On Oct. 2, the Massachusetts hockey season officially began when it lost an exhibition match to New Brunswick, 4-3.
The result was reminiscent of last year’s opener, when the Minutemen lost a 3-2 exhibition to the same team. UMass went on to win its next four games, outscoring opponents 15-10.
Much of that early success was credited to players who are no longer on the roster, including James Marcou, Casey Wellman and Matt Irwin. All three signed contracts with the NHL upon the season’s conclusion, with Marcou and Wellman taking the anchor of the team’s first power-play unit with them.
This year, however, the Minutemen did not turn around its early defeat, instead they lost their next two games at the hands of No. 15 Minnesota last weekend. Without some of its star players, UMass’ success this year will largely depend on its new, younger roster that features 13 freshmen.
Nonetheless, the start to the regular season wasn’t exactly what UMass coach Don Cahoon envisioned, although there were certainly a few positive things he took away from the weekend.
For one, UMass showed strong resilience to close out the weekend, coming back from an early 3-0 deficit to eventually lose, 5-4. Cahoon acknowledged this in an interview conducted by UMassAthletics.com.
“We competed from behind, we showed resiliency, and we didn’t fold up in a venue where a lot of teams fold up,” Cahoon said.
Instead, UMass came out firing after the first intermission, scoring three times in the second period while registering 12 shots on goal to Minnesota’s six.
The Minutemen continued pouring shots on net in the third, outshooting the Golden Gophers, 17-10.
“I was pleased to how we responded to the adversity of being down three goals, [but] I don’t like the idea of being down three. There’s [a lot] to work on,” Cahoon said.
UMass finished with a 36-33 shot advantage. Three Minutemen registered more than five shots on goal: junior Danny Hobbs, sophomore Rocco Carzo and freshman Branden Gracel. Although Hobbs and Carzo are not seniors, they are looked at to provide a veteran presence to the young UMass team.
The absence of Wellman and Marcou on the power-play was evident, as the Minutemen went 0-5 in power play opportunities.
“We had all sorts of power-play opportunities,” Cahoon said. “I thought the last power-play we had we moved the puck around extremely well. We had a couple of open nets and we just have to bury those opportunities. I wasn’t disappointed; I thought we had some real good power play looks.”
Fortunately for the Minutemen, it didn’t take too long before they started receiving big contributions from freshmen players.
In the series-opener on Oct. 8, freshman Michael Pereira and sophomore Darren Rowe scored the first two goals of UMass’ season, both via the power-play.
“[Pereira] can make plays offensively for sure. He scored a nice goal and he had a couple of near misses. He’s very gifted,” Cahoon said. “We had some young guys play really well, some other guys made some mistakes but that’s part of the development process.”
The development process is well underway. The two-game series against Minnesota served as an opportunity for the Minutemen to gain structure and make sense out of its youthful roster.
The series also represented the last non-conference games the Minutemen will play. On Oct. 16, UMass will open its Hockey East schedule when they travel to Boston for a match against No. 10 ranked Boston University.
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.