April 16, 2014

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UMass hockey to close out season against Providence

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

Saturday night is set up to be an important and emotional night for the Massachusetts hockey team.

On the important end, it will be the final chance for the Minutemen to make a dent in the Hockey East standings as they step onto the ice for their final regular season game.

But UMass (8-19-4, 4-11-3 Hockey East) will have to do this with the emotions of Senior Night swirling around.

The Minutemen will honor their nine seniors – Branden Gracel, Peter DeAngelo, Conor Sheary, Patrick Kiley, Adam Phillips, Colin Shea, Michael Pereira, Joel Hanley and Anthony Raiola – with a ceremony before they take on No. 12 Providence.

For UMass coach John Micheletto, this will be a great opportunity to honor this group of nine seniors, which includes two 100-point getters in Pereira and Sheary.

“They’ve put a lot of work into trying to build the program and helping us create a legacy with what they’ve done,” Micheletto said. “To have two 100-point guys in this class is a great thing. I’m certainly looking forward to honoring them for all they’ve done up until now for this program.”

But before the Minutemen can look ahead to Senior Night, they have to take care of the Friars at Schneider Arena in an equally important game on Friday night.

With only two weekends left in Hockey East play before the playoffs, the Minutemen sit in ninth place, three points out of a home playoff game in the first round. And while most of the other teams will have next weekend to try and scrap up some last second points, UMass will have to watch the action from home with an off weekend, a consequence of having an odd number of teams in the league this season.

As for whether the extra week off will be a good thing or a bad thing, Micheletto said it will be what his team makes of it.

“I think it’s a lot like your college education,” he said. “You can glide through and not take advantage of all of the opportunities that are there for you and not get what’s available to you, or you can take attack it and take every opportunity you have to get better.

“I think that’s the way that after this weekend we are gonna look at it.”

What it does mean, though, is that the Minutemen will need to pick up any points they can in a home-and-home series against the Friars (15-9-6, 7-7-2 HEA) this weekend.

But that certainly won’t be easy. PC is winless in its last five games, but it has a big advantage in net in Jon Gillies.

As a freshman last season Gillies won multiple awards for his play in net including Hockey East Rookie of the Year. This year he has a 2.25 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.

“(Gillies) gets a lot of publicity and rightfully so,” Micheletto said. “He’s been an excellent goalie for two years and someone they’ve built their team around.”

But the good news for UMass, according to Micheletto, is that it continues to play its best hockey in the second half of the season.

“You look statistically at it from the turn of the New Year, I think our power play is at 25 percent, I think our penalty kill is at 92 percent and we’re scoring over three goals a game, which means our 5-on-5 goal production has been better,” he said. “All these numbers are an improvement from 2013.”

Friday’s game is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. in Providence and can be seen on Cox Sports. Saturday’s game is also scheduled to start at 7 p.m.

Cameron McDonough can be reached at cameronm@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough. 

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