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View From Section U ▲ FTT Hockey East Postseason Awards

Last week I posted my UMass team awards for the season.  As I write this the Hockey East banquet is taking place in Boston where the league will announce the major awards for the conference.  More on those in a bit.  The Hockey East media will announce their winners tomorrow afternoon.  Here is the ballot I submitted for the media awards.

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Recap ▲ Lowell Sweeps Season Series Over UMass With 4-2 Win

For the fourth time in the last five years the Massachusetts hockey team was swept by its fellow UMass system foe with Lowell gaining their most recent victory 4-2 Friday night.  The loss brought UMass’ record against the River Hawks to a pitiful 1-13-1 over the last half a decade.  The Minutemen have not won the season series against Lowell since a three game sweep in 2010-2011.

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Preview ▲ UMass Heads To Lowell For Non-Conference Matchup

Massachusetts Minutemen 8-19-4 (2-14-4) Hockey East 12th

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Lowell River Hawks 19-7-5 (11-5-4) Hockey East 4th

Ideally Friday’s game would feature UMass playing the satellite campus, perhaps with the Alumni Cup on the line, in a competitive tune-up before their final weekend of the regular season against Providence.  Instead there’s very little at stake as Lowell clinched the Alumni Cup with their January sweep and UMass obviously isn’t any position where potential non-conference wins hold much value at this stage of the season.  For UMass the only thing on the line in Friday’s game against the River Hawks is pride.

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Recap ▲ #11 Lowell Dominates UMass In Weekend Sweep, Wins Alumni Cup

The Massachusetts played 120 minutes this weekend against sister school Lowell and was barely in the games for more than a matter of a few minutes.  The River Hawks grabbed an early lead both nights, controlled possession throughout the weekend series, and utterly embarrassed the Minutemen.  Lack of focus and at times what looked to be a lack of effort made for a tough weekend for the UMass hockey team.  A season that started with such promise after a 4-0-1 start in October now is shaping up to be another huge disappointment as the team has gone 3-13-3 since that hot beginning to the season and is in danger of falling to the bottom of the Hockey East standings.

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View From Section U ▲ Micheletto’s Boyle Blunder

Kevin Boyle committed to play hockey at the University of Massachusetts in February of 2009 at age 16.  After a couple more seasons of juniors, one year played in his native New Jersey and the other on the west coast of Canada, he came to Amherst in the fall of 2011.  He would make his debut in the opening game of the season, a 3-3 tie at Northeastern where he made 29 saves.  A week later he made his Mullins Center debut and got his first collegiate win in a 5-3 decision over Bentley.  If all had gone to plan Boyle would’ve played his last game as a senior last February.  But things did not go as planned.  Instead he’ll make his final appearance in Amherst this Friday.  He’ll be wearing a UMass sweater, but not one adorned with maroon and white.  Instead it’ll be the red and blue jersey of UMass-Lowell where Boyle is putting up excellent numbers in net for a top ten team with their sights set on the NCAA tournament.

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Weekend Wrap-around ▲ Grzelcyk’s Performance Versus UMass Earns Him Hockey East Honors

It’s not a big surprise that Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk was named the Hockey East Player of the Week after scoring a natural hat trick against the Minutemen just two days following scoring a goal in BU’s crazy comeback against Harvard.  UMass’ opponent in goal this weekend, former Minuteman Kevin Boyle, was named co-Defensive Player of the Week after picking up his fifth shutout of the season against UNH.

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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.

Merrimack Recap

Personally I thought the effort was there for the Massachusetts Minutemen in their game against Merrimack yesterday.  But the execution was, frankly, very poor and as a result UMass lost 4-2.  The loss is their 7th straight at Lawler Arena.  The team didn’t look good offensively, generating a season low 18 shots on the night, or defensively as a number of key mistakes led to easy Warrior goals.  The only aspects of the game that UMass excelled in were goaltending and the penalty kill.

The most glaring issue yesterday was the lack of offense.  UMass managed just three shots on net in the first period.  Some of that was due to the fact that they were on the penalty kill for over seven minutes, no thanks to a terrible major and game misconduct called on Conor Allen. But in the second when UMass had three power plays to Merrimack’s one they still only accumulated five shots, just one in six minutes of having the extra man.  Desperation in the third forced them to be more aggressive and put 10 shots on net, but goaltender Sam Marotta would save them all.  In the end only Branden Gracel (4), Kevin Czepiel (3), and Steven Guzzo (2) had more than one shot on net.

Defensively, a number of key mistakes did in UMass on the night.  Losing Allen to a bad contact to the head call in the first period did not help.  That left just five defenseman for the team for much of the game, one of which being Peter DeAngelo who was playing just his second game on the blueline.  DeAngelo made some mistakes, but luckily they did not lead to any goals.  However, you have to wonder if Mike Busillo should’ve been out there and dressed.  Busillo has a team leading +7 rating currently and the team’s record is 9-6-1 when he plays and 1-7-1 when he doesn’t.  Perhaps coach Micheletto is unaware of those stats, which would be disappointing.  Or perhaps he doesn’t care and will fill out his lineup as he sees fit.  If that’s the case, I don’t think he’s putting the players on the ice who give the team the best chance to win.  And the stats support that.

Busillo likely would’ve been a defensive upgrade from DeAngelo, who has not played terrible at the position but is still noticeably learning how to play the new role, or Darren Rowe, who had a game he’d like to forget.  Rowe was on the ice for all four of Merrimack’s goals, three of which came directly as a result of his being out of position or a misplay of his.  It’s known that Rowe is not the strongest defenseman on the squad, but when he’s contributing offensively and playing adequate defense he’s able to negate that potential defensive liability.  Yesterday was one of the games when that wasn’t the case.

There were only a few positives yesterday.  Kevin Boyle was certainly one of them, making a season-high 37 saves on the night and keeping the game close throughout.  Branden Gracel got the ultimate revenge on referees Kevin Shea and Chris Federico for the piss-poor misconduct call on Allen by scoring probably the prettiest goal of the season.  I won’t try to describe it, just check out the highlights (and lowlights) at the bottom of the post.  Eddie Olczyk scored his second goal of the season, a nice wrister thanks to a great feed from Zack LaRue.

Not getting any points this past weekend hurts because UMass now has Maine and Vermont breathing down their neck.  In 8th place, Vermont is just one point behind and Maine is two points back.  The Minutemen do have a game in hand on those two, but the prospect of missing the Hockey East playoffs is still very possible with just four weekends of hockey left.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Kevin Boyle
Gracel had the play of the game but Boyle was the only reason UMass even had a chance to win this game.

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Recap from the Republican.

Here’s the game story from the Eagle-Tribune.

Boyle’s 37 saves were unfortunately not enough to get him recognized as a Top Performer by Hockey East.

Lowell, this weekend’s opponent, is ranked 14th in this week’s polls.

BU Recap

Given the fact that, except the Providence weekend, UMass had been playing better hockey since winter break ended and Boston University had been struggling as of late, there was a good chance the Minutemen could come away with a close win on Friday.  Instead the 7,000+ UMass fans were treated to a total thrashing of the #11 Terriers.  The star of the game was Mike Pereira who had one of his best performances in his college career.

The game was pretty even for much of the first period but it was Pereira who got things going with an excellent pass across the slot to set up Branden Gracel with just a few minutes left to give UMass the 1-0 lead.  The second period was all about defense for the Minutemen as the Terriers were able to generate just one shot on Kevin Boyle who played well in his first start in a few weeks.  In the couple decades of watching UMass hockey I cannot remember them ever holding a ranked team to a single shot in a period and that obviously speaks highly to the job that was done defensively on Friday.  The defense was just as good on the special teams where they kept BU’s power play off the scoreboard and limited them to three shots with the extra man.

One of those defensemen who performed well was Mike Busillo who returned to the lineup and appeared to score his first goal late in the second.  As it turned out the puck was tipped in by Kevin Czepiel, scoring his first goal of the season, and the Minutemen led 2-0 after two.  It was nice to see Busillo back in the lineup as he’s been a reliable defensemen all season, supported by the fact that the team is now 9-6-1 when he dresses and just 1-6-1 when he doesn’t.

The final frame turned into The Mike Pereira Show.  Five minutes in he made another quality pass that led to a UMass goal, this time to Conor Sheary who put home a one timer from the top of the slot.  Midway through the period Pereira had the wherewithal to grab a loose puck sitting in one of of the faceoff circles and turn and shoot the puck behind BU goaltender Sean Maguire in one motion.  Pereira would cap off his excellent night a couple minutes later while fore-checking on the penalty kill he pickpocketed Mike Nieto and streaked in for a breakaway goal.  BU’s Ben Rosen would pick up a short-handed goal late, just off a faceoff, ending Boyle’s bid at a shutout.  He did improve to a winning record of 8-7-2 however with the big win.

UMass deserves a lot of credit for the total domination shown over a ranked team.  But it’s also important to note that this was a BU team that was already struggling, losing four of their previous eight including one to Northeastern.  For UMass this was exactly the type of game they needed as they begin the always grueling February stretch.  With the lack of a game last night they’re able to get a little more rest before a couple games against Merrimack and Northeastern next weekend.  The win combined with other results around the league gave the Minutemen a three point lead over Vermont in 8th and four points ahead of Maine who are trying to get back into the playoff picture.  Lowell and 6th place is still within striking distance, three points ahead and a big home and home just two weeks away.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Mike Pereira
Two goals, two assists on a couple nifty passes, and a +5 for the night.  Certainly a career night for him.

Highlights from UMassathletics.com

Dick Baker has the recap for the Republican.

The Collegian has their game story as well as a piece focusing in on the work of Boyle.

Here are the Takeaways from College Hockey News.

UMass Wins Ledyard Classic

Going into the Ledyard Classic tournament I was just hoping to see the Massachusetts hockey team show some improvement from how they were playing previously and that a good showing would carry momentum into 2013.  I wasn’t necessarily looking for or expecting anything more than a solid effort.  The team itself had other plans however and last night they won the whole damn thing, upsetting #8 Dartmouth on their home ice to capture the 2012 Ledyard Classic Championship.  The tournament win is only the second in the UMass program’s history with the other being the Lightning College Classic in 2007.

Now while the outcome game was enjoyable for UMass fans, I don’t think many fans for either team enjoyed watching the game itself too much.  That’s because the ECAC officiating, not known for its high quality, made the game painful to witness.  Both teams had a goal called back due to goaltender interference.  The game featured 23 penalties, 10 for UMass and 13 for Dartmouth, and 87 total penalty minutes.  Both teams lost a player to a game misconduct.  There was close to 24 minutes of total power play time, with most of it going to UMass, 17:34 to 6:40.  Now that last stat probably has Big Green fans saying they lost due to the officials (which seems odd since they’re from their conference), but the officiating certainly made things tough for both teams.  Constant whistles kept both teams from establishing momentum.  The inconsistency of the calls kept the players guessing throughout.  And instead of the penalties restoring order on the ice, it seemed it only led to frustration and more chippiness.

UMass won because they were able to deal with odd environment created by the officials and make the most of the opportunities they were afforded.  Especially when those opportunities came on special teams.  This was one area where I hoped to see better play during the tournament and that definitely happened.  UMass scored five of their seven goals in Hanover on special teams, including a shorthanded goal by Eddie Olczyk last night to tie the game in the second period.  Olczyk’s goal was his first since his freshman year and it came right as Dartmouth got the extra man advantage following a UMass failure to capitalize on a two man advantage.  It couldn’t have come at a better time.  Overall UMass went 4 for 15 on the power play during the weekend (giving up a shorthanded goal) and only gave up one power goal in nine chances (scoring their own shortie).

With maybe the exception of the first period against Bemidji, the team played really hard this weekend and it was great to see them rewarded for their effort with some hardware (although I would label the actual tournament trophy as “diminutive”).  The trick of course is what they do from here.  They beat a Bemidji State team that went into break with some key wins over tough foes.  They then defeated a skilled top ten team in their own tournament on their own ice.  Hopefully this weekend gives UMass some confidence that they can play with the better teams and demonstrate what they need to do to execute well on special teams after succeeding against the top penalty kill in the country.  They’ll get a bit of a break as they next game isn’t for another week and a half.  This allows them to get a little bit of rest and gets everyone fully healthy for the second half push.  But hopefully they can also take the next day or two to bask in their tournament victory.  They deserve it.

Fear The Triangle Player of the Game – Branden Gracel
Gracel was named the tournament MVP and with good cause.  He had three assists on the weekend and his goal last night on the power play ended up being the game winner, just 15 seconds into the third period.  Olczyk and Kevin Boyle were named to the all tournament team.

Highlights from UMassAthletics.com

Here is College Hockey News’ coverage of the championship game, as well as their work from the night before.

Here is the Republican’s game story.

The local paper in Hanover has a thorough recap as well.

For those interested in a Beer The Triangle update, I was able to hit a number of quality spots during the weekend.  Probably the beer highlight was going deep into Vermont to visit the Alchemist brewery and stock up on some Heady Topper, currently one of the best beers in the world.  I still miss heading up to Waterbury to goto the old Alchemist brewpub and drinking the full range of beers they used to produce, but the trip was still worth it.  On the way back I hit the Three Penny Taproom in Montpelier and enjoyed some fine Green Mountain state brews like Hill Farmstead and Lawson’s Finest.  I might have to take Norwich Inn off my road trip recommendations going forward because their hours make it near impossible to enjoy their brewpub there.  I did hit some other fine places in Hanover though, such as the Canoe Club, Molly’s, and the Residence Inn’s Bar Down, to sample locals beers and good food.  Good beer and a tourney win made it one of the better UMass hockey road trips in quite a while.

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