Massachusetts will ring in the new year in Hanover, New Hampshire where they will be taking part in the Ledyard Classic tournament featuring Bemidji State, New Hampshire, and host Dartmouth. UMass and Bemidji will kick off the tournament on Sunday at 4pm while Dartmouth and UNH will renew their rivalry afterwards in the annual game that one USCHO poster dubbed the “Old Man In The Mountain Face-Off”. UMass will then meet either UNH or Dartmouth the following day on New Year’s Eve.
Bemidji State Beavers 5-8-3 (4-7-3) T-8th WCHA
Massachusetts Minutemen 5-9-2 (4-6-1) T-6th Hockey East
On paper this looks like a pretty even matchup. Both teams have similar records overall and in their respective conferences. Massachusetts is 33rd in the country in scoring with 2.69 goals per game while BSU is 38th with 2.44. The Beavers are a little better defensively giving up 2.81 goals compared to UMass’ 3.12. Special teams are pretty even as well. There is very little difference between BSU’s power play conversion of 20.4% and UMass’ 20.0%, both in the top 15 in the country. The Beavers are only very slightly better on the penalty kill, 80.9% vs 79.7% for UMass. We’ll see if this equality carries over to the ice this weekend and the fans in attendance are treated to an exciting, competitive matchup.
Bemidji struggled quite a bit in the first couple months of the season, starting out with a record of 3-8-2, but ended their first half strong with a victory over Minnesota-Duluth and a win and a tie over Denver. Sophomore goaltender Andrew Walsh was in net for all three of those games and only surrendered a single goal in each. He has the better stats so far with a 2.17 goals against average and .929 save percentage in 10 games.
On offense the Beavers have been led by their senior forwards. Aaron MacLeod is the leading scorer with six goals so far, three coming on the power play. Jordan George has five goals to go with six assists while Brance Orban leads the team overall with 12 total points. A familiar name on BSU for Minuteman fans will be David Boehm, who was kicked off the UMass team in 2010 after an arrest for assault and for generally being a poor teammate.
#10 Dartmouth College Big Green 7-2-2 (4-1-1) 2nd ECAC
UMass hasn’t had much luck with the ECAC so far this year, going 0-3-1, and if they have the chance to play the hosts in Hanover it won’t be easy to get their first win against the conference. Dartmouth is off to a very strong start, already finding themselves with seven wins on the truncated schedule the Ivies play. Their only losses have come to #1 Boston College and a narrow defeat at Colgate. Their last game before break was a 4-2 win over Vermont.
The Big Green have gotten the job done on offense and defense so far this season. Offensively their 3.55 goals scored per game is 6th best in the nation. The two players the other teams in the tournament will need to stifle on offense are Tyler Sikura and Eric Robinson. Sikura leads the team in total points with 17, seven of which being goals, in just 11 games. His 1.55 points per game is 5th best in the country. Robinson has eight goals thus far, including three game winners.
Dartmouth boasts the best penalty kill in the country coming into the tournament. Thus far they’ve allowed opponents just one power play goal in 40 attempts, killing 97.5% of all opportunities. Overall they’ll given up just 2.27 goals per game on the season, which is surprising considering they’ve done so even while splitting the goaltender time between two starters. But obviously it’s working for them. Junior Cab Morris has a GAA of 1.97 so far while freshman Charles Grant’s is 2.38, though Grant has the better save percentage at .921.
#2 New Hampshire Wildcats 11-2-2 (8-2-1) 2nd Hockey East
Just as they did last year against Maine in the Florida College Classic, UMass has the chance to play a Hockey East team in a tournament game. And that team happens to be the one over which UMass had by far their best game of the year against. The 2-1 overtime thriller in November has been the highlight of the season for the Minutemen so far. But for the Wildcats that night was just a small bump in the road. Besides being upset by UMass UNH has lost just one other game so far, a one goal defeat to Boston University. Other than those two hiccups this team appears to be not only one of the top teams in Hockey East, but in the country.
UNH boasts the best offense and defense among Hockey East teams with both being among the top five in the country as well. The Cats have seven players with four or more goals (compared to UMass which has just four). Leading the way is senior Austin Block who has nine goals total, almost half of which are coming with the extra man advantage. Kevin Goumas has been their best overall player offensively with 8 goals and 16 assists, good for the third most points per game in the country. Sophomore Grayson Downing is following up on a solid freshman year with seven goals and six assists. UNH has been doing most of their scoring at even strength as their power play conversion is pretty average at 16.1%.
While the Wildcats are scoring in bunches, they’re only giving up a measly 1.80 goals per game. Their penalty kill has been stellar as well, killing 96.3% of all power plays. That’s second best in the country bettered only by their opponent on Saturday, Dartmouth. Of course a lot of the reason for their play on defense is due to goaltender Casey DeSmith who is most definitely not having a sophomore slump with his 1.82 GAA and .939 save percentage. It also doesn’t hurt when you have someone like Trevor VanRiemsdyk in front of you playing solid defense while also scoring five goals on the year.
So overall this should be a very interesting tournament, perhaps the best talent-wise since the Minutemen played in the Lightning College Classic. Saturday’s matchups feature two very evenly matched teams in UMass and Bemidji State followed by a contest of two of the best teams in the country who also happen to be rivals. Given the level of competition in the tournament, it’s obvious that a couple of wins would do a lot for the Minutemen in the grand scheme of things even though the three losses to end the first half put a big dent in any at large big chances they may have had. What’s more important for the team is just to start fresh and try to begin the second half of the season with some solid play. Losing those games after Thanksgiving was bad, but it was how they lost that was really concerning. They’ll need to have a consistent effort and improve defensively in the second half if they want to turn things around. That will all start Sunday against the Beav.
Beer The Triangle
Hanover is a pretty good BTT destination in my opinion. New Year’s Eve good though? We’ll see. Last time I was up there my favorite place was the Canoe Club where I enjoyed their beer and especially their burgers. Make sure to try the Switchback there, a small brewery out of Burlington that can be tough to find. Not too far away was Murphy’s On The Green which also had a good tap selection. One place I’m planning on spending more time at this time is the Norwich Inn, which is just across the river in Vermont. This inn has a restaurant that brews their own beer and while I only was able to get in and out for a quick pint last time, I enjoyed what I had.
Harry Plumer has this story on the Minutemen returning to practice.
Looks like UMass was in the mix for a pretty high profile recruit, USNDTP goaltender Thatcher Demko. Demko recently committed to Boston College and was also considering Northeastern, Cornell, Western Michigan as well as UMass.