For whatever reason, the Minutemen have a history of starting the season off quickly and efficiently, then losing winnable games later on in the year and dropping in the rankings.
Unfortunately for UMass, it has also applied to individual games from time-to-time.
Keeping a lead hasn’t been the Minutemen’s strongest suit in the past few years. When the team does score late in a match or hold a lead they’ve had throughout the game, it’s been more of the exception than the norm.
Last January, in a game against New Hampshire, UMass had fought its way to a tie but ultimately fell, 3-1, after giving up two goals in 45 seconds at the end of the third period.
That game, for some students, was just another example of the “Cahoon Swoon” taking its usual effect on the team in the second half of the season.
UMass coach Don Cahoon says that he believes this year is different. This season, the team is, “a year older, and a year wiser,” and knows how to live in the moment of each game and focus on the task at hand rather than the outcome.
“Last year, you could feel the tide swinging late in games because the team was so young and they were kind of paralyzed by the thought of the outcome instead of taking care of the process,” said Cahoon. “This year, we’ve got an understanding of what the process is, and we’ve handled that pressure fine.”
The team is aware of this recent trend, but tries instead to think about keeping the same mentality throughout the game’s entirety, rather than thinking about the outcome.
“I think it’s hard to keep a lead whenever [you have it],” said Pereira. “It’s just our mentality that has to stay where it is. We can’t change our game and we have to keep going and I think we learned that against Bentley and we didn’t pick it up against Providence.”
“Against Bentley, we really took it to them for every period and obviously we came out with a win,” he said.
Already this season, UMass had a lead with under a minute left in regulation and coughed it up just before the end of the period. Against Northeastern, the squad held a 3-2 advantage but allowed a goal with just two seconds left to play.
“Northeastern was a situation that was totally different than last year,” said Cahoon. “We had possession of the puck and all we had to do was clear the zone. It was one player having a fluke play in the course of the game.”
His players agree, saying that the goal wasn’t one that came from lack of preparation or intensity, but was simply a stroke of bad luck.
“Northeastern just got a lucky bounce,” said Pereira. “We were about to get the puck out of the zone and it got crashed to the net. It’s unfortunate, but that wasn’t a mentality issue. We just have to bear down and just make sure we protect in that part of the game.”
“I don’t think anybody was expecting that we would lose that game,” added Cahoon.
The Minutemen are 1-1-1 overall and 0-1-1 in Hockey East thus far. While it’s definitely too early to draw any conclusions about the squad, UMass will certainly have to avoid its typical second half collapse and learn how to play with a lead if it has any hopes of advancing deep into conference playoffs.
Michael Wood can be reached at email@example.com.