“We’re very anxious,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “We’ve got a tall order and that’s good because the whole league is a tall order. I remember an old Harvard coach saying years and years ago ‘Minnesota: the land of 10,000 lakes. It’s pretty cold out there; they probably have some pretty good hockey players.’ So they’re going to very good.”
UMass is coming off an 18-18-0 season, during which it went 9-8-0 versus ranked teams, the program’s best all-time record against ranked opponents. This is only the second and third time UMass will face Minnesota in program history, with the only other matchup against the Gophers coming in 2004 at the Nye Frontier Classic, in which the Gophers won, 1-0.
Cahoon has a career 1-1-0 record against the Gophers. However, he is still very aware of this weekend’s opponent.
“I know quite a bit about the building they play in, the types of teams they package,” Cahoon said. “They’re a great program and have been for many, many years. [Minnesota coach] Don Lucia is an excellent coach.”
The Gophers finished last season with an 18-19-2 mark, with their offense managing 2.72 goals per game last season, an average of about 0.5 less than the year before. However, the team expects the offense to perform better this season. They are counting on the return of redshirt senior and team captain Jay Barriball, who carries a team-high 102 career points with him.
UMass goalie Paul Dainton, the sole team captain for the Minutemen returns for his senior year in front of the net. He held a 3.08 goals against average last season with a .901 save percentage, and is one of the top returning goaltenders in Hockey East.
Dainton and Barriball have never faced each others’ teams. But while both teams do not have much experience against one another, Cahoon’s team will continue to work on its fundamentals.
“There’s a whole slew of things we need to get better at,” Cahoon said. “Whether it be holding opposition defensively, being a little more physically inclined in the goal area. We need to be a better shot-blocking team, more poised and collected. Our youthfulness shows itself. That comes with time and with 13 freshmen getting to be in the mix on a regular basis. And it will come, but there’s no shortage of areas to work on in practice.”
The youthful Minutemen will walk into a hostile environment at Mariucci Arena. The Gophers went 8-8-1 at their home rink last year.
“I’ve been there many times,” Cahoon said. “It’s 11,000 people just screaming their heads off. Big time gopher chants. It’s a Big Ten operation that functions at a high level. We go in and give it our best shot. We try to get places in a hurry and get there in ill humor, making it a real difficult proposition for them. Hopefully we can execute on special teams, get good goaltending and come out of there with a ‘W.’”
While Cahoon knows that every season is a unique season, over the last couple of years, UMass has gotten off to strong starts. The Minutemen started 7-1-0 last season, and began 6-2-1 in 2008-09.
In order to sustain that standard, UMass will have to play three-straight road games, something that has never been done to start a season. The road begins in Minnesota. The Minutemen will need to draw from Cahoon’s experience there to bring them their first victory of the season.
Pete Vasquez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.