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Weekend Preview ▲ Minutemen Head West To Open Season Against Colorado College

Colorado College Tigers 0-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st NCHC

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Massachusetts Minutemen 0-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st Hockey East

The Massachusetts hockey program travels to the foot of the Rockies to open the 2015-16 season.  The Minutemen taking on the Colorado College Tigers to kick off the season won’t be seen as one of the marquee opening weekend matchups, but it is a very interesting one.  And while I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying whatever happens this weekend will be a precursor to the entire season, it should at least give UMass fans a glimpse of what the team may be capable of in the early going.

These are two very, very similar teams.  UMass has 9 freshmen on their roster.  The Tigers have 14.  UMass has 19 total underclassmen.  Colorado College has 18.  The Minutemen, coming off a last place finish, were picked to finish last again in Hockey East, the best conference in the East.  Colorado College, coming off a last place finish, were picked to finish 8th in the 8 team NCHC, the best league in the west.  It’s not exactly Boston College-North Dakota, but these are two programs are very evenly matching and in very similar spots kicking off the season against each other.

Last season was the first for CC coach Mike Haviland after taking over for longtime Scott Owens who led the Tigers to 7 NCAA appearances in 15 years.  The team struggled in most aspects, scoring just 2.11 goals per game while giving up 3.89 (4th most in the country).  They had just one player  hit double digits for goals, now senior Cody Bradley, with 10.  He also had 20 assists on the season.  Nearly half his points came on the power play.  Another forward UMass will have to keep an eye on is senior Hunter Fejes, a Coyotes draft pick, who had 19 points last year.

Defense is another area where the Tigers look very similar to the Minutemen.  Of the 10 defensemen on their roster, 9 are underclassmen and just one is a senior.  One defenseman to be aware of is sophomore Teemu Kivihalme, a 5th round pick of the Predators, who had 5 goals and 6 assists last season.  There was supposed to be a battle in net this season between junior Tyler Marble and sophomore Chase Perry.  But Perry left and headed back to juniors over the summer so it will be Marble, who beat writer Joe Paisley has reported will be the starter on Friday, who will man the crease at least early on.

The UMass forwards will have to look to take advantage of the youthful Tiger defense and really press them in their first collegiate game.  The good news is it does sound like Dennis Kravchenko, who missed last weekend’s exhibition, will play in Colorado.  The offensive pressure was a little inconsistent during the exhibition game, but it’s tough to tell how much Kravchenko’s absence had to do with that.  It’ll be interesting to see if freshmen like Austin Plevy or Kurt Keats get into the thick of things right away this weekend.  All eyes will also be on Shane Walsh, looking for him to repeat his production and heroics that became a regular occurrence in the second half of last season.

How the Minutemen do in the series, and the season, will likely come down to how UMass does keeping the puck out of the net.  Teams scored to the tune of 4.22 goals per game last season.  That can’t happen this year.  The team needs to improve dramatically in that area if they have any chance to beat the last place expectations.  The incoming class brings a lot of talent to the blueline, headlined by William Lagesson and Ivan Chukarov, though Callum Fryer and Carmine Buono are good enough to hold their own too.  The hope is it won’t take them too long to adjust to the college game, but there certainly could be a period of growing pains.  We could see that learning curve in effect this weekend.

I’m not sure what to expect in net this weekend.  In fact, I’m not even sure who to expect in net this weekend.  All three goaltenders played well in the 4-0 shutout.  Sophomore Henry Dill offers collegiate experience, including playing out at Michigan State last year.  But, Nic Renyard has the pedigree and wasn’t brought to Amherst to necessarily be a backup.  It’s unknown if fans should read anything into Renyard getting the start on Saturday.  It’s a longshot but I would not discount Micheletto throwing everyone for a loop and starting Alex Wakaluk on Friday.  Wakaluk is coming off a very strong showing in the exhibition game and Mick went out of his way to praise his play during this week’s UMass Hockey radio show.  Could Mick really give the junior the surprise first start of the season?

This is a very interesting opening matchup, but it’s also a beneficial one for the Minutemen too.  The distance and altitude adds some complexity, but it’s helpful that the squad gets to open up against a team just as inexperienced and coming off a very similar season last year.  It’s not unreasonable to expect a split this weekend and I would hope fans would be satisfied if that were to end up being the result.  October is going to be full of a lot of learning for these players, veterans and freshmen alike.  And picking up at least one win far away from the Mullins, in front of what could be a pretty large crowd, would be a great early lesson.

Beer The Triangle
I’ve only been to Colorado Springs twice, the last coming over a decade ago.  But I was in the Centennial State, my former home, just a few weeks ago to watch UMass football take on the Colorado Buffaloes.  So let me highlight a beer from each stop on that UMass football beercation, even though they were north and west of the Springs where UMass will play this weekend.  A great beer bar in Denver was Falling Rock Tap Room, right next to Coors Field.  While stopping there after a ballfield tour I enjoyed an Odell Myrcenry, an excellent double IPA.  Oh and they also had this beer on tap called Pliny The Elder.  That same afternoon I headed up to my old stomping grounds in the Vail Valley and visited Crazy Mountain Brewing in Edwards.  Most of their beer was good, not great, but I really enjoyed their Midnight Blues, made with tea.

After watching football get beat down by the Buffs I headed over to Avery Brewing where, after bewaring The Reverend, I really liked their Samaels, an oak aged English strong ale.  From there I headed to Boulder Beer, where I had to enjoy a Boulder Shake, the semi-official beer of last UMass hockey season.  Many a Boulder Shake was consumed at the Hangar following losses, and maybe a few after rare wins as well.  Last stop on the short trip was New Belgium Brewing up in Fort Collins.  They had so many good beers I never even had a chance to order their standard Fat Tire Ale.  I was very impressed by their La Terroir, a dry-hopped sour.  If you’re a mile high for this weekend’s game I suggest looking for any and all of these beers.

Weekend Preview from UMass Athletics.

Joe Paisley of the Colorado Springs Gazette has a look at the Colorado College freshmen.  Definitely keep an eye out for other coverage from him leading up to tomorrow’s game.  I’ll do my best to pass along any relevant news via FTT Twitter.

The Collegian came out with their hockey preview edition today with a number of stories covering many aspects of the program.  As the program’s fortunes have faded, so has the media coverage.  But, the Colleigan is always there and hockey has been blessed with some real quality writers covering the team over the years.  Jason Kates and Ross Gienieczko are just the latest.  Here are their preview pieces:

Why You Should Be Optimistic About UMass Hockey This Season

UMass Looks To Be More Competitive In Hockey East Behind Youth

Inexperience Highlights Questions Surrounding UMass Hockey Entering 2015

Steven Iacobellis Ready To Assume Captain Role For UMass Hockey

Dynamic Freshman Duo Joins UMass Defense With High Expectations

John Micheletto Ready For Pivotal Fourth Season At Helm Of UMass Hockey.  This article contains something that I feel I have to address.  Micheletto is quoted in the story as saying, “I think he’s (Bamford) really appreciative of the challenges that we have being in Hockey East and the program being in the condition that it was when I first got here.”  In my season preview posted earlier this week I talked about different reasons pushed by the staff about why the team has struggled.  This quote is a prime example of that.

Let’s quickly revisit where the program was when Toot Cahoon was pushed out by then Athletic Director John McCutcheon.  The team was definitely stagnating after a few years of underachieving and his final two recruiting classes were not as good as previous ones.  However, in Cahoon’s last year he won 14 games, an amount Micheletto has yet to match.  The program was still popular on campus, averaging 4600 fans per game which put UMass in the top half of Hockey East.  Since then attendance has hemorrhaged to the 2500 seen last season.  Micheletto inherited a roster with the likes of Conor Sheary, Mike Pereira, Branden Gracel, Conor Allen, Joel Hanley, and Oleg Yevenko.  All of those players had multiple years of eligibility left.  Sheary and Pereira would finish their UMass careers 6th and 8th in all-time points for the UMass program.  Gracel finished 21st in total points.  Pereira is 4th in all time goals scored.  Gracel and Sheary are 15th.  Sheary, Allen, Hanley, and Yevenko all attended NHL training camps in recent weeks and will likely play in the NHL sometime this season.  I’m not sure why Micheletto continues to portray the cupboard as being bare when he took over.  It simply wasn’t.  No more excuses, just wins.

Moving on, SBN College Hockey has their Hockey East preview, as well as their UMass team preview.

William Lagesson was listed as one of the 50 NCAA Players To Watch by The Hockey News.

The Players Tribune has this interesting video on an old gas station in Meriden, CT where NHL players, including Jon Quick, workout during the offseason.  Quickie looks very different from the skinny kid that I remember hanging out in the shadows of the Mullins tunnels.

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2 Comments

  1. gable

     /  October 10, 2015

    kravy and plevy look awesome….umass has some serious skill….lee has great hands and vision

    Liked by 1 person

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