Thursday, December 6, 2018

Weekend Preview: UMass Minutemen

The Quinnipiac Bobcats have an enormous challenge with #1 UMass this weekend

UMass Head Coach: 
Greg Carvel (3rd season) 34-50-4
2018-2019 UMass record: 12-1-0 (7-0-0 Hockey East)

All-time vs. UMass: Quinnipiac leads series 7-4-2

UMass Key Players: Mitchell Chaffee (F), John Leonard (F), Bobby Trivigno (F), Brett Boeing (F), Cale Makar (D), Mario Ferraro (D), Marc Del Gaizo (D), Matt Murray (G)

Just as I said last week that not enough can be said about the job that Ron Fogarty has done, the same can be applied to Greg Carvel as well and maybe more. Prior to his arrival in Amherst, UMass had lost 88 games in the four years of the John Micheletto era. Carvel's first season with UMass was a massive struggle going just 5-29-2. After turning over the roster at the end of the season his team had a very respectable 17-20-2 campaign in 2017-2018 which was the most wins the program had in a season since 2009-2010. This season, the results have been even better. After starting the season 3-0, they lost to Ohio State before ripping off nine straight wins to come into this weekend home-and-home series with Quinnipiac at 12-1. Greg Carvel has awoken a sleeping giant and things are only expected to get better down the road in Amherst. This might be the series of the year so far in college hockey and one that features two pretty even teams in my opinion. 

The Minutemen returned nine out of its top ten scorers from a season ago with the lone player, Niko Rufo having graduated. This season Cale Makar leads the team in scoring with Mitchell Chaffee with 18 points. The top scorer from a season ago in John Leonard is just a point behind with 17. Senior transfer Jacob Pritchard has 15 points after coming in from St. Lawrence. Sophomore Oliver Chau who was the teams second leading scorer a season ago has gotten off to a very slow start with just three points. But other players have produced to make up for the lack of scoring from Chau in Brett Boeing, Philip Lagunov and Anthony Del Gaizo. Just as Quinnipiac faced an elite power play unit last week in Princeton, they will face one again in UMass who rank second in the country at 32.1%. Chaffee and Pritchard each have four goals on the man advantage while Leonard and Marc Del Gaizo have three each.

Just as the strength of the Quinnipiac Bobcats in on the back end, the same can be said about UMass. Cale Makar is a superstar in college hockey, having been the 4th overall pick in the draft in 2017 by Colorado. Mario Ferraro is a second round pick and they get really good production from freshman Marc Del Gaizo. Ty Farmer is another freshman that has been key for the UMass defense and is a plus 3. Combined those four players are a plus 28 on the blue line. They kill penalties at 87.7% which ranks them in the top ten in the country. They are fast and they move the puck out of the zone extremely well.

The Minutemen have gotten excellent goal-tending from Matt Murray who has taken a leap from a season ago. He has gotten the majority of the workload and is 9-0 with a 1.99 goals against an a .929 save percentage. Quinnipiac never faced Murray last season as Ryan Wischow got both starts when he beat the Bobcats twice a season. He is no longer with the program. The Minutemen's backup Filip Lindberg a freshman has also been excellent as well going 3-1 with a 1.73 goals against and a .936 save percentage. He hasn't seen a start since the November 16th game against Holy Cross. Murray is expected to start this weekend but Quinnipiac also could see Lindberg in one of these games.

With both these teams in the top ten in the country in goals for, goals allowed, power play and penalty kill, it makes this weekend so difficult to predict. One thing I want to see is a hard fought competitive series and an NCAA tournament type atmosphere. I think a split is something that I could expect given the way that Quinnipiac was swept last year by the Minutemen and how they won't want that to happen again. Anything more for Quinnipiac would be icing on the cake. 

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