March 6, 2015

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UMass gearing up for pivotal two-game series with Maine

Taylor C. Snow/Collegian

This weekend could prove to be now or never for the Massachusetts hockey team, as it gets set for a two-game series against Maine at the Mullins Center.

Coming off a 5-4 overtime loss Tuesday night against Northeastern and in the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Minutemen (10-16-2, 7-13-1 Hockey East Association) face a quick turnaround with the two weekend games.

“It’s not dissimilar to the situations that we’ve been in, in the past,” UMass coach John Micheletto said. “It’s about having a short memory, whether that’s coming off a good night, a poor night, a win or a loss, we’ve tried to stress that there’s a certain way to go about preparing ourselves no matter who it’s against or what the situation, we’ve got to take good and bad lessons and move ahead quickly.”

The Minutemen enter Friday night’s game one point clear of the Black Bears (8-16-6, 4-11-6 HEA) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference and each team has six games remaining. But, with both teams heading in opposite directions, Maine surging and UMass faltering, this weekend could prove to be the most important to both teams.

Coming off the overtime loss, Micheletto described the loss as a “missed opportunity” and his team was feeling “disappointed.”

One of the major problems that surfaced with the Minutemen since the holiday break has been the inability to receive balanced scoring. Currently, the top line of Michael Pereira, Branden Gracel and Conor Sheary are the top scorers for UMass.

The unbalanced attack forced Micheletto to do some jumbling with his lineups, primarily on the power play to try and get other players involved.

“The units had gotten a little bit stale,” Micheletto said. “So, part of it was giving them fresh looks and newer opportunities to put the puck on the attack.”

The move paid off, as UMass had nine different players register points in the loss to the Huskies, with Shane Walsh scoring on the power play and Darren Rowe cashing in from the point.

Another positive for the Minutemen is the familiarity of having already played the Black Bears earlier in the season. In that game, UMass fell behind 2-0, but rallied back to earn a point on the road at Alfond Arena. In that game, the Minutemen proved that it could play from behind and overcome adversity.

“The lesson we learned in Orono, (Maine) was we played the scoreboard early,” Micheletto said. “We had the better of the play early in the first period, we gave up a soft goal in the first period and we lost our energy because even though we were outplaying them, we were down. We were able to rally over the course of the game and come back to tie the game.

“That’s certainly a touchstone we’ll have for the weekend that no matter what happens, good or bad, we just need to keep playing,” he said.

UMass will have that with them this weekend in this ever-important series. A major slip up this weekend could spell the end to its playoff hopes, with only four games remaining after this weekend, all against ranked opponents.

The first game of the weekend takes place Friday night at 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center. Game two of the weekend series is also slated for the same time and place.

Patrick Strohecker can be reached at pstrohec@student.umass.edu and followed on Twitter at @MDC_Strohecker.

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