Hockey prepares for tough stretch

By Bryan Smith (Collegian Staff)

Coming off one of its most impressive wins of the season, a 3-1 victory over No. 9 Providence College, the Massachusetts hockey team will look to continue its winning ways when they make the six-hour trek North to take on Maine.

The victory for the Minutemen was their first in nearly a month, a span that saw the Maroon and White drop seven-of-eight games with a tie against Connecticut sandwiched in between.

In the Providence game, UMass [4-10-2, 4-3-0 Hockey East] did some things well that it had not been doing during the winless streak.

It killed penalties – the Friars went 0-for-6 and were limited to only a few quality chances with the man advantage. The Minutemen, before the matchup had been surrendering power play goals at a feverish pace (27 tallies in 101 opportunities).

The Maroon and White made the best of their scoring chances, first when junior sniper Martin Miljko dented the twine on a rebound off of his own one-timer. UMass also scored on a picture-perfect goal when R.J. Gates slammed home a pass from Samuli Jalkanen.

Now on the heels of a crucial victory the Minutemen have one of the most daunting tasks of its season in their single-game with the Black Bears at Alfond Arena.

Maine, a traditional powerhouse and defending Hockey East tournament champions are in the midst of two-game losing skid with both losses coming to Boston University and Boston College. The pair of losses has dropped the Black Bears to 6-6-4 on the 2000-01 campaign.

But the sub-par start to one of last year’s Frozen Four participants is not the only thing that has the fans in Orono worried. Their leader, Head Coach Sean Walsh, was diagnosed with cancer earlier in the year and missed the Black Bear’s first four games because of his illness. In the quartet Maine was 1-1-1 (the fourth game does not count toward the record as it was against the U.S. Development Team).

The Black Bears are led by goaltender Matt Yeats. The junior has appeared in nine games so far and has a goals against average of 2.17. For his heroic efforts in net he has posted a 5-2-1 record.

Offensively, Maine is being paced by Chris Heisten. The sophomore has two goals and has assisted on 10 others in his 14 games of play. The Black Bears were without their most potent scoring threat in Niko Dimitrakos, who was sidelined, with an injury, for the team’s first nine games. Since his return to the lineup the Somerville native has scored three goals and added five assists. The junior was formerly a teammate of Minutemen Mike Warner and Scott Horvath at Avon Old Farms.

Warner scored an empty net goal in the win over Providence and has been an integral part of the Minuteman freshman core this season.

UMass will again go with one of the two members of the dynamic duo in goal. Markus Helanen is coming off a 36-save performance in the win over the Friars and Mike Johnson has been playing better after a less than stellar start to the season.

Miljko and senior captain Jeff Turner lead the Minutemen. The two have combined for 28 points with Miljko posting seven goals and seven assists and Turner with five goals and nine assists to his credit.

This is the first game in a pivotal two-game set for the Minutemen, as they will try to not go winless in the non-conference schedule when they play host to Brown University at the Mullins Center on Jan. 30.