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Scoring offense paying off for Minutemen

If Niagara doesn’t limit the Massachusetts hockey team’s power-play opportunities this weekend, it could be in for a long day, unlike the many closely contested games the team has played in this season.

The Minutemen (4-1-0, 3-1-0 Hockey East) and Purple Eagles (0-5-1, 0-0-0 College Hockey America) will square off in a home-and-home series beginning Friday at the Mullins Center and concluding Sunday at Dwyer Arena, after previously meeting on only four other occasions.

Though Niagara has yet to come up with a victory this season, it has had a tough schedule, playing each opponent down to the wire, resulting in five of its contests being decided by one score or less.

If the Purple Eagles hope to keep the games close this weekend, they will have to stay out of the penalty box against a high-powered UMass offense.

Heading into the weekend, the Minutemen rank sixth in the nation and first in the Hockey East in scoring offense, averaging 3.8 goals per game. On the other side of the puck, UMass is second in the conference in scoring defense, allowing 2.4 goals per game. In three of their five games, the Minutemen have scored five goals, and are 4-0 in contests where they score at least three times.

The specialty of the offensive attack, however, is the power play, which has accounted for most of UMass’ goals this season (11-of-19). Their man-advantage unit ranks third best in the country and tops in the Hockey East, going 11-for-36, a 30.6 percent success rate.

The top line for the Minutemen, which consists of James Marcou, T.J. Syner, and Casey Wellman, has been able to create a lot of offense. The line itself has been responsible for 22 of the team’s 55 total points this year.

UMass coach Don Cahoon has been pleased with the unit’s play on the man-advantage, but wants them to perform better when opponents are at full strength.

“It’s a great weapon on the power play because that’s where they get all [of] their goals,” Cahoon said. “Five-on-five, it’s got to become more of a weapon.”

Though the Minutemen have had strong performances from their top line, the scoring has been very much spread around. UMass boasts 10 different players who have scored at least once, 15 who have recorded at least one point, and four different players who have scored game-winning goals.

“It’s hard for teams to defend you when they know the offense could come from a lot of different sources,” Cahoon said. “Having a defensive core that is capable of producing some offense makes our team a little bit more difficult to zone in on in terms of defending.”

Injuries setting in

As well as the Minutemen have played this season, it hasn’t been without a few bumps and bruises.

Chase Langeraap has had difficulties returning to the ice after getting hurt in the beginning of the season. According to Cahoon, Langeraap has experienced two or three different problems that have held him back.

Syner will be sitting out on Friday, which will affect UMass’ top line and give it a new look.

Fortunately for the Minutemen, the roster has been bolstered in the offseason, allowing UMass to not miss a beat when a player goes down.

“Injuries are a part of the equation,” Cahoon said. “One of the things we’ve been able to do of late is recruit a team that offers some depth,  so someone’s misfortune becomes someone’s opportunity.”

Marcou honored by Hockey East

After finishing October with 11 points on two goals and nine assists, 2008-09 All-American James Marcou was named the Hockey East Player of the Month for the second time in his career.

The junior forward ranks third nationally in points and sixth in assists, as well as leading the Hockey East in points, power-play points and assists this season.

“He’s everything you could hope for in an offensive dynamic player at the college level,” Cahoon said. “It’s a well deserved award, but as James knows, that’s ancient history right now, so we’re just moving forward.”

Jay Asser can be reached at jasser@student.umass.edu.

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