The Massachusetts hockey team is coming off of a forgettable weekend at Maine. But now the Minutemen have a chance to bounce back when the two teams meet again this weekend for another two-game set.
This time, UMass is at home with points in the Hockey East standings at stake.
The Minutemen (2-4, 0-1 HEA) didn’t fare well in their trip to Orono, Maine, last weekend. They were outscored by the Black Bears 11-6 and walked away empty-handed in non-conference action.
Fortunately for UMass, the more important games in this unique four-game series – that is, the ones in conference play – are at Mullins Center, where the Minutemen are 2-0 this season.
“It’s definitely different,” senior forward and captain Conor Sheary said. “I’ve never had something like this before where I’ve played the same team four times in a row, but we know what to expect. I don’t think anything is gonna be too different other than the rink size and us playing at home as opposed to on the road up at their barn.”
“It’s definitely helpful being at home, especially in Hockey East,” Sheary added. “Hockey East games are always competitive and we know what to expect going into a game, so I think being at home is really gonna help us succeed.”
Sheary said one thing UMass is focusing on this week is improving the team’s discipline. The Minutemen had 26 penalty minutes over the weekend and Maine turned them into four power play goals, something that proved to be the difference in both games.
Lack of discipline was also an issue in UMass’ first two losses of the season in its opening weekend at Boston University and UMass Lowell. The Minutemen had to fight off a game misconduct on both nights and multiple 5-on-3 situations.
UMass is going to take its share of penalties given its fast, aggressive style of play. But it has also derailed momentum and forced the Minutemen to shift their mindset to a more conservative approach on the penalty kill.
With the heart of the conference schedule coming up, it’s something UMass will certainly need to limit.
“Discipline has always been a key thing for us,” Sheary said. “We gotta stay out of the box to be successful. Putting the other team at an advantage isn’t gonna help us be successful so I think that’s one thing we’re gonna focus on this week going into Friday.”
One thing this weekend won’t lack is familiarity. The Minutemen know what they have to prepare for going into the weekend, but so does Maine (3-2). UMass coach John Micheletto said the key this weekend is for his players to keep their emotions in check.
“When you see the same team so frequently guys can get on each other’s nerves and carry over from something that happened last week that are fresh for players on each side,” he said. “I think the emotion of it is something the guys have to guard against the most.”
The Minutemen’s biggest challenge against the Black Bears comes between the pipes. Maine senior goaltender Martin Ouellette has put together some strong performances against UMass in the last two seasons, including an impressive, 26-save shutout at Mullins Center on Feb. 22 last season that helped the Black Bears overtake the Minutemen for the final Hockey East playoff spot.
At 6-foot-2, Ouellette takes up plenty of space in net, forcing UMass to create more second-chance scoring opportunities to try to beat him.
“He’s very athletic and we know that so he’s able to explode into saves and get post to post when we are able to move the puck,” Micheletto said. “Clearly it’s going to be very difficult to beat a goaltender cleanly on the first shot, but especially Martin, where he’s a very good first-save goaltender. “The thing that we need to make sure we keep doing in addition to getting off shots as quickly as he can get set off of that movement, is trying to take his eyes away from him and get a body front of him and get into those second and third shot opportunities.”
Puck drop for both Friday and Saturday night’s games are set for 7 p.m.
Nick Canelas can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @NickCanelas.