With the postseason drawing near in a congested Hockey East race, the Massachusetts hockey team can finally forget about having to play UMass Lowell again.
The Minutemen (10-15-2, 7-12-1 Hockey East Association) endured another tough weekend against the River Hawks, who completed the season sweep of UMass for the second consecutive year.
The losses dropped the Minutemen to eighth in the standings, and they now cling to the final playoff spot by a mere point with seven games remaining.
However, UMass has little time to look at the standings or ponder the letdown as it immediately shifts its focus to a rare Tuesday night matchup with Northeastern at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.
The game was originally scheduled for Feb. 8, but was postponed due to snow.
While the Minutemen like the idea of ending their three-game losing streak as soon as possible, UMass coach John Micheletto also sees the negatives to such a quick turnaround.
The Minutemen will play their third game in five days on Tuesday night in the latter stages of a long season. That has Micheletto concerned about fatigue potentially being a factor in this game and down the road.
“Obviously there’s an energy question that you’re worried about at this time of year,” Micheletto said. “The snowstorm wasn’t making that any easier when you’re near the end of the grind of the regular season as it is, and now jamming a third game in (five) days is always something that you’re mindful of.
“How teams handle that energy and keeping your legs fresh is something I think is going to play a big factor (Tuesday) night.”
The Huskies (8-16-3, 4-13-3 HEA) face a similar situation to UMass heading into the contest. They are currently on a three-game slide of their own after being swept at home by Vermont over the weekend, and will also play their third game in five days.
The teams split the first two meetings in a weekend series back on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, and the results of those games depended heavily on the play of Northeastern’s Chris Rawlings.
The senior goaltender made 31 saves in a 1-0 shutout win over the Minutemen on Nov. 30 at the Mullins Center, but struggled the next night in a 6-3 loss at Matthews Arena.
“We’ve seen (Rawlings) be fantastic in our place earlier this year so we know what he’s capable of,” Micheletto said.
UMass will have to know where freshman phenom Kevin Roy is at all times. The forward leads the Huskies with 33 points on 17 goals and 16 assists, including a pair of goals in the Dec. 1 meeting between the two teams. Roy made himself a household name recently when he was named Beanpot Most Valuable Player after scoring five goals in the annual tournament.
Forwards Vinny Saponari (24 points) and Cody Ferriero (20) could also be factors in Tuesday’s game.
“They’re an aggressive team, they puck pursue well,” Micheletto said of Northeastern. “We need to identify what our strengths are and make sure we’re getting those matchups to the best of our ability throughout the course of the game.
“I think we’ve proven that we can play better than them, it’s just a matter of making sure that we convert when we are getting those chances.”
On Monday, Micheletto took his team through a light, hour-long practice session followed by team meetings and film work. He had to balance keeping his team rested while also having them fully prepared for Tuesday’s game.
Micheletto has managed the players’ ice time as the season has gone on by limiting their reps in practice each week, especially as the season starts to wind down.
However, this is no ordinary week, so the coaching staff has a greater challenge preparing the team for Tuesday’s affair.
“You pare down as you’re going through the season and making sure you’re trying to get your rest when appropriate,” Micheletto said. “But the awkwardness of last week heading into this week in regards to practice does throw a monkey wrench into the long range plans that we had made. So we’re mindful of it, we’re just trying to make sure our guys take care of themselves and we take care of them in terms of making sure we’re mentally prepared.”
Nick Canelas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.