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Weekend Wrap-Around ▲ Plevy Named Hockey East Rookie Of The Week

For the second time this season Minuteman freshman Austin Plevy was named Hockey East Rookie of the Week.  Plevy had four points this past weekend, including a one goal, two assist effort on Saturday.  Plevy is tied with UConn’s Alex Letunov for Hockey East freshman goal scoring with 6 apiece.

graphic by Hockey East

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Recap ▲ UMass Enjoys First Four Point Weekend Since 2011 With Sweep Over UConn

The Massachusetts hockey team rebounded nicely from a couple of concerning losses in the past week with a home and home sweep over Hockey East foe UConn.  The 4-2 and 5-3 results gives UMass its first four point weekend since January of 2011 when the Minutemen swept a home and home with the Lowell River Hawks.  Coming off two blowout losses that saw UMass give up 13 goals to Boston College and Yale, the UConn wins featured solid goaltending and offensive contributions from a number of different players.  Not only are the two wins key in terms of points in the Hockey East standings, but UMass picks up an important tiebreaker against a team they may be battling for seeding later on.

A win on Friday in Hartford seemed unlikely with the Minutemen missing four of their regular players.  Captain Steven Iacobellis and defenseman Ben Gallacher were serving suspensions from Tuesday’s game at BC, Patrick Lee was out with illness, and Kurt Keats did not play due to injury.  But UMass would put the Huskies back on their toes early as Ray Pigozzi scored just 1:14 into the first period.  The Huskies would control play for most of the opening stanza though, outshooting UMass 18-12 and would tie the score before the 1st period ended.  The teams would trade goals again in the second period, with UConn again holding an advantage in shots on goal during the 20 minutes, setting up a dramatic third period.

The teams would play pretty even for most of the third period, but with just under five minutes left in regulation freshman Austin Plevy would score his first goal since opening weekend to give UMass its third lead of the night.  The final minutes would not be without some stress however as a Marc Hetnik boarding penalty with just over three minutes to go gave the UMass penalty kill unit, which had killed all UConn power plays to that point, one last task.  With 1:56 left, down by a goal, and on the power play the Huskies would call a timeout and use the opportunity to pull goaltender Rob Nichols to create a 6 on 4 opportunity.  UConn coach Mike Cavanaugh’s move would backfire almost immediately however as William Lagesson’s shot/clear attempt, without worry of an icing call, found the empty net on the other end of the ice to give UMass the 4-2 lead.  Renyard would turn aside a couple more power play shots to seal the win.

UMass did a lot of things right on Friday.  The two numbers that jump off the stat page to me is the team’s performance in the penalty kill and the goaltending provided by Renyard.  UMass came into the game with one of the worst penalty kills in the country, stopping opponents only 2/3rds of the time.  But on Friday the PK was perfect, keeping UConn off the scoreboard on all six opportunities, despite almost 11 minutes of extra-man team, and even scored a goal while down a man.  Helping keep UConn off the board during the power play and at even strength is the fact that the team blocked 18 shots on the night, three times as many as they did against BC on Tuesday.  The shots that did get through were nearly all turned away by Renyard who stopped 40 shots, his second 40+ save game of his young career.

Scoring early in the game helped UMass set the tone in their Friday win and they repeated that again on Saturday when the teams came north to Amherst.  It was Shane Walsh this time who would get the Minutemen on the board first when he was able to take a Pigozzi pass and take a really impressive shot that just found the inside of the far post.  UMass would extend their lead to two just 1:15 later when Kurt Keats, returning from injury, scored his first collegiate school by attacking the net and putting a bouncing puck behind Nichols.  UConn would finally end their 0-for on the power play against UMass when they’d convert with the extra man caused by a too many men call.

That power play goal was one of very few scoring chances for UConn in the first two periods as the Minutemen played probably their best team defense of the year during that stretch.  UMass allowed just 11 total shots on goal through the first 40 minutes of the game.  They’d take a 3-1 lead into the final period when Dominic Trento would put a loose puck in front of Nichols into the back of the net.  Trento would score again on a pass from Austin Plevy a few minutes into the third to extend the lead to 4-1.

Most of the final period would belong to the Huskies though as their offense woke up and they’d pour 21 shots on Renyard in the last 20 minutes.  Renyard would stand tall yet again though, denying the Huskies throughout the period except for a penalty shot goal by UConn star Alex Lutunov and a meaningless goal in the final seconds.  Austin Plevy meanwhile would add his second goal in consecutive nights late in the game to seal the 5-3 win for the Minutemen.

The way that UMass controlled play through the first two periods of Saturday’s game was very impressive.  Puck possession is an area where the team will need to improve if they want to compete with the really good teams in the league and was one of the most apparently deficiencies in the losses to BC and Yale.  UConn obviously doesn’t have the skill level of the Eagles, but they do have a group of young, talented forwards.  Letunov and Tage Thompson are among the best freshmen in Hockey East yet UMass kept them off the board entirely save for Letunov’s penalty shot score.  Thompson only tallied one shot on goal all weekend.  The more UMass can improve their puck possession and team defense the more pressure they can take off Renyard.  Though this weekend he proved that he’s ready to be the go-to guy in net.

I don’t think you could have asked for any better way for the team to respond to the disappointing showings against Yale and Boston College.  Especially considering how many key players they were missing on Friday when they were away from the Mullins Center.  UMass saw improvement in a number of key areas; specifically goaltending, penalty killing, puck possession, and goal scoring.  The team will need to continue their strong play in those areas next weekend when they play another pair of Hockey East games with another four points on the line.  They’ll kick things off when they face a ranked Merrimack team on Friday at home before heading up to play at Vermont on Sunday afternoon.  For the first time in a long time, maybe since 2011, UMass can go into a league weekend with some undeniable momentum behind them.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Friday) – Nic Renyard
The four league points were the most important aspect to this weekend’s wins.  But second most important to me is that UMass has found their goaltender.  Renyard had a .932 save percentage on the weekend, including stopping .952% of shots on Friday when he made 40 total saves.  The penalty kill unit as a whole did well that night, but Renyard had a lot to do with the Huskies going 0-for-6 with the extra man, making 11 saves when UConn had the power play.  He even picked up an assist on Lagesson’s goal that night.  Beyond the stats Renyard continues to show very solid technique in net, including minimizing any potential rebounds.

photo by Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game (Saturday) – Dominic Trento
Trento continues to be an important part of UMass’ offense so far this season.  On Saturday he had two goals and also assisted on Plevy’s score.  Trento’s five goals on the season already matches what he accumulated all of last season and his contributions have gone beyond the score sheet with the energy and defense he also brings.

photo by Thom Kendall/UMass Athletics

Friday’s Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics

Saturday’s Recap and Box Score from UMass Athletics

The Collegian has their game story for Friday as well as one for the Saturday.

For an opposing viewpoint here’s Friday’s story from the Hartford Courant as well of their recap of Saturday’s loss.

While UMass was on their way to sweeping UConn former Minuteman Frank Vatrano was in Montreal making his NHL debut for the Boston Bruins.  And like he’s done pretty much every game this season, he scored.  Amalie Benjamin has the story on a night Vatrano will certainly never forget.

College Hockey News has an interesting profile on former Minuteman goaltender Kevin Boyle who is putting together a great senior season three years after being cut by UMass.  I’ve never understood the move to cut Boyle by Micheletto, but I am happy to see Boyle finding success in his post-UMass career.

Recap ▲ Boston College Blitzes UMass 7-0

Boston College 7.  Massachusetts 0.

These blowouts were supposed to be a thing of the past.  Over the summer Massachusetts hockey coach John Micheletto re-tooled his defense, bringing in four players who are either already drafted, attended an NHL prospect camp this summer, or are projected to be drafted next June.  Or some combination of all three.  In net, Micheletto finally landed the high profile goaltender he’s been coveting, with the top Junior A player in all of Canada landing in Amherst during the offseason.  Yet, here we are a month into the season and UMass finds itself 56th in the country in goals against after giving up 23 goals in the last 4 games.  They are also 56th in penalty kill with opponents scoring a third of the time on the power play.  Players leave.  New players come in.  But the program continues to be dogged by major defensive deficiencies.

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Preview ▲ Minutemen Look To Stay Perfect As They Open League Play Against UNH

New Hampshire Wildcats 1-2-0 (0-0-0) T-1st Hockey East

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Massachusetts Minutemen 3-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st Hockey East

The Massachusetts hockey team has found early success in their non-conference schedule, starting out the year 3-0-0.  They’ll look to carry over that early momentum as they kick off their Hockey East schedule at home against the New Hampshire Wildcats.  After starting their season against a rebuilding Colorado College program and Atlantic Hockey’s Sacred Heart, UNH, a team picked to finish 6th in the league, should prove to a step up in terms of competition for the Minutemen.

UNH is hoping to rebound from a disappointing weekend at home where they dropped a couple one goal games to the North Country teams of Clarkson and St Lawrence.  The trip to the Mullins Center on Friday will be the first game away from Durham for UNH after they opened the season with a dominant home win against AIC by the score of 7-3.

UNH’s problem so far seems to be goaltending.  Danny Tirone joined the Wildcats in mid-season last year and ended up being one of the prominent storylines for the team.  He went 9-4-0 in the second half of last season with a .924 save percentage.  Through three games this season though he’s made 78 saves on 88 shots on net, just a .886 save percentage.  Even in the AIC game he allowed 3 goals on 29 shots for a sub-.900 save percentage.  If Tirone is unable to get the job done in net for the ‘Cats, they’ll have to turn to freshman Adam Clark who had a .894 save percentage in 21 games last season.

Though the AIC game skews their statistics somewhat, UNH has been getting the job done offensively, averaging 4 goals per game so far.  They have matched their opponents in terms of shots on goal per game with 29.3, right around the national average.  It’s no surprise that Tyler Kelleher is among the top scorers so far for the Wildcats as he’s one of the best forwards in the league.  Kelleher led his team in points last year with 42 in 39 games and so far has 2 goals and 2 assists in their four games.  It is a little strange though to see senior Maxim Gaudreault as the top goal-scorer for UNH as the 3 goals already scored so far this season matches the amount he scored in 30 games last season.

There has been a lot of talk about the quality of UMass’ 3-0-0 start this week.  Some people have pointed to their easy schedule.  Others have said that their high shooting percentage (16.9%) or shots attempted differential (-67) shows that they’ve been “lucky” and that once they play tougher opponents their fortunes will turn.  It’s true that their shooting percentage will come down and they need to do a better job of possessing the puck, but I would argue there are other reasons why they’re winning.

They’ve gotten some solid individual efforts from the likes of Dennis Kravchenko, Austin Plevy, and Shane Walsh.  Those three have accounted for 11 of UMass’ 26 goals so far.  The team has also done a great job at converting their power play opportunities.  Their 33% power play conversion is tied for 5th best in the country so far.  Lastly, while UMass has allowed opponents to attempt a good number of shots, they’ve gotten very solid goaltending on the other end of those shots.  Nic Renyard and Henry Dill have an identical .938 save percentage so far this season, which is good for 17th best in the country.

UMass will probably have to do a better job in terms of possessing the puck against a talented, yet struggling UNH team this weekend.  But aside from that, I’m not sure I’d do too much differently if I were Coach Micheletto.  The team is playing extremely well right now and their success so far should allow them to play confidently in their league opener.  With the game at home a 4-0-0 start is within their grasp.  But in the long run starting off Hockey East with a 1-0-0 record may be more important.

Beer The Triangle
The merger of the Hangar and Amherst Brewing Company has not only made it a little easier to find a table and enjoy some wings pre or post-game, but it has helped relaunch ABC brewing.  After kicking off the new era with a very good IPA, Jess, the most recent addition to the ABC lineup is an aromatic wet hop brew, Chelsea.  Definitely worth a try.

Preview From UMass Athletics.

The Collegian has their preview of Friday’s game as well as this interesting piece on sophomore Dominic Trento and his start so far.

The Gazette has their preview.

For a UNH viewpoint, here’s the preview from the Foster’s Daily Democrat.

To get you psyched up for Friday’s matchup, here’s the UMass hockey intro video:

Recap ▲ Minutemen Stay Undefeated With 5-2 Win Over Sacred Heart

The Massachusetts hockey team improved to 3-0-0 on the young season with a 5-2 win over the Sacred Heart Pioneers in the team’s home opener.  For the second Friday night in a row the game featured a Minuteman hat trick.  While freshman Austin Plevy had a three goal effort in the season opener at Colorado College, it was sophomore Dennis Kravcheno with the hat trick, the first of his collegiate career, this past Friday.

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Preview ▲ Minutemen Return Home To Open Mullins Slate Against Sacred Heart

Sacred Heart Pioneers 0-0-1 (0-0-0) T-2nd Atlantic Hockey

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Massachusetts Minutemen 2-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st Hockey East

The Massachusetts hockey team will look to build off a very successful trip west where they gained two wins when they play their first home game on Friday against the Sacred Heart Pioneers.  The Minutemen swept the Colorado College Tigers in Colorado Springs last week thanks to offense outbursts from freshman Austin Plevy and senior Shane Walsh as well as some solid goaltending from the duo of Henry Dill and Nic Renyard.  UMass will look to stay undefeated on the young season against a Sacred Heart team that’s a little tough to read.

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Recruit Update ▲ Nachtigall, Makar Combine For 4 Goals, 7 points In Two Bandit Wins

It’s Tuesday so time to take a look around the continent and see how the future Minutemen are doing.

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Weekend Wrap-around ▲ Plevy Named Hockey East Co-Rookie Of The Week

For his role in helping the Massachusetts hockey program gain an opening weekend sweep in Colorado Springs Minuteman freshman Austin Plevy was named Hockey East Co-Rookie of the Week today.  He shares the honor with UConn’s Max Letunov who, like Plevy, also had a hat trick in his collegiate debut.  In addition to the 3 goals and one assist in Friday night’s 6-3 win Plevy also scored the game-winner on Saturday.  Plevy and Mercyhurt’s Taylor Best, who has played one more game than Plevy, are tied for the national lead in goals.  Shane Walsh (3G, 2A) and Nic Renyard (45 saves) were named Top Performers by the league this week for their efforts this weekend.

graphic by Hockey East

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Weekend Preview ▲ Minutemen Head West To Open Season Against Colorado College

Colorado College Tigers 0-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st NCHC

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Massachusetts Minutemen 0-0-0 (0-0-0) T-1st Hockey East

The Massachusetts hockey program travels to the foot of the Rockies to open the 2015-16 season.  The Minutemen taking on the Colorado College Tigers to kick off the season won’t be seen as one of the marquee opening weekend matchups, but it is a very interesting one.  And while I don’t know if I’d go as far as saying whatever happens this weekend will be a precursor to the entire season, it should at least give UMass fans a glimpse of what the team may be capable of in the early going.

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Season Preview ▲ Micheletto, UMass Hockey In Need Of A Turnaround in 2015-16

When John Micheletto was hired to lead the Massachusetts hockey program in 2012 he told prospective players to “find Amherst on a map and put a circle around it”.  In the years since Micheletto and his staff have done a decent job of getting skilled players to do just that, from Frank Vatrano to Brandon Montour to this year’s talented freshman class, they’ve all found their way to Western Mass.  What that map has not led Micheletto and his players to, however, are wins.  Micheletto enters his fourth season with an overall record of 31-64-9.  Even worse is his record in Hockey East where he’s won barely over 30% of his games at 18-45-6.  The Minutemen have finished in last or second to last in the league in each season under Micheletto.  It is hard to imagine that he survives with similar results this season.  Micheletto desperately needs to turnaround this program starting Friday against Colorado College.  Is this team constructed for such a rebound in what’s a make or break season for Micheletto?  It’s tough to tell.

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