Massachusetts Minutemen 7-9-4 (2-4-4) Hockey East T-7th
#11 Boston University Terriers 10-6-3 (4-3-2) Hockey East T-4th
The Massachusetts Minutemen kick off the second half of Hockey East play with a pretty tough matchup as they travel to Comm Ave to take on the #11 Boston University Terriers. It’s the first meeting of the year between the two teams. It’ll be the second game of the week for both squads as UMass fell in overtime to #12 Yale on Tuesday while BU had a dramatic come from behind win at #5 Harvard on Thursday. UMass will look to start the league home stretch with at least a point, but that’s going to be tough to do against a skilled Terrier team.
BU is probably better than their 10-6-3 record indicates. According to the KRACH rankings BU has accumulated that record against the 7th toughest schedule in the country, by far the most challenging of any Hockey East teams. They’ve played five games this season against teams ranked in the top 5 of the USCHO rankings, the likes of Denver, Providence, Quinnipiac, and Harvard, going 3-0-2 in those games. The match against Harvard this week was one of the more exciting games in all of college hockey this season. The Terriers were very, very slow to start, likely due to having four jet-lagged players returning from the World Junior Championships in Finland and having a couple players coming back from injury, including star Ahti Oksanen.
The Terriers were outshot 18-2 in the first period by Harvard on Thursday but escaped the period only down 1-0. The teams would battle back and forth in the 2nd and 3rd periods with Harvard jumping ahead 5-3 halfway through the final period. However BU would score three goals in a 2:09 span late to grab the win. Needless to say, BU has a bit of momentum coming into Saturday’s game.
The Terriers’ strength is their offense, with the 3.37 goals they score per game 13th best in the country and 4th best among Hockey East teams. They’re led by senior forwards Matt Lane and Oksanen, who both have 10 goals apiece, and Danny O’Regan who leads the team in total points with 21. BU has the 11th best power play in the country, converting at 22.9%. Whether it’s Alex Wakaluk or Nic Renyard in net for the Minutemen Saturday they’re likely to see a lot of action as the Terriers average over 35 shots on goal per game, 4th best in the nation. All those shots generated translates into BU being one of the better possession teams in the college hockey with an even strength Corsi of 55.7%. That’s bad news for a UMass team whose even strength Corsi is 46.3% and who have had trouble generating over 25 shots on goal a game.
Defensively BU is allowing 2.89 goals, with is 7th among Hockey East teams. The Terriers have used both sophomore Connor LaCouvee and Sean Maguire regularly in net this season. LaCouvee has the edge in games played, 13 to 7 for Maguire, but Maguire has played more in recent games. Maguire has started four of the last six games, including Thursday against Harvard, and is 3-1-0 in that time. LaCouvee has a better season save percentage with .911 to Maguire’s .894.
UMass’ defense has improved as the season has gone along, and have averaged just 2.70 goals allowed over their last 10 games. Their penalty kill in that time has been stellar. In fact if you go back to November 6th the Minutemen penalty kill has allowed just 3 power play goals in 42 opportunities. The resulting 91.7% kill rate is the best in the country during that time. It’ll be interesting to see how UMass does against one of Hockey East’s better offenses then on Saturday. The blueline will be bolstered by the return of William Lagesson who missed the previous two games representing Sweden at the World Juniors.
The Minutemen could limit the high flying Terriers to just a goal or two and still lose the game however because of their struggles on offense. The Minutemen have scored two or less goals in 10 of their last 12 games. It’s unknown at this time if they’ll have the services of Dennis Kravchenko who is tied for the team lead in points, as he was injured at Army and missed the most recent game. Coach John Micheletto, while successfully adjusting his strategy on defense as the season has gone along, has thus far been unable to solve the scoring issue that has dogged the Minutemen since November. With a key stretch of games against the top teams in Hockey East starting with this BU game, they’ve really run out of time for trial and error. The solution has to be found against the Terriers this weekend.
January always kicks off the make or break period for UMass in Hockey East. And since 2007 it’s been consistently “break”. Given how the team has been trending, this Minuteman squad doesn’t appear to be set up to shake up that trend of poor performing teams in the second half. But a good showing against a talented BU team on the road may force fans to reconsider their chances.
Matt Vautour of the Gazette has this article looking at the reemergence of Alex Wakaluk in net for the Minutemen.
Some All-Star news for UMass alumni. Jon Quick was named to his 2nd NHL All-Star team. Meanwhile, former Minutemen defensemen Mike Kostka and Brandon Montour were named to the AHL All-Star team. UMass is one of just two college hockey teams with multiple AHL All-Stars. Miami is the other.