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Minutemen host Eagles Friday, travel to UM Lowell Saturday

After concluding its longest road trip to date this season, in which it faced three consecutive ranked opponents, things don’t get any easier for the Massachusetts hockey team this weekend.

The No. 9 Minutemen get two more tough opponents when they host No. 15 Boston College at the Mullins Center on Friday, and play No. 8 UMass Lowell at Tsongas Arena the following day.

The two games come on the heels of a 5-4 overtime loss to then-No. 9 Quinnipiac over Thanksgiving break. The games present an opportunity for UMass (9-3-0, 5-2-0 Hockey East) to climb further in the Hockey East rankings, particularly if it defeats BC (6-3-2, 4-3-2 HEA), as both teams are tied for second in the conference in points.

“These are going to be some big games because we want to stay on top of the leader board in the Hockey East,” forward Casey Wellman said.

Despite the Minutemen playing in the toughest part of their schedule thus far, UMass coach Don Cahoon isn’t concerned with opponent rankings.

“Any game we play on our schedule is a potentially ranked team,” Cahoon said. “They might be not ranked at that moment, but if they were coming in here, we should give them all the respect that a great opponent would deserve. We can’t be worried about our schedule because our schedule is just too difficult week-to- week to think there are peaks and valleys, they’re all hard.”

The Eagles enter this weekend having had their hands full in their last four games, which were all decided by one goal or less. For BC, UMass marks the beginning of seven consecutive road games, which will spill into 2010.

In the all-time series with the Minutemen, the Eagles hold a 39-10-3 advantage dating back to 1920. Recently, however, UMass is 5-6-1 since 2005-06.

Last season, BC won a pair of 2-0 shutouts to take the series, 2-1. The lone victory for UMass came in a 4-3 overtime game, which was the first time ever that the Minutemen topped a national champion. The game also set a Mullins Center attendance record at 8,389, which will attempt to be broken with “OPERATION 8K” on Friday night.

Cahoon knows that this Eagles team is younger than the one UMass faced last year, but he isn’t overlooking their talent.

“BC is as talented a team as there is in the league,” he said. “What they’re working through right now is having three freshmen taking regular shifts, three very talented freshmen, but freshmen nonetheless playing in tough positions on the defensive end. Having said that, they probably have the most talented group of forwards, and they have great ability in creating quick strike opportunities.”

On the other hand, Cahoon views Lowell (8-4-1, 4-3-1 HEA) as the most mature team in the conference.

“Lowell is the most mature team in the league, and they have the most veterans,” he said. “They have essentially the same team returning from their fine end of season second half effort last year, and they’re off to a great start this year. They’ve lost a couple close games, but they’ve lived up to the billing, so they’ll be particularly challenging in their building.”

Coming into the matchup with the Minutemen, the River Hawks have dropped their last two games against Maine and Providence after a 5-0-1 stretch. The losses have dropped Lowell in the national rankings from No. 3 to No. 8.

The River Hawks lead the all-time series with UMass, 30-16-6, while the Minutemen have gone 3-9-2 since 2005-06. When playing in Tsongas Arena, however, UMass has played better, as it holds a 10-12-2 record overall, and a 3-3-1 record dating back to 2005-06.

Lowell currently sits right behind the Minutemen and BC in the Hockey East standings with nine points, tying them with the Black Bears (6-7-1, 4-4-1 HEA) and Vermont.

With UMass 2-1 so far in this five-game stretch, the results of these last two games could be significant in the standings, and going forward the rest of the season.

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

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