UM opponents provide different challenges over weekend

By Nick O'Malley

The Massachusetts hockey team faces off against two tough in-state rivals that present drastically different challenges this weekend in Boston College and UMass Lowell.

Both opponents for No. 9 UMass this weekend are ranked nationally, and  are in the top four in the Hockey East standings. Where BC and UMass-Lowell differ, though, is experience and pure skill.

The No. 16 Eagles (6-3-2, 4-3-2 Hockey East), who come to the Mullins Center Friday night, are a perennial Hockey East powerhouse, but feature several young players in key positions on the blue line.

For defensemen, the Eagles have four freshman, two sophomores and one senior. That lack of experience is something that Cahoon said the Minutemen will try to take advantage of. That edge, though, won’t be as easy to grab as it would seem. According to Cahoon, what the Eagles lack in experience in some areas, they make up for with pure skill.

Freshmen Patrick Wey, Brian Dumoulin and Philip Samuelsson, who have each played in all nine games so far this season, are young, and bring plenty of size to the table on defense. At 6-foot-2, Wey is the smallest of the bunch, with Samuelsson coming in at 6-foot-3 and Dumoulin towering over all players on UMass and BC at 6-foot-4.

The No. 8 River Hawks (8-4-1, 4-3-1 Hockey East) meanwhile, are one of the most experienced teams in the country. After a breakthrough season that concluded with a loss in the Hockey East Championship game, Lowell returns in 2009 with its lineup from last season virtually intact.

The River Hawks feature 12 seniors and six juniors on their roster and use them well. Five of the six top scorers for Lowell are seniors while the team’s top scorer, Scott Campbell (13 points on five goals and eight assists), is a junior.

Offense clicking 5-on-5

With 10 goals over the weekend, including a hat trick against Vermont by sophomore Casey Wellman, the Minutemen continued their torrid pace of offense this season.

What has been a welcoming sight, though, is that, as opposed to earlier in the season, more of UMass’ goals are coming with the teams at even strength, rather than when the Minutemen are on the power play.

“On the power plays, we’ve had a lot of success. It’s a good and a bad thing, because we were kind of struggling 5-on-5,” Wellman said. “So we tried to focus a little bit more on getting some 5-on-5 points.”

While UMass’ was riding high offensively earlier the season, the team’s offense was heavily reliant on power play goals. Although scoring with the man advantage was indeed a positive for the offense, the ability to score for all 60 minutes on the ice is a big advantage for the Minutemen.

“It’s great to get goals on the power play,” Wellman said. “But 5-on-5, you get a lot of momentum, and [it] shows [that] the guys are working hard, so it’s definitely a key part to our game.”

While Cahoon appreciates the contributions from the team’s forwards, he sees the team’s offense as something that will come naturally with the talented lines the Minutemen have up front. To take the team’s play to the next level, Cahoon says, the same players that are producing so well on offense have to live up to their capabilities on defense.

“You recruit offense and you teach defense,” Cahoon said. “The defensive part of our game needs to be more consistent. Guys know that if we are to become a championship team, it’ll be because, on the defensive side of the ledger, we’ve played up to a higher level.”

Nick O’Malley can be reached at [email protected]