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Minutemen face Falcons in home opener

Following a 3-3 draw on the road at Northeastern last Friday to open its 2011-12 season, the Massachusetts hockey team gets back to the work this weekend with a pair of games beginning Friday.

UMass (0-0-1, 0-0-1 Hockey East) will host Bentley on Friday at the Mullins Center to kick-off play at home this season.

Despite falling behind the Huskies last Friday in the first period, 2-1, the Minutemen showed a resilience that is promising for any team early in the season. UMass tied the game later in the opening period with a wrist shot from Branden Gracel and grabbed a 3-2 lead in the second on a goal by senior captain T.J. Syner.

But just when the Minutemen thought they had the comeback wrapped-up, the squad surrendered a late goal in the third with only seconds remaining, walking away from a probable victory with a tie instead.

“I think we were able to establish a pretty good level of competition, going into a tough building to play,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “We found a way to respond and those were good things. I didn’t like that we faded late in the game … we’ve got to correct that.”

Looking at this week’s matchup against Bentley, UMass last faced the Falcons (0-2-0) in December 2009 at the Toyota UConn Classic. Bentley won that particular contest, upsetting then-No. 15 UMass, 4-1, behind then-sophomore Kyle Rank’s 42 saves. The Minutemen look to return the favor as they meet Rank again, who occupies the net for Bentley as a senior this season.

The Falcons have a substantial mix of veterans and experienced upperclassman leading them. Notable offensive threats include senior Aaron Stonacek (six goals, nine assists in 2010-11) and sophomore Jared Rickord, who scored in the Falcon’s 4-1 loss in the second of two games against Michigan last weekend.

“Knowing what I know, they’ll come in here and try to push us,” said Cahoon. “It’s up to us not to break. We need to believe in what we’re doing here, and the rest will take care of itself.”

With a physical presence apparent this season, UMass will use that toughness against both Bentley and Providence  – who they play Saturday – along with a potent offensive rush that came alive against Northeastern.

“Last year, we were able to rush the puck very well,” said Cahoon. “We need to improve our down-low offense, which comes off of grinding. We’re making an effort at making those adjustments … I think that will help us considerably as we get into the season.”

Taking on the Friars

On Saturday, the Minutemen will travel to Rhode Island to take on Providence (0-0-0) as they return to HEA play.

The Friars, who open up their season Friday at home against Boston University in early season conference matchup, finished last season with an 8-18-8 record, including a 4-16-7 record in the HEA.

UMass went winless against the Friars last year with a loss and two ties. Scoring was plentiful in the season series, with Providence holding a nine-to-eight goal advantage.

Senior Alex Beaudry looks to be the starter for the Friars against the Minutemen. Beaudry, a native of Cumberland, Ontario, played in 31 games last season and posted a 3.27 goals-against-average with a .902 save percentage.  Beaudry saved 42 shots against UMass at the Mullins Center back in February a year ago in a game resulting in a 3-3 tie.

The offensive attack for the Friars will be a new group of contributors, as Providence lost most of its top scorers from last season. Andy Balysky (five goals, four assists in 2010-11), Derek Army (six goals in 2010-11) and Tim Schaller (19 points in 2010-11) do return this season and figure to carry the load.

Senior season

For several seniors, Friday’s matchup with the Falcons will be the last time they step on the ice to open up season-play at the Mullins Center.

“I got the jitters, but it’s also kind of sad, realizing that you don’t get to do it again,” said Syner . “It’s more exciting than anything else, getting to play in front of the home crowd. I’m definitely excited.”

Minutemen seniors who will play their final home opener include Syner, Danny Hobbs, Michael Marcou and Kevin Moore.

Scott Cournoyer can be reached at scournoy@student.umass.edu.

 

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