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Preview: UMass Is Back In Action (Finally) Against #12 Boston College & #11 Vermont

#12 Boston College Eagles 5-5-0 (1-3-0) Hockey East T-10th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 3-5-0 (1-4-0) Hockey East T-10th

Hockey East action finally returns to the Mullins Center this weekend.  It’s been 42 days since the Massachusetts hockey team last played a league game at home (a game they’d probably like to forget).  And it’s been two weeks since the team played a game of any kind.  They should be well rested, fairly healthy, and hopefully not too rusty when the puck drops against #12 Boston College on Friday night.

These teams last met at Chestnut Hill on October 25th where the Eagles got the 4-1 win.  The difference in that one was a couple of two man advantage power play goals for the Eagles in a game that featured 18 total penalties for 47 mins, including a game misconduct for Minuteman captain Troy Power.  The game started out as a defensive battle with only nine total shots on goal in the first period, six for the Eagles and three for the Minutemen.  Things starting getting really heated in the second period however as 8 total penalties were called during that frame.  What I thought the key to the game was that the larger and more experienced Eagles amplified the physicality of the game both before and after the whistle during that middle period.  UMass did not allow themselves to be pushed around, but at the same time the chippyness got to them and completely threw them off their concentration and their game.  Add in some ill timed penalties, the five on three goals, and an empty net goal and there’s your 4-1 result.  UMass will have to make sure not to fall into the same trap this time around.  Stand up for yourself, respond in kind, but don’t cross the line and find yourself in the box.  At the same time, use the bigger Mullins ice to your advantage and avoid the hit altogether.  UMass probably has the edge when it comes to speed and skating, so have to make sure it’s those aspects that dictate the game.

BC’s season has not been typical BC since the meeting of these teams last month.  The week after facing the Minutemen they travelled west to Denver and split a pair of games there.  Ok, that’s understandable.  Then their season went off the rails a bit.  They were shutout 1-0 by UConn in a historic win for the newest Hockey East member.  Then later that same week they hosted rival Boston University and coughed up three different leads on their way to a 5-3 loss to the Terriers.  They then hosted Harvard and shockingly lost 6-3 to the Crimson, at one point going down 5-1.  They did stop their slide with a narrow 3-2 win against the Michigan State team that UMass split with earlier in the season.  Since the calendar flipped to November the Eagles are scoring just two goals per game while giving up 3.20 and have exactly zero power play goals in 26 opportunities.  I don’t think there’s ever a “good” time to play a Jerry York coached BC squad, but there is no denying they’re struggling with multiple aspects of their game right now.

Henry Dill got the start when these teams played last month but I am hoping to see Steve Mastalerz lead the team onto the ice for warmups before the game.  Mastalerz has not had the opportunity to play the Eagles since his sophomore season, but he has played them tough when he has faced them.  He is 2-1, the one loss in overtime, against BC with a save percentage of .930 and a GAA of 2.29.  The biggest win of his career can likely be considered his 35 save, 4-0 shutout of the then #4 Eagles as a freshman.  Injury robbed Mastalerz the chance of facing the Eagles last season and Dill was a logical choice in the net against them earlier this season as he was coming off a strong win against Northeastern in the previous night.  But I think the senior goaltender has earned the chance to face BC once again in the last regular season matchup with them in his last season.

 

#11 Vermont Catamounts 7-2-1 (5-2-1) Hockey East 1st

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Massachusetts Minutemen 3-5-0 (1-4-0) Hockey East T-10th

Vermont and Massachusetts rekindle their rivalry that dates back to the Division II days on Saturday with the teams then heading north to face each other again in Burlington for the annual Turkey Tuesday Tilt.  Vermont was one of the surprises in Hockey East last year, winning 20 games and making the NCAA tournament.  They’ve picked up exactly where they’ve left off and come into the Mullins in first place in Hockey East and just outside the top ten in the country.

The Catamounts have been getting the job done with their defense.  They’re allowing just 1.70 goals per game, 6th best in the country.  Opponents are only generating just over 25 shots per game, 7th best in the country.  The limiting of shots shows it’s more than goaltending as the skaters in front of their goaltenders are getting the job done too.  In net it was expected that Brody Hoffman would get all the starts in goal after his strong season last year.  And he’s played well enough to, going 5-1-1 with a .918 save percentage and 1.96 GAA.  But it hasn’t only been him shutting down foes.  Sophomore Mike Santaguida has gone 2-1-0 with an amazing save percentage of .957 and miniscule GAA of 1.15.  Whomever UMass faces it’s not going to be an easy task to get the puck by them.

Even with the extra man it hasn’t been easy to score against this UVM team.  Their .921 PK % is 6th best in the country.  Combine that with the fact that they’ve taken the second fewest PIM per game among Hockey East programs and power plays are going to be few and far between against this team.  Defensively they’re led by seniors Nick Luukko and Mike Paliotta, both NHL draft picks, and junior Alexx Privitera.

Offensively Vermont is a lot like UMass in that they’re getting production from a multitude of players.  13 different Catamounts have scored at least one goal on the season.  Reigning Hockey East Rookie of the Year Mario Puskarich leads the team in points with 9, scoring 4 goals on the season.  Junior Jonathan Turk also has four goals on the season, though most of those came in a hat trick performance against Northeastern in the season opener.  Sophomore Mike Stenerson and senior Colin Markison both have three goals apiece.  Vermont is converting their power plays at a 14.3% pace, same as UMass.

It’ll be interesting to get the first look at this same UVM squad that ended the Minutemen’s season last year.  The Catamount will be facing UConn on Friday before heading back north on I-91 on Saturday.  It doesn’t seem likely that the Minutemen will be getting a ton of goals against this stingy UVM team so it’ll be important for them to clamp down on defense and minimize scoring chances themselves.  Defensively UMass has been very inconsistent.  If they combine their recent momentum in scoring with a concerted effort on defense this weekend they could grab some very key league points this weekend and make up some ground in the standings before it’s too late.  Six out of the next seven Hockey East games will be played in the Mullins Center for the Minutemen.  Kicking off that stretch successfully is a necessity.

Official Weekend Previews from Massachusetts Athletics, Boston College, and Vermont.

The Collegian previews the weekend for the Minutemen.  They also have a feature on captain Troy Power who will be appearing in his 100th game for UMass tomorrow against BC.  For the first time he’ll have his entire family in the stands to witness the milestone as well.

Coach Mick made the most of the time off per the Gazette preview.

Here’s a preview on UVM’s weekend from the Burlington Free Press.

NHL Central Scouting has listed UMass commit Ty Pelton-Byce as a Player To Watch ahead of next June’s NHL Draft.  They rank Pelton-Byce, who just recently signed his NLI, as a potential late round draft pick.  Pelton-Byce is playing high school hockey in Wisconsin this season and is expected to arrive in Amherst in the fall of 2016.

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