The Massachusetts hockey team’s upcoming schedule is about to get “unusual.”
The Minutemen (2-2) will face Hockey East foe Maine four straight times over the next two weekends, and the first weekend is scheduled to be a non-conference two-game tilt in Orono, Maine, on Friday and Saturday.
“Yeah it’s definitely different from in the past,” UMass forward Conor Sheary said. “We’ve never done something like that, but I guess we’ll know what to expect by the last few games. But it’s a little weird, a little different.”
Despite the uncommon task of preparing for the same team four times in a row, Minuteman coach John Micheletto is looking for a top-notch effort from his team, no matter who they are facing and how many times.
“It’s unusual for us at this point,” he said. “But we’re stressing to our guys ‘I don’t care who we’re playing, I don’t care how many times in a row, we need to make sure we’re practicing success and winning at every turn.’ So whether it’s the first game of this quote unquote series or the last game, we want to put our best foot forward.”
Even though these conference opponents are quite familiar with each other, the Black Bears (1-2) will look a little different than the team that surpassed UMass for the eighth and final spot in the Hockey East Tournament last year.
After being swept by UMass Lowell in the first round of the tournament, Maine fired longtime coach Tim Whitehead and turned to Red Gendron to get the Black Bears back on a successful path.
The Minutemen’s seniors, like Sheary, are quite familiar with Gendron though, as he was an assistant at UMass from 2005-11.
“We might be familiar with a few things since we had Red here our freshman year, all the seniors,” Sheary said. “But he’s a great coach and I’m sure he’s got a lot of tricks up his sleeve and he’s motivating those guys to come out hard, and we’ll be ready for them.”
Maine will enter the first game of the series coming off of its first win of the season, a 2-1 victory over Bentley after being swept on the road by St. Lawrence in the opening weekend.
Junior forward Stu Higgins led the Black Bears in their win with a pair of goals, while Martin Ouellette made 24 saves in net.
Meanwhile, the Minutemen are coming off of a successful weekend of their own at home against Michigan State. UMass swept the Spartans with a 3-1 victory on Friday and a 5-2 comeback win on Saturday.
One of the keys for the Minutemen in both games was their play on the man advantage, as they scored five of their eight goals on the power play. UMass now boasts one of the best power plays in the nation with a 32 percent success rate. That puts it in a tie for second with Northeastern.
Going forward, the Minutemen are looking for continued success on the power play.
“Special teams is a big part of our game,” Sheary said. “Every year we want to be above 20 (percent) and probably about 80 (percent) on the (penalty kill). So to come out, I think we’re 30 percent, it’s just a lot of communication out of the guys that are on the power play and listening to what the coaches are giving us and playing out for us. So it’s working real well for us.”
Friday’s puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. and will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network. Saturday’s game will take place at 7:30 p.m. and can be seen on Fox College Sports.
Cameron McDonough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.