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Preview: Minutemen Take On I-91 Foe #14 Quinnipiac In A Home-And-Home

#14 Quinnipiac Bobcats 8-3-2 (5-1-0) ECAC 1st

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Massachusetts Minutemen 3-8-0 (1-7-0) Hockey East T-11th

The Massachusetts hockey team will conclude its stretch of five games in nine days with a home and home series with #14 Quinnipiac.  UMass has had better results out of conference (2-1-0) than in conference (1-7-0), but this regular series with the ECAC leading Bobcats presents a much bigger challenge than Michigan State or AIC.

Quinnipiac got off to a rocky start to their season going 1-2-1 with losses to Lowell and UConn.  But since that loss to the in-state Huskies they’ve won 7 of their last 8.  The highlights during that time include a 4-0 blanking of then #4 Cornell and a 4-3 road victory over defending national champions Union.  This past weekend they travelled to the north country where they dropped a 2-1 decision to Clarkson and then came back the next night to defeat Saint Lawrence in overtime.

Quinnipiac is a pretty well rounded team.  The Bobcats are scoring exactly three goals per game thus far on the season and are generating a very healthy 31.4 shots in each affair.  They’re led offensively by sophomore Sam Anas.  His 9 goals in 12 games has translated to 0.75 goals per game, 5th best in the country.  His 17 total points is tied for fourth best nationally.  He leads the country in both power play goals (5) and power play points (10).  That has helped Quinnipiac to a power play conversion of 25.5%, which is 6th best in the country.  Other Bobcats to keep an eye on offensively are junior Travis St Denis and freshman Landon Smith who both come into the weekend with 6 goals apiece.  Co-Captain senior Matthew Peca has a team leading 10 assists.

Junior Michael Garteig has handled most of the goaltending duties so far this season.  It was Garteig who played the majority of last year’s 6-1 win over the Minutemen.  This year he’s 8-3-0 with two shutouts and a save percentage of .905.  It’s really been the guys in front of him who have done the job defensively.  The Bobcats are allowing just 22.4 shots per game, 2nd best in the country.

The fact that the Bobcats has such a stifling defense is bad news for a UMass team that scored just two goals total against a Vermont team that has similar defensive statistics.  UMass has to get back on track with their goal scoring.  That should start with their power play, which was 0 for 8 in the two games against the Catamounts.  The Minutemen have struggled to produce any kind of consistent offense with the extra man, converting just 12.2% of their power play opportunities.

What’ probably more important though is just for the team to get quality chances on net.  UMass had decent shot totals against Vermont; 28 and 29.  But a lot of those made for easy saves for Catamount goaltender Brody Hoffman.  They need to get back to moving the puck and trying to generate scoring from the circles inward.  They need to challenge the goaltender and get him moving in the crease.  Shot from the tops of the circles are not cutting it.

Giving up the most goals in the country (4.64) means there’s plenty of work to be done on defense as well.  Assignments are still being missed, players are being caught out of position too often, and the goaltending has been poor.  The defensive and goaltending performance so far has been historically bad.  In the last 15 years UMass has never given up more than 3.49 goals per game.  Even if the team can make strides with scoring, it’ll all be for naught if they don’t keep opponents out of the net.  Figuring out a way to shutdown one of the best offensive players in the country in Anas will be a huge challenge.

UMass is finishing up their second month of the season this weekend.  The freshmen should be integrated into college hockey as well as university life.  We should start to see some improvement in play at this time, both offensively and defensively.  The Minutemen didn’t play poorly on Tuesday against Vermont.  But at the same time they never really were in a good position to win it either.  Pairwise isn’t going to come into play for UMass this season so these non-conference games gives the coaches and players a chance to try different things to get the team on track and not necessarily worry about the result.  If they lose, they lose.  But it’ll be worthwhile if losing puts them in a good spot to take Hockey East points from Notre Dame next week.  It is essential that the team starts making some progress toward becoming a winning team.

Beer The Triangle
I was informed that one of the places I would send beer drinkers in the New Haven area, Delaney’s, burned down this past summer. The easiest spot for Quinnipiac pregaming is Mikro, located just down the hill from the arena.  A scan of the beer list shows they have some really good stuff on.  Get Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo if you haven’t before.  It’s excellent on draft.  On Saturday head to the Hangar and see how much of the stouts and porters are left over from their Black Wednesday event.  Hopefully quite a bit since I can’t imagine they did much business in the snowstorm yesterday.

Happy Thanksgiving too all the college hockey fans out there!

Preview from Quinnipiac Athletics.

SBN College Hockey takes a look at some of the numbers around Hockey East, including those pertaining to UMass’ goal margin and goaltending.

The Hartford Courant has this feature on Conor Allen.

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