UMass hockey prepares for second half surge as playoffs loom
The start to the second half of the Massachusetts hockey team’s season has felt much like the roller coaster first half – a lot of ups and downs with very little consistency.
After ending 2012 by claiming the Ledyard National Bank Classic title, the Minutemen (8-11-2, 5-8-1 Hockey East Association) experienced a championship hangover, dropping their first two conference games against Providence two weekends later.
The team did, though, right the ship the following weekend by defeating No. 2 Boston College on the road.
“It’s kind of like a broken record, but we try not to have our high’s be too high and our lows be too low,” UMass coach John Micheletto said following the win at BC. “It’s too long a season and too difficult to allow yourself to have those types of emotional swings and think that you’re going to be a consistently competitive team.”
One thing the team said it’s going to work on is protecting leads.
The Minutemen blew three crucial third period leads in the first half of the season, all of which came in conference games. These losses cost the team important points that could prove to be the difference between being securely in the playoffs come March, or having to fight for the final spot.
“The main thing we have to do when we go up on teams is keep it,” said Rocco Carzo, senior co-captain. “We have to keep on pushing, keep on pressing on the team, keep on the gas. Because there have been times when we’ve started off strong and then we get comfortable and then the other team comes back and I feel like we need to get the lead and then keep on going.”
The Minutemen gained some positive morale following their 5-2 win over the Eagles (13-5-2, 10-4-1 HEA). In that game, UMass led 2-0 before squandering the tying goal early in the third period. But the Minutemen responded with three straight goals in a span of three and a half minutes to secure its biggest victory of the season.
“We obviously had them the first two games this year,” Carzo said. “It was the same story, give one up and then it got tied and we lost the game. We had the lead, it got tied, but we got it. It’s huge. We can play with anyone now.”
From here on out, every game will come with extreme importance, as the last 13 games for the Minutemen are all against Hockey East opponents.
UMass currently sits in seventh place in the Hockey East, but only one point clear of Northeastern and Vermont for the final playoff spot. The Minutemen have a golden opportunity to strengthen their standing within the conference this weekend, as they head north to Burlington, Vt., to take on the Catamounts (6-11-4, 3-8-4 HEA).
“It’s two valuable, valuable points in a tough middle section of the standings,” Micheletto said. “We’re going to take those two points and relish the victory for sure, but we know that we have to get back to work because we have two very important games in Burlington next week.”
Following the Vermont series, UMass sees its schedule ease up come February, only having to face a team in the top four of the conference three more times.
The Minutemen have five games remaining against Merrimack and UMass-Lowell, which are four points ahead of them in the standings.
But the Minutemen also have three games left against Northeastern and Maine, which are both six points behind UMass.
Confidence, though, is high for the Minutemen as they prepare for the final stretch of the season.
“Every weekend, whether we win or we lose, we go into Monday the same way,” Carzo said. “We say, ‘You know, we’re back at square zero and we have to play the same way no matter what.’”
Patrick Strohecker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.