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Preview ▲ UMass Heads West For Two Games Against The Irish

Massachusetts Minutemen 6-5-4 (2-2-4) Hockey East T-3rd

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish 6-4-4 (3-1-2) Hockey East T-3rd

The Massachusetts hockey team will look to close out their better than expected first half of the 2015-16 league schedule on a positive note when they travel to South Bend, Indiana for a two game series against Notre Dame.  Of course the last time the Minutemen visited the Fighting Irish the trip was highlighted with a win in the longest game in college hockey history, but ended in disappointment when UMass ultimately dropped the first round Hockey East playoff series 2-1.  UMass will try to get back on track after going winless in their last six games.  On paper they’ll be facing a pretty evenly matched opponent to try to break out of their mini-slump.

According to the KRACH (my preferred rating system) Notre Dame is the 23rd ranked team in the country, playing against the 30th toughest schedule, while UMass is right behind them at 24th, while playing against the 24th toughest schedule.  The Irish are 18th in the country in terms of goals scored per game with 3.07 while UMass is right behind them at 20th with 3.00.  Notre Dame has the 20th best power play converting 21.2% of chances.  UMass has been successful 20.4% of the times, 23rd best in the country.  The Irish do seem to have an advantage defensively as they’re only giving up 2.79 goals per game versus the 3.40 given up by UMass.  The Minutemen do have the edge with their improved penalty kill, stopping 79.6% of opponent’s power plays versus 78.1% for the Irish.

Team defense may be different for the teams but the stats for the two goaltenders who will face each other on Friday night are much closer.  In fact the save percentage for Notre Dame’s Cal Peterson and UMass’ Nic Renyard is an identical .913.  Petersen is very familiar with the Minutemen, going 3-1-0 against them as a freshman last year with two shutouts.  Even in the loss, which was the five overtime game in the playoffs, he stopped an NCAA record 87 shots.

Offensively the Irish have been getting the job done with a true team effort.  They have 7 different players with three goals or more this season but no players with more than 6.  Leading the team in goal scoring coming into the weekend is senior Thomas DiPauli with six, while adding 7 assists.  Freshman Dylan Malmquist and sophomore defenseman Jordan Gross both have 5, with Gross’ total good enough to be 3rd best among defensemen in Hockey East.  Surprisingly after scoring 21 goals last season senior Mario Lucia only has three so far and only one in his last 12 games.

This is a big opportunity for UMass this weekend.  The teams really do look pretty evenly matched at this point in the season, although they come into the series with different trends.  UMass has struggled after their hot start and is just 0-3-3 in this last six while the Irish is a well-rounded 2-2-2 in that time.  The Minutemen will have to get their offense going again to be successful.  They’re scoring just 1.5 goals per game in their recent winless streak and the team is struggling getting top scorers like Dennis Kravchenko and Austin Plevy, a healthy scratch over the weekend, in position to shoot.  They face a tough goaltender who has had success against them in Petersen, but overall this Irish squad is a step down defensively from Quinnipiac or even Merrimack whom the Minutemen faced in recent weeks.

As I said in a post earlier this week, this UMass team has shown that they’re an improved squad from last year.  They’ve shown that they can beat the bad teams and tie the good teams, but haven’t gotten a victory yet again the good or really good teams.  Notre Dame is one of those good teams.  If the Minutemen want to prove that they’re a good team too, and keep themselves in the top half of the Hockey East standings, they’ll need to get a win against  Notre Dame.  The team won’t play another Hockey East team until January 9th and that game against Boston University kicks off a tough four game stretch against BU, Lowell, and Boston College.  Finishing the first half of the season on a high note is important from a momentum perspective and to keep confidence high on this inexperienced team.  Even just one win this weekend I think would help solidify the positive improvements seen so far this season.  A Notre Dame sweep would put the Minutemen in a very tough situation when they start up league play next year.

Weekend preview from UMass Athletics.  Fans should be able to stream Friday’s game and then Saturday’s game will be shown nationally on NBCSN.

The Daily Collegian has their preview of the Irish series.

The program announced that Graham Johnson has replaced Kevin Czepiel as Directory of Hockey Operations after Czepiel left to take over the Northfield-Mount Hermon hockey program.  Johnson comes to Amherst with a very impressive resume.  He has been an assistant coach at both AIC and Quinnipiac and was on Norm Bazin’s staff at DIII Hamilton College before Bazin took over at Lowell.  He also was an assistant and interim head coach in the USHL.  Certainly if coach Micheletto ever needed to replace one of his current assistants, he wouldn’t have to look far.

A college hockey team in Las Vegas?

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