Minutemen set to take on RPI in hockey season opener
The Minutemen will begin their 2009 campaign, as well as kick off the college hockey season, on Thursday night when they open against Rensselaer at the Mullins Center.
UMass is eager to begin the new season after having ending last year with a heartbreaking 3-2 overtime loss at the hands of Northeastern.
“It’s kind of a double edge sword in that their anxious because their absence away from the ice has been on their mind,” Coach Don Cahoon said. “They train all the time, but they’re not getting ready to compete. In August, they start visualizing themselves in game situations, and the anxiety starts to become more pervasive.”
With the first game of the season comes the possibility of rust. Practice, conditioning, and even the preseason do not compare to regular season game action.
“We know we’re physically prepared, we know we’re in shape, but we’re not in game shape,” Cahoon said. “The good news is that RPI has the same set of issues, so it’s not like we’re dealing with a different set of circumstances.”
Against RPI all-time, the Minutemen hold a 7-4-1 record with the series, dating back to 1911. The Engineers’ last victory against the Minutemen came nearly eight years ago, on December 29, 2001, when RPI edged UMass for a 3-1 overtime win. Cahoon individually has a record of 11-10-4 in 25 career games against the Engineers, stretching back to his nine-year tenure at Princeton.
In their last meeting, the Minutemen had success against RPI with a 6-0 whitewash victory to drop the Engineers to 0-4-0 on the year. The game marked the first shutout of goalkeeper Dan Meyers’ career and the first collegiate goals by Doug Kublin, Casey Wellman and Danny Hobbs. UMass dominated on offense, winning 31 of 50 face-offs and while managing 35 shots on goal, compared to 25 for the Engineers.
The Minutemen, however, caught RPI early last season, and the Engineers struggled and were out of rhythm.
After the loss to UMass, the Engineers went 10-23-2 through the rest of their schedule, playing well enough to reach the Eastern College Athletic Conference Hockey playoffs. RPI advanced from the first round with a two-game sweep against Dartmouth in a best of three series. Then, against second-seed and No. 12 Cornell, the Engineers won the first game before losing the next two, eliminating them from postseason play. Cahoon knows that the matchup with RPI last season will not be a true test of what UMass will face Thursday.
“They’re a team that finished the season with a whole lot better feeling than they started the season,” he said. “It took them the first half of the year to catch on, and in the second half of the year, they were a lot better team. I expect that they’re going to come in here trying to pick up where they left off.”
When asked how important it will be for the Minutemen to get off to a good start with a win Thursday, Cahoon didn’t hesitate, saying everyone knows the answer to that.
“It’s a lot easier to find your way if you’re having some success. It’s a lot easier to look each other in the eye in the locker room. It’s a lot easier to keep the players attention when things are going well,” he said. “We want a good start, because it’s easier to grow and develop from that place than it is to have doubts and ill feelings about how things transpired.”
The team is ready, the campus of UMass is excited, and there’s a buzz in Amherst as they welcome back the Minutemen to the Mullins Center.
“Let’s get going, it’s time to make hay,” Cahoon said.
Jay Asser can be reached at email@example.com.