No need to worry, Minutemen will be fine

By Nick O'Malley

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Despite the warnings signs, it’s not quite panic mode yet for the Massachusetts hockey team.

Yes, they’ve dropped three straight games at the end of their stretch of five straight ranked teams. Sure, the team has had a penchant for fast starts and mediocre second halves in their past two seasons. And, maybe the team is on the rain-slick precipice of an apocalyptic midseason implosion, destined to follow a pattern towards inevitable .500 finishes.

Nah, they’re fine.

The Minutemen are still the 15th best team in the country, having gone through a beast of a stretch and have one of the better assembled teams in recent memory. An electric top scoring line (excuse me, the Maroon line) and power play unit, two NHL draft picks on the blue line and some solid depth behind it all has produced some impressive results. That, and Paul Dainton is quickly maturing as a top-tier goalie while Dan Meyers, despite recent struggles, is a damn good goalie in his own right.

UMass coach Don Cahoon has been singing the praises of his roster all season, specifically, the fact that this year’s incarnation of the Minutemen features a strong balance of talent, experience and depth, a combination that had the team ranked No. 9 in the country last week.

More importantly, though, Cahoon says his team is putting itself in better situations and staying in almost every game this season until the very end.

Unlike past seasons, where the Minutemen would have a spectacular upset of No. 1 Boston University, but only after laying an egg against an nine-win Merrimack team, UMass seems to be playing well against the tough teams, beating the teams they need to beat and all of the other clichés necessary to be a good team.

Speaking of the Warriors, they come into the Mullins Center this Friday with a .500 record and some solid performances. In fact, Merrimack has matched all of UMass’ big conference wins of the season (BU, Vermont, New Hampshire), with both teams losing to UMass Lowell.

With this in mind, this Saturday’s game against the Warriors will be a solid indicator of what to expect from the second half of the season. Currently, the Minutemen are in a tough spot and really can’t afford to enter the break on a four game skid.

Things are looking up, though. This particular team, with the balance and experience it brings to the table, is much better suited to bust out of such a slump. At least Cahoon thinks so.

“I think that, in the past, we would look at it and say ‘Jeez, there might be a talent deficiency,’” Cahoon said about his current team’s ability to handle this tough stretch. “We have concerns, but I think they’re solvable.”

Of course, we’re not going to find out about the Minutemen’s ability to finish out the season strong until they get there. After eight-win starts in the past two seasons, UMass went on to have losing records in the second half both times.

As it stands right now, if there was any team that was going to keep going after winter break, it’d be this one. The team’s balance allows it to keep chugging along even when it struggles in certain areas.

The power play’s on fire? Great. Now it’s cold? Oh, now they can score five-on-five. Three players are injured? That’s alright, the team’s already showed it can shuffle the lines and still score.

Oh and by the way, the last time the Minutemen had a winning record in the second half? Three years ago, the team’s last appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Nick O’Malley is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]