Massachusetts hockey coach John Micheletto wanted to make his team aware from the moment they stepped on the ice for practice on Monday that there is still plenty of work left to do as the semester winds down.
Micheletto put the Minutemen (5-6-2, 4-6-1 Hockey East Association) through an intense practice from the start, going through some fast-paced drills and some “highly competitive small games” in preparation for this weekend’s two-game homestand against Colgate, starting Friday at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.
Although the Raiders (7-7-2, 3-4-1 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference) aren’t a conference opponent, Micheletto wanted to make the message clear that these upcoming games are still important.
“We wanted to send a message to make sure they’re aware that we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Micheletto said. “We feel good about the weekend, there are some things we want to tighten up. Just because we’re going into non-league play doesn’t mean it’s time to take a deep breath.”
In fact, Micheletto sees an added challenge in preparing for non-conference opponents, mainly because of the lack of familiarity between the two teams. He believes that challenge weighs most heavily on the players in particular because they don’t have that “inherent knowledge of the team,” Micheletto said, and they don’t watch as much film on the opponent as the coaches do.
Instead, Micheletto believes it’s more important for UMass to take the same approach to the weekend as it would for any other opponent, and to simply stick to its game.
“We want to stress ‘let’s do what we do really well, and make other teams adjust to us,’” Micheletto said. “So I don’t think it matters too much to the guys that, ‘Hey, we don’t know these guys,’ or, ‘What are they all about?’
“As long as we keep just saying ‘Hey, we gotta engage and re-engage and track down pucks and do all those things that make us good,’ that’s the difference in the game.”
The Minutemen are certainly feeling good coming off a 6-3 win over Northeastern at Matthews Arena on Saturday, but still left the weekend with a sour taste in their mouths after losing junior forward Troy Power and senior defenseman Darren Rowe to injury in Friday’s 1-0 loss to the Huskies.
Power’s injury came after taking a knee-to-knee blow from NU’s Josh Manson in the third period. He is currently wearing a leg brace and is out indefinitely.
Rowe’s injury is the combination of a neck, back and shoulder ailment, according to Micheletto, and his potential for return this weekend is “possible but not probable.”
Taking Power’s spot on the second line on Saturday was freshman K.J. Tiefenwerth, who responded by scoring his first collegiate goal and notched two assists while playing alongside former prep school linemate Michael Pereira, who also scored a goal in the game.
“I was excited to play with (Pereira) because we know each other pretty well,” Tiefenwerth said.
The freshman forward said that the familiarity of having played with Pereira while at Avon Old Farms Prep School in Connecticut played a big role in his breakout performance, and believes he’ll be more confident going into the weekend.
“(I’m) definitely relieved to get the first (goal) out of the way,” Tiefenwerth said. “So, I’m definitely feeling a little more confident, butterflies aren’t in my stomach as much.”
Based on the performance of his second line, which also included Branden Gracel, who chipped in with three assists, Micheletto sees no need to break up that combination any time soon.
Colgate comes into the weekend having won three of its last five games, which included a 1-1 tie at Merrimack Nov. 23. The Raiders have had numerous players chip in for them this season with four players already in double-figures in points as opposed to UMass having just one – Gracel with 11 points.
Where Colgate has yet to find consistency is in net, as junior Eric Mihalik (11 games) and freshman Spencer Finney (eight) have split time between the pipes so far this season.
However, it appears Finney is gaining an edge against his teammate, sporting a 1.93 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage as opposed to Mihalik’s 3.09 and .886 marks.
Although there are no points in the Hockey East standings on the line, Micheletto stressed the importance of picking up wins in order to improve the team’s power rating, and more importantly, get the team’s record above .500.
“Heading into the weekend, Colgate has a good record and is going to continue to have a good record,” Micheletto said. “It’s valuable for us to get wins against quality opponents so our view of (the weekend) is the same.
“We want to get above .500 heading into the Christmas break. That would set us up for a good second-half run, so all those things added together I don’t think that anyone’s looking at this any differently.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.