Momentum is a funny thing.
Whether it’s over the course of just one game or an entire season, momentum cannot be calculated, nor counted on to come when it’s needed the most.
The Massachusetts hockey team is currently riding a three-game winning streak, its most recent victory coming last Friday, a 4-3 thriller over Vermont.
UMass is counting on that momentum to carry forward this weekend as it hosts UMass Lowell on Friday night in the first of a two-game set on back-to-back nights.
The Minutemen (9-8-5, 5-6-4 Hockey East) have been on fire since the turn of the New Year, going 3-0-1 over their last four games while outscoring opponents 15-9 during that stretch.
UMass coach Don ‘Toot’ Cahoon says his team is taking a “day-by-day” approach to how his players prepare for upcoming games.
“No two days are exactly alike,” said Cahoon on the toll that such a grueling season takes on his team. “So, we try to make sure every day is productive.”
Friday and Saturday’s games against the Riverhawks (14-7-0, 9-6-0 HEA) will prove to be two of the more challenging in-conference games the Minutemen will have this year, not only because of how well UML has performed so far after finishing ninth in the coaches’ preseason poll, but also due to UMass’s inadequate play away from home. The Minutemen are currently winless on the road in nine tries, and prefer to play at home where they are a comfortable 7-0-3.
“[Winning on the road] may be addressed in context to the weekend as a whole,” said Cahoon. “It’s not lost on us … we’ve got to manage our game more effectively and get our guys to understand how to play a certain way.”
While the offense has managed to provide enough firepower to win in games as of late, senior co-captain Danny Hobbs has returned from injury just in time to be that spark that the team has so desperately lacked over the past two seasons.
Hobbs, who has battled lower-body injuries since the start of the season, has come alive over the last month. The senior has tallied five goals in the team’s last four games, racking up six points over the stretch. That brings his total for the season to nine goals and nine assists, and with most of those coming in the latter half of the season, the Minutemen are excited about where Hobbs is leading them.
“The confidence is in place,” said Hobbs, who has helped UMass get back to over .500 for the first time all season. “Things are falling into place, and we’ve been winning, so things are great right now.”
UMass teams under Cahoon have gotten more physical in their style of play over the years, mixing in more hitting and stick-checking as of late to complement their speedy skaters. However, despite the team’s ability to win recently, it cannot be overlooked that the increasing number of penalty minutes still remains a concern.
UMass is averaging just over 15 penalty minutes-per-game in conference play alone this season, a troubling statistic for any team, let alone one that plays in the most competitive league in collegiate hockey.
“We’ve been able to take less stick infractions [as of late],” said Cahoon. “We’re not taking as many of those…but we’re just making too many penalties.”
UMass’s penalty kill has been adequate, converting just under 77 percent which is good for eighth in the Hockey East. But what’s benefited them lately is that those kills are coming at crucial points in recent contests, allowing the offense, at even strength, to capitalize.
“It’s helped us get through some of those bad situations,” said Cahoon.
The Riverhawks are carried offensively by two of their young talents, freshman Wilson Scott (11 goals, nine assists) and sophomore Derek Arnold (10 goals, seven assists). Seniors Matt Ferreira and David Vallorani have also contributed on the offensive end for the Riverhawks.
Before losing the only matchup played this season against UML, the Minutemen ran a streak of five wins against their instate rival. The Minutemen are 26-32-6 all-time facing Lowell.
Scott Cournoyer can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Cournoyer.