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Early season challenge awaits for UMass hockey in weekend set with Ohio State

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

For the first time in two seasons, the Massachusetts hockey team has a three-game winning streak.

That is not a misprint.

UMass (3-1) are winners of three in a row after beating Arizona State, Union and American International and are sitting pretty following its first four games.

Considering the Minutemen haven’t accomplished such a feat since the 2015-16 campaign, sitting above .500 is unfamiliar territory for UMass.

The atmosphere around the locker room is different and, given the Minutemen’s current situation, filled with optimism. Oct. 7, UMass used a two-goal third period to power past the Sun Devils 4-2. Six days later, the Minutemen traveled to Schenectady, New York and survived a late comeback from the Dutchmen in their 5-4 win. Twenty-four hours later, freshman forward John Leonard garnered three points in UMass 3-1 win over the Yellow Jackets.

The Minutemen are now riding high into their two-game set against Ohio State this upcoming weekend, which is also UMass’ Homecoming celebration, with back-to-back matchups against the Buckeyes (1-1-2).

“We’ve done well the past couple weeks, but this is another step up for us,” freshman defenseman Mario Ferraro said. “We’re going to be ready to go. We’ve stressed the past couple weeks not taking any team for granted and relying on what makes us good as a hockey team, and that’s going into every game fast and prepared.”

Against a Big Ten opponent like OSU, considering the Buckeyes qualified for the NCAA tournament in 2016-17, the Minutemen will see a considerable step up in talent from the likes of their previous three opponents.

Goalies Ryan Wischow and Matt Murray split time in between the crease over the weekend yet Murray has outplayed Wischow purely from a wins-loss perspective as the freshman has won his first two career starts in between the pipes, while Wischow stands 1-1.

UMass coach Greg Carvel would still like to see more out of his new puck-stopper though before a final decision is made on the number one starter.

“He’s had two pretty easy games,” Carvel said. “The game in Arizona we played really well in front of him and then against AIC, they really didn’t have a lot of high-end scoring chances. [I] haven’t seen him really under pressure, under fire, so it’s still early in the evaluation of the goalies.”

Local product John Leonard has rocketed up the Minutemen scoring charts, recording seven points (three goals, four assists) in the first two weekends of regular season play. Freshman Oliver Chau sits in second with five points (two goals, three assists) followed by graduate transfer Niko Rufo with four points (two goals and assists), as well as a trio of freshmen: Mitchell Chaffee, Mario Ferraro and Cale Makar each potting three points.

Considering UMass hasn’t proven itself has a consistent threat in college hockey, these two games with the OSU could help in silencing any doubters of this extremely young Minutemen squad.

“Before the season started we weren’t given that much respect around the league,” Ferraro said. “That’s our goal right now, to just create that fear in our opponents, let them know what kind of team we are. Let them know our identity as a team, that we’re hard-working and always ready to go. This weekend is definitely really important, but we’re going to take it one game at a time. We’re not going to overthink it.”

“I like our schedule in that it kind of keeps elevating [as far as] the quality of our opponents,” Carvel added. “I thought each game has been a real good test for us, and we’ve passed those tests for the most part. Now, this’ll be a really good challenge for us against a Big 10 team. They’ve got size and skill and speed and they play with good tempo and take pucks to the net hard. We’re going to have to be on our game. If we’re not it won’t be pretty.”

Puck drop for Friday night’s battle is set for 7 p.m. at the Mullins Center.

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

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