Sunday, November 4, 2012

Previewing The UMass Minutemen

Just two weeks ago, Boston College and UMass played one of the most exciting (and nerve-racking)  hockey games that I have ever seen. BC, down three goals after two, and down 4-2 with just ten minutes left, came back and defeated the Minutemen in overtime thanks to a Johnny G goal. Since then, BC has yet to lose and the Minutemen have also played some good hockey but have fell on the short side of the stick versus some good hockey teams. UMass is coming off an upset victory on Friday over New Hampshire in which defenseman Darren Rowe scored the game winning goal on the power play. So far this season, UMass ranks eight in Hockey East with just one win and three losses to either BC or BU. One could argue that no team in the country has had to play as tough a schedule as the Minutemen have so far with games vs the Champs, BU, and UNH to open up the conference slate. Leading the Minutemen in goals so far are seniors Rocco Carzo and the previously mentioned Rowe while defenseman Conor Allen and forward Conor Sheary lead the team in overall points with four. Something that should be mentioned is that in the first matchup, UMass' best defenseman Joel Hanley was tossed from the game just a minute in for a hitting from behind major. Before Friday's game vs UNH, it was announced that he was injured and would not play on Friday. His status for tonights game is unknown.

Right now, I have to say, I think BC is playing some pretty darn good hockey even though they are not dominating everyone in their path. Winning games in this league, especially on the road, is not all. So far, BC has won games @ Lowell, @ UMass, and even at Alfond Arena, a place that has given BC nightmares over the course of the past few seasons. While BC isn't getting scoring from the bottom six forwards, both those lines are starting to play better hockey and are creating some great offensive chances, something they weren't doing in the early going. Yes, it is a bit concerning to see that not one guy on those lines has scored but I would think that with the way that they are playing, goals will soon come. In terms of todays game, UMass presents something that a team like Maine doesn't really posses. They are a team that can skate and they can do it well. UMass has always had some forwards that are really good skaters and can fly up and down the ice. In order for BC to stop these speedy forwards like Sheary, Carzo, and Gracel, each and ever defenseman (and forward) must be aware of where they are in their own zone and be sure they don't let anyone behind them when the opponent is coming through the neutral zone. In the last game vs these guys, BC had a couple of few defensive lapses and missed assignments that led to Minutemen goals. In short, it is absolutely necessary for BC to be able to play strong in their own zone and make sure they break the puck out smoothly to create grade A chances.

In terms of special teams, the Minutemen currently rank fourth in Hockey east with a 20 % conversion rate and fifth in penalty kill as they have recorded a 83 % kill rate. In the first meeting, UMass was able to get a rare power play goal vs a BC team that currently ranks first in the league and seventh in the country with a 91 % kill rate. With the way BC plays ate Kelly Rink and the fact that the power play is playing real well right now, it would be nearly impossible for UMass to win this game if they consistently go to the box.

Keys for the Eagles- 

1. Defensive zone play. The first goal on Friday night was the first real bad defensive breakdown I have seen since the first game of the year. Today, BC cannot afford to lose track of their assignments and let UMass forwards posses the puck for too long in the BC end.

2. Staying out of the box. This is always a key but when you are playing teams that you probably should beat, you can't keep giving them opportunities to score on the man up.

3. Secondary scoring. It would certainly be a real good confidence booster going into the "big weekend" next week if the bottom two lines could start scoring today.

Best opposing line- Periera-Gracel-Power

Last time out- BC beat UMass 5-4 in OT two weeks ago.

Prediction- BC 4 UMass 0

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