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Preview ▲ Minutemen Kick Off 2016 With Trip To West Point

Massachusetts Minutemen 6-8-4 (2-4-4) T-7th Hockey East

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Army West Point Black Knights 5-8-4 (3-7-4) T-7th Atlantic Hockey

At first glance a game against Atlantic Hockey’s Army West Point Black Knights seems to be exactly what the Massachusetts Minutemen need to get back on track and kick off the new year right.  But upon closer inspection this Army team isn’t one to overlook.  After all, with their mid-week 3-2 win over #20 Merrimack the Black Knights now have a two game winning streak against Hockey East.  Army entered the holiday break on a downward note after getting swept by American International.  But they’ve already done what UMass so desperately needs, to get a win under their belts as the season enters its second phase.

Overall Army’s 5-8-4 record isn’t that impressive, but the wins over Merrimack and UConn do stand out.  Especially since that win over the Huskies was a 2-0 road shutout.  They also have two wins over the Sacred Heart team that UMass beat 5-2, defeating the Pioneers 4-3 and 5-2 in a weekend sweep.  They’ve struggled against the rest of the Atlantic Hockey schedule however, save for a lone win over Canisius.

They beat the Warriors and Huskies two different ways.  Against UConn the Black Knights controlled possession and tempo on the way to the 2-0 shutout, outshooting the Huskies 30-23.  This past Tuesday it was Merrimack who controlled possession, attempting 64 shots to Army’s 38.  But the Black Knights were able to limit the Warriors to just two goals.  Merrimack beat writer Mike McMahon called Army the most physical team they’ve faced all season.  That might not bode well for an undersized UMass team not known for their physical play.

Army is scoring 2.41 goals per game, 40th in the country.  They’ve scored more than 3 goals just three times this season.  They’ve shared scoring responsibilities as a team with four different players leading the team with 5 goals. Sophomore Conor Andrle leads the team with 13 points and power play goals with three.  Army does have one of the better power plays in the country, converting 19.7% of their opportunities.  The Black Knights do generate a fair amount of shots per game at 30.4, 27th most.  Their possession numbers are better than expected as well with an even strength corsi for of 49%.

Army is allowing 3.18 goals per game, 43rd in the country.  They’ve struggled on the penalty kill, stopping just 75.6% of opponent’s power plays.  That’s good news for a UMass power play which has struggled mightily recently.  Junior Parker Gahagen has seen the majority of time in net for the Black Knights and is .500 on the season at 5-5-4.  He comes into Saturday’s game with a .911 save percentage and 2.83 goals against average.

As detailed in my Midseason Review, this UMass team is in desperate need of a turnaround, going winless in their last nine games and losing their last five.  The problem in that time was that the scoring has completely dried up.  They’ve scored just 1.56 goals per game in that nine game period and key components of their offense have seemingly disappeared.  Only Shane Walsh and Ray Pigozzi have really been able  to score consistently all season.  Maybe the team finds its scoring against the Black Knights this weekend.  They’ll have to take advantage of Army’s weak penalty kill and try to reboot a power play that has converted just over 7% of chances in that nine game slide.

The physical play of Army and playing on the Black Knights’ smaller rink is worrisome.  Especially considering that the Minutemen will be without one of their more physical players in defenseman William Lagesson who is overseas at the World Junior Championships.  UMass will need to either find a way to match Army’s toughness or use their skill advantage to try to negate Army’s physical play.  The Black Knights will likely want to slow things down and clog passing lanes so UMass must do a better job at moving and controlling the puck than they did in December and November.

The Minutemen played their last game three weeks ago, a heartbreaker that saw Union score an overtime game-winner with 9 seconds left.   Since then they’ve had the chance to test themselves against Team USA and then head home to rest and enjoy the holidays with family.  It’ll be key for the team to shake off any rust and come out ready to play against Army.  With the five games after the trip to West Point against ranked teams anything less than a win against the Black Knights could be devastating for UMass’ second half hopes.

Army preview from UMass Athletics.

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1 Comment

  1. George

     /  January 2, 2016

    3-1 Army

    Like

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