Last Friday’s 7-1 loss to Boston College gave the Massachusetts hockey team few positives, if it gave them any at all.
But moving ahead, the No. 18 Minutemen may look at this weekend’s opponent as a positive: Northeastern.
At the beginning of January, the Minutemen fell in back-to-back games to Boston University, 7-3, and to New Hampshire, 7-2. The night following the loss to the Wildcats, UMass (16-11-0, 11-9-0 Hockey East) headed to Northeastern with a sense of focus after being embarrassed the night before.
The Minutemen left that night with a 4-1 victory over the Huskies (13-12-1, 8-10-1 HEA), and won another three in row to tie their longest winning streak since winning four to start the season.
Goaltender Paul Dainton bounced back in the contest, after giving up six goals to BU, by holding Northeastern to one goal and allowed five in the four-game winning streak.
Dainton and the rest of the Minutemen will look again for a similar focus this weekend and to bounce back from recent struggles with a home-and-home set with the Huskies starting tonight in the Mullins Center at 7 p.m. followed by another 7 p.m. contest Saturday at Northeastern.
“We’ve done this before,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “We came off a tough loss at UNH where we didn’t play much better and there was a rejuvenated enthusiasm if you will and kind of a narrow focus put in place.”
Friday’s loss is seen as a mulligan to Cahoon, knowing that there is little he can take away from the loss, even a learning lesson.
“We can’t be playing like that in any case and that’s exactly what it was. It’s got to be a mulligan, we can’t dwell on it,” Cahoon said. “There wasn’t even enough in the game tape to even make it a productive learning lesson, it was just a real bad outing from A-Z.”
Northeastern (2.65 goals per game) isn’t quite the offensive powerhouse that BC (2.85), but Cahoon finds the Huskies to have a lot of similarities to the Minutemen and is not a team to be taken lightly.
“They are a lot like we are, they play real hard and they have a couple of kids who they rely on for their offensive production,” Cahoon said. “They have a young goaltender who has been very good at times and other times has been suspect, so I think you just come out and take it shift by shift.”
Although UMass used Northeastern to get back on the winning track a month ago, it doesn’t mean it can be taken lightly. While the Huskies currently sit in eighth place in the conference standings with 17 points, a weekend sweep would put them one point behind UMass who currently is in fourth place.
“We have to play at a pace and with conviction and that is something that has been hard pressed to find day-in and day-out,” Cahoon said. “Playing with conviction is a big one for me. I think that is how you approach Northeastern.”
Not only would a sweep by the Huskies be vital for them in moving up in the standings, it could also prove devastating to UMass. Behind the Minutemen is a three-team tie for fifth place between BU, Vermont and UMass-Lowell, all with 18 points. With the top four teams in the conference earning home ice in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament, the Minutemen sit in a highly coveted spot.
On the other hand, UMass is in a position to move up in the standings as well if it can bounce back against Northeastern as it did last month. Just two points ahead of the Minutemen in a tie for second place is BC and Maine, who each face tough competition this weekend. The Eagles play a home-and-home set with UML while the Black Bears play twice at BU, a team who has won three of its last four and seven of its last 10.
Jeffrey R. Larnard can be reached at [email protected]