With eight games left on the schedule, the Massachusetts hockey team is fighting for survival in the Hockey East conference.
After enduring their worst loss in nearly two decades, though, the Minutemen are playing for more than a spot in the postseason; they are playing for their pride.
UMass dropped its last two games by a combined score of 16-2, including a shutout at No. 1 Boston College 5-0 and allowing the most goals in 17 years in a 11-2 drubbing at No. 12 Merrimack.
Though it is difficult for Minutemen coach Don Cahoon to find a silver lining, he believes his players will have the confidence to look past the dark clouds that loom over the UMass locker room following last weekend’s losses.
“The locker room atmosphere is a humbled one. That was a tough nut to swallow last weekend. The truth be told, although we have to recover from a humbling and humiliating loss, if you want to call it that, on Saturday, truth be told, it’s no different than losing two games by a goal. At the end of the day, we didn’t get any points and we lost two games.
“I believe in the guys in that locker room,” Cahoon added. “I believe that they have [pride], so I expect that everything is going to be as it needs to be to make up good representation.”
Friday’s shutout loss was the third of the Minutemen’s season and until Saturday, UMass had not allowed 11 goals since it gave up 12 to Maine on Feb. 14, 1998.
Sitting at seventh place in the standings, two points ahead of Vermont, the Minutemen (6-15-4, 5-10-4 HEA) play two games at home this weekend, against No. 14 Boston University (13-8-7, 10-5-5 HEA) and Providence (7-13-6, 3-11-5 HEA). The Minutemen are now 0-10-2 against ranked opponents this season, with seven of its remaining eight games against such teams, beginning with the Terriers on Friday.
BU is coming off of a 3-2 overtime loss to Boston College in the annual Beanpot tournament semifinals on Tuesday.
UMass has a loss and a tie in two games against the Terriers this season. On Oct. 16, the Minutemen scored two third-period goals to rally for a 2-2 tie. Then, on Oct. 22, BU overcame a 1-0 deficit, tallying three goals in the second period to win 4-3.
Facing a short week of practice and travel, Terrier coach Jack Parker will try to avoid seeing any letdown in his team’s play, just as Cahoon and his players attempt to refocus from last weekend’s losses.
“There’s no question [Parker] is worried about the hangover from the Beanpot,” Cahoon said, having spoke with the BU coach over the phone during the week. “I’m not worried about their ability to rebound; I’m more interested in our ability to rebound.”
UMass has an opportunity to gain separation in the standings against the Friars on Saturday. Providence ranks ninth in Hockey East, three points behind the Minutemen and are in the thick of postseason contention.
UMass went winless in a home-and-home series against the Friars earlier this season. On Oct. 29, The Minutemen fought to earn a tie at the Mullins Center after holding two separate leads. The Friars scored a goal in the last second of the second period to knot the score at 2-2 before taking a one-goal less than three minutes into the third. With 3 minutes, 43 seconds left, sophomore Darren Rowe scored a game-tying goal to earn UMass a point.
The following night, the Minutemen fell 3-2 to the Friars in Rhode Island.
Saturday is the final meeting between the two teams and will be a decisive game if the two squads tie in the final standings.
The conference tournament is looming and with its implications amplifying each game, Cahoon is keeping his perspective on earning a postseason bid.
“Our goal is to win [Hockey East], but at the very least, we’ve got to be able to be a playoff team at a minimal standpoint,” Cahoon said. “We just have to get ourselves in a position to be able to compete and bring our best to the table and have confidence that that’s going to serve us well.”
Dan Gigliotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.