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Preview ▲ Minutemen Look To Hand Quinnipiac First Losses In Home And Home Series

#3 Quinnipiac University Bobcats 11-0-2 (4-0-2) ECAC T-1st

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Massachusetts Minutemen 6-3-4 (2-2-4) Hockey East T-3rd

 The Massachusetts Minutemen will try to this weekend what 11 other teams have been unable to do; beat the #3 Quinnipiac Bobcats.  Quinnipiac has been near perfect so far this season, with only a couple ties picked up in last weekend’s action blemishing their record.  The Bobcats are one of the best all around teams so far, excelling on both offense and defense and will present one of the biggest challenges for this up-and-coming UMass team in a holiday home and home series that starts Friday in Amherst.

Quinnipiac wasn’t expected to be a dominant team in college hockey this year, starting the season ranked 18th and picked to finish 4th in the ECAC by the league’s coaches.  But people really started to take notice of the Bobcats when they swept then #9 St Cloud State at the end of October by a combined score of 9 to 3.  Two weeks ago they beat #7 Harvard, the preseason ECAC favorite, 4-1.  But last week the high flying Quinnipiac offense was held to just a single goal when #20 Clarkson and #14 St Lawrence visited.  However they managed to keep a zero in their loss column with 1-1 and 0-0 ties against the North Country teams.

Before last weekend’s dearth of goals the Bobcats were leading the country in offense with 4.64 goals scored per game.  After just the one goal last weekend they’re down to 4.0 goals scored per game, which is still good enough for 6th in country.  Puck possession is a big reason why they’re so successful this season, as the team has the 4th best Corsi For with 58.5% at even strength.  The Bobcats are generating 36.8 shots on goal per game, also 4th best in the country.  Amazingly they have three different players with 8 goals apiece (Sam Anas, Travis St. Denis, and Tim Clifton) with the trio tied for 5th nationally for goal scoring.  Clifton’s 8 goals is especially impressive considering he missed four games in October.  The Bobcats have been especially effective on the power play, converting 29.7% of their chances which is second best in the country.  That’s going to present a big challenge for a Massachusetts penalty kill that is only 77.8% successful.

The Bobcats are allowing just 1.54 goals per game so far this season, the 4th fewest in the country.  UMass has already played against Boston College and Yale which have allowed the fewest and 3rd fewest goals per game and struggled mightily to generate offense, scoring just one goal combined against the two.  The Minutemen’s offense is pretty dangerous this year, but they’ve yet to find a way to score against the top defenses in the country like BC, Yale, and Merrimack.  That will need to change this weekend if they’re to win.  They’ll need to solve the Bobcat defense that is allowing just 24.2 shots per game, 4th fewest in the country, and then get the puck past Michael Garteig who boasts top ten rankings in save percentage (.941) and goals against average (1.40). They have had past success against the netminder though as Garteig was in net last year when the Minutemen beat Quinnipiac in Hamden by a 3-2 score.

This is a big test for UMass.  Statistically, this Quinnipiac squad has put up very similar numbers as BC against what looks like a much tougher schedule.  In fact, the Bobcats have such a lofty record against the 3rd toughest schedule per the KRACH rating.  The Minutemen’s worst game was their game against the Eagles where they could not generate many quality chances and even when they could they couldn’t find a way past star goaltender Thatcher Demko.  On defense they continually found themselves out of position against the skilled Eagle forwards and as a result let in 7 goals.  The team’s play has been much improved since that BC game, going 2-1-3 with the play on defense noticeably better.  Against the Bobcats we’ll see if that improvement has more to do with the competition UMass has faced in those games or if there has been a real change in quality of play.

This UMass season has been an enjoyable one so far.  There has been a lot of excitement and drama to backdrop a team that is so far surpassing everyone’s expectations.  Handing a top 5 team their first loss of the season would give the Minutemen a signature win on the campaign so far and would help show the country that the team is for real and that the improvement hasn’t been a fluke.

Weekend preview from UMass Athletics.

QU’s Garteig is the subject of this notebook from the Waterbury Republican-American.

Frank Vatrano returned to the ice for the Bruins last night after getting injured last week and pretty much single-handedly beat the Red Wings with his two goals, including the overtime winner.

Mike McMahon has some good commentary on the Big Ten age limit proposal.

 

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