March 3, 2015

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UMass looks for elusive first win in pre-Thanksgiving matchup

With more than a week past its last game, the Massachusetts hockey team will suit up on Tuesday night for a pre-Thanksgiving matchup against Vermont.

Both teams are coming off wild finishes in their previous contests. The Minutemen (0-6-3, 0-3-3 Hockey East) scored the go-ahead goal on New Hampshire with just one minute and two seconds left in the third period of the Nov. 13th meeting in Durham. UNH, however, answered just 20 seconds later to cement a 3-3 draw.

That same day, the Catamounts (1-4-3, 1-3-2 HEA) earned their first win of the year against No. 7 Boston College. The two teams combined to score five goals in the final period en route to a 5-3 victory for Vermont.

Vermont’s win against BC left UMass as the lone team in the Hockey East without a win. The Catamounts are tied for eighth place in the standings with UMass-Lowell, while UMass is in 10th. However, only five points separate the league’s third and 10th place teams.

With the current standings shaped the way they are, UMass coach Don Cahoon knows that a change in attitude is needed from the players after their time off in order to get the elusive first victory of the season.

“We need to if we want to get ‘W’s,” Cahoon said. “We’ve got to be a little bit more sure of ourselves, a little more committed to what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. If we can get that competitiveness and execution in tune with one another, it will lend itself to getting better results.”

The Catamounts feature senior forward Wahsontiio Stacey as their leading goal scorer. Stacey’s six goals are twice the amount of the next Catamount player and are well on pace to break his personal total of nine goals tallied last year. Only three other players in the conference have more goals than Stacey.

UMass is not sure yet which specific players are going to matchup against Stacey, only that the top defensemen will be on the ice at the same time as him. Cahoon, however, is keen on other areas of Vermont’s game that need to be addressed.

“Their goaltender [junior Rob Madore] has been a consistent performer,” Cahoon said. “They traditionally are a real good defensive team. They defend grade A and it’s really tough to get second chance opportunities against them. Their special teams have always been pretty good and they play at a pace.”

So far this season, Madore has a .917 save percentage and a 2.68 goals-against average in almost 500 minutes of play. He’s manned the goal for 99.1 percent of the Catamounts’ time on the ice.

The Minutemen hope to feel reenergized after the brief time off, using the brief stretch to regroup both physically and mentally.

“It allowed us to work a little bit more diligently on some of the areas we know we’re deficient in, special teams being our primary concern,” Cahoon said. “It allowed us to attack those areas, amend a few bodies and clear our heads.”

The break also presented the unique opportunity to approach practice with two individual weeks of preparation, using three-day cycles from Tuesday to Thursday, as well as from Saturday to Monday. Cahoon figures this approach will benefit the players by keeping things fresh and interesting.

Since 2002, UMass is 4-4-0 against Vermont in the pre-Thanksgiving game with both teams going 2-2-0 at home. Last year’s game was on Nov. 24th, with the Minutemen winning 6-2 in Burlington. UMass went 2-1 overall against Vermont last season with its two wins coming courtesy of a 9-3 advantage in goals.

Pete Vasquez can be reached at pvasquez@student.umass.edu.

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