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UMass takes on Purple Eagles in home-and-home

The No. 19 Massachusetts hockey team takes a break from Hockey East play this weekend with a home-and-home series against Niagara. The Minutemen host the Purple Eagles on Friday, and travel to Niagara Sunday for an afternoon game

UMass (4-1-0, 3-1-0 Hockey East) is off to one of its best starts in recent history, with its first loss coming in last weekend’s split against Providence. On paper, the Minutemen seem to have a big advantage against the winless Purple Eagles (0-5-1, 0-0-0 College Hockey America). UMass coach Don Cahoon, though, says that Niagara is a much more dangerous team than its record indicates.

“Niagara hasn’t won a game yet,” Cahoon said. “However, they’ve gone to Michigan, a one-goal game, [and] they’ve lost a game in overtime to Cornell. Those are two of the most difficult rinks in college hockey to play in, [and] they lost an empty-net goal game to Colgate.”

“They’ve played everybody they’ve played, tooth and nail, and they haven’t had a home game. I look at this and I say, ‘This team is going to compete, and it’s going to be a hell of a game,’” Cahoon said.

The Minutemen are 4-0 all time against the Purple Eagles, winning their most recent contest 6-2 on Dec. 1, 2006. Such success, though, is the exact thing that Cahoon says the Minutemen cannot afford to get lost in.

“Coming off the loss to Providence, we can’t get bogged down with who we’re playing and what they’ve accomplished,” Cahoon said. “There’s not a team on our schedule that can’t beat us. So, we simply have to get ourselves prepared to compete and play.”

However, the Minutemen do have all of the odds in their favor. UMass’ Hockey East-leading 3.8 goals per game dwarfs Niagara’s 2.7. On defense, the Minutemen have allowed 2.4 goals per game compared to the Purple Eagles’ 3.7 average.

Where UMass has the greatest advantage, though, is on the power play. Playing with the man advantage has been the key to offensive success so far this year for the Minutemen, who are currently ranked third in the nation with a 31 percent conversion rate of the power play. Niagara, meanwhile, has only one power-play goal on 25 chances, good for a four percent conversion rate.

In goal, UMass goalkeeper Paul Dainton’s performance this season currently outshines the collective effort of the three players Niagara has played in goal. With junior Adam Avramenko seeing the bulk of the time between the pipes, the Purple Eagle’s goalies have combined for a 3.54 goals against average and a 0.891 save percentage. Dainton, meanwhile has a 2.41 goals against average and a 0.928 save percentage, playing every minute in goal this season for UMass.

What the teams have in common, though, is that they’ve both been outshot by their opponents on the season. The Purple Eagles have been outshot 202-174 on the season. Meanwhile, though a narrow margin, opponents have outshot the Minutemen 166-165. In fact, the only game in which UMass outshot the opponent was in the loss to the Friars.

Such numbers though won’t matter this weekend for Cahoon, who isn’t looking at his team as having an advantage.

“We can’t even be concerned about what they’ve done or what they haven’t done,” he said. “We’ve got to be concerned about getting ourselves moving in the right direction, and taking care of Friday night and worrying about anything after that after.”

For Cahoon, Niagara’s winless record is more of a concern than a relief, saying that any team that has come as close as they have will be both desperate and dangerous.

“Every game offers a set of difficulties, and there’s a difficulty going into this game, dealing with a wounded team. Like fighting a wounded animal, they’re going to be scrapping for everything they can get, and then Sunday we’ll deal with that on Sunday.”

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

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