It took the Massachusetts hockey team up until the final game of the regular season to narrowly escape with a spot in this weekend’s playoffs. Now that the Minutemen are there, they must take down defending national champion Boston College in a best-of-three series at Chestnut Hill, Mass.
The Minutemen controlled their fate last weekend, needing to get one point in order to qualify for the postseason. A strong-willed third period in the finale against Maine gave them a 4-4 tie and the opportunity to extend their season. It was an opportunity they expected to seize before the season began.
“We absolutely didn’t want to get into a situation where it would’ve been the first time we hadn’t been in the playoffs since my second year here,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “I knew we were a young team and that there was going to be difficulties. But at the end of the day, I expected to be playing in the postseason.”
The Eagles will face off with the Minutemen for the fourth time this year. BC has won all three meetings this year, with two of those games played at Conte Forum. While UMass is winless against BC this year, its troubles trace back to last year’s playoffs.
The two teams met up in the first round of the Hockey East tournament last season. The Eagles ended the Minutemen’s season by sweeping that series 6-5 and 5-2, respectively.
BC beat UMass, 5-0, on Feb. 4th of this season, holding a 43-16 shot advantage. The Minutemen held the deficit to 2-0 for most of the night, but broke in the third period, allowing three more to reach the back of the net.
The other two games were tight one-goal affairs. The same night Paul Dainton became the all-time saves leader for UMass, the Minutemen, down 4-1 at one time, fell short in their comeback attempt, eventually falling 4-3. One night later, the Eagles completed the home-and-home sweep in Conte Forum with a narrow 2-1 victory.
However, Cahoon has grown accustomed to the number of close calls this season.
“We’ve had games won and not been able to close them out, but we’ve competed – outside of one weekend – in every one [of those games],” said Cahoon. “That speaks to what we’re all about so we’ve got to find to do that one more thing or make one more play or save in the crucial situation in order to turn those close calls into some successes.”
The last time the Minutemen won at BC was on Nov. 17, 2007, in a 3-2 victory due in large part to Dainton’s 30-save effort.
A similar, if not better, effort will be needed from the senior captain if the Minutemen are going to stand a chance.
“It’s going to take a complete effort by a lot of people and clearly the biggest challenge is [Dainton] in the goal,” said Cahoon. “He’s knows he’s going to be threatened so he has to be sharp.”
Dainton and the defense will have their hands full for the second-straight weekend, dealing with a standout star and one of the nation’s best.
The Eagles feature the conference’s top goal scorer in Cam Atkinson. His 27 goals highlight a roster that boasts six different 10-plus goal scorers for the season.
“We’ve got to be able to play with all of their weapons,” said Cahoon. “Most teams have one line that’s clearly superior to the others. They call their Atkinson line their big line but they’ve got three offensive lines that are very capable and we need to be able to play with those three lines and get our own opportunities.”
The Minutemen will walk a fine line between generating those opportunities and having it backfire on them.
“We need physicality but we need to stay out of the box,” said Cahoon. “That’s crucial for us.”
Pete Vasquez can be reached at email@example.com.