New Hampshire Wildcats 3-4-2 (1-0-2) Hockey East 8th
Massachusetts Minutemen 6-3-2 (2-2-2) Hockey East T-5th
The Massachusetts hockey team will hit the road this weekend to face a couple Hockey East foes they’ve already seen once this weekend. On Friday the Minutemen head to Durham to take on the team that was part of their most memorable game this season. On 10/23 the New Hampshire Wildcats visited the Mullins and were up 6-1 with a little more than a period left before UMass roared back to secure maybe the best tie in the history of the program. On Saturday the Minutemen will take on Merrimack, who they just faced and lost 4-2 to last weekend, at Lawler Rink in North Andover.
UNH continues to be a tough team to figure out. The tie against UMass, which was obviously a big disappointment for them, left them with a 1-2-1 record with the lone win coming against AIC. The very next weekend though they picked up a couple impressive road victories against Union and Merrimack. They didn’t have as much success the next weekend when they travelled out west to Michigan State and lost both games by a combined score of 4-12. Last weekend they hosted Merrimack and tied them 3-3.
UMass isn’t the only team UNH has done well against offensively. They’re scoring 3.78 goals per game, 10th best in the country and one spot ahead of UMass. They’re led by sophomore Andrew Poturalski who has 7 goals and senior Dan Correale who has 6, half of which came against UMass in that earlier game. Junior Tyler Kelleher leads all Hockey East players in total points with 18. The Wildcats also have a top 10 power play so far, converting on 25% of their chances.
UNH is dangerous offensively but has really struggled to keep the puck out of their net. The 3.89 goals given up is 55th in the country (UMass’ defense is 56th). The problem really has been goaltending where they have a team save percentage of just .884, 7th worst in the country. Danny Tirone was in net for the 3rd period meltdown against UMass and he’s been the biggest problem in net, saving just 87% of opponents shots. Sophomore Adam Clark has done much better in net and picked up the wins against Merrimack and Union, but was recently diagnosed with a torn labrum.
It’s fitting that these two teams tied in their previous meeting because they’re very similar. Both teams are explosive on offense but struggle defensively. Both are among bottom teams in terms of possession stats and allow opponents to get on average six more shots per game. UMass already knows they can get the puck past Tirone. But in this rematch they need to do so in the first period this game instead of waiting until the end. Maybe an advantage that UMass has coming into this game is that Nic Renyard will likely be starting. Renyard was perfect in relief of Henry Dill in the prior meeting of these teams.
#13 Merrimack College Warriors 6-1-3 (2-1-3) Hockey East T-3rd
Massachusetts Minutemen 6-3-2 (2-2-2) Hockey East T-5th
Not much has changed since these two teams met last Friday night at the Mullins Center, a 4-2 win for the Warriors. In that game Merrimack jumped out to a 2-0 lead behind a couple goals from John Gustafsson. The Warrior defense was stifling and Merrimack goaltender Colin Delia didn’t allow the first UMass goal until under 3 minutes left in the second. Shane Walsh would tie it at the beginning of the 3rd. But Alfred Larrsson would get the game winner for Merrimack mid-way through the final period on a bad UMass turnover in their own zone. Just after Delia would deny Ray Pigozzi the chance to tie the game in the final seconds the Warriors would seal it with an empty net goal.
The night after the win in Amherst Merrimack would tie a UNH squad that has given them troubles this season in Durham. The 13th ranked Warriors continue to win behind the strength of their defensive play and goaltending. The 1.90 goals allowed per game is 8th best in the country. The 25.4 shots allowed per game is 7th fewest. Delia’s .925 save percentage is 16th best in the country. He saved 29 of 31 shots against the Minutemen last Friday.
It’s probably not a big surprise that Merrimack is finding success on the defensive end. But their scoring so far this season should be raising a few eyebrows. Their 3.30 goals scored per game is the 17th most in the country and they’ve scored 4 or more goals in 4 of their 10 games. Amazingly they’re scoring that much despite the second worst power play in the country at 6.2%. It’s been a total team effort on offense for the Warriors as they have 3 different players with 4 goals apiece and another 3 players with 3 goals apiece. None of those players are sophomore Brett Seney who has scored just twice after a stellar freshman season last year.
UMass was able to generate a decent amount of shots on Merrimack last Friday, but very few were quality chances. And the ones that were quality ended up being denied by Delia. The Minutemen will have to do a better job attacking the Warrior defense and their goaltender if they want a different result this week. That’s going to be a challenge, especially considering the game will be played at the cramped confines of Lawler Arena where the UMass will have less space to be creative. Still, it’ll be interesting to see if the UMass coaching staff and the players will be able to make adjustments to matchup against the Warriors after seeing this team so recently.
At the beginning of the season it seemed likely that these two teams would be playing for the right to stay out of last place. But both have exceeded expectations and would like to see that unexpected success continue this weekend. The Minutemen have shown so far that they can beat the lower tier teams in the league like UConn and Maine, but the next step is to show they can beat some of the better performing teams. Knocking off a ranked team on the road would be a big step in the continued evolution of this team, especially with a potentially undefeated Quinnipiac team looming after Thanksgiving.
It certainly sounds like that 3rd period meltdown against UMass is still heavy on the mind of the Wildcats, according to this story in the Concord Monitor.
Mike McMahon of College Hockey News has this interesting read on the struggling Maine hockey program. Black Bear coach and former UMass assistant Red Gendron is one of the best people in college hockey and I really hope he’s able to make things work in Orono. But from reports it appears that the problems are much deeper than whomever is behind the bench.