UMass looks to extend winning streak
The tough three-game losing streak experienced by the Massachusetts hockey team over winter break may have been the best thing to happen to it this season.
With all its remaining games against conference opponents in a tight Hockey East race, the losing streak sent a wake-up call through UMass’ locker room just in time.
“I think the three-game stretch was kind of a huge wake-up call, its not like we were losing those games 3-2 or in overtime, we got absolutely spanked,” UMass goaltender Paul Dainton said. “It was a huge wake-up call and the guys in there, their attitudes changed, it humbled our team a bit.”
The humbling paid off as the No. 15 Minutemen (14-8-0, 9-6-0 HEA) had a newfound focus, and responded with a three-game winning streak that propelled them to third place in the conference standings, just three points behind first-place New Hampshire.
UMass hopes to extend that streak this weekend when they host No. 17 Vermont for a two game set at the Mullins Center on Saturday and Sunday.
“[Vermont is] a very skilled team and we’ve had success playing against them in the past so we’re looking forward to this weekend,” Dainton said.
UMass’ most recent success against the Catamounts (11-7-2, 5-6-2 HEA) came back on Nov. 24 when the Minutemen pulled off a 6-2 victory thanks to a Casey Wellman hat trick and five assists by the nations leading scorer, James Marcou.
While there is an opportunity for four points this weekend, UMass coach Don Cahoon is only concerned about the two points his team can earn on Saturday at this point.
“In terms of the four points, I can’t be dealing with four points, I got to take care of the two on Saturday,” Cahoon said. “We’ll worry about Sunday when Sunday comes. Everything we’re gearing to is a good performance on Saturday night.”
To prepare his team for Saturday’s contest, Cahoon is putting emphasis on a high level of execution in the team’s practices this week in hopes of building a strong focus and mindset.
One aspect of this weekend’s series that benefits the Minutemen is how both games are played at home, a place UMass has played at just once in its last seven games.
“We don’t have to worry about picking up and going anywhere,” Cahoon said about playing both games this weekend at the Mullins Center. “We’ve played one game back here since the break and it was nice to get home. We had been away for a long time, so knowing we’re going to be here the entire weekend I think it is a healthy thing for our team.”
One aspect that has stood out in the Minutemen’s three-game winning streak is the ability for the offense to finish games that the defense and goaltending have kept close.
“There have been games where the defense has stolen a couple of games but then there have been games when the forwards have put up 5 or 6 goals and the defense hasn’t been there and the goaltending hasn’t been there,” Dainton said. “We definitely complement each other pretty well but if we just go in with the game plan to give the team a chance to win every single game, they’ll take care of the rest.”
Saturday’s contest against the Catamounts will take place at 7 p.m. and will be followed by a 3 p.m. game on Sunday and can be seen on ESPNU.
Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.