Exhibition Preview

Usually game previews will consist of an overview of the opposing team, who’s hot, how they’ve fared against their schedule, and what Massachusetts will have to do to get the win.  But I’ll be perfectly honest, I couldn’t care less about Dalhousie University and my eyes will be entirely on the Minutemen during the game.  The only consistent observation I take away from watching these CIS teams year after year is that they tend to be goonish.  Which brings me to the #1 thing to watch for in Saturday’s exhibition.  No injuries!

So instead of talking about the Dalhousie Tigers, here’s what fans can watch for on Saturday; the newish go to goalscorer, new guys at forward, new guys at defense, new guy in goal, and Alex Wakaluk.  There are always questions going in to a new season but mostly this season there is one overriding question, “What’s the deal with all these new guys?”  I was thinking of doing a post to acquaint fans with the freshman class so let’s just do that now and talk about the new guys ahead of their first game in the maroon and white so you can keep an eye out for them on Saturday.

Even though he’s been practicing with the team for seemingly forever, has played well in two exhibitions and has playoff experience, Frank Vatrano is still a new guy in my book.  He looked solid in UMass’ playoff loss last March despite going scoreless but Vatrano is already being talked about as being the key to the offense this coming season.  That’s a lot of pressure for someone who has only played in one competitive game in the last 21 months.  I won’t so much be looking for his skills on Saturday, we already know he has those in abundance.  I’m more interested to see how he holds himself on the ice, how he interacts with his teammates, and if he’s emerging as a leader on the team.  Being the go to guy is more than just putting the puck in the net.  It’s about having the respect and confidence of your teammates.  I’ll be interested to see if that comes across on Saturday.

Six of the nine (ten when Montour arrives) Minutemen freshmen are forwards and if UMass is going to be successful they’ll have to contribute to the scoring from game one.  The one I’m most interested in seeing is Anthony Petrella.  Petrella scored 34 goals in 45 games last season for Shattuck-St Mary’s, one of the elite prep schools in the country (some guy named Sidney Crosby played there once upon a time).  Coach Micheletto saw enough in Petrella to bring him in as an 18 year old freshman, a rarity in college hockey nowadays.  Like the entire freshman class he’s small, listed at 5’9”, but supposed to be incredibly skilled.

Riley McDougall is another to keep an eye on.  He comes to Amherst after playing for Calgary in the AJHL.  The 30 goals he put up in the Alberta Junior league isn’t too far off from the 38 that Branden Gracel had in his last year in the AJHL before coming to Amherst.  So I’ll be looking to see if he could make similar contributions for UMass.  It was unknown if Dennis Kravchenko would ever make it to Amherst.  After switching his commitment from Vermont to UMass when Mick came down from Burlington he got pushed back a year to this fall to enter UMass and then there were conflicting reports that he’d even make it.  But here he is.  While he’s a freshman he is experienced, spending three seasons in the USHL where he had 109 points in the last two seasons there.  Kravchenko is joined on the squad by his Sioux Falls teammate Keith Burchett who originally had signed up to play for Bowling Green but switched to UMass last fall.

Patrick Lee played the last few seasons for Brooks Bandits, a team that absolutely dominated the AJHL and the rest of Canadian Junior A hockey in recent years.  In 2012-13 he was one of the stars of the team but last season got injured early in the year and only played 22 games.  Dominic Trento led the USPHL (nee EJHL) in points last season with 69 while playing for the New Jersey Hitmen, gaining league Offensive Player of the Year honors.  Previous players who have won that award have make sold contributions to college hockey, like Vermont’s Brendan Bradley, Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey, and Quinnipiac’s Jeremy Langlois.

UMass also adds two defensemen with this class.  Maddison Smiley was teammates with Patrick Lee on the Brooks Bandits.  Obviously a lot of the attention has been on NHL draft pick Brandon Montour, but Smiley has a very similar offensive style of play.  He was named the 2012-23 AJHL playoff MVP as the Bandits took the league championship.  Smiley had 36 goals and 41 assists in the last two seasons (85 games) for Brooks.  This is the type of small, quick, offensively-minded defenseman Mick has been wanting to run the point in his system.  Jake Horton is similarly styled, scoring 21 goals to go with 25 assists while playing 60 games in the NAHL last season.  Horton served as team captain for the Aberdeen Wings.

In net for those Wings was our new guy in goal, Henry Dill.  Dill actually split time in net last season, but still put up solid numbers going 20-7-1 with 2.26 goals against and a .926 save percentage.  Barring injury it’s pretty certain we’ll see Dill for some of Saturday’s game.  We’ll also likely see Alex Wakaluk who will be looking to avoid repeating his performance from his first fall with the Minutemen.  His first couple games were nightmarish as he gave up 11 goals in just over 60 minutes of playing time.  He did look much better when he got another chance in February in Lowell.  Certainly how Wakaluk performs will be very interesting to see in the exhibition.

Those are the players I’ll be keying in on Saturday.  I certainly encourage other UMass fans to head to the game and see for themselves.  Having the exhibition game in the Mullins Center itself instead of the practice rink is very encouraging.  In previous years the Mullins ice was put down at the last possible minute, not giving the team enough time to get used to their home ice.  It’s great to see that Mick was able to change that for this game.  The team is having a “Pick A Seat” promotion if you don’t already have season tickets.  Saturday is a good opportunity to view the game from all the different vantage points the Mullins offers.  Like the high corners of the double letter sections.  Somewhere along the glass on the blue line in Section W.  Directly behind the nets where the goal judges used to sit.  And of course center ice in good ole Section U.  Come check it out!

Beer The Triangle
For those new readers or perhaps the ones who have forgotten, the Beer The Triangle feature is where I tell you what beer bars to hit and/or what beers to drink before or after the game.  Based on Untappd check-ins it appears that the Hangar has Firestone Walker 17th Anniversary Ale on draft.  I haven’t had it, but I hope to.

Jillian in the hockey office put together this season preview of the team that’s worth reading.

She’s also been doing profiles of the new guys.  Today is defenseman Jake Horton.




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