It’s been nearly a month since the Massachusetts hockey team has gone up against an unranked opponent this season.
The Minutemen will finally get a break from ranked opponents when they host Providence Friday at 7 p.m. However, like most Hockey East teams, the Friars (4-3-1, 3-2 HEA) are loaded with young talent and are currently receiving a significant number of votes and could potentially crack the Top 20 with a strong showing this weekend.
Prior to this Friday’s contest, the Minutemen (2-4, 1-4 Hockey East) have faced an unranked opponent once – on Oct. 12 in a season-opening win over Connecticut.
Since then, UMass has played five conference opponents ranked in the Top 20, including a pair of losses against defending national champion Boston College, and lost four of them.
However, the Minutemen lost by a single goal in three of the losses and had a third period lead in two of them, which has UMass coach John Micheletto’s players feeling positive about their performance, but far from satisfied with the results.
But Micheletto knows his players won’t be taking Providence lightly.
“We’re 1-4 in the league, I don’t know that we need any extra motivation other than our own personal pride,” he said. “I think our guys are happy with the way we’re playing, but they’re certainly not satisfied to the point that we’re gonna view a non-ranked team any differently than a ranked team.”
Micheletto is also confident that the coaching staff won’t have to worry about motivating the team any more than usual.
“I don’t view that we have any extra work as a coaching staff to do to try to get guys more up, or staying up, against Providence this weekend,” he said. “We’ve seen the video, we’ve seen the results and we know they’re a great team so I don’t think (motivation) is gonna be an issue for us.”
The players, including redshirt sophomore Steven Guzzo, have echoed their coach’s sentiments as well.
“We played a lot of ranked teams and played pretty well, but still didn’t get that many points,” Guzzo said. “These are a big two points for us so it’s not too hard to get up for a game like that because every point in Hockey East is pretty hard to get.”
Having won three of their last four games, the Friars are certainly a young team on the rise. Six of their top seven scorers this season are underclassmen, including highly-touted freshman Mark Jankowski.
Jankowski was drafted 21st overall by the Calgary Flames in the NHL draft this past June and has answered the bell with three goals and an assist in his first eight games.
“He’s obviously a gifted playmaker, he’s got a good feel for the game,” Micheletto said. “He knows when he’s accepting pressure and finds guys away when he’s under pressure and when he doesn’t he slows it down and he’s able to be effective in the one-man game.”
However, Micheletto isn’t revolving his gameplan around Jankowski with other scoring threats such as senior Myles Harvey (seven points) and sophomore Ross Mauermann (six) also making a significant impact in the Providence lineup.
The Friars also have a real threat between the pipes in freshman Jon Gillies, who has started all eight games this season, compiling a 1.8 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
“They’re fast through the neutral zone, they’re not afraid to make plays on entry,” Micheletto said of Providence. “They’re constantly gonna be pushing us to be able to defend with speed, and that’ll be a priority for us to try to minimize their defense and their offense and their playmaking ability.”
Micheletto has shuffled the line combinations game-by-game. But he may have found one that clicked with Guzzo, senior Rocco Carzo and junior Conor Sheary this past weekend.
The trio served as the fourth line in Friday’s 2-1 win over New Hampshire, but was bumped up to the top line in Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Eagles after a strong showing in the win.
Guzzo currently leads the Minutemen in points with five (two goals, three assists), but gives credit to his linemates.
“I think we’re playing really well together and it’s not too hard to get points when you’re playing with guys like that,” Guzzo said.
But Guzzo said that he’s more concerned with UMass stringing some wins together, something Micheletto said his team is more than capable of doing.
“I think we’ve got a pretty good perspective on where we are in the process and I think the guys appreciate the fact that we’ve played very well up until this point,” Micheletto said. “That’s how I want them to feel.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.