How a team responds when all odds are against it is sometimes the best way to determine its true character.
Such appears to be the case for the Massachusetts hockey team as it takes the ice for the first time since being swept in a home-and-home series against UMass Lowell this past weekend.
Not only were the Minutemen (9-10-5, 5-8-4 Hockey East) handed yet another loss on the road to drop its record to 0-8-2 away from the Mullins Center, but it was also exposed at home for the first time this season after the River Hawks dealt UMass a 4-2 defeat last Friday night.
Unfortunately, the road does not appear to get any easier for the Minutemen.
Up next is yet another tough road test against a Northeastern team that appears to be heading in the opposite direction of its counterparts.
The Huskies (10-11-3, 6-11-2 HEA) are coming off a weekend sweep of Vermont, one in which it outscored the Catamounts, 12-5.
The two wins by Northeastern, coupled with the losses by the Minutemen, moved the two teams into a tie for seventh-place in the HEA standings at 14 apiece.
To make the stakes even higher, New Hampshire (9-14-2, 6-11-1 HEA) sits only one point behind both clubs and would surely like to steal a conference tournament spot from either team.
Although UMass has yet to win a game on the road this season, Matthews Arena hasn’t necessarily served as a home-ice advantage for the Huskies, posting an unimpressive 3-4-1 mark at its home venue.
“[Winning on the road] is something we’ve got to do to be successful,” said captain T.J. Syner. “All the successful teams need to learn to win on the road and we just haven’t found that yet.
“We’ve been lucky enough to be so fortunate at home, but now we’ve got to start bearing down and come away with some wins on the road,” he continued.
Northeastern may not have one of the most potent offensive attacks in the HEA (three goals per game), but it will be essential for the Minutemen to be aware when the Huskies’ powerhouse dup of Ludwig Karlsson and Steve Quailer are on the ice. Both players have a team-high 22 points in the same amount of games, while Karlsson has made a name for himself in his freshman year with his team-leading nine goals.
“The bottom line is you have to win all the battles,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “You’ve got to compete. You can’t be giving out second chances and extended possessions. It takes a will to be able to shut people down.”
The Minutemen will have an opportunity to get that initial road win when the puck drops Friday night at 7 p.m. at Matthews Arena.
UMass hosts No. 4 Merrimack
Coming off its first home loss of the season last week, UMass will look to get back to its winning ways at home when Merrimack pays a visit to the Mullins Center Saturday night.
The Warriors (14-5-5, 10-4-3 HEA) pose a real challenge for the Minutemen, as it will be forced to overcome some recent flaws to its game if it hopes to come away with a win.
The thing that proved most costly for UMass in its losses to the River Hawks was its inability to stay out of the penalty-box. The Minutemen faced seven shorthanded situations in last Friday’s loss at home and were also called for a five-minute major and game misconduct on Saturday.
If UMass wants to find success, it cannot afford to continue such a negative trend, especially against Merrimack, which has one of the top power play units in the conference with a 20.3 percent success rate.
“Any time you’re in the box down a man, it’s going to hurt you,” said Syner. “We spend too much time out there killing penalties.”
Having only scored two goals in each of the last two games, the Minutemen will also need to find a way to generate a better rush and put the puck in the net more frequently against the Warriors. Merrimack only allows 28.9 shots on goal per game and is led in net by Joe Cannata, who has a 2.01 goals against average and a .929 save percentage.
Finding ways to score is key for UMass and it starts with not repeating the same poor habits that cost the Minutemen in its most recent contests.
“We always get back to the simple compete equation and put the puck in places that are going to help us extend the play,” said Cahoon of last weekend’s offensive struggles. “The problem is we were trying to be cute and pull pucks. We’d pick up the puck in our own slot and have a chance to either protect it or get organized and start to regroup. Instead we turned the puck over right in our own slot. There’s no integrity to our game when we play that way and we’re not good enough to play that way.”
UMass will have its first opportunity to start a new home unbeaten streak on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @MDC_Canelas.