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Minutemen face stiff competition over break

The month of January, and more importantly its play over winter break, can be a vital for the Massachusetts hockey team.

Just take a look at the records down the stretch of the No. 15 Massachusetts hockey team the past two seasons. In the 2008-09 season, the Minutemen entered January with a 9-7-1 record. After playing to a 2-4-2 record in the month of January, UMass continued to slide, going 4-7-0 for the remainder of the regular season and finishing with a 15-18-3 record.

The 2007-09 season was no better, as the Minutemen had a strong start to the season, a 9-3-5 record. But a 0-5-1 January sent UMass in a downward spiral that continued into February (2-6-2), ending the season at 15-18-3.

Over winter break, it will be a priority for UMass to build some momentum during the month of January to carry them through the stretch run of the season. Here is a look at the schedule they will face in between semesters.

Dec. 29 vs. Union

The second to last non-conference game for the Minutemen and the opening round of the UConn Tournament. UMass will take on the No. 20 Dutchmen – the first top 20 ranking for UC in nine years – that has played well early this year. UC (7-3-5, 3-0-3 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference) has a 3-3 tie with No. 8 Yale and most recently a 2-2 with No. 5 Cornell on its resume.

Dec. 30 vs. UConn/Bentley

Host UConn will square off with Bentley, with the winner advancing to the finals of the UConn Tournament and the other to the consolation game. If UMass comes out on top of Union, they’ll face the winner between the two in its final non-conference game. Taking the tournament would give the Minutemen some momentum heading into January and the remainder of its Hockey East Schedule.

Jan. 2 at Boston University

The Terriers don’t have the No. 2 ranking they had when UMass beat them 3-2 earlier this season, and few expected them to be in second-to-last place in the Hockey East at this point in the season. But they still can’t be overlooked, because they are the defending national champions.

BU has dropped from the rankings, but it has played strong at times –  a 5-4 overtime victory at UMass Lowell and a 3-3 tie to New Hampshire. UMass coach Don Cahoon will not let the Minutemen look past this team, especially with it being the middle game of a five game road trip.

Jan. 9 at New Hampshire

The Minutemen split with UNH in the middle of November at home, but the No. 19 Wildcats have become a new team since then. Going 4-0-1 since then has propelled UNH into the national rankings and to the top of the Hockey East standings. The Wildcats have also protected their home ice well this season, going 4-1-2 in Durham with wins over UMass Lowell and BU and ties against Miami (Ohio) and Boston College.

Jan. 10 at Northeastern

This will be the first meeting of the year for these two squads, and the final game of UMass five-game road trip. While the Huskies have a sub-.500 record overall and in Hockey East, they currently sit just one point behind UMass in the conference standings, but have played two more games.

Despite the long road trip, finishing strong against the Wildcats and Huskies will allow the Minutemen to pull closer or further away from some teams, as they push to finish in the top four spots in the standings to host the first round of the Hockey East Tournament.

Jan. 15/16 vs. UMass Lowell

When UMass traveled to Lowell last weekend to face No. 9 UMass Lowell, it didn’t go as planned. Despite tying the game up in the third period, two late goals by the River Hawks put the game out of reach.

With the schools only separated by one point in the standings – with UML having played an additional game so far – it would not come as a surprise if these games play a large role in the standings.

Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at jlarnard@dailycollegian.com.

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