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Up To The Minute ▲ Dennehy, Pearl, Shafer Interview At UMass

The Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Matt Vautour reported last night that UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford has interviewed Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy, Harvard assistant Paul Pearl, and Cornell’s Mike Shafer for the UMass position.  Dennehy and Pearl were already expected to be in the mix for the coaching job, but Shafer’s involvement is a surprise.  All signs point toward a coach being named in the near future, perhaps as early as this week, so there’s a good chance the next person to lead the program could be one of these three or former UMass captain Dean Stork who previously interviewed.

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Up To The Minute ▲ Joel Hanley Makes NHL Debut With Montreal

Time to catch up on the most recent news.  Yesterday former UMass defenseman Joel Hanley became the 13th Minuteman to play in the NHL as he made his debut for the Montreal Canadiens.  Hanley was on the ice for 14:25 and finished a –1 in the 4-1 loss.  Hanley has been playing this season for the St John’s IceCaps of the AHL where he has 5 goals and 8 assists in 61 games.

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View From Section U ▲ Time For A Coaching Change

Let me start by saying that I think John Micheletto is a sharp, innovative hockey mind in the college game as well as a talented recruiter.  I have no doubt that he has spent the last three and a half years working hard to make UMass hockey successful in the competitive Hockey East.  I think he’s a well-intentioned individual who is trying his best.  I also believe that despite all those qualities he is not the right person to be head coach and after this current season, Athletic Director Ryan Bamford should look to someone new to lead the Massachusetts hockey program.

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Up To The Minute: Sheary, Kostka, and Hanley Sign NHL Deals

Today was the first day of NHL free agency and a number of former Minutemen have new homes tonight.  Perhaps the highlight of the day is the two-way deal that Conor Sheary signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Penguins rewarded him for a strong rookie season in the AHL where he led the Wilkes-Barre Penguins in points for both the regular season and the playoffs.  His contract this past season was a strictly minor league deal with Wilkes-Barre so the signing with the big club is a significant milestone for Sheary.

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Friday Recap

The hope was that the memory of November’s embarrassing 8-2 home loss to Lowell would provide the motivation needed to get up for last night’s game.  That didn’t appear to be the case and the team looked flat from the moment they first hit the ice.  The result was another lopsided loss to the River Hawks at home by a score of 6-3.  Lowell has now outscored UMass 14-5 so far this season and took the Alumni Cup with last night’s win.

It was basically defensive breakdown after defensive breakdown that led to last night’s loss.  Through the first two periods Lowell had four goals on just 11 total shots.  This will go down in the record books as a loss for Kevin Boyle but, other than the second Lowell goal, it’s tough to fault him on any of the others.  Overall the team just did not have it.  Recapping Sunday’s game I mentioned that the effort was there for the team but the execution wasn’t.  Last night neither of those things were present.  The team looked like they were just going through the motions on the ice, especially on the defensive end, and Lowell made them pay for their lack of focus.

There’s very little positive to take from last night’s game.  Joel Hanley played well, grabbing a goal and an assist and not being on the ice for any opposing goals.  Mike Pereira played well and had the best of the few highlights for the Minutemen when he aggressively forechecked on the penalty kill, took the puck away from Lowell goaltender Connor Hellebuyck behind his own net, and easily wrapped it around the goal to score.

With UMass’ loss, Vermont’s win, and Maine’s tie the Minutemen dropped into 8th place and are just one point ahead of the Black Bears.  UMass is in serious danger of missing the Hockey East playoffs for the first time since 2002.  It helps that the team still has a game on hand on Maine and Vermont, but the remaining schedule is not easy.  Given the talent and experience on this team the prospect of missing the playoffs entirely would be a tremendous disappointment and not the kind of start fans were anticipating for Coach Micheletto’s career at UMass.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Joel Hanley
Hanley assisted on Conor Sheary’s power play goal in the second and then scored himself with the extra man in the 3rd to cut the score to 3-4.  That would be as close as the Minutemen got however.

Highlights from UMass Athletics

Here’s the game recap from the Republican and one from the Collegian.

Friday Recap

Last night’s 6-4 loss at the hands of the Colgate Raiders was incredibly disappointing from the standpoint of UMass’ play on defense and special teams.  Whenever a team lets up six goals it’s easy to point fingers at the goaltender for poor play.  But honestly, I don’t think Kevin Boyle played all that badly last night.  He just got no help from the guys in front of him.  Colgate was able to continuously skate right in on him and shoot at will.  Other Raider goals were scored when passes easily made it to teammates across the slot without a UMass body or stick being in position enough to deflect them away.  Overall I would say this was probably one of the poorest defensive efforts from UMass in some time.  The Lowell game a few weeks ago had more goals against, but that was due more to lack of effort or lack of interest that day.  Last night was poor defensive execution.

A lot of that poor play on defense came on the penalty kill, which was horrible last night.  Colgate scored, and scored easily, on three of their four power play opportunities.  One of the few bright spots for UMass last night was that they were able to break their recent power play scoring drought by going 2 for 5 with the extra man.  However, they also let in another shorthanded goal, their third allowed on the season.  So that fact diluted the power play success a bit.  Overall, something needs to be done to address the poor play on defense and the penalty kill.  I personally think it has a lot to do with the personnel out there.  There are defensemen who are just not playing well enough on defense who are on the penalty kill squads.  There’s also Mike Busillo, who has played very solid so far this year and has a team leading +5 plus/minus rating, who for some reason continues to be a regular healthy scratch.  I can’t help but think if he was in last night’s lineup UMass might’ve been able to keep the game close enough to pull out the win.

If there was one positive from last night it was that the team didn’t give up and, despite being down 4-1, and came out of the locker room in the third determined to get back in the game.  Joel Hanley and Adam Phillips scoring within the first six minutes helped the Minutemen take back the momentum and make it a competitive game again.  But the shorthanded goal from Colgate that followed was a killer and while Conor Allen would get a goal back for UMass, that would be it for them.  In the end UMass controlled play in the third, outshooting the Raiders 14-5 in the period.  But Colgate ended up scoring on two of those five shots.  UMass made a nice effort, but the mistakes that led to those two goals was too much to overcome and at the end even coach Micheletto seemed resigned to the loss by not even attempting to pull Boyle to get the extra man on at the end.  UMass will need to play dramatically better tonight if they want to salvage an out of conference split.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Joel Hanley
Hanley had a goal and an assist last night and, I think more importantly for me, was only on the ice for a single Colgate goal.

Here’s the game recap from the Republican.

College Hockey News has their coverage of the game.

One time UMass recruit Joe Manno has left the Northeastern hockey program.

Up To The Minute 10/31

Happy Halloween UMass hockey fans!  I hope everyone is enjoying the holiday and is not in some kind of diabetic coma by this point.  Any Minuteman hockey related costumes out there?  One spotted at this past weekend’s game were some diehard student fans dressed as a “Rowe Boat”.

Sorry, no View From Section U again this week.  Frankly, I just haven’t found a subject to inspire me since last time’s You Can Play piece.  I have a couple ideas rattling around in my head that hopefully I’ll be able to transform into an actual column sometime soon.  However there is enough out there in the cyberspace related to UMass hockey that it’s worth posting something tonight.

Matt Vautour of the Gazette has his piece on the Frank Vatrano committing to UMass.  As Matt details, and some readers have asked about, a lot depends on if Vatrano can get a waiver from the NCAA to consider this current fall semester as one of the two he’ll have to sit out as a transfer.  Since he was enrolled at BC he’s technically considered a member of the Eagle hockey team this semester despite not even practicing with the team.  He’ll need the NCAA to overrule that status, otherwise he wouldn’t be eligible to play at UMass until January of 2014 at the earliest.  There’s a chance that he may opt to play in the Q rather than wait that long if he’s unable to secure the necessary waiver.  In both the article in the Gazette and the Republican Vatrano seems confident that the NCAA clearinghouse issues were just a misunderstanding.  It’s still unknown if this means the issue is therefore resolved, but I’ll do my best to find out if that’s the case.

Nick Canelas of the Collegian has his Vatrano to UMass story for the student paper.  He also has this excellent piece on co-captain Rocco Carzo.  Canelas  is doing a great job following a tradition of talented student writers covering the Minuteman hockey team.  College Hockey News’ Michael King and Joe Meloni are part of that tradition as is current Boston Herald Patriots beat writer Jeff Howe.  Nice to see him get a opportunity with CHN this year in addition to his Collegian duties.

Another in that tradition of UMass hockey writers, Andrew Merritt, writes the Vatrano to UMass story for New England Hockey Journal.

Richard Murray is delivering regular profiles of Minutemen for Hockey’s Future.  This time it’s Joel Hanley who get the profile piece.  Hanley has had an up and down start to the season, thrown off a bit by his early exit in the game against Boston College.  But I still think he’s on the verge of a breakout season within Hockey East.

Being 0-3-0 in the conference drops UMass a spot in CHN’s Hockey East power rankings.

Northeastern Recap

So UMass was THIS close to winning. Again. Listen, there are a lot of positive observations to take from tonight’s game, but forgive me if I lead with my base thoughts. Last year we, as fans, could deal with the losses. We could deal with the close losses. The ties. The wins turned into ties or losses at the end because we had an experienced squad that didn’t know how to win. But I was hoping we left that in last year.  I thought that with a year under their belt and the team no longer full of freshmen we’d have moved to the point where the team had a little more understanding and confidence to win the close games.  To step on an opponent’s throat when they’re carrying the play.  Apparently not.

UMass played very well last night. But bad penalties and letting Northeastern dominate play for the last ten minutes of the game allowed the Huskies to grab one of the Minutemen’s points tonight. Yes, the Minutemen’s points.  They were UMass’ points to lose. They played like the better team for most of the game and had the lead until just two seconds left in the game. Two seconds. Good teams find a way to hold on for two seconds. Looking at the result this team looks like a continuation of last year’s. And frankly, last year’s results is not going to be good enough this year.  I don’t want to make too much out of one tie to start the season, but the result and moreso the manner in which the result came about was very disappointing.  UMass was the better team, but in the standings UMass and Northeastern are now tied.

When looking at the play of the individual players, the team did well and showed why they should’ve won. I thought the defense played very solid overall, Kevin Boyle didn’t have to do play too much out of his capabilities in his first game and I think a lot of that was due to how well the defense played as a group. Especially good were Mike Marcou and Colin Shea. Marcou honestly played one of his best games in quite a while.  Though he almost made a costly mistake in overtime, that was really the only mishap he had.  Through the entire game he made some great defensive plays and also ended up with two assists.  Colin Shea looked very solid on defense, even threw his body around, and score the first goal.  I thought Conor Allen played excellent right up to the point of where he started to take some really unwise penalties.  Speaking on unwise penalties, Oleg Yevenko had a couple of them and one of which resulted in a power play goal for the Huskies.  This is exactly what a lot of UMass fans were worried about and hopefully we’ll see some smarter play in the future.  Beyond the defense one of the major positives was the penalty kill, which performed extremely well.  The Northeastern power play, which included a couple of two man advanteages, ended up just 1 for 6 on the night.  Even more impressive is that UMass kept them to just three power play shots.

Boyle himself looked very good.  He showed good positioning on shots and this helped not only to stop what was coming in from the Northeastern skaters but allowed his defensemen to clear the puck in front of him.  For a freshman making the first start of his career to open up the season and played very composed.  He did not seem to panic at all, even during the numerous scrums happening right in front of him.  Is he the goaltender of the future?  Who knows.  But he certainly made a great case for his abilities last night.

Offensively the team played well.  I was impressed by the play of the centers, specifically Brenden Gracel and Kevin Czepiel.  Both were extremely active and Gracel scored the second goal for the Minutemen, just seconds after the Huskies scored to go ahead.  A couple pleasant surprises were the play of Steve Guzzo and Peter DeAngelo.  Guzzo, who didn’t get to play in his true freshman year due to injury, showed speed and aggressiveness in going after the puck.  DeAngelo didn’t make much of an impression last year but at times was one of the most active palyers on the ice last night and did a good job of distributing the puck when he gained possession.

Emerson Auvenshine looked very good early but faded towards the end.  Actually, most players faded towards the end of regulation, but it was good to see UMass’ play pick up in  overtime and really grab the most chances to win the game during the extra timeframe.  T.J. Syner and Mike Pereira did their best to take on the scoring load, with Syner scoring a goal, especially given the absence of Danny Hobbs.

It’s sad to say that a tie on the road in a season opener is a disappointment, but it is.  When you outplay an opponent, are able to withstand a good number of the man advantages, and still have the lead in the waning seconds of the game, you should win.  Good teams find a way to win.  UMass, like last year, found a way to not win.  Whether it’s a mental issue or a conditioning issue where the team is gassed at the end of the game, it’s something that needs to be addressed.  And hopefully soon.

Fear the Triangle Player of the Game – Colin Shea
Certainly T.J. Syner, Brenden Gracel, and even Kevin Boyle deserve some consideration, but I really liked what I saw from Colin Shea tonight.  I mentioned in my season preview that there was an offensive aspect to Shea’s game that I saw in juniors that hadn’t seen yet at this level.  Well I think we did.  He scored his goal on a nice pinch in and wrister on the power play, set up by Brenden Gracel.  He nearly was able to use the identical move again later in the game that would’ve given UMass a 4-2 lead, but Chris Rawlings was just able to get a shoulder on the shot.  Beyond his offense, he did very well on defense.  He was always in the right position to stop a Northeastern skater or get in a passing lane and he was even able to hit a couple guys on the ice.  Overall, a great unexpected contribution tonight from Shea.

Toot says they team “cheated” in the third period in the recap from the Republican.

He says Boyle stood on his head in the third in the Gazette game story.

College Hockey News has a nice feature on Boyle and his play as well as a look at the play of Northeastern.

The Herald also recaps the game.

College Hockey News previews Hockey East and Joel Hanley is included on their watch list.

The Collegian has a ton of stories previewing the season.

Elsewhere in Hockey East Merrimack beat Maine 2-1 in Orono while Boston College pounded Michigan State out at the Icebreaker.  Meanwhile defending national champion UMD upset top ranked Notre Dame.

Off to McGuirk for some tailgating and hopefully something that resembles UMass football!

Maine Preview

#14 Maine Black Bears 16-10-6 (13-8-4) Hockey East 5th

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Massachusetts Minutemen 6-20-5 (5-15-5) Hockey East 8th

Wait a second.  Last weekend of the regular season?  How the hell did that happen?  Seems like it wasn’t that long ago I was sitting with my Section U crew watching so many of these Minutemen make their college debuts on TV against Minnesota.  But sure enough, here we are.  The last weekend of hockey in the Mullins Center this season.  And for the Minutemen, the stakes are high.

Luckily for UMass, they’re playing Maine.  Now that’s not meant to be a slight to the Black Bears, a team in the top 15 with one of the best players in the league in Gustav Nyquist.  But when UMass has done something historic or needed some wins, it always seems to come at the expense of Maine.  Of course probably the biggest win ever in the 90’s was UMass upsetting top ranked Maine in 1995.  The program’s first trip to the Hockey East semifinals in 2003 came thanks to a playoff sweep of Maine in the quarterfinals.  UMass made their only trip to the NCAAs by beating Maine four times in eight days in March of 2007.  And of course last year at this time UMass looked bound to finish out of the playoffs until they were able to go north and sweep the 17th ranked Black Bears at home in the last weekend of the season.  Things do not look as dire but the team could make it a lot easier on themselves, you, me, and all the other UMass fans out there if they just go out and win this weekend’s games.  And if they can play as they have the last two weekends, they are more than capable of taking a game or two at home.

To do that however, they’ll have to figure out a way to shutdown Nyquist, the reigning Hockey East Player of the Month for February where he scored 10 goals and had four assists.  Unfortunately, he’s not the only guy UMass has to look out for.  Junior Brian Flynn has 18 goals on the year while fellow junior Spencer Abbott has 15.  Flynn has been especially clutch with four gamewinners on the season.  Maine has a decent power play at 18.8% so that’s something that the suddenly struggling Minuteman penalty kill will have to figure out as well.

A few weeks ago the defensive story for Maine would’ve been about their deep defensive corps with guys like Will O’Neil or Jeff Dimmen.  Instead it’s all about freshman goaltender Dan Sullivan who has suddenly become the next Jimmy Howard.  In fact he’s been better than Howard, recently breaking the former UMass nemesis’ shutout streak. He went 202 minutes without allowing a goal, with a lot of that time coming against a top 5 Merrimack team (sorry, that still feels weird to type).  In Sullivan’s last four games he has allowed just one goal.  One.  Obviously challenging him, getting pucks on him, and getting him out of his comfort zone will be key for the Minutemen.  They absolutely have to jump on him early in Friday’s game and get him out of sync.

I’m sorry to report that UMass will be without one of their best freshmen as Joel Hanley will be joining Mike Lecomte in the stands for the balance of the season.  Yes, for the second year in a row the team has lost a key defenseman to mono, “the kissing disease”.  If only UMass had a BYU-like honor code where players weren’t allowed to be anywhere near coeds and thus the spread of germs would be lessened  (But then again, that would mean no Opa Opa in between periods in the Massachusetts Room, so scratch that).  Obviously that’s a significant loss for the team, especially since Hanley has been playing so well lately.  However with Anthony Raiola playing solid on Saturday Toot has options to fill Hanley’s spot and can choose between him or Darren Rowe.

If UMass is going to take advantage of playing at home in the final weekend of the season they’ll have to play a complete game on both sides of the puck.  Since giving up those 11 goals to Merrimack UMass has down pretty well in keeping goals off the board, relatively.  Teams have put up 3 goals a game against them in that time which is pretty good since they’ve been facing teams like Merrimack and Boston College.  The problem has been trying to score 3 or more goals themselves.  They’ve only scored 2.3 goals in that same time.  They’ve averaged 27 shots on net during that time, which is above their season average.  But they have to work on getting quality shots.  Too many have been from the perimeter with no one there to put in a rebound.  They have to learn to skate to the net and challenge the goaltender.  They can do that by put home skill wristers or garbage goals where they fourth hack puts it past the line.  But either way they have to attack the net.  It would also be nice if the team could continue their improvement on the power play.  After scoring just one power play goal in the span of 8 games, they Minutemen have scored 4 in their last 4.

Last week in previewing the series against Boston College I felt it was important for the team to play well because I was thinking ahead to this weekend.  While taking games from BC was a tall order, I was hoping for the team to just play well and prove they could compete so they could gain some confidence and momentum coming into this important weekend at home against Maine.  Well, I’m looking ahead again.  If UMass wants to do some damage and maybe shock a few people around Hockey East with their play in the playoffs, they have to first get there.  That means not only playing well enough to be in the game with a team like Maine, but to beat them.  All year long these younger players have looked up to the senior class for support and guidance.  Well hopefully they realize that it’s the last time those seniors will take the Mullins Center ice as UMass hockey players.  It’s time for the underclassmen to do something for the seniors and  send them on their way to the playoffs and out of UMass as winners.

Remember, triangles people.  Triangles!

I have great readers.  I’ve talked recently about being unable to get stats for new recruit Steve Mastalerz and two different people have contacted me with his numbers.  So here we go.  His goals against for the season was 1.81, best of all prep goaltenders.  His save percentage was .931, 4th in the league.  His record was 24-6-4 in the regular season.  He was named to USHR’s Prep All-Star team.  Unfortunately his season is over as he and his Kimball Union Wildcats lost last night in the first round of the prep playoffs 2-3 in overtime.

Another random piece of news, I learned that Steve Guzzo who messed up his knee on the eve of the season opener in Minnesota, has recently started skating again.

USCHO selects Mike Pereira to their Hockey East All-Rookie team as well as a runner-up for Rookie of the Year.

Maine is trying to get a jump on playing on the big ice. Interestingly Maine goaltender Shawn Sirman is sick which probably clinches the fact that UMass will see Sullivan both nights.

Polls & Awards; Playoff Scenarios

North Dakota is the top ranked team in the country again in the USCHO polls.  With their sweep over the Minutemen, Boston College remains in 2nd place.  UNH moved up a couple spots to #7 while Merrimack fell hard after getting swept in Orono, dropping 5 spots to ninth.  BU checks in at #13 while Maine, which will be coming into the Mullins this weekend, is #14.

Maine finds itself in the USA Hockey/USA Today poll this week as well.

Maine was named the Team of the Week while Black Bear Dan Sullivan was named Goaltender of the Week by Hockey East.  No UMass players were named award winners or Top Performers.  Paul Dainton, Joel Hanley, and T.J. Syner are all mentioned under milestones.

One weekend left and UMass could still finish anywhere from 7th to out of the playoffs altogether at 9th.  Vermont is in 7th place currently and has two games at home against Lowell while Providence will play a home and home with Merrimack.  UMass holds the tiebreaker against UVM but loses the head to head tiebreaker with Providence.  If all three teams end with 16 pts (UVM loses out, UMass gets a tie, and PC either win or ties twice) then UMass finishes 7th with Vermont 8th.  If all three teams finish with 17 points with UMass getting two ties and BC finishing 1st the Minutemen will miss out on the playoffs.  If all three teams finish with 17 points with UMass getting two ties and UNH finishes first UMass will finish in 7th and Vermont in 8th.  If all three teams finish with 17 points with UMass winning either night then UMass will finish 7th with Vermont 8th.

I started to type out each and ever possible scenario and show how the bottom of the standings would look, but I stopped because there are many different ways it could shake out.  Plus, in the end it really doesn’t matter.  UMass’ goal and their goal from the start of the season should’ve been to get to the playoffs with this young team.  They’re in excellent position to do so.  And, most importantly they control their own destiny.  Win two and they’re guaranteed a spot.  Sure a sweep of Maine seems unlikely, but you could’ve said the same last season when they swept the Black Bears on the final weekend.  And those games were in Alfond.

Playoff Status has UMass with a 72% chance of finishing 8th, 20% chance of finishing 9th, and an 8% chance of finishing 7th.  Obviously that’s accounting for the fact that there’s a slim chance Providence is successful against Merrimack, though the Warriors just had one awful weekend.  But the Friars didn’t exactly have a banner weekend themselves giving up three points to Lowell.  Maybe the River Hawks can do the same this weekend and give the Minutemen a chance to finish 7th, which would be nice since UMass held that spot for a good chunk of the season and it would match their seeding of last year despite all they lost.

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