View From Section U: What Rivalry?

On Friday night the Massachusetts Minutemen will host the UConn Huskies for the first time as Hockey East foes.  When it was announced UConn would become Hockey East’s 12th team in the Summer of 2012, one of the many selling points for the union was that the Huskies would have a natural rival already in the league in UMass.  To make the most of this rivalry there is already talk that in future years the teams will play an extra game against each other with a trophy going to the winner of the yearly series.  Rumor also has it that Hockey East plans on having UMass and UConn play outside next season in the next edition of Frozen Fenway (or wherever they choose to play), looking to make the most of the rivalry in one of the league’s feature events.  There’s only one problem with all this that I can see.  What rivalry?

(more…)

Recruit Update: Pelton-Byce, Leonard Lead Teams To Tournament Titles

This is a long overdue look at how the future Minutemen have fared lately as holiday schedules and mid-week games haven’t allowed for one in recent weeks.  Gone from the recruit list is Brandon Montour who has made his UMass debut and has two assists in his three games as a Minuteman.  Added to the list are Nic Renyard and Ivan Chukarov who verbally committed to Coach Micheletto’s program earlier in the month.

(more…)

Recap: Minutemen Top Air Force 5-1 To Close Out Catamount Cup

The Massachusetts Minutemen desperately needed a win.  Losers of five straight and eight of their last nine, UMass was paired with Air Force for the second leg of the Catamount Cup tournament.  The matchup was a favorable one for UMass as the Falcons have also struggled on the season, winning just five games and neck and neck with the Minutemen in the Pairwise and KRACH computer rankings.  As expected, the game played pretty evenly through two periods with UMass taking a 2-1 lead into the final period.  Fans, myself included, were wary of another poor final period by the team but instead the Minutemen were on the right side of a third period goal outburst and ended up getting a very solid and much needed 5-1 win over the Air Force.

(more…)

Recap: UMass Stymied by Gillies, Providence in Catamount Cup Opener

Throughout the season Massachusetts hockey games have consistently featured a number of very specific negative aspects.  They’ve differed somewhat between blowout losses and close losses, but there are familiar themes that come into play for each game.  Yesterday was one of those close loss type of games where the team played well at times, seeming close to turning a corner, only to have the same deficiencies hurt them in the end.  Yesterday’s game featured the following familiar themes; hanging with a good team for a couple periods, a Vatrano goal, killer defensive breakdowns at the most inopportune time, and ultimately losing the game because of poor third period play combined with poor special teams.

(more…)

Preview: UMass Heads North To Face Providence, Air Force In The Catamount Cup

#16 Providence Friars 9-6-1 (6-4-0) Hockey East 4th

vs

Massachusetts Minutemen 4-12-0 (1-9-0) Hockey East 12th

This year’s edition of the Catamount Cup in Burlington will feature three Hockey East teams with host Vermont, Massachusetts, and Providence, as well as Air Force from Atlantic Hockey.  The Minutemen and Friars will kick the tournament off Sunday at 4pm in a non-conference game between the two league foes.  It’ll be UMass’ first shot at the Friars before they meet again in February, that time with Hockey East points on the line.

(more…)

UMass Hockey Mid-Season Review: Historically Bad

Winter break is upon us.  The Massachusetts hockey team has played 16 games so far this season and after Christmas will play the remaining 17 before heading to the Hockey East playoffs.  The good news is the team has already clinched a post-season spot.  The bad news is the season so far has been bad.  Real bad.  Historically bad.  I know I keep using the historically bad description recently in posts, but that’s really all that keeps popping up in my thoughts.  The team has been more than bad.  It’s been more than really bad.  Historically bad is really the most fitting term I can find, though I would bet a lot of UMass fans would also say the season has also been embarrassingly bad.

(more…)

Recap: UMass Drops 8-3 Decision To Northeastern To Close Out Disastrous First Half

I’m not going to get into too much detail in breaking down last night’s 8-3 defeat at the hands of Northeastern.  If you saw the 8-1 loss to BU on opening night, or 11-1 shellacking by Vermont, or Notre Dame’s 7-5 victory a couple weekends ago then you saw last night as well.  The only major difference was the string of goals that the Minutemen gave up putting the game out of reach happened right from the first faceoff rather than the accustomed time later in the game.

(more…)

Preview: Montour To Debut As Minutemen Take On Northeastern In Non-Conference Clash

Northeastern Huskies 4-10-1 (3-6-1) Hockey East 8th

at

Massachusetts Minutemen 4-11-0 (1-9-0) Hockey East 12th

It’s gut check time.  I think it’s fair to say this first half of the season has been disappointing for everyone around the Massachusetts hockey program.  Just four wins and last place in Hockey East is not where fans, coaches, or players had hoped to see the team at this point.  Tomorrow’s non-conference game against Northeastern is a big opportunity for UMass to at least take some positive momentum into the winter break.  They’ll have to find the motivation and energy from within though, because Tuesdays in December after the students are gone don’t tend to produce good Mullins crowds.  Add in the team’s record and it will likely be a sparsely attended affair.  It’s up to the players to find whatever motivates them, be it pride, a hatred of losing, or whatever, and bring that with them onto the ice tomorrow.

It should help that UMass already knows they’re capable of beating this Husky team.  They did so back in October in what was probably Henry Dill’s best game of the season.  In just his second collegiate start the freshman made 42 saves in the 3-2 win.  The guys in front of him played pretty well too, clearing rebounds away from the crease and helping shutout the Northeastern power play over 7 attempts.  The game saw both teams trade two goals apiece in the first 16 minutes of play before Dill and unexpected Husky starter Derek Roy took over.  The game winner was eventually scored in the third by Emerson Auvenshine who was making his blueline debut for the defensively depleted Minutemen.  Zack LaRue also shined offensively with a goal and an assist in the game.

The defeat at the hands of the Minutemen brought Northeastern’s record to 0-4-0 at that time.  They would eventually get to 0-8-1 before finally picking up their first win against New Hampshire in mid-November.  Since that time they’ve been downright respectable, going 4-2-0 in their last six with wins over #3 Minnesota at home and #16 Providence on the road.  It’s been very much a team effort over that six game period, with 11 different Huskies scoring a goal.  Kevin Roy and Colton Saucerman have scored two apiece during that time.

They’ve mostly gone as their defense and goaltender Clay Witt have gone during that stretch however.  In their four recent wins they’ve given up just five goals total.  But in their two losses, to Merrimack and Providence, Witt and the team have given up nine goals.  It’s likely that tomorrow night the Minutemen will face Witt, who was hurt when they visited St Botolph Street earlier this season.  Playing the Huskies is a good chance for the Minutemen to try to get their offense back on track.  Northeastern is 10th among Hockey East teams in goals against with 3.27 and their penalty kill is dead last at 72.5%.  Even in Northeastern’s recent six game stretch where they’ve been winning their PK is still just 74.1%.  The Minutemen’s offense has sputtered since their last win against AIC in mid-November.  In the 7 games since then they’ve scored just two goals per game and their power play is only converting at a rate of 10.7% (3 for 28).

It’s not just playing a poor defensive team that could give UMass an offensive spark tomorrow night.  It could potentially be the new guy wearing #26 in maroon.  Brandon Montour will make his long awaited debut for the Minutemen after being academically ineligible for the first semester.  The reigning USHL Player of the Year and 2nd Round NHL Draft pick had 6 goals and 15 assists in 17 games for the Waterloo Blackhawks while sorting out his NCAA clearinghouse issues.  Will Montour solve all of the Minutemen’s problems?  No way.  Especially considering he’s more of an offensive defenseman and the issues that have plagued UMass so far on the season have been overwhelming on the defensive end.  Still, his addition to the team may give the players and coaches an opportunity to mentally reset and refocus on games to come with a new weapon in the lineup rather than worry what transpired in November or before.

We shouldn’t forget the players already here either.  Frank Vatrano will look to start another goal streak tomorrow.  His team leading seven goals have all been scored in a couple two and three game bunches, the last of which expired with Notre Dame’s shutout last weekend.  All in all he’s accounted for 6 of UMass’ 21 goals from the AIC game onward and has been by far the team’s best player during that time.  Hopefully the week and a half between games will allow sophomore Ray Pigozzi to recover from an upper body injury as he has six points (1 G, 5 A) in his last six games played and his presence was missed against the Irish.

In net I expect you’ll see Coach Micheletto give Dill another crack at the Huskies after his strong showing at Matthews earlier in the season.  It’s still been tough to get a good gauge on the goaltending this season only because the defense in front of Dill and Steve Mastalerz has had so many problems.  Despite giving up four and a half goals a game there hasn’t been a lot of nights where it felt like the game was lost by whomever got the start in the crease.  Dill has played well at times all things considered and it’ll be interesting to see what happens if he gets another shot at a team he saw earlier in the season.  Again, Montour wasn’t brought to Amherst for his defense.  But, I don’t think he could make things any worse on that end.

I think it’s safe to say that UMass fans are desperate for anything resembling hope at this point.  A win, albeit a non-conference one despite the familiar league foe, tomorrow would be the first step to fans regaining confidence in the team and perhaps a chance for the team to regain some confidence in themselves.  Add in the energy around getting to see a much heralded player for the first time and hopefully the team will be able to feed off the buzz around the game, even if the energy in the building itself is minimal.  I’m sure the holidays for all parties involved would be that much more enjoyable if the team went into winter break with a win.  A victory seems a worthy addition to everyone’s Christmas list.

Beer The Triangle

Dear Santa,

In my last few trips to the Hangar for pregaming I couldn’t help but notice the Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin on the “Coming Soon…” list.  I think I’ve been good a UMass fan this year, making it to all the home games, and have done my best to watch my language when I have my daughter on my lap even when the officiating as been awful (who’s kidding, it’s always awful).  Is there any way this beer could find its way onto Stoney’s taps in time for tomorrow afternoon?  I would appreciate it greatly and promise to leave Left Hand Milk Stout and cookies for you on Christmas Eve.

P.S.  Could you also be generous enough to also make our Athletic Director’s Christmas wish come true so that he finds plane tickets to the West Coast in his stocking this holiday?

P.P.S  If the Grapefruit Scuplin is a no-go, how about the Stone Enjoy By 12.26.14?  Tis the season!

Game Preview From UMass Athletics.

Matt Vautour talks about Montour’s debut in his preview in the Gazette.

Yesterday I wrote about the commitment of goaltender Nic Renyard to UMass.  Here’s a scouting report from Over The Boards from last Spring stating that Renyard has “quick feet and post to post movement, as well as some decent puck handling skills.”  That link also has some very good things to say about Kurt Keats who will join the Minutemen next fall as well.  The local Okotoks Western Wheel also has this story about Renyard’s commitment with some quotes from him about his choice.

Abbreviated Polls & Awards tonight.

Boston University is again the #1 team in the country after previous top ranked North Dakota split at Denver.

New Hampshire’s Grayson Downing is the Hockey East Player of the Week after his four point performance in a win against Maine on Saturday.

AJHL Goalie Nic Renyard Commits To the Minutemen For 2015

The Massachusetts hockey program has picked up a commitment from goaltender Nic Renyard of the Okotoks Oilers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.  Renyard has been one of the best netminders in the AJHL this season with a league best 19-3-1 record to go with a save percentage of .934 and goals against average of 1.86, both second best in the league.  Renyard was the October Player of the Month for the AJHL (UMass commit Austin Plevy playing for Brooks was the POTM for November).  Renyard will fill the roster spot of graduating senior Steve Mastalerz and join Henry Dill and Alex Wakaluk on the goaltending crew next season.

It has been an interesting year for the 5’11, 170lb goaltender from Victoria, BC.  At the beginning of the season he was released his hometown Victoria Grizzlies of the BCHL who wanted to prioritize playing time for their younger goaltenders.  He joined the Oilers and has been a big factor in their 24-9-3 record this year, 3rd best in the South Division just behind the Brook Bandits who have three future Minutemen on their roster (Plevy, Shane Bear, Kyler Nachtigall).  The Oilers literally picked him up for nothing and he’s been one of the best netminders in the league in return.

Renyard had a solid year in net last year for Victoria, with a .911 save percentage and 2.71 GAA.  The prior year he played for Penticton, also of the BCHL, and split time in net with Chad Kautner, who now plays for Notre Dame and picked up the win last Friday against UMass.  The duo picwon the Forslund Trophy in 2012-13 for best combined GAA in the BCHL.  Renyard had a .919 save percentage that year and 2.24 GAA.

This seems like a solid pickup for Coach Micheletto and his staff for next year.  Renyard is likely one of the best uncommitted goaltenders still available for next season.  Hopefully he’ll have as much success as the last goaltender who went from the AJHL to the Mullins Center.  Former Minuteman Paul Dainton went 13-6-4 with a .916 save percentage and 2.42 GAA for Fort McMurray of the AJHL in 2006-07.

Here’s an article from when Renyard signed with the Oilers, stating one of the reasons for the move was so he could, “…be a starter as a 20-year-old this year so I was waiting, looking for a program I know could win a championship and could get me a scholarship and move onto the NCAA next year.”

The Calgary Sun has this article on Renyard’s role in the Oilers early success this season.  The Okotoks local news website has a similar story.

Here’s a nice display from Renyard last year:

Here are some other odds and ends.

Captain Troy Power has a new post of from his season long blog.

The hockey office also has an updated Minutemen in the Pros release.

The Republican/Masslive has this excellent profile on Amherst native and UMass commit John Leonard on the eve of kicking off his season with Springfield Cathedral.

2015 Recruiting Class: Haves, Needs, and Wants

As mentioned in yesterday’s weekly recruit update tonight’s piece is going to take an in-depth look at next year’s incoming recruiting class in terms of commits and needs.  It makes sense to take a look now since the early signing period just occurred last month, so we know a little more about who is most likely to be coming in next year.  It also gave an opportunity to see if any unexpected names popped up during that time.  In coincidental timing, Jeff Cox of SBN College Hockey put out his rankings of next year’s recruiting classes.  UMass was dead last in Hockey East.

While I definitely have more than just a passing interest in college hockey recruiting, I haven’t studied the other Hockey East schools enough to know how they all shake out comparatively.  But I do understand why Coach Micheletto’s crop for next year is ranked so low by Jeff.  It’s not so much about the quality of players who have committed but more to do with having a lot more work to do to fill the holes that exist on the team next year.

Departures

Before looking at those players who will be joining the team next year it’s probably important to know who the team will need to replace.  There will be seven players honored on senior night in February.  At forward there is Troy Power, Steven Guzzo, Emerson Auvenshine, and Zack LaRue.  On defense there’s Oleg Yevenko and Mike Busillo.  And then also graduating will be goaltender Steve Mastalerz.

At forward you have four very similar players.  None are truly prolific scorers.  Power is currently tied for 5th on the team with 8 points while LaRue is just behind him at 7.  LaRue does have a career high four goals on the season, though has been kept off the scoreboard in the last seven games.  Guzzo has three assists on the season.  Auvenshine, who has put in time at both his natural forward position and defense, has just one point on the season, but as the game winning goal at Northeastern it was a big point.

So overall it does not appear that the team will be losing a lot of scoring next year.  However in Power, LaRue, and Auvenshine they’ll be losing some size and toughness.  Add in the scrappy Guzzo and all four are fairly decent defensive forwards.  Guzzo has also done quite well in limited action in the faceoff circle.

At defense the team will lose their two best defensive defensemen.  Oleg has improved his game dramatically over the years, especially in terms of his skating, and is going to be tough to replace.  Though you may find another solid defensemen to take his spot, it is very unlikely you’ll find someone with such intimidating size.  In Busillo the team will need to replace a very reliable blueliner.  Not overly flashy or athletic, Busillo has been very consistent over the years.  Playing on teams where it seems you never know if they’ll play terrific or terrible from one night to another, Busillo’s play through his career has been unheralded and a steady influence.

Mastalerz has given UMass solid minutes through his years and even a few headline wins as well.  Last year was the only year where he was the true #1 starter, but he has always been counted on for decent performances, though maybe not as consistently as he and the coaching staffs would’ve liked.  Still, he’s been a capable Hockey East goaltender and one that will definitely need to be replaced.

Arrivals

Sometimes it’s tough to know the exact make up of a class because coaches may decide to delay or accelerate certain players based on their junior performance or specific roster needs.  At forward UMass hockey fans can definitely count on seeing centers Austin Plevy and Kurt Keats however.  Plevy was originally slated to suit up at Merrimack for this current season, but found it to be a bad fit and returned to juniors for a year.  He is currently tearing up the AJHL in Alberta where he leads the league in points (51) and is 3rd in goals (20).  He was the AJHL Player of the Month for November.  Keats meanwhile is putting in a similar performance in the BCHL, where he’s 2nd in goals (22) and 5th in points (38).  Just today he was named to the Team Canada West squad which will participate in the World Junior A Challenge next week.  Both of these players will only add to a Minuteman squad that is trending upward in terms of offense, currently 6th among Hockey East in goals per game after finishing 10th last year.

Defenseman Brandon Egli is supposed to arrive in Amherst next fall as well.  The 5’10”, 190lb Egli signed his National Letter of Intent last November.  He had a big offensive year last season while playing for Victoria of the BCHL, accumulating 11 goals and 24 assists 53 games.  Early on during this season though he was traded from Victoria to Vernon and has had a tough time finding regaining his scoring touch after the move.  Through 20 games he’s only had five assists and has not found the back of the net.  Important to note that it’s always tough to truly know how good a player is defensively while looking only at stats.  Based on last year’s performance he does look like more of an offensive oriented defenseman in the mold of the blueliners in the last couple classes.

After Egli things get a little cloudy.  According to Chris Heisenberg, who runs the bible of college hockey recruiting sites, defenseman Jake McCarthy is a possible 2015 commit as well.  The problem is McCarthy has yet to play this season after getting injured during training camp out in the BCHL.  When he gets healthy again he’s due to start playing for the South Shore Kings of the USPHL, but that hasn’t happened yet.  With him continuing to miss time you start to wonder if the staff would push him back a year.

As a ‘96 birth year Mick may end up accelerating left wing Kyler Nachtigall to next fall, though Heisenberg currently lists him as arriving in 2016.  Nachtigall is teammates with Plevy on the Brooks Bandits (same junior team as current Minutemen Patrick Lee and Maddison Smiley) where he has 9 goals and 7 assists in 32 games.  Last season for the Bandits he had 12 goals and 18 assists in 50 games.

Needs

So that’s it in terms of committed players that are, or may be, coming next fall.  If we go by Heisenberg’s site the team has two forwards (Plevy, Keats) to fill the four open slots.  One defenseman (Egli) and maybe one more (McCarthy) to replace the two defenseman lost.  And the most concerning gap in next year’s class is that the coaches have yet to secure a commitment goaltender to replace Mastalerz.

To be perfectly honest, Micheletto’s fate with the Massachusetts hockey program may depend on the abilities of the goaltender he brings to Amherst next fall.  Obviously the glaring deficiency with this year’s team has been its defense and its goaltending.  I don’t want to knock Mastalerz and Henry Dill for their performance so far, especially Dill who has surpassed my expectations at times.  But sometimes I wonder if the defense is what it is and it’s really the goaltender that will shoulder the load under this style of play.  Therefore it is imperative to have not a good goaltender, not a great goaltender, but a truly elite goaltender in net.  UMass hasn’t had that in recent years, though the staff has definitely done their best to bring a top notch goaltender to Amherst.  I heard rumors that they were aggressively pursuing Zach Naglevoort, but he ultimately chose Michigan where he had a .929 save percentage as a freshman last season for the Wolverines.  At the very least Dill will need competition to push him next year.  At worst UMass will need a Jon Quick type of performance to lessen the problems on defense and have the improved offense translate into wins.

It will be interesting to see what type of player fills the second defenseman spot that is open.  Do we see another Brandon Montour or Jake Horton where their focus is very much offense?  Or do we see a more stay at home defenseman like Busillo, or perhaps a mountain of a player like Yevenko?  Does Mick try to balance the defensive corps in terms of offensive and defensive oriented?  At forward adding Plevy and Keats to the likes of Vatrano, Pigozzi, Iacobellis, Lee, and Kravchenko could make this a very scary team offensively for Hockey East opponents.  The third and fourth spots at forward could likely be filled with more grinder type players for the third and fourth lines.  Or maybe there’s another scorer that assistants Ryan Miller and Joey Gasparini have an eye on that will allow UMass to roll three deep for scoring lines.  I feel very confident in UMass’ offense when thinking beyond this year.  But will there be someone on the other end to keep the puck out of the UMass net?  That is the huge question mark for 2015 currently.

(edit: UMass addressed a major question mark with this recruiting class with the commitment of goalie Nic Renyard for next year)

Speaking of recruiting, it’s rare to hear future Minutemen discussed on the weekly coach’s show, mostly due to NCAA rules that prohibit talk of a commit before they sign their NLI.  However last night assistant Ryan Miller talked to Brock Hines about Brandon Montour, Plevy, Keats, and Ty Pelton-Byce who’s projected to come to UMass in 2016.

2017 commit and Springfield Cathedral forward John Leonard was named to Masslive’s State Super 7.  Cathedral appears to be loaded this year and could make a serious run at the Super 8 championship.

Triangle era player Sal Manganaro will be making his high school coaching debut this season for Nauset.

Frank Vatrano is featured on the most recent UMass Sports Insider (18 minutes in), giving fans a tour of his nearby hometown, East Longmeadow and nearby Springfield, including his family’s pizza joint across from the AIC campus.