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Merrimack Recap

Personally I thought the effort was there for the Massachusetts Minutemen in their game against Merrimack yesterday.  But the execution was, frankly, very poor and as a result UMass lost 4-2.  The loss is their 7th straight at Lawler Arena.  The team didn’t look good offensively, generating a season low 18 shots on the night, or defensively as a number of key mistakes led to easy Warrior goals.  The only aspects of the game that UMass excelled in were goaltending and the penalty kill.

The most glaring issue yesterday was the lack of offense.  UMass managed just three shots on net in the first period.  Some of that was due to the fact that they were on the penalty kill for over seven minutes, no thanks to a terrible major and game misconduct called on Conor Allen. But in the second when UMass had three power plays to Merrimack’s one they still only accumulated five shots, just one in six minutes of having the extra man.  Desperation in the third forced them to be more aggressive and put 10 shots on net, but goaltender Sam Marotta would save them all.  In the end only Branden Gracel (4), Kevin Czepiel (3), and Steven Guzzo (2) had more than one shot on net.

Defensively, a number of key mistakes did in UMass on the night.  Losing Allen to a bad contact to the head call in the first period did not help.  That left just five defenseman for the team for much of the game, one of which being Peter DeAngelo who was playing just his second game on the blueline.  DeAngelo made some mistakes, but luckily they did not lead to any goals.  However, you have to wonder if Mike Busillo should’ve been out there and dressed.  Busillo has a team leading +7 rating currently and the team’s record is 9-6-1 when he plays and 1-7-1 when he doesn’t.  Perhaps coach Micheletto is unaware of those stats, which would be disappointing.  Or perhaps he doesn’t care and will fill out his lineup as he sees fit.  If that’s the case, I don’t think he’s putting the players on the ice who give the team the best chance to win.  And the stats support that.

Busillo likely would’ve been a defensive upgrade from DeAngelo, who has not played terrible at the position but is still noticeably learning how to play the new role, or Darren Rowe, who had a game he’d like to forget.  Rowe was on the ice for all four of Merrimack’s goals, three of which came directly as a result of his being out of position or a misplay of his.  It’s known that Rowe is not the strongest defenseman on the squad, but when he’s contributing offensively and playing adequate defense he’s able to negate that potential defensive liability.  Yesterday was one of the games when that wasn’t the case.

There were only a few positives yesterday.  Kevin Boyle was certainly one of them, making a season-high 37 saves on the night and keeping the game close throughout.  Branden Gracel got the ultimate revenge on referees Kevin Shea and Chris Federico for the piss-poor misconduct call on Allen by scoring probably the prettiest goal of the season.  I won’t try to describe it, just check out the highlights (and lowlights) at the bottom of the post.  Eddie Olczyk scored his second goal of the season, a nice wrister thanks to a great feed from Zack LaRue.

Not getting any points this past weekend hurts because UMass now has Maine and Vermont breathing down their neck.  In 8th place, Vermont is just one point behind and Maine is two points back.  The Minutemen do have a game in hand on those two, but the prospect of missing the Hockey East playoffs is still very possible with just four weekends of hockey left.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Kevin Boyle
Gracel had the play of the game but Boyle was the only reason UMass even had a chance to win this game.

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Recap from the Republican.

Here’s the game story from the Eagle-Tribune.

Boyle’s 37 saves were unfortunately not enough to get him recognized as a Top Performer by Hockey East.

Lowell, this weekend’s opponent, is ranked 14th in this week’s polls.

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Merrimack Preview; New Recruit Commitments

 

Massachusetts Minutemen 10-12-2 (7-9-1) Hockey East 7th

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#20 Merrimack Warriors 12-10-5 (10-6-2) Hockey East 3rd

It’s unfortunate that UMass must play all three games against Merrimack in the second half of the season because this is a much different team than the one on the ice at the end of 2012.  Going into the season there were a lot of questions of how Merrimack would fare after graduating star goaltender Joe Cannatta.  Early on in the season they didn’t do a good job answers those questions, getting swept by the Alaska teams and having to endure a couple of three game losing streaks.  At the close of 2012 the team was just 6-8-4 and seemed destined for middle of the pack in Hockey East at best.  But in 2013 the Warriors have gone 6-2-1 and now find themselves in 3rd place in the conference.

They’ve won recently thanks to solid defense, holding their opponents to just 1.89 goals per game in the nine games since New Years.  Junior goaltender Sam Marotta has started all but one of those games and is responsible for just one of the losses.  During that time he’s had shutouts over Maine and Lowell.  Marotta currently leads all Hockey East goaltenders with a goals against average of 2.09 and a save percentage of .929.  Of course he has some pretty solid defensemen in front of him in the form of Kyle Bigos, Jordan Heywood, and Tom McCarthy.

Offensively the star has been junior forward Mike Collins who accounts for nearly 1/5th of the team’s total goals with 14.  No one else on the team has more than five.  Overall the Warriors have scored 2.67 goals per game, which puts them at 7th among Hockey East teams.  They have gotten some good contributions from their defense as well as Brendan Ellis has accumulated 10 assists while Heywood is tied for second on the team with five goals.

Due to the snow, UMass got a couple extra days of rest as Friday’s game against Northeastern was rescheduled to later in the month and yesterday’s game was pushed back to today.  Hopefully those extra days will help give UMass the energy and focus needed to win someplace where they haven’t done so in a while.  Lawler Arena has been a house of horrors for the Minutemen in recent years.  They’ve lost their last six games there, including an 11-2 shellacking in 2011.  Their last win in North Andover was March of 2008.  Hopefully that streak ends this afternoon as with their win last night Vermont is again right behind the Minutemen in the standings.

Beer The Triangle
There aren’t a lot of good pregaming options for Merrimack, but with a quality place like The Tap you don’t need many.  I’m looking forward to drinking an appropriately named Snowbound.

For those making the trip, I got this notice in my email:

Tomorrow’s game between #20 Merrimack and UMass-Amherst will begin at 4:00pm at Lawler Arena with KidsFest to begin at 2:30pm in the Volpe Gym.

The Merrimack College staff is continuing to clear snow from campus parking lots but with the massive amounts some lots will undoubtedly lose parking spaces. We encourage you to arrive early and adhere to the direction of campus police for parking instruction in order to arrive at the game on time (doors open @ 3:00pm).

Thank you in advance for your understanding and safe travels to all who will be on the road this weekend.

There doesn’t appear to be any previews up for the game as of now, but Mike McMahon will likely have coverage soon on his blog.

UMass picked up three commitments on Friday.  Two of the newest Minutemen are brothers, Brandon and Jake Wahlin.  Brandon is a 5’8”, 170lb forward currently playing for Austin in the NAHL where he leads the league in total scoring.  Thus far this season he has 18 goals and 39 assists in 45 games.  According to this story on his commitment he also had interest from Lowell, Nebraska-Omaha, and Bemidji State.  It appears that the Minnesota native will be in Amherst this coming fall.  Here are some highlights of his play in previous years:

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While Brandon is due to join the team next year, his brother Jake is pegged to come to Amherst in 2015, the first commitment for that class.  According to the Western College Hockey Blog Jake is rated as the second best sophomore playing Minnesota High School hockey.  He currently has 15 goals and 30 assists in 26 games playing for White Bear Lake.  Wahlin is considered one of the top ‘96 born players in the country.  Overall these look like two great pickups for coach Micheletto, especially the younger Jake whose trajectory is looking pretty bright at this stage of his career.

If White Bear Lake sounds familiar for UMass fans, it should.  Justin Braun’s hockey career started there, went through Amherst, and then of course on to the pros with the San Jose Sharks.

The other commitment came from 6’0”, 180lb defenseman Maddison Smiley.  Smiley is currently teammates with UMass recruit Patrick Lee for the Brooks Bandits in the Alberta Junior Hockey League.  The Bandits are an amazing 47-3-3 on the season.  Smiley puts up a lot of points for a defenseman as he has 16 goals and 19 assists in 33 games this season and recently returned from injury.  Like Lee he earned an invitation to the Team Canada West Camp for the World Junior Challenge.  Here’s the release from the AJHL which includes some quotes from his coach.  And here’s an article about him from last fall.  Smiley is due in Amherst in the fall of 2014.

Weekend Games Postponed

For those who may have missed it, both of this weekend’s Massachusetts hockey games have been rescheduled due to the impending snowstorm.  Tomorrow night’s game against Northeastern has been postponed until Tuesday, February 19th at 7pm.  This gives those of us who travel from out of town the excuse to take the entire day off and enjoy a four day weekend. Saturday afternoon’s game at Merrimack has been pushed back to Sunday at 4pm.  The game was originally scheduled to be broadcast on NESN but that will no longer be the case, thereby robbing UMass of their one chance to be shown on regional/national TV this year.  Maybe next year Hockey East will be nice enough to give UMass a rare televised home game.

I hope everyone stays safe and has plenty of beer in stock in preparation of the incoming blizzard.

In some alumni news, Kevin Moore who dressed for an ECHL game in an emergency situation last month has been signed for the league’s Evansville Icemen.  There he’ll be in the familiar position of playing alongside Paul Dainton, who was assigned there recently from the Springfield Falcons.

Mike Marcou has been promoted to San Antonio of the AHL after a strong season at the ECHL that saw him make the All-Star squad.

Recruit Update

Ben Gallacher – D – Green Bay Gamblers (USHL) – 2013 (transfer)
19 GP / 2 G / 6 A / 8 Pts / 38 PIM / +7
Gallacher didn’t have any points last weekend.

Mark Hamilton – D – Salisbury School Crimson Knights (NE Prep) – 2013
7 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts
Stats as of 1/30

Marc Hetnik – D – Vernon Vipers (BCHL) – 2013
41 GP / 2 G /7 A / 9 Pts / 34 PIM
Hetnik had a goal this past weekend that was setup by former Minuteman Andrew Tegeler who is doing well in juniors with four goals and 10 assists in 17 games.  Hetnik did leave the next game though after being hit from behind.

Mike Iovanna – RW/C – Malden Catholic Lancers (MA High School) – 2013
15 GP / 6 G /11 A /17 Pts

Dennis Kravchenko – LW – Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL) – 2013 or 2014
36 GP / 15 G / 22 A / 37 Pts / 74 PIM / +12
Kravchenko had a goal and an assist in one of his games this past week.

Patrick Lee – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2014
49 GP / 19 G / 25 A / 44 Pts / 26 PIM
Lee had a goal and an assist in one of his recent games.

Casey Miller – C – Kimball Union (NE Prep) – 2014
19 GP / 4 G / 18 A / 22 Pts
Stats as of 1/30

Willy Smith – LW – Springfield Pics (EJHL) – 2014
29 GP / 4 G / 5 A / 9 Pts / 12 PIM
Smith continues to elevate his game as of late, scoring a game winning goal in a game over the South Shore Kings this past weekend.

Frank Vatrano– LW/C – Junior Bruins (EJHL) – 2013
19 GP / 13 G / 9 A / 22 Pts / 22 PIM
Vatrano is on campus for Spring semester.

Pereira Named Hockey East Co-Player of the Week

For his dominating performance against Boston University this past weekend Mike Pereira was named Hockey East Co-Player of the Week.  Pereira had a couple goals to go with a couple assists in the 5-1 win on Friday.  Pereira shared the honor with fan favorite Joey Diamond of Maine.  Branden Gracel and K.J. Tiefenwerth were named Top Performers.

Hockey East has five teams ranked this week as Saturday’s opponent, Merrimack, has broken into the USCHO top 20.

Northeastern will be coming into the Mullins Center on Friday feeling good about themselves after they beat BU earlier tonight to advance to the Beanpot Final next week.

BU Recap

Given the fact that, except the Providence weekend, UMass had been playing better hockey since winter break ended and Boston University had been struggling as of late, there was a good chance the Minutemen could come away with a close win on Friday.  Instead the 7,000+ UMass fans were treated to a total thrashing of the #11 Terriers.  The star of the game was Mike Pereira who had one of his best performances in his college career.

The game was pretty even for much of the first period but it was Pereira who got things going with an excellent pass across the slot to set up Branden Gracel with just a few minutes left to give UMass the 1-0 lead.  The second period was all about defense for the Minutemen as the Terriers were able to generate just one shot on Kevin Boyle who played well in his first start in a few weeks.  In the couple decades of watching UMass hockey I cannot remember them ever holding a ranked team to a single shot in a period and that obviously speaks highly to the job that was done defensively on Friday.  The defense was just as good on the special teams where they kept BU’s power play off the scoreboard and limited them to three shots with the extra man.

One of those defensemen who performed well was Mike Busillo who returned to the lineup and appeared to score his first goal late in the second.  As it turned out the puck was tipped in by Kevin Czepiel, scoring his first goal of the season, and the Minutemen led 2-0 after two.  It was nice to see Busillo back in the lineup as he’s been a reliable defensemen all season, supported by the fact that the team is now 9-6-1 when he dresses and just 1-6-1 when he doesn’t.

The final frame turned into The Mike Pereira Show.  Five minutes in he made another quality pass that led to a UMass goal, this time to Conor Sheary who put home a one timer from the top of the slot.  Midway through the period Pereira had the wherewithal to grab a loose puck sitting in one of of the faceoff circles and turn and shoot the puck behind BU goaltender Sean Maguire in one motion.  Pereira would cap off his excellent night a couple minutes later while fore-checking on the penalty kill he pickpocketed Mike Nieto and streaked in for a breakaway goal.  BU’s Ben Rosen would pick up a short-handed goal late, just off a faceoff, ending Boyle’s bid at a shutout.  He did improve to a winning record of 8-7-2 however with the big win.

UMass deserves a lot of credit for the total domination shown over a ranked team.  But it’s also important to note that this was a BU team that was already struggling, losing four of their previous eight including one to Northeastern.  For UMass this was exactly the type of game they needed as they begin the always grueling February stretch.  With the lack of a game last night they’re able to get a little more rest before a couple games against Merrimack and Northeastern next weekend.  The win combined with other results around the league gave the Minutemen a three point lead over Vermont in 8th and four points ahead of Maine who are trying to get back into the playoff picture.  Lowell and 6th place is still within striking distance, three points ahead and a big home and home just two weeks away.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Mike Pereira
Two goals, two assists on a couple nifty passes, and a +5 for the night.  Certainly a career night for him.

Highlights from UMassathletics.com

Dick Baker has the recap for the Republican.

The Collegian has their game story as well as a piece focusing in on the work of Boyle.

Here are the Takeaways from College Hockey News.

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