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HEA Season Preview: No. 6 Massachusetts

Between now and the start of the regular season, Eagle-Tribune Hockey East beat writer Mike McMahon will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, projecting the upcoming season from bottom to top. Did he rank your team too low? Leave a comment on this post or interact on Twitter@MikeMcMahonET

Last Year’s Record: 13-18-5
Projected 2012-13 Record: 16-14-4

Key Returners
Player (Pos), Yr., (GP) G-A-Pts

Conor Sheary (F), Jr., (36) 12-23-35
Michael Pereira (F), Jr., (35) 17-17-34
Joel Hanley (D), Jr., (36) 7-18-25
Branden Gracel (F), Jr., (34) 7-14-21
Steven Guzzo (F), So., (35) 10-10-20

Top Returning Goaltender
Kevin Boyle, So., 3.00, .895

The Newcomers
Player (Pos), League, (GP) G-A-Pts

K.J. Tiefenwerth (F), EJHL, (43) 30-47-77
Evan Stack (F), BCHL, (60) 32-29-61
Connor Doherty (D), EJHL, (35) 4-14-18
Shane Walsh (F), EJHL, (10) 8-7-15 (23, 5-7-12 in USHL)

Roster Analysis
Forwards –
Without question the Minutemen are strongest up front, where they return four double-digit scorers — not including Joel Hanley on the blue line — three of which happen to be just juniors and one a sophomore. With continued development from the likes of Conor Sheary, Michael Pereira, Branden Gracel and Steven Guzzo, scoring isn’t likely to be a question mark for UMass and I’d be surprised if this group doesn’t average 3+ goals per game by the time the season’s through.
What’s most impressive from that group is three of the four returning forwards also scored double-digit goals.
The Minutemen also add a pair of talented freshmen in former BC recruit K.J. Tiefenwerth and BCHL’er Evan Stack, who should be able to step into the offense immediately.

Defense –Joel Hanley is one of the stronger puck-moving defenders in the conference and he leads a pack of good offensive defensemen. Conor Allen showed flashes last year of being able to do solid work with the puck.
I would question how sound the Minutemen will be defensively. Scoring goals is great, but it can be a worthless effort if they can’t stop teams at the other end. When UMass struggles this season — and every team will have its stretches of peaks and valleys — it will be because they struggle defending.

Goaltending – Kevin Boyle’s freshman season was good enough, I guess you could say. His numbers don’t jump out at you but stretches defensive lapses in front of him certainly didn’t help his cause. History tells us that players should get better throughout the course of their career and I put a lot of value in the jump from freshman to sophomore seasons, having that first full offseason under the eye of a true strength and conditioning coach.

Why They’ll Finsih 6th
Their scoring is better than both Maine’s and Merrimack’s, at least on paper, putting them ahead of those two programs. However, average goaltending and defense keep the Minutemen from challenging for home ice.
It’s been a tumultuous offseason in Amherst, yet new blood often brings a renewed sense of hope for a program. Look at Providence and Lowell last season. It’s not as if Don Cahoon’s tenure at UMass was an utter failure. Far from it. He’s left the program in tremendous shape with a lot of talented, young scorers up front.
In other words, John Micheletto has inherited a heck of a foundation.

McMahon’s 2012-13 Hockey East Projections
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6. Massachusetts
7. Maine
8. Merrimack
9. Northeastern
10. Vermont

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