Three Things I Think: Hockey East, Dec. 9

Posted by: Joe Meloni

When Don Cahoon left Massachusetts following the 2011-12 season, the subsequent coaching search looked a lot like most of UMass’ seasons. Nothing went as planned, and it took far too long to figure out the proper course of action.

Ultimately, the Minutemen settled on then-Vermont assistant John Micheletto.

Two-and-a-half seasons into Micheletto’s tenure, the Minutemen are worse off than they were before Cahoon departed.

A 4-11-0 start has come with a number of embarrassing losses and very little in the way of promise moving forward. UMass was swept by Notre Dame last weekend in a pair of games at the Mullins Center. Both losses continued two themes of the program over the years. UMass had a lead heading into the third on Friday night, and Notre Dame promptly scored four times to take a lead. The Minutemen tried to come back but fell short. Saturday, they were plainly outclassed by the Fighting Irish in a 4-0 loss — a scoreline that flatters UMass.

The 2014-15 season was never going to be a successful year, but there’s been nothing in the way of progress either.

UMass won 12 games in Micheletto’s first year, eight games last season and it’ll be lucky to reach that number before it gets swept out of the Hockey East tournament in a few months.

A look at the roster paints a pretty clear picture of UMass’ problems. There are a handful of high-end forwards and really nothing else.

UMass allows 4.47 goals per game — the most in the nation. It scores 2.67 goals per game, 29th in the country. A fair amount of offense and no defense has been the theme with Micheletto running the show. Insisting upon playing an uptempo brand of hockey without the players capable of doing it.

The next two seasons, based on players departing and those coming in, don’t figure to be much better in Amherst. Anaheim Ducks second-round draft choice Brandon Montour, a high-end defenseman, has joined the team and will be eligible for next Tuesday’s non-conference game against Northeastern. But that’ll hardly be enough.

When Cahoon left, UMass had an opportunity to improve its program vastly. As Providence, Massachusetts-Lowell and Connecticut have showed, both on the ice and in recruiting, all it takes is a good coaching hire to change things. Micheletto may well be the answer, but the returns to this point suggest UMass missed badly on this hire. And it’s set the program back even further as a result.

Providence set up well for second-half run

A poor October and a strong November put Providence in fairly good shape as the end of its first half approaches.

The Friars close the first half with a game against Colgate Tuesday night in Providence. A win would give PC nine wins from 16 games to start the year. It’s not exactly what was expected of the Friars, but it’s promising enough.

The Friars start the second half against UMass on Dec. 28 in Burlington, Vt., as part of the Catamount Cup. The games at UVM are two of the six non-conference games the Friars have to start the second half. Currently, PC is fourth in Hockey East.

With 12 Hockey East games remaining, there’s plenty of chance to make up ground. A series with UML in January stands as the Friars’ best chance to cement themselves as a real contender in the league.

Statistically, the improvements PC has made since a 1-3-2 October bode well moving forward. Goaltender Jon Gillies’ save percentage is a .967 in the last nine games. Backup Nick Ellis shut out New Hampshire in the only game Gillies didn’t play.

Providence’s scoring hasn’t picked up to the level it’ll need to. However, a first-shalf shooting percentage at just more than 6 percent — along with a healthy Mark Jankowski — suggests some more goals should start to come.

The league’s regular-season title is likely out of reach for the Friars at this point. They’re only two games back of UML and Boston University in the league standings, but neither figures to take much of a step back in the second half.

Solidifying its spot in the top four to earn a first round playoff bye and improving its Pairwise position would mean a successful second half. Providence is in great shape to do both of those.

Nothing’s really changed for Northeastern

It’s been a good couple weeks for Northeastern. The Huskies are 3-1-0 in their last four games after playing their first 10 before recording a win.

There have certainly been some areas of improvement for the Huskies. But it’s difficult to see this run as little more than a small uptick in bad season.

The Huskies outplayed Minnesota on Nov. 29 to earn what of the more surprising wins of the season. Moreover, Clay Witt is returning to the form he found last season when he was one of the better goaltenders in the country.

Still, the Huskies haven’t improved too much. A split with PC last weekend is a good enough result to make up some of the ground it sacrificed over the season’s first five weeks. The Friars, however, still outshot NU on both nights, and it took Witt stopping 37 of 38 shots on Saturday the beat the Friars. Witt’s good enough to do that every so often, but no one is good enough to make that a habit.

UConn’s building, but don’t expect much in the second half

All three of UConn’s wins this season have against teams expected to compete for championships.

There have been some nice stories, but the Huskies haven’t really outperformed expectations for the season.

They’re 3-8-4. Mike Cavanaugh and has staff have assembled a smart team that doesn’t give its opponents many prime scoring chances. When they do, sophomore Rob Nichols and his .928 save percentage have kept the Huskies in games.

It’s pretty clear that Cavanaugh should have something in Storrs in the next few years. Whether they’ll be playing for championships within five years is still up for debate. Either way, the Huskies have hardly been the doormat many expected them to be.

But let’s not pretend the Huskies are more than a bad team with premium goaltending. UConn is the worst puck possession team in Hockey East based on shot totals. They’ve scored the fewest goals in Hockey East. A few more goals should come in the second half; UConn is shooting 6.8 percent on the season. This number is low but not heard of for low-skill teams.

Cavanaugh and his staff have a few high-quality players committed for the next few seasons. The Huskies are going to get better gradually. Wins over Quinnipiac, BC and Vermont are all good signs, but 3-8-4 means the Huskies are, more or less, what everyone thought they were.

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