Weekend Preview: I swear to god I’m going to pistol whip the next guy who says, “shenanigans.”

No. 17 Vermont Catamounts (11-7-2 (5-6-2 HEA)) vs. YOUR No. 15 UMass Minutemen (14-8-0 (9-6-0 HEA))

The Mass Attack have two games this weekend (Sat. 7PM, Sun. 3PM) against a tough Hockey East foe. Vermont has won games this year against Denver and Minnesota Duluth and have taken two out of three from Boston College. The Catamounts’ strength lies in their defense. Their 28.4 shots on goal against per game average in Hockey East play is second lowest only to BC and of the nineteen skaters who have played in ten or more games, ten have positive plus/minus ratings (Brayden Irwin is tied for best plus/minus rating in Hockey East at +13).

While Vermont excels at team defense, where they fail is pretty much everywhere else. Their offense ranks sixth in Hockey East with 3.20 goals per game. This is a team lacking any bona fide scorers. It boasts only three skaters with double-digit points in Hockey East play (Brayden Irwin 6-6-12, Justin Milo 6-6-12, Colin Vock 3-7-10). Compare this to a UMass team with five players whose point totals meet or exceed 12 in Hockey East action (James Marcou 5-18-23, Casey Wellman 10-7-17, Justin Braun 2-14-16, Will Ortiz 8-7-15, Matt Irwin 4-8-12). Not to mention that Marcou leads the nation in scoring and Wellman is tied for the lead in goals.

Take your pick between the two Vermont goaltenders, neither have a save percentage above .900 in Hockey East play. The starter, Rob Madore, has played poorly (.896 save%, 2.84 GAA in Hockey East play) while their second goalie, Mike Spillane, has been abysmal (.871 save%, 3.96 GAA in Hockey East). Madore’s relatively low GAA is attributed to his facing only 250 shots on goal in his 10 Hockey East games. Vermont’s special teams are lacking, as well. UVM has killed penalties at a rather unimpressive clip of 79.4% in Hockey East while their power play is scoring on ONLY 13.0% of its chances in conference. UMass meanwhile has killed 81.0% of its penalties and scored on a robust 25.4% of its power play chances in conference play.

Vermont comes into this weekend riding a pretty hot streak. They have been 4-1-0 in their last five games including a win against No. 4 Minnesota Duluth. BUT, the other three wins were against sub-.500 teams including lowly Dartmouth (4-13-0) and Alabama-Huntsville (5-13-2), and they lost a game to the Northeastern Huskies, who have struggled mightily with the lose of Brad Thiessen this season. UMass comes in riding a three game win-streak, including a sweep of last weekend’s game with rival Lowell. Special teams have been strong in this stretch with the power play netting five goals in nineteen opportunities (26.3%) and the penalty kill a perfect 16-for-16.

In the previous meeting of these two teams this year, the Minutemen came away with a convincing 6-2 victory over the Catamounts at Gutterson Fieldhouse behind the performances of Casey Wellman, who had a hat trick and four total points and James Marcou, who had five, count ’em, five assists in the tilt. UMass also received multi-point efforts from Will Ortiz and Justin Braun while David Pecan and Brian Roloff chipped in goals for the Catamounts.

All the Mass Attack have to do against the Catamounts this weekend is play solid, fundamental hockey. We all know this is an offense that loves to pass and look for the perfect plays that will beat great goaltenders, but Vermont has a defense that can pick off passes and turn them into offense. Vermont’s goalies, meanwhile, are certainly not the greatest we (as fans, as well as the players) have seen this season. Throw a lot of rubber on whoever’s in net for Vermont. Make high percentage plays, use screens, and look to score ugly goals. On the other end, simply don’t make anything easy for UVM. No odd-man rushes and no dumb penalties. The Catamounts do not have the offensive skills to beat the UMass defense and Paul Dainton on even terms.

This is a series that UMass could come away from four points richer, and I would love to make that prediction. However, there is one thing that concerns me. The Sunday game is an afternoon game, with the puck set to drop at just past 3:00. This means both that two games will be played on the same ice within twenty hours and the outside temperature will likely be in the high-30s for this entire game and, let’s face it folks, the ice at the Bill has a tendency to get very sloppy anyway. The poor ice will better suit the Catamounts’ defensive game while taking something away from the skating game the Minutemen like to play.

The Rundown:
Offense: UMass
Defense: Vermont
Goaltending: UMass
Special Teams: UMass
Other Factors: Draw

Prediction:
Saturday: Vermont 1 – 3 UMass
Sunday: Vermont 1 – 1 UMass
(and I will gladly take three points out of this matchup if I can get ’em)

Interesting games around Hockey East:

No. 11 Boston College (12-6-2 (9-4-2 HEA)) vs. No. 19 UMass Lowell (12-9-2 (6-6-2 HEA))

Saturday, 7:00 PM, Tsongas Arena
Boston College comes into this game as the number two team in Hockey East and is currently riding a two-game winning streak. We all know UML struggled last weekend against UMass. However, BC’s last two victories came against a Scott Darling-less Maine and lowly Providence, and they lost their last three games prior. Meanwhile, Lowell is a team that scares me when its backed into a corner. I know first-hand since UML soundly beat UMass after coming off a three-game losing streak earlier this season then went on to win their next game. I doubt head coach Blaise MacDonald has taken it easy on his team this week given their complete lack of discipline in last weekend’s games against UMass. UML also has a tune-up against Merrimack on Friday that they should win easily, giving them some positive momentum. Boston College will also be coming off what will probably be an emotional game against BU on Friday night.

Prediction: Boston College 1 – 2 UMass Lowell
(Carter Hutton stands on his head and his teammates give him just enough help to down the Eagles)

Boston University (7-10-3 (5-8-2 HEA)) vs. No. 11 Boston College (12-6-2 (9-4-2 HEA))
Friday, 7:00 PM, Agganis Arena
BU has played poorly this year, mainly due to the loss of several top players to the NHL, but they always play BC hard and Boston College will be looking to avenge their loss at Fenway Park. It should be an exciting game.

Prediction: Boston University 2 – 4 Boston College

Other Hockey East action:

Friday
Merrimack vs. No. 19 UMass Lowell
No. 16 New Hampshire vs. Providence

Saturday
No. 16 New Hampshire vs. Boston University
Providence vs. Merrimack

-Derek

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