Following an abysmal start, the Massachusetts hockey team has completed a 180 degree turn over the past four weeks.
The Minutemen (2-6-3, 1-3-3 Hockey East) reached their low point on November 12, when they lost to then-ranked New Hampshire in the first game of a weekend double-header, dropping their record to 0-7-2. UMass redeemed itself the following night, coming back from down 2-1 to tie 3-3. Since then, the Minutemen knocked off Vermont, 4-1, and Quinnipiac, 5-2.
The trio looks to add another conference win on Saturday against UMass Lowell (2-10-2, 2-8-0 HE). The River Hawks have lost nine of their last ten games.
The Minutemen’s newfound success was recognized by the league, which named freshman defenseman Adam Phillips the Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Week and captain Paul Dainton the Pure Hockey Defensive Player of the Week. The biggest honor was given to freshman Michael Pereira, who was named Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Month.
“We have no business being extra confident but we certainly have a level of enthusiasm which is always a plus,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said.
The Minutemen’s last two wins have put them in unfamiliar territory.
“For the first time we have a little bit of positive result to be able to use to recapture a [high] level of play,” Cahoon said. “Before, if we struggled and started heading in the wrong direction, we didn’t have anything to go back to and recapture. Now we do so hopefully we’ll utilize that.”
The River Hawks currently sit at the bottom of the Hockey East (10th). UMass has played three less games and sits in seventh place. Both teams feature 13 freshmen, many of whom are heavily relied upon every game.
UMass freshmen have contributed much of late. Phillips, a 6-foot-6 defender, scored three goals in the Minutemen’s last two wins, two of which were game-winners. Phillips finished the week with a +3 rating while taking just one penalty. Pereira has arguably been the highlight of UMass’ young season thus far as he leads the team in points with 11 in 10 games. Pereira is amongst the conference leaders in scoring as well and leads all conference freshmen with a 1.10 point per game average.
Individual statistics are nice, but Cahoon and the rest of the team prefer not to get caught up in that.
“Our issue is getting ourselves ready to play at the highest level,” Cahoon said. “It’s the quality of our play through all [game] situations and the struggles that we endure during the course of the game that will determine who wins.”
The major downfall for the River Hawks this year has been scoring, as they average just over two goals per game. Still, they boast a very solid goaltender in Doug Carr and a talented forward in Riley Wetmore. In nine starts, Carr is 2-6-1 with a save percentage of .903. The little offense Carr has received came mostly from Wetmore, who leads the team with 12 points (six goals, six assists).
“We’ll play attention to [Wetmore],” Cahoon said. “He’s a good player and he’s developed unexpectedly to some extent to be the very good player that he is. They have a couple of other guys that have a history of being productive so we’ll have to keep an eye on them.”
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.