I guess the heavy stuff ain’t quite at its heaviest by the time it gets out to suburban Minneapolis.

(Weekend Preview)

Your UMass Minutemen take on the No. 15 Minnesota Golden Gophers

So the Mass Attack begins the season with two in the upper Midwest against a ranked opponent. Sound frightening? Sound like the Minutemen are way overmatched? Why? Let’s see, the Golden Gophers were 18-19-2 last year, 12-14-2 in the WCHA. They finished 7th in their conference and were bounced in the first round of their conference tourney. Your Minutemen finished at .500 with a record of 18-18-0 (despite a MASSIVE Cahoon Swoon), 13-14-0 in Hockey East. They finished 6th in the conference and were also bounced in the first round of their tourney. Okay, so we’re willing to concede that Minnesota played a MUCH more difficult non-conference schedule last year, but even given that, this was a sub-.500 team, they certainly weren’t world-beaters.

Well, we lost some key guys. Yeah, well so did they. The Gophers return fifteen from last year’s roster (10 forwards, 3 defensemen, 2 goalies), that’s the same amount as your Minutemen who return 10 forwards, 4 defensemen, and 1 goalie (not included are Anthony Raiola, who was redshirted, and Kevin Moore, who has yet to play a minute in his two years with the team). Among the Gophers’ losses were their top two point scorers, Tony Lucia (11G/17A/28Pts) and Jordan Schroeder (9G/19A/28Pts), as well as two of their top four defensemen (David Fischer and Kevin Wehrs). However, the Gophers do return Mike Hoeffel (14G/10A/24Pts/7PPG), their top goal scorer and top powerplay goal scorer, from last year, along with top defensemen Cade Fairchild (4G/21A/21Pts) and Aaron Ness. Also back is forward Jay Barriball, who will be their captain this year. He played only five games last year before receiving a medical redshirt due to a season ending knee injury. Although Barriball hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in the last three years, he could always return to the form of his freshman year, when he put up 20 goal, 23 assist, 43 point numbers. Minnesota also returns both starting goalie Alex Kangas (16-15-1, 2.61 GAA, .911 save%) and backup Kent Patterson (2-4-1, 3.10 GAA, .901 save%).

The Mass Attack’s depletion is a little more severe. Brace yourself, we’re about to drag up some memories; we’ll try to make this as quick as possible. Gone are: the top 5 point scorers from last year: James Marcou (11G/40A/51Pts), Casey Wellman (23G/22A/45Pts), Justin Braun (8G/23A/31Pts), Will Ortiz (13G/13A/26Pts), and Matt Irwin (7G/17A/24Pts); three of last year’s top four blue-liners: Braun, Irwin, and Martin Nolet (5G/4A/9Pts/59PIM); and a true heart and soul guy, great leader, and fantastic P.J. Axelsson-esque 2-way forward in Brett Watson (3G/6A/9Pts). Key returning skaters include last years no. 6 point scorer, T.J. Syner (8G/12A/20Pts), as well as defensemen Mike Marcou (7G/3A/10Pts) and Doug Kublin (we’ll get to his importance later on). Also returning is the man who is now undeniably, unquestionably the most important player on the team. That man is Paul Dainton. Dainton had the best record of his career last year (15-15-0), but otherwise had his statistically poorest season (3.08 GAA, .901 save%). Compare this to the numbers from his freshman (12-14-6, 2.56 GAA, .911 save%) and sophomore (12-14-1, 2.45 GAA, .913 save%) seasons. If the Minutemen are to succeed this year, Dainton needs to prove last year was an outlier and continue the trend of the previous two years (something in the 2.40 GAA, .920 save% range would be fantastic, but I’d be very happy with something like 2.60, .910).

Since both these teams lost a lot, it stands to reason that they are both pretty young. The Minnesota roster features 10 freshmen (6 forwards, 4 defensemen) and UMass has 13 (8 forwards, 4 defensemen, 1 goalie). The quality of recruits may be where the Gophers have the edge. UMass is counting on guys like Troy Power, Eric Filiou, Peter DeAngelo, and Michael Pereira. And these guys are all solid recruits. But if you google the names of the Minnesota freshmen, you are likely to find a professional scouting report on all of them. One in particular, 6’4” 188lb. center Nick Bjugstad, was the 19th overall pick of the NHL draft this year. He supposedly has good speed and vision and a fantastic shot to go along with his size. So, yeah, there’s that. But prospects are only prospects and no one knows how well they’ll do; just ask Danny Hobbs. (Incidentally, Danny Hobbs, you looked very, very good in the exhibition game, and we really need a guy like you to step up and shine now that Jimmy and Casey are gone. So if you could do that, we’d really appreciate it.)

There is one more reason to be excited for this season opening series, and that is this: Doug Kublin does not have mono. Allow me to explain how important Doug Kublin is to the UMass Minutemen. He played 25 games last year. In those games, the Mass Attack was 16-9-0. In games without Doug Kublin in the lineup, the Minutemen were 2-9-0. Stark contrast? Yes, but it goes deeper than record. In the 25 games the Manlius, NY defenseman played, the Minutemen averaged 3.08 goals against. In the 11 games he missed, 3.64 goals against! Almost half a goal more per game! Every 2 games you play without Kubbie, you spot the opposition a goal. So ignore the fact that Doug Kublin has career scoring numbers that look like your mother’s (1G/5A/6Pts in 74GP); he is a plus player and vital to this team and if Paul Dainton needs to stand on his head and get numbers like those mentioned above to give this team a shot at going anywhere, Doug Kublin needs to be in the lineup and on the ice to give him a fighting chance.

So there it is, my vehement defense of our beloved Mass Attack’s chances this weekend. It’s gonna be tough and it ain’t gonna be pretty, but damnit, our freshmen look good and our vets look energized and if we could steal some wins this weekend we could have a dangerous team on our hands that just might think it’s good enough to go somewhere. And it might shut up Roman Augustoviz, whose tweets are some of the most annoying on the planet. Go ahead, check them out, I dare you. @eyeonupuk do it.

Also: Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach Don Lucia was a hoodrat. Now you finally know that.

So… yeah, let’s get back at it. Is it Friday yet?

-Derek

~Update: Apparently Eddie Olczyk’s  injury is more severe than my “source” stated. According to Dick Baker, Olczyk will likely miss the Minnesota series, as will freshman Troy Power, who sustained an undisclosed injury in practice on Tuesday.

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