Northeastern Huskies 11-11-4 (6-7-2) Hockey East T-7th
Massachusetts Minutemen 8-17-1 (3-12-1) Hockey East 12th
Remember how the Northeastern Huskies started the season 0-8-1? That was their record in mid-November. Since then they’ve gone 11-3-3. The Huskies have only one loss since early December and are 4-0-1 in their last five. Though they upset #3 Minnesota in late November, the Huskies are coming off probably their biggest win of the season as they knocked off five time defending champion Boston College in the first round of the Beanpot this past Tuesday.
These teams have already played twice this season, once in a league game and once non-conference. Tomorrow’s game will count towards the Hockey East standings. In the first game, Northeastern’s 4th loss in their dismal start, Henry Dill came up big for the Minutemen. Dill made 42 saves in the 3-2 win, the first for the Minutemen on the season. It was a very different story when the teams met against in mid-December after the Huskies had gotten things going. Northeastern won that game played at the Mullins Center by the score of 8-3. The Huskies scored their 8 goals on just 24 shots and went 5 for 9 on the power play that night.
That power play has proven very important for the Huskies this season. Though they’re only 10th in offense in Hockey East this season, scoring 2.50 goals per game, their power play percentage of 21.0% is second among league teams. They’ve also had the second most power play opportunities in the league. 21 of the team’s 65 goals have come off the stick of either junior Kevin Roy (11 goals) or sophomore Mike Szmatula (10 goals). But going back to the success of the power play, watch out for defenseman Colton Saucerman. He only has five goals on the season, but all five have come with the extra man as he the team in power play goals.
In net the Huskies have used a combination of Clay Witt and Derek Roy. Witt picked up the win over the Minutemen in December while Roy got the loss earlier in the season, though he didn’t play too poorly in the 3-2 decision. Witt got the last two starts for his team while Roy started the three games previous to that. If I were to guess I’d think UMass may see Roy Friday night so that Witt would be well rested for the big Beanpot Championship game on Monday. But that’s just a hunch. Maybe coach Jim Madigan sticks with the hot goaltender.
The big difference between the October win and the December loss for the Minutemen was the penalty kill. They gave up a lot of power play chances in both games. But in October they held the Huskies off the board with the extra man despite them gaining 7 total power play chances. In the December loss the Huskies went 5 for 9 on the power play and ended up steamrolling the Minutemen to another big loss. Power plays were a big part of the Huskies Beanpot win over BC on Tuesday when they went 2 for 6. UMass is also coming off a game where the power play and penalties in general played a big role. In their 9-5 loss against Boston University last weekend the Minutemen took 11 penalties, allowing BU to capitalize on 6 of their 9 power play opportunities. Certainly special teams could play a big role in Friday’s game.
#12 Lowell River Hawks 16-8-3 (9-5-2) Hockey East 3rd
Massachusetts Minutemen 8-17-1 (3-12-1) Hockey East 12th
The Massachusetts hockey team will play their first of three games in a row against the Lowell River Hawks on Saturday night, with the teams playing a home and home next weekend. The Hawks were one of the biggest surprises in Hockey East and all of college hockey for much of the season, well out performing the lowered expectations placed upon them when they lost the bulk of team that made deep NCAA tournament runs the last two seasons. In mid-January Lowell had a 15-4-3 record and the #6 ranking in the country. But the Hawks come into the weekend with just a 2-4-0 record in their last six games.
Lowell has been one of the best programs in all of the college hockey the last few seasons and they’ve done so with strong defense and elite goaltending. But goaltender Connor Hellebuyck left for the pros in the offseason and the Hawks had to reinvent themselves when they welcomed 13 freshmen to their squad. This year’s edition of the Lowell River Hawks is an offense oriented team as their 3.41 goals scored per game is second best in Hockey East and 11th best in the country. It’s been a team effort in terms of goal scoring with 10 different Hawks scoring at least 5 goals this scoring (UMass by comparison has five 5 goal scorers). Freshman C.J. Smith leads the Hawks in both goals (12) and points (24). Junior Dylan Zink’s 8 goals is second best among Hockey East defensemen.
UMass will likely see a very familiar face in net for Lowell as former Minuteman Kevin Boyle now patrols the crease for the River Hawks. Boyle joined Lowell after being cut by the UMass squad in the summer of 2012. Coach Micheletto has never publicly commented on why Boyle was asked to leave UMass. Boyle has had big pads to fill after Hellebuyck’s departure, but has done alright for the Hawks. His .930 save percentage is well above the .897 he posted in his last season with the Minutemen. And the two shutouts he has so far this season is twice as many as he had in his UMass career. Boyle’s 13-5-3 record gives him the third best win percentage in the league.
The big difference between Lowell’s 14-3-3 record in the first 3 months and their 2-5-0 record since seems to be special teams. During their successful stretch Lowell’s power play was converting at 21.7% while their penalty kill was stopping opponents 81% of the time. In the last month Lowell’s power play has only converted 2 of 27 attempts for 7.4%. During the same time Lowell’s opponents have scored on exactly one third of their power play opportunities. The Hawks are coming off a strong 4-1 win over Merrimack where they shut down all four of the Warriors extra man opportunities, but it’ll be interesting to see if Lowell’s special team woes are behind them or if it becomes an area for UMass to try to exploit. The Hawks are very talented, so UMass will have to leverage whatever opportunities are presented to gain the upset on Saturday.
Beer The Triangle
A two game weekend in the valley means a great opportunity to drive up to Greenfield on Saturday afternoon and visit the People’s Pint. I’ve always been partial to their Farmer’s Brown, although they have an Arm Twister Porter on tap now which would likely be my first pint.
The Collegian previews this weekend against the Huskies and River Hawks. They also had a good piece on the bigger role that freshman Dominic Trento has had on the team’s fate recently as well. I too have been very impressed by Trento’s play ever since he return from injury earlier in the season.
Congrats to Brandon Montour for being named Hockey East Rookie of the Month for January! Montour had two goals and eight assists in eight games during the month.
Frank Vatrano was named a semifinalist for the Water Brown award which goes to the best American-born college player in New England.
Troy Power has his latest blog entry where he praises the accommodations and food during the recent road trip to BU.
UMass has announced that Bob Goodhue has been named interim athletic director until a successor for John McCutcheon is named. Goodhue seems like a surprising, but quality choice for the post. Few have more love for the school and its sports teams. And he’s a proven administrator given his current role as Chief Operating Officer of the UMass Foundation and former President of the UMass Alumni Association. Goodhue, whose son Reed was a goaltender for the lacrosse team, is someone who follows all UMass programs closely and has always been familiar with the goings on of hockey when I’ve had the opportunity to speak to him. The search for AD is expected to take four to six weeks.
In less enthusiastic news, Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna has sign an extension though 2016-17.