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Injuries push UMass hockey into overdrive preparing for first place UNH

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts hockey team welcome their second Hockey East Association opponent this weekend as No. 13 New Hampshire travels to the Mullins Center this Saturday night.

The matchup counts as the Wildcats’ (5-1-1, 2-0-1 Hockey East) fourth Hockey East opponent, having already played a winning series against UMass Lowell with a 4-3 victory on Oct. 6 and a 3-1 victory on Oct. 7, as well as a recent 4-4 tie against the Vermont on Oct. 28.

“It’s going to be a tough game and it’s going to be a game where we want to prove who we are as a team and what we can be in Hockey East,” defenseman Cale Makar said. “It’s a big statement game for us for sure.”

UMass (4-4, 1-1 HE) is coming off a split series against Merrimack, winning a 4-0 shutout at home on Oct. 27 before falling 5-3 in North Andover the next night.

Currently in first place in Hockey East, UNH began its season with a five game winning streak before a 2-1 overtime loss to Colorado College Oct. 21 ruined its unblemished record.

The Wildcats are averaging 4.0 goals per game and have yet to be shut out this season. They’ve proven to be a second period team having netted 16 of their 28 total goals in the middle frame of play.

The Minutemen will most likely be without former point leader John Leonard and Jake Gaudet Saturday as Carvel is “doubtful” that the freshmen will return to the lineup this weekend.

Leonard is still recovering from an upper-body injury sustained against Ohio State on Oct. 20, while Gaudet left the first Merrimack game on Oct. 27 early in the first period with an unclear injury.

“Everybody trusts each other, we have guys that are able to step up into the lineup every night, even guys who don’t play every night,” Makar said. “At the end of the day we know we have guys that are out of the lineup that can do their jobs too.”

Eight power play goals anchor UNH’s special team performance, while UMass has registered seven. Before its series against Merrimack, only three of its power play opportunities had been successful.

Improving the strength of its special teams have been a major focus for Minutemen coach Greg Carvel this week.

“We worked on our compete, our battle level. Thursday will be a special teams day, we’ll really work on our power play and penalty-kill,” Carvel said. “Without a game on Friday gives us a chance to manage our energy and do some extra stuff on the ice.”

Oliver Chau is the new point leader for UMass following a spectacular weekend against MC as the freshman registered four points with one goal and three assists, totaling nine points (three goals, six assists) so far this season.

“He’s a gifted offensive kid, he’s gaining confidence, you can see now that he’s starting to make more plays,” Carvel said. “He’s getting opportunities to show what he can do and he’s not afraid to go to dirty areas, he’s just a real smart offensive hockey player.”

Benton Maass clocks in as the Wildcats’ point leader with nine, all stemming from assists. Max Gildon, Liam Blackburn and Michael McNicholas all follow close behind with eight points each.

Gildon, a third round, No. 66 overall NHL Draft pick by the Florida Panthers in 2017, leads UNH in goals with six through seven games this season.

The freshman was just announced as the Hockey Commissioners’ Association (HCA) National Division I Rookie of the Month of October, on Wednesday.

UNH coach Dick Umile will be potentially making his final trip to the Mullins as the 28-year bench boss will retire following the 2017-18 year.

“It’s going to be tough for us to win,” Carvel said. “I’m just interested in how we’re going to do against UNH, I don’t want to look any further than that.”

Mollie Walker can be reached at molliewalker@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @MWalker2019.

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