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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

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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.

Providence came into the season with high expectations after being named by the league’s coaches as the #1 team in the Hockey East pre-season poll and #3 in the national USCHO poll.  Things got off to a rocky start for the Friars however, beginning the season 1-3-2 with a lone win over Ohio State.  They’ve done better since the calendar turned to November however, going 8-3-0 in the last 11, and come out of winter break ranked 16th in the country.

Providence greatest strength is obviously in net with junior goaltender Jon Gilles minding the crease.  His .938 save percentage  is 7th best in the country and 3rd best in Hockey East behind Vermont’s Mike Santaguida and BU’s Matt O’Connor.  Gilles has given up three goals in a game just once since the beginning of November, it happened to be his last time out in a 4-3 win against Colgate.  The Friars as a whole are giving up just 1.88 goals per game, 8th fewest nationally.  The team does give up quite a few shots per game with 30.6, but obviously Gilles has done an excellent job keeping them from finding the net.

Offense has been the biggest challenge for the Friars on the season.  They’re scoring just 2.12 goals per game, 46th in the country and 2nd to last among Hockey East teams.  They’re performing poorly both five on five as well as with the extra man, as their power play is converting at just 11%.  If the Minutemen can figure out a way to shut down Trevor Mingoia they’ll likely be in pretty good shape.  The junior has scored 9 of the team’s 34 goals this season, including four game-winners.  He comes into the game scoring 7 goals in his last 7 games.  UMass will also have to watch out for senior Shane Luke (5 goals) and junior Nick Saracino (4 goals).

It’s imperative for UMass to solve their defense/goaltending issues if they want to have any chance against the Friars.  It’s very unlikely the Minutemen will score more than three goals against Gilles, so that means they’ll have to keep the Friars to two goals or under themselves to try to get the win.  That’s a feat they’ve only been able to accomplish three times so far this season.  The good news is Providence struggles mightily on offense and has one main scoring weapon to focus in on.  They’ve only scored more than three goals in a game twice.  However, those two instances have come in their last three games; a 4-3 win over Colgate and 5-1 win over Northeastern so they may be solving their weaknesses on offense.

The Minutemen absolutely have to kick off the second half of the season on a high note.  Whether that necessarily means a win on Sunday evening, I don’t know.  I guess at this point any game where they don’t get totally blown out can be seen as an improvement.  This improving Friar team probably isn’t a great matchup for a UMass team that has seen it’s offensive output, a strength earlier in the season, sputter lately.  Still, there aren’t a lot of teams out there who score less than the Friars, which is a good thing for a team giving up a national worst 4.69 goals per game like UMass.  But, if the Minutemen play well but can’t quite pick up the win, they’ll have Air Force on Monday evening.

Air Force Academy Falcons 5-10-2 (4-5-1) Atlantic Hockey 9th

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

UMass and Air Force have both had pretty disappointing seasons and are currently neck and neck in both the Pairwise and KRACH rankings.  So I guess that means this pre-arranged tournament showcase opponent should be a pretty good matchup?  Like Providence, the Falcons have had problems scoring goals this season.  In fact they’re just one spot ahead of the Friars in offense nationally, coming in at 45th with 2.18 goals per game.  So with both these weak output teams on the schedule for their trip to Burlington, the Catamount Cup really does represent a huge opportunity for the Minutemen to figure out their defensive woes.

Unlike the Friars there isn’t one specific Falcon to focus in on when Air Force has the puck.  Senior Scott Holm leads the team with 7 goals.  Senior Cole Gunner has six goals and the team leader with 18 total points.  Air Force’s power play percentage of 17.1% is right at the national average with sophomore A.J. Reid accounting for five of the team’s 12 goals with the extra man.  All five of Reid’s goals this season has come on the power play.  Air Force and UMass have both averaged 26.1 shots per game, which is tied for 9th worst in the country.

The Falcons have started sophomore goaltender Chris Truehl in all 17 of their games this season.  His .896 save percentage and 3.15 goals against average are a far cry from the .921 and 2.01 statistics he put up last year while splitting time in net as a freshman.  The Falcon’s penalty kill of .833 is just below the national average.

This season has been an aberration for a traditionally good Air Force program that has won twenty games in four of the last six seasons.  Unless things change drastically they’re likely on their way to their first losing season since 2005-06.  Still, because this team has had so much success in recent years the Minutemen should not expect another Atlantic Hockey cakewalk like they had against AIC.  Air Force is well coached and there are a good number of upperclassmen who know what it means to win while wearing the silver and blue.

These next couple days should tell us a lot about this Massachusetts hockey team.  It’s been a dozen days since they lost at home 8-3 to Northeastern to close out a terrible first half of the season.  We should learn if the coaching staff is capable of making effective adjustments to account for glaring deficiencies at defense.  The players on the other hand had a chance to go home and visit with family and friends for the holiday.  The time away from campus and the team, though short, could be a good thing if it gave them a chance to regroup and refocus on the task at hand.  That task is that there are 17 games left in the regular season with a dozen of them being Hockey East matches.  So that’s 17 chances to try to erase the 4-12-0 record to date and 12 chances to get UMass out of the Hockey East basement and perhaps try to make a run at home ice for the first round of the playoffs, currently held by Northeastern, 5 points ahead of the Minutemen.  If all those numbers don’t mean much, the team at least has to play hard for the sake of pride.  Pride in themselves.  Pride in the “Massachusetts” across their sweaters.  The team has to find something, some motivation, to perform better than they have so far this season.

Beer The Triangle
I forgot my BTT feature the first time the Minutemen headed north to Burlington, probably because they had just gotten pounded 11-1 a couple days before.  Anyway, this is the best beer trip in Hockey East.  There are a lot of places I could send you.  But I’ll focus on two for this trip.  First is Zero Gravity Brewing which can be found in the American Flatbread restaurant in Burlington.  They make a lot of good beers, but I appreciate their ability to make all kinds of German style brews well.  The second location is the Farmhouse Grille and Tap.  Drink anything and everything by Hill Farmstead and then wash it all down with a Long Trail Triple Bag (if heading directly to the UMass game afterward, have two Triple Bags).

UUMass Game Notes from UMass Athletics.  Important to note that it appears both UMass games will be streamed via UVM’s free steam service even though they’re not playing the Catamounts.

Ray Pigozzi is most likely to return from injury per Matt Vautour’s weekend preview in the Gazette.

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1 Comment

  1. RDW

     /  December 28, 2014

    OK, let’s start the discussion that really matters. Who should the new AD hire to replace Coach Mick E. Mouse? Amateur hour needs to end soon.

    Like

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