Massachusetts Minutemen (1-1-1, 0-1-1 Hockey East)
#2 Boston College Eagles (3-1-0, 1-0-0 Hockey East)
The Minutemen take on one of the best teams in the nation on Friday as they will do battle with the Eagles from Boston College. BC is a perennial Hockey East powerhouse and it looks like this year won’t be any different. The Eagles’ offense has been scoring at an impressive 4.50 clip while they have been giving up 2.25 goals a game, a figure that is deceptively high due to their one loss which included an empty net goal. In their three wins, the Eagles have amassed 16 goals while only allowing five. BC’s goal scoring is well distributed amongst the team; junior forward Chris Kreider leads the team with three goals and five other Eagles (Bill Arnold, Johnny Gaudreau, Barry Almeida, Pat Mullane, and Stephen Whitney) are tied for second on the team with two goals apiece. The offense is fueled by the forwards, who account for the top eight point scorers on the team. The defensive corps is only responsible for seven of the Eagles forty eight points thus far (two goals and four assists).
Boston College’s defense is led by a solid core of upperclassmen who know what it takes to get things done on the defensive side of the game. Senior captain Tommy Cross is the only defenseman on the team with an official leadership role but these guys clearly all know how to lead by example. Not only are there no minus players in the top six group of Cross, four juniors, and one sophomore, but there aren’t even any defensemen with even plus/minus ratings. Brian Dumoulin leads the team in plus/minus rating with a +5. Other than sophomore Isaac MacLeod, who I have not seen very much of, I can say that I have not seen a single defenseman on the Eagles who is anything less than outstanding. Junior Parker Milner finally has a chance at being the go-to guy between the pipes for the Eagles, and he is not squandering that opportunity so far. His stats are simply fantastic (3-1-0, 2.01 GAA, .923 save%). Those of us who had hoped that he wasn’t good enough to fill John Muse’s jockstrap are certainly disappointed.
While the Mass Attack cannot claim to have the kind of suffocating defense that the Eagles have right now, they can claim to have the kind of offensive firepower that rivals Boston College’s. The Minutemen are averaging 4.00 goals a game and the Syner-Pereira-Hobbs line has been mind-numbingly good since the return of Danny Hobbs. In those two games, they’ve accounted for six goals and ten assists. What’s concerning is that they have provided almost all of the offense. Although the Mass Attack certainly has other offensive talent to fall back on, so far only four players not from the top line (Colin Shea, Conor Sheary, Brendan Gracel, and Adam Phillips) have lit the lamp this year. Two of the five goals not produced by the top line have come on the powerplay, which is another exciting part of the 2011-2012 edition of the Mass Attack. So far in this early season, the Minutemen are converting powerplays at a very proficient clip of 21.1%.
What is not as exciting about this year’s Minutemen is the defensive side of the puck. On the whole, the team has played relatively well on defense. No one has played poorly, but the momentary lapses the team has seem to come at the worst possible moments. Despite outshooting their opponents by a wide margin, the Minutemen have given up as many goals as they have scored this year. A big part of the problem is the penalty kill, which has been successful a dismal 75.0% of the time. The penalty kill is all about fundamentals. Body positioning, stick positioning, denying passing lanes, keeping the puck to the outside, clearing bodies from the front of the net, clearing rebounds from the front of the net. That last one has been a killer. Freshman goalie Kevin Boyle has given it his all so far this season, but where he most clearly needs work is on his rebound control and his recovery and positioning for the second shot. College hockey goalies deny the first shot and rely on their defensemen to get to rebounds before the opposing forwards do; Hockey East goalies deny the first shot and prevent a second chance, either by allowing no rebound or by steering one out of harms way. I would expect to see Jeff Teglia’s first start of the year tonight. Boyle looked out of his element last Saturday and gave up some really ugly goals before he was finally (Yes, finally, Toot left him in WAY too long against the Friars on a night where he clearly just didn’t have it.) yanked for Teglia. Tegs stopped all eight shots he faced and looked rock solid in his first action of the year. Hopefully his great play in relief last weekend carries into this weekend; the Minutemen will need a huge performance from him if they want a chance to steal one from the Eagles at Conte.
This one should be exciting, folks! No more excuses. Our number one goalie should be in net, our offense is firing on all cylinders, our defense is playing well enough to pull out wins as long as Tegs helps ‘em out a little. Everyone should be excited because this is a game where we can see how our lineup matches up with one of the best out there. I expect they will matchup quite well and I expect a tight game tonight. I can’t tell you who’s gonna win this one, but I can tell you this is the most positive I’ve felt about the potential result of a UMass-BC game in a long, long time.