The friendly confines of the Mullins Center have been anything but that this season for the Massachusetts hockey team.
After posting an impressive 9-4-3 home record last season, the Minutemen (9-12-2, 6-9-1 Hockey East Association) have struggled at home this year and enter Friday night’s game against No. 11 Boston University on a four-game skid.
“You’re always trying to protect home ice,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “Being in the comfort of your own bed and some other things should make that easier, but we know that’s not always the case. So, again, regardless, whether we’re at Vermont or in the Mullins Center, two points are things that we need to have right now.”
To date, UMass boasts a 4-7-1 home record, with the current four-game losing streak being the longest at home this season for the Minutemen. Despite the losing record, UMass is feeling upbeat and positive heading into Friday’s clash with the Terriers (13-9-1, 10-6-1 HEA), especially after last weekend’s split at Vermont.
“We wanted to win both games, but getting a split on the road isn’t necessarily the worst thing,” UMass forward Steven Guzzo said. “Vermont is not an easy barn to play in and we’re coming back and focusing on Friday’s game.”
Unfortunately for the Minutemen, four of their seven home losses have come by one goal, results that could have gone either way.
After opening the season with a convincing 4-1 victory on home ice against Connecticut, UMass followed it up with back-to-back one-goal losses at home to Boston College and BU, both games in which the Minutemen held third period leads.
Even though the results have not gone UMass’ way at home recently, the team still would rather play there than anywhere else.
“Obviously your home games are important,” Guzzo said. “Everyone would rather play at home than on the road, that’s why home ice advantage is so important. Last year we did have success, but it’s hard to keep that up.
“I think we went like the entire first half of (last) season without losing at home. This year we think we’ve done pretty well, but obviously we have to pick it up. Losing four in a row isn’t very good for us or for the fans, so I think we’ll pick it up and we’ll be fine.”
Friday’s game will be the first home game for the Minutemen in three weeks and their first with the support of the students since the Dec. 7-8 weekend series against Colgate. With the Terriers coming to town, it would be expected that a large crowd will be on hand, something that UMass players are looking forward to.
“It’s going to be exciting,” UMass senior co-captain Kevin Czepiel said. “Especially having the students back. We’re all aware of that. So, it’s fun to get back here and be at home. So we’re real excited for it.”
One upside to the Minutemen’s disappointing play at home has been the improvement in their play on the road. After dropping 13 of 17 road contests last season, UMass has managed to post a respectable 4-5-1 record away from the Mullins Center, including key wins at Boston College and Dartmouth when both teams were ranked inside the Top 10.
With only six home games remaining on the schedule for the Minutemen, protecting home ice is becoming very crucial, but no matter where they are playing, the goal is always the same.
“Home or away, like I say, the points are too valuable anymore. It’s not a matter of we have to get them at home,” Micheletto said.
Friday’s game kicks off a mini two-game homestand for UMass spanning over the next two weekends before the Minutemen get back on the road.