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View From Section U ▲ 2015-16 FTT Awards

It was a frustrating season but that doesn’t mean the players don’t deserve some recognition for their effort and accomplishments.  I did that somewhat in my season recap posted last night, where I had a few remarks for each and every player.  But now it’s time to honor those players who really stood out with their play this season.  All awards are chosen entirely by me and me alone except the FTT Player of the Year which goes the the player who has accumulated the most Player of the Game awards throughout the year.  So without further adieu, the envelopes please.

Fear The Triangle

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Midseason Review ▲ After Hot Start To Season Minutemen Limp Into Winter Break

The Massachusetts Minutemen play an exhibition hockey game this Friday against the US Junior National Team, but for all intents and purposes the team is on winter break, having played 18 of its 34 regular season games this season.  So this is a good time to reflect on what has transpired so far in the first half of the season.  Maybe it makes sense to split that half in halves again, because there were two distinct phases of the season and one could almost say the Minutemen were two distinct teams in those two time periods.  In the early part of the season UMass surprised everyone, jumping out to a 6-2-1 record and finding itself just on the outside of the USCHO rankings.  But the Minutemen have not won since grabbing that sixth win on November 7th, going winless in their last nine games and losing their last five straight before break.  The sum of the two performances leaves UMass holding an overall record of 6-8-4 with their 2-4-4 league record leaving them in a three-way tie for 7th place with New Hampshire and Vermont.

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Recruit Update ▲ Dixson Signs His National Letter Of Intent

Time to see how the recruits are doing. Last Wednesday marked the beginning of the early signing period.  Justin Dixson is the only recruit who has been publicly reported as signing his NLI.  UMass typically doesn’t announce them as they get them, but will do so with a taped scouting report from coach John Micheletto in the future.  A reader was also kind enough to point out that Shane Bear had previously signed his NLI, so I’ve made that correction below.  Today is the last day of the early signing period.

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Recruit Update ▲ Cale Makar Has 4 Assist Game

The midweek game against Boston College last week meant no opportunity to check in on the recruits, so we have two weeks of games to catch up on.  We will likely be seeing news of letter of intent’s being signed, as the early signing period opens tomorrow.  Kyler Nachtigall and Ty Pelton-Byce are the only recruits who have already completed their NLIs.  I would assume you’d see Shane Bear, Jake Massie, and possible Shane Bear, and Jake McCarthy signing their letters of intent during this signing period.

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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 ▲ UMass Comes Back From 5 Goals Down To Tie UNH In League Opener

“Best tie ever”.  That’s what Friday night’s game had a lot of fans saying as they left the Mullins Center.  It’s rare for fanbases to get really excited for a tie, but that’s what happens when your team comes back from a five goal deficit and, behind four 3rd period goals, gains a league point with a 6-6 result against New Hampshire.  The previous three games had been marked by tremendous individual efforts, but Friday’s heroics were a complete team effort.  The six goals were scored by six different players and 16 different Minutemen registered a point on the night.

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Recruit Update ▲ Bear And Nachtigall Continue To Provide Offense For Brooks

Time to check in with the future Minutemen.

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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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News ▲ UMass Hockey Players Arrested, Fined Over Weekend

Over the weekend UMass hockey’s Shane Walsh, Ben Gallacher and goaltender Henry Dill were arrested by Amherst police in connection with a loud party off-campus.  Also arrested was former player Evan Stack who retired from the sport last year due to concussion issues.  The Collegian’s Jason Kates reports that the four were arraigned today in Hampshire County Court and Walsh, Gallacher, and Stack paid fines for violating Amherst’s noise bylaw.  Dill paid a fine for disorderly conduct after “punching a police car”.

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