#20 Boston University Terriers 0-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st Hockey East
Massachusetts Minutemen 0-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st Hockey East
Eichel. EichelEichelEichel. EichelEichel. Hey, you know how since Johnny Gaudreau has moved on to the NHL you were all excited that people might actually talk about other players and teams in Hockey East again? WELL HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT JACK EICHEL?!?!? As of this writing Coach Micheletto is still planning on playing Boston University on Friday and is not entertaining the idea of forfeiting the game. That’s a bit of a surprise since the word is Eichel plans to walk across the Connecticut River while carrying his team bus on his back, score 9 goals against the Minutemen, and then head uptown to make pizzas at Antonio’s all while the Club Sidewalk crowd chants “Eichel! Eichel! Eichel!”
Listen, Eichel is a tremendous talent. I’m not disputing that. Maybe he does come into the Mullins Center for his college hockey debut and score a bunch of goals and get his team the win. It’s more than possible. It just seems that the hype machine has cranked up a little early this year. The BU team coming to Amherst is facing a lot of the same challenges that UMass is facing heading into the season. The Terriers finished just two points ahead of UMass in the standings last year. They were 9th in the league in scoring (UMass was 10th). They were dead last in scoring defense (UMass was again 10th). Like UMass they will have to figure out a way to quickly integrate and get contributions from 10 freshmen on their roster. Now it helps that those freshmen make up arguably the best recruiting class in the country. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are still significant questions marks surrounding this BU team that have to be solved before they become the old BU team that everyone used to fear.
The biggest question mark for the Terriers is probably in goal. Matt O’Connor has spent his first two years at BU sharing the net with Sean Maguire, compiling a 15-17-6 record during the time. Maguire has left school to recover from injury, leaving the job solely to O’Connor who will have to play significantly better if BU is going to find success. That job could be difficult given that he’ll likely have three or even four freshman defenseman in front of him most of the season. Getting junior defenseman Matt Grzelyck back from injury will help bring some experience and leadership to the young defensive corps. Brandon Hickey and John MacLeod, both NHL draft picks, are a couple of the first year blueliners to keep an eye on.
Like UMass, the Terriers return just two 10 goal scorers from a year ago in sophomore Danny O’Regan and freshman Robbie Baillargeon. O’Regan didn’t play in last week’s exhibition game due to injury but is expected to play tomorrow. Baillargeon led the team in points last year with 27 (10 G, 17 A). Senior Cason Hohmann will likely be counted on to score 10 goals this season, but beyond that the scoring duties will fall upon the underclassmen. Eichel is the gem of the freshman class but watch for JJ Piccinich as well. Piccinich scored 27 goals last season for Youngstown in the USHL last season. Sophomores Nick Roberto and Kevin Duane will look to build off freshman seasons that saw them score 7 and 6 goals respectively.
UMass already showed us what will be the key to wins this season during last weekend’s exhibition. Puck possession. They won because they outscored Dalhousie 5-2. They outscored Dalhousie because they outshot them 55-21. They outshot them by a wide margin because of puck possession. Dalhousie just never had the puck long enough to put any kind of pressure on the goaltenders and spent long stretches in their own zone. An inexperienced defense combined with a set of offensively-minded, aggressive defense like UMass has can be devastating for a team that is turning over the puck and will lead to odd man rush after odd man rush on Minuteman goaltender Steve Mastalerz. But by passing well, by protecting the puck on their stick, and energetically chasing loose pucks, UMass can minimize turnovers and breakdowns. And they did that exceptionally well in the exhibition. Can they do it against DI hockey talent? We’ll see. But last weekend was encouraging in regard to controlling the puck and thus controlling play.
As I mentioned in my season preview, these freshmen are experienced winners. Which is good because there is going to be tremendous pressure on them from the time the puck drops tomorrow night until March, and hopefully April. “Well he’s only a freshman” won’t be an acceptable excuse this year, simply because it can’t be. The team can’t afford it. The good news tomorrow is when the nine UMass freshman sit in the east bench at game time and look across the Mullins ice they’ll be seeing just as many players suiting up for their first collegiate game as well.
I think this matchup is a lot tighter than people are expecting. The teams finished within a win of each other in conference play last year. They both had problems putting the puck in the net and keeping it out of their own. Both return just a couple double digit goalscorers from a year ago. Both teams are inexperienced and a little thin on defense. They both have large freshman classes making their college debuts. Sure the Terrier freshmen are likely more talented. But UMass has the advantage of starting a veteran goaltender who has played in and won big games in the past. Plus the Minutemen will have what will hopefully be a large and raucous crowd behind them. Starting tomorrow preseason polls mean nothing. Ditto recruit rankings. The best thing about season openers is that all teams are undefeated and tied for 1st place. On Saturday we’ll start to know who’s truly better than whom.
Drop the puck!
Beer The Triangle
I have to send everyone back to the Hangar again this week just because the beer is amazing and Stoney is a quality guy in every way. As of last Saturday they had Lagunitas Hop Stoopid, Port Mongo, and Jack’s Abbey Copper Legend on draft. Hell, they even had Wormtown Pumpkin which I enjoyed even though I generally hate pumpkin beers. There’s even rumors that Founders Breakfast Stout may be lurking in the backroom somewhere just waiting to be tapped.
UMass not only has a lot of new faces on the ice, but in the press box as well. Here’s six stories from the new crop of Collegian writers previewing the upcoming season.
Matt Vautour of the Gazette has a feature on sophomores Ray Pigozzi (who is expected to suit up tomorrow) and Steven Iacobellis. He also previews the tilt against BU.
The Northeastern hockey program was placed on three years of probation for violations that occurred under former coach Greg Cronin.