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UMass hockey preps for pair of matchups with Providence

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

The Massachusetts hockey team is in the midst of preparing for its third Hockey East Association opponent of the season, going head to head with Providence in a pair of contests on Thursday and Saturday.

The Friars (5-3-0, 2-2-0 HEA) enter the weekend coming off a split with Boston University and a 2-1 win at home over Boston College the week before.

Sophomore forward Kasper Björkqvist leads Providence in goals so far with four, while fellow second-year forward Josh Wilkins leads in points, garnering six through eight games.

A high-powered trio of Erik Foley, Brian Pinho and Wilkins lead the Friars in the early goings, combining for a total of six goals and seven assists. Foley has scored two power play goals as well.

UMass dropped all four contests with Providence to close out its 2016-17 season. In those four consecutive games, the Minutemen (4-5-0, 1-2-0 HEA) were outscored 16-4 and were promptly bounced from the Hockey East tournament.

“I thought we played them pretty closely in those four games last season, but I have a lot of respect for their team and how hard they play,” coach Greg Carvel said. “Our guys better be ready.”

UMass comes off a demoralizing 3-0 loss to league-leading New Hampshire at home on Saturday. After seeing that high level of competition from the Wildcats, the Minutemen fully understand the difficulty of the matchup that the Friars pose to them.

“They’re consistent, they play their standard every night and they don’t beat themselves,” Carvel said. “Its impressive, they play really hard. There’s nothing pretty about their game. If you don’t come ready to compete, it’s going to be a tough night. We’ve made this clear to our guys.”

UMass struggled mightily on both sides of the special teams battle in its matchup against UNH, committing eight penalties and allowing in two power play goals, while failing to capitalize on any of the seven man-advantages it received.

Following the loss, Carvel explained the central problem with the first power play unit, made entirely of freshmen, was due to the lack of shots on net.

“I think it’s just the mindset,” Carvel said. “I think they’re looking for pretty goals right now. You got to shoot the puck and retrieve it, then things kind of open up. Providence is very aggressive on their kill so it’s going to be hard to get pucks to the net but that’s going to be our focus, to shoot more.”

“We scored [those] four power play goals basically on rebounds and loose pucks. None of them were pretty. They were all pretty much backdoor, one-time shots,” he said.

Freshman goalie Matt Murray, who has been the prominent netminder for UMass, has started in seven of its first nine matchups on the season, but was pulled in favor of sophomore Ryan Wischow after the first period Saturday.

“That fluke goal at the beginning rattled him,” Carvel said. “In playing a really good team, that hurt. I think his whole first period was a little unsteady and we didn’t see him recovering from that. “

Through the remaining 40 minutes, Wischow stopped 14 of the 15 shots he faced, only allowing one goal on a two-man advantage.

“It was a good opportunity down 2-0 to give [Wischow] a chance to get back in net and maybe give our team a little bit of a wake-up call,” Carvel said. “He did great, he got put in some tough situations there and the only goal he let in was a 5-on-3.”

Carvel also noted freshman forward John Leonard, who led the Minutemen in goals and points before being sidelined with an upper-injury, could make his return to the lineup against the Friars.

The Amherst native scored three goals and garnered a total of seven points for UMass before missing four straight games.

Puck drop for both matchups is set for 7 p.m.

Liam Flaherty can be reached at lpflaherty@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.

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