Gophers and Badgers add to perennially tough UMass schedule

By Nick O'Malley

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In the Hockey East, where top-tier teams, Hobey Baker Award finalists and national championship contenders so often reside, there’s no such thing as a quick glance over the schedule.

Top to bottom, one of the strongest conferences in college hockey, the Hockey East has produced the last three consecutive national champions. So it should come as no surprise that, once again, the Massachusetts hockey team’s regular season schedule reads like a laundry list of NCAA tournament favorites.

In addition to perennial powerhouses, including reigning champion Boston College and Boston University, the Mass Attack has a pair of non-conference series against two of the nation’s top flight programs: Minnesota and Wisconsin.

All in all, UMass is slated to take on eight teams receiving votes in last season’s final United States Collegiate Hockey Organization top-20 poll and five participants in the 2010 national championship tournament, including both teams from the national championship game.

To begin the season though, will be the usual scrimmage against New Brunswick, whose season will already be underway in Canadian Interuniversity Sport play. Then, the Minutemen are set to go to Minnesota to face off against the five-time national champion Golden Gophers twice to open up the regular season on Oct. 8.

The following weekend, the Minutemen open up their conference schedule with home-and-home games against the Terriers.

Such an early season matchup has usually resulted in big weekends for UMass, which is 4-0-1 against BU in fall matchups over the last five years.

Following a home-and-home against Providence, which finished last in the Hockey East last season, the Minutemen dip back into their non-conference schedule in November at home against Army, Nov. 6 and the Swedish National Under-20 Team for an exhibition the next night.

Continuing with the pattern established last year, this year’s series against New Hampshire will feature both games played at one site – this year being in Durham, NH. UNH finished last season ranked No. 12 in the USCHO poll before reaching the quarterfinals of the 2010 NCAA tournament.

The following weekend, UMass starts a three-game home stand, starting with Vermont, who finished last season with a loss against the Badgers in the NCAA tournament,  The team will then take on Quinnipiac, who won last year’s matchup 5-4 in overtime and sister school UMass Lowell, who finished fifth in the conference standings. The Minutemen will then face Maine before the holiday break.

After the holidays though, is where the schedule really heats up for UMass, as it heads to Wisconsin for a pair of games against the Badgers. The following weekend, the Mass Attack will head home to face the bulk of its conference schedule in an attempt to avoid the late season slides that have plagued them in the past. The renewed HEA play starts with ninth-place finisher last year Northeastern Jan. 7 and UNH the following night.

The Minutemen then face the River Hawks again in a home-and-home, which UMass swept last season, starting Jan. 14. The Minutemen then head up to UVM for two straight games against the Catamounts similar to the series format against UNH to begin a stretch of five-of-six road games.

UMass won the first game of its series against Vermont last year, but fell into a vicious 1-8-0 slide that dropped them from the top tier of the Hockey East standings.

UMass then plays a home-and-home against Northeastern, at reigning champs BC and at Merrimack before facing a final stretch that features six of eight games at home: home against BU, at Providence, home-and-homes against Merrimack and BC and finally, two home games against Maine.

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