#12 Yale Bulldogs 6-4-2 (3-3-2) ECAC 6th
Massachusetts Minutemen 7-8-4 (2-4-4) Hockey East T-7th
It’s rare for teams to have a chance to avenge a loss to a non-conference team earlier in the season unless they happen to meet again in the NCAA tournament. But that’s exactly the chance UMass has on Tuesday when they welcome the 12th ranked Yale Bulldogs to the Mullins Center. The Minutemen were off to a 4-0-1 start to their season when they first met Yale back on Halloween in the championship game of the Capital City Classic in Trenton, NJ. Yale would hand UMass their first loss of the season in a dominant 6-1 win and the Minutemen have won only three games since.
That earlier match was only Yale’s second game of the season, but even then, based on their accomplishments last year, it was known that they would be a tough team defensively. And that showed in that first result. UMass generated a good number of shot attempts, 58 in total, but only 26 of those made it to Bulldog goaltender Alex Lyon. In the second period of that game Yale limited the Minutemen to just two shots on net. Only one shot would get by Lyon, a late goal by Shane Walsh, but Yale already had a 6-0 lead by that point.
Yale has continued to do well on defense since then. The 6-4-2 Bulldogs have the 9th best defense in the country, allowing just 2.00 goals per game. Lyon posts the 13th best save percentage in the country with .932. Yale has been exceptional on the penalty kill, stopping 90.6% of opponents chances, 2nd best in the country. That’s going to present a big challenge for a Minuteman power play that has been anemic of late. Walsh’s goal at Army broke a seven game streak without a power play goal. The team has only 3 power play goals total in their last 14 games. Scoring any goals at all will be tough against this Yale team that has already proven has the ability to shut down this UMass roster. Saturday’s win at Army is good for momentum, but scoring just two goals against the Atlantic Hockey opponent shows that UMass’ offensive woes are still an issue.
Looking back at that first UMass-Yale game what sticks out now is the fact that the Bulldogs scored six goals. That is by far the most they have scored all season. In fact the only other time they even scored more than three goals was a 4-2 win over Dartmouth a week after playing UMass. Yale is only 35th in the nation in scoring with 2.50 goals per game. Six different Bulldogs scored for Yale against UMass the first time, including junior John Hayden and sophomore Ryan Hitchcock who lead their team in goals with six and five respectively.
UMass has improved defensively since the last time these teams met so it will be key for them to limit Yale’s scoring this time around. The Minutemen will still have to contend with being shorthanded defensively however. While his teammates are preparing for Tuesday’s game, defenseman William Lagesson will be playing the United States in the bronze medal game of the World Junior Championships. It remains to be seen if Marc Hetnik or Carmine Buono will dress after missing the Army game with injury. And while he dressed this Saturday, Nic Renyard’s status for tomorrow is unknown. Still, UMass should have enough to keep Yale from scoring as much as they did the first time. While they don’t have a top scoring team, the Minutemen will have to be wary of a Yale power play that scores at a 24.5% rate, 8th best in the country.
Yale has not played a real game since a 3-2 win over then #12 Boston University on December 11th, though they did play an exhibition game against McGill University a week ago. Though it’s a quick turnaround since Saturday’s game at Army, having played that recently may be an advantage for the Minutemen. Hopefully just the fact the team is coming off a win is a benefit. UMass needs to have some momentum and confidence heading into the next few weeks. The Minutemen will be facing some of the very best teams in the country in the next few weeks, kicking off with this game against Yale. They’ll be facing some of the best defenses too and to be successful they’ll need to get their offense back on track. This Yale game presents an opportunity to feel out some new strategies to do so without any league points being on the line.
Here’s another profile piece from UMass Athletics, this time on Massachusetts native Shane Walsh.
Looking ahead to this weekend’s opponent, USCHO has a story on BU’s second half prospects.
Former Minuteman Jon Quick was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week.