NEHC Quarterfinal Preview: #6 Beacons Looking To Upset #3 Beavers

NEHC Quarterfinal Preview: #6 Beacons Looking To Upset #3 Beavers

BOSTON, Mass.—For the fifth-straight season, #6 UMass Boston and #3 Babson College are set to square off in the conference tournament. The Beacons will travel to the Babson Skating Center on Saturday, February 18 at 7 p.m. for the New England Hockey Conference Quarterfinals.

GAME INFORMATION

LIVE STATS LINK

VIDEO LINK

AUDIO LINK (Audio Provided by Beacons Broadcast Network broadcasters Seth Orensky and Matt Meisenbacher)

ALL-TIME SERIES: Saturday's contest will mark the ninth time in 13 years these two rivals have squared off in the conference tournament. Overall, Babson College holds a 39-16-6 edge overall and a 7-3 advantage in postseason play. The Beavers had won three-straight playoff contests, before UMass Boston defeated Babson College 3-2 in overtime in last year's inaugural New England Hockey Conference Championship Game. The Beacons have won three of the last four meetings, including earning their first-ever, three-game winning streak against Babson earlier this year.

SEASON SERIES: UMass Boston and Babson College split the season-series, with the Beacons winning at 5-1 at Fenway Park and the Beavers earning a 4-2 win at the Edward T. Barry Ice Rink.

In the first meeting, UMass Boston broke open a scoreless tie with a four-goal second period and cruised to a 5-1 overall win. After the two teams went into the first intermission tied 0-0, Ryan Cusin (Detroit, Mich.), David MacGregor (Asuza, Calif.), Nolan Redler (Winchester, Mass.) and Dakota Keene (Poland, Maine) all scored in an eight-minute span of the second. Senior Tyler Bishop (Ramsey, N.J.) added on a goal in the third, while Colin Larkin (Waterford, Mich.) paced the Beacons with his three assists. Freshman Bailey MacBurnie (Beverly, Mass.) made 37 saves on 38 shots, while Babson sophomore goalie Matt Pompa stopped 24 of 29 shots in his first career start against the Beacons.

The Beacons looked primed for their first-ever weekend sweep of the Beavers in the return match, when they raced out to a 2-0 lead after one period of play. Babson swung the tide in the second though, as Dan Casey and Charlie Ackerman scored eight seconds apart and Tommy Munichiello gave the Beavers the lead on a power-play goal. In total, the Beavers scored three goals in a 3:43 span. Ackerman added on an empty-net, power-play goal, after the Beacons were called for their sixth-straight penalty and ninth overall. Seniors Zach Lindsay (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.) and Brett Mason (Rowley, Mass.) each scored for the Beacons, while MacBurnie made 34 saves on 37 shots. Babson sophomore Bryan Botcher made a career-high 40 saves on 42 shots in his first appearance against the Beacons. 

SCOUTING THE BEAVERS: Babson is a completely different looking team since the Beacons last saw them. After coming into the January home-and-home series losers of five of their last six, the Beavers are 6-1-2 since their loss at Fenway Park. Babson went on an eight-game unbeaten streak to move into a tie for second-place in the conference, before losing 4-3 to second-seed New England College on a goal scored by the Pilgrims with less than a minute to play in regulation. During their last nine games, Babson has posted four shutouts and outscored their opponents by a 26-10 margin.

The Beavers enter the postseason as one of the top two defensive teams in the NEHC and a top-10 team in Division III in scoring defense, penalty kill percentage and penalty minutes per game. Babson has allowed just 1.92 goals per game and just 1.11 over their past nine games. They also rank first in the country in fewest penalty minutes per game (7.5) and seventh in the nation with their 88.0 percent penalty kill rate. Pompa was named to the NEHC Third Team, after leading the entire conference and ranking third in the nation in save percentage (.946) and fourth in goals against average (1.64). Botcher isn't too far behind, as the Wisconsin native ranks in the top-20 in the nation in goals against average (1.94) and save percentage (.935). Junior defenseman Jake Donahue was named to the NEHC 2nd Team, while freshman blue-liner Connor Dahlman earned a spot on the NEHC All-Rookie Team. 

After struggling on offense throughout first semester, Babson has moved into the middle of the pack in the NEHC over the past month. The Beavers rank seventh in the conference in scoring offense (2.48) and power-play conversion rate (17.6 percent). Munichiello leads six Beavers in double-figures in points, with his team-leading eight goals and 20 points. He's also tied with Ackerman for the team-lead in power-play (four) and game-winning goals (three). Senior captain Michael Phillips was named to the NEHC 2nd Team, after finishing tied for second with his 12 assists and 18 total points.

SCOUTING THE BEACONS: UMass Boston is looking to reach the NEHC Semifinals for the fifth-consecutive year, after winning their first conference tournament title since 1982 last season. The Beacons have been riding a rollercoaster all year long and have struggled to retain momentum. After starting the year on a three-game winning streak, the Beacons haven't won more than two in a row since then. They head into the NEHC Tournament riding their first three-game losing streak since February 11-18, 2011, after suffering a tough 4-3 overtime loss to St. Anselm College on Saturday.

Despite losing three of their top-four scorers from last year and a ton of offensive talent, UMass Boston has continued to be one of the top scoring teams in the nation. The Beacons rank third in the conference in scoring offense (3.80), fourth in the nation in power-play conversion rate (28.2 percent) and second in the conference in net special teams (+15). Larkin, who was named the NEHC Player of the Year and a First Team honoree on Thursday, ranks in the top-five in the nation in goals (19), power-play goals (eight) and game-winning goals (five). Cusin was named the NEHC Rookie of the Year and a Third Team NEHC selection, after leading the league in points (40) and ranking second in assists (24). Redler was the final Beacons forward to be honored on the All-Conference team, as he picked up a spot on the All-Rookie Team after posting 10 goals and 17 assists.

The Beacons defense took a predictable step backwards this year, after graduating two of the top goaltenders in program history. Freshman Jordan Bustard (Flanders, N.J.) and MacBurnie have split time in net, with both earning eight or more starts. MacBurnie has recorded a team-best 2.29 goals against average and .929 save percentage, while Bustard owns a 9-5-2 record and a .903 save percentage and 2.44 goals against average. Overall, UMass Boston sits sixth in the conference in scoring defense (2.60) and penalty kill conversion rate (80.2 percent). Bishop, who was named a First Team All-Conference selection, has led a deep defensive corps that returned all but one regular from last season. The program's top defenseman point scorer in program history sits second in the NEHC with his 23 assists and 29 points.

STATS TO KNOW: There are two huge stats when it comes to these two teams. 

  1. The first goal on Saturday could be crucial. UMass Boston is 11-3-1 when scoring first this season and just 1-7-2 when giving up the first goal. Babson is 8-2 when scoring first, versus 6-6-3 when giving up the first goal.
  2.  Saturday's game could be a race to three goals. The team that has gotten to three goals first has won nine of the last ten meetings between the two schools.