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UMass hockey hosts No. 12 Notre Dame in Hockey East doubleheader

Jong Man Kim/Collegian

Jong Man Kim/Collegian

Last weekend the Massachusetts hockey team went 0-1-1 in the second annual Friendship Four tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

This week, UMass (3-7-2, 1-5-1 Hockey East) welcomes Notre Dame to Amherst for a back-to-back doubleheader and will be hoping to cash in on the luck of the Irish this time around.

The Minutemen square off against the Fighting Irish (7-5-2, 3-2-1 HE) for the first time this season with four critical points in Hockey East play up for grabs.

Mid-season tournaments on the road, or in UMass’ case, overseas, have a tendency to bring teams closer together, with the extended amount of time spent bonding with one another. Coach Greg Carvel feels the trip to Northern Ireland marked a turning point for his team.

“We raised our game to a completely new level which is what we need to do. I thought we were really competitive and really good in those two games,” Carvel said. “Some might give the trip the credit but I think these guys have been working hard and making big steps, just the timing of the trip kind of coincided with our group taking a step forward.”

Notre Dame is coming off of a Thanksgiving tournament of its own, with the Irish hosting the Shillelagh Tournament at the Compton Family Ice Arena. Notre Dame beat Holy Cross 5-3 in the first game, but lost in the championship game 2-0 to Clarkson.

In their prior two contests, the Minutemen held 2-0 leads early but ultimately went winless in Belfast. Carvel believes instead of changing its game while ahead, UMass has to focus on competing in these pair of impending games.

“Other teams have guys that they can rely on to finish, and this week we’re focusing on scoring some ugly goals around the net. If we can add an ugly goal where we battle to win a rebound in front of the net it’s going to be uplifting to help us get that next one,” Carvel said.

In 12 games so far this season, the Minutemen are averaging 2.4 goals per game along with 24.4 shots, but are allowing opponents 3.3 goals and 31.8 shots in those same games.

The Irish are almost the exact opposite of UMass as they put forth an average of 3.4 goals per game combined with 33.6 shots while only surrendering 2.4 goals and 26.5 shots in the same matchups.

One of the aspects the Minutemen will be looking to kick-start against Notre Dame is their power play, which only went 1-13 in the Belpot tournament.

“We had five-minute power plays in both games, especially in that St. Lawrence game in the last few minutes,” Carvel said. “It was a power play in the first minute of overtime so it could have been a way for us to win that game but unfortunately we didn’t and it’s definitely one of our areas of concern right now.”

Leading the charge for the Irish thus far has been junior forward Anders Bjork, who has recorded 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) to date. That’s almost triple the amount of points sophomores Austin Plevy and Kurt Keats have, who are UMass’ leading scorers with eight points each.

The Minutemen will be without Keats’ services for Friday night’s battle as he was handed a one-game suspension by Hockey East for a spearing incident against SLU earlier this week.

Carvel had no comment on the matter.

Sophomore Ryan Wischow started each of the previous two games in net for UMass however Carvel isn’t sure yet who’ll be between the pipes Friday night.

Puck drop is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday night at the Mullins Center and will also be televised on NESN.

Ryan Ames can be reached at rames@umass.edu or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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