th Hockey East
The gauntlet has been run. We knew early, even before we knew there would be a new coach this year, that the Massachusetts hockey team would have a challenging start to the season. After the initial game against UConn, we knew that through Turkey Tuesday UMass had an exceedingly tough schedule. How tough? Hours after the team had tied #18 Quinnipiac UMass’ strength of schedule was sitting at #5 according to the RPI. I would say a near .500 record of 4-5-2 through those games is respectable, though perhaps a little frustrating since the team had upsets of Boston College and Boston University within their reach if they held onto late leads. Still, beating now #2 New Hampshire was big. But this weekend the team will play their last Hockey East games before winter break and this is no time for a letdown.
The way Northeastern started the season it seemed like they’d be a factor in Hockey East. Their first week of play saw home wins against Merrimack and #1 Boston College. But since that time the only wins they’ve managed have come against college hockey’s nomad, Alabama-Huntsville. They did manage a scoreless shutout with UNH, but other than that and UAH it’s been losses across the board.
The Huskies are consistently hanging around 8th or 9th place among Hockey East teams in the major statistical categories. Offensively they’re scoring 2.17 goals per game versus UMass’ 2.64. Freshman Kevin Roy, a late addition to the roster after he bailed on Brown, is the top offensive player for the team with five goals and six assists. The others at the top of the list offensively are all familiar names, such as Vinny Saponari, Cody Ferriero, and Ludwig Karlsson, who has three power play goals. That’s almost all of them as the Husky power play is converting at just a 12.3% rate.
Chris Rawlings took a lot of heat for his play last year but so far his numbers are respectable at 2.35 goals per game and a .918 save percentage. And it’s important to note that those numbers are with an extremely inexperienced group of defensemen in front of him. Drew Ellement is the only upperclassman on the blueline as the rest consist of four sophomores and three freshmen. UMass must try to take advantage of the youth at defense, though keeping in mind that even young Husky defensemen, like Josh Manson, have skill.
For UMass this weekend seems like a good time to showcase their improved special teams. The Huskies’ power play or penalty kill do not really standout among college hockey currently. However for the Minutemen the power play has been perhaps the biggest brightest spot so far this season, scoring on over 21% of their chances. And when they’ve been down a man they’ve looked good as well, killing 86% of the opponents’ power plays and even netting a couple shorthanded goals. The Minutemen have scored six more goals on special teams than they’ve let up, tied with BC for second best among Hockey East teams.
I’d also like to see the more veteran and skilled forwards on the UMass roster, namely Mike Pereira and Conor Sheary, have a breakout weekend against this youthful Northeastern defense. They’ve played pretty well as of late, Pereira with six points in six games and Sheary with a five game point streak, but you get the feeling that there’s a whole other gear they haven’t quite gotten into yet this season. In net I assume we’ll see Kevin Boyle twice this weekend. Boyle played all three games against the Huskies last year, going 1-1-1 with two games going to overtime.
It would be nice for UMass to end league play in 2012 on a good note and give themselves the opportunity to stay within striking range of home ice before the New Year. But to do so they’ll have to take three points at a minimum. I think we’ll all give them a pass for losing some of the early games against top teams while breaking in a new coach, but to be taken seriously they’ll have to show they’re better than teams like the Huskies both at home and on the road.
Beer The Triangle
Of course tomorrow afternoon will be spent at the Hangar, as usual. For Saturday, after years of being relegated to Pizzeria Uno’s prior to games at Northeastern I finally realized that Bukowski’s Tavern isn’t really that far of a walk from Huntington Ave. Currently The Buk seems to have a lot of lighter ales on, which doesn’t work for someone like me who drinks darker beers when the temperature turns cold. However the Slumbrew Saison looks interesting as does the Notch on cask. Plus I can always go with a Brown Shugga in the bottle.
Like my preview above, both the Collegian and the Republican highlight UMass’ special teams ahead of this weekend’s series. The Collegian preview mentions that the status of freshmen Shane Walsh and Evan Stack are still unknown.
USCHO’s focus of their weekly Hockey East piece is the Northeastern Huskies and their struggles, while also mentioning this past weekend when coach Micheletto went up against his previous team.
CHN takes a look at this weekend’s Hockey East action.