Minutemen add size, look to make impact in Hockey East

By Scott Cournoyer

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To put it bluntly, the 2010-11 season for the Massachusetts hockey team was a campaign to forget.

With 14 freshmen and five contributing seniors departed from ’09-10, along with defensive miscues, shaky goaltending and the inability to score on opportunistic chances, UMass plummeted to a 6-23-6 overall record, including a 5-16-6 record against Hockey East opponents.

The Minutemen relied on undersized forwards and defensemen to dictate the flow and pace of the game, using speed and fluid movement in and out of the zones to move the puck. This style of play didn’t fare well for UMass in tight contests, as it dropped 10 one-goal games.

This season, the Minutemen return many players from last year and have also brought in recruits that will bring more size and physicality, hoping to create more balance on both ends of the ice.

“Last season, our strength was our movement and our speed,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “We weren’t able to own strategic pieces of the ice, mainly in front of the net. Now, we’re going to do a better job at defending our own grade A and penetrating in the offensive zone.”

Two key factors to make that happen are seniors Danny Hobbs and T.J. Syner, who each made huge leaps during their junior years last season.

Hobbs, who racked up 12 goals and 16 assists, good for second on the team, has been encouraged by the progress he saw during camp earlier last month.

“All of these guys are going to feel more comfortable each day,” said Hobbs. “We’re going to see that progression. They just have to be themselves and do what they’re capable of doing.”

Syner, who scored nine goals and totaled 27 points in ’10-11, like Cahoon, too realizes that balance on both ends will only help the team going forward this season.

“I think last year’s team was one of the fastest teams we’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Syner. “This year, we have more size and that’s only going to help. Hopefully, it will translate into good things for us.”

Sophomore Michael Pereira will also be looked upon to help carry the load offensively. Pereira tied Hobbs for the team-high in goals (12) last year, as well as posting 13 assists, good for third on the team in points (25).

“Mike [Pereira] has a deceptive shot, crafty, a head for getting to the net,” said Cahoon. “However, he can learn to shoot the puck a bit better from a range. He’s got such a good shot that if it can get to the net more often, it can really be the difference.”

A major part of becoming more physical in the Hockey East is having the players with the size and strength to do so. With the development of sophomore Adam Phillips and senior Michael Marcou, who played big parts in dictating defensive pressure in the neutral zone, along with the recruitment of Oleg Yevenko, a 6-foot-7 freshman , the Minutemen may have the size they’ve been looking for to hang with defensive lines in the conference.

“We like the idea of having a little bit of everything out there,” said Cahoon. “If I feel that putting a physical lineup out there gives us the best chance to win, I will. The physicality is definitely there.”

Despite more scorers returning this year and a bigger lineup present, the position of goaltender will undoubtedly be the team’s gage for success. After the departure of four-year starter Paul Dainton, UMass will look to fill the void left behind.

With four goalies on the roster, the early frontrunner for the starting job in net is sophomore Jeff Teglia. Teglia played nine games in net while Dainton was out early last season with an injury, competing against nationally ranked opponents Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire and Boston University.

“He’s got great athleticism and he’s a really good human being,” said Cahoon. “So, you know that he’s going to do everything possible to prepare himself the best he can.”

Despite going through what Teglia called “rough, bumpy roads” last season, the sophomore worked relentlessly over the offseason to make leaps in his game.

“I worked on a lot of fundamentals this summer, staying here for a month and also getting in the gym a lot to prepare myself,” said Teglia. “I’ve worked on a lot of angles to pucks and I’m really happy with the work that I put in this summer.”

Other contenders include senior Kevin Moore, who Cahoon said is “a very important piece to the team,” as well as freshmen Kevin Boyle (Manalapan, N.J.) and Steve Mastalerz (Meriden, NH).

With the ability to capitalize on offense in close games, physical play in the neutral and defensive zones and sound goaltending by whomever is appointed in net, UMass may be able to turn the Hockey East upside down with its play in ’11-12.

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at [email protected].