Weekend Update, Polls, & Awards

Do you like splits?  Well this past weekend in Hockey East was for you.  The biggest story of the weekend was that Northeastern got its first win of the season at home against UNH after losing in Durham the night before.  Vermont got blanked in Providence 3-0 on Friday but rebounded with a 2-1 win on Saturday.  What I found most surprising about that series is that the Friars, the #3 team in the country to start the season, only got 2300 fans to each of the games.  That’s disappointing and surprising, despite the slow start for the team.

Merrimack hosted Notre Dame this past weekend and after losing a tough one in overtime on Friday bounced back to a surprising 4-1 win on Saturday.  Even out of conference we saw a split has Penn State dominated #4 Lowell by a score of 4-1 on Saturday after losing 5-3 the night before.  In a split against two different teams this past week Boston College continued to struggle on Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to Harvard but travelled out to East Lansing and beat the Spartans by the same score Friday.  No split for Boston University as they travelled up to Orono for a 3-1 victory in their only game of the weekend against Maine.  And in the “Well, that’s college hockey…” result of the week UConn followed up its three point week against BC and BU by getting shutout 2-0 against Sacred Heart.  What’s interesting about that game is that it was played at prep’s Taft School in honor of Jason Pagni, a force in Connecticut hockey and someone who meant a lot to UMass great Jon Quick.

  Conference     Overall
    GP W-L-T   PTS GF-GA     GP W-L-T GF-GA
1 Vermont 8 5-2-1   11 22-16     10 7-2-1 27-17
2 Boston University 6 4-1-1   9 25-12     8 6-1-1 29-14
  Mass.-Lowell 5 4-0-1   9 23-7     11 7-2-2 44-29
4 Merrimack 5 3-2-0   6 11-8     11 7-3-1 31-21
  Providence 6 3-3-0   6 10-10     10 4-5-1 19-24
6 Notre Dame 4 2-1-1   5 9-10     12 6-5-1 36-32
7 Maine 5 2-3-0   4 14-18     11 3-7-1 25-38
8 Connecticut 4 1-2-1   3 7-8     10 2-5-3 17-24
  Northeastern 6 1-4-1   3 12-23     10 1-8-1 17-36
10 New Hampshire 4 1-3-0   2 8-15     10 4-6-0 29-29
  Boston College 4 1-3-0   2 9-12     10 5-5-0 30-27
  Massachusetts 5 1-4-0   2 12-23     8 3-5-0 26-32


Minnesota got swept by Minnesota-Duluth this past weekend which means we have a new #1 team this week.  That team is Michigan Tech.  Michigan Tech!  If Union winning the championship last year and the Huskies of Tech being the top team in the country isn’t a huge affirmation to the fact that any team in college hockey, even success-challenged UMass, can climb to the top I don’t know what is.  North Dakota stays at #2 and BU climbs all the way to #3 with their 6-1-1 ranking.  Needless to say David Quinn is the early favorite for coach of the year.

Minnesota drops to fourth after getting swept by the Bulldogs while Lowell’s loss to Penn State drops them a spot to #5.  Saturday’s opponent Vermont dropped one spot from tenth to eleventh after splitting at Providence. Friday’s foe BC is just behind them at #12, dropping out of the top ten with their recent struggles.  Vermont’s split with Providence dropped them one spot but Providence’s split with Vermont dropped them three spots to #19.  Merrimack is set to break into the Top 20 next week if they can build on their 7-3-1 start. Division I Men’s Poll

November 17, 2014

Team (First Place Votes) Record Points Last Poll
1 Michigan Tech (24) 10- 0-0 940 5
2 North Dakota (12) 8- 2-1 916 2
3 Boston University (14) 6- 1-1 913 3
4 Minnesota 7- 3-0 830 1
5 Massachusetts-Lowell 7- 2-2 731 4
6 Colgate 8- 3-1 726 6
7 Miami 8- 4-0 686 7
8 Minnesota-Duluth 8- 4-0 663 13
9 Minnesota State 7- 3-0 574 9
10 Denver 6- 3-0 509 11
11 Vermont 7- 2-1 477 10
12 Boston College 5- 5-0 439 8
13 Nebraska-Omaha 6- 1-1 394 14
14 Quinnipiac 7- 2-1 283 20
15 Union 6- 5-1 249 12
16 St. Cloud State 4- 5-1 248 15
17 Northern Michigan 6- 1-1 205 18
18 Bowling Green 8- 3-1 177 19
19 Providence 4- 5-1 163 16
20 Robert Morris 7- 1-2 108 17
Others receiving votes: Merrimack 61, St. Lawrence 54, Ferris State 53, Harvard 44, Notre Dame 22, Penn State 19, Yale 15, Michigan 1.

Apparently spending a week growing Movember mustaches isn’t enough for UMass players to get a mention in the Hockey East Weekly Awards.  Important to note that Vermont sophomore goaltender Mike Santaguida was defensive player of the week.  Meaning it’s not just Brady Hoffman that Catamount opponents have to plan for.

The big news around UMass hockey today was that Austin Plevy signed his National Letter of Intent to join the Minutemen next fall.  This link includes a profile and commentary from Coach Mick on Plevy.  Those who have followed along with FTT’s recruit updates know that Plevy, a former Merrimack recruit, is one of the top scorers in the AJHL and will likely be able to contribute right away for the 2015-16 season.  Plevy is currently leading the Viterra Cup standings, which measures the accumulation of each player of the game designation around the AJHL.

Speaking of UMass spending their bye week on their mustaches, the UMass team, spurred on by head coach John Micheletto has fully embraced Movember, where guys grow facial hair to raise awareness of prostate cancer.  Although as someone who goes through every day with facial hair I never really know what to do when November rolls around (do I shave and start from scratch?  do I just mold the usual goatee into something else entirely?) this is a great cause and one that hits home since I faced a prostate cancer scare myself a few years back myself.  Clicking on the above Collegian link will show you that Mike Busillo should already be crowned the Movember champ for UMass.  Friday’s game against BC will feature some mustache themed contests.  I encourage everyone to donate to Coach Mick’s Movember page for this cause.

UMass athletes, coaches, and administrators have created the following video in support of the “It’s On Us” campaign to battle on-campus sexual assault:

Its on us–UMass


Finally, here’s a must read about a Union hockey player who finally got to meet the person whose life he helped save last winter before a game this past weekend.


View From Section U: UMass At The Quarter Post

With the Massachusetts hockey team in the midst of a bye week and having played just under a quarter of their total and league games, it seems like a good opportunity to step back and take inventory of what we’ve seen from them so far.  UMass finds themselves with an overall record of 3-5-0 and 1-4-0 in Hockey East where they’re currently tied for 9th with Boston College (wait, that can’t be right.  Nope, apparently it is).  Through eight games last year the team had a 3-4-1 record with wins over Michigan State (twice) and Maine.

The first eight games have consisted of two home games a month apart with a brutal six game, three weekend, three state road trip that saw UMass play at Michigan State for two, at Northeastern, at Boston College, and at Maine for two.  When you add in this ridiculous bye week I can confidently say that I hate this schedule.  That type of early season extended road trip is difficult for any team.  When you consider that this UMass team has a large number of freshman who are still trying to integrate to college and the college hockey lifestyle, it’s that much more challenging.  There were certainly a lot of worries as the team packed up to afte the absolutely horrible third period against BU where they gave up six goals, making for a disappointing and embarrassing opening night.  I’m still not sure what happened to the team that period to make them look so absolutely lost on the ice.  The good news is there hasn’t been another extended stretch where they’ve played like that since.

The first leg of the road trip was to Michigan State where the team tried to erase those BU memories by battling to the final whistle both nights.  After their comeback fell short on Friday against the Spartans they got some heroics and absolutely beautiful goals on Saturday as Patrick Lee gave them their first win of the season with just seconds left on the clock.  The next weekend the team travelled to Boston, winning versus Northeastern while losing to Boston College.  The Minutemen did what they had to do against the struggling Huskies with Henry Dill playing spectacularly in net.  At the time I was happy with the team’s play the next night against BC, considering the difference on the scoreboard ended up being two two-man advantage goals by the Eagles.  However after seeing how BC has struggled since, I wonder if UMass missed an opportunity to take a point or possibly two that night.  The following weekend at Maine was a tough one as UMass was in a position to win both nights, coming from behind to tie it Friday and going into the third with a two goal lead on Saturday, only to lose both of them.  Last weekend the team got revenge for last year’s debacle against AIC with a decisive 7-1 win.

So at 3-5-0 and 1-4-0 in conference, is the team meeting expectations?  Honestly I would say that if the team had been able to convert just one of those games at Maine into a win that I’d be pretty satisfied at this point.  A 4-4 record while withstanding that long road trip would be a pretty good accomplishment.  I think there was also a point in play in the home opener against BU too that was missed.  Though in the weeks since the Terriers are showing that they’ve turned around that program quite quickly.  So I’m slightly disappointed where the team is currently.  Just one more win or perhaps a couple of ties and it’d be a different story.

There is a lot to be hopeful about when the team gets back to playing next week though.  The big concern coming into the season was that they were graduating a great majority of their goal scoring and would have to depend on the freshman to contribute offensively.  The seven goals against AIC skews the numbers a bit, but I don’t think offense is as big a worry as it was thought to be.  The Minutemen are scoring 3.25 goals per game so far this season, third best among Hockey East teams.  That’s just over a full goal above the 2.24 goals per game they scored during last season.  They’re getting offense from all over the roster as well.  11 different players have scored at least one goal and eight different players have scored two or more goals.  And keep in mind that key players Frank Vatrano and Dennis Kravchenko didn’t get things going until three games ago when Coach Micheletto shook up the lines.  Kravchenko is now on a three game goal streak while Vatrano is on a four game point streak.

Going into the season it was known that defense would be a question mark and potentially a huge weakness.  I would say so far the results on defense have been mixed.  There have been some pretty bad games like the third period against BU and the first game at Maine.  But at the same time there qw been great goaltending like Dill’s performance against Northeastern, a solid team defensive effort against Boston College, and the recent performance against AIC.  Still, the team finds themselves dead last among Hockey East teams giving up four goals per game, up quite a bit from the 3.12 goals they gave up last year.  The bad defensive games have been plagued with missed assignments and poor positioning.  All things that are correctable.  UMass will have to make sure to fix those glaring mistakes on defense while getting more consistent goaltending from Dill or Steve Mastalerz or both.

Special teams was a positive last season and that’s carried over into this year.  Their power play is converting at 14.3% this year, lower than the 20+% last year but that’s still fourth best among Hockey East teams.  With Vatrano and Kravchenko starting to heat up offensively the team’s power play numbers should improve going forward.  The penalty kill was a major negative in the beginning of last season but Mick made some adjustments and by the end of the season had turned the PK into a strength.  They’ve picked up about where they left off, killing 84.1% of their opponents power play chances.  A strong number, but room for improvement.  It’s really those two two man advantages against BC that hurt them so far.

A 3-5-0 record is nothing to be satisfied with, but the team has shown promise and I think there’s reason to believe they’ll continue to get better in the coming months.  Really, except for that anomaly period against BU, the team has been in every game with a legitimate chance to win most of them.  The freshmen have proven they can be relied upon to score while at the same time you have senior Zack LaRue off to a surprisingly hot start.  If the defense and goaltending can catch up to the progress made on offense than this team should start winning games regularly.  The December addition of NHL 2nd round draft pick Brandon Montour won’t hurt either.  Hopefully the team is resting, but improving, during this week without games, because they’re in for another difficult stretch.  Starting with hosting BC on the 21st to playing at Quinnipiac on the 29th they’ll have to play five games in nine days.  The team has proven they can stay in games.  But just hanging around in games doesn’t get you much.  They’ll have to convert close games into close wins in this next chapter of the season.

Kurt Keats has officially signed his letter of intent to play at UMass.  Included in that link is a video with some highlights and Mick’s thoughts on him.  Those who read the recruit updates know that Keats is one of the leading scorers in the BCHL and is a very solid pickup for the Minutemen.

Though the school hasn’t announced it yet, Ty Pelton-Byce signed his NLI tonight.  Here’s a picture of him doing so, surrounded by friends and teammates.

UMass’ victory over AIC and the potential for a rival with the neighboring school was a subject in the weekly USCHO Hockey East column.

Recruit Update

Catching up on two weeks of action for the future Minutemen:

Brandon Montour – D – Waterloo Blackhawks (USHL) – Dec 2014
12 GP / 3 G / 11 A / 14 Pts / 12 PIM /+1
Montour had a monster game on 11/6, scoring a goal and notching 3 assists in a 7-4 win over Chicago.  Montour leads the USHL in scoring by defensemen and tied for 7th among all skaters.

Brandon Egli – D – Vernon Vipers (BCHL) – 2015
10 GP / 0 G /1 A / 1 Pts / 11 PIM
No points for Egli in the last couple weeks, though he did miss a few games in that time due to a suspension.

Jake McCarthy – D – South Shore Kings (USPHL) – 2015 or 2016
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts / 0 PIM
McCarthy is still nursing an injury that is delaying his debut for the Kings.

Kurt Keats – C – Powell River Kings (BCHL) – 2015
21 GP / 19 G / 10 A / 29Pts / 28 IM
Keats had four goals and three assists in his last six games.  Keats is second in the BCHL in goals, first in power play goals, and tied for 10th in power play assists.

Austin Plevy – C – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2015
20 GP / 12 G /19 A / 31 Pts / 44 PIM
Plevy had two goals and an assist in his last three games.  He’s 2nd in the AJHL in points, tied for 6th in goals, and tied for fourth for game winning goals.

Shane Bear – D – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2016
21 GP / 0 G / 11 A / 11 Pts / 35 PIM
Bear had four assists in his last four games.  He leads the Bandits in most assists and points by a defenseman.

Troy Conzo – RW – Wenatchee Wild (NAHL) – 2016 or 2017
3 GP / 0 G / 0 A /0 Pts / 0 PIM / –2  Des Moines (USHL)
4 GP/ 4 G/ 0 A / 4 Pts / 0 PIM / +1  Wenatchee (NAHL)
Conzo, who was only playing sparingly in the USHL, was traded to Wenatchee of the NAHL in the last couple weeks.  It seems the change of scenery has done him well as he has scored four goals in the last two games with his new team.

Kyler Nachtigall – LW – Brooks Bandits (AJHL) – 2016
21 GP / 4 G / 4 A / 8 Pts / 37 PIM
Nachtigall had a goal and an assist in his last four games.

Ty Pelton-Byce – C – Team Wisconsin U18 (Elite)/Madison Memorial (WI HS) – 2016
21 GP / 12 G / 12 A / 24 Pts / 8 PIM  Team Wisconsin U18
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts  Madison Memorial
Madison Memorial’s season gets started on 11/28.  In the meantime Pelton-Byce kept himself busy recently by playing in the CCM IIT showcase which featured some top prep players from the Midwest, Massachusetts, and even the Czech Republic.  Pelton-Byce’s Minnesota Red team won the showcase.  He had a goal and an assist in the three games.

John Leonard – F – Springfield Rifles (Mass Selects)/Springfield Cathedral (MA HS) – 2017
14 GP / 21 G / 11 A / 32 Pts  Springfield Rifles
0 GP / 0 G / 0 A / 0 Pts  Springfield Cathedral
Leonard has 8 goals and 5 assists in his last four games with the Rifles.  No, that is not a typo.

Troy Power’s latest blog entry covers the dominant win over AIC as well as the lead up to the game.

The early National Letter of Intent signing period starts tomorrow and College Hockey Inc has a summary of what the NLI is all about.  I believe Brandon Egli is the only 2015 recruit who has signed a NLI yet, so in the next couple weeks I expect the team to announce the signings of Kurt Keats and Austin Plevy for next fall as well.  We may see a NLI come in for Jake McCarthy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s pushed back to 2016 given his injury issues this season.  Still, he could sign the NLI and still come to Amherst in 2016 as well.

There will not be a post tomorrow night as I’ll be out in Amherst tailgating and enjoying some UMass football under the lights.  However on Thursday I’m planning on writing some thoughts about how UMass has done so far on the season.

Polls & Awards

Minnesota remains atop the USCHO poll this week but they’re sharing some first place votes with #2 North Dakota and #5 Michigan Tech.  Boston University is tops among Hockey East teams at #3 after beating Boston College and tying UConn this past week.  Lowell is just behind them at #4, jumping a couple spots after taking three points from Northeastern.  BC slides from third all the way to eighth after losing to UConn and BU last week.  The Eagles now have a three game losing streak.  They’ll play Harvard on Tuesday and then travel to Michigan State (who might as well be an affiliate member of Hockey East at this point) before they come to Amherst on the 21st.  Vermont’s sweep of Maine lifts them to #10 in the poll, giving Hockey East four teams in the top ten.  Providence’s split with Merrimack drops them four spots to #16.

UConn grabbed two of the weekly Hockey East awards after their win over BC and tie against BU.  BU’s Jack Eichel won just his first weekly award of the season despite dominating statistically so far.  Frank Vatrano and Dennis Kravchenko were named Top Performers for their efforts against AIC.  Zack LaRue was recognized in the milestones for his first multi-goal game and “Minuteman Freshman” also got a nod too for his assist.  That dude is great, I’m not sure where we’d be without him.  (I’m guessing they meant Dominic Trento)

UMass is 11th in the SB Nation Hockey East power rankings.

Vatrano’s four game point streak is mentioned in their weekly Notes and Numbers piece.

Cornell coach Mike Schafer was suspended a game for saying some not so nice things about Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold after losing 1-0 to the Bobcats.  Funny that the guy who seems very concerned about player safety wanted UMass to play on slush last year.

It’s a bye week for the Minutemen but FTT will still be active.  We have two weeks of games to catch up on with our recruits.  And on Wednesday or Thursday I’ll take an early look at how the Minutemen have fared against expectations so far this season.

Recap: Minutemen Dominate AIC In 7-1 Victory

In my game preview I said that the strategy for the Minutemen to make sure AIC didn’t get confident and steal another victory at the Mullins Center was to “score early and score often”.  Massachusetts hockey fans who attended Friday’s game were treated to just that. Dennis Kravchenko extended his goal streak to three games with a goal just 57 seconds into the game on an odd man rush with Troy Power.  The Minutemen would score regularly throughout the first 20 minutes and at the end of the first period the score was 4-0.  UMass did not look back from that point and got the win by a final score of 7-1, getting revenge and then some for the embarrassing 3-2 loss to the Yellow Jackets last season.

Whereas last year UMass needed 59 shots against AIC in order to get their 2 goals, on Friday they got their lucky 7 on just 29.  So what was the difference between the 3.4% shot percentage last year and the 24.1%? t wasn’t the goaltender.  Alex Murray was one of the hottest goaltenders so far on this season coming into the game.  He gave up 5 goals on 22 shots.  Hunter Leisner who was the star in net last year came in to relieve Murray and allowed two goals on five shots.  So was it shot selection then?  Yes, but only kind of.  It more had to do with with strategy and UMass using their skill to their advantage.  If I remember correctly a lot of the shots last year against Leisner were set shots from the point or top of the circles.  He had great positioning but at the same time UMass didn’t do too much to challenge him and make him uncomfortable.  That was not the same game they played on Friday.  They overcame the goaltender by creating odd man advantages over and over and over.  The AIC goaltenders didn’t have a chance because UMass was constantly coming in on the rush and making the most of cross ice passes.

As a result, UMass had its best offensive output since 2011.  I won’t go through each goal since there’s so many of them and there don’t appear to be full highlights available so I don’t want to rely on my memory.  It was a total team effort on offense however as the first five goals were scored by five different Minutemen.  One of the positives to come out of the sweep by Maine was that Kravchenko and Frank Vatrano got going offensively.  It was good to see that continue to Friday.  As already mentioned, Kravchenko got the game started with his goal less than a minute in and would later add an assist.  Vatrano would have two goals and an assist against the team his older brother once captained.  Zack LaRue continued his strong senior season with two goals as well.  Steven Iacobellis’ had a goal and two assists on the night.  Stephen Guzzo had a very strong night centering the line with LaRue and Dominic Trento, assisting on both of the LaRue goals and winning 9 of 13 faceoffs.  Marc Hetnik also had a multi-point output, getting assists on the first two goals of the game.  In the first five games of the season UMass was scoring just 2.4 goals per game.  Since Coach Micheletto changed up the lines going into the Maine series they’re scoring 4.7 goals per game with Kravchenko and Vatrano both finding their offensive game.

Defensively UMass did exactly what they needed to do.  The Yellow Jackets were held to just 18 shots on the night as the Minutemen dominated puck possession.  Freshman Henry Dill put in another solid night, giving up just the one goal on an AIC power play.  With the shutout bid over, Alex Wakaluk came in in relief and stopped all four shots he faced.

It’s probably easy to look at UMass’ 7-1 win and say they did exactly what everyone expected them to do.  But that’s unfair to probably both UMass and AIC.  Last year’s result proved that the Yellow Jackets do have talent and cannot just be dismissed.  At the same time it’s a bit of a guessing game what to expect from this UMass team any given night.  What they did is come out and shut down most AIC chances while putting constant pressure on the Yellow Jacket net.  Fans probably shouldn’t get overly excited about this one result, but it did show that two key trends are continuing from the past few weeks.  First, the team is finding scoring despite all the goalscorers lost to graduation last year.  And, Kravchenko and Vatrano continue to build confidence as the season is going along.  With those two starting to click, the hope is that the November results are much different than the October results.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Zack LaRue
Vatrano and Iacobellis had great games and were also worthy of POTG, but I’m giving it to LaRue since he was actually close to having a hat trick.  His first second goal of the night was called back due to a player in the crease (although I didn’t see anyone actually interfering with the AIC goaltender and thought it should’ve counted).  LaRue is putting together a hell of a senior season,  He had just three career goals coming into the year but already has four so far.

Press Conference and some highlights from UMass’ 7-1 win

Here’s the Collegian’s recap of the win plus a feature on the team getting their first home victory of the season.

Here’s the USCHO recap.

Game Preview: Minutemen Look For Payback Against AIC

American International Yellow Jackets 2-4-1 (2-3-1) Atlantic Hockey T-4th


Massachusetts Minutemen 2-5-0 (1-4-0) Hockey East T-6th

I had a conversation this week with a long time supporter of Massachusetts hockey regarding the worst losses in the program’s history.  I don’t mean worst by margin or the most heart-wrenching (damn you Jimmy Howard), I mean games that the team had no business losing.  The ones that got bounced around were the overtime loss to UConn in October of 2004, the first win by an Atlantic Hockey team over a Hockey East team.  The year after that UMass dropped a 3-2 decision at home to Holy Cross which ranks up there in worst losses.  Another cited was the 5-2 stinker against Alabama-Huntsville at the Mariucci Classic at the end of 2006.  The first two were pretty bad, coming shortly after it looked like UMass was starting to establish itself as a legitimate program.  The loss to the Chargers ended up being a fluke, and perhaps a motivator, in a season that ultimate saw the Minutemen make their lone NCAA appearance.  There is no doubt however that the case can be made that last year’s loss to the AIC was the worst of the worst.  The Yellow Jackets had never beaten a Hockey East school previously and has rarely had double digits in wins during its existence.  Add in the proximity to the higher profile UMass program and losing to AIC was inexcusable.  But it happened.  And Friday the UMass players need to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

The 3-2 loss to the Yellow Jackets featured some things you typically don’t see.  First and foremost then freshman goaltender Hunter Leisner made 57 saves on the night.  57!  In the second period he saved 26 of 26 shots.  On the other end of the ice that period Steve Mastalerz faced only two shots.  And both got by him for AIC goals.  The box score is crazy to read.  I’d go on about some of the other statistical oddities but at the end of the day the AIC team did what they had to do and Leisner stole one from their neighboring power conference school.

So, that leads to the question of will Leisner be able to come into the Mullins and steal another one?  Well, it’s unknown if the Minutemen will even get a chance to get a second crack at him.  Leisner has played in three games this season and is 0-3-0 with a .890 save percentage and 4.37 goals against average.  Instead it’s been freshman Alex Murray who has been AIC’s go to goaltender.  Murray, who played last season in the BCHL, is 2-0-1 with save percentage of .954 that is sixth best in the country.  Murray backstopped the Jackets to a sweep at Niagara last weekend where AIC outscored the Purple Eagles 7-3.  It’s hard to decide if UMass would have an advantage over either one of these goaltenders.

Offensively AIC is led by senior forward Alexander MacMillan, who scored the game winner against the Minutemen last year.  MacMillan, the AHA Player of the Week last week, has 5 of the team’s 17 goals on the year with all of them coming at even strength.  Currently 25% of his shots are finding the back of the net.  Sophomore Austin Orszulak and junior David Gandara are the only other players to have multiple goals so far with three and two respectively.

For the Minutemen the strategy should be to score early and score often.  What happens in games against lesser opponents is if they’re allowed to hang around, come up with some big saves, and keep the game scoreless or close then they get some confidence and suddenly you have a dogfight on your hands.  UMass has to put AIC away early.  Perhaps they can take a page from the basketball team which just put 120 up on their AIC counterparts last week.  The good news is the UMass offense isn’t looking too bad right now.  While last weekend was frustrating they did score seven goals in the two games against the Black Bears with four of them coming from key players who had been held scoreless on the season; Frank Vatrano and Dennis Kravchenko.  They need to continue to make progress on offensive, especially five on five, and this AIC game presents a good opportunity to do so.  UMass has had a number of highlight reel goals so far on the season and that’s what they’ll need Friday.  Slap shots from the point or soft wristers from the top of the circle won’t cut it. Those are the shots that didn’t work against this team last year. Whomever is in net for AIC will need to be challenged and UMass will have to do so with passing, puck movement, and getting the goaltender moving within the crease.

A consistent effort and performance from the entire team is key as well.  So far in this young season UMass has had a tough time putting an good offensive and a good defensive game together on the same night.  A good night of goaltending and defense have seemed to coincide with a drought in scoring while high scoring nights have ended up being shootouts.  Defense and goaltending seemed like it was trending better during the weekend in Boston but took a step back up in Orono.  They’ll need to get that back on track before Hockey East play starts up again in two weeks.  At this point it’s unknown who will be in net for the Minutemen but whoever it is will look to make the case that they should be in net against Boston College later in the month.

The three week, three state, four opponent road trip is over.  The Minutemen finally return to the Mullins Center for the first time since the opening night disappointment against Boston University.  The team did have some success on their trek around the eastern half of the country and at the very least probably got some quality bonding time in during the plane and bus rides.  It will be great to get them back on home ice and in front of their own fans.  Hopefully the upperclassmen are stressing to the younger players that they’re not only defending the Mullins ice tomorrow, but they’re out to reclaim Western Mass hockey dominance.  Even though the gap in talent between the leagues is closing and Atlantic Hockey teams are beating upper conference teams with more regularity, another loss to AIC simply cannot happen.  Not to a program that claims to be in the middle of a turnaround.  Pride and skill.  Those are the two factors that should come into play tomorrow.  And if the Minutemen make the most of those two factors then they should be celebrating their first home win by the end of the night.

Beer The Triangle
This is a special BTT bulletin.  If you see any Bear Republic beer I strongly suggest to buy it, store it, drink it, and/or savor it.  The Northern California brewery is pulling out of Massachusetts due to the effects of the drought out west.  I would be crying in my Café Racer 15 right now if I wasn’t now actively hoarding it.  The Hangar is one of the few places in the state where you can actually find Racer 15 during those rare times it’s available.  So, even though I have no idea if they have any Bear Republic on, I suggest going there and commiserating with other Bear Republic fans like myself over our loss.

And one last thing, I try to keep politics off this hockey/beer/hockeybeer blog but can we get a handle on this whole climate change thing because it’s now affecting my beer drinking and that make me angry.  Sure flooding and less Polar Bears are bad, but I want my Racer 5 and Red Rocket damnit!

The Collegian has their preview of Friday’s matchup with AIC as well as a piece on the connections between the programs.

Coach Micheletto says he hopes UMass-AIC becomes a rivalry in the Gazette preview.  I’m not sure what it would take to be a true “rivalry” but as I wrote yesterday I do think this is a great game for the region and hope to see it continue regularly.

The latest edition of Troy Power’s blog covers the Maine series and how good it is to return to the Mullins for the AIC game.

This goal by Dennis Kravchenko was the UMass Play of the Week.

Here’s an update on UMass alumni in the pros from the hockey office.

Mike McMahon crunches the numbers again for the Hockey East teams with his stats post.  Needless to say UMass has to improve their play at even strength and do better to gain the shot advantage.

College Hockey News has a good opinion piece on the overly punitive sanctions handed down to Alaska-Fairbanks.

View From Section U: Wanting More Than The Box Scores

Let me go on record as saying I think Friday’s game against American International, just the fourth time the schools have met in the modern era of UMass hockey, is a great thing for Western Mass hockey.  It’s amazing the Minutemen haven’t played their down valley neighbor more often, but it sounds like this game could be an annual or semi-annual affair in coming years with some games potentially being played at the MassMutal Center in Springfield.  Western Mass only has two Division I hockey schools so it makes sense to have them play more often.  Add in the fact that the Yellow Jackets pulled off the major upset last year and you have quite a few storylines going into Friday’s game.  Too bad it’s unlikely you’ll be able to read about how AIC is going to try to duplicate the heroics or how the Minutemen are looking for revenge leading up to Friday in the area’s largest newspaper, the Springfield Republican or its online partner, Masslive.  You likely won’t be reading a game recap on Saturday morning either.  You may find a box score in your paper, but I make no promises.  That’s because the area’s largest news outlet has decided Massachusetts hockey isn’t worth covering anymore.

Long time FTT readers know that I do my best to link to any and all news stories relevant to the UMass hockey program.  In prior years those links included stories written by Harry Plumer or Dick Baker usually multiple times a week.  Baker, a Western Mass hockey expert, especially had excellent coverage of the team for almost two decades.  No more.  The Republican/Masslive hasn’t posted one thing about the team since the season has started.  Not one.  Plumer’s successor Dan Malone wrote some features over the summer on prospects and returning players but there’s been nothing since as he concentrates on his quality coverage on the basketball and football programs.  Baker in the meantime is available and eager to cover the team, as he has for years, but has yet to get the green light from the Republican and/or Masslive.

I honestly don’t know why they’ve decided to pull the plug on UMass hockey.  It’s probably a combination of things.  Let’s face it, the newspaper industry is not in the greatest shape and tough decisions have to be made about allocation of resources.  And if they think their UMass hockey articles aren’t getting enough hits, they won’t put time and money towards producing them.  It doesn’t help that the program has struggled to stay relevant in recent years and interest has waned.  Still, this is a local team playing in the top conference in the country, regularly taking on the elite college hockey teams every weekend on the season.  Nearly 55,000 fans packed the Mullins Center last year to watch the team despite their dismal record (by comparison 69,000 fans paid to see UMass football play their home games in 2013, also with a dismal record).  Certainly that level of interest in a program playing the assorted powers of college hockey makes the program worthy of coverage?

Other outlets continue to cover the team.  Matt Vautour has written some decent articles about the team sporadically in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.  But he’s the only dedicated UMass beat writer there and understandably his time is consumed by basketball and football.  I know the Greenfield Recorder has had George Miller at some games at least, but their stories are behind a paywall and therefore inaccessible to most who don’t want to pay just to read a game recap every few weeks.  I personally rely on and relay the team coverage by the students writing for the Collegian.  UMass has been lucky to have some excellent up and coming writers on the hockey beat and I’m thankful to be able to read and share their stories over the years.  Besides that you have whatever coverage College Hockey News and USCHO have, which is usually pretty minimal unless UMass is playing one of the bigger teams in the country.

Unfortunately I don’t know what the solution is for this one.  In my opinion there are enough UMass hockey fans out there that would enjoy regular coverage from the largest media outlet in the area.  It seems most, if not all, of the other Hockey East teams have dedicated beat writers.  But I don’t know what the options are to get that kind of coverage back.  You would hope that maybe the athletic department could put some pressure on the Republican to cover the program better.  But can you picture John McCutcheon caring about hockey coverage enough to make that call down to Springfield?  No, neither can I.  So I guess it comes down to the solution to cure all the other ills surrounding the program currently.  Just win, baby.  If Mick can get the program turned around, get the some wins, hopefully some big wins against high profile opponents, then the fans will be back and the Republican will be forced to take Baker up on his offer to cover the team.  Until then, I guess to get your UMass fix you’re stuck with FTT.

I wasn’t able to get to recruit updates this week.  I’ll have two weeks worth of updates next Tuesday.

The Collegian had this article saying the freshmen are contributing, but the team needs more out of its veterans.

Blueshirts United had this video interview with former UMass captain and current Ranger Mike Kostka.

The HockeyRecruits4U blog has a post comparing the number of in-state players at state schools like Minnesota, Wisconsin, and UMass.  Personally I think it’s unfair to compare UMass to those big state schools because their programs have been around forever and they don’t have higher profile schools already in state like UMass does with BC, BU, etc.  It is interesting though that other Hockey East schools outside the state like Maine and Providence have more Massachusetts players than UMass does.  Toot Cahoon for a time tried to focus in on getting the commonwealth’s best talent to Amherst but had trouble consistently landing top Bay State players.  There are a number of advantages if a UMass coach is successful with that approach, with a main one being financial given the difference in scholarship costs between in and out of state.  Ideally, yeah I’d love to see the best of the state wearing the maroon and white every year.  But at this point I’ll just take players who can make UMass a winning program again, I don’t care where they’re from.

AIC is a main topic of the weekly Atlantic Hockey piece from USCHO.  More on the Yellow Jackets in tomorrow’s preview.

Alaska Fairbanks was hit hard with NCAA sanctions today due to using ineligible players a few years ago.  If they want to take away scholarships and forfeit historical games, fine.  But I think it’s unfair to punish the current players who had nothing to do with the infractions but banning them from their conference and national postseasons.

And this just in, UConn beat #3 Boston College in their first home Hockey East contest tonight.  It just goes to show, on any given night you never know what can happen in this conference.

Polls & Awards

Minnesota is still the top team in the land in this week’s USCHO poll despite losing a game over the weekend to St Cloud.  Boston College is the top Hockey East school at #3, moving up two spots despite splitting with Denver.  The Eagles’ opponent this week, Boston University, moves up to #5 after their split with Providence.  Just behind them is Lowell at #6, moving up from #8 last week after dominating New Hampshire over the weekend.  BU got to move up a spot for their split against Providence, but for some reason Providence fell three spots to #12 after taking one of two from the Terriers.  Vermont slipped to #14 after only managing a single point out in Notre Dame this past weekend.  The Irish are right behind them at 15th.  Out of conference I would say the highlight of this week’s poll is Michigan Tech, which swept in-state giant Michigan this past weekend.  The Huskies rocketed up the poll to ninth and even managed a first place vote.

No Minutemen were honored in this past week’s Hockey East awards.  Black Bear Liam Pecararo was selected as Rookie of the Week after scoring the game winner on Saturday to go with a couple of assists on Friday.

The Collegian has their recap of this past weekend’s losses.

UMass falls to second to last in the SB Nation Hockey East Power Rankings.  Ditto for the WEEI Power Rankings.

Conor Allen has been called up to the NY Rangers where he could potentially be playing on a pairing with Mike Kostka, who was called back up to Broadway last week.  Allen played three game for the blueshirts last season.

Weekend Recap: UMass Loses Two Stunners In Orono

When the season schedule was announced in August it only took about a half a second to realize that the Massachusetts hockey team was facing a pretty big challenge to start things off.  This three week, three state, four opponent road trip is not really what you want to embark upon with an inexperienced team with just one game under their belt, a game they ended up losing 8-1.  Through the first two weekends of the trip though I think Minuteman fans were pretty content with the results.  A split with Michigan State in Lansing was followed with a win at Northeastern and a hard fought loss at Boston College.  The defense and goaltending, a question mark going into the season, seemed to be improving with each game.  So with the team playing fairly well, they headed north to Orono to play a struggling Maine team and try to pick up some key Hockey East points.  Instead the team lost two heartbreakers in totally different fashions and got swept at the hands of the Black Bears.

I wasn’t able to watch either game so my observations on the weekend are strictly based on what I was able to hear from the radio broadcasts, box scores, and goal highlights.  On Friday all those gains on the defensive end disappeared as Maine scored three goals in the first 22 minutes of the game to jump out to the 3-0 lead with all three goals coming on rebounds after Henry Dill made the initial save.  Only the first came on the Black Bear power play.  The rest of the goals on the night would come at even strength.  Coach Micheletto in an attempt to get things going for Frank Vatrano, Dennis Kravchenko, and Troy Power changed up the lines going into the game.  The switch saw immediate results for Kravchenko who would score the first and second goals of his career in the second period while now centering Patrick Lee and Troy Power.  They both came on excellent individual efforts (highlights below).  The Minutemen would tie the game at 3-3 on a Ray Pigozzi goal late in the second only to have one of those dreaded end of period goals give Maine the 4-3 lead with 20 seconds left in the second.  The goal came on a wrap around that Dill misplayed, coming directly off a Troy Power turnover in his own zone.  Just an awful sequence to close out a period.

Maine extended to the lead to 5-3 early in the third.  But as we’ve seen ever since the third period debacle against Boston University is that this UMass team will continue to battle.  And sure enough they clawed themselves right back into the game with a Patrick Lee goal with six minutes left to cut it to a 5-4 Maine lead.  Power made up for his earlier mistake with the nice heads up center pass to Lee who was set up in the slot.  And in one of the more unlikely heroic sequences Mike Busillo found the puck trickle through some Maine defenders to his stick and netted his first career goal to tie the game up with just under two minutes to go in the game.  The comeback would be for naught however as Black Bear Brian Morgan got the winner in overtime in an extremely sloppy sequence that resulted in a four on two for Maine.

The positives coming out of the Friday game was that the new line combinations definitely produced offensive results immediately, especially with Dennis Kravchenko and Troy Power, who accumulated two assists on the night.  It was nice to see someone the unheralded Busillo get his first goal in dramatic fashion.  But there were a lot of negatives.  All the goals came from bad rebounds given up by Dill, bad defensive coverage, or poor turnovers.  Or some combination of all three.  The Minutemen also got beat badly in the faceoff circle, 20 to 41.  It would’ve been helpful to at least get a point out of Friday’s’ effort.  To come back from a three goal deficit and then a two goal deficit with nothing to show for it was pretty tough to swallow.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Dennis Kravchenko
Pretty obvious choice here with his two consecutive goals to help kickstart the comeback.  He also grabbed an assist on the Lee goal.  Without Kravcheko’s two highlight reel goals to get things going this game could’ve just been a total blowout.

Highlights from Friday’s 6-5 OT loss

Well if you like to mix it up when it comes to experiencing heartbreaking games, then you’re a happy person this weekend.  Saturday’s game was not the barn burner shootout of Friday, but just as devastating at the end.  UMass would pour 18 shots on net in the first but the teams would go into the locker room scoreless after the first period.  The goaltenders, including Steve Mastalerz in net for the Minutemen, would continue to keep their opponents off the scoreboard for most of the second period as well.  But towards the end of the period the new line combinations would produce results again with Kravchenko getting his third goal of the weekend, putting home a loose puck with Black Bear goaltender Sean Romeo already down on the ice.  Just over a minute later Frank Vatrano would score his first goal of his collegiate career from the top of the left circle and the Minutemen had a 2-0 lead with going into the third period.

That final period would belong to Maine however as they Black Bears would outshoot UMass 15-6.  The first goal would be scored seven minutes in on a Devin Shore tip in of a Mark Hamilton wrister.  Liam Pecararo would be allowed to skate into the top of the slot and tie the game up with a wrister with under eight minutes left.  The Black Bears completed the comeback and the sweep on a flukey impossible angle shot that, possibly after hitting a UMass defender, trickled past Mastalerz.  That was it.  UMass was unable to find any late game heroics this game and climbed onto the bus without any Hockey East points on the weekend.

To be so close to potentially four points and end up with none hurts.  It probably seems a little early to worry about the on just the second day of November, but the fact is that UMass has already played 23% of their conference schedule so far.  Their two points puts them in a tie with 6th, but all other Hockey East teams have played less games than the Minutemen and eight of them have played two conference games or less so far.  Hockey East points will be tough to come by this month with games scheduled against Boston College and Vermont, both ranked in the top 15 currently.  Three weekends and at least three splits would’ve been a pretty good accomplishment for this team and something to build off.  Unfortunately in the competitive Hockey East this weekend’s falters means they’ll have to learn how to win against the top teams in the league if they don’t want to fall behind in the standings.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Steve Mastalerz
I didn’t see the game so it’s tough to know how everyone played, but Mastalerz seemed to do his part in getting 35 saves in this game.  It’s tough to fault him on any of the goals except for maybe the second.  Dill playing poorly and Mastalerz playing well this weekend means we’ll likely see these two continue to get starts sporadically until one of them is clearly the better netminder.

Highlights from UMass’ 3-2 Saturday loss

USCHO recaps:  Friday and Saturday

Last month it was reported that UMass was one of the schools interested in BU transfer Sam Kurker.  Kurker announced he’ll be attending Northeastern.