Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Weekend Preview: Massachusetts Minutemen

Ethan de Jong and Quinnipiac have a home and home series with Massachusetts

UMass Head Coach: Greg Carvel (4th season)

2019-2020 UMass record: 8-3-1 (4-3-1 Hockey East)

All-time vs. UMass: Quinnipiac leads series 8-5-2

UMass Key Players: Mitchell Chaffee (F), John Leonard (F), Bobby Trivigno (F), Oliver Chau (F), Reed Lebster (F), Zac Jones (D), Colin Felix (D) Marc Del Gaizo (D), Matt Murray (G), Filip Lindberg (G)

No team had a bigger turnaround in the 2018-2019 season than Massachusetts. A season after winning just 17 games, the Minutemen improved by 14 wins to set a program record with 31. They also made the first ever Frozen Four in program history but fell short of the National Championship when Minnesota Duluth beat them in the title game to repeat as champions. Cale Makar has departed after a 49 point season which culminated in the Hobey Baker Award. They also lost Mario Ferraro early to the pros while key forward Jacob Pritchard and Brett Boeing graduated. Massachusetts still returns a ton of talent to a team that is likely to reach the NCAA tournament again.

Losing Jacob Pritchard was big for Massachusetts but they returned a lot of talent up front. Mitchell Chaffee already has 10 goals in 12 games played this season including three power play goals. John Leonard is also off to another good start with seven goals while Oliver Chau who had a down season last year already has eight points. Massachusetts is getting some good freshman production from Reed Lebster and Cal Kiefiuk who each have seven points. The Minutemen power play has struggled this season much like Quinnipiac's and that will happen when you lose players like Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro. They are right behind Quinnipiac in power play percentage at just a shade over 13%.

While a defensive drop was expected a bit with the losses of Makar and Ferraro, it has not been that much as the Minutemen are tied for 10th in the country in goals allowed at 2.08. Freshman Zac Jones is the teams second leading scorer with 11 points while sophomores Ty Farmer, Colin Felix and freshman Matthew Kessel provide solid depth. They have been solid defensively and this has been without their best returning defensemen in the lineup, Marc Del Gaizo who has played only two games this season. When he gets back to full health, this defense should be even better. The penalty kill is an area when Massachusetts has excelled this season at 88.7% which is 8th best in the country. Expect the Minutemen to make it hard on a Quinnipiac offense that has been struggling to score goals this season fight and claw for every inch of the ice this weekend.

The Minutemen have probably the best goalie tandem in the country between Matt Murray and Filip Lindberg. They are pretty even statistically so its essentially a coin flip who Greg Carvel will go with. Matt Murray has the better goals against at 1.84 compared to 1.97 for Lindberg but its the save percentage where Lindberg has Murray beat at .915 compared to .902. The save percentage numbers are down for the two of them but when you lose players like Makar and Ferraro that should be expected.

These are two different teams than the ones that split a series last year and while Massachusetts may not be as good as last year, they still look like they are an NCAA team while Quinnipiac has shown inconsistent play from week to week and hasn't looked like a team that will be playing in late March. At this point in the season with how the Bobcats have played and who they have lost to, these could be considered must win games if this team wants any chance at an at-large tournament berth. Otherwise the only path might be to win the league tournament in Lake Placid.

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