September 2, 2014

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Special teams responsible for highs and lows

Jeff Bernstein/Collegian

Call it what it is, the Massachusetts hockey team has been a streaky team all season. Currently on a two-game winning streak, UMass looks to harness a sense of consistency for the remainder of the season as it travels to Vermont this Friday for a two-game set.

Prior to their string of wins against UMass Lowell last weekend, the Minutemen (5-11-3, 4-6-3 Hockey East) were in the midst of a five-game losing streak, four of which came after the winter recess. Granted, all but one of those games featured an opponent ranked No. 15 or better in the country.

“We played great in a couple of those games in individual periods,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “But we weren’t able to sustain it, and that’s been one of my big missions, to get us to sustain high levels of play and not [have such] peaks and valleys within the course of the game.”

Cahoon attributed part of the team’s inconsistency to the sporadic play of special teams during that stretch.

“We would go out certain nights and just be horrific in penalty kill and then go out the next night and shut the opponent down,” he said. “It could be that the opponent that was shut down had the better power play, but our ability to lock in and focus has been a piece of the growth and development that we’re trying to put in place.”

The play during that five-game stretch reflected the peaks and valleys shown in their schedule at the time. Before the losing streak, UMass had created its first winning streak of the season, with three consecutive victories over Vermont, Quinnipiac and UMass Lowell from Nov. 23 to Dec. 4.

However, of late, the Minutemen have proved steadfast on special teams. The penalty kill is 14-of-14 over the last four games since allowing its last power play goal against Northeastern on Jan. 7.

So how can the team sustain the current streak and find some stability within those peaks and valleys?

“Practice hard every day, keep a positive outlook, try to give attention to detail and make everybody accountable on that front,” Cahoon said. “That’s what teachers do when you go out every day to rehearse. You drill, encourage and reprimand when you need to. Do all the things that try to get these [players] to hone in on each and every exercise.”

The Minutemen will get the next opportunity to implement these exercises on game day when they take on Vermont, which is also struggling to find consistency.

The Catamounts (4-12-4, 2-8-3 HEA) haven’t had a streak of any sort since they lost three in a row from Nov. 28 to Dec. 8 against Boston College, New Hampshire and Yale. Instead, it has alternated wins and losses for eight straight games.

The recent Achilles’ heel for the Catamounts has been the play of special teams.

“They have only given up one five-on-five goal in almost five games and they have been a real shut-down defensive team [over their last five games],” Cahoon said. “Any goals that they have given up have been on special teams or [with] an odd man lineup.”

None of Vermont’s losses within the last month have been by more than two goals.

As both of these teams continue to stabilize their weaknesses with their strengths, this weekend’s series could tell who is further along in their venture for consistency.

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

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