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Vermont Preview

Massachusetts Minutemen 8-11-2 (5-8-1) 7th Hockey East

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Vermont Catamounts 6-12-4 (3-8-4) T-8th Hockey East

If the Massachusetts hockey team wants to make a real run at something this season, it probably needs to start this weekend.  The last few weeks have been thrilling, yet maddening for Minuteman fans.  At the end of December the team went up to the Ledyard Classic and took the title in the tournament which featured two top ten teams.  They then went out in their next set of games and promptly got swept in a home and home with Providence.  Following that disappointment the team seemed to have little chance against #2 Boston College at Conte Forum, a place they hadn’t won since 2007.  So of course they beat the Eagles handily 5-2.  And that brings us to this coming weekend and two games in Burlington.  This weekend offers the Minutemen a chance to define which of the recent performances were a fluke.  The losses to Providence or the upset of BC.

Personally I think to be taken seriously UMass needs to take three points from the struggling Catamounts.  It’s teams like this the team should be beating regularly, even if the games are away.  Aside from winning their own holiday tournament, the Cats have been pretty terrible.  And they currently find themselves on a four game losing streak which included a 4-2 loss last weekend to Penn State which is in its first year of transitioning to DI.

Among Hockey East teams Vermont finds itself near the bottom in most statistical categories.  Offensively they are 9th in the league in goals scored with 2.23 and their power play is only converting on 13.7% of chances.  Senior Chris McCarthy and sophomore Jacob Fallon are the two Cats the Minutemen will have to keep an eye on as they both have a half dozen goals apiece.  Four of Fallon’s scores have come on the power play, making him the only player on the team with more than one PPG.  Oft injured star junior Connor Brickley missed a dozen games so far this season but is back and has registered two assists in three games since returning.

Vermont is 9th in the league when it comes to goals against as well, giving up 3.18 per game.  Their penalty kill is dead last stopping only 79.8% of their opponents’ chances.  Freshman goaltender Brody Hoffman has started every game for his team and comes into the weekend series with a goals against average of 3.00 and a save percentage of .900.

Again, UMass needs to win these games.  They are coming off one of their best games of the year where they got solid goaltending, strong performances from their defensemen, and timely scoring.  An offensive star has emerged in the form of Branden Gracel.  Guys like Mike Pereira, Conor Sheary, and Darren Rowe have emerged from rough patches earlier in the season and are now putting up points regularly.   Their special teams have clicked as of late, especially the penalty kill which is 20 for 22 over the last five games.  UMass is on the up swing it would seem while Vermont is not.  This weekend is a huge opportunity to climb up the Hockey East standings and more importantly create some distance between themselves and being out of the playoffs.  Let’s see if the UMass team is strong enough mentally and physically to make the most of that opportunity.

Beer The Triangle
Unfortunately I won’t be making the trip up to one of my beer meccas, Burlington.  But for those who are make sure to check out the Road Trip page for suggestions on where to go (one addition would be The Farmhouse).  On the way up to Burlington make sure to stop off at the Alchemist Cannery in Waterbury and pick up a case or two of Heady Topper if they have any left.  Also if you’re looking for a place to stop along the way for lunch and some good beer, I recommend the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier.  Hopefully they have a full supply of Lawson’s Finest Liquids and Hill Farmstead to drink.

The Republican preview focuses in on Coach Micheletto’s return to Vermont where he was a long time assistant.

Here’s a preview from the Catamount viewpoint.

The Collegian has their preview as well as an interesting look at Gracel and what motivates him.

CHN’s Joe Meloni had a piece talking about regular season upsets, like UMass’ over BC, are commonplace in Hockey East but rare once playoff time comes around.  Minuteman fans who have seen their team knock off top schools regularly but have experienced annual quarterfinal exits know this well.

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