Massachusetts Minutemen (1-0-1, 0-0-1 Hockey East)
Providence Friars (1-0-0, 1-0-0 Hockey East)
Last night, the eighth-ranked Boston University Terriers discovered that the Providence Friars are no joke. Or at least they weren’t for one game. Yes those lowly basement dwellers, that team that was so bad it inspired this to be written about it near the end of the 2009-2010 season, the pushovers of yesteryear (pretty much every yesteryear) proved they could play some puck last night. Much to my amusement, Kieran Millan was forced to fish the biscuit out of the back of his own net five times. The Terriers were outshot in every period, except the third where both teams recorded 11 shots on net. The most impressive part of last night’s Friar win was that it was a full team effort. The five goals were put in by five different guys (Drew Brown, Matt Montesano, Stefan Demopoulos, Myles Harvey, and Ross Mauermann) and eleven skaters picked up points. Only three Friars were on the wrong side of the plus/minus rating for the night. Even when the team’s former best player, goalie Alex Beaudry, tried to blow the game by letting a 3-0 advantage slip away, the Friars found away to recompose themselves and put two more behind Millan to earn the W.
If last night’s game is any indicator, this is a much stronger squad under new head coach Nate Leaman than it was under Tim Army. We do, however, have to consider the possibility that this game was an aberration. Last year’s team went 4-16-7 in Hockey East play earning it ninth place (one point behind your beloved Minutemen). The Friars have not reached the postseason since my freshman year, the 2007-08 season. Last year’s top three scorers, who were not exactly setting the hockey world on fire anyway, have graduated. The team’s top returning point scorer, Tim Schaller, had all of five goals last season. Providence’s most remarkable returning freshman is Derek Army, son of the former coach. He managed to put up six goals and 13 points last year. Last year’s Friars scored just 1.96 goals per game in conference, and netminder Beaudry’s .901 save% was nowhere near good enough to carry the team.
In fact, if we’re talking about the Friars, we might as well forget about the upper class altogether. It’s all about the youth movement now in Providence. Four of last night’s five Friar goals were scored by freshmen. The exception was Myles Harvey’s powerplay game-winner. Harvey is a junior defenseman. It was his first career goal. That means that Providence had five first-time goal scorers last night. Pretty nifty feat there. Still, one game is a very small sample size and the Minutemen are unlikely to overlook the Friars as the Huskies may have. The Friars are a bit of an enigma right now. If nor overlooked, can the freshmen really continue to carry this team? And will Alex Beaudry return to his sophomore form (he posted a solid .914 save% that year without much help from the rest of the team) or will he be the reason the Friar’s lose games instead of the reason they eek out wins?
Okay, so let’s not forget this is Providence, the college whose only notable accomplishment is having Death as an alumnus. They grabbed a win last night but so did the Minutemen. The top line looked PHENOMENAL out there and Danny Hobbs, Franchise Pereira, and TJ Syner managed to rack up 10 points between themselves. The Mass Attack blasted 46 shots on Bentley goalie Branden Komm, plus one on an empty net. What was a slightly bit concerning was that such a high percentage of the production came from the top. Other than a goal scored by Brendan Gracel on a fantastical feed from Troy Power, the goals came exclusively from the top line. Also concerning was the penalty kill, which let in two goals on five chances. Although, to be fair, one of those goals came on a five minute opportunity after Adam Phillips received a five-and-game for contact to the head midway through the third period. (Thankfully, no further discipline will be imposed on Phillips for the hit.) Freshman Kevin Boyle… did not have his best night in net. Although Boyle is good on the first shot, it is becoming apparent that his rebound control and recovery are not up to par, at least not yet. I expect to see Jeff Teglia make his first start of the year in net tonight, but, honestly, he was probably already penciled into the lineup anyway.
As usual, tonight’s game will come down to who plays harder and smarter. The Friars were playing a nationally-ranked team (who probably was overlooking them) last night and it was their home and opener with a brand new coach. Plenty of motivation there to start off on the right foot and Providence clearly outworked the Huskies in pretty much every facet of the game. It’s unlikely that UMass will come out tonight expecting the Friars to just roll over for them. The top line has the firepower back at full force. Brendan Gracel is playing out of his mind right now. And pretty soon teams are going to start playing Conor Sheary as a pass-only guy. They will be making a mistake when they do cuz that kid’s got a wicked wrister. In fact, I think two games without a goal is quite enough for Sheary. I expect him to net one tonight. And, yes, I do think the Minutemen will pull off the win. But, I will admit that I’m A LOT more worried about this matchup than I was yesterday. It just goes to show you, there are no easy games in Hockey East.
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
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)
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
Vermont vs. New Hampshire
Vermont vs. New Hampshire