Playing in a holiday tournament is no rarity in college hockey.
Nearly every Division I program in the country takes part in one, and oftentimes it serves as an opportunity for teams to go up against unfamiliar opponents and jumpstart the second half of the season.
However, Massachusetts hockey coach John Micheletto is looking for something greater when his team takes part in the Ledyard National Bank Classic in Hanover, N.H., this weekend: he wants his team to learn how to win a championship.
The Minutemen (5-9-2, 4-6-1 Hockey East Association) will have the opportunity to take that first step towards a championship when they take on Bemidji State on Sunday at 3 p.m. in day one of the two-day tournament.
With a win, UMass will play the winner of New Hampshire and Dartmouth on Monday at 7 p.m. for the title. But if they lose, the Minutemen will be forced to settle for the third-place game at 3 p.m. with the loser of the other game.
“The thing that’s not gonna go unnoticed is that it’s a chance to potentially win a championship,” Micheletto said. “Whether you’re doing it in a preseason tournament or at the holiday time, it’s a skill we want to perfect.”
Sunday’s game with the Beavers (5-8-3, 4-7-3 Western Collegiate Hockey Association) will mark just the second meeting between the two schools. The last time they faced off was in the same tournament back in 2008, which BSU won 4-2.
The previous meeting, of course, has no bearing on what happens Sunday, but the Minutemen expect a challenge. The Beavers have three players over the 10-point mark this season, led by senior forward Brance Orban with four goals and eight assists in 16 games played.
BSU has also found a reliable force between the pipes in sophomore goaltender Andrew Walsh. Walsh is 4-4-2 with a 2.17 goals against average and .929 save percentage, and is expected to provide a challenge for the UMass forwards.
The unfamiliarity with the Beavers could make things tough on the Minutemen, but Micheletto embraces the opportunity to see teams from other parts of the country.
“I think it’s always nice to see somebody from out west,” he said. “Bemidji’s from another league so it’s nice to see how we stack up against the other half of the country. I think our guys are looking forward to it.”
Micheletto is especially hopeful that a successful showing could help propel UMass to a deep run in the second half of the season.
“It’s an opportunity to vie for a title,” Micheletto said of the tournament. “Hopefully if we handle it well, experience it in the way that we expect to, then it will go a long way come the end of the season as well.”
Shaking off the rust
Sunday will be the first time UMass has played since a 4-2 loss at No. 15 Yale on Dec. 11 to cap off a three-game losing streak heading into the holiday break.
Micheletto was visibly frustrated following the losses, but said he isn’t concerned with how things played out and chose not to dwell on how his team closed out the unofficial first half of the season.
“Obviously you want your guys to be as sharp as ever at all times, so I don’t think we played it out very well those last three games especially, but I don’t think I have cause for concern,” he said.
The Minutemen got back on the ice for the first time on Thursday after a much needed rest, and only spent limited time getting their legs back underneath them before re-establishing their fast-paced style in preparation for the tournament.
The time off did provide one particular benefit for UMass, which faced its share of injuries towards the end of the first semester.
Evan Stack, Emerson Auvenshine, Steve Mastalerz and Jeff Teglia have all found themselves out of the lineup in recent games due to injuries, and are “on the recovery trail,” according to Micheletto, although it is uncertain what any player’s status is for Sunday.
What Micheletto could confirm is that forward Troy Power still has a long way to go after suffering a knee injury Nov. 30 against Northeastern.
“It’s not like he’s on the verge of returning anytime soon,” Micheletto said of Power.
Nick Canelas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.