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Hockey East teams off to unexpected starts

The Massachusetts hockey team heads into this weekend’s matchup against Maine undefeated atop the Hockey East standings. Meanwhile, defending national champion Boston University is winless and dead last in the conference.

Such streaks, though, are not expected to run throughout the season in a conference that has provided some of the nation’s best teams in recent years.

As part of the Hockey East conference, the Minutemen (2-0, 1-0 Hockey East) have a perennially difficult schedule with the conference lined up with numerous ranked teams every year. This year is no different as the stiff competition from across Hockey East boasted six ranked teams entering the season.

“I think it will be difficult for most teams to jump over each other and teams are going to go back and forth,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. We’d like to separate ourselves from the pack on that basis. That’s a real challenge.”

While the Minutemen were performing an upset of their own last week against then-No. 2 Boston University, other teams around college hockey were creating some parity. Providence, which won just seven games last season, upset then-No. 7 Notre Dame while New Hampshire worked its way to a 5-5 tie against top-ranked Miami University.

Such activity, especially early on in the season, isn’t a surprise to Cahoon, who said college hockey has gotten extremely even in recent years.

“I think that there’s been parity in college hockey for the last five years that’s been unprecedented,” he said.

After their huge win against the Terriers on Friday, the Minutemen play Maine (1-3) at home. While, at first glance, the Black Bears look like an easier matchup on paper for UMass, Cahoon said that, especially in Hockey East, there are no easy games.

“I think our team has learned to understand that every game’s a big game, that the two points are just as big this weekend as they were last season,” he said. “And so we’re not talking about dropping off. We’re talking about getting better as a team and that translates into being prepared for every team we play against.”

UMass, which was left just out of the rankings this week as the leading non-ranked vote-getter, is looking to avoid the upset loss that they dealt to BU just a week before against a Maine team that has not gotten much buzz so far this season.
Though the Minutemen won both meetings last season, Maine remained in a position to win the game both times, sending the second into overtime.

Even with the Minutemen in the midst of a four-game stretch against Hockey East opponents, the Cahoon and his players are looking ahead to only their game with the Black Bears.

“I’m concerned about the one-game stretch [with] Maine Friday night,” Cahoon said. “That’s when you get into trouble, trying to predict where you are three or four games from now. We’ve got to get ready a real good game on Friday night and then we’ll worry about the next one.”

The overlying parity of the conference, though, could be what gives UMass success this year. Picked to finish seventh in the preseason standings, the Minutemen would love nothing more to play the spoiler to the top teams of the conference.

“We definitely have as good a chance as anyone,” Cahoon said. “We have experience in the goal, we have experience on defense and we have some experience up front. We’ve had a good group of guys that seem to be willing to take care of their personal lives and love the game and if we can parlay all of that into performance, I like our chances as well as anybody.”

Nick O’Malley can be reached at nomalley@student.umass.edu.

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