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Inexperience an issue for Minutemen of late

The Massachusetts hockey team is going through some growing pains.

With nine freshmen in their regular lineup, the Minutemen show a youthful resiliency, but cannot make up for their inexperience.

UMass played a home-and-home series this weekend against Providence, earning a 3-3 draw at the Mullins Center on Friday and dropping a game on the road on Saturday, 3-2. With positive contributions from many of its freshmen, UMass coach Don Cahoon has also noticed this group making key mistakes in game situations which they must learn from.

“It seems to show itself,” said Cahoon, “every game this season there seems to be a young person’s big mistake that costs us.

“We need to grow out of those. There are so many things that can happen, it’s almost like you have to experience them one at a time with these guys to get the lesson learned.”

On Friday, the Minutemen (0-4-2, 0-2-2 Hockey East) tied Providence by rallying to score a power play goal with three minutes remaining, but their play through the first two periods was indicative of their inability to hold a lead early in games.

After getting out to an early 1-0 advantage in the first period, they allowed the Friars to tie the game with 1:20 second left in the opening period. Then, in the second frame, a go-ahead goal with just under one minute to play gave the Minutemen a 2-1 until the equalizer came 42 seconds later.

The second Providence goal was attributable to a misplay by the Minutemen defense. A freshman defender attempted to clear the puck out of the zone, wrapping the puck around the boards. The clear attempt was botched and the puck found its way back to the net, where Kyle MacKinnon netted a shot in the final second of the period to tie the game going into intermission.

Goalie Paul Dainton understands there is a learning curve for his team, which features three freshmen defensemen in its rotation.

“That’s a young mistake [and] we talked to that individual,” Dainton said. “He’s going to bounce back fine. That’s one thing that we have perspective of this year. We have a young team and there are going to be young mistakes. It’s how you bounce back from them and how quickly you get them solved.”

The young UMass squad appears to have a short memory, shown in its ability to come back in close games to amend its mistakes.

The Minutemen have lost one game by more than one goal, a 5-3 season-opening loss at Minnesota on Oct. 8. Since then, it has been involved in three one-goal losses and two ties.

In their season opener, the Minutemen cut a two-goal deficit to one twice during the third period. The following day, down 3-0 in the first period, they fought to make it 4-3 going into the third period.

Six of the 17 UMass goals this season have come from freshmen, including three from Mike Pereira, who scored one goal in each of the two games this past weekend.

First-year Jeff Teglia minded the Minutemen net while Dainton was out with an injury, playing well enough to give UMass a chance to win, according to Cahoon. He has played in three games this season with a goal against average of 3.54 and a save percentage of .894.

Cahoon has an inkling that his freshmen need time to adjust to a full-length game, questioning whether his team is physically ready to compete with older teams for 60 minutes.

“There are nine freshmen on the ice, so shift after shift, do they have the same level of endurance?” Cahoon said. “It’s not that they aren’t well-conditioned, but do they have the same strength? Can they play as hard for as long as a group of guys that have been training for two or three years?”

Cahoon is interested to see how his team reacts as they become more acclimated to the speed and physical demand of the college game. In the meantime, he plans to make changes in his lineup to compensate for it.

Dan Gigliotti can be reached at dgigliot@student.umass.edu.

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