The Massachusetts hockey team got much of what it wanted from its warm-up to the 2015-16 season with a 4-0 victory over the Dalhousie Tigers from the CIS. The shutout was a combined effort as each of the team’s goaltenders turned away all the Tigers shots while playing a period each. The team’s freshman class made solid contributions in net, on defense, and in the game’s scoring.
In my game preview I posted a few things that Minuteman fans would likely want to watch for in last night’s exhibition game. I highlighted freshman goaltender Nic Renyard as probably the player most would want to see. They didn’t have to wait long as Renyard got the start in goal. He saved all 8 shots he faced in the first period, including two Dalhousie breakaways. He wasn’t too flashy, but I thought he showed good positioning when the Tigers were in the UMass zone and he seemed to read the puck movement well. He played I think as well as fans could’ve hoped for in this game.
He was not the only goaltender who played well last night though. All three netminders had good games, as indicated by the zero next to Dalhousie on the scoreboard. Sophomore Henry Dill saw the most action, having to make 14 saves in the second stanza while having to turn away a Dalhousie breakaway as well as some odd man rushes. Alex Wakaluk came in in the third and his play was a very pleasant surprise. He may have been tested the most, having to make a few really tough saves on the penalty kill and on some Dalhousie rushes, but ended up turning away all 11 shots he saw.
The freshmen on defense, who will likely play a big role if there’s going to be improvement in that area, were another group I tried to watch closely. All in all, I was impressed. NHL draft picks William Lagesson and Ivan Chukarov were paired together during the game and both impressed. Lagesson definitely played as the stay at home defender he was supposed to be and shows good athleticism. Chukarov played well in both the defensive and offensive zones, assisting on two of the goals on the night. Callum Fryer was another freshman defender who made solid contributions on offense, totaling two assists. The second assist came when Fryer brought the puck into the Dalhousie zone, curled around the opposing net, and made a nice, quick pass to fellow freshman Ryan Badger who one-timed it past the Tiger goaltender to make it 4-0.
The contributions on offense from the freshmen went beyond the defensemen. As mentioned, Badger scored the final goal of the game. It was a freshman forward who opened up the scoring as well when Austin Plevy found the back of the net 8:29 into the first. Plevy is the highest regarded offensive recruit and will need to help replace the lost scoring from graduation and Frank Vatrano leaving for the pros. Plevy also added an assist on a Keith Burchett score later on. Though he didn’t figure into any of the scoring I was also impressed by Kurt Keats who brought a lot of energy to each of his shifts.
There were a couple of concerns that came about despite the win. First were the three breakaways and number of odd-man rushes given up during the night. Without the strong individual play of the goaltenders in those instances the outcome could’ve been very different. We’ll have to see if this was just due to the inexperience of the young defenders or related to the defensive problems of the recent years.
I was also concerned with the difference in shots. Dalhousie ended up outshooting the Minutemen 33-24. In last year’s exhibition against the Tigers the shots favored UMass 50-21. It should be noted that the Minutemen were without arguably their best offensive player, Dennis Kravchenko, who sat out due to injury. Also, UMass had to kill 5 Tiger power plays while only getting two power play opportunities themselves (and did not register a shot in either). Still, it’s something to keep an eye on going into next weekend’s opener against Colorado College.
All in all it was a very successful game. UMass got exactly what you would’ve wanted from an exhibition game. First off, they won without giving up any goals. The large freshman class got the opportunity to get familiar with their teammates and a new system, and made major contributions while doing so. And, as far as I can tell, there were no significant injuries, which is always a concern when going up the CIS teams. The hockey victory capped off a great day spent on campus with football getting the win earlier in the day and an enjoyable tailgate that preceded it. The countdown to Dalhousie is over. The countdown to hockey that counts begins! 6 days until UMass takes on the next set of Tigers.
There were a number of exhibition games yesterday and the most surprising result was #1 Boston College falling to New Brunswick 5-2. Granted, UNB had just beaten the AHL’s Portland Pirates the previous night and is considered one of the top CIS teams. But it’s still a bit of a shock. If you into transitive property, UNB beat Dalhousie 6-2 in an exhibition game last week.