Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hockey prepares for pair against Bears

Two seasons ago, the No. 4 ranked Maine hockey team walked into the William D. Mullins Center and encountered a blue collar UMass squad that captured three out of a possible four points from the Black Bears.

This weekend, the reigning Hockey East tournament champions will invade Amherst once again for the first weekend pair in the Bay State since the meetings during the 1998-99 season. Game time is slated for 7 p.m. tonight and tomorrow night.

Naturally, the Minutemen are looking to produce similar results against coach Shawn Walsh’s crew this weekend. UMass currently sits in eighth place in Hockey East standings, and could use a win or two in order to distance itself from last place Merrimack.

“Right now, we’re in a battle with Merrimack to keep our heads above water,” UMass hockey coach Don Cahoon said. “But I don’t think that these guys are intimidated by anything. BC, BU, Michigan State or whoever, bring them in.”

Added senior forward R.J. Gates: “We’re getting down to the end of the season now, and every game is very important.”

The Minutemen are currently in the midst of a four-game winless streak within the league [0-3-1]. Maine has only won twice since the start of the year [2-3-2], but is coming off an emotional 3-2 overtime win against border rival New Hampshire on Sunday afternoon.

The two teams have already met once this season. Back on Dec. 14, the host Black Bears squeezed out a 3-2 win at Alfond Arena. The Minutemen had a chance to tie the game in the waning seconds of regulation, but a shot from Brad Nizwantowski clanged off the crossbar.

“We did a few things in that game that I think that we can utilize in this game,” Cahoon said. “But they understand how they play the game, and they’ve proved over and over again that they are well-schooled. They understand what it takes to succeed. It’s a challenge, but hopefully we’ll be up to it.”

Like the Minutemen, the Black Bears [11-9-6, 6-6-4 in Hockey East] have struggled at times on the offensive end this season. However, Maine boasts one of the top defensive units in the league and a solid goaltender in Matt Yeats.

As a result, UMass [7-18-3, 6-11-1 HE] knows that it must play smart hockey and be opportunistic against a stingy Black Bears team. Penalty killing has been one of the weaker areas for the Minutemen this year and Cahoon admits that his team must stay out of the box this weekend. Maine scored a power play goal in the first game between the two teams.

“Clearly, we’re not going to be able to take penalties,” he said. “We need to move our feet, we can’t just stand around out there. If we anticipate and move our feet, and we’re not just reacting, then we should be fine.”

Chris Heisten and Martin Kariya lead the Black Bears with 17 points apiece on the season. Senior forward Niko Dimitrakos, the MVP of the Hockey East tournament last year, has also sparked the Maine offense since returning from an early-season wrist injury.

Sophomore forward Tim Turner sits atop the UMass stat sheet in both goals [14] and points [22]. Senior captain Jeff Turner and junior winger Martin Miljko are right behind the younger Turner with 20 points each.

Cahoon has employed a platoon situation between the pipes in recent weeks, with goalies Markus Helanen and Mike Johnson splitting time. The UMass coach did mention that there is a likelihood that the platoon situation will repeat again this weekend, but stopped short of providing a definite answer.

However, it is evident that regardless of who is in the net or who suits up on both nights, the Minutemen will need a complete team effort in order win two contests. And, with two games in hand on practically everyone in the league, UMass will have next weekend off. That means that it must take care of business now in order to have complete peace of mind for the next two weeks.

“The kids in the program know that it’s not a personal issue, but I’m not happy with the focus and the overall effort,” Cahoon said. “We’ve had some great individual efforts, but everybody needs to rise to the occasion this weekend.”

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