Northeastern Huskies (7-10-5(6-7-4HEA)) vs. UMass Minutemen (6-12-3(5-7-3HEA))
This weekend’s home-and-home scrap with Northeastern could be a crucial one in the Hockey East race. Our Minutemen are coming off of two of their most successful games. With a four-point weekend, the Mass Attack could actually move ahead of Northeastern in the standings, even though the Huskies have played two more Hockey East games than the Minutemen. As noted in a fantastic post by our fellow bloggers at The Gut, Northeastern has the toughest remaining Hockey East schedule. If the Minutemen could get ahead of the Huskies this weekend, there could be no looking back. Equally important is the fact that UMass has a very difficult remaining schedule, as well. All but one of the Mass Attack’s remaining games after this weekend are against BC, BU, Maine, and Merrimack. Any way you look at it, this is a very important weekend for UMass Hockey.
Northeastern is a team with a good combination of size and shiftiness. Two of the smaller players on the team, seniors Wade MacLeod (11G/11A/22Pts) and Tyler McNeely (7G/10A/17Pts), are their two top scorers. On the other hand, their defensive corps (although small in number) is quite large in terms of physical stature; only one defenseman under 6 feet has played for the Huskies this year. This size is backed by sophomore standout goalie Chris Rawlings (6-8-5, 2.27GAA, .928 save%). As NESN is quite fond of noting, Rawlings has never lost to UMass. On the off chance Rawlings doesn’t start both games, their backup, Clay Witt (1-2-0, 1.57GAA, .938save%), is no slouch either.
With this size and these backstops, one would expect Northeastern to play a solid defense-first game. And one would be correct; Northeastern’s 2.29GA/G in conference play is the third lowest in Hockey East. Only Boston College (2.28GA/G) and New Hampshire (1.73GA/G; Matt DiGirolamo is, notably, ridiculously good) have allowed less goals per game in Hockey East play. For comparison, UMass is giving up 2.67GA/G against Hockey East foes. And only one Huskie defenseman (Drew Ellement (-4)) has a negative plus/minus rating. What the Huskies sacrifice for this defensive prowess is some offensive firepower. Other than MacLeod and McNeely, only Mike McLaughlin (7G/3A/10Pts) has more than 4 goals on the year. They also don’t get much offense from their defensemen. Only 2 Husky d-men have multiple goals (Anthony Bitetto (2G/11A/13Pts and Jamie Oleksiak 2G/4A/6Pts). For comparison, UMass has 4 in Phillips, Rowe, Marcou, and Kublin. (Even though Phillips and Marcou are possibly injured, the point is that the system the Minutemen play in allows for offensive contributions from everywhere on the ice.) The result of all these numbers is that Northeastern only scores 2.47 goals a game in Hockey East play. Only UML (2.22GPG), Providence (2.20GPG), and Vermont (1.73GPG) score fewer goals in conference play. UMass scores on Hockey East opponents at a clip of 2.87 goals per game.
The Mass Attack comes into the game hot. They have won 3 of their last 4 while riding a hot goaltender in Paul Dainton (6-7-2, 2.63GAA, .919save%). However, these four games were against Lowell and Vermont. Prior to those four games, UMass had lost five straight. The last team UMass beat before beating UML and UVM? UVM. In fact, ALL FIVE UMASS WINS IN HOCKEY EAST PLAY ARE AGAINST UML AND UVM. If this team wants to be taken seriously, it needs to beat a Hockey East opponent who is not a colossal joke. This could be the weekend to do it, given the positive momentum from the wins against aforementioned shells of teams. Northeastern also comes in riding a hot streak. They have gone 4-1-1 in their last 6 games, including beating UMass thanks to a third period collapse by the Minutemen. Rawlings had two shutouts in this period, but also gave up an inexplicable three goals to Vermont in the one loss.
One more note: as mentioned to me by Matt, the Bill will be hosting a [shitty] concert on Friday night. The mercury is supposed to get down to 11 that night/Saturday morning, so hopefully the ice will recover. If it doesn’t, it could be bad news. A slow, sloppy ice surface would fit the Huskies style of play far too nicely. I believe the key to the game is to be extremely aggressive. I mean, on-the-verge-of-recklessness-offensive-aggression. Why do I say this? Well, it’s because Northeastern usually dresses only 5 defensemen. If the Mass Attack can wear out the Husky defense, Northeastern’s defensive edge will disappear. On the defensive side of the ice, MacLeod and McNeely need to be taken away as offensive options. To me, this means playing Kublin and Shea whenever possible against Northeastern’s top line. This might be difficult during Friday’s game, but when UMass has home ice and last change on Saturday, there will be no excuse for not matching Kublin and Shea against MacLeod and McNeely.
If all goes well, we may dare to dream of a sweep and sliding up a spot in the standings. But, if we cannot sweep, two points is absolutely essential for anyone to take this team seriously. Providence is playing UNH this weekend, so losing position in the standings is doubtful, but a backslide is definitely not what we want to see out of this team right now.
Aside: Harpoon’s current release of its acclaimed 100 barrell series is entitled Catamount Maple Wheat. Let’s hope the beer tastes better than their hockey team plays.
Aside pt. 2: Apparently, we have a Facebook page. If we don’t get 100 likes by Tuesday, Matt’s going to light Outlaw Pete from Minuteman Nation on fire. So, yeah, unless you want Outlaw Pete to get extra crispy, you should probably like that shit.