The Massachusetts hockey team will go on the road this weekend to face No. 1 Boston College and No. 12 Merrimack as it begins its most rigorous stretch of the closing season.
It will be the first meetings of the year with both teams for the Minutemen, who are coming off a gritty 2-2 tie versus Northeastern on Saturday night.
“[Saturday] was a test for us,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said after some pivotal players had to watch from the bench with injuries. “Our team was fighting for survival. That was as good an effort from a group of players to just say ‘Hey, it doesn’t make any difference. We’re going to find a way to compete and put pressure on the other team.’”
UMass posted a season-high 41 shots in the tie against the Huskies, including a season-high 20 first period shots. The high number of shots seems to be a good omen for the Minutemen this season, who average 4.8 goals per game in wins and 1.7 goals in losses.
BC is tied for first place in the conference with New Hampshire while Merrimack is positioned in fourth. UMass comes into the weekend in seventh place.
The Eagles come into Friday’s game with a three-game winning streak. BC is also the owner of a 10-1 record since Nov. 28th with its sole loss coming at Maine, 4-1, on Jan. 16th.
“This is our league and that’s just the way it is,” Cahoon said. “It seems like every year we face No. 1. It’s an opportunity, but we’ve expected this to happen. We get the chance to make the most of it. We’re as prepared as we can be right now and we’re going to have to bring a high-level performance to get it done, there’s no doubt about that.
“When you play a team that’s this skilled and talented as BC is, nothing short of that will allow you to succeed,” Cahoon continued.
Merrimack has also been on a tear for the latter part of the season as it has jumped into the upper echelon of the Hockey East standings. After beginning the season with a 3-2-4 record, the Warriors have gone 13-3 since. However, two of those losses came at home, where Merrimack has been a typically strong 8-2-1.
The Warriors feature sophomore forward Stephane Da Costa, who is tied for third in Hockey East in power play points.
Senior Chase Langeraap has carried his load and more for the Mass Attack recently, picking up six goals and three assists in the last nine games.
Assistant captain Danny Hobbs has also played well, tallying six goals and nine assists in the last 12 games played before suffering an injury against the Huskies. He’s produced three multi-point games in the last four outings.
However, Friday’s prominent matchup will feature two of the best goalies in the conference as UMass captain Paul Dainton tries to best BC goalie John Muse, two goalies whose careers have told two different stories.
“[Their] experiences have been a little bit different in that Muse has had one of the top teams in the country in front of him each and every year,” Cahoon said. “[Dainton’s] gone through a whole different sequence of having teams that have played up at a real high level in the national standings, and teams that have disappeared from the national standings. [He’s gone] from having experienced people playing in front of him to a lot of inexperienced people in front of him.
“I can’t believe that John Muse is any better a leader or more important to his team than Paul Dainton is to ours,” Cahoon continued. “You’re talking about two players who are central to their team’s success.”
For UMass to have success on the road this weekend, it will have to draw from its latest performance.
“That was will over skill,” Cahoon said. “Will over skill is an important feature for any team. We’ve got a pretty good skill level, but we have got unbelievable will. That usually results in some pretty good play.”
Pete Vasquez can be reached at email@example.com.