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Hockey Is Back... Five Questions to shake the dust off!

One positive of the whole coaching drama that played out in December was that it was a pleasant distraction from what would have been a maddening break in UB Hockey. It's been more than a month since UB walked over the competition at the annual 'Blizzard in Buffalo' tournament.

Fri, 8:00 PM

Sat 8:00 PM

This week the UB hockey will host Pitt and Conference Rival Niagara in the back stretch of the 2008-2009 season. The Bulls can still catch Robert Morris for the ECHL. Buffalo is currently ranked #24, but there is already an impressive number of DI teams ahead of them who will site out in the playoffs, in short only the winner of the ECHL division is likely to get a crack at the tournament.

Robert Morris 21 15 6 0 0 30
Buffalo 18 11 7 0 0 22
Canton 18 10 6 0 2 22
Niagara 20 8 9 1 2 19
Syracuse 20 6 13 0 1 13
Mercyhurst 22 6 16 0 0 12
Rochester 14 4 9 0 1 9
R.I.T 21 4 17 0 0 8
Current ECHL Standings

If UB is going to catch Robert Morris they are going to have to win games like these, Pitt is a team UB already doubled up on back in October but this is the teams first, of two, games against Niagara. Both games are at the Pepsi err.... Soon to be coke center and as per usual a UB ID gets you in for free (for those who are not UB students games cost only five dollars).

5 Questions:

1) Who does UB have to watch out for?

Pitt: The Panthers are not, at all, a high powered team. Their offense comes mainly forwards Graham Cohen and Matt Lazzaro and from their potent defense man Justin Thomas. Together these three players have accounted for 31 of Pitts 67 goals. If UB can shut these guys down they should have little trouble knocking the panthers off.

Niagara: The Purple Eagles are way more balanced with ten players having more than ten points the Bulls are going to need all of their lines to stand up the Eagles if they want to pull off htis critical divisional game.

2) How good are their Goalies?

Pitt: This has been a sore spot for the Panthers all year. As a squad they have given up nearly one hundred goals in just nineteen games. UB Dropped six goals on the panthers back in October there is no reason, other than rust, to think they cant match or exceed that total this game. The Panthers will probably put Cedric Brown in net, he has started 16 of the 19 Panther games including the home loss to UB.

Niagara: The goal tending for Niagara is slightly more solid, probably on par with Buffalo's net minders. Dane Wakefield is typically the starter but he has been bothered by a knee injury over the past month so there is a decent chance that Patrick Jankowski may see action if he did not fully heal in the month off.

3) How are they on the Power play?

Pitt: Of late the panthers are scoring about 9% of the time on the power play. The player that UB is most going to have to watch is Mike Clark who seems to have a knack for scoring with the man advantage.

Niagara: The Eagles have recently been struggling on the power play but much of that has to do with their level of competition Penn State, Washington and Jefferson, and Adrian are all solid programs and all have made NU look pretty hapless with the man advantage (6%). When they are on UB will have to watch out for Joe Baldinelli, Marc Degiuilio, and Kevin Morrison who together have 10 PPG's this season.

4) How are they Short Handed?

Pitt: On the whole they are not that bad but there have been instances where teams have absolutely buried them with power play goals (Kent). Pitt is, in their own right, dangerous while they are down a man. They have four short handed goals (Justin Thomas has two of those).

Niagara: On the whole NU seems to be a solid team while short handed, which is a great thing for NU because trouble seems to follow them wherever they go. They play a physical, borderline, game and they manage to get themselves (and their opponents) into the penalty box way too often.

Note: I started to look at the results of the Penn State game when I realized that game had to be like the old Sabres, Bruins playoff games. at least three time's saw multiple players from both teams sent off the ice, there were ejections and second man in penalties. So because of the quality of opponent and the fact the game played out like a soccer brawl I am leaving PSU/NU out of my analysis.

5) What to expect form the game?

Pitt: So long as Buffalo does not hand the Panthers too many chances they should not have too much trouble dispatching the panthers. My biggest worry is the fact that while the team does practice hard between games they have not seen a game situation for more than a month. Pitt has had almost as much time off so I expect any first period rust to affect both teams.

NU: Buffalo needs to keep their heads for this game, I won't go so far as to call NU dirty (because I have not seen them play) but the recent games against Adrian and Penn state were more like the NHL of 1980 than what we see today. Kevin Morrison has 53 penalty minutes they have five other players around 20 minutes on the season.

If Buffalo can play tough enough not to get run over, but smart enough to stay out of the box they should be able to beat the Eagles, and if they want any hope of taking the division they cant throw away any game.