Friday, January 18, 2013

Previewing the UMass Minutemen

     Coming off the first weekend in quite some time in which they played some solid hockey, the Boston College Eagles will now enter the "soft" part of their schedule as they face the #'s 8, 9, and 10 teams in the league over the course of the next week. Their first opponent will be cross state rival and a team that has given them their fare share of fits over the past two seasons, the UMass Minutemen. So far this season, Boston College is 2-0 vs UMass with both wins coming in nail-biting fashion. In fact, the Eagles are riding high on a 4 game winning streak vs the Minutemen that dates back to last March. With just a slim two point lead in Hockey East, a win tonight is extremely crucial for the Eagles, as every game is. Last week, I loved the way the team played vs a high powered UNH team and if they continue to play at that level while staying out of the box, they should be able to come away with a victory. One good sign for BC ? Well, they haven't lost @ Kelly Rink since last December and have not lost to UMass, a team they have played at home more than other opponent, since November of 2007. The Eagles also haven't lost a conference home game to a team not named Boston University since January of 2010 when they fell to UNH. There is a reason as for why UMass has played well against BC so far this year. That is because like the Eagles, the Minutemen have speedy forwards such as Gracel and Sheary that can certainly score goals and make plays. On defense, UMass is led by Jr's Conor Alen and Joel Hanley, both of whom rank among some of the top offensive defenseman in Hockey East. In the net, the Minutemen will probably be starting sophomore Kevin Boyle who is 0-1 vs the Eagles this year and also ranks dead last in terms of save percentage and is 8th in terms of GAA.

For BC, there are certainly a couple of things that the team must do better if they're to get a win tonight. First and foremost, they've got to find a way to stay out the penalty box as UMass actually ranks 2nd in power play percentage in Hockey East. UMass has also had some success vs BC's PK in particular as they have gone 2 for 5 in the two contest combined. Over the course of the last two games, it appears to me that BC's penalty kill has drastically improved as they killed off some big power plays for UNH last weekend. However, your penalty kill can only do so well when you're in the box so much...such as the case was with BC last week. The majority of the penalties aren't just bad penalties, they're flat out dumb and unnecessary. If BC can spend less time on the man down and more time playing 5 on 5 and on the man up, their play would greatly improve. I look for the defenseman to continue to improve as their play last week was about 100x better than it was vs the Golden Gophers and Yale. Hopefully, guys like Jeke and Sullivan can continue to develop into defenseman that can be trusted each and every shift. I thought all four lines played at a high level at some point last weekend but UNH certainly did a phenomenal job of shutting down Mullane, Johnny G, and Steve Whitney on Saturday. Those guys have got to get back to the way they were playing on Friday night. Other than that, I don't think the Eagles should try and change too much of what they did last weekend.

All in all, I'm going to be interested to see if BC can continue to play like they have been @ Kelly Rink. The UMass seniors have had each of their respective seasons ended by BC on the road and the Eagles can be sure that they will be coming out with everything they have tonight. It is very, very rare that a team like UMass doesn't come out with everything they have versus the Eagles and I wouldn't be surprised to see them do well tonight.

Taking a look at Massachusetts

Leading Scorers- Brandan Gracel (8-10-18) and Conor Sheary (4-10-14)

Best Defenseman- Conor Allen and Joel Hanley

Goalie- Kevin Boyle. Ranks 11th in save percentage, 8th in GAA, and 6th in win percentage.

Hockey East Rank- 8th

Pairwise Rank- Not Ranked

Best Wins- vs UNH, vs Dartmouth

Worst Losses- Vs Lowell 8-2, vs Northeastern

All Time Series- Boston College is 54-12-3 all time vs UMass.

Keys for the Eagles-

1. Stay out of the penalty box. Hopefully this is the night where they start to go on the PK less and the PP more.

2. Keep getting quality play from all four lines. The third and fourth lines were both good last weekend. That needs to continue.

3. Smart defensive zone play. No turnovers, no stupid penalties, and keep blocking shots.

Go Eagles

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