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Rising Minutemen look to take down Catamounts

Coming off of its overtime win against then-No. 9 Yale, the Massachusetts hockey team looks to continue its hot streak and close the two-point lead held by New Hampshire and Boston College atop the Hockey East standings.

The No. 11 Minutemen (8-2-0, 6-2-0 HEA) enter the matchup against the No. 18 Catamounts, who dropped in the USCHO national rankings this week after splitting last weekend’s series with Boston College, winning four out of their last five games and climbing in the rankings.

However, for UMass coach Don Cahoon, rankings are not a big factor heading into Tuesday’s game or any matchup.

“Every team we play is capable of beating us and we’re capable of beating anybody we play,” Cahoon said. “Rankings don’t really have a lot to do with how the game is played out. [Vermont] is a good team, but so is every team we play.” 

Statistically, the Catamounts (4-4-1, 3-3-1 HEA) are far from the most dazzling team on UMass’ schedule. Vermont currently ranks seventh in the conference in scoring offense (3.00) and eighth in scoring defense (3.44), scoring 0.70 less goals per game than the Minutemen while giving up almost over a goal more per game.

What the statistics fail to show, though, is the grueling schedule that Vermont has played up until this point. After opening up the season with back-to-back games against then-No. 1 Denver and splitting the series, the Catamounts notched a win over then-No. 14 Boston College to start off a string of seven-straight conference games in which they went 3-3-1.

Six of Vermont’s nine games this season have been against ranked opponents, including three games against BC and a tie against then-No. 8 UMass-Lowell. UMass, on the other hand, has played just two ranked opponents so far this season, winning games against then-No. 2 BU and last week’s win against Yale.

Cahoon isn’t letting his team get complacent with the recent wins, though, as he and the Minutemen focus on the Catamounts.

“Last game is last game,” Cahoon said. “It’s nice that we played as hard as we did and determined as we did, and hopefully it carries over to define who we are. We just have to be able to stay ready for whatever is thrown our way over the course of the evening.”

Like the team’s recently lowered rankings, the Catamounts’ low standings in Hockey East statistics aren’t something that gives pause to Cahoon, who is preparing for a team that has been consistently competitive in the conference in recent years.

“Vermont is a very disciplined team and they stick to a game plan,” Cahoon said. “They play start to finish. If you don’t break that rhythm they get into, then they can really shut an opponent down. Very defensive oriented, they manage to work real hard to score their goals. They have great goaltending and they’re particularly tough to play at home.”

Where the Minutemen appear to have a legitimate advantage, though, is on the power play.

The man advantage has been the weapon of choice for the UMass offense so far this season, with the Minutemen converting 26.5 percent of the time.

Though not as potent as earlier in the season when it was scoring upwards of 30 percent of the time, the UMass power play will be a major factor against a Vermont team that ranks dead last in the conference in power play scoring and net goals with its special teams. In the season, the Catamounts have scored only five goals in 41 power-play chances.

The Vermont penalty kill has also been suspect, surrendering goals on 23.5 percent of opportunities. UMass, meanwhile, has killed 82.4 percent of penalties this season, including 17 of the last 18.

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

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