Every season is unique and withstanding from past seasons. Don Cahoon, coach of the Massachusetts men’s hockey team, understands this concept. As the Cahoon Era enters its 11th campaign, the UMass coach looks at his group of 30 Minutemen and sees the difference this season will bring.
“I don’t think that I’ve ever had more fun coaching a group of [players] than I’m having right now,” Cahoon said.
Although the Minutemen (0-2-1, 0-0-1 Hockey East) saw two of the best offensive players in the country graduate last May in Casey Wellman and James Marcou, Cahoon has his players believing in a team first concept this year, in which contributions will come from everyone.
“I’ve got everyone’s interest,” Cahoon said. “People aren’t thinking ‘my role is less significant than someone else’s role.’ We don’t have that star quality. We have some really good players. It’s more of a group theme than it is individual.”
Right now, the group is still working on getting its 13 new freshmen into the mix. The Minutemen have had to mesh on the road for their first three games. It’s the first time in the history of UMass hockey that a team has started its first three games away from home.
While UMass was swept during a two-game opening weekend trip to No. 15 Minnesota, the Minutemen showed resilience in their next game at No. 10 Boston University, after trailing 2-0 and coming back to salvage a tie.
“I’m happy with the way the team battled and preserved,” Cahoon said. “They’re passionate about what they’re doing and that suggests that they’re gritty. I like that competitiveness.”
The competitiveness of the Minutemen makes their goals for the season no different than any other, despite the influx of youth into their system.
“Our goal, as any team’s goal, is to go all the way,” junior T.J. Syner said. “Once we find our team concept and everyone buys into it, we’re really going to be a great team that can do special things. Making it to the Garden is one of [our goals], then go from there; hopefully win a Hockey East championship. They’re all steps that you work towards and it starts with identifying ourselves with our team concept.”
The concept of team will be the blanketing motif around this season. There could be struggles as well as triumphs this season, but Cahoon believes in his players and knows no matter how far down his roster he goes, he will be able to depend on men with strong character and concentration.
“At any given time I’m going to be able to find 20 guys out of those 30 where the net result can be high level of energy and good level of focus and a team that’s really eager to play,” Cahoon said. “I don’t care which 20 I play, I just want to play the right 20 that night.”
The schedule offers plenty of tests for the Minutemen. They will face the top four teams in the Hockey East, according to the preseason coaches’ polls, a total of 12 times. Those four teams include Boston College, Maine, New Hampshire, and BU respectively.
Most of those matches are sprinkled evenly around the schedule, except at the end of the regular season. From Feb. 25 to March 5, UMass will play a home-and-home against BC and then host the Black Bears for two games the following weekend.
The Minutemen host Army on Nov. 5 for one game before squaring off against the Swedish National Under-20 team in an exhibition game the next day at the Mullins Center.
Other non-conference games include a home game against Quinnipiac on Nov. 27 and a two-game road trip to Wisconsin just before New Year’s on Dec. 30 and 31.
UMass will take it all in stride, with the traditional one-game approach. However, there’s still a certain amount of development that needs to happen before the team seriously threatens for the conference and national title.
“It’s the constant grind of getting through a season and trying to get your team to be perfect,” Cahoon said. “There’s only one perfect team at the end of the year and that’s the one that’s still standing in April.”
Pete Vasquez can be reached at email@example.com.