To say the Massachusetts men’s hockey team has endured a difficult season would be an understatement. It’s not about to get any easier.
On Friday, the Minutemen will play the first of 10 remaining games against No. 1 ranked Boston College, which UMass will play again on Feb. 25. After the Eagles, the Minutemen will go on to play No. 12 Merrimack twice, No. 14 Boston University once and No. 15 Maine twice to close out the season.
Comparing the skill set between UMass and its competition over the next month is enough to consider the Minutemen as severe underdogs. Adding fatigue and injuries to UMass’ youthful roster can’t help its cause.
However, with the chips stacked against them, don’t expect any excuses from UMass coach Don Cahoon. When asked if his team is fatigued, Cahoon replied sarcastically, “Are you tired? [This won’t be discussed].”
As adamant as Cahoon is about not making excuses for his team, it’s hard to ignore the amount of injuries the Minutemen have faced in recent games. Junior defensemen Michael Marcou hasn’t played since Dec. 31, and senior winger Danny Hobbs is the latest Minuteman to go down with an injury in UMass’ last game against Northeastern, a 2-2 tie.
“Hopefully we get everybody healed so that we’ve got all our skill sets and talent ready to contribute,” Cahoon said.
In order to protect his players, Cahoon would not elaborate on the extent of his team’s injuries. He also couldn’t get into details about when he can boast a healthy roster.
“I think we’re going to get some players back and to what extent and who [and] when, that’s day to day and that’s the truth,” Cahoon said. “I could throw a couple of names out there … but until they play I can’t be sure.”
Ideally, with everyone healthy, UMass still features one of the youngest teams in the nation. The majority of its 13 freshmen see a lot of ice time game in and game out. Coaching this young group can’t be easy.
“We have to make sure that we don’t create a situation where there’s paralysis to analysis,” Cahoon said. “There [needs to be] good teaching and a foundation in place to let these kids go out and get after it.”
Prior to the season, the Minutemen were picked to finish ninth in the Hockey East standings. They currently sit in seventh with a four-point cushion between No. 8 Providence. Given everything thrown its way, a seventh place finish would exceed expectations for UMass. The top eight teams make the playoffs, so it’s likely that the Minutemen will be there. If the season ended today, UMass would travel to Boston College to play the Eagles in a best-of-three series.
What UMass does have going for itself is its grit and determination. These qualities carried the Minutemen to unlikely victories before, and could provide more in the future. Still, getting points throughout this home stretch will be no easy task.
Steve Levine can be reached at email@example.com.