Maine Black Bears 6-13-1 (2-6-0) Hockey East 10th
Massachusetts Minutemen 5-14-0 (1-10-0) Hockey East 12th
The Maine Black Bears and Massachusetts Minutemen have already played the games that counted in the Hockey East standings earlier in the year, with the Maine taking all four points. But Red Gendron and the Black Bears will be coming south to Amherst to take on the Minutemen this weekend in a couple of non-conference affairs at the Mullins Center. Just because there aren’t any league points at stake, doesn’t make these games meaningless. Maine will want to continue the momentum they’ve built in winning 3 of their last 4. The Minutemen meanwhile need to figure out a way to start winning some games, especially at home where they’ve won just once all season.
Maine has just two Hockey East wins this season and both came at the expense of the Minutemen in a two game series in Orono on Halloween and the first day of November. The two nights produced two very different games. Friday’s game was a back and forth, high scoring one with the Black Bears winning by a 6-5 tally in overtime. Maine jumped out to a 3-0 lead only to have UMass score the next three goals, two off the stick of Dennis Kravchenko, to tie it. Maine scored a couple and then UMass scored two of their own, including a Mike Busillo goal with under two minutes left to send the game into overtime. It seemed like momentum was with UMass coming out of the third but Brian Morgan scored 53 seconds into the extra frame to end the barn burner. The next night UMass built a two goal lead thanks to another score by Kravchenko and Frank Vatrano’s first goal as a Minuteman. But Maine scored three goals in a 12 minute stretch in the third period and the Minutemen limped home to Amherst pointless despite a chance to gain a win or tie late both nights.
The Black Bears gained the win on that first night of November, but wouldn’t win against until December 12th when they defeated rival New Hampshire in Manchester, NH 5-2. The only other wins for Maine since these teams met was a two game sweep of Canisius last weekend at Alfond Ice Arena. At six total wins and 11th place in Hockey East it’s probably safe to say that this is a pretty bad Maine team. That means this is a big opportunity for UMass to get a win or two against an evenly matched opponent.
No matter how you slice this Maine team, they don’t really have any strength that stands out. In terms of goal scoring their 10th among Hockey East teams with 2.50 goals per game (UMass is 7th at 2.74). Their power play is converting at 12.5%, 8th best among conference teams. Coming off of all-conference seasons last year juniors Devin Shore and Ben Hutton were supposed to be among the top scorers in the league. But right now they’re not even the top scorers on their team. That honor belongs to sophomore Blaine Byron who leads the team in both goals (9) and points (16). Shore by comparison has 5 goals and 9 points while Hutton has 4 goals and 7 points. One interesting note is that Maine 10th in scoring but 3rd in the league in shots per game. So they’re getting a lot of rubber on opposing goaltenders but are struggling to finish.
Defensively the Black Bears are one spot better than UMass among Hockey East teams in 11th. But there’s a world of difference between those two slots as Maine is giving up 3.45 goals per game versus UMass’ 4.42. Maine does let up a lot of shots on net, 31.8 to be exact which is second worst in the league next to UConn. Freshman Sean Romeo has been the starter for Maine for nearly all games since early November. It was Romeo who got the win against UMass on 11/1, allowing just the two goals. He hasn’t played spectacular, but he has done well at times. Last weekend against Canisius he only allowed a sole goal each night. He comes into the weekend with a .907 save percentage and 2.97 goals against average.
UMass will have two things that it didn’t have the last time they played Maine. First, a Frank Vatrano that is on fire. He’d had a pretty quiet start to the season when the team headed north to Orono, but starting with that goal in the second game up there, he’s been one of the best scorers in the league and country. Second, the Minutemen have Brandon Montour on the roster now and he too is heating up. Montour has registered a point in his last three games and last time out scored his first goal.
The whole trick will be for UMass to play enough defense to win the game 4-3 rather than lose 5-4. They absolutely have to figure out how to play defense on the big Mullins sheet where they’ve given up a horrifying 5.67 goals per game. 5.67. They can’t have the same defensive performance that they did against UConn when they allowed 39 shots on net. The Black Bear stars may have underachieved so far this season but guys like Hutton and Shore combined with the likes of Byron and Cam Brown are capable of putting a bunch of goals on the scoreboard in a hurry. If UMass even plays average defense and doesn’t allow a lot of odd man rushes or guys wide open in the slot, they have a very good chance of winning one or both of these games. If we get the usual defensive effort it’s likely two more disappointing losses.
Beer The Triangle
The Hangar has a lot of Maine Beer Company on currently. Unfortunately no Lunch. But still, it’s always tough to find MBC on draft. Personally I’m looking forward to catching the beginning of the Patriots on Saturday while downing some Mean Old Toms. A win during the weekend should be celebrated at Amherst Brewing Company drinking Stone Vertical Epic 10-10-10 and Troegs Blizzard of Hops on cask. They also have a Brooklyn Wheat Wine that I’d love to try.
Maine seems very concerned with the big Mullins ice in this preview from the Bangor Daily News. Perhaps they missed the fact that UMass is 1-7-0 on that big Mullins ice.