Hockey: Minutemen look to avoid January slump

By Melissa Turtinen, Collegian Staff

Massachusetts hockey coach Don Cahoon is doing everything he can to prevent his team from falling apart like it did last season.

Friday’s game against American International College will be the Minutemen’s last game until Dec. 28, when they play in the Dartmouth Ledyard National Bank Classic. Their first opponent is Bemidji State and if they win, they will advance to the championship and play either Army or Dartmouth to finish out the 2008 portion of their season.

January brings a competitive schedule. UMass will host No. 10 Cornell on Jan. 4 and then play seven Hockey East games to finish out the month.

“[The game against Cornell is] a prelude to getting back into a strict Hockey East schedule which is going to determine our destiny,” Cahoon said.

UMass will face New Hampshire (Jan. 9, 10), UMass-Lowell (Jan. 17) and Vermont (Jan. 23, 24), among others, during January. Cahoon and the rest of the Minutemen know that a successful month is crucial, especially after the fallout the team experienced in 2007-08.

The Minutemen won the Lightning College Hockey Classic at the end of December last season. After beating Colorado College 5-4 in overtime to win the tournament, they received their highest ranking in program history. The Minutemen entered their rigorous January schedule ranked No. 5, but dropped off the rankings as they went winless for the entire month (0-5-1).

“In January we just found ourselves losing one-goal games, and it wasn’t that the other team beat us, it was that we beat ourselves,” Cahoon said at the start of the season.

There are numerous reasons that led to the Minutemen’s collapse last January, but Cahoon is trying to limit the preventable causes this season.

January is a difficult month for any team from a university that has an intersession. The Minutemen will return to UMass on Dec. 26 after a very short holiday break. Upon their return they will be some of the only students on campus. The team returns with a lot of free time and last season, when the team began to struggle, they failed to band together.

This season, Cahoon is orchestrating a different January schedule to avoid some of the problems that arose last season.

“[We are changing] our practice schedule around so there’s more work once they get right out of bed in the morning – mandatory breakfast, workouts scheduled right away in the morning so they aren’t hanging around during the day,” Cahoon said.

Moving practices to the morning will prevent the team from staying up late and sleeping during the day before practice – instituting a schedule the team typically has during the semester. Many of the players are taking classes during the intersession and having free afternoons will give the players time to work on their studies or have personal time.

“That’s one measure we’re going to take,” Cahoon said. “We think it can improve the quality of our practices, get them to be a little more alert earlier in the day, it’s our attempt at addressing part of the problem, playing better will be the biggest factor.”

Melissa Turtinen can be reached at [email protected]