Weekend Preview: Has anyone ever needed four points more?

Well, frankly, yes, but your UMass Minutemen (16-13-0 (11-11-0 HEA)) need them pretty desperately in this weekend’s home-and-home series against the Merrimack Warriors (11-15-1 (8-11-1 HEA)). In fact, both these teams could really use four points. While the Minutemen have just given up fourth place to BU, Merrimack sits just two points behind struggling Vermont, who may have dismissed their Hockey East Tournament berth along with their points per game leader.

The Merrimack offense ranks fifth in Hockey East right now at 3.11 goals per game. The five on five offense features the two-man show of super freshman forward Stephane De Costa (13-22-35) and junior forward Chris Barton (17-14-31). This is combined with an excellent power play that scores on 24.6% of its opportunities, good for second in Hockey East. Six Warriors have three or more goals on the power play this season (the team leader in PPG is Chris Barton, who has seven). Secondary scoring has been an issue for Merrimack this season, so if the Minutemen can shut down De Costa and Barton (and this is a mighty big if), they should be in good shape.

Merrimack’s defense is offensive. Really, it is that bad. They are dead last in Hockey East in scoring defense at 3.37 goals against per game. Merrimack’s defensemen are so bad that only one is a plus player (Brandon Sadlowsky is a +4), and Pat Bowen is an atrocious -12. While talking about Merrimack’s poor defense, one must never forget to mention their two goalies. They are Joe Cannata (.886 save%, 3.10 GAA in Hockey East play) and Andrew Braithwaite (.895 save%, 3.40 GAA). There, I mentioned them. I’ll let those terrible save percentages speak for themselves.

Meanwhile, what can we say about our Minutemen? Last Friday, the defense played extremely well and the offense couldn’t put the biscuit in the basket. That’s it; the offense set things up well and had plenty of chances but they were either snuffed out by Chris Rawlings, sent infuriatingly wide, or completely missed by players who didn’t have their sticks on the ice. Saturday was better for the offense, but the defense had returned to their undisciplined ways. Although whistle-happy refs contributed to the loss (calling 12 penalties in the third period!), the whole team failed to keep its cool (including Toot) and Michael Lecompte got himself ejected for fighting, meaning we won’t have him tonight either. I might add, the penalty kill gave up three of Northeastern’s six goals.

Merrimack is 2-2-1 in its last five games. The Warriors are coming off a three point weekend, but it was against Vermont, and Justin Milo didn’t play. Their win the week before was against UMass Lowell, who were still reeling from the loss of Jeremy Dehner at the time. The last time Merrimack faced a legitimate opponent (read: I’m not saying UML isn’t a legitimate opponent, they just weren’t during that stretch) they gave up five goals to Northeastern. That being said, Merrimack is 10-2-0 at home this year, so beating them tonight may take quite the trick.

The offense needs to continue to produce goals as it did last Saturday if the Mass Attack expects to win this weekend. Merrimack’s sieve-like defense should hopefully give the Minutemen a spark. And sophomores Justin Braun and Mike Marcou need to step up their defense, they are     -8 and -6, respectively on the season. If the offense does its job and the defense stays disciplined, there is no reason the Minutemen cannot take four desperately needed points from this weekend.

P.S. Good luck to Andres and anyone else who’s making the trip to Lawler tonight, I wish I could go but I couldn’t get out of work.

P.P.S. UMass Men’s Lacrosse has its home opener on Saturday at 1PM at Garber Field against Hartford. The LAX team is 1-0 on the year and let’s not forget they made the NCAA tourney last year. The LAX team is an often overlooked member of the UMass athletic community that deserves more fan support!

Scores UMass Fans Should Keep an Eye On
Friday
UMass Lowell (7th Place, 20 Points) vs. Maine (3rd Place, 24 Points)
Boston University (4th Place, 22 Points) vs. Providence (sucks!)
Boston College (2nd Place, 26 Points) vs. Northeastern (6th Place, 21 Points)

Saturday
UMass Lowell (7th Place, 20 Points) vs. Maine (3rd Place, 24 Points)
Providence (sucks!) vs. Boston University (4th Place, 22 Points)

Other Hockey East Action This Weekend
Friday
Vermont vs. New Hampshire

Saturday
Vermont vs. New Hampshire

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