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Preview ▲ UMass Begins Homestand With Games Against #4 Boston College, Vermont

Boston College Eagles 15-4-3 (8-1-3) Hockey East 2nd

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Massachusetts Minutemen 7-12-4 (2-7-4) Hockey East T-8th

If the Massachusetts hockey team is going to make a run in the second half of the season it has to start now.  The Minutemen will not have to play a game outside of Western Mass until February 13th against Northeastern.  Friday’s game against 4th ranked Boston College kicks off a five game homestand, followed by a game against AIC at the MassMutual Center in Springfield, and then capped off with a return to the Mullins Center to face Northeastern.  We heard a lot earlier on in the season that the team was in need of a good homestretch to reverse their fortunes.  That hasn’t really happened as the team is just 2-5-1 at the Mullins Center.  But considering that the team plays three of its final four regular season games on the road, they desperately need to do well now if they’re to stay out of the bottom portion of the league standings.

UMass does not get an easy game to start off this line of home games as #4 BC comes to town.  This is an Eagle team which smacked the Minutemen 7-0 earlier in the season, a game that featured this embarrassing moment.  Added motivation for the Eagles will be the fact that the legendary Jerry York will be going for his 1,000th win as a coach.  There will likely be a hoard of media and visiting fans filling the Mullins Center for the occasion.

It’s easy to forget that the defense and goaltender Nic Renyard did fairly well in the first period of that first game against BC as the game was scoreless following 20 minutes.  But the Eagles exploded for a six goal second.  BC goaltender Thatcher Demko was excellent that night while blanking UMass.  It was the first of three straight shutouts for the junior and part of a stretch where he had six shutouts in seven games.  He has cooled off a bit since then, due in part to an injury suffered earlier this month.  But he’s still one of the top goaltenders in the country, boasting the 8th best save percentage with .936.  BC allows the 6th fewest goals in the country with 1.91 per game.

BC’s offense has been a surprise this year after being just slightly above the national average last season.  The 4.05 goals scored per game is the fifth most in the country.  They already boast two players with double digits in goals scored.  Junior Ryan Fitzgerald has 13 goals so far while freshman Colin White has 12, the most among first year players in Hockey East.  Both notched a goal against the Minutemen in that first meeting.

Obviously against BC this second time around UMass needs a completely different level of execution than the last time they met.  Many of the goals were due to poor defensive play and positioning.  This is an extremely dangerous team that will make opponents pay in the form of odd man rushes if they try to cheat in too much in the offensive zone.  UMass will not only have to be a different team than they were against the Eagles in early November, but need significant improvement from last weekend when they were outscored 9-1 by a much more offensively average Lowell team.

Vermont Catamounts 9-14-2 (3-7-2) Hockey East T-8th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 7-12-4 (2-7-4) Hockey East T-8th

Vermont’s season got off to a great start when they shut out Minnesota 3-0 out west to start the season.  But the good feelings were short lived and the season has been pretty disappointing for the Catamount fans since.  It appeared that the team was turning things around following the holidays when they started the second half with four straight wins.  But last weekend was another tough one for UVM as the were swept at home by Providence.

UMass had one of their more exciting games of the season against the Catamounts when these teams met in mid-November.  UVM built a 3-0 lead going into the third period, appearing to be on their way to a home victory.  But UMass would score three goals in the final period, including a Ray Pigozzi goal with the extra man with only 40 seconds left.  The teams would both grab a point after neither scored in overtime.

Defense and goaltending is Vermont’s biggest strength.  The Cats have not one, but two goaltenders who posses save percentages better than .910.  Junior Mike Santaguida played in the first meeting of these teams and has a .911 save percentage and 2.70 goals against average.  But Santaguida was injured in December and his replacement, freshman Packy Munson, has played even better.  Munson has a .926 save percentage so far and what’s remarkable is that he’s gotten shutouts in three of the nine games he has played since Santaguida went down.

Vermont has struggled to score goals this season.  They’re averaging just 2.12 goals per game, second fewest among Hockey East teams next to Maine.  It’s not for lack of shooting as the Catamounts’ 31.2 shots on goal per game is actually 6th best in the league.  They just struggle to finish on their scoring chances.  Sophomore Jarrid Privetera leads the Cats with 10 goals on the season, but did not figure in any of the scoring when these teams met earlier.

It’s not outside the realm of possibility, but it’s tough to see UMass winning against an energized Eagle team that blew them out earlier in the season.  Vermont presents a better opportunity to gain a win or at least a league point this weekend.  If UMass can get some of the missing players on defense back on the ice they maybe be able to keep this Vermont team off the scoreboard.  Renyard did not play poorly last weekend so that’s a plus, but he’ll need better execution in front of him.  The Minutemen will still need to find a way to solve Munson and score however.  They’ve gotten good producution from Shane Walsh, Steven Iacobellis, and Ray Pigozzi, but another line must step up.

Even when the schedule came out over the summer this extended homestand was something that I circled, thinking it could be a make to break time period for UMass to achieve their goals.  At this point, I’m not sure what the revised goals are.  But this stretch of games still presents a big opportunity.  Even a split would be a significant positive for the team at this point.

Weekend preview from UMass Athletics.

The Collegian has their weekend preview.

The Collegian also has this story on Callum Fryer, who has been playing exceptionally lately.

BC Interruption has this interesting, if slightly depressing. compare and contrast of the UMass and UConn hockey programs.

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