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March 22, 2017

Minutemen looking to end 3-game skid vs. Merrimack

For a team looking to avoid its longest losing streak of the season, Lawler Arena is the last place it wants to go.

But for the Massachusetts hockey team, that’s where they will be headed on Friday as they look to snap their three-game losing streak against Merrimack.

While the Warriors (11-15-1, 8-11-1 Hockey East) sit just one spot away from the bottom of the conference standings, when it comes to playing at home, they are the best. Compared to their record on the road (1-12-1), the Warriors are a stellar 10-2 at home, losing only to Northeastern and New Hampshire.

Part of what gives Merrimack the strong advantage at home is Lawler arena’s small size (200 feet x 85 feet). The Mullins Center rink is 10 feet wider than the rink at Lawler Arena.

Despite the Warriors’ impressive record at home, the size of the rink might work to No. 18 UMass’ (16-13-0, 11-11-0 HEA) advantage. Friday’s contest will be the first time the Minutemen have played at Merrimack this season, but they have played twice this season on a rink of that size. Providence plays on a sheet of ice with the same dimensions and each time UMass came away with victories, 5-3, on Oct. 30 and 4-1 on Jan. 30.

Following Friday’s contest, UMass and Merrimack will meet again Saturday in the series finale in Amherst at 7:30 p.m. The game will be aired on NESN.

The Minutemen took the first meeting of the season with the Warriors back on Dec. 12 in Amherst with a 4-1 win, but since then, the offense has dealt with struggles. In the 12 games since that four-goal performance, UMass has scored four goals just three times, compared to the nine times they did in the 15 games prior to that win.

However, the offense is not the only aspect of UMass’ squad that has struggled in its last six games, where it has lost five of six including its last three. The defense and goaltending has allowed 25 goals in the six-game stretch, an average of 4.17 per game.

UMass coach Don Cahoon made it a point to show his team what they were doing at the beginning of the season that got them wins as opposed to what they are doing now that is causing the recent struggles.

“We spent the last couple of days meeting with everybody, discussing what’s transpired,” Cahoon said. “It’s very definable, I’m not going to get into what was said specifically, but it is very definable as to when we play well and when we don’t, as to what we do and what we don’t do.”

More importantly, Cahoon has tried to establish a sense of responsibility with the team and what is expected of each member of the squad.

 “That has all been established, it is up front, kids have been shown both when they play great what they do and they all have a clear understanding of what their roles are in order to make things head in the right direction,” Cahoon said.

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

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