Women’s Preview: Tournament Edition!

While the men are out in Ulster playing puck, the women will be hosting their own tournament, the Windjammer Classic, for the second straight season.  Blah, corporate names, but I guess it helps pay the bills…

Three teams are in this tournament and like in the Friendship Four preview we’ve already discussed one, Robert Morris, which you can find here: https://thevermonthockeyblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/womens-preview-vermont-robert-morris-2x/ Should note that the Colonials are currently 9-1-4 and received votes in the last poll.

First up, the Cats’ known opponent, the St. Cloud State Huskies. A decent team stuck in the hell known as WCHA women’s hockey (a conference that also contains the top two ranked teams in the country, one of whom is the defending national champions, as well as seventh-ranked North Dakota). Oh and don’t forget they still have eight games against currently-ranked opposition this year. The Huskies are battle-tested, and coming off an impressive 3-0 shutout win at Bemidji last weekend led by Janine Alder’s 31 saves. Their offense has been a huge problem, though, as they’re currently tied for 27th in the country (of 38) in goals for per game this year with 1.79. This game is winnable, but it won’t be easy.

Then there’s Clarkson, the 2014 national champions and fifth-ranked team in the country. This is a women’s hockey powerhouse, plain and simple. Their three losses this year all came against teams currently in the top 3 (St. Lawrence, who hasn’t been scored on in forever, and top-ranked Wisconsin). They are the antithesis of the Huskies offensively, with the best offense in Division I women’s hockey. (Yes, Holy Cross has more and is transitioning to D-I, but they’re still essentially a Division III team playing D-III schools.) They have eight players in double-figure points. The Cats played them last year at Gutterson and got killed 5-0 and 3-0. This team is very, very good, and likely the favorites headed in.

Enjoy the games!

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Men’s Preview: Tournament Edition!

Who needs the Catamount Cup when you’ve got a trip to Northern Ireland? UVM sure doesn’t.

The Cats have headed out to Belfast for this weekend’s Friendship Four tournament, where they will face UMass-Amherst and one of Quinnipiac/St. Lawrence.

Amherst is the first game. We’ve already discussed how bad they are in our preview when we played them at Mullins a while back. You can find that here: https://thevermonthockeyblog.wordpress.com/2016/11/10/mens-preview-uvm-umass/ They’ve only played one game since, a 6-2 shellacking at the Whitt against UNH. That’s pretty bad.

After that, we’ll face the winner or loser (probably winner) of #3 Quinnipiac and #19 St. Lawrence, two powerhouses in the ECAC.

Quinnipiac lost in the national championship game last year and lost star forward Sam Anas, but they’re still a force and have started well despite an early hiccup at Alfond. Their 9-3-1 record includes a 4-2 win over a strong Harvard team and last weekend’s 7-3 road spanking of Colgate. They’re top-15 in the country in both defense and offense despite not having a dominant offensive player – the team points leader, Tim Clifton, has 14 points – and top-10 in penalty killing. They’re like UVM with their balance, but much better.

St. Lawrence, meanwhile, are straight-up on fire. They’ve gone seven undefeated in a row, including a 2-0 win over the Bobcats and hard-fought draws against Union and Minnesota, both ranked teams. They’re one of the few teams in the country led in scoring by a defender, as Gavin Bayreuther’s 16 points leads the team and is tops nationally among defenders. Kyle Hayton is just one notch behind Stefanos Lekkas in save percentage at #11, and they’re tied for the top rank nationally in shorties. Despite the somewhat low ranking at #19, the Saints are very, very good.

Enjoy the games! They’ll be on NESN as well as TSN2 up in Canada!

Women’s Preview: #10 Northeastern @ UVM

Gotta get this out quickly, afternoon game – probably should’ve done this before the men, to be honest.

Northeastern started the post-Kendall Coyne era badly – a 5-0 massacre at home to St. Lawrence, followed by a 6-5 defeat a night later. Since then, however, they’ve gotten back in their groove, dropping just one game (a surprising home L to Merrimack). They currently sit at 10-3-1, and are ranked #10 in the USCHO poll.

In goal, sophomore Brittany Bugalski is pretty much permanently frozen in the Husky crease, starting all but the 6-5 loss to SLU. She’s been excellent, sporting a .937 save percentage and three shutouts, up from a .918 last season.

The defense is mostly unchanged from last season, with the only real change of note being Codie Cross replacing the graduated Jordan Krause. Though 30 points is tough to replace, Cross has done well enough. Heather Mottau is also pretty solid offensively, although her numbers have gone down from her senior year. Maddie Hartman has taken a solid step forward from her freshman year and looks to get better as time goes on.

Offensively, Northeastern’s biggest question going into the season was how do you even come close to replacing Kendall Coyne? Coyne eviscerated defenses last year, posting 84 points last season, second in the country behind BC’s Alex Carpenter. Though they no longer have Coyne, they still feature many weapons, most notably Czech star Denisa Křížová. Křížová was second on the team in scoring last year with 59 points, and with Coyne gone this is her team now. Fellow junior McKenna Brand has become Křížová’s sidekick and has 16 points this season after posting 21 all last season. Even after losing a superstar, Northeastern still has a top-ten offense, and they will slice any opponent with good passing and skating.

Enjoy the game. UConn preview out Saturday night.

Men’s Preview: Maine @ UVM (2x)

First off, I apologize for the lack of coverage of the Dartmouth game. I was caught up homework creek without a paddle.

Anywho. Going into the season, everyone thought Maine was going to be a truly horrible team. Coming off their worst season in two decades (8-24-6), Maine was ranked dead last in the Hockey East preseason poll. Worse than UNH. Worse than Merrimack. Worse than UMass.

Though the Black Bears have still been pretty bad, rocking a 4-6-2 record, they have exceeded expectations so far. Two of those victories came against two teams currently in USCHO’s top 6 in Quinnipiac and Lowell. The problem has been their lack of wins away from Alfond: they’re 0-3-2 on the road. Oh god, I hope I didn’t jinx it.

Rob McGovern has emerged as a very good #1 college goaltender. His freshman year was iffy, posting a .905 save percentage, but he’s turned it up his sophomore year and currently sports a .921. Three times this year he’s stopped 39 shots, two of which willed Maine to a point. Senior Matt Morris and freshman Stephen Mundinger are his backups.

The defense is very young, with only two players above sophomore year. This team does not lack size on that inexperienced blueline either, with Hungarian U20 international Olivér Herner standing at 6’7″, Stephen Cochrane at 6’6″, and Red Wings prospect Patrick Holway at 6’4″. The upperclassmen, Eric Schurhamer and Mark Hamilton, have been their go-to guys when the D needs to produce points, with five points each. This big defense will be a test for a smaller, skilled Catamount team.

Up front, Maine’s go-to has been the one-two punch of seniors Blaine Byron and Cam Brown. Both have 12 points so far, and Byron has extra motivation as he tries to earn a pro contract with the Penguins, who drafted him. Freshman Mitchell Fossier has also shown well in his first collegiate season with 9 points. Most of this production has come at even strength, as Maine’s power play has been a pitiful 8.7%, 6th worst in the nation.

Both games on CatamounTV. We’ll have coverage of Friday’s game, but not Saturday’s, as I’ll be on the road all day.

Women’s Preview: UVM @ Providence (2x)

THE BYE WEEK IS OVER HALLELUJAH. Seriously. I hate the bye week so bad.

If UVM is going to squeak into home ice this year or avoid a team like BC in the playoffs, this is a must-win conference series coming up. Providence is fairly weak and has done worse than UVM in their mutual matchups, and struggled against the Cats last season. The Cats will be boosted with the return of Saana Valkama, who missed the UNH/Maine road swing on international duty with Finland.

Right now the Friars are 5-7, with two wins against teams the Cats have faced (Union and Maine). They’ve lost to BU (a team UVM beat) and twice to Robert Morris (a team UVM drew once). Rounding out the schedule was two wins over RIT along with a W against Merrimack, along with Ls to Princeton (twice), UNH, and Northeastern.

In the crease, Providence has the duty split an even 50/50 between senior Alanna Serviss and sophomore Madison Myers. Serviss has more Ws than Myers, but the sophomore has posted the better numbers; I’d expect to see them split duty this weekend.

The defense has shown that the future is very bright for Friar women’s hockey, as the top contributors are no older than sophomore. Leading the pack is Kate Friesen, a sophomore with ten points (second in the nation among defenders behind Colgate’s Lauren Wildfang). Freshman Whitney Dove has eight points and classmate Rachel Rockewell has seven. They can turn defense into offense quickly and that will keep the Cats on their toes.

Up front, Providence boasts a solid top line of senior Cassidy Carels (12 points), sophomore Christina Putigna (12 points), and junior Brooke Boquist (10 points). The problem there is a lack of depth after this trio and the second line of Blair Parent, Madison Sansone, and Cassidy MacPherson: nobody else has more than 5 points. If you can slow down line one, the Friars lines two through four make them a much more predictable team and easier to beat.

Obviously the Friars have threats. But this is a team we need to beat in order to boost our chances of hosting a playoff game or even just avoid a top, top team in the first round of playoffs.

 

Men’s Preview: UVM @ UMass

Well, this has been the week from hell.

Before I go any further, I’d like to announce that for every goal UVM scores this week – away to UMass and home to Dartmouth on Tuesday – I will be donating $5 to HOPE Works, a local shelter for victims of sexual violence. Even if we repeat that 11-1 romp in Amherst a few years back.

Now, back to the hockey…

It’s no secret. Amherst is terrible. Their last winning season was a decade ago when Jonathan Quick willed them into the national quarterfinals. New head coach Mike Carvel has had a very spotty start to his career at Mullins, with the team’s two lone wins being home wins against pathetic Army and Colorado College. Oh, and they’ll be playing a back-to-back when the Cats come calling – they play Merrimack Friday night. This team is extremely young (with only 3 seniors), so maybe the future’s brighter than the present, but who knows.

In goal, the Minutemen have rotated between freshman Ryan Wischow and sophomore Nic Reynard. Reynard may have the seniority on Wischow, but he’s been worse (and that’s saying something, as Wischow’s SV% is a mere .907), so I’d expect Wischow in goal on Saturday.

Defensively, UMass is a dumpster fire with and without the puck. With the puck, they’ve gotten no more than three points from a single defender, and without it their shot margin per game is the sixth worst in the country. Shane Bear leads the D with three points and brings championship experience as a member of Brooks Bandits, a team that won the AJHL last season. But other than him, none of these names raise an eyebrow. William Lagesson and Ivan Chukharov are both drafted, so that’s something, I guess.

Amherst’s offense this season has been led by a pair of juniors in Patrick Lee and Dominic Trento. Both have six points so far this season, although Trento’s have all been assists. Freshmen Jonny Lazarus and Griff Jeszka have both shown promise in their first years of college hockey, with 5 points and 4 points respectively. But again, there’s no real top-end talent; most of these top-quality players for Amherst would be middle-six for even a UVM or UNH.

Game is Saturday. Don’t have a whole lot to say other than that this is one of the most winnable games we’ll get all season.

Men’s Preview: #19 UVM @ #7 UMass-Lowell (2x)

Oh, hey, number next to “UVM”. Yup. We’re ranked.

That said, Coach Sneddon knows better than to let that get to his and his team’s heads. Especially with a foe that’s this good.

It wasn’t too long ago that UMass-Lowell was just as bad as UMass-Amherst. Five years ago, the River Hawks went 5-25-4 and fired head coach Blaise MacDonald after the season. What Norm Bazin has done with that program is unbelievable, turning them from a subpar team that could occasionally punch above their weight (current Merrimack is probably the best comparison) into a powerhouse with 5 straight 20-win seasons, and are a lock for a sixth.

This year’s Lowell team has started 4-2-2, with two impressive draws against the current national #1 (Minnesota-Duluth) to start the season. Both defeats came against opponents UVM has also battled, a 4-3 home loss to Clarkson and a 5-1 spanking at the hands of Omaha.

It wouldn’t be a UMass-Lowell team without excellent goaltending. Connor Hellebuyck and Kevin Boyle were both above average to elite goaltenders in recent years, and it seems like Bazin has found another gem in New York Rangers draft pick Tyler Wall. The freshman out of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Leamington Flyers has been fantastic so far this season, posting a .927 save percentage. Behind him, sophomores Sean Cleary and Cristoffer Hernberg battle for the #2, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see back-to-back starts by Wall. (They also do have freshman and Anaheim Ducks prospect Garrett Metcalf, who has yet to play.)

In front of Wall, Lowell’s defense brings plenty of experience to the table, sporting just a single freshman this year. That freshman, however, has been one of the top-scoring defenders in the country in Mattias Göransson (8 points). Seniors Dylan Zink and Michael Kapla (5 points each) look better after seeing a dip in production their junior years, and the rest of the group is solid as well. Göransson has been crucial to Lowell’s 4th-ranked power play (operating at a 25% clip). Staying out of the box will be critical this weekend. That said, the defense has been a bit shaky so far.

Up front, Lowell’s attack is led by the one-two punch of senior Joe Gambardella (Touchey Feeley MVP so far in the Fantasy College Hockey season) and junior CJ Smith. So far this season, Gambardella sits tied for fifth on the country’s scoring list with Brock Boeser, and has played much tougher competition than the Fighting Hawk (seriously, what kind of top-tier player/team doesn’t look good against the likes of RPI and Canisius?). Slowing these two down is the key to stopping Lowell’s offense, as only one other player has more than five points (John Edwardh).

This is a huge weekend for the Cats. Many have questioned whether or not this team is for real (especially with such a high shooting percentage). We’re about to find out: can this team beat top-level competition?