All opinions are my own.
The two hottest teams of last year’s Hockey East conference will come face to face in a home-and-home series this Friday in Boston as the BU Men’s hockey team (3-7, 2-4 Hockey East) prepares to take on the UMass Amherst Minutemen (6-2, 4-0 HE). The Minutemen, who, like the Terriers, had a tough start to their season, seem to have found their groove again as they continue to improve upon a six-game win streak.
“We look forward to get back into league play and obviously play a very tough opponent,” head coach Albie O’Connell said on Thursday. “They’re on a little hot streak, we’re on a little not streak.”
The Minutemen are coming off of their most productive season yet in 2020-21 winning every accolade the Covid season could present to them with ease. The first-time national champions won every game they played––including the Hockey East and national titles––after dropping two games in mid January to BU. Now facing each other for the first time since that series, the Minutemen continue to play with incredible speed, poise, and talent: a true championship team.
With 14 NHL draft picks on one roster, this Terrier squad is obviously loaded with talent. Unfortunately, the team’s potential has been met with lackluster efforts and the worst start to a season BU has had since 2000-01––when most of the team wasn’t alive. Despite the disheartening start, the Terriers still have a pretty impressive penalty kill at 80.4% compared to a Minutemen success on the man-advantage rate of about 21%.
In regards to his team’s PK, O’Connell took the blame for confusing the players. “I think there was some confusion in a couple of situations. There was some poor execution that you know, guys did not absorb and if they’re not absorbing it, we’re not teaching it the right way,” he said.
In terms of offensive production, the Terriers have been shooting more pucks than their competitors at an average 29 shots per game, compared to UMass’ 27.
UMass definitely has more breadth to their point leaders, with the most goals coming from any player being three. Senior forward Bobby Trivigno leads his group with nine points on three goals and six assists, followed by junior Cal Kiefiuk and rookie Scott Morrow, each with eight (3g 5a).
Last year, the net was split between Flilip Lindberg and now graduate student Matt Murray. After earning his championship ring, Lindberg traded in his Hockey East patch for that of the pros with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins AHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh penguins. Murray returned for a fifth year in the Minuteman jersey and posts an impressive 2.13 goals against average and .933 save percentage in eight games so far.
“You know, obviously they’ve (UMass) got skill and they’ve got talent. But the best thing about what they do is they play as a team all the time, and they compete as a team all the time,” O’Connell noted of his opponent.
If the Terriers want to hang with the best, they’ll have to get enough shots on net to get past Murray. Instead of just relying on the top line of juniors Wilmer Skoog, Robert Mastrosimone, and Ethan Philips, the team will have to see production from the whole roster: a roster with unlimited potential at that.
Likely rattled mentally, it’ll be interesting to see who head coach Albie O’Connell starts in goal this weekend between sophomores Drew Commesso and Vinny Duplessis. Commesso, last year’s go-to, has struggled between the pipes as a result of faulty defense and inconsistent play from his teammates. Every opposing goal is not only a blow to his stats, but also to morale, something the Terriers need desperately at this point. Duplessis makes big saves in big games, but hasn’t gotten enough practice to take over just yet.
Hopefully, the caliber of this UMass team will lead to a much-needed mindset change for this Terrier team. BU spent much of last year as the underdog, playing up to better teams and taking down the predetermined winner. Even a split with the Minutemen has the potential to turn this season around.
“We had a bad weekend. So we’re gonna have to rebound and we weren’t as aggressive out there… so we got to have that kind of aggressive mindset,” O’Connell said.
Puck drop will take place in Agganis Arena on November 12 at 7:30 pm before the teams turn back to the Mullins center in Amherst on Saturday at 7, with coverage on Twitter @BOSHockeyBlog and on Instagram @Boston.Hockey.Blog.