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Preview ▲ Minutemen Return Home To Open Mullins Slate Against Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart Pioneers 0-0-1 (0-0-0) T-2nd Atlantic Hockey

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Massachusetts Minutemen 2-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st Hockey East

The Massachusetts hockey team will look to build off a very successful trip west where they gained two wins when they play their first home game on Friday against the Sacred Heart Pioneers.  The Minutemen swept the Colorado College Tigers in Colorado Springs last week thanks to offense outbursts from freshman Austin Plevy and senior Shane Walsh as well as some solid goaltending from the duo of Henry Dill and Nic Renyard.  UMass will look to stay undefeated on the young season against a Sacred Heart team that’s a little tough to read.

It wasn’t too long ago that Sacred Heart was winning just a handful of games each season.  But they’ve made progress in the past two years winning 12 and then 13 games in each.  Despite the season being in its beginning stages the teams do share a common opponent.  After Dalhousie was defeated by the Minutemen 4-0 in the preseason they travelled south to face the Pioneers the next afternoon.  Dalhousie ended up beating Sacred Heart 5-3, even though the Pioneers outshot the Tigers 40-26 (the Minutemen were outshot by Dalhousie 33-24).  The Dalhousie results would seem to favor UMass in this matchup, however this past weekend the Pioneers opened their season on the road by tying a decent Union team 1-1.

Probably the biggest question for Sacred Heart coming into the season is who would step up for them in net.  Vermont transfer Alex Vazzano and backup Andrew Bodnardchuk both graduated, leaving a gaping hole in net coming into this season.  But freshman Brett Magnus looked solid for them in net against Union, stopping 31 of the 32 shots he faced.  If in fact Magnus starts on Friday UMass may be able to get a bit of a scouting report on him even though he’s only played a couple of games in his college career.  Minutemen freshmen Kurt Keats and Carmine Buono were both teammates of Magnus with the Powell River Kings of the BCHL last season where he went 24-21-1 with a .907 save percentage.

Aside from goaltender Sacred Heart brings back a good amount of players from last year’s squad which ranked 40th out of 59 DI teams in terms of both goals for and goals against.  Up front they return leading goal scorer Jordon Minello who found the net 14 times as a sophomore as well as the team leader in points senior Zach Luczyk who had 11 goals and 15 assists.  In fact they return most of their scoring depth as 10 of the 12 top goalscorers return this year.

UMass fans may recognize one name on the Sacred Heart blueline.  Connor Doherty was part of Coach Micheletto’s first freshman class aside Shane Walsh, KJ Tiefenwerth, and Evan Stack.  He ended up leaving school during his freshman year without playing a game for the Minutemen.  He did well for the Pioneers last year, his first collegiate season, playing every game and ending up with 3 goals, 5 assists, and a +5 rating.  Besides Doherty the Pioneers return 4 other starting defensemen last year including Erlich Doerksen and Mitch Nylen who are both coming off strong seasons.  The experience at defense could help alleviate any challenges coming from the inexperience in net.

A lot went well for the Minutemen last weekend in Colorado.  They got immediate contributions from a key freshman, Austin Plevy, who scored 4 goals and grabbed an assist on the weekend.  Freshman production is important if the team wants to fill the hole created when Frank Vatrano jumped to the pros.  At the same time the team got offense from returners like Dennis Kravchenko and Steven Iacobellis.  But really eye-opening was the 3 goal, 2 assist effort from Shane Walsh.  Was his scoring outburst in the second half of last year an anomaly?  I guess not.  And the heroic nature of his scoring is still there as he pretty much put the team on his back in the opening minutes of the third Saturday to get the Minutemen back in place to pull off the come from behind win.

The inexperienced defense looked good enough in Colorado Springs, but I think UMass fans should be most pleased with the performance of goaltenders Henry Dill and Nic Renyard, who both had save percentages of .929 or better on the weekend.  Still there are some areas where the Minutemen need to improve.  The 11 penalties and 2 majors during the weekend cannot be a regular occurrence.  UMass was cruising to a victory on Friday until penalties gave the Tigers the chance to get back in the game.  The second glaring area of improvement was shots on goal.  Shots attempted was 166-113 in CC’s favor.  Penalties played a factor in that number but even looking at just 5-on-5 the Tigers held the advantage 115-77.  UMass can’t keep up that kind of pace because as they play better offensive teams those shots will translate into goals.  UMass has to improve their puck possession coming off the opening weekend.  It should not be ignored that Sacred Heart, despite losing, did get more shots on goal against Dalhousie than the Minutemen were able to muster.

Starting out 3-0 would be a very big deal for the Minutemen.  Just the sweep of Colorado College, a team coming off a 6 win season, has resulted in a bit of a buzz around the program that hasn’t been there in a while.  Being undefeated going into their first league game next week would mean a lot in terms of record, but would probably mean even more in terms of confidence.  Confidence is a valuable commodity when you’re talking about a team heavy with underclassmen like UMass is.  The Minutemen should have the edge in skill against the Pioneers tomorrow.  And they have the home ice advantage.  But this Sacred Heart team should not be taken lightly and the Minutemen will have to work just as hard, if not harder, than they did out west if they want to treat the Homecoming crowd to a victory.

Beer The Triangle
It seemed like Boulder Shake, which I had a chance to indulge at the source for UMass football’s weekend against the Colorado Buffaloes, was last year’s go to post game beer, win or lose.  Could the Toasted Coconut Porter from Amherst Brewing at the Hangar (or however you want to refer to it now) be this year’s postgame rich, dessert-like, go to brew?  Perhaps.

Game preview from UMass Athletics.  Interesting to note that the last time UMass opened the home slate against Sacred Heart they went to the NCAA tournament that season.  They won that opener against Sacred Heart despite a number of starters, including goalie Jon Quick, being suspended for the game.

The Collegian has their preview of Friday’s game.

SBN College Hockey’s weekend preview takes another look at UMass’ performance last weekend, as does USCHO’s The Week That Was In Hockey East piece.

I was invited on the Eastern Bias podcast to talk about UMass’ start, among other stuff, this week.  I’m grateful that Shep and Joe invited me on to talk about the team.  It’s great to hear those guys, plus their guests, talk about Hockey East on a regular basis and for me it’s a valuable way to make a typically terrible Route 3 commute fly by.

Coach Micheletto did some podcasting himself, joining Inside Hockey East to talk about last weekend and the season in general.  I found this interview very interesting, if only because we don’t get to hear Mick candidly talking about the team all that often.

The Gazette had this piece on Plevy’s big weekend as well as a preview of Friday’s game (which for some reason is behind a paywall right now).

UMass announced the ticket plans and game promotions for UMass Hockey.

Frank Vatrano scored his AHL-leading 6th goal last night with Matt Irwin assisting:

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