#14 Merrimack Warriors 13-7-2 (4-5-1) Hockey East 9th
Massachusetts Minutemen 7-16-0 (2-11-0) Hockey East 12th
The Massachusetts Minutemen will look to continue their improved play in a home and home series against the 14th ranked Merrimack Warriors this weekend. UMass is 3-3-0 in their last six and will look for at least a split against one of the most pleasant surprises in the league this season. Through out of conference success the Warriors are ranked in the top 15 and are in the hunt for an NCAA bid despite being picked to finish 1oth in the conference.
The Warriors are where they are because of their 9-2-1 non-conference schedule. They took some criticism early on when they were racking up wins against lower end opponents like Holy Cross, Clarkson, and Mercyhurst. But you can’t knock the fact that at the beginning of the month the Warriors beat Minnesota at their own tournament and swept #12 Quinnipiac last weekend. They have struggled in conference however, one game below .500 at 4-5-1, and find themselves in 9th place despite their impressive 13-7-2 record overall. That will make them hungry for any and all Hockey East points they can get.
The Warriors have done better than expected this season because of their defense. The 1.95 goals they allow per game is 4th best in the country. Their penalty kill percentage of 90.4% is also 4th best. The Warriors’ play in net has been a big factor in those numbers. Senior goaltender Rasmus Tirronen’s .931 save percentage is 4th best among Hockey East goalies and 15th best in the country. He hasn’t been alone in putting up stingy numbers though. Freshman Collin Delia has started 7 games and has a save percentage of .935, 8th best in the country. Since Merrimack will be playing three games in four days (they lost 2-1 to Boston College on Wednesday) it’s very likely UMass will see both Warrior netminders this weekend.
Offensively Merrimack’s 2.55 goals per game is 8th best in the league, one spot behind UMass. They do have a better than average power play however at 17%, 5th best among Hockey East teams. Brett Seney has been the best freshman in the league not named Jack Eichel. Seney’s 21 points put him even with Frank Vatrano for 8th most in the league. His 10 goals ties him for 10th best. What’s impressive is those 10 goals have come on just 41 total shots. UMass will also have to keep track of junior Brian Christie and his nine goals scored as well as freshman Jace Hennig and sophomore Hampus Gustafsson who combined have tallied almost half of their teams’ power play goals.
For UMass this weekend they’ll have to do a lot of what they’ve done right in the prior two weekends. They’ll just have to do those things more consistently. At different points in the last two weekends they’ve scored a lot of goals and gotten some really clutch play. They’ve played some of their best defense of the season while Henry Dill continues to improve in net with each appearance. The freshmen have contributed during stretches while upperclassmen have shown strong leadership and come up with key goals at key times. But, at the same time at there have been points the offense has dried up. Just when you thought their third period woes were behind them, they gave up a 3rd period lead and four goals to UNH in their last time out. Defensive miscues proved costly in terms of goals and potential Hockey East points. And throughout it all they’ve taken way too many penalties.
The team is finally improving. The .500 record in their last six games says as much. But there’s still a long ways to go in terms of the team playing to its potential, not to mention in terms of the Hockey East standings. Merrimack will present a challenge. UMass is 0-3-0 against the other top defensive teams in the league (Vermont, Providence), scoring just 3 goals in 3 games. What’s worse is those teams, with similar offensive production as Merrimack, scored 18 goals against the Minutemen in those three games. UMass will have to find a way to solve the tough Merrimack defense and to do so it will take a total team effort, not just relying on Shane Walsh, Frank Vatrano, and Brandon Montour. But while they’re attacking Tirronen and Delia they’ll have to keep another eye on their own zone and try to avoid the easy, ill-timed goals that have been back-breakers this season. UMass’ schedule gets really tough over the next few weeks, these two games against Merrimack will be a good test to see how much they’ve improved and give them some time against really good competition with elite teams like Boston University and Lowell on the horizon.
Beer The Triangle
I missed it the first time, but Grapefruit Sculpin is coming back to Hangar soon! Hoping the keg is tapped early Saturday afternoon.
The Mack Report’s Mike McMahon previews the weekend from a Warrior perspective. It’s interesting the Warriors are focusing in on having to adjust to playing on the Mullins-sized ice when the Minutemen haven’t really played well on the big ice themselves. Be sure to keep checking the Mack Report as McMahon will likely have additional coverage ahead of and during the weekend.
Congratulations to senior Oleg Yevenko who was named one of 20 candidates for the Senior CLASS Award, given out to senior who have notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition
SBN College Hockey’s Jeff Cox has an interesting piece on recruiting and the roles of high school hockey vs junior hockey in the East.